Farewell Manly, Hello Prahran.

Friday.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning with the realisation that I’d forgotten to pack a drawer of cutlery. Why can’t my brain remind me of these things at a relevant time, for goodness sake? I stumbled sleepily into the kitchen and yanked the drawer open, that’ll remind me when I can be bothered to actually get up.

All packed and ready to go

All packed and ready to go

The final few things were cleared up and packed before Silvio went off to work. The removal company called me just before 9am to say they were around the corner, and I decided I had just enough time to pop over the road and find out if they sold tea in the shop. They did – oh joy! – and while I was waiting for mine to brew, the shop owner Michael chatted to me and greeted other customers by name, he was so nice that I felt kind of sad we hadn’t been in more often.

Removal van

Removal van

Out goes the sofa

Out goes the sofa

Our stuff barely took up a corner of the van

Our stuff barely took up a corner of the van

The movers turned up, three stocky guys in an enormous truck, who declined my half-hearted offer to help carry a box or two. I stayed out of the way but couldn’t resist taking a few photos. We’d been worried about whether all of our things would fit – we may have had a “few” more boxes and bags than we’d originally estimated … well, if our stuff took up more than a tenth of that truck space I’d be surprised.

They were done in a little over an hour, all of our things safely wrapped in blankets and secured against the truck with ropes. I was relieved it was done, although much more worried about the delivery the following day, which would involve carting everything from the loading bay to the basement car park to a shared lift … shudder … don’t even want to think about it yet.

I went for a wander along the beach while I waited for the cleaners to show up. It was a bit worrying handing over our keys when they didn’t seem too sure who our real estate agent was to return them to, but hopefully that will all work out just fine.

I dawdled along the beach again, up to Ash’s Table, where I found I couldn’t resist their fish and chips lunch. Time was ticking slowly by, as I wandered back through the Corso to the Wharf Bar. The weather was turning, the sea was choppy and the wind was picking up; the clouds were threatening rain but I really wanted to sit outside in the jetty bar. I’ve had so many fun times there, joining the crowds on sunny afternoons and balmy evenings, but today it was empty apart from me, my wine and my laptop. I found a spot tucked under the umbrella and watched the sea dancing in the wind, and the minutes winding down to the ferry.

Wine at the Wharf Bar

Wine at the Wharf Bar

Perhaps I should have felt more sad to actually be leaving Manly. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was feeling – mostly, just impatient to get the next few stressful hours of travelling and shifting boxes out of the way. I was pretty unsettled – it was the second furthest I’ve moved (after leaving for Australia) and by far the most difficult logistically, but exciting, and sad, all at once.

The ferry pulled away and I watched the wharf recede and disappear as we turned the corner. At Circular Quay, Silvio arrived from work, and we headed out to get our plane. I was delighted to get an earlier flight, but with the heavy winds and crappy weather, all the planes were delayed, so we ended up leaving right about when we should have. At nearly 11pm, finally … we were home.

Saturday.

My phone jerked me out of a much needed sleep shortly after 8am. I tried not to sound like I’d just woken up as I answered it to the movers, who were not far away. We had just about enough time to jump out of bed and make a cup of tea, but not quite enough to drink it, before the van was pulling up outside.

Boxes starting to arrive

Boxes starting to arrive

Sofa in the new house

Sofa in the new house

The bedroom was crammed full

The bedroom was crammed full

They had four guys and a stack of trolleys, and before we’d really even woken up properly, half of our furniture and boxes was already upstairs in the new flat. They were done in just over an hour, paperwork signed, over and out.

We went back to the apartment a bit shell shocked, wondering how our boxes had managed to somehow multiply overnight on the van, or at least that’s how it seemed … the spare bedroom was absolutely full, we couldn’t even get into it, and the living room was complete chaos.

The living room was pretty full

The living room was pretty full

Something somewhere had leaked, there were a few damp looking marks on the boxes and I could smell something like vinegar, so I started with the stinkiest box and discovered a leaky bottle of balsamic. Luckily we’d used a LOT of newspaper so there wasn’t much damage, although it did reek for a while.

Eventually, we burrowed a path through the boxes big enough to rearrange the bedroom furniture, then we cleared a few more until we could put the TV back up. I made seemingly endless trips with bags of rubbish, and we stuffed things anywhere they would fit until the boxes were all empty, and straight away advertised on Gumtree, please, somebody, come and take them away! And on Sunday morning, somebody did :)

Somebody please take them away!

Somebody please take them away!

I dug Quackers out of his box, the poor thing had been packed fairly early on, and I don’t think he had a very comfortable position :( His head isn’t quite straight anymore, which gives him a permanent rather quizzical look. He’s now safe and comfy again, back in his old spot on the shelf.

Quackers in the new home

Quackers in the new home

In the afternoon, we were starving – we’d barely had time to eat anything for breakfast before carting boxes around. Luckily there’s a pizza shop right downstairs … I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a pizza quite so quickly, or enjoyed it quite as much, except possibly that one time in Byron Bay :)

Dinner. I was too hungry to take the photo before.

Dinner. I was too hungry to take the photo before.

On Sunday morning, we took a trip over to Prahran Market. It isn’t as big or as cheap as the Queen Victoria Market, but they had some nice food stalls, and we picked up some steaks to get the barbecue going again with – yum!

I didn’t want to spend all day on Sunday unpacking, I had a new job to prepare myself for on Monday morning, but it felt pretty good to get things organised. By the end of the day, everything was unpacked – the wardrobes are full, and we still need more storage, and definitely some extra shelves for the gazillions of photos, but that will get resolved over the next few weeks. The walls look wonderful, especially with the sofa, and with softer lighting the living room is really cosy and comfortable. Home sweet home!

Adventures in Queenstown

From Wanaka to Queenstown was not very far, the Milford Sound flight was booked for early afternoon so we had time to stop in at a winery along the way. The one I picked was, typically, closed! Luckily there was another one close by, Amisfield, where we picked a yummy pinot noir and a surprisingly good rose to take away with us. At the last minute I asked about good places to go for Chardonnay and the sommellier suggested I try one more: an oaky sauvignon blanc … and then we were leaving with three bottles instead of two.

Busy barman at Amisfield

Busy barman at Amisfield

We carried on to Queenstown, with Silvio’s budgie smugglers and my bikini still spread across the dashboard of the van drying out from our swim the previous day.

Excited!

Excited!

We drove around Queenstown airport before we found the little hangar for the Milford Sound flights, and crawled into a tiny aircraft just wide enough for two cramped seats, fitting about nine passengers in all. The bumpy flight across the mountains, Silvio wrote, “made me entertain the thought of displaying my breakfast to the other passengers, only personal pride and gravity saved them”.

Our flight path

Our flight path

Snowy mountains

Snowy mountains

River

River


The views out of the window were really amazing, we could see the Shotover river with the small red jet boats streaming down it, then the snow capped mountains followed by aquamarine lakes opening up below us as we grew closer to Milford Sound. Despite that, I was glad when we touched down, I think my breakfast was still safe but my stomach was also beginning to churn.

Mountains from the wharf

Mountains from the wharf

On the boat, we headed all the way through to the mouth of the Sound, where we met two cruise ships coming in. It was sunny, but with huge, heavy clouds sagging over the mountains that rose right from the sides of the water. There were several waterfalls cascading down the rocks, but with the dry weather there weren’t as many as when it rains. Apparently, Milford Sound is beautiful no matter what the weather.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls


We were pretty far south and near the coast, so it wasn’t very warm despite the sun, and the wind on the boat was fierce – my hair was soon whipped into a birds nest and I dreaded trying to brush it afterwards. The top deck was fairly packed, but I managed to take a few nice photos of the misty river between the mountains. On the way back, we saw a bunch of young seals sunbathing on some rocks – apparently these were the young male seals that had been thrown out of the pack, and would grow stronger before returning to find a mate.

Seals on the rocks

Seals on the rocks

The flight back was much smoother – whether because we took a slightly different route, or maybe the wind was less, who knows, but we were both glad. I took photos of mountain tops poking through fluffy clouds, and the late afternoon light making the hills look blue.

Low clouds

Low clouds

At the holiday park in Queenstown – the first place we hadn’t phoned ahead to book, not having had any issues so far finding a spot – there was only one spot left for the night, right outside reception. We grabbed it anyway – the most expensive place of all the ones we stayed in, as well – I guess that’s what you get for coming to Queenstown so close to New Years.

View from the campervan

View from the campervan

Camper at the site

Camper at the site

Quackers at the campsite

Quackers at the campsite

Still, it was close to the centre of town, so we headed to a local place for dinner. We must have been early because it was empty, and we easily got a table outside with an awesome view out across the lake. We were messing about with the self timer on the camera, balancing it on the cutlery and trying to line up photos, when the waitress finally took pity on us and took one for us. I had lamb and Silvio went for the fillet steak, it was all delicious … I seized the dessert menu afterwards, I’d already seen the pavlova on it – a New Zealand specialty apparently. Silvio suggested we share it, but I pretended I hadn’t heard … (ok, I’m not that bad, I let him have a spoonful in the end).

Dinner time view

Dinner time view

Cheers!

Cheers!

Yum

Yum


On Saturday morning, we drove out to the Shotover river to have a ride on the jet boat. We were pretty early and had quite a wait – those guys were sending out two full boats every fifteen minutes, we calculated that they must have been making a mint! We finally got kitted up with damp black jackets and bright red life vests, and only just missed out on sitting in the front seats!

Ready to go on the boat

Ready to go on the boat

The boat driver warmed us all up for the trip by speeding up the river and spinning around before coming back for the obligatory photos, then we were off downstream. The river wasn’t very wide, and he swung the boat close to the rocks until we all screamed – even knowing he did this dozens of times a day without hitting them, it was hard to believe as we sped within a whisker!

Shotover jet

Shotover jet

Every so often, he spun the boat in a full 360 degree turn, sending a big splash across all of us and raising noisy shrieks, it was great fun. On the return journey he described the river in the winter with blocks of ice, apparently there are only a few weeks a year when the boats don’t operate although I’m pretty sure it must be freezing when it’s icy … glad we came in the summer!

Lunch at Wild Earth

Lunch at Wild Earth

After our wild river trip, it was back in the van and off towards Cromwell for lunch at Wild Earth, a winery and restaurant that we’d been recommended to try. All of the food is smoked in barrels and matched to the wines they produce, so we opted for the taster menu with six small dishes. Obviously, I also decided to go for the matching wine selection! It all arrived beautifully presented on a long wooden plate – it was all delicious, although the lamb with a 2008 pinot noir really stood out. The setting was really pretty as well, we sat outside in the garden where we could look across the hills.

Lunch platter at Wild Earth

Lunch platter at Wild Earth

Selfie!

Selfie!

Being silly

Being silly


Although it was good, the food left us wanting dessert but as it had already taken a long time to arrive we decided to stop somewhere else along the way home. We’d passed loads of wineries and one cheesery, so that seemed like a good place to make a stop! We tasted some really good cheeses, and ended up buying a lovely sweet cheddar (the thought of which is making my mouth water still while I’m writing this!) and a tasty blue cheese, with the intent of saving them for New Year’s Eve back in Christchurch. We also tasted some chardonnay and pinot noir in the winery and bought another bottle to add to the growing collection in the van!

Later that afternoon, back at the campsite but in a new site that was a bit quieter, we had decided to head out to go up in the gondola to the luge but it wasn’t meant to be: the heavens opened just as we were making our way out of the campsite!

20121230_115443

Luckily the weather cleared up overnight and on Sunday we made it over to the gondola. The luge was like a toboggan with small wheels underneath and a track nearly 1km long; we bought five rides but it was so busy that we kept getting stuck behind slower riders! We amused ourselves on the chairlift up to the top by making stupid poses for the camera halfway up, didn’t get to see any of them apart from the last one which was actually quite nice, so we bought it :)

On the very last ride, we finally lost the slow riders and sped down, taking the corners on two wheels, it was all over far too quickly and we came out giggling.

Margaret River

When I booked my tickets to Perth to join a group of ThoughtWorkers heading to Margaret River in early March, it seemed so far off … I couldn’t quite believe that it had come around so quickly! Sydney was so dark and rainy on Thursday morning that it looked like evening outside, so I was glad to be heading off to somewhere with a real summer!

Amongst the things I had forgotten to pack was my sunnies, so when we reached the airport I headed straight to the shops, where Andrea helped me pick out a crazy pair with a red flowery frame. They’re different at least! We had time for a quick snack, a couple of glasses of wine and a catch up on the latest gossip from the week :) The flight was delayed by half an hour, which wasn’t too bad considering the bad weather, most of the flights had been delayed far more. Considering it was a domestic flight, it was really long at over four hours – I made the most of the free seats next to me, lying down across all three with Lana del Rey blaring through my headphones.

Scott and Alex posing

We met the rest of the group at the airport: I already knew the infamous Andy Tam (who had done the organisation so far) and the equally infamous Alex Ong and Scott Robinson, but I hadn’t met the rest of my fellow travellers: Magda, Silvio, Anette and Kai. We collected three rental cars and divided up so that everybody had a place to sleep before we headed out to Margaret River the next day – my allocated spot was on Silvio’s couch, I guess that’s one way to get to know somebody!

Breakfast on Friday morning was at a local cafe in Perth, where Andy laid down the main rule of the trip: No Talking About Work. This would prove to be easier said than done, but it was definitely a good ambition! After that, we headed out on the long drive to Prevelly, where we would be camping just around the corner from the beach – remarkably, the entire group was underway by around 10:30. We stopped halfway there to visit Harvey River Bridge Estate to sample their cider, although we had to buy it first – not a problem, Scott had purchased two large cases. We drove around the corner for some lunch, and Scott bought a water pistol in the tourist shop, unleashing it on all of us in turn and laughing a crazy laugh, muwahahahaha … Alex tried and failed to steal the water pistol and met with a rather wet revenge …

Muwahahaha, I will shoot you with my water gun

Back in the car and time for a nap. A couple of hours later we arrived at the campsite, having decided to pitch the tents before visiting too many wineries. Tents pitched and a couple more ciders down, I was hot and sticky and ready for a dip in the ocean. Alex, Kai and Scott were headed into town with instructions to buy food for the barbecue later, while the rest of us wandered across the road to the beach. The sand was coarse and sinky, our feet making deep grooves as we meandered across looking for a good spot to spread our towels. The beach was deserted – it was really windy and steep but the sun was gorgeous. We went for a dip in the ocean, the sea floor fell away steeply and I could feel the current pulling us with the waves, so we didn’t go in too far.

Andrea and I headed for a walk up to the top of the hill, meeting Kai along the way as he headed down with his kite and surfboard. Alex and Scott sped past us in their car, screaming out of the window as they went … they parked at the top before heading back down the beach to meet up with the group. We watched Kai kite surf for a while, whooping as the kite pulled him several feet into the air. He made it look so easy … I only found out later that it took a week of solid practice to be able to stand up.

We watched the sun set across the ocean until it slid below the horizon, then wandered back to our campsite to set up a barbecue. The fire-starting responsibility was handed to Anette, whose Norwegian heritage apparently includes a talent for this. She told us how every house in Norway must have a fireplace where they can light an open fire, in case of an emergency power outage during the winter when people could freeze to death without one.

Building the barbecue ready for dinner

There was a giant woodpile and a steel drum barbecue to build the fire inside, so Anette set to work with dry leaves and wood shavings to get it going. It was almost pitch dark, with only flashlights and a candle to work by! The fire was incredibly smoky at first but didn’t take long to catch, and she proudly built it up with the logs as we looked on hungrily. She may have done too good of a job though, we realised, when Andy tried to figure out how to get the “lid” on the drum to cook the food on. Luckily he didn’t have too many hairs on his forearms to get singed off, I don’t think he has any left now though. That fire was raging! Andy and Anette put tin foil across the top with rocks to weigh it down, then drizzled olive oil on top in preparation for the steaks … well, you can guess what happened to that, yep, pretty quickly there was a soft roar as it lit up. The sausages went on to the barbecue and within a minute or so the outsides were already cooked. Andy managed to get them off and cut them in half to cook properly.

Ultimately, we did get some very tasty burgers and steaks, along with slightly charcoaled sausages. The fire was so hot that the foil eventually caught on fire too, as well as the oil from the burgers, but eventually it did calm down a bit. Lesson learned: for the following night, we planned to light the fire much earlier so that it would be less fierce when we were ready to cook. It goes down as one of the most entertaining barbecues I’ve been too, especially watching Andy dance around it with tongs trying to avoid the flames licking the edges of the barbecue lid and remove some of the cooked sausages.

By 10PM, I hit the wall: with the three hour time difference it was time to head to bed! I woke again at 1am when the group in the cabin next to us were having noisy discussions outside, and my bed seemed to be starting to deflate … too tired to do much about it, I drifted in and out of sleep for a while until they finally wound down. It was incredibly warm, I almost didn’t need my sleeping bag at all. In the morning, the time difference was a benefit again, getting up around 7:30am felt like a lovely long lie in :)

Yummy breakfast

Even yummier breakfast

Farmer's Market

There was a farmer’s market on in town on Saturday morning, so most of the group decided to head over and find some breakfast. We almost missed the turning but thanks to Magda’s eagle eyes we found it. It was a fairly small market with some tasty looking veggies and a slightly bizarre guitar player massacring Coldplay and various other tunes, I had a very unhealthy breakfast including two sticky pastries, followed by a freshly squeezed juice to feel slightly less guilty. We met up with some other ThoughtWorkers who were in the region, and bought some veggies and food for a big barbie in the evening.

Andrea wants to be in our photo

Andy, Andrea and I headed out from the market to find out about a bush tucker canoe tour that we wanted to take on Sunday, and after that we planned to hit our first winery. Andrea opted to go for a surf lesson instead; I was feeling far too lazy! We started out at the Voyager Winery, where a lady called Claire introduced us to three white and three red wines. I liked all of them, and quite a few people decided to buy a bottle or two. We stayed for lunch, Andrea joined us after a while, then we headed off to go to another winery. We took a few photos in the beautiful rose garden out the back of the winery in the glorious hot sunshine.

Rose

Claire telling us about the lovely wines we were trying

Andrea and I in the rose garden

The wines at the next place were not quite as nice, it was darker and busier and by the time we’d finished tasting them all I was about ready to head home for a nap. Some of the others stayed for desert, some went out to the beach, but our tent was lovely and cool and I didn’t want to go anywhere! When I emerged around five, Anette and Magda were already on the case getting the fire lit and potatoes wrapped in foil ready to cook in the coals. The idea was to let the fire burn down slightly more tonight before cooking the meat :)

The wine was soon on the go and then the Captain was out as well, the potatoes and corn were in the charcoal and chaos reigned again. There were probably around twenty of us in all, trying to see by the light from the fire and our flashlights, dishing out food and losing our drinks … there was plenty of banter, and LOADS of food.

The time difference made itself felt before it got too late, and once again I was in bed fairly early. It was a clear night so slightly cooler, and incredibly windy – as I snuggled into my sleeping bag the wind howled around the tent. I could barely feel it inside, although there’s always that nagging worry about whether it will actually blow away … (it didn’t though). Sunday was bright and sunny again (I love Western Australian weather!) and we were up and excited about our canoe trip. Silvio joined Andy, Andrea and I to head up to the river mouth and meet our guide George, who handed us life jackets and oars, and led us down to the canoes. I was very amused that Silvio’s jacket had River Queen written on the back … Andy took on the job of steering our canoe, while the River Queen set the pace up at the front and George warned us that “relationships are made and broken on this trip”.

Happy rowers ... before the hard work began

We hadn’t gone very far down the river before Andrea complained that rowing was hard on her arms … well, she had done a pretty tiring couple of hours surfing the day before! The surroundings were beautiful though. George directed us into a small lagoon, where we beached the canoes and wandered through a small forest, and he described how the Aborigines would make their home in the forest for a part of the year, moving on when the river rose and claimed the land that we were standing on. The trees that grew there flourished even when the water was a few feet deep. Much of the land had been ravaged by the fire last November, a planned bush fire that had grown out of control. We climbed along the trees that hung over the river and joked about pushing each other in …

River Queen Silvio

Fellow canoeists

The mouth of the Margaret River

Back in the canoes, I decided to see how Quackers would enjoy a bit of a swim and put him gently in the water … the next minute he was being violently attacked by lots of small fish just below the surface. Poor thing! We got him back eventually though, and he didn’t seem too much the worse for wear – still smiling – I don’t think those fish had teeth.

Quackers gets attacked!

A little further along the river, George told us the story of the Bussels, who had built a beautiful house on the bank in the 1800s. The house is still there, along with one built more recently by the current owners, but sadly both had been burned in the fire last year. Although they are insured, it remains to be seen whether the walls of the old house suffered such bad structural damage that they would need to be knocked down and rebuilt.

We set off again and rowed further along the river, until it was time to turn around and go back the way we’d come. We stopped off for a refreshing dip in the murky water – Andy unexpectedly slipped over on a slimy rock, we tried not to laugh but it was hard … the water was lovely and fresh, but very brown, and I didn’t dare touch the bottom in case I sunk into the slimy mud.

Back towards the river mouth, we eventually stopped off for our promised bush tucker lunch. George laid a tablecloth over a crate and set out little wooden containers with many different types of unfamiliar foods as we all watched hungrily. He began with some crushed herbs: lemon myrtle, and a coffee substitute that apparently tastes worse than the cheapest available instant coffee, but for the early settlers with no option to grab a Starbucks, it was the only choice available.

Mmmmm, spicy

Trying out the various aboriginal foods

George explaining the different bush tucker foods

We had a small red fruit (I’ve forgotten the name) with a nut inside that resembled a tiny, hard brain; a tiny peppercorn with a fierce bite; a small tangy citrus flavoured fruit; and a nut that tasted like a combination of coconut or almond and paper. Lastly, George brought out some crocodile meat! It looked like ham and tasted a bit like a cross between ham and chicken – I went back for seconds, it was really good. With the tasting done, we could tuck in to our main course – emu, kangaroo and wild turkey, marinated and served with a choice of pestos and chutneys and sundried tomato bread. It was delicious.

The last part of the tour before we headed back was into a cave. Outside of the cave, the rock radiated heat like a huge cooker, but inside it was damp and cool. Water was dripping slowly from small stalactites on the roof. I wasn’t too keen on the cave – it was large enough to stand in, but I chose not to go through to the next cave, where people had to crawl in. Nobody opted to go through the tunnel of fun after George told it us would mean a bit of belly crawling … I was glad to get back outside into the sunshine.

Inside the cave

Quackers in the cave

George and the stalagtites

The sun was scorching as we headed back to the campsite, and none of us felt like doing more than chilling outside the cabin. Magda, who had gone off for a sky dive, returned around 3:30, so we decided to take in one last winery – Andy wanted to go to Stella Bella. It was definitely worth the trip – they had some lovely wines, an empty bar, and a lady who was very friendly and knowledgeable. We enjoyed several different wines and left with a good few bottles in the back of the car …

While most of the group headed down to the beach, Andrea and I decided we wanted to eat with at least a little bit of light, so we attempted to start a fire (all on our own, without Anette!). Just as we got it going, I nearly put the whole thing out by smothering it with a big block of wood, but it fought its way back and soon we had a lovely hot fire all ready to cook on! Andrea took charge of the food, so by the time the others showed up it was almost ready. It turned into another chilled evening with wine by the barbie, slightly less chaotic but just as much fun :) Scott, Silvio and Magda decided to leave that night after all, since they wanted to get back for work instead of taking a day off, leaving Andy all alone in his cabin.

Trying to set up the barbie for dinner

The rest of us got up early on Monday to pack up the tents and drive back to Perth. It was a bit cloudy, which made it slightly easier to leave … that wasn’t going to last though. Andrea and I carefully rolled the tent up and squashed it into its bag before she realised she’d left her phone in the inside pocket, so we had to undo it and do it all over again. Finally we were off – we made ourselves comfortable in the car with Andy’s pillows and stopped off for coffee and smoothies before heading down the highway … our lovely little holiday was all too soon over except for the long trip home and unpacking …!

A Happy New Year.

New Year’s Eve was another beautiful day, and another good day for a drive. This time we were headed out to Champagne Pools, on the coast further up Fraser Island. The drive was mostly across the beach, but we would have to cross a sand blow, where many people apparently got bogged (stuck in sand) in their cars.

Driving across the sand

Adjusting tyres for soft sand is boys work

Put that thing away!

Tides were smaller and the sand on the beach was drying out, and driving wasn’t as smooth as the nice wet sand at a big low tide, so we were all getting thrown around. The girls didn’t seem bothered at all, they either slept or giggled through the bumps.

As we approached the sand blow, we stopped to let the tyres on the car down a little further, to cope better with the soft sand. I was actually getting a bit apprehensive and excited, but the whole thing turned out to be a big anti climax – the path had been boarded and was far shorter than I’d thought, so we were through with no problems in no time at all!

Champagne Pools turned out to be closer than we’d thought, so much so that everybody kept driving up the track until we realised we should turn around and go back. A short walk through the trees, and there were beautiful views across the water and down, into a rocky pool washed over by the waves, the abundance of white foam giving it its name. The tide was high, and although we all wanted to go and cool off in the water, it was too dangerous for the little ones. We explored for a while, then we were off – this time, heading for the very end of the island.

Champagne pools from above

A little further along the beach, and we had to take a detour around more crazy rocks. It was only a short way up the track that we came to a steep part of the track with a sharp bend at the top – Yolly jumped out to video, as Anthony finally got up on his fifth attempt. Casey and Phil managed it in two – they must have learned from watching him! We carried on for a while, but eventually got to a part of the beach that we just couldn’t get across, so turned around to go back. Going back along the same track, and going back up that hill, at the point where we crested it I couldn’t see anything out of the window except sky. I think I closed my eyes.

4x4 driving

Along the way, we found a great spot to stop, with a big rock pool full of sun-warmed seawater, and plenty of space to park and set up a picnic. I had my first proper try at fishing – Casey had showed me briefly how to swing the rod to cast a line, and now I had a go at baiting the hook with a bit of sandworm. I was proud of the job I did – it was definitely far better than my attempts at fishing! The only thing I caught was Casey’s line … oh well, the others weren’t doing much better, they caught one or two very small fish but nothing worth eating.

I learned to bait a hook

Ivy loves the water

Quackers has a swim too

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Ely Creek for a swim, in water I was promised was “icy cold”!

When we reached the creek, there were loads of people playing in it, and I wondered how they could stand it if it was as cold as all that. There was a pool of murky water alongside it, and I dipped a toe in cautiously, only to find it was like a warm bath! Apparently that wasn’t the cold bit though – the creek is all freshwater, fed by springs from further up in the hills of the island. It flows down to the ocean, and a fun thing to do is to float down it from the furthest point we could go to.

Yolly was too cold to go in, so she and Steph wandered up the path while the rest of us waded up the creek. It wasn’t very deep, mostly up to my knees, and it was definitely colder than the ocean but “icy” would have been a small exaggeration :) That said … getting the top half of my body under that water made me shriek a bit, when it was time to turn around and float back! Once we were in though, it wasn’t bad at all – it was shallow enough to use hands on the bottom to keep ourselves afloat, and move gently with the current.

Floating down the river!

Tyler and Mya get in the water

Walking up the creek

After the creek, the warm pool next to it felt even more like a hot bath! I paddled through it back to the car, and it was off home again. Tonight, we’d all be getting into party mode for New Year’s Eve!

There was plenty of beer and wine flowing, and that wasn’t all – Ploy made up three cups of Jaeger cocktails, with Red Bull and passed them to me and Yolly. “One of them is about half Jaeger …” she said – well, guess who got that one! Luckily Yolly was on form and finished most of it for me – bleurgh! We gave the kids sparklers before they went off to bed – at first, Mya was a bit unsure, but she soon wanted more of them.

As the night progressed, we were getting sillier – I was almost falling asleep, so got a small crab thrown at me (I managed not to get too girly about it). At midnight, our neighbours lit fireworks on the beach – well, three, anyway. I think I prefer that to a long, noisy display though! Steph had woken up in time for midnight, and we all wished each other a happy new year, then I couldn’t stay awake any more – what a lightweight.

New Year’s Day was pretty chilled. We went to Ely Creek again, but I couldn’t bring myself to get into the cold water again. Anthony dug a hole in the sand near the bank, and the kids played in it, then they caught a small fish flopping around in it. I took advantage of the chairs under the shade of the marquee we’d brought to catch up with Harry Potter on my Kindle and top up my tan, while munching on sweets … lovely!

Finally caught one!

All too soon, the last day was over. Phil and Ploy had already left earlier in the morning, and I snuggled into my tent. It was sad that it was almost all over, but it had been such a good two weeks I couldn’t feel too bad. Plus, there was still the long drive home across the beach to look forward to :)

Working for a living … and spending my earnings.

After three and a half weeks “on the beach” (as we call it at ThoughtWorks, when we’re not working on a client project) it was time to start earning a proper living. I started work at my new client on Wednesday this week. No more rolling out of bed at nearly 8am and getting on the 9:20 ferry – now I have to be at my desk and working by 9am! That means getting up at six thirty-ish and leaving home in time to catch the 8am ferry. Lucky it’s only a five minute bike ride!

The last three days of the week flew past faster than any others since I arrived, with so much to do setting up a new project. The beginning is always the most exciting. There are just two of us (myself and another consultant called Hari), trying to build a working website within six weeks – it’s going to be challenging, but that’s what I like!

The building where I’m working is above a mall – it has about thirty floors, and the higher ones have gorgeous views across the water. Sadly, Hari and I are working on the second floor, but we have nice, big desks and plenty of wall space. We only have to go down a floor to find coffee or lunch, and we get to see the view when we have meetings on the upper floors.

Enough about work though.

This week I also decided it was time to get a bit more serious about exercise, and so I’ve joined Fight Gym. I used to really enjoy doing boxing exercises at the gym in Edinburgh – with pads, rather than hitting a real person – and I wanted to find a kick-boxing class. Fight Gym hold different kinds of boxing classes every night of the week as well as lunchtimes, and have two locations: one near work and one near home. I was a bit nervous going for my first couple of classes as the website emphasises how much hard work it is, but it’s SO much more fun than boring treadmills and cross trainers. It doesn’t hurt to let off a bit of steam after a tough day either! Not that I’ve had any of those out here … yet.

My run from home to Shelly Beach, along the Steyne

Other than boxercise, I’m also trying to run occasionally. I haven’t tried running on the sand yet, but I did make it about 5k on Friday night – from home to Shelly Beach, all the way along the Steyne, looking out across the beach. It’s a lovely route and nice and flat, but I do feel quite unfit sometimes!

Other than the gym, I went out for a couple of drinks near Darling Harbour after work one night, but the 6:30 start got the better of me and I had to leave early! (Not like you Jo, I can hear you say!)

Saturday was the Global Day of Code Retreat – developers all over the world were meeting up to practice writing code. It probably is as geeky as it sounds, but I had a fantastic day writing Ruby and Coffeescript … OK, OK, megabytes, blah, blah, I’ll leave it there, save it for my technical blog. Rachel and I had gone together, and by the end of the day we were both shattered.

I didn’t feel like going home though, so after dropping off the laptop and a quick change I headed over to meet Marie-Claire – another fellow Manly-dweller who has just moved into a new flat. I love that going to see my friends here is so easy and chilled, unlike London where it’d take up to an hour to get anywhere. That’s what I thought, anyway, until I tried to cycle up the STEEP hill where Marie-Claire lives – ooowwwww, my legs! (I didn’t even make it very far).

We ended up going out for dinner at Yok Thai – she skateboarded there, behind the bike! – and I had an amazing Thai green curry. Finally, home to collapse.

Sunday was shopping day! Rachel and I had planned to hit Warringah Mall and her housemate Viv joined us. Some days I can go shopping and not find anything much to buy (OK, not often) and others I want to buy everything, well, today was definitely one of those days where I wanted to buy everything.

I found some nice new clothes for work – some great trousers and a wrap around skirt, and accidentally ran into a little silk dress in Kookai that I fell in love with … Oh, I do love to shop.

A proper day out shopping!

Rachel was spending more of her “furniture budget” (the money we have from ThoughtWorks to furnish our new homes in Sydney when we arrive on a temporary contract) – mine is almost gone now! As well as clothes though I did find some gorgeous aromatherapy “melts” and an oil burner in a lovely little shop called Dusk. I also bought my first (and probably only!) Christmas decoration – a little SnowShopper called Pippa (I think). It’s a snowman (snowwoman?) with a candle inside and a little handbag, and she looks very cute lit up on my dressing table.

Viv was disappointed not to find anything to buy, at the last minute she rushed back but the shops were closing :( Rachel and I definitely had more than our fair share of purchases though! What a great way to spend a rainy Sunday … oh yes, people, Sydney is rainy and COLD! I went to bed last night wearing a fleecy top, this is not how early summer is supposed to be here. It looks like next weekend might be warmer, so fingers crossed, I want to get out on my surfboard.

That’s it for now, a bit of a long rambly one, sorry about that! I have been hearing from people that they are actually reading my waffle though, so wanted to keep writing, I like to feel we’re keeping in touch :)

Rachel bought a cute mirror


My "SnowShopper" candle, Pippa


Quackers got a friend!

Tea and Quackers.

Poor Quackers hasn’t really featured that much in the blog since the plane ride over … so just to prove that he is still getting out and about in Sydney, here he is enjoying the delights of the ThoughtWorks office. As for me, I’m loving the enormous ThoughtWorks mugs for my morning cuppa, it’s keeping me going through the endless laptop set up …

First day in Sydney was a long one.

Here’s how it went:

7am:
I try to squint out of the window to get my first view of Australia, but it’s mostly just clouds until the plane bumps a bit and I realize we’ve landed.
As I disembark, the HSBC adverts along the walkway are familiar and I wonder if I’ve accidentally caught the plane back to Heathrow. It turns out to be the right one though.

7.30am:
I stand uncertainly in the customs queue, wondering if everything will be OK with my visa and if I’ve completed the landing card correctly. One of the other passengers gets told off by the official for getting in the wrong queue. It’s a bit of an anticlimax when she barely glances at my paperwork, stamps the password (didn’t use up a new blank page though, how am I going to fill it up?!) and sends me on my way.

7:45am:
My bag’s made it – yay! I have to line up with the other passengers while the customs officials lead a police sniffer dog along our bags, but they take no notice of mine, so I’m through. I find my driver, he hands me my welcome pack including a mobile phone (bonus!) and we set off to my new home.

8am:
I realize there is no apartment key in the welcome pack and wonder if I’ll have to camp on the beach. This is quickly and calmly resolved and the agent will meet us at the apartment (who knew Australians were so efficient?)

8:15am
My driver decides to try and educate me about Sydney suburbs: “This is Redfern,” he begins, “don’t come here at night.” I try but I can’t take in much more of what he says, my brain’s just too frazzled.

8:30am
We arrive at the apartment and I meet my new flatmate Cathy. The agent talks me through the paperwork for the apartment and my brain aches even more. I sign and he leaves.

8:45am
I realize that my backpack is missing, and hope the driver has driven away with it and not left it on the kerb (sidewalk?). Again, I am amazed at the Aussie efficiency and friendliness, within a few minutes he is on his way back with it.

9:15am
Backpack arrives! I dig out my iPod stand from my luggage and discover that my UK-AU adapters were in the box I took out at the last minute because it was too heavy. Damn.

10am
Cases unpacked, shower, check emails. Update facebook. I spend a few minutes enjoying the sun outside on the little balcony, but I’m beginning to feel dozy.

I have a balcony!

10:30am
I need to get up and move around to wake up, so decide to go and find some tea and an adapter. I locate a Coles less than half a mile away but forget the map; luckily the lady on reception is super-friendly and provides m a hand-drawn map. She draws the road map to get to the supermarket on one side of the paper, then turns it over and draws a map of the supermarket layout on the other, marking the adapters next to the milk. I’m a bit skeptical, but she’s bang on, and now I can have music and hair straighteners this weekend!

11am
I walk back to the apartment. The road signs all look the same as in the US, which is odd considering they drive on the same side as us. I see some nice looking restaurants near the apartment and a Nando’s almost directly opposite, I’m not going to starve.

11:30am
TEA!!!!! It’s Tetley’s as well. God knows I need the caffeine.

12noon
Off to find the TW office for lunch: 51 Pitt Street, Sydney.

12:15
I’ve found 59-65 Pitt Street, 37 Pitt Street, 50 Pitt Street and 56 Pitt Street but NO BLOODY 51!

12:30
Oh, there is one after all.
Arriving in the office, I felt like I was starting a new job. I hadn’t even considered this aspect of going to a new office! (which was pretty silly, I guess). It didn’t take long to feel at home though, ThoughtWorkers are the same all over the world, over half the people I met were from outside of Australia, and they were all friendly and chatty.

I had lunch at the office and met up with Rachel and Sarah (recent transfers from London) – it was amazing to see them again, and we made plans for Friday pub (TW tradition).

1:30pm
Met with Danni to figure out some of the final details of the transfer, and left with a (luckily, reasonably short!) to do list. Hopefully I’ll at least have Monday to work on that before I have to be billable …

2pm
Off to the bank to open an account.

2:15pm
Sent home again to get driving license and email my Visa confirmation.

3:30pm
I am the proud owner of two Australian bank accounts and an almost-complete credit card application.

4pm
I find the Telstra shop. It looks like an Apple store (well, except for the Nokia and Motorola products) and there is no information anywhere about pre-pay options. I ask for help and am told there is a half hour wait for an assistant. WTF? But I have my Kindle with me and nothing else to do, they have cold water and comfy seats, so I yawn and settle in.

5pm
My phone is set up – I have interwebz again! Yay!

Well earned glass of vino in the TW office!

5:15pm
Glass of wine in the TW office. I stand chatting to Sam and Andrea about jet lag while we wait for the others to be ready to leave for the pub.
“I’m fine, except my brain feels frazzled,” I say, “So if I say daft things tonight, it’s because of the jet lag, not because I’m a complete idiot …” I wave my hands to illustrate my point and somehow knock half of my wine over. All across poor Amy’s going-out-top that she’s brought in for this evening. Oh dear … at least I have an excuse (and at least it’s white and not red). She forgives me, thank goodness.

6pm
First sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Wow. We stop at a bar and slouch in sofas outside, watching the sun go down over the Opera House. This is amazing.

6:30pm
Andrea’s first “Manly Ferry Alarm” goes off. She snoozes it and we order more drinks.

First view of Sydney Opera House (Quackers didn't make it in to this one!)

7:45pm
Andrea and the other Manly-dwellers finally decide to catch the next ferry, and I admit defeat and head home to bed. The tiredness has been constant all day but thankfully not really got any worse until now.

8:24pm
Head on pillow. Sleep.

Gate B2, Changi

Kicking off the Quackers tradition with a picture of him nearly in Singapore.

It doesn’t seem like yesterday evening that I was back in London. Despite a slow and hungry start to the flight here, it seemed to fly by (excuse the pun!). It’s now seven thirty in the evening here and dark again, warm and very humid.

Everybody told me that Changi airport was lovely and it is, I’ve been forbidden from doing any shopping though on account of my already generous hand luggage. I had to look straight ahead as I walked past the shoe shops ☹

The best bit though was that for less than a fiver, you can grab a shower in the lounge and get rid of all the airplane stickiness – I feel as fresh as a daisy and ready to face the last seven hours!

It does feel slightly weird now that I’m heading off to live in a place that I can’t even picture – but not long to go now, and I’ll be getting to know it properly.

My family are Quackers.

Heathrow Terminal 3: I’m through security already and wondering why the packed bar looks familiar … probably because it’s not that long since I was last here, and it was too busy to get a seat then as well. It’s barely ten minutes since Mum was nagging reminding me not to drink too much before the flight, so I conclude that it’s probably a good thing, and find a seat in the crowded lounge instead.

I was terrified of the goodbyes in the airport, worried that I’d end up in tears and overwhelmed by it all. What was it James said – “you’ll be fine when you get past the panting stage”? Thanks, dude.

Barry met us outside the terminal with a goodbye gift of a rubber duck with a union jack flag and policeman’s hat, which I immediately named Quackers, and which he demanded I took on all my adventures and photographed around the world. The first photo was already taken at the check in desk.

It wasn’t all fun and games though: they asked me to weigh my hand luggage (which I knew was overweight … bad girl) and I had to move some stuff into my main case, also overweight, luckily got let off with that. I’d already taken a good few kilos out at home to send as freight instead. Will I ever learn to pack light? Sigh. No … well I did once, but it seems I haven’t learned.

Luckily, fighting with my parents to get them out of the way as they tried their best to help me meant I forgot the general embarrassment factor of having to repack my bags in front of the queue. Thank God for Dad reminding me before I left that the weight limit was 20kg and not 23kg, or I would have been in even more trouble. I’d already removed a few bits from the bags before we left!

After this minor palava, we headed for a café, until I pointed out that what I really needed was a nice pint of wine or something to calm down again.
“Are you sure you don’t want a spritzer?” Mum asked.
“What about a Jaeger Bomb?” Barry suggested. He knows me better, I guess! I refused, but agreed to have one if he could convince Mum to join me – although as I suspected, there was no hope of that :)

Drinks drunk, it was time to get the goodbyes over with. We had a big hug and then I was straight through security, amazingly with dry eyes until I heard from Barry that Mum was quite upset … I have to remind myself that she at least has the family to look after her, and no matter where our family are, we’ll always be in each others’ hearts. Sniff sniff. She also has a shorter journey ahead of her. Time to get the laptop out and get my mind off it.

No matter how much travelling I’ve done over the last year, this still seems like a massive deal, but I’m glad that at least the airport bit was easier than I thought.