2001-08 (AUGUST, 2001)

Myall Lakes - NSW, Australia

Andy and I caught up with our friends Dave and Jenny last weekend. We found them 5 hours North of Sydney at a gorgeous wee spot called Myall Lakes. They had rented a holiday cottage for a week or two that had a huge balcony and it's own collection of wildlife (including Tiny Tim, the lame magpie; Scaredy, Scabby and Fatty the possums; and a Bush Turkey that everyone was too scared to name).

We traveled up by train on the Friday evening and were collected from Taree station for the hour long drive out to the house. Dave and I called a pit stop at a pub along the way so that we could collect a beverage or two for later. Once inside the girls soon retired to their beds and left the boys shooting the breeze until well after 03:00.

On Saturday, we went for a burn in the jeep and explored the surrounding area. We had a late picnic lunch at a secret spot with a spectacular view. Unfortunately several other car loads of old people had also heard of the secret spot, but we soon chased them off. Down by one of the lakes, Dave almost trod on a red-bellied, black-bodied snake which we later found out is listed in the nature guide as "dangerously venomous" (the most extreme rating in the guide). We were bemused to find out that this little baby packed a bite that could kill an elephant, despite the fact that it ate mice - a touch of evolutionary overkill there, if you ask me. The evening consisted of eating pizza, getting horribly drunk on red wine and then trying not to lose all of ones fingers whilst playing Jenny at Jungle Jam, a brutal version of Snap.

On Sunday we headed down to the 'Frothy Coffee' café for breakfast and from there hired a pair of two-person canoes for a spot of paddling. The lakes are separated from the open sea by narrow strips of land/sand and we paddled across the lake to the beach on the other side. We whiled away a good hour or two wandering along the beach and catching Pi Pi (shellfish that burrow into the sand at the water line). We paddled back to the café and returned to the house so that we could collect Andy's stuff for her journey back to Sydney (I bunked off work on Monday, so was staying another night). After dropping Andy at the station we had a quick look around Wingham Brush, a roosting spot for the flying foxes. We then headed for a spot above the town to see if we could catch the flying foxes taking off (which they do all at once, right on sunset). A trip to the supermarket for some BBQ food was next up before returning to the lake house for dinner. We and the resident wildlife had a fine feast and Dave and I again sat up late, drank beer and talked bollocks.

My train back to Sydney departed Taree at just after 11:00, so we didn't really do much on Monday morning. I was home in time to cook dinner, do the washing up, do the ironing, do three loads of washing and clean Andy's shoes. Lovely.

Mudgee Wine Region - NSW, Australia

This weekend we participated in a wine tasting tour to the Mudgee wine region, organised by the chap that ran the wine course we completed several weeks previous.

We were collected from Central Station by our minibus on Friday evening. Seven 'guests', our guide, Reece, and our driver, Bob, then hit the road and did the drive up to Mudgee, 4 hours Northwest of Sydney. We stopped on the way for dinner in Katoomba (about a third of the way to Mudgee). Our search for an eating spot was quickly concluded when we walked past a café where a live "female impersonator" act was in full swing. It turned out that Patsy de Cline (otherwise known as Mitch) was Reece's next door neighbour, so we welcomed with open (and be-sequinned) arms. Poor old Reece was marked out for special attention by Patsy during our meal, attention that he had difficulty living down for the rest of the weekend. Our meal (and the show) concluded, we re-boarded our bus and completed our journey.

We awoke bright and early (well, about 08:30 anyway) on Saturday and, after a hearty fried breakfast (stomach liner's all round), we made for our first winery of the weekend. At Miramar Vineyards we were greeted by the owner and given a splendid introduction to the wines he produced. After months of trying to get used to the more "fruit-driven" Australian wines, it was nice to try some local wines that had more of a "European" flavour. Andy and I bought a mixed dozen - not bad for the first place we visited. Next up was Poet's Corner - not great, but we did buy a red or two. Then came Huntington Estate - again not great, but better than Poet's Corner (and we collected another couple of whites here, too). We had a looong lunch at Deeb's Place, a great little Lebanese restaurant in the middle of the vineyards. And, of course, we had to confirm that some of our morning's purchases were up to scratch. By the time we'd finished eating it was well into the afternoon. Our last stop for the day was Peter Van Gent's vineyard whose cellar door was bedecked with church pews (which made the tasting very civilised, if somewhat irreverent). We returned to the motel for a late siesta and then went out for dinner at Elton's in town (very good, too). Oh, and we may have reconfirmed that some of our morning's purchases were up to scratch.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed. Up at 08:30 again and out to Thistle Hill for a little wine tasting, which was good, and then across the road to Burnbrae Vineyard, which was a bit ordinary. We then went for a wee drive to Gulgong, an historic mining town a half-an-hour further north. There we had a good look around the town museum and town opera house before breaking for a much needed lunch. We hit the road for the return journey to Sydney mid-afternoon and were home, nursing our very full tummies, by 20:30. Nice.

Our First Visitors - Sydney, Australia

Bex and Peter came to stay for the week. Unfortunately, they hit the cack-est weather we've seen since being here. Bummer!