Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of wine … so after moving to Melbourne, the Yarra Valley was high on my list of places to visit. Having found a group of likeminded friends and a nice place to stay, we were off for the weekend!

Wines at Allinda

Wines at Allinda

The particular weekend we picked was going to be one of those crazy hot ones that were pretty common this summer, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees. Some of the group had signed up to go possum spotting, but I had decided to forgo the woodland and mosquitos in favour of an evening by the barbecue with wine …

So, we arrived on Friday night loaded up with snacks and meat for the barbecue. We were staying at a place called Serenity @ Healesville, which was a beautiful, huge house – I claimed organiser’s privilege and took the nice ensuite bedroom with a big, claw-foot bath tub! Sadly I didn’t get to use it though, it was just too hot.

The house was ginormous, with three huge living rooms, and enough space to sleep eleven people. There was a nice big fridge in the open plan kitchen, which was already half stocked with beers and cider from the other group who had headed out to find possums. Once we added our supplies and it was pretty jam packed …

The fridge full of beer and cider

The fridge full of beer and cider

After we settled in and got the snacks out, it was time to chill outside and watch the sun set over the garden – wonderful. Silvio got the burgers going, the beers came out, and then so did the mozzies … luckily Kate produced some pretty effective bug spray, as I usually get eaten alive otherwise.

Friday night sunset

Friday night sunset

Later in the evening, all of us little bit tipsy, it was the perfect time to play one of my favourite card games, known as Cards Against Humanity. It’s terrible and hilarious, and Tom has enough expansion packs to last … well, at least a weekend.

The possum spotters were late home, and we were ready to head off to bed and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the wineries! Yay for wine!

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

The main living room in the house had a good supply of maps and leaflets, so we picked a winery a bit of a drive away to start from, and were a couple of routes back where we could stop and continue the sampling. The sun was already beating down on us as we arrived at Yileena Park, we were grateful for the cool, dark, air conditioned room upstairs!

At Yileena Park

At Yileena Park

We got off to a good start with some delicious sparkling wines, while the owner Dianne explained some of the workings of the vineyard. They have underground irrigation for their vines, which had helped keep them watered during the insanely hot summer days this year, and also protected their plants during the bushfires, although they lost the crop from the smoke. The sheep ate them instead.

View across Yileena Park

View across Yileena Park

We tried a beautiful reserve Cabernet, which despite the $60 price tag was so good that several of us bought a bottle or two.

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

After the dessert wines – which I was not so keen on at the start of the weekend – Dianne produced some special smoked food, produced using wood chips from old wine barrels, including strangely delicious merlot infused salt which we bought too!

Trying smoked food

Trying smoked food

As we left, Dianne handed us a leaflet for the smaller wineries of the Yarra Valley, most of which weren’t featured on the main map. There was a special offer where if we purchased a dozen bottles from at least two wineries, we would be able to get one free, which seemed like a pretty good deal – and quite likely too!

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

We changed our plan for the day to head to another small winery not too far away. This time there was one gentleman behind the counter, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by our large group, particularly when a hen party came in ten minutes later!

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

From the tasting room we could see down to the wine storage room, barrels and barrels of wine. Magda fell in love with the Pinot Gris and bought a caseful, I continued to indulge with the Chardonnay and Tom and Kate added to their collection too … then we were off again, this time to one of the larger wineries: De Bortoli, where there was also tasty cheese on offer.

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

The grounds at De Bortoli were absolutely stunning, brightly coloured flowers and loads of green, all helped by the lovely sunshine.

Tasting at De Bortoli

Tasting at De Bortoli

After two tastings, some people had had enough and went straight for the cheese, but Tom, Kate, Jen and I were still going strong. The wines were pretty good, but the tastings were much less personal than in the smaller wineries – there was not much explanation of the wine or the vineyard, we just had a taste poured then left on our own. Silvio brought me a piece of the cheese, which made the wine taste even more amazing … mmm, my mouth still waters at the memory while I’m writing …

Yummy salty eyebrows

Yummy salty eyebrows

We followed the tasting with more cheese, sitting outside in the sunshine, and some very special anchovies (they should be too, at $15 a tin …!) Or as Tom called them, salty eyebrows.

Vineyards at Allinda

Vineyards at Allinda

Half of the group decided to head back to the house after that, but the more determined among us – including me – felt that we had one more winery in us at least, so off we went to Allinda, back on the small winery trail again, run by Al and Linda.

Tom and Kate trying the wine

Tom and Kate trying the wine

I don’t know if the wine starts to taste better after I’ve had that many, some say that you can’t tell anymore after two or three tastes anyway (but why stop when it’s so much fun?) Either way, the wine at Allinda was delicious, and we bought several bottles including Chardonnay and a more unusual Savagnin, as well as some red, it was too good not to! I also began to appreciate dessert wines more, and we had enough stamps now for a free bottle – so we took one back for that evening.

Silvio was very tempted

Silvio was very tempted

Before heading back, it would have been sad to miss the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, especially since they were selling ice cream too …

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

I asked for one scoop in a cone, well that was the largest scoop of ice cream I have ever seen. We wandered around the chocolate shop finishing our ice cream, I was very tempted … but we had indulged enough for one day.



We stopped for groceries on the way home, Tom had offered to cook for everybody but was looking for inspiration in the supermarket. He found it with some pork belly, and we stocked up on veggies and flavourings, and got some prawns to cook as well.

Sunset in Healesville

Sunset in Healesville

Back at the house, we sampled some of the wine and some G&Ts, Kate and Tom prepared the food for dinner, and then we watched the sun go down over the garden … fabulous.

Enjoying the sunset

Enjoying the sunset

With a little more wine, the Cards Against Humanity soon came out again with the entire group this time – once again, it was hilarious, far too many cards played that are very unsuitable for my blog …

Pork belly, yum

Pork belly, yum

Then it was time for dinner – wow! There was piles of food, soft, tender pork belly, salad with feta, potatoes, veggies, and all of it tasted amazing, we were spoiled. It was a long, lazy meal finished off with the dessert wine, and finally collapsing into our big comfy bed.

Rob was excited for dinner

Rob was excited for dinner

On Sunday, we were allowed a late checkout, so we could hang around the house until 3pm – wonderful. Rob and Jen had frozen some bananas to try and make a kind of healthy banana ice-cream, but not peeling them before freezing turned out to be a bit of an error … I believe it tasted pretty good in the end though.

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Most people were happy to stick around the house, but Andy, Tom, Kate and I were up for a bit more tasting, so we headed off to “just one winery, maybe two”. Boat O’Craigo was just a couple of minutes’ drive from the house, so we started out there – they also had some lovely looking food, I almost wished we’d come there instead of eating at the house.

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

I was under strict orders from Silvio not to buy any more wine – “We don’t have space in the car for any more! Let alone at the flat …” – so I felt slightly guilty, but the Cabernet was so lovely, and they also had an unusual white Gewürztraminar which was rather nice …

Fruit covered at Boat O'Craigo

Fruit covered at Boat O’Craigo

Badgers Creek was also really close, so we stopped by there – it was a very small tasting room in lovely grounds, with a restaurant attached too. They had a delicious rose, well, I was already going to be in trouble, in for a penny in for a pound, as they say.

Wine choices

Wine choices

The trouble was, I still hadn’t found a really good chardonnay to take home … and it wasn’t all that far to Yering Farm, so … whoops, just one last stop.

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Yering Farm was my favourite of all the wineries. As we arrived, the first thing we were offered was some very special Pink Lady Syder – it was actually pink, icy cold, and really delicious, cider made within pink lady apples.

Yering Farm

Yering Farm

We moved slowly through the white wines, and I finally found my chardonnay! Unfortunately, it was a reserve one, but wow, it was so delicious, how can I resist? As we moved on through the reds, the owner took a glass of the recently opened cabernet, shook it up and showed us how different it smells and tastes afterwards.

The tasting concluded with a deliciously lemony dessert wine, I really want to make a lemony desert to try with it now …

We all left Yering Farm quite a lot more weighed down than we had arrived, I had entirely given up on resisting any purchasing, oh well. It’s not as though any of it will go to waste :)

Back at the house, we were starting to get packed up and ready to go. We dragged the hose out to wash the worst of the dust off of our rental cars, and packed up – Silvio was right about the lack of space in our car, luckily Andy had offered to take some of the excess wine back for us!

We went home via the Coldstream Brewery, where I managed to forget to order Silvio’s pizza, and without realising, he ate Tom’s instead … oops. There was a fair bit of food, and nice ciders, so I don’t think he went too hungry! After dropping off Tom and Kate in Brunswick, all that was left was to head back to Prahran and cart all of our own purchases up to the flat!

If there’s one thing that I learned from that weekend, it was the difference that it makes when you get the right wine with the right food (oh yes and I also discovered that I like a good cabernet!). That’s something I’d love to know more about … for now, I’m just enjoying the taste of a nice steak or some strong cheese with one of the many bottles of yummy red that we brought back, and feeling very lucky and spoilt!

Last days

Wednesday: my last day at Atlassian.

Since the news of my departure became public, I’ve been really surprised at how many people have said that I’ll be missed, and commented on the impact I’ve made. I mean, of course, I know I’m awesome ;) but it’s come as a really pleasant surprise to hear from others that I will be missed. Maybe it’s part of a big guilt trip conspiracy?

My last day was a mix of feelings. I’m sad at leaving behind a place that I wouldn’t have chosen to move on from yet, but I’m excited – and a little anxious – about the future and the unknowns that await me there.

In this final Sprint, my team had decided to try not having stand ups, but there was one scheduled for my final day. I was a little suspicious – in fact, I had wondered if they would do something to my desk on my last day, like wrapping it in tin foil or something. I was relieved to arrive and everything was as it should be.

At 9:45 the team gathered, and I was trying to compose an update – why is it that in those few minutes of walking to the stand up, I always forget what I’ve been working on? Luckily this time, I didn’t need to, to my surprise, the team presented me with a gift: a beautiful Wedgewood teapot! I wasn’t really expecting anything (well, maybe some jelly beans!) and I was impressed that a team of guys could choose something that suited me so well and was really pretty. It was so well packed I didn’t want to take it out before it got to Melbourne so I haven’t tried it yet, but I can’t wait to find a shelf or somewhere to put it out in the new place.


As the day went on, other people stopped by my desk to chat, and I made slow progress on my final work trying to complete an upgrade task. After lunch, a last packet of jelly beans from the lolly bar, and a final check in, I was done. My team lead presented me with a card (so many signatures, I was pretty blown away), I packed up my things, returned my swipe cards and signed out of HipChat: “BAAAAAIIIIIII!”

Leaving was strange, I don’t know what I expected. As I walked to the ferry, I hoped that the upgrade task I’d been working on would finally get through QA, and it was weird to think that there was nothing else I could, or would, do to make it happen now.

Thursday: my last day in Manly.

All week, I’d been saying that if I could go back, I’d have finished work last Friday and had a week off. Today, I was glad that I didn’t, because I really wouldn’t have known what to do with myself.

I spent the morning finishing off the packing, labelling the boxes and tidying up. There isn’t that much left to do, except to stand in front of the stack of boxes, sigh, and wonder where we’re going to put it all. I think that if I’d had a week off to do that, I’d have driven myself insane.

I headed to the beach at lunchtime, and wandered along the Steyne, paddling in the shallow water. It was a little too cold for me to go for a dip – there were loads of people in the water, but I’m just a big wuss when it comes to the cold, I’ll leave them to it. It was nice to just get my feet wet and sandy.

By the surf club, I got a cup of tea – no fridge in our apartment, so no tea for me there – and sat on the beach, drinking my tea and reading my kindle. It was lovely and sunny, warm, comfortable, except for the sand blowing across me.

I met Andrea for lunch in Jellyfish, salt and pepper squid with aioli, yum! And wine, double yum! I had promised myself that on my last day in Manly, I would buy a picture from Saltmotion, a lovely photo gallery that specialises in pictures of Manly beach and waves, so after lunch we headed over – I’d already picked out two that I wanted! The first was a beautiful underwater shot with blue tones that would look amazing in our bedroom, and the other one was a sunrise shot across to Shelly beach, that would remind me of Manly from the new apartment.

Back home with the post-shopping glow, I sat out in the garden reading but it was so hard to relax. In the end I went back into town and found a new “Manly beach” keyring (my old one was rusty!) … and a half bottle of Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay, well that’ll keep me going in the garden for the rest of the afternoon …

By the time Silvio got home, it was too cold to sit outside, but the blogs were almost done – result :) we packed what we could of the things that were left, and headed out for a meaty dinner at Ribs and Rumps …

And that was it, my last day and night in Manly, for a few months anyway. I’ll be back for a visit before too long, providing Andrea will have me to stay! ;) I’m now sitting in the wharf bar on Friday afternoon, whiling away the last hour or so with a glass of white wine. Today has gone from sunny and warm to windy and cold, so I’m the only person braving the jetty bar for once, but it’s nice to watch the choppy sea across the wharf and hear the light rain spattering across the umbrellas.


Our things are already well on their way, and it won’t be long now until I say farewell to Manly too. It’s been awesome, but now it’s time to find out what the next chapter holds. I can only hope it’s as good as the last one :)

Falls Creek.

It seemed like a long wait for the ThoughtWorks ski trip to Falls Creek (aka ThoughtCarver – although I don’t work for TW anymore, it will be part of my life for a long time yet it seems!). I had been counting down the days since getting back from Kuala Lumpur. After endless Skype calls, with unreliable internet and dubious sound quality resulting in a lot of our conversations being along the lines of “huh? what did you say? I can’t hear you!”, Silvio and I would finally be in the same place, and able to have a normal conversation :) Oh yeah, and I was pretty excited about my first time skiing in Australia too.

I have to admit though, Aussies don’t seem to have a very good opinion of their snow quality – I was led to expect soggy slush, short runs and bad conditions, and I was pleasantly surprised by the skiing in Falls Creek. But I’ll start as usual, at the beginning of the trip, with the journey …

I flew to Melbourne to meet Silvio, where we’d rented a car to drive across Victoria to Falls Creek. I was desperately impatient as the plane began the descent into Melbourne, it had been a long two months, and the taxiing from the runway to the gate seemed to take for-eeeevvvv-a … until finally, the moment of reunion at the gate! We grinned like daft idiots all the way through the airport, but I didn’t care, it was a nice feeling.

It was a pretty long drive from Melbourne, over five hours … and we still had to find snow chains, since it’s a legal requirement in Falls Creek. Thanks to Google and TomTom, we found Ray’s ski shop along the way, and then finally, FINALLY we arrived. It was bloody freezing, and raining! We parked the car in the last available spot in a cold, windy car park and luckily there were parking attendants to drive us back to our apartments, where the rest of the ThoughtCarvers we were sharing with were already cosy in front of a log fire with red wine … didn’t take us long to join in!

Thursday morning the mountain didn’t look particularly inviting. A heavy cloud hung over it, drizzling cold rain on the village streets … we almost gave it a miss, but eventually bundled up in ski gear and braved the low visibility and high winds for a few pretty good runs. My legs were a bit shaky on the first run down, but Silvio was off like a shot, and then on the second run he led the way into the soft, ungroomed snow. Like an idiot, I followed – well, couldn’t really see much else to aim for – but my legs were not quite ready for that! I was a bit all over the place on my skis that first day, but at least the snow wasn’t too slushy or icy, even if we couldn’t see where we were going. The runs were all very short and over too quickly, but the chairlifts were also short so not too cold (except for Scotts Chair, where the wind seemed to blow right through me) and there were no real queues. I pretty quickly discovered that most of the black runs were comparable to hard red runs in Europe, although there were a few with some decent steep slopes and moguls.

Snowy mountains

Thursday night, Silvio had one goal: MEAT! We went to the Falls Creek Country Club which was described on the website as the best place in town for a steak, it was pretty quiet but the steak was good. When we left it was snowing fairly heavily, the roads were white and we left trails of footprints back up the road … this was promising for the skiing conditions the following day!

Friday was definitely better – although there were still times when the clouds closed in, there were also moments of sunny, clear runs. The first two heats of the Age Corporate ski race were held, and many of the ThoughtWorkers were participating – I watched a few, most weren’t too competitive, but some definitely were (coughDuncan). Everybody had to do the course twice, it was fairly short though – I ended up taking Silvio and Alex-no-brakes-Ong’s jackets down the slope for them while they competed (better for speed, apparently, did I mention some people were competitive?), I must have looked a right sight in my own bulky ski gear, with two more jackets tied around me on top!

Sarah finishing in style

Friday night, we all headed out for drinks at Tom Dick and Harry’s. ThoughtWorks had sponsored some pretty cool jackets for all of us, which most people had worn for the drinks, so we were pretty easy to spot as a group. The drinks were put on for the racers, so there were lots of other corporate groups there too – Sarah managed to get talking to a guy from another company who happened to have a tiger suit (wtf?) – she later convinced him to trade it for her ThoughtWorks jacket. I haven’t yet seen proof that the deal went through, although he did wear it (and partly remove it) in the next bar.

Sarah had her eyes on this suit …

The drinks were flowing on Friday and we got steadily more rowdy as we progressed to The Man bar. Andy Tam was particularly good fun that night, until eventually somebody decided to make sure he got home :) We discovered the foosball table, which brought back memories of playing in Berlin with Alex … this time we played against each other, Silvio and I won by a narrow margin (I’m pretty rubbish). Some randoms decided to challenge the winners but I told Alex to take my place, they almost won as well :)

Saturday would be our final day of skiing since we had planned to leave around lunchtime on Sunday, and it was also the second day of the race, with two more heats down a smaller slalom. Silvio had decided to try a new technique that involved bashing down the poles as he skied past them, it was successful in terms of getting him a pretty good time, but less so in that after finishing the second race, he had some pretty nasty bruises on his arms.


As he finished, I was pretty excited, he had almost equalled Julie’s time which was bloody good, she’s done a lot of racing in the past and in fact she beat Duncan that day too, which she didn’t let him forget (I hear there are now two new email aliases at ThoughtWorks now … ibeatduncan and ilosttojulie!). After Silvio raced, he sat down in the snow complaining about his arms being in pain and trying to use the snow to ease the bruises, but I didn’t really clock on how bad it was until the ski patrol arrived (two of them!) They were incredibly efficient, and even offered to take him back down the slope on a stretcher – which I thought was kind of funny, although when one of them pulled up on a skidoo I did think it might have been exciting to get a ride on that :) Eventually they left us with an ice pack after filling in about seventeen forms, and I continued to tease him for the rest of the day for being such a drama queen.

Saturday night, it was back to The Man for food and more drinking … but we sneaked out before the dancing started (sorry, Sarah!) Sunday, I crammed my gear back into my suitcase – I swear, no matter how tidy I am at home, whenever I go away, my suitcase seems to just explode everything out the minute I arrive – and Silvio headed off to the cold, windy car park to get our car. He was gone for ages, and I was wondering how he could possibly have got lost walking up one road … until I saw him walking back, waving his phone at me and asking why I hadn’t answered his (five) calls … must remember to take that thing off of silent sometimes. It turned out that the car wouldn’t start: the battery was flat as a pancake. Nobody else had jump leads, not sure I’d know how to use them safely anyway, but there was roadside assistance man with a truck who headed up the hill to help us. He attached the cables, and the alarm promptly started to go off – but with power restored, once that was disarmed we could at least get the car going again. Apparently it happens quite often :( anyway, we were sorted and heading off to the airport, with a few stops in the city along the way to trade ski gear for work clothes.

Although it was an awesome trip (and expertly organised, thanks Julie and Andy!) and I was sorry to leave the snow behind, it was also pretty good going back … we flew together back to Sydney and spent a couple of days enjoying Manly before Silvio had to head back to Bangalore for his second and final semester as a trainer at ThoughtWorks University.

I think we might have enjoyed Manly even more if I hadn’t forgotten my keys on Monday morning, resulting in two pretty hungry and tired people slouching over the table in the Wharf Bar after work until my new housemate Matthias finally arrived home at 10pm to let us in :( We sat watching the rain sluice across the harbour and worried about the bags we’d left in the porch of the house, which luckily were still dry when we finally made it back!

Quackers made it to Falls Creek – of course!

So on Wednesday morning, not only did I say ciao to Silvio but my friend and housemate Viviana was also heading off on a two month trip to Europe, so I am now missing both of them. Ah well, not long to go now until my own big holiday – heading back to the UK to watch my little brother get married, which I can’t believe has come around already. I will be squeezing in a quick weekend in Singapore on the way though …

The Waiting Game.

When I was skyping my cousin Julia recently, she mentioned that I hadn’t been doing very much on my blog recently. She wasn’t the first person, I think Mum had mentioned it too, a week or two ago.

I’ve been meaning to post for some time about my new job, but other than that, I haven’t felt like I had very much to say. Over the last six weeks, I’ve been trying to get my head around some significant changes in my life: a new job and a new relationship, both of which are fantastic, but bring their own stresses – like being six thousand miles apart from the person I most want to be with, most of the time.

And if that wasn’t ENOUGH excitement, in one more week I’ll move house. I always seem to try and do everything at once, but the last few months seem to have been one long waiting game :) Maybe this year I will finally learn patience. Andrea has also spent the last two months travelling for work, so my social life just hasn’t been the same!

Since getting back from Malaysia, it seems like most of my time when I’m not working has been spent either on Skype or exercising. After several months at Fight Gym, I switched to Virgin Active, an old friend from the UK – much as I liked the Fight Gym, I needed to do something different. VA manage to change it up with new stuff pretty regularly, so now I’m “enjoying” body attack, body pump and cardio routines on the powerplate – although the boxing classes are not as good as before.

Exercising at 7am on beautiful beaches like Dee Why is a great start to the weekend … but hard work!

I also flirted for a little while with outdoor fitness classes at 7am on a Saturday. For three weeks, I got up before 6 and rode my bike up to 10km to varied locations along the northern beaches, where trainer Penny Walsh shouted at a surprisingly large group of us to run up sand dunes and hills in between crunches, push ups and step ups – with REALLY big steps.

On the fourth week though, sitting in the Wharf Bar with Viv on a Friday night, the temptation of a second bottle of wine to share was too much … luckily I was off the hook when I discovered the class was cancelled anyway (it was, honestly!). That was over two weeks ago, after that I was attending a conference on a Saturday which ruled out the morning workout, and last weekend I just couldn’t face it. I was so tired and needed a nice, long lie in! In a funny way I do like the 7am class, the beaches are beautiful and empty and I feel amazing afterwards, but it’s really hard to get past the fact that the mornings start off so dark and freezing cold! Maybe I’ll try it again when it warms up a bit more :)

One thing I have kept up is running: from being able to just about manage the 5k from home to Shelly Beach and back, I’ve worked up to now running over 10k on a fairly regular basis. I’ve found a small group of guys at work who come running on Thursday lunchtimes, and they’re all faster than me, which has had a positive effect on my speed. Last week was the best yet: ~7.5k in 42 minutes, well over 10kmh which was my original target.

Lastly, I keep promising myself – and other people – that I will go climbing some time. There is a wall at the gym, and a group at work who go every week, but so far I’ve bottled out. This can’t last forever though: Silvio is a keen climber, but perhaps this is something to save for later in the year :)

All of this is paying off though: I still have a little way to go to my target weight but I’m closer than I have been for a long, long time. With the big wedding looming in just a few weeks, this is definitely a good thing!

As part of the new routine, I also tried (hard!) to cut back on alcohol – but there’s still been room for indulging!

I’ve spent many happy nights at the Wharf Bar putting the world to rights with Viv and Rach, including the night when Lucy, still jetlagged after just getting back from the UK, locked herself out putting the rubbish out … poor thing! I’ve also had some lovely chilled evenings cooking at Viv and Rachel’s, and discovered that I can actually rustle up some pretty good dishes, given time, wine, and good company. I can’t wait to try my skills out on Silvio when he gets back from India … luckily for him, I haven’t yet learned how to cook curry :) Anyway, hopefully there’s a future blog post coming up on that!

The next few weeks are looking promising: moving house this weekend, Andrea returns on Thursday, the end of (financial) year party at work, which is currently shrouded in mystery, and then my first ever Christmas party in July, just before I head off for a few days of skiing in Falls Creek. So hopefully I’ll have lots more inspiration to actually write some posts again!

Byron Bay Bluesfest!

A few days before we were due to jet off to Byron Bay for the Bluesfest, Andrea looked mournfully at me across the desk at work.

“I forgot to cancel the camper van I booked for Byron Bay,” she said. ” I think it might be too late now to get my money back.” She tried calling and sweet talking the rental company, but to no avail: there was a camper van out there somewhere that was determined to spend this weekend with us. Andrea wanted to try and rent it out to anybody who was looking for accommodation, I wasn’t so sure that was a great plan, but we decided we’d figure it out later and just make the most of it. We wouldn’t be able to collect it until Thursday, so we still had to take the tent for the first night anyway.

The next problem was mud. As in, there’s usually lots of it at BluesFest. Oh dear, does that mean we have to go shopping for new footwear? One advantage of being “on the beach” at work … time for online shopping … we found some wellies online and pretty soon they were on their way via express delivery. Woohoo! We’re all set!

Happy campers

Wednesday arrived and we had a pile of cases by our desks in the ThoughtWorks office. Everybody stopped by to ask where we were going (and why the hell do we always take so much STUFF?) The reaction was always the same when they found out we were headed to Byron Bay: “You’re going to have an awesome time!” It’s a pretty good way to start a trip – by the time we left, we were pretty excited! We took a taxi to the airport that afternoon – wearing the new wellies, very sexy we looked in those :) – and settled down in our usual spot in the bar for a pre-flight drink and a gossip. Except that somebody seemed to be finding her email more fun than wine and gossip … I was a little disappointed, but luckily she found her way out of that laptop pretty quickly and we were back on track!

As we boarded the plane, the stewardess glanced down at our feet. “You must be going to Bluesfest!” she said, “Make sure to check out Tijuana Cartel!” She seemed nice and kinda cool, so we decided to try and take her advice. We landed at the Gold Coast airport and found our bus, and some beer, which made the rest of the journey swing by quickly. The Byron Bay Tourist Village was nice, but dark … nothing like rocking up somewhere and staring at a pile of your suitcases on the grass in the dark when you really just want a nice cosy bed all ready for you. We are getting good at pitching tents so it was up pretty fast, although I got eaten alive by little bugs attracted to my headlamp and my apparently tasty blood.

Empty campsite before everybody arrived

Bluesfest graffiti

Rainbow Shop!

Tent up, beds inflated, suitcases tossed inside, now can we please go and hit the town? For food, obviously … and maybe more wine or beer :) Town was a twenty minute walk away, along a fairly dark, busy road with quite a few drunk sounding but generally friendly people coming the other way. It was still quite busy, and we found a place to eat then wandered down to the beach briefly before heading home. I was out like a light, but the noisy birds woke us both up pretty early the next morning.

The beach ...

The festival didn’t kick off until Thursday afternoon, and we had a camper van to collect. After breakfast – it turned out that the kiosk at the entrance to the tourist village made a yummy bacon brekkie roll – we walked into town again to get a bus to the airport. It was a glorious day, and the town is full of brightly coloured shops and hippy signs, which looked fantastic in the bright sunshine. There were no buses until mid-afternoon, so we headed out first for a bit of a shop – I wanted to wander through the Rainbow Shop, and then we found a few dress shops and spent time trying on a variety of clothes. We hit the Beach Hotel for lunch and met up with Korny, who was still a bit dazed having travelled very early that morning.

After lunch, Andrea and I headed to the beach. It was gorgeous – a long, long stretch of pale sand, shallow turquoise water for paddling in, crashing waves and a few surfers for eye candy. Andrea jumped in for a swim, I stuck with paddling and sunbathing, until it was time to head back for the bus to the airport and collect the camper van.

View out of camper van window

Turns out we got upgraded from a Backpacker van to a Britz van – this thing was MASSIVE! It took forever to sort all the paperwork out, but we got a bottle of wine and some free chairs which would be great for the festival! The lady processing our paperwork walked us through the facilities on the van and how everything worked, I started to feel a bit brain-fried quite quickly though – glad Andrea had done this before and knew her way around it a bit better! She got behind the wheel and was pretty cool driving it back to the campsite, especially considering the size of the thing, not sure I’d have been quite as comfortable driving it. The sun was dipping down to the hills on the way home, and I managed to take a few shots out of the window that turned out pretty well.

Back at the campsite, we got ready and headed out to the festival. Disappointingly, the shuttle bus wasn’t free but cost $4 (each person, each way!) – this weekend was turning out to be pretty expensive! But there was no way Andrea was driving – this was NOT going to be a dry night for either of us.

Neighbour Jason

Where's Wally? There ... there ... there ... and there.

Waffles. They're wicked.

The first act we both wanted to see was Eilen Jewell, who was playing on the Jambalaya stage (one of the smaller ones) at 7pm. We had a bit of time to wander through the grounds, explore the food offerings, and grab some drinks tickets and wine. It was pretty quiet, so when we made our way back to the stage there were only a couple of people between us and the stage – it was pretty awesome. She sounded amazing, although I was disappointed she didn’t sing the one song I knew well enough to sing along to (maybe somebody had warned her …) When she was finished, we ended up in the CD tent, where Andrea bought a CD and had all of the band members sign it. They all seemed pretty ordinary off of the stage, which was somehow surprising … the guitarist and drummers were pretty cute though :)

We watched a bit of My Morning Jacket, which was a bit more rocky and more up my street than blues or country. I was getting kind of tired and antsy after that, so when Andrea wanted to try and socialise a bit more I left her to it! Very bad of me … luckily we found each other again pretty quickly and ended up hanging out at the Apra stage and watching a reggae-style band called Kooii, who turned out to be pretty good and worth a bit of a dance to. We finished off the night with crepes in the food tent – mmmmm, nutella crepes. All in all, it wasn’t a bad start to the festival.

That night, Andrea had decided to sleep in the camper van, so I had the tent to myself. I was wise to the noisy birds this time, and slept in lovely and late with the aid of earplugs :) When we finally emerged from our “bedrooms” and got dressed, our neighbour Jason had also surfaced. We hadn’t seen him at all the previous day, which often happens camping but is kind of weird – you just see the tent but never the person. I was pretty sure it wasn’t empty though, I had seen the number of beer bottles rising over the last day or so (it turned out he was using them to mark his tent ropes, so that he didn’t trip over them).

Britz. No boundaries. Apparently.

We all got chatting, he took some photos of me and Andrea with our wellies and camper van, and then offered us a beer. There’s something wonderful about sitting outside in hot sunshine before midday with a cold beer and no worries!

Eventually, we all headed out together to get the bus up to the festival again, for what would be our longest day there! We started off at the Crossroads stage (one of the two largest) and watched Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and then some of Steve Earle, while just across the fence we could hear G3 blasting out of the Mojo tent. We settled down with our chairs, got some beers, and enjoyed the show for a while. Eventually Jason decided to head off for some beers before we moved on, but he took for-EVER … we checked the two bars nearest to us and couldn’t find him, although they were pretty empty, we couldn’t wait forever so we headed off on our own. Turns out he had gone to get food, turned up where we’d been with three beers and food to find us gone. I felt kind of bad when he told us that later … I don’t think the beers went to waste though.

Beer tickets!

Watching some music

Something was funny ...

We watched some of G3, then saw Candi Staton, who was pretty good, and one of the few artists there that I actually knew :) After that we caught some of Seth Lakeman and Buddy Guy – who is 76 and still playing! – then planted our chairs in the wrong area to listen to Keb Mo for an hour. He had an amazingly smooth voice … Andrea was totally into the music and getting up to dance, but I was getting pretty tired. The last act we caught that night was Earth, Wind and Fire, who blasted on stage with Boogie Wonderland and got me up out of my seat for a few tracks.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, another lovely late morning, and another early beer. I could definitely get used to this kind of life! We had decided to take a trip out to hippy town Nimbin for something to do before the festival, so we piled into Jason’s car while Andrea tried to navigate from the back seat with Google maps. Nimbin was a quieter version of Byron but without a beach – we stopped in a pub for beers and I was amazed at how cheap they were! We wandered around a few shops before heading back, where we hung out at the campsite for a while, drinking beers, eating pizza and Tim Tams and generally enjoying chilling out.

Fancy a bit of hemping?

We got to the festival in time to catch Seasick Steve, but something was wrong with the sound system and we could barely hear him – we had just packed up our chairs and started to walk away when guess what? Yep, it’s back on – and dammit, we’ve lost our good spot! We stayed and listened to him for a bit before heading out, and lost Jason again when he wandered off in a different direction. Never mind, he seemed pretty capable of amusing himself! We watched Bettye LaVette for a while but she was kind of depressing … we found the stewardess’s favourite band Tijuana Cartel, who turned out to be pretty upbeat and dancy, so we bopped along to them for a while.

Some kind of reptile!

More Keb Mo

Candi Staton

At some point we headed back to the Mojo tent and set up camp … I was feeling pretty festival’d out so was happy to sit and watch from the side while Andrea still wanted to get in the thick of the crowd and dance. It actually worked out pretty well … we watched Ziggy Marley, who was awesome, Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot and John Fogerty for the rest of the evening, leaving only after he sang Heard It Through The Grapevine, as Andrea insisted …

Sunday was our last day … Jason was also leaving, he had a long drive back to Newcastle and headed out long before we finished clearing up. With the camper van full of our stuff, we headed out to the beach and parked up – I couldn’t be bothered to change into my swimsuit, but after paddling in the water I couldn’t resist getting in either, so ended up jumping in with my t-shirt on!

We headed into town to get some food, but didn’t get very far before the traffic was thick and slow, and we turned around to go back to the festival instead! We ate and listened to Yann Tiersen for a bit before leaving to go to Ballina Airport, which is one of the smallest I’ve ever been to.

It was all over … :( the one nice thing being that we still had Monday off before heading back to work! We made the most of that too … I had grand plans to go on a long walk around North Head, until I stopped by Andrea’s to help her put up the tent to air it. She invited me up for a wine … and, well, there’s something pretty wonderful about sitting outside on a balcony, looking across Manly beach, with cold wine and no worries …

Peace out

A long awaited visit.

I’d been counting down the weeks and days, and finally it was the morning: Mum and Dad had arrived from the UK! I set off early (so I thought) but got caught in craaaazy traffic on the way out of Manly … nothing I could do but sit in it and hit the wheel in frustration, I’d been waiting ages to see them but the last hour or so was definitely the longest. Dad texted me and called from the airport, “where are you? Hurry up, been waiting ages!” I know, I’m hurrying as much as I can … finally, finally I made it, and as predicted, both me and my Mum had rather leaky eyes (she was worse, honestly).

Coming in to land ... I was still stuck somewhere between Manly and Sydney!

Dad enjoying Manly Beach

Exploring around to Shelly Beach

The weather was beautiful – after a fairly wet summer, Manly turned on the charm to welcome my family. We found their apartment, and then it was time for me to head off to work, leaving them to explore the beach alone. If only I’d had a few more days holiday – I so wanted to turn around from the ferry terminal and spend the day with them instead.

After work, they met me at the ferry wharf – typically, with cameras. Nothing like getting off the ferry after a long day with somebody snapping away at you! They were doing pretty well considering they’d landed at stupid o’clock that morning, we made it out for dinner at Yok Thai, but by the time we’d finished they were both starting to droop a bit!

Manly Wharf!

Exploring around the Opera House (and Opera bar)

Walking across the harbour bridge

I had to work from Wednesday through to Friday, but Mum and Dad managed to get out and about and see far more than I have of Manly, at least judging by the (hundreds of) photos they did, anyway. They walked across the Harbour Bridge and around the Botanic Gardens – two things that are definitely on my list of things to do while I’m in Sydney. We spent the evenings together – wandering around Darling Harbour (and of course taking endless photos … there’s a theme here), and eating some good old home-cooked meals! Outside their apartment in Manly, a row of trees played home to a growing group of bright green parrots every evening, the noise was insane.

Me and my Mum!

At the weekend, we headed out to Brighton-Le-Sands near Botany Bay, where Mum and Dad used to live some 40 years ago. Armed with a handful of old photographs, we tried to find some of the places they’d been – starting out at the St George Tavern, which used to be known as the Hotel Rockdale. They tried to recreate the old photos, the outside looked so different now! Sadly, the weather wasn’t playing nice either, but they managed to get the photos done before the rain set in. We headed inside for a beer (for me) and coffee (for them), and they showed the bar tenders the old photos – probably taken nearly twenty years before they were even born.

Recreating the old photos

Next stop was to find Banks Street. TomTom got us pretty close, with Dad reminiscing about the roads he used to drive down to go to work, and the nearby beach, and after driving around a bit we found their old house. It was fairly rundown, which was sad, I wish it could have been looking beautiful and looked after, but what do you expect after 40 years? The fence that was there in the old photos was still there, the front porch that Mum was photographed sitting on was extended now, and even the old mailbox was still in place. Dad described the days of checking the mailbox every morning for news from home, making and sending cassette tapes to the family back in the UK. All these years later, when Skype, email and cheap phone calls make keeping in touch so much easier, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be so cut off.

The house where Mum and Dad lived, 40 years on

The same tree where Mum was photographed 40 years ago

The old Rockdale Hotel

We wandered along the beach – it was fairly windy, and Mum wanted me to write a message in the sand for Nan back at home, then take a dozen or so photographs of it. I obliged for a while but there is one shot with some rather rude hand gestures … sorry, Nan, that one was not for you! ;) The kite surfers were out in force, jumping over the waves despite the angry and leaky sky. I usually love the beach but I was kind of glad when we eventually made it back to the car that day!

I got a bit fed up of the photos by this point

Kite surfers leaping in the wind

Hugs with Mum

I’m glad I got to see where Mum and Dad lived all those years ago, it was kind of strange not having the memories that they had of how it was but trying to create a picture in my head from their reminiscing.

On Sunday, we planned to go out to see the Blue Mountains – I was up bright and early, but my lazy parents stayed in bed far too late and it was mid-morning by the time we got going. We started off heading to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters – funnily enough, the same place that I’d visited only a few weeks earlier with my friends. It was cooler but just as beautiful – we didn’t go down the staircase this time (thank god, as I didn’t like it much last time!)

Echo Point

We wandered a little way through the forest, then back to the car to head on to the next sightseeing spot. We stopped at Govett’s Leap, to see the water leaping off the rocks and shimmering in rainbows on its way down, and then at Wentworth falls, where we took a short hike down a lot of stony steps to get a better view of the waterfall. We watched the clouds closing in across the mountains and threatening to soak us before we finally headed back up to the car park.

Rainbow in the waterfall

Watching the rain come in

View from near to the Hydro Majestic

There was a bit of excitement going on with two police officers trying to get a closer look at an unidentified white object a couple of hundred metres down the side of the cliff. They thought it might be a car – I’ve no idea how it could have got there – and lots of tourists were trying to use their cameras and binoculars to get a closer look. We never did find out what it was though.

Police and nosy tourist

We stopped in at Solitude before heading back home, the restaurant with amazing views where Andrea and I enjoyed lunch on our last visit. We made it nearly all the way back home until the niggling set in (after this much time together, it was bound to happen eventually!) Dad took a wrong turn and blamed my TomTom, I took it personally and we argued our way through the busier streets of Sydney city centre until he pulled over and told me to bloody well drive then. I headed back towards the bridge and would have missed the turning myself if I hadn’t been that way a few times … OK, OK, TomTom can be a bit unclear sometimes I guess.

Accidental wrong turn took us over the bridge

Driving across the bridge

View from Andrea's apartment

After a day relaxing on the beach on Monday – them, unfortunately, not me – we headed over to Andrea’s for a barbie. Predictably, the cameras came out when they saw the view, and Dad quickly took over cooking the barbie – we had yummy kangaroo steaks, corn, salad – mmmmm!!

On Tuesday it was time to leave Manly and head out to Brisbane and Port Douglas for a bit of a holiday … I’ll save that for the next post :)

Photo credit: all the photos in this post are Mum’s – with two cameras and at least twice as many lenses, I didn’t bother taking my own out!

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.


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 …!

Hello… hello? Anybody there?

View from the train station on the way to work

Yes, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that … since starting a real project, work’s been taking up a lot of my time and energy. It’s going great so far and I’m really enjoying the project, but as usual when that happens, I’ve been working slightly longer and by the time I get home at night I don’t have much inclination to get the laptop out, or much to write about!

On top of that I’ve been shattered all week last week – finally realised why this weekend, when I’ve come down with a sniffly cold :(

With Viv and Rachel at the opera bar, with the Harbour Bridge in the background

In case I’ve not lost you already with that fascinating start … over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also had a couple of Christmas parties – starting with a pre-party Party last Friday night, at the Opera bar with Viv, the night before our ThoughtWorks party on Saturday. Friday evening was beautiful, with great weather and amazing views across the harbour but also incredibly busy – so we headed off after a drink, to get some food and meet the boys (Fabio and Jules) at another bar.

On Saturday I was out diving in the afternoon (more about that later) so I was very fashionably late to the ThoughtWorks party, most people were already having a good time when I got there. Our MD was even wearing a white halo.

I missed most of the food but managed to salvage a bit before they took the plates away, and we even got brownies to take home! Rachel and I had a couple each, and I think we gave away one bag to the man at the ferry gate on the way home … Definitely a fun night, and nice to meet some of my colleagues’ wives, it’s a great way to get to know people better :)

On Thursday this week, I was thinking all the way home about going for a run. So much so, that by the time I got there I was really not feeling up for it – I was so tired and already a bit sniffy. I walked in the door to find Chelsea putting together some delish looking salads, the back doors thrown open to a fairly warm evening, and the table outside decorated for Christmas. A couple of her friends had already arrived for dinner, and she immediately told me not to even think about cooking, there was far too much food … have a glass of wine and pretend to be a guest! Well, I don’t need telling twice :) That was the end of all thoughts about a run. When the last guests left at midnight, I crashed in to bed tired, tipsy and happy.

By mid afternoon Friday I realised that the reason I still felt headachy and fuzzy wasn’t just Thursday’s over-indulgence, I was actually ill. Dammit – I was supposed to be out diving on the boat over the weekend, and I’d been looking forward to it all week! I spent Friday night curled up on the sofa with comfort food (fish and chips, yum!) but it wasn’t enough and on Saturday morning I had to admit I just couldn’t dive.

It’s been a weekend of mostly rest, crappy tv, and also a little gardening … more about that later too! I’m still pretty stuffed up but hoping to feel better for my birthday tomorrow. After that I’m off to see my lovely cousins Yolly and Clauds in Brisbane – and so excited about meeting the rest of their family, including Yolly’s little children. I better get well by then!

It’s been a busy few days since I last blogged.


Marie-Claire getting married to Richard on the beach

I moved into my new home in Manly … then went to a wedding party for the afternoon! The move was the quickest I’ve ever done – then again I only had a couple of suitcases to take.

Marie-Claire was-Jenkins-now-Dean got married in the morning on the beach, after skateboarding to the wedding. She had been the most chilled out bride-to-be I’ve ever seen all week at work, the biggest stress had been figuring out how to transport home the mountains of flowers that arrived at the office on Friday afternoon.

Mmmm, cake ... with coconut icing

The wedding party took place at their apartment complex, outside on the roof terrace with a pool. The weather was perfect, really hot and sunny (many people misjudged the sun and got sunburnt, I ended up with a small patch on one arm).

In the evening I hung out with Rachel at Manly Wine for a couple of glasses of bubbly, in a dress borrowed from my new housemate Chelsea while I waited for my luggage to arrive on Monday. It was amazing to just be able to walk from home to the bar, no need for a coat, no messing about tube trains, and on top of that a lovely walk by the sea to get there.


Furniture shopping day! I had planned to go to Ikea to hunt for a wardrobe, but after measuring up, Chelsea took me to Furniture Land and Harvey Norman. I found a huge wardrobe and she negotiated a discount and fast delivery!

No Ikea trip needed, it must be time to head to the beach – I met up with Rachel and a couple of her friends to go to Shelly beach, a sheltered bay just a ten minute walk around from South Steyne. It’s got more sand but less ocean, although I managed to take my first dip! The water is still pretty cold and it took me a good ten minutes to immerse myself in it. There were a group of divers floating around as well – I guessed they were doing an open water course, I’ve heard they use Shelly Beach a lot for the confined water skills, as it’s so calm. It made me impatient to get back into my scuba kit!

In the evening, on the way home from the offy with a couple of bottles of wine, I discovered Pro Divers on Pitt Street and decided to drop in and say hi. Turns out they might be grateful of an extra pair of hands sometimes, so I might even be able to get some free diving – yay!

On the way home, I bumped into Andrea, a friend from work who lives just around the corner, and she came back to see my new place and share a glass of wine.


My cases have arrived, all wrapped up!

My luggage arrived on Saturday, but I had to wait until Monday morning for customs to open and clear it. I headed out to the airport, easy enough to get there on the train but then I had to walk back and forth in the scorching sun, from Qantas Freight to customs, quarantine and back.

I tried to smile and be as polite as possible to customs, and luckily all my bags were cleared! They arrived on a forklift truck in the unloading bay, wrapped in layers upon layers of packing film – Dad had certainly made sure they were well protected!

After unpacking as much as I could, I had to work for the afternoon, then it was time for the beach! It was still steaming hot and such a relief to get into the cold water … still took me a while to get all the way in though. The waves are much bigger on North Steyne beach (the closest one to my pad), it was great fun playing around in them although a bit worrying as they have been known to tear away bikini parts … luckily I kept hold of mine :)


Andrea and I met for a morning run, I made it from Manly Surf club on North Steyne beach to Shelly beach and part of the way back (~2.5k) before getting too hot and puffed! I haven’t done much exercise in the last few weeks and it shows :( The best bit was jumping in the waves again once we finished!

I caught the ferry to work for the first time – it’s a lovely way to travel, especially compared to the tube – fresh air and lots of space, for a start.

During another quiet day on “the beach” at work (in other words, I’m not yet working on a client project) I searched ebay for a good deal on a bike. The walk from home to the ferry is just over 15 minutes, but so much quicker on a bike, and loads of people here have bikes with baskets to use for shopping as well. I found one for a really good price, located around the corner, and stopped by on the way home to collect it.

I cycled home in my flip flops, trying unsuccessfully to keep my dress from blowing up. I even got asked by a surfer dude, “Can I have a go?” – I’m not sure if he was referring to the bike or my dress!


Sunset from my back yard by iPhone ... better pics coming soon hopefully!

The highlight so far today is finding a new (and cheap!) battery for my DSLR camera – I seem to have lost the last one somewhere in my packing :( I miss Amazon here, but ebay is so far proving a good source for pretty much everything.

I’m hoping that I can now start taking some decent photos to include on the blog to make it a bit more interesting!

Note: Thanks to Marie Claire and Lizi Hamer for posting the photos on Facebook and letting me use them!

I found some bogans.

We headed out to party wearing tags in our hair.

Last Saturday night, Rachel invited me out with her new housemates, to a Wig Party in Queenscliff. Sadly, we didn’t have any wigs, although that wasn’t going to stop us from partying.

Rachel was trying to style her hair to make it look like a wig, but things weren’t going too well.

“Why don’t you just pin a tag to it, make it look like a wig that you forgot to take the tag off of?” I joked … the next thing I knew, she was snipping tags off of her bath towels, so that we could all wear them.

I found a bogan wig and got into character ...

Funnily enough, once we got to the party, we did fool one person, who asked – “should we tell her that she’s forgotten to take the tag off?”

The party was fun, loads of the guys had come as bogans, wearing crazy mullet wigs. In some cases the wig seemed to invade their brains and change their whole character … they had cut off sleeves from denim jackets and worn bogan-style shorts to complete the look.

I felt a bit underdressed with my tag, but after a few glasses of wine I did manage to obtain a wig …