Holiday with Mum - Part Two

July 29 - August 20

The New England Highway

Rather than covering the same ground up the coast road between Sydney and Brisbane we decided to go back via the inland highway and only go back to the coast when we reached the Gold Coast. On the way out of Sydney we stopped at the Brisbane Waters National Park to look at some Aboriginal Engravings. These were simple pictures carved into the ground and not as impressive as the more colourful rock paintings we had seen in the Northern Territory. Because they were carved into the ground and weren't coloured they were difficult to make out. We then drove inland and spent the night in Singleton in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was Richard's birthday but we'd polished off the champagne the night before figuring it would be more enjoyable in our lovely apartment overlooking Manly Beach than in a motel on the road somewhere. But we had a good celebratory dinner at a nice old pub where Richard cooked his own steak on the bbq there - man cook steak on barbie! There are quite a lot of pubs in Australia where you can cook your own steak (chicken, fish etc) which is quite fun.

The next day we passed through another town which had an English name, Tamworth and funnily enough this is where my Dad lives at home! We have been through so many places named after towns in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The inland highway is much more picturesque than the coastal road which doesn't actually go down much of the coast. That night we stayed in Glen Innes which has a very heavy Celtic influence. They have scottish tea shops and have even built their own standing stones in the style of astronomical monuments such as Stone Henge. We thought they must be quite old but eventually found the date they were erected - 1992! Impressive but puzzling. After a sickeningly hilly and windy drive over the Great Dividing Range we reached the coast again where we saw the Big Prawn.

Surfers Paradise

We spent our final week with Mum on the Gold Coast in a lovely apartment overlooking Surfers Paradise beach. This one had a great, warm, bubbly spa outside but with a roof to protect from the sun and we spent a good few hours in there over the week. There was also an outside pool but it wasn't very warm so it was a quick dip in and out. But we didn't put our feet up all the time, we had a great time seeing some of the most exciting wildlife of our trip. Surfers has the reputation of being the party capital of the Gold Coast so Mum wasn't sure if it would be her cup of tea but it's actually just a really busy, fun place with lots of cafes, shops and lots of nightlife for those that want it.

Whale Breaching, Tweed Heads

Whale Watching

Every year a few thousand humpback whales swim from Antartica up to the warmer waters off the east (and west) coast of Australia to breed. The most popular place to see them is Harvey Bay which is north of Brisbane because they tend to cluster in the bay for some reason but we found a tour that went from Tweed Heads which was only about 20kms from Surfers. The boat had less than twenty people on it which meant that everyone could get a good view and we were so lucky because once we got out to sea we saw the whales almost constantly for over an hour.

It was difficult to tell but I think we saw about five different whales and at times two or three were swimming together right beside or infront of the boat. A couple even went underneath the boat and then surfaced just in front of us blowing water out of their blowholes, waving a fin or flicking a tail. But the most amazing point was when they breached throwing their massive bodies completely out of the water at least fifteen times while we were watching. It was a good job they breached so many times because often the first we knew about it was when we heard a big splash behind us and then everyone would quickly turn their cameras and wait for the next appearance. On the way back a couple of dolphins swam past the boat.

The Inlet, Tweed Heads After whale watching we went on a guided tour of the Minjungbal Cultural Centre learning about how life was for Aboriginal people who lived in the area. Our guide, Latoya, took us on a walk through bushland and mangrove swamps to the river and then showed us the ancient Bora Ring which is no longer used but was a sacred ceremonial site used in the ritual tribal initiation of aboriginal boys into manhood.

The next day Margaret took us on a tour of the area where she has lived for many years visiting viewpoints in the area where there were stunning views over the coast and inland to Mount Warning and the inland rivers. So many of the houses in this area are built by the water, either by the sea or on a river which is either natural or man-made and it must be one of the most beautiful places to live. The view from Margaret's house which is on a hill is lovely and from the road behind the house you can see the ocean and whales when they are in season.

The Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island

This was one of the most exciting days of my life. Richard and I had visited the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns but we didn't think that we had the time to take Mum to see the reef which was a few hundred miles north of Surfers Paradise - but then we saw this day trip. It was expensive but it was a once in a lifetime trip and it was definitely worth it. Mum and I were picked up at 6am and flown from the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot Island, the most southerly island on the Great Barrier Reef. Apart from the excitment of going to the Great Barrier Reef there was the excitment of being on a 14 seater plane which flew over the amazing coastline from the Gold Coast (over the Surf Regency which was the hotel we were staying in), past Stradbroke, Morton and Bribie Islands which are off the coast of Brisbane, over the Sunshine Coast and Fraser Island to Harvey Bay where we stopped to let some Japanese tourist get off to go Whale Watching and then over to Lady Elliot Island.

Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay made up of dead coral. As you can see it is a small island completely surrounded by reef and this makes it a perfect place to explore the reef from. No sooner were we off the airplane than we were donning wetsuits and climbing into a glassbottomed boat for a little tour of the underwater world before we went snorkelling. The first bit of excitement was caused by the sight of a turtle bobbing up for air near the boat. I was so excited as it was the first time I had seen a large turtle in the sea. When we were in Cairns some people had seen them but I had missed them.

Turtle, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef Manta Ray, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
The next bit of excitement was snorkelling, well it was for Mum and the other people on the trip because none of them had done it before. Mum was great once she got the hang of it and there were lots and lots of fish for her to see. As you can see we looked very fetching in our wetsuits as well - Creature from the Black Lagoon? Then the most exciting things happened, first of all I spotted this wonderful turtle swimming near me, so graceful and beautiful and not at all perturbed by my presence so I started to swim with it, slightly behind it and then I got the shock of my life as a large black menacing looking creature swam up beneath me right under my body and face. It took a minute for me to realise that it was a Manta Ray which can have a wing span of 2 metres, and although they look so imposing they are completely harmless. I was still terrified because as it glided gracefully beneath me I was worried that I might touch it and hurt it. Amazing.

Lady Musgrave Island

On the flight back we flew over Lady Musgrave Island because one of the other people on the tour had paid for it and, from the air it was even more stunning than Lady Elliot Island. Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef

And so that was pretty much the end of our holiday with Mum. But what a way to finish. I really didn't want to say goodbye and driving to the airport and leaving Mum there was hard. But I know that it won't be long until we are home again and in the meantime there is a big wide world out there to explore. When we left the airport we spent another few days in Brisbane.


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