New South Wales, November 2022

Saturday 5th November, 2022

It’s been a heck of a year, both from the perspective of how much camping we have already done and so many other things. It’s going to be a heck of a finish too, with so much excitement due for Christmas and New Year. It’s just as well we have these 2 weeks to take a short break. The plan has changed slightly, with part 2 now involving a hire car and cabins or motels on the agenda. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Today we travelled from Boorloo (Perth) to Sydney, situated on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Unfortunately we were on a late plane, wasting this morning on non-holiday things. Here we are now at Super Gran’s (my mum) new house, settling in before the holiday takes off …

Sunday 6th November, 2022

Although we are in our own country, there is a significant time difference of 3 hours. Getting up at 8am, when it is only 5am at home, was challenging this morning, but now we are reset, it should be easier tomorrow. With some early morning shopping done, we readied ourselves for a day of family and school friend reunions. One of the people I went to school with waaaaay back in the 80s was recently in Perth, but we were unable to tee up a catch up, so I volunteered Super Gran’s new house as a venue and today a few women I haven’t seen since we were teens, joined my nieces, Aunty and others, for a lovely afternoon. The new house provided a great venue, many years of stories were shared and plans for future catch ups were made. Now it’s time to get prepped to collect our wheels in the morning and go exploring …

Monday 7th November 2022

We have hired campers before, but always through companies. We thoroughly enjoyed the 4wd camper we had in New Zealand and the Britz van we had in Central Australia. However, they tend to be very expensive and wrapped up in conditions. This time we decided to give hiring from a member of the public a go, but use Camplify a brokering company for a bit of security. Think Airbnb but for camper vans and caravans. The camper for week 1, is very similar to the one we hired in NZ, and it’s collection point is from the owner, in the next suburb from mum’s. One of the good things about Camplify is the flexibility owners and hirers have to negotiate collection and drop off. In this case our hire is for 6 nights but we can collect the car from 7am onwards on day 1 and drop off “before dark” on the 7th day! That buys us so much extra time that you don’t get hiring through a company.

We collected the camper today just after 07.30 and it is very similar, although slightly larger than our NZ one. Unlike the NZ one, it has a bed that needs to be extended each evening, but nothing like our camper. It has everything we need, and we packed all our stuff into it, along with some food, bid Super Gran farewell and were on the road by 10am. With the new tunnels that take you north from Carlingford, we were well up the coast quickly. After yesterday’s reunion I decided we should detour via Woy Woy on the traditional lands of the Guringai people, to a school mates café. Unfortunately she wasn’t there but the coffee was good! We finished it at Staples Lookout, admiring the view over the lower central coast.

Back on the road our next stop was Karuah on the traditional lands of the Worimi people for lunch. This town used to have the main road from Sydney to Brisbane running right through its Main Street and was a huge bottle neck during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Now bypassed, it is almost a ghost town, but the riverside park was a nice lunch stop. We didn’t stay long though, keen to push on to South West Rocks on the traditional lands of the Dunghutti people, our most northerly point for this trip. The trip went according to plan and we arrived there just on 5pm. I decided that if we were staying in a caravan park, it would be the one at Horseshoe Bay. Lucky for us there was a spot left (“no, I am not Tallulah, I’m Jim” – not anymore mate), and we had a reasonable view of the ocean. After checking in we took a walk around the bay lookout, spotting a breaching whale in the distance! What a great start! We then wandered down to back creek and watched the sting rays sweeping the creek floor, crazy folk jump from the walkway bridge, and some fishos pump nippers. Pumping nippers is a uniquely east coast activity and hard to explain to someone who has never done it. I’m still not sure if Tullulah understands it.

Eventually it was dinner time and we headed for the pub, with a view over the ocean. After dinner as we were walking home (literally across the road), I suggested we pull down the roof of the camper and take a drive out to Smoky Cape to check out the lighthouse doing what it does best. I have seen it at night before and tonight it was as amazing as ever. With the full moon we could see the lighthouse, and with its light flashing past us and shining on the hill, it looked awesome. We were the only ones there and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the lifesaving structure at its best.

Tuesday 8th November 2022

In true Central Australian style, we decided to just get showered and off the caravan park as soon as possible after waking up. Having been here many times before I had a plan for a lovely place to have breakfast, and it didn’t disappoint. We (my ex, the Drummer and I) found the spot many years ago when we holidayed in the town, before we moved to the same stretch of coast (a lifetime ago). It’s around the back of Trial Bay, below the gaol, on the ocean side of the headland. This morning it was as stunning as ever, with reclining kangaroos greeting us on the land and breaching whales greeting us at sea. It was a fabulous place to enjoy a very leisurely breakfast, with one slice of our toast cheekily stolen by a kookaburra! Tallulah was most surprised and indignant!  It was very hard to leave this spot, but eventually we took a wander onto the rocks to briefly watch the waves, before we drove around to the other side to admire the bay. It certainly looked very inviting for a swim, but it was still too cold for me. I didn’t swim on this coast until at least the new year, but then the water stayed warm well into April. Think east Australian current, and Crush and Squirt from Finding Nemo. The warm water comes down from the north …

Time to move on from this side of Arakoon and go around to Little Bay. The water was out far enough for us to admire the coast line, looking south towards the lighthouse where we were last night. After getting our feet wet, we drove up to Overshot Dam. As usual there were a few kangaroos lazing on the grass on the way around to the dam. At the top we stopped to organise Friday and Saturday nights’ site. As I was talking on the phone, I noticed a big lizard meandering along the dam wall. Gesticulating to Tallulah, I was able to point out the beast, which nearly made him choke! It really was a huge, stunning goanna, with some fabulous markings and a beautiful tan colouring to adapt to the colour of the surrounding stones and cliffs. A very long time after breakfast we finally left this side of the area to have a look at the boat ramp on the Macleay River. There was not much action, other than a few lazy pelicans waiting for fishos to come back with something for them. Time to leave SWR. If we don’t hurry up, we won’t make Point Plomer this week, let alone tonight …

Having done a lot of nothing, we definitely needed a spot to eat more food, not! So off we headed to the lovely, lazy Hat Head where we thoroughly enjoyed some cheese and biscuits, washed down with a nice Bilpin Cider. After lunch we wandered to and across the footbridge, but not beyond, thanks to having the wrong shoes on. Next time. Instead, we walked along the creek to the beach and sat watching some school kids having a surf lesson. The girls seemed to pick it up quickly, standing on their first wave, riding it into the shallows and racing straight back out for more!

Back on the road I didn’t realise we had passed Kinchela (boys home), still on the traditional lands of the Dunghutti people. While it’s historic, it’s not the type of place you turn around to go back and look at, so out of respect we drove onwards whilst acknowledging the terrible things that happened here on the river’s edge. We took a little detour through Gladstone, admiring how cute it looks, before heading on to Crescent Head. It was as lovely as the other times I have been here and we took the opportunity to wander to the headland, Little Nobby, and track our trip so far (*pointing north* – “that’s Smokey Cape”) and for the (literally) foreseeable future. This is turning out to be a tour of Capes, Heads and Headlands, Points, Nobs and lighthouses. In this spirit, once finished here we drove up to the very top, via the road! It’s a great drive, with spectacular views  (“that’s Smokey Cape”) and a place to stop at the top. Would be a great place to look for whales, none today, and to watch a moon rise. If we don’t keep moving we will be watching it here.

Finally we were back in the car to do the last few kms to tonight’s camping spot, Point Plomer. We were the last to arrive, with all the ocean front spots taken, but I wouldn’t want to arrive during the day, just to get a spot and sit among the other campers. We decided to head on to the point  (“that’s Smokey Cape”) to watch the full moon rise, but were hampered by a cloudy horizon. Back at the camper, later in the evening, we had a great view of the blood moon eclipse. Lucky us. It was a great sight, made better by a lack of light pollution and just being camping. Deserves another gin and tonic …

Wednesday 9th November 2022

Today we are doing a catch up with a friend who lives on the coast at Port Macquarie, on the traditional lands of the Birpai people. I had hoped to catch up with many more, when the original plan was to spend much more time in the area, but not to be this time. Before sharing brunch with her though, we needed a warm shower, so we packed up and left point Plomer (via the way we went in) and headed for Port Macquarie public swimming pool. We have done this before, in Kulin, but that time we swam as well. Not this time though; we just paid the entry fee for a shower and left again. In town the GF had chosen a great spot to admire the world and catch up on a few missed years. As is always the way, someone else having breakfast there also recognised me, so we had a really quick exchange with them too before getting back to our brunch. We would definitely recommend Chop and Chill for good coffee, brunch and meeting point in down town Port.

After our all-too-quick catch up we said our goodbyes (hopefully not for another 11 years) and off we went to the Koala hospital. We chose this over the local zoo as we are heading to Dubbo Zoo next week. This cute place is exactly what it says it is, a hospital for injured and sick koalas. They have animals who have been hit by cars, attacked by dogs, burned in fires and suffering from disease. They do good work here and aim to release any animals that will survive, but many remain in the hospital indefinitely. We did manage to see a Joey, conceived and born there, who for that reason, will remain in captivity all of it’s life. With a Joey of our own on the way (the Drummer’s soon to be offspring), I had to buy a little jumpsuit to take away with me as we left. It’s one of the ways that we humans, the biggest threat that the koalas face, can help with the hospital’s costs.

Onwards we went to check out another lighthouse, at Tacking Point, and orientate Tallulah to where we have been (“that’s Smokey Cape”), where we are and where we are heading. In the distance to the south we could make out the biggest of the brothers, 3 mountains that have local stories connected to their creation. We could also see the headland for tonight’s camping spot, down the coast at Diamond Head. More about that later … Our next stop was briefly at the outlet to Lake Cathie, but silly Tallulah needs a hat before his head is completely fried, so we jumped in the car and headed around to the Surf Shop at North Haven. I like it here, and if we hadn’t had such a big breaky, it would have been a great spot for lunch. Instead we grabbed two hats and headed back to the car, just in time to cross paths with some locals who suggested we take a look across the land and seascape from atop North Brother. Although I have been here before, I didn’t know any of the brothers had lookouts so this was new to me, and very much worth the effort! After the short but steep drive to the top we had a fantastic view to the north (“that’s Smokey Cape”), way out to sea, to the south (to where we are staying tonight) and even to the west. We would really recommend a drive to the top and a wander around the spectacular lookouts on this biggest brother.

Knowing how lovely Diamond head on the traditional lands of the Birpai people, our campsite for tonight is, I was keen to leave enough daylight for us to enjoy there, so we descended the brother and headed down the road. Somehow we were hugely lucky to secure a spot at the very front of the campsite with a bit of an ocean view! Perhaps another cancellation that we managed to snag. Anyway, the campsite and the beach is as good as I remember it, with resident kangaroos waiting to greet us. It didn’t take us long to settle in and head down onto the beach for a sundowner or two. As we previous nights, the moon was beautiful and casting some brilliant moon shadows! Unfortunately for our us, our late arrival meant we missed out again on a fire (the off-the-grass fireplaces and the fire wood are only available during office hours). Despite the lack of a fire we enjoyed the sky and the cricket (Pahk-is-stan!) until the cool air drive us inside.

Thursday 10th November 2022

The rush of the holiday is starting to catch up with us, with a slow start today. Great place for a slow start. From our ocean view spot we enjoyed breakfast with the lawn mowing kangaroos chomping on their breakfast too. Mr and Mrs Plover and their chicks also decided to breakfast with us. The chicks are too cute and remind me of a time a clutch of them fell down a drain at work and a colleague of mine hung in the drain retrieving them whilst being swooped by the parents, baring their spurs at him. Eventually we needed to move on so we moved on the kangaroos and moved out the camper.

Our intention was to visit Kylie’s Hut, but I didn’t know it had been burnt down in the fires until a fellow camper told us! Nonetheless we decided to go around and have a walk. The headland (“that’s Smokey Cape”) and beach down to Crowdy Head were beautiful to look at today, and it was obvious why Kylie was inspired by the area. I must get my hands on that book, The Man on the Headland by Kylie Tennant. Despite the hut burning down, a replica hut is being built to replace it. It looks the same as the hut that was there, so the area will continue to attract those that enjoy the outdoors, as well as those that are inspired by Australian literary history.

Thanks to a recommendation from the camp host, we chose to leave Diamond Head via the same way we came in. I think we will be back one day, Tallulah seemed to like it here. Such a shame we didn’t have longer to explore, but it’s just as well we didn’t go any further north before turning around (lucky I ignored my brother’s suggestion). Further down the highway we turned back into the coast to have a look at Harrington. My dad built a structure here when we were kids (the butchers shop apparently) but he wouldn’t recognise the town now. It has grown since I was last here a dozen years ago, so it would be unrecognisable to dad! Instead of stopping in Harrington we headed around to Crowdy Head and straight up to the lighthouse (“that’s Smokey Cape”). The bay itself looked so fabulous we pulled in for coffee and ended up sitting there for ages under the awning, eventually having lunch. It reminded me very much of Cape Palliser, my favourite place in all of New Zealand. Our view over the bay included some lovely birds but no dolphins or whales. By the time we left there were 3 other vehicles pulled up with awnings out, admiring the view and enjoying the peace. I definitely think we will be back here …

Because we were at Diamond Head, we decided to check out Diamond Beach. We didn’t stay there long, preferring to head to the Whale watching platform (“I don’t think we can see a Smokey Cape anymore”) at Blackhead. It’s amazing how arriving in each place has been recalling memories from deep in my brain. It looked so familiar once I saw it, just like other places along the coast. There were no whales although we did get a scare from an unrestrained dog, and we enjoyed some lovely birdsong on the short walk. It looks like there’s great rock hopping and a potential swimming hole right in front of the platform, worth exploring another time.

Time to find a spot for the night in NSWs favourite holiday town, Forster on the traditional lands of the Worimi people. Actually, there are twin towns, Foster and Tuncurry, separated by a long road bridge. Wallis Lake empties to the sea between the 2 towns and I have holidayed here many times over the years. Tonight we were allocated a fabulous site in the back row of the caravan park, all on our own. In another couple of weeks there won’t be a spare spot to be had for the entire summer! After checking out the view from the lookout at the park (“can you see Smokey Cape?”) we decided to walk along the south breakwall to Town Beach and around to the shopping street and lake front on Wharf Street. A good decision, as we found a Thai Restaurant to grab some takeaway to enjoy while we England flog India. Oh Pakistan!

Friday 11th November 2022, Happy Birthday to me!

Goodness me this part of our holiday is flying past! We only have 2 more nights in the camper and 3 days to get it back to Sydney intact. Poor Tallulah had a plan for a lovely beachside breaky but Forster had other ideas, so we headed over to the beachside cafe at Tuncurry. Over eggs, I was gifted with some gorgeous jewellery and a new phone, to go with my tripod. A lucky girl! After our lovely start to the day, we spent a couple of hours navigating nervously around the lake in a tinny. Captain Tallulah did a great job trying to follow my appalling instructions. How he didn’t crash the vessel is beyond me. I’ll stick to drive and navigating on the roads in future! We did get to enjoy the squadrons of pelicans protecting the lake from the enemy and a lone dolphin in the inlet where the boat was returned. A nice way to spend a birthday morning.

With our land legs restored we grabbed some coffee and (birthday) cake which we ended up enjoying in a carpark without a lookout at Cape Hawke. Not one of our best, that’s for sure. For that reason, we didn’t hang around long, instead heading down the road towards tonight’s stop at Nelson Bay. Of course we didn’t just drive straight there … in fact we barely made it another 5 minutes before we turned off and headed to Janie’s Corner (my first name is Janie). Now all the times I’ve been in this part of the world, I’ve never been to this beach, and I’ve missed out! On the road in we saw our first slithering snakes, something that used to happen a lot when we went down to the beach along this coast. The first snake was a very healthy red bellied black snake (hard to miss) and I suspect the second was a tiger snake. Australia’s top venomous snakes! They were within a few meters of each other and a large goanna! Won’t be wandering around here without boots on! At Janie’s corner we parked up the car and wandered on to the beach to get our feet wet and admire the view to the south. We definitely need to come back here and spend more time. It’s very pretty, and being my beach, I have rights!

Our last stop on this drive was at Seal Rocks also a very pretty beach, with a cute looking caravan park just behind it. I hope we get to stay here someday. Although we still had quite a drive to Nelson Bay, we decided to walk up to Sugarloaf Point lighthouse. The initial walk to access the headland is super pretty, through cool dune vegetation, along a very accessible path. Just before going up to the cottages there is some amazing rock formations and a blow hole, that wasn’t blowing but was certainly surging. The cottages are very attractively presented and available to stay in, with people arriving while we were there. Would be a lovely place to spend a wild weekend, snuggled up warm, or a summer holiday, with access to the best beaches around! From the cottages it is a steep, thigh killing, almost vertical climb to the lighthouse (no view of Smokey Cape), which must look fabulous at night! Our walk to and from the lighthouse was brightened by some birds in the trees, including an Eastern Spinebill. I have been to trying to find a Western Spinebill for ages and without looking, find its eastern cousin. There are a lot more birds along this coast than at home. We also watched a couple of pairs white breasted (bellied) sea eagles, swooping at each other, I assume in an effort to protect their nests. There was some major attacking and defending action happening across the sky. Four white bellies! I haven’t seen one at home, although they are out there somewhere. Just not when you make a point of going looking for them!

Time to make a serious effort to get down the road, which was helped by a storm that meant there was no point stopping. Well into the evening we arrived at the caravan park in Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, on the traditional lands of the Worimi people, with some fish and chips, ready for a shower and an early night. Tomorrow we get to swim with wild dolphins. We. Get. To. Swim. With. Wild. Dolphins! Bring it on …

Saturday 12th November 2022

It’s an early start to swim with dolphins, needing to be at the marina for 6.15am, to get fitted out in wetsuits ready to #JoinThePod. Of course we were bang on time, having had one of those sleeps you have when you are excited and hoping not to sleep through the alarm. Wet suited up and with the waiver signed, we boarded the beautiful catamaran Imagine. The boat is owned and operated by Frank, a Port Stephens legend and the last lighthouse keeper, while the dolphin swim business is operated by Adam and Ellie, two beautiful young things, living their best lives every day! Not long into the trip we were fully briefed, allocated to group 4 of 4, and had heard a great creation story about the harbour. We also saw our first dolphins, some bottle noses. These are very common in Port Stephens, and the main draw card. It’s not this type we are going to swim with though. The ocean type that we will swim with are common dolphins. And just at the harbour entrance we encountered our first pod and group one was in the water swimming with them. Much envy. Their faces when they came out of the water said it all.

Further out into the ocean proper, group 2 got their chance to swim with a pod. The way it works is, the boat finds a pod, the pod come to the boat by choice, the swimmers enter the net at the front of the boat, then with the engine off, get tethered via the harness to a rope strung across from one hull to the other, and on the count of 3 drop into the water, turn around and grab the rope. With snorkel and goggles already on, it’s a matter of face in the water and see dolphins! The first two groups seemed to nail it and then it was group three’s turn. I have to say, it’s high excitement and there is a lot of energy and anticipation. It also sounds easier than it looks, so my nervous energy was quite high. With group three in the water, there seemed to be a lot of effort going into making sure they had a good experience. The two staff in the net were coaching people at either end of the rope, when a message came back that 2 had never swum before! Never! Ever! One quickly decided to get out again, while the other continued with some coaching. The dolphins were long gone but as the swimmers at each end of the rope seemed to be relaxing into it, they were given extra time to get the hang of it. Eventually though, they were hauled out, with a standby call extended to us. And then over the PA we were all told there was an “unconscious swimmer” in the net. Seriously? No, no, no, no, no! I haven’t swum with dolphins yet.

Of course, I had no choice but to declare myself a Registered Nurse and offer to help. Before I knew what was happening, the offer was accepted and I was in the net with an unconscious swimmer. I instantly felt out of my depth, in more ways than one. Fortunately, the team in the net had it under control and I just did more of what they were doing. Airway. Breathing. Circulation. The swimmer was breathing and had a pulse but was struggling or refusing to open their eyes. To keep us all safe, the call was made to retrieve the swimmer to the deck if the boat via a spinal board, and the team did a great job getting them onto the deck. Once there, any consciousness that had been gained was gone again and for a little while I thought CPR would be needed. Some leg elevation and painful stimuli did the trick though and our swimmer was back with us. Although we had them back, they certainly weren’t in any condition to stay out on the open water, so we made a combined call (the captain, the dolphin experts and I) to turn the catamaran around and take our now-conscious swimmer back to the marina. Unfortunately, that meant no further dolphin swims today, and no swim at all for group 4!

Back in the safety of the harbour our swimmer was assessed by the paramedics and thankfully walked off the boat, certainly not back to normal, but definitely alive and well. Our crew and I however were somewhat shocked and shattered. After a quick chat we were invited back on board tomorrow and left the crew to further debrief and support each other, while we headed to a cafe for some much-needed coffee, brunch and a debrief of our own. Those dolphins better be good tomorrow…

Somewhat settled we decided to head back to the caravan park for a shower before walking back into town for a look around the shops and our pre-booked holiday massage. It was supposed to be celebratory, but it was somewhat flat despite being an excellent relaxation massage. A wee small bevvie helped lift the mood, complemented by a stunning view.

Time for another shower and some rest before my birthday dinner. We chose to have it tonight, thinking we would be celebrating me and dolphins, and be able to relax and have a later night. Instead, we had a very nice meal, a glass of wine each and another early night, so we can press replay on our dolphin anticipation and do it all again tomorrow. Here’s hoping things are calmer on the ocean.

Sunday 13th November 2022

It’s going to be a busy day. We have to have the camper back “before dark” but first I have to swim with wild dolphins! So, you know how the first part of this goes. Get up early, get to the marina by 06.15, don wetsuit, board the boat, set sail to sea. Actually, it started with hugs all round to the crew from yesterday and introductions to new people. Thankfully one is a registered nurse, so I am definitely off duty today! As you would expect we were allocated to group one, and our excitement was huge! The 24hr delay had actually meant we knew what to expect and how the whole thing works. So, when our call came, we were more than ready to go. There really is no time to think and before we knew it, we were SWIMMING WITH WILD DOLPHINS! I have no idea how long it lasted but it was magic. I did the “goosey loosey” arms and could see dolphins in front of us and to both sides. The water was rushing past us, but it felt wonderful and the visibility was great. If only we had a go pro.

Back on deck our “dolphin smiles” were snapped and I was more than ready for more! After all, I have been taking travelcalm for 48hrs! While we waited to see if we would get another swim, I thoroughly enjoyed standing on the front of one of the hulls and watching the gorgeous creatures swim with us and the other swimmers. Soon enough we got a second and then a third chance to go into the water, neither as good as our first swim, but awesome all the same (you can see our first swim is from the 45 second point in the vid and then again from 3 minutes 50 seconds). What a fabulous thing to do and I am so glad we got to #JoinThePod! After yesterday’s antics it was great to tick this off, along with one of the other 2 couples who missed out. I think it was great for the crew that everything went without a hitch and we all had the chance to reset.

It was a different day today, with more time to reflect as well as to enjoy. As we left the marina this time, I was thinking that without a doubt we all did what we could yesterday, given the circumstances. Dealing with a medical emergency in a hospital ward, with life saving equipment is stressful. Dealing with a medical emergency in the net of a yacht, offshore, with almost no equipment, is beyond next level. The crew all did an outstanding job and the swimmer was their first priority. While it was somewhat frustrating, the fact that the swimmer walked off the boat is a credit to all of us. I am very proud of what we did yesterday morning. Having experienced this, all I can say is I hope that every tour operator we choose in the future operates their business with the same level of integrity and safety as these people do. I wish them many days of fine weather, smooth sailing and dolphin filled oceans.

Given our time constraints we needed to get moving pretty quickly after our adventure ended, so we grabbed a coffee and beat a path down to the central coast. The traffic and weather weren’t our friends, so we only had a quick look at The Entrance before driving on to Terrigal for lunch. It’s not hard to find a good spot here, and we got lucky with an all-day breakfast at the cafe at the surf lifesaving club, watching the rain approach from the north west. Sure enough, just as we were ready to hike the skillion, the heavens opened and we were running for the camper! Next time …

Our last stop before the rat race was my niece’s family home in Empire Bay. They have done an amazing job of renovating an oldie but a goodie, on a great block, minutes from some of the best beaches and waterways in Australia. Unfortunately, our time with them was short, but we did see them last weekend and we will see them for Christmas. Their home is almost at Woy Woy, where the first coffee of this adventure was bought last Monday. Passing Staples Lookout, we completed a big loop with few roads traversed twice. It was ideal to make tracks straight to our northernmost point on day 1, and slowly make our way back to Sydney over the coming days. I am glad we didn’t go any further. It would have meant we missed a lot more and spent more time in the car. Despite the terrible weather NSW has experienced and is still experiencing, we had perfect, sunny, dry days. Our experiences were fantastic, both those paid for and those that come free of charge. The perfectly fit-for-purpose camper has been reluctantly returned to its owner, we are unpacked and I am hoping (against hope) that Pakistan beat the Poms tonight. It would be a great end to part one of this whirl wind holiday.

Monday 14th November 2022

Today is a rest day of sorts, to do some washing, sort some shopping, collect the hire car (a Toyota Camry) and repack for part 2 of our holiday. Unfortunately, the heavens opened up last night out in the west and there is renewed flooding across some of the places that were on our itinerary. For now, the plan is to start with Mudgee tomorrow and see what else is possible as the week progresses. There are a couple of big differences between the upcoming week and the last week. Firstly my mum, Super Gran is with us. She is an 85 year old powerhouse of effort and energy, likely to keep us on our toes. Secondly we are in a hire car and will be staying in cabins in caravan parks and perhaps motel rooms. None of these are booked. Finally, we are travelling west, away from the coast and won’t see any salt water. Should be quite different to what we have just experienced.

Tuesday 15th November 2022

Well, we are off to good start, out of the house by 9am and along the road to Mudgee. The plan is to get there in the afternoon so we have time for a bit of a look around. We’ll see how that plans goes … our first stop was the lovely Bellbird Lookout on the Bells Line of Road. We used to come out this way a lot as kids to visit family friends and to enjoy the mountain. The lookout is a great spot to get a sense of how big Sydney is and how far the land stretches back to the range. It was a good place to create a settlement with enough room to grow, unlike say Coffs Harbour where the range almost meets the coastline. Onwards from the lookout we headed to the iconic Fruit Bowl on the traditional lands of the Dharug people, the home of the Bilpin Apple and everything to do with apples. Tallulah is a lover of all pastries that have apples in them, so just walking in the door made him swoon. The outlet smells like fresh, hot apples pies. Probably because that’s their biggest ticket item. After a look around, we bought a family sliced pie and some coffee to enjoy outside. I don’t think the place has changed since I was a little girl and it is quite tired looking, but the pie was good! The first of our holiday “10 second selfies” was taken here.

Now for all the times I have been up here, I’ve never been to Mount Tomah botanic gardens. Lucky for us it was on our route, so we turned in and had a gorgeous couple of hours wandering around on the traditional lands of the Dharug people. The view from the platform is worth stopping for, but there is more. We were fortunate to see a most unusual blue plant, described as “with 2m tall spikes, the exotic Puya alpestris ssp. zeollneri, colloquially known as ‘sapphire towers’, hail from the mountains of Chile and each plant can take up to seven years to come into flower”. They were really interesting, unique and indeed exotic looking. We also found a tree almost as old as Super Gran and the ancient Wollemi Pine. How cool that this once-thought extinct tree is growing healthily here and many other places now. In fact, you can buy them in nurseries! Time for a couple more 10 second selfies among the beautiful flowers, plants, shrubs and trees.

Eventually we moved on making it to Lithgow on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people, where for some reason we thought we needed more food. We opted for something quick and the challenge of finding somewhere nice to enjoy it before Tallulah’s pie (meat this time) got cold. Fortunately, we were within a few kilometres of Hassan’s Wall Reserve and Lookout. Oh my, what a superb view, with the “wall” to our far left, Victoria Pass and Hartley to our direct left, and a sweeping vista all the way around to the main drag many meters below us, heading off to our right past Lithgow to our ultimate destination for the day. To celebrate his time spent in Lithgow Tallulah bought himself the only sticker of the trip from the tourist information centre, displaying all the attractions of Lithgow. In reality Lithgow is a very working-class town, low socioeconomic and built on coal mining and power generation. It gets as cold as possible in winter and bakes to a crisp in summer. So why Tallulah would get a sticker from there is anyone’s guess. And when he found out the local soccer team are known as “Rangers” he was ready to tear that sticker to shreds. I doubt it will see the light of day ever again!

Back on the (right) road we needed to stop in Ilford, a town named after a town near where Super Gran comes from in Essex, England. There is not much in the New South Wales version of the town, but they do have a lovely free camp near the hall and a cemetery with some old and new graves we spent a little time exploring. Finally, we also collected a geocache for this trip, from a Last Known Address (a cemetery) of all places. These are my least favourite, for obvious reasons. Onwards from the little town of Illford we finally made to Mudgee on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people and collected our keys for our cabin in the caravan park.

On opening the door we were all nearly gassed to death, thanks to someone leaving one of the gas burners on the stove open! They are very lucky the whole thing didn’t go up with a bang! Nothing for it but to go for a walk along the river while the cabin aired out. This walk was our first view of the effects of flooded rivers, with evidence the water had risen significantly here and was moving with some speed, dragging and dropping loads of debris. Fortunately it doesn’t appear to have damaged anything here, despite the caravan park being right in the path of the flood waters. Our walk was capped off with a lovely interaction with a sulphur crested cockatoo. The stunning bird was not too far away and not too high. Because of that we could watch it pluck a pod from the tree and work its way along the pod, popping each pea in the pod and enjoying their contents. When it was done, it chose another and did the same. It was clever enough to turn the pod with its tongue and if needed, hold the pod with its claw. Engaging and so much fun to watch its sheer intelligence at work. Stay safe gorgeous bird, it’s time for us to have some dinner and get a good night’s rest. We’ve got loads more exploring to do …

Wednesday 16th November 2022

If you like wine, Mudgee would be a fabulous destination and you would be occupied for days, if not weeks. While we like wine, spending time in wineries and going from one to the next endlessly is not really our thing, so we decided to head along to Gulgong on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people. This proved to be a very good idea and we spent most of the rest of the day in this little town, and we didn’t even see everything! We spent far too long in the pioneer museum. Every single Australian town has a museum, and they are all full of the same stuff. After a while my eyes start to cross, and I admit to getting a little bored. But this museum has an amazing collection of everything. Everything! Exhibits range from old pieces of farm equipment through to “modern” computers.  I really liked the convict bricks, and the description of how each is stamped uniquely, so measuring brick making productivity was possible. If I had a criticism, it would be that displaying things that are from within my lifespan, things I used when they were “innovative”, things that are still in my home, makes me feel old. Stop doing that!

As usual we needed coffee and food, so I was eventually able to drag the other 2 up the hill for some locally made relish and jams (you were expecting that weren’t you) and then coffee and a cake. Recaffeinated we had the energy to continue our exploration of this cute town. Super Gran found herself a tea towel from the Fiddlers Hame and we got a wee tune from the fiddler. She also bought a garden ornament that is going to be a pain to transport for the next few days. Unfortunately, the Opera House and the Henry Lawson centre were both closed due to a lack of volunteers but we had a fun time at the gold mine experience. Tallulah found himself some gold and a few gems in the bottom of the pan that should fund the rest of our trip (if only). Before leaving town, we had to get a 10 second selfie and who better to include than Henry Lawson himself. Although Gulgongians are clearly very proud of old mate Lawson, he didn’t think much of it, describing post-goldrush Gulgong as `a wretched remnant of a town on an abandoned goldfield’ and `dreary and dismal`. He obviously didn’t enjoy it as much as Super Gran did.

Ready for yet more food, we rolled on to Dunedoo. On the way we came across Pluto. This is not a misprint or typo. We actually passed Pluto. In fact, we entered the further reaches of our solar system just before entering Dunedoo. Now we are in the solar system, our ultimate destination is the sun. Given we just passed Pluto, we obviously have a long way to go. This solar system comprises colourful three-dimensional planets on billboards that are scaled in size relative to the huge Coonabarabran observatory dome representing the sun, and the location of the billboards are scaled in distance, just as you’d find the planets in outer space – only 38 million times smaller! It’s a very cool concept and we were delighted to find Neptune in the middle of Dunedoo on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people, where Tallulah was able to procure yet another “dinky di dogs eye” (that’s rhyming slang for “meat pie”). You can’t let a quick trip through the solar system spoil a rural tour of pie shops and bakeries. The town was quiet, but it has some interesting silo art and some public sculptures in the form of birds. The horse on the silo art is the wonderful Winx, who won 33 consecutive races and in 2016 was both the world’s top-ranked filly or mare and the world’s top-ranked turf horse. Her jockey, Hugh Bowman was born in Dunedoo, hence their portraits adorning the silos. Ok, maybe it’s one of those uniquely Australian things that you need to see to understand and appreciate.

On past Uranus and Saturn, we arrived in Coonabarabran on the traditional lands of the Kamilaroi people with enough time to have a bit of a rest from our exciting day and to prepare for our (hopefully) exciting evening. I can’t believe this caravan park still looks the same 30 odd year later. I remember it had THE best showers in the besser block amenities building. I wonder if it still does. Somewhat refreshed and wrapped in all the clothes we own, we headed out to one of the many observatories in the area (not the Sun). Coonabarabran is the stargazing capital of Australia. It is on the edge of the iconic Warrumbungle National Park, which was officially recognised as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016, the first in Australia. The pristine night sky is free of artificial light that limits celestial views in cities. Some observatories near the park are open to the public all year for amazing night sky experiences through large telescopes, weather permitting. We spent our night with Donna the Astronomer. Donna and her husband entertained us and pointed out a few constellations including Sagittarius. We spotted a good few satellites and the odd falling star. One by one we also looked down a telescope to see some pretty stars and clusters of stars as well as Jupiter and Saturn (not the virtual ones this time). I have seen Saturn down a telescope a few times now, but it is always a thrill to see it again. What a great way to end a super day, midway through the (virtual) universe, at least as far as the number of planets go, but a long way past the half way mark in distance. Looking forward to completing the journey tomorrow and visiting the sun. Not many people go to bed thinking that!

Thursday 17th November 2022

My day started with some enlightenment about just how big our universe is. The Virtual solar system is a great way to get a perspective of how far apart the planets are from each other. Not too far out of town we found Jupiter.

Me: I always thought Jupiter was out there in the Netherlands with Pluto and the others

Tallulah: Netherlands?

Me: you know what I mean. The nether regions.

Tallulah: no, that’s Uranus.

Me: you had to do it! You’re such a boy.

Then, almost on top of one another we ticked off Mars, the beautiful blue planet that is Earth, Venus, Super Grans least favourite and much feared planet (good spot for a 10 second selfie), and eventually Mercury, before safely arriving at the Sun! How many people can say they safely arrived at the Sun?

This place is also known as “Siding Spring Observatory, Australia’s premier optical and infrared astronomical observatory. Since opening in 1964, The Australian National University has operated the observatory site hosting research telescopes from the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Las Cumbres Observatory and many other institutions from around the world. Research carried out here is varied, from probing the depths of the cosmos in search of “Dark Energy” to searching the Milky Way for other planets and signs of life. Nearly every night there’s something new being done, and new discoveries being made”. We found it sitting atop a mountain showcasing a bunch of white buildings. Luckily for us they have a visitors information centre with some interactive displays and loads of interesting information. For example, on Mars I would weigh 23kgs, while on a Jupiter I would weigh 160kgs. I want to live on the moon (8.5kgs). After checking out the information, we headed up to the observatory to the have a look at the telescope. I’m not sure what I thought it would look like, but gee whizz it’s huge. There is also more good information at the visitor’s area, including a photo of the light artefact that is in the sky at night, even here in a dark sky park. We stayed here for at least an hour and thought it was a really good experience and worth a look.

Back on the road, we rolled down the hill, round the corner and into the car park of the white gums walk, one of the many walks in the Warrumbungles National Park. Much of the park was severely burned during an extensive fire in 2013. The fire came within meters of the Observatory and many though it must have been destroyed. Fortunately, it was spared although much of the parks infrastructure wasn’t so lucky. I have never spent any time in this park, but I fully intend to come back here and explore it in a lot more detail in the future. It looks like there are some good camping options that we would enjoy, and we also need to have a good look around Coonabarabran. We didn’t even go into town. Just not enough time.

All Warrambungled out I needed coffee so we took a back road around to the lovely looking town of Gilgandra on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people. Fortunately for us it had a cafe and a visitor’s centre with a gallery and exhibition. The exhibition is permanent and describes the “cooee march”. The story goes that in 1915, the first WWI recruitment march was organised in New South Wales by two brothers from Gilgandra – William and Richard Hitchen. Along the route that began at their front gate, 263 men joined the march to Sydney answering the famous call – “Coo-ee! Won’t you come?” thus agreeing to join the ANZACS. The march travelled from Gilgandra to Sydney on foot, with the Gilgandra men marching 330 miles. The idea was that the march would “snowball” and gather more recruits along the way. Events and recruiting rallies were held in towns along the way. The march passed through towns including Dubbo, Wongarbon, Geurie, Wellington, Stuart Town, Euchareena, Orange, Millthorpe, Blayney, Bathurst, Glannire, Yetholme, Wallerawang, Lithgow, Blackheath, Katoomba, Leura, Lawson, Springwood, Penrith, Parramatta, and Ashfield, before finishing in Sydney. Thirty five men left Gilganrdra, and there were 277 by the time they arrived in Sydney. The Coo-ees embarked on the Star of England in 1916. They largely served in the 13th Battalion and the 45th Battalion. The Coo-ee March Gallery includes artefacts of national significance including the Union Jack Flag carried by the Marchers. A recent addition to the museum display is the Coo-ee Honour Wall, a copy of which you can see here. The three of us found this exhibition engaging and well worth the time spent there. It will be great to go back to Gilgandra and visit some of the other cooee march memorabilia, given this is the town’s big-ticket item.

As with every other day of this and all our holidays we were rapidly running out of daytime, so onwards we travelled down the road to Dubbo, on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people. We arrived in town with enough time to take a wander through the Old Dubbo Gaol. I have been here numerous times before and have always found it interesting. Super Gran on the other hand dislikes it and told us at every opportunity. To manage her, we dropped her in the first building and did a runner. No we didn’t, but we may have walked faster in the hope of losing her. The gaol is smack bang in the middle of the Main Street at the site of the lockup for the first courthouse, between the $2 shop and the supermarket, and across the road from the cinema. It was built in the 1840s. Obviously the $2 shop wasn’t there then, and in fact the rest of the town progressively built outwards from this site. It is odd to pull up on the main straight in the disabled parking spot (thanks Super Gran) and walk straight back in time. Inside the gates and surrounded by a high wall, there are cell blocks, an exercise yard, a hospital and kitchen, and a set of gallows. Within the various buildings there are exhibits and information about the inmates and their crimes, as well as their punishments, including death by hanging. It’s eerie to stand in a place where others died with nooses around their necks. Some of those that died here are also buried here and we threatened to add Super Gran to them, her crime “whinging about Dubbo Gaol”. Funnily enough, despite her whining and whinging, she spent money in the gift shop, buying Old Dubbo Gaol branded pens for bridge scoring and other dust collecting stuff! Maybe she doth protest too much. Fairly exhausted from a long day we checked into cabin number 3 and had a rest for a while before heading out into town for a lovely dinner at a cute restaurant called Down the Lane. Tomorrow we are off to the zoo with an exciting start planned. Tune in …

Friday 18th November 2022

I have been to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo many times, with the cubs when I was a leader, and with my kids a few years ago. It’s not like a city zoo and nor is it like an African lion safari style of place. It is mostly African animals, but there are no cages. You drive, ride or walk from one exhibit to the next, and your ticket is for 2 days, so that you can see everything and attend the keeper talks. It was hard to explain to Talulah but he got the hang of it pretty quickly. Our first stop inside the gates was meerkat enclosure to say hi to Sergei, before we got up close to the rhinos. The highlight of the day came next, with Talulah treated to feeding the giraffes as part of his birthday present from The Drummer and The Piper. Super Gran and I didn’t want to miss out, so we joined the queue and were thrilled to get so close to such divine creatures, who never encounter other creatures at their eye level! 

The rest of the day was thoroughly enjoyable, driving around admiring the gorgeous creatures that make up the zoo. Thanks to the floods, there weren’t many people to mingle with, so we had many of the exhibits to ourselves. We had a nice sit down on the grass admiring the Elands, watched the cheetah get a feed from the keeper, admired the elephants, had lunch with the meerkats (!), hung out with the lemurs and gibbons, and caught up with the hippos. 

Me: look it’s Gloria from Madagascar 

Super Gran: Astoria?

Me and Talulah: bahahahaha

The tiger was certainly very attractive and happy to show me all its teeth, while the lions lounged together in the shade, twitching the flies away, ignoring us. As always, the zoo consumed our entire day and no doubt it would have consumed a second one if we had the time to come back tomorrow.

Unfortunately, we need to move along to Bathurst, which turned out to be a heck of a trip. I managed to do half the journey, avoiding as many potholes as possible, before we swapped over and Talulah finished off the drive. The floods have clearly swept through this area, just 3 days ago, leaving devastation in Molong, and roads looking like moonscapes. It’s going to be a long clean up out here. I hate to think what it’s like at Forbes, where the water is currently flooding through the town. Eventually we made it to Bathurst on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people, and our Air BNB accommodation for tonight. It’s a cute little place, with more than enough room for us, palatial after the last few nights, and cheaper too. Not bad for our last night on the road. 

Saturday 19th November 2022

Bathurst is an interesting town in that it has a real mix of attractions and events. Each October the town hosts Australia’s biggest car race. The car enthusiasts from all over the country flock there to watch the race, which goes for 1000kms, rain, hail or shine. The track is a loop, up and over Mount Panorama, back down the other side, along a few straights. It passes people’s homes, some vineyards and a few parks. There are some permanent structures that give away the fact that once a year the whole place is full of Ford and Holden maniacs. At race time it all transforms into a number camp sites where 1000s of people spend days watching cars go around and around and around. Today of course it wasn’t a racetrack, so we did a couple of laps, stopping at the top to take a walk on to the lookout. There are loads of warning signs about speed cameras and reminding drivers that the speed limit is 60km/hr. Despite this there were a few drivers pushing the limit, and a maroon Prius we saw lapping was pulled over by the police on Conrad Straight! Too funny. Time for some culture …

After a lovely coffee in town Super Gran decided we would head out to Miss Traills’s house. The reviews sounded promising but then we noticed that the house was closed! Disappointed but not beaten (does that sound too dramatic?) we decided to visit Abercrombie House instead. Again, the reviews sounded promising and fortunately it was open. It is located on the northern edge of town and presents as a huge home with gardens, as well as surrounding acreage. As we were driving in, I was reading out the description:

Me: “ Abercrombie House is a heritage treasure of the Bathurst Region and celebrated 50 years of tourism in 2019.​ Built in the 1870s by Bathurst pioneers the Stewart family, since 1969 it has been the home of the Morgan family who have spent the last 50 years restoring and maintaining the magnificent house and its outbuildings and grounds and sharing it with the community”.

Super Gran: The Mormons live here?

Me and Talulah: THE MORGANS!

Once we stopped laughing, we were able to get out of the car, bypass the bus load of folk leaving (good timing) and head for the entrance. We were met by a couple of young people selling tickets at $15 ea and $10 for Super Grans. This entitled us to wander around the home, which is lived in, just like your home and mine. The entrance way alluded to the Scottish heritage of the current owners, and it wasn’t long before a side door opened and Chris Morgan (not Mormon) introduced himself and thanked us for visiting their home. Catching Talulah’s accent, he became more engaged and even went so far as to say “being from Scotland you’ll recognise the baronial style of this home”. Talulah was too polite to point out that the 2 bedroom council flat he and his 2 siblings grew up in, located in suburban Glasgow, lacked the baronial style of this house, and the size, grandeur, dust, oddities and general mayhem!

Super Gran had read somewhere that the house has a resident ghost, or is at least spooky, but Chris insisted that there was absolutely no ghost in the house and in fact it is a “happy house” where fun things happen. He denied ever describing a ghost and seemed taken aback. Super Gran must have got that wrong too.

Back to the oddities and general mayhem. The wander through the house takes you through many rooms and wall to wall / floor to ceiling collectibles. It turns out Chris is a qualified (Grad Cert) museum curator and he and others have been building their collection ever since buying the house, which was all but empty. In one room downstairs we came across a tiger pelt floor rug complete with the poor tiger’s head, adorning the floor, while a dog skeleton stood atop a hutch! Upstairs among much more clutter and dust I noticed a dried rose with the small card stating it came from the bouquet laid by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at Louis Mountbatten’s gravesite the day before their wedding! Not far from it there was a large, rusty, decaying nail, claiming to be up to 2000 years old and of the type used to crucify Jesus Christ! The eclectic mix of stuff in this collection beggars belief. Talulah’s “favourite” piece was the signed group picture of The Beatles hanging above the music room door, not far from a description of the ghostly goings on upstairs! 

As we were leaving this strange place I re-encountered Chris Morgan and asked him what his favourite thing in the house is. He genuinely looked as though no one had asked him that before and then said it changes from day to day. Today he said it was the big bed, upstairs in the “green room” recently donated by a local lady and more recently installed. Apparently, it is the bed that Mr Steward slept in when he lived in the house, way back when. I wonder how it ended up in the home of a local … time for us to make tracks down the road to Sydney, but not before driving past the almost hidden original and much smaller home of the Stewarts. It’s like the owners of this home are trying to pretend they have no association with that other strange house up on the hill. 

Back on the road we completed our loop at Lithgow with me offering Talulah the opportunity to return the sticker. We zoomed past Hartley (another time) and up the Great Dividing Range to Mount Victoria. We did attempt to take a look out from Govett’s Leap but it was closed for some reason, so we headed over to Megalong valley lookout instead. I remember being here when you could sit with your feet and legs dangling over the edge of the world (not me, I am afraid of heights remember). A bit more driving along the Great Western Highway and we were back at Super Gran’s house after a super week. Again we travelled as far as we should, which wasn’t really very far. We enjoyed the change to a very comfy hire car and a series of cabins, with one Airbnb. We were fortunate again that there was no rain to spoil our fun, despite widespread flooding not far at all from where we were. I most enjoyed the virtual solar system and the observatory, and definitely want to go back around the Gilgandra area. No doubt, once the retirement starts, we will spend much more time in the areas north and west of Sydney. For now, it’s time to return the car and enjoy our last 2 days. 

Sunday 20th November 2022

Our last day is the first day that was organised many months ago, and the reason why we are here. Talulah bought tickets to see his football club, Celtic play Rangers at the Sydney Football Stadium. In the meantime, Rangers withdrew, Everton agreed to travel to play, and I got confused and thought it was Aston Villa. Can you tell how thrilling I find round ball football? After dropping off the hire car we jumped on a train and arrived at the stadium with more than enough time to spare. We took the opportunity to wander around the precinct, admiring the rim of the cauldron that Cathy Freeman lit, back at the 2000 Olympics. The rim is the part that rose to the sky, and it is now a water feature in a kids park near the entrance to the RAC Showgrounds. 

We headed into the stadium early enough to find our seats and enjoy the atmosphere for a while. The majority, let’s say 70% of supports appeared to be there to support Celtic, with the rest supporting “Aston Villa”. It wasn’t a full house, but I wonder if it would have been if the rival Glaswegian teams had played each other? We had good seats, although I don’t think there were bad ones, with a good view of the Celtic supports. Our good seats didn’t make the game any more interesting, with the full time score 0-0. Ninety plus minutes for no result! Instead of additional boredom with extra time we were subjected to a penalty shootout, with Celtic coming in as runner up! After all that. Disappointed we walked home for conciliatory drinks while packing our bags, ready for the last day of our whirlwind trip! 

Monday 21st November 2022

Here we go. The last and longest day of our trip. A couple of months ago I bought Talulah a voucher to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for his birthday and booked it for today. Fortunately, Super Gran lives at the end of the Parramatta River and there is a commuter ferry that runs all the way to The Quay, right under the bridge. After saying our goodbyes (until the 16th of December) she dropped us at the wharf at 07.45 and we enjoyed a lovely cruise up the river. If I lived in Sydney and had to commute, I would definitely catch the ferry. We have caught it up the river before, but I forget how calming it is. A very nice way to start the day. And of course, there’s no traffic so it arrived perfectly on time! We brought everything with us, so we booked our luggage in with Bounce, delivering it to the storage area not 20m from where the ferry came in. 

Without anything to weigh us down we set off to find somewhere for breakfast, not hard to do in the rocks area. The day was clear, cool but certainly not cold, and just a light breeze as we left mums. In the city it was still cool, but the wind was definitely picking up! After breaky, and racing back to pay for it, we made our way to the Bridge Climb start, not far from the southern pylon. It’s a very organised place, with the first part of the organisation involving the waiver. After Friday’s antics I am sure there are a bunch of folk not completing these forms honestly, but I ain’t helping today! Waived, we headed through for a brief safety briefing and an alcohol breath test. All clear we were taken through to suit up in the very attractive overalls. Today they recommended no pants under the overalls, to keep a bit cooler. The requirement is that you take nothing with you, so we were all scanned with a metal detector once we were ready. To protect the drivers passing across the bridge, our glasses were secured with a lanyard clipped to a loop on the overalls. Then we were given jackets, all rolled up on themselves, pocketed in their own pocket and also clipped on. We weren’t offered a (clip on) hat due to the wind, which was apparently building in intensity. Instead, we were offered a clip on hankie to complete our bridge climb accessorising! And how stunning we looked. 

The next phase of the experience involved fitting our harnesses. They are prepared on a rail so all you have to do is step in, then the staff come around and lift the shoulder straps, do it all up and leave you ready to learn about the tether. After moving to the next step we were taught how the ever-present tether follows you around. Each step was all about making us and the other people using the bridge safe. To this point, I was fine with it all. Then they said “ladder”. To pass the next step, we needed to go up a ladder of about 10 rungs, step left on the last rung and climb a further 10 rungs to the top, before coming down 2 identical ladders. Oh man, I didn’t think (I don’t know why) that there would be ladders. I was worrying about the height and now they have added ladders! Oh gee whizz. The final step before we headed off was fitting out with a headset so we could hear our guide, Nathan. Naturally the headset was also clipped to our suits. 

Following a very short briefing we were off, across a grill above the people signing their waivers and out through a narrow passage past some lucky Sydney granite. Without realising it we were well above the roads that wind under the bridge, heading for the first pylon. One of the first bits of information our guide shared with us was that the pylons serve no purpose. They look good, and that is all they are for. I am trying to imagine the bridge without them, I doubt it would be nearly as iconic. Anyway our trek along the grill continued and I avoided looking down. Eventually we rounded a corner and arrived at the ladders. The rule of one person on the ladder, was reassuring, and with Talulah behind me, I knew I didn’t need to be rushed along. Having tried them out when we were getting prepped, I wasn’t too worried and off I set, with a fair bit of bravado. I decided not to look up and not to look down, just to keep climbing. At some point I realised that the ladder was at least twice as long as the ones we were trialled on. After the second one I also realised there were more than we were trialled on. With no one to ask, I had no choice but to just keep climbing. It turns out there are 4 ladders, each at least 20, likely more rungs. By the time I got to the top all I could think was that I needed to go back down! Having said that, I was pretty chuffed I had made it this far and the person waiting at the top was quick to tell me the worst was over. 

Our climb brought us out at the start of the arch. The steel underfoot is not transparent and you are not at all close to the edge, hence it felt quiet safe. As a climb, it paled into insignificance compared to the ladders and off we went, up the arch. In our group there were some Aussies, some Brits and some Americans. One asked about the flags, and in particular what the red, yellow and black flag is. Our guide explained that it is the Aboriginal  flag and that it has only recently started flying on the bridge. Prior to that, there were the Australian and New South Wales flags atop the arch. A proposal was put forward to add a flagpole and fly the Aboriginal flag. A costing revealed it would take AUD$25 million (no typo) to install a third flagpole, so the Premier decide to whip down the NSW flag and hoist the Aboriginal one. Given there are in fact 3 official flags, according to the Flags Act (1953), I wonder what will happen if the Torres Strait Islander people want their flag up there? 

Halfway up the arch, our guide stopped us for a while and we admired the view as “someone having a panic attack in the group ahead of us” was assisted down. All I could think was, that could be me soon, not at the top, but at those ladders we still have to go back down. While we were waiting our guide pointed out many of the familiar sites of Sydney, while pointed out many more. Our guide is from Wollongong, whereas I was a born and bred Sydneysider for the first 30 years of my life. The city, the harbour, the river and the beaches were our play ground. A couple of our wind swept photos (it was howling at 65km/hr)  were taken here before we completed the ascent and arrived at the top of arguably the most famous bridge in the world. Atop the bridge there is a light, affectionately named Blinky Bill, I assume because it blinks, but also after a famous Australian cartoon character, a koala. After a few more photos we crossed to the western side of the bridge with a whole new view to admire. Down the river we could see Parramatta at the end of the river, we could see Pier 1 and Darling Harbour, and make out where my old school is, just past Gladesville Bridge.

All of our group survived the climb and the experience of the height without any apparent effects. I found the height unconcerning, probably because you aren’t near the edge. The bridge itself isn’t that spectacular up close. It looks as though Hoges needs to do a fresh coat of paint, and a few panels could do with replacing. Apparently there are absolutely no curved pieces of metal on it, and it’s curved look comes from the way the straight pieces are layered. On our walk down our guide told us about the crews that worked on the construction. They worked in groups of 3, one a “cook” heating rivets to 200° and white hot, one to place the rivets and one to ram them home. The cook would sit away from the other two, and when the river was ready, they would throw it across to the 2nd fellow. Imagine a white hot river being thrown at you, way above the harbour! Apparently there are about 10,000 rivets on the bottom of the harbour, not a bad miss rate, based on there being 6 million in the bridge itself. As a side note, it was easy to tell the catchers on each team by the scarred faces, and broken teeth and noses. I guess not every throw or catch was perfect. 

Of course the penultimate part of our bridge experience was descending those ladders. We were reminded about “3 points of contact, one person at a time and something else”, given an additional instruction to be aware that we passed the rail line and trains could come at any point, and off our guide went. When it was my turn I started slowly, but gradually got the hang of it and actually found it easier than going up. I worked out the crossover from one ladder to the next and that certainly helped. I also knew there would be 4 ladders and how long they would be, so I didn’t have the feeling I had been duped by our trial. Before I had time to panic I was at the bottom and surprisingly my legs weren’t even shaky. I was so proud of myself and could barely stop grinning. It was starting to dawn on me that we had actually climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. How amazing is that?! Right as I was feeling all proud and happy a very loud and rattly train passed by above us and I almost collapsed in fright! I guess here was more adrenaline on board than I realised. Thank God it didn’t go past as I was on that ladder. I had completely forgotten about it as soon as I started descending. I am such a Dory, “just keep climbing, just keep climbing”.

With everyone safely at the bottom we started the grate walk back along the western side, past the Harbour View Hotel. As we walked our guide filled us in on the number of lives lost in the construction of the bridge. There were no such things as safety harnesses and men fell to almost certain death. Despite the lack of safety equipment and the scale of the build, only 16 men died. Of course one death today on any work site is new worthy and would shut a site for days, if not weeks, as it should be. Our guide told us the story of one man who fell from the bridge. He was riveting when he slipped. In a past life he had been a diver and had obviously considered that there was a risk he would fall. His forethought paid off as he managed to complete a somersault as he fell, to enter the water feet first. Everyone who witnessed the fall naturally thought the worst, however old mate surfaced alive, with his boots all the way up his legs and some minor injuries. In true Aussie man style (that’s not necessarily a good thing) he was back on the job two weeks later. 

And just like that, our Bridge Climb experience was over. It was a great thing to do, a life highlight, and perhaps something that others may not be able to do in the future. If you get the chance, do it! Talulah would do it again in a heart beat. Me, not so keen. I have since found out you can do a BridgeClimb Insider, that uses a route that doesn’t involve the ladders! We did BridgeClimb. Hmmm, maybe if I had known … Time to get these knots out of my hair, get out of these harnesses and overalls, collect our photos, and return to solid ground! The wind was progressively getting stronger and I am glad we climbed early. By the time we were sitting at the Quay with coffee, there were white caps all over the harbour and the café furniture was flying all over the place! We watched people climbing, knowing now what they were experiencing. The flags look fabulous, the bridge amazing and I think we both have a new sweet spot for it! Long may it span the harbour and provide a link across the city. Well done to Dr Bradfield for having the vision and foresight to build such a grand structure, that would service our city so capably. It truly is iconic and we have conquered it! Maybe I would even do it again some day … 

It’s hard to top an experience like that so we didn’t try. Instead we enjoyed our coffee, caught a tram to QVB, wandered down to Darling Harbour and then back around to the Harbour View Hotel to watch other climbers complete the last section of their climbs. In the spirit of achievement I had a glass of bubbles and cheered as descenders passed us, raising my glass to them.

After an early dinner we headed around to gather our bags and caught the train to the airport. Our trip was over and after our flight home we were back on the doorstep of reality. It was a whirlwind of a trip with more than a few highlights including a lazy day at Crowdy Head, camping at Diamond Head in the little motor home, swimming with wild dolphins, feeding giraffes and climbing the bridge. There were a few things we could have done without, like an “unconscious swimmer”, a holiday cold and arriving home to a week of living with COVID. Without a doubt we have loads more to explore in New South Wales, as we barely scratched the surface, but what we did do was more than enough and loads of fun. For now though, it’s time to get better, finish off the working year, enjoy Christmas and welcome my granddaughter. Lucky we’ve had this break to prepare us …

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