Australia – Our Adventures Down Under

Welcome to Tomorrow!

Today we arrived down-under, in the land of Oz, in the southern hemisphere… In the land where spring is fall, north is warm and south is colder… And where they drive on the left side of the road to boot.

The more I read, before coming here, the more I learned about vicious snakes, poisonous spiders and killer crocodiles. We’ll try to avoid them all in the next three months.

We had an uneventful flight. 16 hours. And now we are in Sydney, in The Rocks – the old cobblestone part where white people first landed. Actually, the Dutch ‘found’ Australia about a hundred years earlier but took one look and decided it was an empty wasteland. They didn’t even bother to claim it. Then the French and the British king played monopoly with really places and the English won. But they decided to use Australia as a dumping ground for their criminals: the Rocks is where the first settlers landed.
Now, if the deadly insects and animals don’t kill you, the prices will. The skytrain from the airport was just a few stops but cost 17.- per person one way. We walked by a bakery with little, tiny pastries in the window: 15.- dollars each. But the people are cheerful, the sky is blue and the beer is plentyful. Enjoy staying in the same hotel where we stayed 13 years ago: http://www.australianheritagehotel.com/ It’s a fun pub with a few rooms upstairs. Not much has changed, the paint is still peeling and the floors creak a bit more. But Sydney itself seems much more touristy and crowded. Tomorrow we take a ferry across the water to explore the Manly Beach area.

Now all we need to do is learn to drive on the wrong side of the road before picking up our camper.

Sept 8: Sydney to Toowoon Bay

Left The Rocks after breakfast, hauling luggage down to the wharf and train station. The Rocks is where the first British landed and it still has an old world feel to it, with cobblestone streets and lots of staircases to reach the next level. It reminded me abit of Delft – an old European city.

Airplanes are always a bit like time machines, transporting you to a different climate and culture. But here it feels much like home – the temperature is the same, people, traffic, etc. are so similar. Except for the birds and the vegetation.

We took the train to Mascot and found the camper rental – a 5 minute walk. It was great to have all the time we needed to do paperwork, settle our luggage, register online for toll roads and more – before heading out into left traffic. With my toes curled in my shoes I yelled ‘left’ most of the way while Kees had no problem driving. Finally made it to a major freeway where driving is easier if you don’t constantly have to think. Between our iPad map app and the borrowed GPS we hear many beeps and even loud chiming church bells*. No idea what was setting it all off but I found a general direction on the map and we managed to have all electronic gadgets direct us north and to a campground on the beach, via a supermarket. We are fully wired and I must say it helps to make life easier.
Our first night in the camper and we are sipping wine, had a chicken cordon blue dinner from scratch and listening to the waves of the South Pacific crashing below us. Beats the horrendous noise at the pub in Sydney where we slept for the past two nights.

* turned out to be a warning for ‘speed camera coming up’, not Kees exceeding the speed limit!

When we picked up our camper, we were made to watch a DVD on how everything works. The camper in the movie looked gorgeous and I was curious as to how closely our real camper would resemble to one in the movie. Lo’ and behold, the real one was every bit as nice! It is spotless, with nice upholstery, no stains or smells. Spotless cupboards with plastic wrapped dishes and cutlery. A sealed bag with crips, clean linens, towels, pillows and a kingsize duvet. You have to hold your breath to ever fit inside the shower but at least it’s there. I’m sure there will come a day, in the Outback, when we are glad to have it. For now, the campground has wifi and a pool. Not exactly roughing it.
We booked this Britz camper rental online via a broker and I must say it looks good so far. First night we ent on the edge of the south Pacific in Toowoon Bay.
I did just hear our lives come to a screeching halt, or at least a major slow down. No B&B to run… No acreage to maintain… No job. I think we can handle it.

What I Learned Today: that Aussies don’t recycle as much as we do. To my utter surprise there’s no deposit on bottles, even though we see a lot about ‘don’t litter’ and campaigns against bottles on the beach etc.

Toowoon, Woolgoolga… only in Australia!

Sept 9: Toowoon Bay to Forster NSW.

Took freeways when we wanted to circumnavigate larger cities, small scenic roads when we wanted to explore the coast. Quite by accident we found a deserted church camp on the edge of a huge bay. We are camped, all by ourselves, under palm trees full of screeching birds, overlooking the water.  I tried to swim since it was clean and warm. But after walking into ankle deep water for half a mile, I gave up and wade back. Not deep enough.

Sept 10: Forster to Woolgoolga, NSW  Spent the rest of the day driving. Even though the map says we are right on the coast, we haven’t seen the ocean all day. Everyone tells us that McDonalds has free wifi so today we stopped at each one – I can’t stand another order of fries but wifi never worked at any McD. So much for that.

Finally found a campground, in the middle of a little town, that is very close to the beach. It looks good but is so windy that the sand comes right by our camper. Hope some of the beach will still be there tomorrow.

What I Learned Today: … that kookaburra’s are meateaters.

Do Take Away My Aligator Pie!

We both had a bit of a sore throat and a cough, the last few days. So it was nice to have “a day off” today. We keep looking at each other and grinning. Less than a week go we faced mountains of laundry, guests for breakfast and the last minute rush of things. Now we have… nothing to do. It’s an amazing change.
After breakfast we strolled into the small, cute town to have coffee. Making your own meals in a camper is a good way to keep the cost of things down. Eating out seems to be very expensive in Australia.
In the afternoon Kees took a long walk on the beach while I swam and played in the strong surf. Now we’re bbqing smokies while the birds are chattering away.

What I Learned Today: is how to order coffee in Australia. A ‘short black’ is a very strong espresso. A ‘tall black’ is regular black coffee, but not necessarily a large size. A tall black can come in a cup or in a mug.
A ‘short white’ is steamed milk with espresso….

Sept 12: Woolgoolga to Surfers Paradise.
Left fairly early today to drive north. First it was flat, lots of green farm fields with cows and a wide river. Had coffee on the river at a little pie shop. Then the landscape changed to much more hilly, but still very green. We had planned to drive north past Brisbane but, on the map, we noticed a smaller road closer to the coast with villages called Miami  and Surfers Paradise. So we decided to swing that way in hopes of finding a nice little laid-back campground on the beach. Imagine our utter amazement when the area turned out to have nothing but highrises, casinos and amusement parks. It’s called The Gold Coast and does seem like a gold mine for the operators. No hope of a little campground. Although we did find a nice site, almost on the water, and with a pool just before heading back to the main highway. But the area south of Brisbane is very touristy and crowded, even in this shoulder season.
I love Aussies. If I had to find one word to describe them, it would be ‘jovial’. They are always laid-back and friendly. Today I asked a man if I could safely swim at the beach in the campground, since no one else was swimming. He said “Oh yeah, sure, no worries. My kids swims here all the time. The bull sharks usually stay where it’s deeper. You’ll probaby be just fine.”
And he wasn’t kidding. FYI I swam.
We were feeling adventurous and courageous today. The little pie shop I mentioned earlier did not have the familiar apple or chocolate pies… We bought a… drum roll please… kangaroo and a crocodile pie! Just had it for dinner. The roo pie wasn’t bad, just like beef pie. But neither one of us liked the croc. Tasted like salt water chicken. But now we know. And I have the urge to email Dennis Lee about his aligator pie poem!
Just when I thought the day was over, I heard terrific screeching in a tree. Huge fruit bats landed in the branches to hang upside down and munsch on fruit. I managed to get some photos of them. They look like flying monkeys.

What I learned Today: that the spiky fields we saw all day are fields of sugar cane. And that sugar cane fields are burned so that all snakes, rats, and leaves burn and they can simply pick up the left over canes, which are hauled off to the many sugar refineries we saw today.

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