A Walk across New Zealand

On Wednesday 13 March we said goodbye to Wellington and headed north – not by road or air, but by train.   The ‘Northern Explorer’, aka the tourist train, makes the return journey between Wellington and Auckland three times a week. The one-way trip takes 11 hours, so is suitable only for tourists with time to spare – certainly not for those who need to get to the other city quickly! But travelling up through the centre of the North Island is supposed to give travellers the opportunity to see parts of the country which are inaccessible by road.

We booked to ride the tourist train back in November 2008, but it did not work out.  So when we were planning this trip, and trying to think of things in New Zealand we had not already done, the train seemed a good idea.  We were disappointed to receive – just a few days ago – an email from kiwirail informing us that the observation car was no longer being used. Apparently some people had been leaning out to take selfies, which is dangerous, so the car (though still on the train) has been closed.  It seems a shame that all passengers have to suffer because a few are stupid.

As it happened, we would not have been much better off if the observation car had been available, because the weather was so bad that visibility was limited.  It was overcast most of the time and there was rain on and off.  We had just one short period of sun which fortunately coincided with some good scenery.  But when we skirted the Tongariro National Park, we could not get even a glimpse of the three mountains, due to a combination of low cloud and raindrops on the windows.

Thursday 14

We woke to blue skies and warm sun.  Back to t-shirts and shorts – we were not in Wellington any more!  After collecting maps from the i-site, we walked around the harbours, admiring the many beautiful boats gleaming in the sun.  Then we took the ferry to Devonport, a picturesque suburb of Auckland.  We’d been there a few times before, but today we had more time to explore.

We walked round the waterfront to the jetty, and then up the North Head – a hill that juts out into the inlet. There are some historical cannons at the top, and (more exciting for us) some great views. We came down to Cheltenham Beach, and walked all the way along before heading back to the village by road.  We detoured up Mount Victoria (higher than North Head) for more views.  We stopped at a café and a bookshop on our way back to the ferry terminal.

Back in Auckland, we went up the Sky Tower, to the main observation deck on level 51 and the sky deck on 60.  Yet more views! On our previous visit (about ten years ago) we’d also been to 52 and 53, where we could watch people doing the ‘sky walk’, but those levels are now only for people with reservations for one of the restaurants.  Still, we did see a young woman doing the ‘sky dive’ bungee jump.  For a small extra fee, we were able to go up the Sky Tower again after dark; the city lights were good, but somewhat spoiled by the reflections in the windows.

Friday 15

Today we did the ‘Coast to Coast walk’, which was recommended in our guidebook. It is nothing like as impressive as it sounds (and certainly nothing like the ‘Coast to Coast’ walk in England) because the country around Auckland is very narrow.  The walk is about ten miles, from Waitemata Harbour (central Auckland) to Manukau Harbour, near Onehunga to the south. It links parks and university campuses with short strolls through Auckland suburbs. The remains of volcanic activity can be seen in the craters at Mount Eden and One Tree Hill.

In mid-afternoon we reached Onehunga, where the walk officially ends, though we could not see the sign which we believe marks the end (or start) of the walk.  And although we could see the sea, we could not get there, as there was a motorway between us and it.  It seemed a cheat to have a ‘coast to coast’ walk which did not reach the sea!  So we spent some time exploring the village, trying to find a way through. We finally made it to the foreshore, and followed a path along the inlet, before getting a bus back to the city centre.

In the evening we had dinner as usual at the Viaduct Harbour.  We love it there: an endless string of cafés, crowds of people, boats, lights and a great atmosphere.  Tonight we stopped for a drink on the way, and when we emerged from the bar we found that we could not get through to the harbour – a large area had been cordoned off by police.  We never discovered why, but when we heard later about the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, we wondered if the police were being extra cautious, even in a city 500 miles away.  We finally reached the harbour by a roundabout route, so for us it was just a minor inconvenience.  But it is appalling for those who suffered death, injury and the loss of loved ones.  A shocking incident in a normally peaceful country.

Saturday 16

Today we said goodbye to Auckland, and to New Zealand. Next stop was Hong Kong, and Claire had booked us tickets via Sydney.  Our flight left at 6.55, which meant getting a taxi at 4.30am.  On the way to Australia our clocks went back 2 hours. In Sydney we just missed the connection, and had to contact Claire urgently to get her to rebook us on the next flight, which was not until 3.50pm. That plane was on time, and on the way the clocks went back another 3 hours.   When we finally reached our hotel in Hong Kong it was 11.30pm local time – exactly 24 hours since we’d left the one in Auckland.  A long day!


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Wet Wellington and the Wairarapa

The inclement weather continued for most of our stay in the Wellington area.

Friday 8 March

Rain was forecast for half of the day, so we thought it was a good opportunity for staying in the hotel and catching up with washing, blog etc.  Unfortunately the rain persisted all day!  So we went off to Te Papa, the museum.  We normally save museums for wet weather, but today certainly qualified! And Te Papa is an excellent museum, so we were happy to visit it again.  Then we walked along Lambton Quay and did more shopping.

In the evening we went to the Circa, a small theatre on the waterfront, to see Side by Side by Sondheim.  We’d missed it when it was on in the West End, but thoroughly enjoyed the singers and pianists performing familiar songs, as well as several that were new to us.

Saturday 9

We expected the weather to be better today, but when we looked outside, it was pouring yet again! We went back to Te Papa, and this time we focused on an exhibition called Gallipoli, the story of ANZAC soldiers during World War I.  It was horrifying and tragic, but very well presented. We also saw a few snatches from performances by Wellington’s Chinese community.  Then we walked along Lambton Quay again, pausing to watch the clock perform in the Old Bank building, and ended up at Old St Paul’s (the original wooden cathedral).

By then it was 2pm.  We’d planned two options for the afternoon, depending on the weather: if it was fine we’d go for a walk, if it was still raining we’d go to the cinema in Brooklyn.  When we reached St Paul’s the rain had stopped, but when we emerged it had started again, quite hard.  We thought it would have to be the cinema, but as we had time to spare we went in the Thistle (nearby pub) for drinks, and when we came out the rain had stopped, so we decided to risk the walk.  We went along Thorndon Quay, and up through the Ngaio Gorge to Crofton Downs.  There was light rain on and off, but not too bad.  Then we walked through Otari-Wilton’s Bush to the massive Karori Cemetery.

Just as we reached the main Karori road, a bus came along: perfect timing to get us back to the city centre.  Ian was keen to have dinner at Leuven, a Belgian restaurant that specialises in mussels, so we stopped there on our way back – seemed more sensible than returning to the hotel and retracing our steps. We then walked back along the waterfront.

Just before reaching the hotel, we passed the BATS theatre, which had a show at 8.30 that sounded interesting, so we bought (fortunately cheap) tickets.  The play was called Mad, bad and dangerous, so you may guess that it was about Byron.  A student called him from the dead to help with his university thesis: a novel idea, but the main character (who was also the writer) was absurdly OTT: ‘like Michael Jackson on speed’, Ian said.  So we were quite glad that it lasted only an hour.

Sunday 10

Today Ian collected a rental car, and we drove to the Wairarapa.  This is an area of rolling farmland, quaint towns and ‘boutique’ (i.e. small) wineries.  It is not that far from Wellington, but the journey involves crossing the Rimutaka hills, on a steep, narrow and winding road.  We’ve been there several times, and wanted to do a nostalgia trip. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side: it was very grey and gloomy, and started to rain as we drove along.  We stopped at the viewpoint on the crest of the Rimutakas, but could see nothing but clouds!

In Martinborough, the centre of the winegrowing area, we had coffee and then toured some of the many wineries, doing some tastings, and chatting to those owners who were not too busy.  However, we restricted ourselves to buying just one bottle of wine – we had to limit our spending, and the amount of baggage we have to carry!  We stayed overnight on a vineyard, and had dinner at another one nearby.  This repeated what we’d done a few times before, and we enjoyed doing it again.

Monday 11

We’d planned to walk to the Putinguara Pinnacles, on the coast south of Martinborough. This morning it was very grey and gloomy, once again, with occasional drizzle, but we decided to take a chance and go ahead. There was no real rain, but the clouds continued.  From the Pinnacles car park, we did the ridge walk to the lookout – quite hard going, and of course there was nothing to see (except clouds!) when we got there.  We took the connecting path down to stream level, and walked left to the base of the pinnacles. These amazing rock formations (the Paths of the Dead in the LOTR films) looked less impressive without any sun, but perhaps suitably foreboding.

The return path, along the stream bed, was awful!  We came to a point where we needed to cross the stream, but it was deep and fast flowing.  We’d had problems when we did this walk in 2009, but thought that by now they might have provided planks, or at least stepping stones.  No such luck!  It was either get our feet wet or go back the long way we’d come.  Neither option appealed, but we chose to go for wet feet.  We had to cross the stream eight times on our way to the car park!

After changing our footwear, we drove to Carterton for a brief visit before heading back to Wellington.   We stopped again at the top of the Rimutakas. By then the weather had improved somewhat, and there were even hints of sun, so we got better views than yesterday.

In Wellington we checked into a hotel in Thorndon, where we lived during our second stay.  We had dinner at the Backbencher, a pub near the parliament buildings, well known for its 3D caricatures of NZ politicians. We’d been there often, but there were some new figures for us to look at, including Jacinda Ardern (the prime minister) though without her baby!

Tuesday 12

On our last day in Wellington, we decided to do a walk in the East Harbour Regional Park – despite the unpromising weather (yet again).  The walk begins just beyond the bus terminus in Eastbourne.  The first 7km is along the shore to the Pencarrow lighthouse: an easy walk along a gravel road which is closed to almost all traffic.  You can look across to the bays we walked round last Thursday, but the East Harbour is different: no villages, no cafés, hardly any people – you are on your own here (apart from goats and the occasional rabbit).

At the lighthouse we could hardly stand, as it was blowing a real gale.  But then we followed the Lake Katangapiripiri track, which was much better.   Much of the time we were on a broad grassy track: easy to walk, and often (though not always) sheltered from the wind. Best of all, it is very picturesque: blue lakes, framed by hills covered in gorse, and fields of pampas grass.  Towards the end, there are views of the sea in both directions.  And the sun appeared for a time, adding to the beauty of the scene.


NB: No camping!

It took us nearly three hours to complete the Katangapiripiri loop, but in all that time, we did not see a single person.  Discussing it over a picnic lunch, we guessed that this is because of the long walk needed to get to the track, and the same walk back afterwards.  This means a full day excursion, and a walk of about 15 miles total.  Many people may not have the time, or the energy. We were lucky that we were able to do it on our last day in Wellington.

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Walking windy Wellington

On Sunday 3 March, we flew from Christchurch to Wellington, the next stage of our New Zealand trek.  We kept thinking that we were coming to New Zealand, whereas in fact we’d already been in the country for three days.  Of course, we know Wellington better than any other NZ city, as we lived there for almost two years.  But apart from that, we decided, Christchurch is very English, Akaroa is French, and Dunedin is Scottish (although we didn’t get there on this trip).  Wellington, by contrast, seems truly kiwi.

Our flight was on a turboprop, which meant that there was no security: no ID checks, and no need to put your hand luggage through a scanner.  You put your cases on the belt yourself, and board the plane when it arrives, taking any liquids that you want with you.  Although we experienced this many times when we lived in NZ, we still find it hard to believe.

We got a shock when we arrived at our Wellington hotel, and discovered how small the room was.  But an even greater shock awaited when we ventured into Courtney Place, and saw how many familiar buildings were closed, due to concerns about ‘seismic activity’. We continued with a nostalgic walk along Lambton Quay and back on the waterfront.  As we passed places, one of us invariably asked ‘Do you remember when…?’  It may not surprise you to know that these were mainly eating and drinking establishments!

Monday 4

Today we did the ‘City to Sea’ walk for the third time: the first was in 2008, soon after our arrival in Wellington, the second when we returned for a holiday in 2014.  So if you’ve been reading our blogs for several years, you may wish to skip the next paragraphs!

The walk begins at the north end of the city, close to the government buildings, and leads through the Botanical Gardens and several parks, ending at Island Bay on the south coast.  There are lots of fantastic views on the way.  You can do short detours to see a Maori monument and a Buddhist stupa.  We noticed that some small changes had been made to the route since we last walked it – at first we thought it was our memories failing, but later we found proof.

The total walk is about nine miles, but involves a lot of up and down hill, which may be why the leaflet says that, to complete the entire walk in one day ‘you will need a good level of fitness’.  We were glad to find that we were still capable of doing so, at the ripe old age of 70+; strangely, in fact, we found it less exhausting than on previous occasions.  We were lucky to have sunshine most of the day, but were buffeted by an extremely strong wind in the afternoon.

In the evening we went to see the film Green Book.   Our hotel was very close to the Embassy, an elaborate cinema which claims to have the largest screen in the southern hemisphere and hosted the premieres of the Lord of the Rings films.  What we hadn’t realised is that two small screens have been created – another change since our last visit – and we were in one of those.  A bit disappointing, but the film was excellent, and we thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday 5

This morning we did the ‘Mount Victoria Lookout Loop’, starting from close to our hotel, and offering fantastic views over Wellington.  We had lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant with Elliot, who worked closely with Ian during our first year in New Zealand.  It was great to catch up, but all too soon Elliot had to return to work (at NZCER, where Sandie once worked).

This afternoon we decided to do the Red Rocks walk, which starts from Owhiro Bay.  We took the bus to Island Bay (where yesterday’s walk finished) and walked round to Owhiro Bay.  The walk follows the coast from there, so we saw the eponymous rocks, a NZ fur seal (just one of those reportedly living in the area now) and spectacular waves crashing on the rocks.  The downside was that much of the time we had to fight against a howling gale – no shelter on this part of the coast.

Wednesday 6

Today we had arranged to meet our friends Keren and Graham for lunch at Plimmerton, a short train journey from Wellington.  We walked through the city to the train station, stopping en route for coffee and noting yet more changes since we had last visited.

We had lunch, and a good catch up, in a Plimmerton café. Until then, the weather was sunny and reasonably warm, even though windy. But as soon as we finished lunch, the sun disappeared and it became very grey and cool – there were even a few spots of rain.  Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead with our plan for doing a walk in the area. Keren suggested, rightly, that a path alongside Porirua Inlet would be more sheltered than climbing up into the hills. We walked past the multi-coloured boat sheds, and remembered doing a similar walk with another friend some years ago.  We wondered if it was possible to walk right round the inlet, so we just kept going!  We hoped that the sun would come out, but no luck.

We found a good path that seemed to circuit the inlet, but after some time it disappeared.  Then we had to walk along a busy road, further than we thought, and it started pouring with rain! As rain had not been forecast, we had not taken waterproof clothing. But we were lucky – a car stopped and a kind lady offered us a lift.  She took us to the nearest rail station, and saved us from getting soaked.

Thursday 7

On the outskirt of Wellington, there are two peninsulas, creating several picturesque bays.  A road goes all the way round (with a parallel footpath in most places) and today we set out to walk ‘round the bays’.   It is a scenic walk, but unfortunately this morning the sky was overcast, and once again there was a howling gale. Still we pressed on.  On the way we passed ‘Affair Bay’ followed by ‘Divorce Rocks’ – comments on modern society? We had lunch in Scorching Bay, which certainly did not live up to its name.  In the afternoon the sun emerged, and we had occasional respites from the wind, although it always returned with a vengeance.  We ended the walk at Lyall Bay, and got a bus back to the city.

In the evening we met our friends Megan and George for dinner in a restaurant where we had a five-course ‘tasting menu’.  Each course was beautifully presented, and the ingredients explained to us in great detail.  We also enjoyed three bottles of Pinot Noir, and the opportunity for a good long chat.


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Back to New Zealand

On Thursday 28 February – exactly two months after leaving home – we said goodbye to Australia and flew to New Zealand.  We left early in the morning, but the flight took 3.5 hours, there was a 3-hour time change, and collecting our new rental car was a long slow process. So that was most of the day gone!

One thing we noticed immediately when we emerged from Christchurch Airport was the change in temperature.  On average, February is the best month for weather in New Zealand, but it was several degrees colder than Queensland.  We’d got used to strong winds in Australia, but at least they were warm winds!  (We’ve had reports of unseasonably warm weather in the UK – sound as if their winter has been similar to the NZ summer!)

After checking into our motel, we strolled to the city centre. After our last visit to Christchurch, the city suffered a terrible earthquake, and we wanted to see how it had changed.  The signs of disaster and devastation were everywhere – the city centre itself was derelict.  Several buildings have been demolished, leaving empty spaces, others still stand but are badly damaged (the cathedral has a massive gaping hole in the front wall).  Yet others are propped up by metal frames.  We remembered sitting in the sun in Cathedral Square, listening to school choirs perform Christmas carols; now that same square seemed gloomy and deserted, with many buildings boarded up.  It is eight years since the earthquake, and there are clearly plans for rebuilding, but we were surprised to see that little progress has been made.  A short walk away from the square, we saw a building which is officially the transitional cathedral, but has become known as ‘the cardboard cathedral’. There was also an installation of 185 white-painted chairs, to represent those who died as a result of the earthquake.

Friday 1 March

This morning we walked along the bank of the river Avon to the Botanical Garden.  This was more colourful than some we’ve seen, and we enjoyed the rose garden and the fancy fountains, especially as (in contrast to yesterday) we had blue skies and sunshine.

After this, we intended to collect the car and drive to the Christchurch Gondola, but first we called at the i-site (visitor centre) to enquire about walks.  Armed with leaflets, we discussed our plans over coffee.  We decided to go to the gondola by bus, for two reasons. First, it saved us the walk back to the motel to collect the car.  More importantly, it enabled us to do the one-way walk suggested by the i-site lady, as we would be able to return by a different route.

We walked to the bus station, through Cathedral Square which looked much better in the sunlight.  After lunch in the café at the top of the gondola, we set off.  It certainly was a great walk, and the views were fantastic, especially over Lyttleton Harbour and the inlet of the sea which has filled a crater.  (Unfortunately, Ian had problems with his camera, and Sandie’s did not do the colours justice.)  We’d been told it was a two-hour walk, but it was much longer; with only a brief stop for drinks at ‘The Sign of The Kiwi’, it took us 4.5 hours to reach the bus stop for our return to town.  This was not because we walk slowly, or pause often to take photos (although we do both of those things); it was clear from the map, and the signs we saw along the way that it would take twice the time suggested.  But it didn’t matter; we had no deadlines, and we really enjoyed the walk.

Saturday 2

Today we did use the car – we drove to Akaroa, a small town in a very picturesque setting on the Banks Peninsula.  We’d been here once before (in 2010), but decided it definitely merited another visit.  We stopped for photos before descending into the town, and had coffee when we arrived.  Walking through the town, we were reminded that the first settlers here were French, and Akaroa tends to trade on that heritage.  All the road names are in French, there is a French bakery, and we saw some people playing boules.

After coffee we set off to do a ‘Round the Mountains’ walk.  This began with a long uphill climb – not steep, but steady.  There were some good views of the harbour, although most of the time we were walking through trees.  Later the path involved some scrambling over rocks (which we are not keen on) and we realised there was a lot more uphill to do, so at an appropriate junction we decided to cut the walk short and return to the town.

Later we did a short walk to the Newtons Falls, and then walked along the waterfront to the lighthouse, which has been moved from its original position on Akaroa Heads.  It is small, and visitors are only allowed in at certain times, but it makes an attractive focal point for photos.  And then it was time for a drink, and the drive back to Christchurch.

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Queensland, the cyclone state

Our second week in Queensland followed a similar pattern, except that the weather was not so good!

Thursday 21 February

This morning we did shopping and various things in the house.  There were strong winds and occasional light rain, so we debated where to go in the afternoon.  We finally decided to risk Burleigh Head, not far away.  By the time we set off the weather was bright and sunny, but very windy.  We went to the small national park which encloses the Head, and followed two short tracks, one leading around the Head and one on a higher level. There were some good views, but most of the time we were hidden among the trees, which thankfully sheltered us from the wind.  When we’d finished the walks we had drinks at a bar with great views of the ocean, then walked along the seafront a little way, and back on the beach.

Friday 22

This morning we had a visit from Ian’s cousin Elma (Pieter’s sister).  We hadn’t seen her for many years, so it was great to meet again and do some catching up.  She stayed for lunch, and we enjoyed just sitting on the deck and chatting.

When Elma left, we felt we needed some fresh air and exercise, despite the heavy clouds and strong winds.  So we walked into Broadbeach again.  Ian found a partly different route, which took us through a park. In the town we stopped at a couple of bars that were offering happy hour drinks.

Saturday 23

We thought that this date should be celebrated – our golden wedding anniversary is not until next year, but it was 50 years exactly since we first met.  We’d read about a dinner cruise on the Brisbane river, and thought it sounded great – BUT the weather forecast for the weekend was not encouraging: strong winds, showers, a cyclone even!  So we hesitated to book, but this morning the weather seemed reasonable, so we decided to risk it.

After an early lunch we drove into Brisbane, and spent the afternoon exploring the city. We were able to go inside the Customs House this time, and we saw a number of places we hadn’t seen before, including the Anglican cathedral, ANZAC Square and the Old Windmill.

Then we crossed one of the pedestrian bridges, and strolled along the South Bank.  We stopped for Aperol spritzes, and went on the Wheel of Brisbane (a miniature version of the London Eye).  We even succumbed and bought one of their overpriced photos!

There are lots of attractions on the South Bank, including a Nepalese Peace Pagoda, a rainforest walk and a man-made beach.  (We remembered the beach from Christmas 2002, when we were amused to see girls in bikinis and santa hats – no santa hats this time!)

We enjoyed our dinner cruise in the evening.  It was a real paddleboat, and nowhere near full, so there was plenty of space.  We had our own table, and the buffet was excellent.  We had great views of Brisbane by night, with many lit-up buildings, though when we got further out there was not so much to see. A guy sang songs we recognised, and later we were able to have a dance.  We had a few minor complaints, but on the whole it was a great evening, and a good way to celebrate our ‘anniversary’.

Sunday 24

We had a visit this morning from Pieter’s daughter Jennifer, her husband Lukas and their three-year-old daughter Ineke.  They live nearby, and Jennifer, an interior designer, works in Broadbeach. We are doing really well for seeing relatives this trip!

This afternoon we drove to Main Beach (town just north of Surfers Paradise) and up the finger of land between the ocean and an inlet. (This is called ‘The Spit’ – they have original names in these parts!) Halfway up, the road was closed ‘due to flooding’. There was however a gravel track through the dunes, so we walked that.  A few times we detoured down to the beach, but it was impossible to walk along – not just because of the extremely strong wind, but because much of the beach had been literally washed away.  Swimming was banned – far too dangerous – but people were standing on the dunes, just gazing at the sea.  A lifeguard told us it was very rare to see the Gold Coast so badly hit.

At the top of the Spit, we watched (from a distance) the waves crashing on a sandbar; on our side it was calm.  The large car park was eerily deserted.  We walked back on the road, and saw no sign of flooding. We commented to one of the men on duty at the roadblock, and he assured us there would be floods later, at high tide.

Monday 25

This morning we were visited by a sulphur-crested cockatoo, who posed nicely for us.

One day during our 2002 trip, we left Paul and Claire at a theme park near Surfers Paradise, and went to Tamborine Mountain.  We found it a fascinating place, and were keen to visit again.  Unfortunately, the weather was not great: the forecast said ‘passing showers’ for the morning, but they continued all day.  They were light though, so they didn’t bother us too much.

Tamborine National Park comprises six separate sections of rainforest, each with one or two walking trails.  They are scattered over the mountain, interspersed with shops, cafés and art galleries. A rather eclectic mix!  During the day, we did short walks in five of the sections.  We saw waterfalls and rock pools, trees with amazing buttresses and elaborate patterns created by strangler figs.  We also saw a few padymelons (small wallabies).

Tuesday 26

This morning we made a short trip into Surfers Paradise, which achieved two objectives: we dumped some books we’d finished at an op shop, and Ian got a haircut (we saw more sand sculptures too). On our previous visit to the town we’d spotted a shop called ‘Bikini Barber Babes’, where (you’ve guessed it) men get their hair cut by pretty girls wearing skimpy bikinis.  A gimmick, but amusing, and Ian needed a haircut anyway…

In the late afternoon we walked into Broadbeach again, for drinks and then dinner.  Ian was able to have Moreton Bay bugs, to which he became addicted on our first ever visit to the Gold Coast. Definitely his day!

Wednesday 27

Spent this morning, washing, cleaning and packing. Jill called to collect her car, and had coffee with us.  Pieter phoned.  Just after 1 we left the house and drove to the hotel we’d booked, close to Brisbane Airport, as we had an early flight next day.  We wanted to spend the afternoon in the city, but parking is very expensive; the hotel receptionist suggested two alternative ways of getting there, by bus or by ferry. We decided to take the ferry.

Although it was very cloudy, the ferry trip was fun, and we spent our final afternoon sightseeing in Brisbane.  After an early dinner on the South Bank, we took the ferry back, and enjoyed seeing the lights of Brisbane one more time – almost as good as being on the cruise!

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The other sunshine state

Queensland calls itself ‘the Sunshine State’ – where have we heard that name before?  Staying in one place (David and Jill’s beautiful home) has given us the opportunity to catch up with some things we needed to do, and meet up with some relatives!  But we’ve had plenty of time to get out and about – revisiting a few places we’d been before, back in 2002, and exploring some new places as well.

Friday 15 February

There is a shopping centre just across the road, which includes an Aldi supermarket, various other shops – and a hairdresser’s.  After Sandie had a much-needed trim, we walked down to Broadbeach, and then along the beach to Surfers Paradise, about five miles in total.  We enjoyed the walk, but there was a strong wind blowing, so we were not tempted to go in the sea. For those who don’t know, Surfers Paradise (there should be an apostrophe, but there isn’t) is a popular, rather brash, seaside resort.  We saw a sand sculpture competition (not as good as the one at Siesta!), and picked up lots of useful information from a visitor centre.  We also had a snack lunch, and were amused to see an ibis working the tables, finishing up as many leftovers as possible before a waiter shooed him away..  Then we walked back, had a drink on the deck and a dip in the pool.

Saturday 16

Today the weather was not too good. This morning we went to the Carrara markets, very close by and supposedly Australia’s largest marketplace.  We saw a variety of things on sale, including lots of junk, but Ian bought new beach sandals (his old ones were falling apart) and we got eight books for AU$5!

This afternoon we did a short trip to the Gold Coast Botanical Gardens, where we had a pleasant stroll between showers.

In the evening we walked to the centre of Broadbeach for dinner.  We found an excellent vegetarian café, self-service but excellent food, quite cheap, and BYO. (In case you didn’t know, Bring Your Own wine is quite common in Australia – why not elsewhere, we wonder?)

Sunday 17

This morning Pieter and Heather came over.  They were on a trip south with their caravan and staying not far from us.  We went for a drive along the coast, amazed by the crowds of people and solid traffic. But at Palm Beach we were lucky – someone was just leaving and we grabbed their space.  We had lunch in a surf club and returned home by a different route. After Pieter and Heather had left, we had a dip in the pool.

Monday 18

In Queensland (unlike Florida!) it is not far from the beach to the mountains.  There are several national parks in the area, and we decided to visit Springbrook.  Although the distance was not great, the drive was up steep, narrow, winding roads.  We followed the road through the park, stopping to do short walks en route. The scenery was great; we saw several waterfalls, a goanna and an enormously long thin green snake.

From the end of the road, the Natural Bridge is not far as the crow flies, but there is no direct road, or track.  So we had to drive a long way round to get there.  The walk was short, and we were not terribly impressed by the ‘bridge’, although the cave and waterfall were interesting.


Tuesday 19

We decided to head south, across the border into New South Wales, and ended up at Byron Bay.  We vaguely remembered visiting the town back in 2002.  It has a reputation for being quirky, rather hippy, and full of backpackers.  There is a lighthouse just outside the town, and the most easterly point in Australia – you may have seen it on TV at the beginning of 2000, when there was global panic about the millennium bug.

We parked first in the town, went to the Visitor Centre and armed ourselves with maps and information.  We asked about safety on the beaches – we’d seen a report on TV about a man who was attacked and seriously injured by a juvenile great white shark in Byron Bay.  But, we were told, that was wrong – it wasn’t a white shark.  That’s all right then.

After coffee and a quick look round the town, we set off to walk round the headland. We walked right along the main beach; at the end there is what looks (from a distance) to be an island, but it is actually connected to the beach, and there are steps up to a great viewpoint, where you can watch the surfers lining up for a big wave.  Then we followed a footpath (with many steps!) to the most easterly point, and on to the lighthouse. On the way there were great coastal views of the cliffs and some attractive bays. Finally, it was back to the town on a path that led us up and downhill through the trees.

After a much-needed drink, we drove to Belongil Beach, on the other side of the town.  We’d been told it was quieter, and it certainly was. There were a few people not far from the car park, but after eating a very late lunch we went for a walk along an almost deserted beach.

Wednesday 20

Today it was back to the mountains – another challenging road to negotiate!  This time we went to Lamington National Park, which is in two sections: we went to Binna Burra, because it was closer.  The sealed road does not extend far into the park.  From the Information Centre, we did the Caves Circuit, a pleasant walk with good views.

After coffee we set off on the Tullawallal Circuit, but this was disappointing – walking through trees the whole time.  Tallawallal itself turned out to be a small group of rocks, not a viewpoint, as we’d hoped.

We saw a sign to the Coomera Falls lookout, and decided that sounded more interesting, even though it meant a lengthy detour. The lookout was a bit disappointing, though we got a good view of the gorge below.  On the way there we saw some fascinating fungi, a large black skink, and an enormous snake which Ian later identified as a spotted cobra!

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Return to Queensland

On Sunday 10 February we flew from Hobart to Brisbane, for the next stage of our trip. So far, we’d been focussing on parts of Australia we’d never visited before. We’d been to Queensland back in 2002-03, when we travelled up the east coast with Paul and Claire.  We included it in our itinerary this time in order to do the delayed second half of a home exchange.  But we also wanted to visit Ian’s cousin Pieter and his wife Heather, and revisit some places we’d enjoyed 16 years ago.

Brisbane to Noosa

We discovered that the hotel we’d booked in Brisbane was directly opposite the Roma Street Parkland, a beautiful area that made a very pleasant route through into the city.  We were amazed to see lots of people walking around, even though most shops had shut by then.  A real contrast with Tasmania!  We strolled through the Botanical Gardens, where we saw goannas and ibises (a lot of them around) and then walked along the riverbank.

Next day we drove north to Noosa, but stopped en route at a Visitor Centre in Caloundra. The helpful lady there gave us lots of maps, and told us about a footpath going right round the head, so we decided to give it a try.  At first it was flat and unexciting, but as we went further the scenery became more interesting, and the sun came out; it turned out to be a most enjoyable walk.

Later we stopped briefly at Shelly Beach, and then did a short walk at Moffat Beach.

We drove up the coast a bit and strolled along Coolum Beach, where we saw several jellyfish.  We asked a lifeguard if they were dangerous, and his reply (‘They won’t kill you, but the little blue ones hurt like hell’) did not fill us with enthusiasm for going in the water.

Then it was into Noosa, with a detour to the Laguna Lookout on the way. After settling into our accommodation, we walked to the town centre and on to Noosa Spit, where several people were having drinks while watching the sunset.

The main highlight of Noosa National Park is the coastal walk, which extends from the edge of the town right round to Sunshine Beach. We were keen to do this on our previous visit, but were limited in time, so we got up early and walked part of the track while Paul and Claire were still asleep.  We remembered really enjoying it (even though the path was crowded, despite the early hour) and were keen to do the whole walk, with less time pressure.  The views were wonderful, and we were fascinated by what seemed to be an extremely long caterpillar – then we realised it was many caterpillars, marching nose to tail in a long procession!

We reached Alexandria Bay, and walked along the beach, seeing lots more stranded jellyfish and several small crabs scuttling for their holes.  But then there was a disappointment – the last part of the track was closed.  We decided to follow an inland trail back to the car park, and spent a short time on the main beach.

In the afternoon we drove south to visit other parts of Noosa NP.  First was Emu Mountain, where we did a short easy walk up the hill (not a mountain at all).  Then the Peregian section, where there is just a short walk through to the beach: a long stretch of sand, which was almost deserted.  We walked along the shore for a bit, then gave up as the wind was so strong.

The lady at our motel had told us that it was not necessary to go into the centre of Noosa to eat: there was now a whole strip of cafés and bars by the river, which was closer.  As we’d been to the town centre the previous evening, we decided to try the river area tonight.  Unfortunately, just as we were setting off, we heard thunder!  We grabbed our waterproofs and Ian’s brolly.  When we reached the river the rain was obviously about to start, so we went into one of the first restaurants we saw, which happened to be a Greek one.  We had a good meal, but got soaked on the way back!

Noosa to Broadbeach Waters

From Noosa we headed south again – but first we had a brief stop by the Noosa River, enjoying the sights we’d not been able to see the previous evening.

Then we detoured into the Glasshouse Mountains National Park.  We first drove up towards Mount Beerwah, stopping at a picnic area from which you could get a good view of the ‘Organ Pipes’ (basalt columns) from a distance.  Then we went to the main lookout for views of the surrounding mountains.  We saw a large goanna which rushed away and climbed a tree when Sandie approached.

From there (restricting ourselves to sealed roads) we made our way to Pieter and Heather’s home at Woodford. It was great to see them again.  We’d spent Christmas Day 2002 in the same house, but had seen them more recently in Zaandam, at the beginning of our attempt to follow Ian’s father’s wartime journey.  Still, we had a lot of news to catch up on, so spent most of the day eating, drinking and chatting.  But during the afternoon, Pieter took us for a drive around the area.  We saw a waterfall (sadly short of water at present), a gantry that was used for chopping logs, and a kookaburra in a nearby tree.

Next morning we continued our journey south to the Gold Coast.  David and Jill stayed in our Wycombe flat back in 2014, as part of a home exchange.  Finally, we were completing the other half of the arrangement.  They live in Broadbeach Waters, not far from Surfers Paradise, and have what to us is an enormous, beautiful house, right on the water.  Given the size of our UK home, it hardly seemed a fair exchange!

David and Jill were not leaving themselves until the next day, so there was plenty of time to chat and get to know one another.  In the afternoon they took us for a tour of the area, including a visit to a massive shopping centre and a surf club, where we had lunch overlooking the beach.

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