2001-12 (DECEMBER, 2001)

A Busy Month: Week One - Sydney, Australia

A busy month kicked off with a double booking - I had to decide between attending the work Christmas do or taking Andy out for dinner on her birthday. I am reliably informed that Andy had a nice time without me - hah, only joking. I blew out the work do and took m'girl to the Bathers Pavilion at Balmoral, a very exclusive Sydney restaurant. We were very disappointed with our meal despite the gorgeous surroundings. We'll be eating fish'n'chips on the beach next time we go to Balmoral, I can tell you!

On Friday I finished work and on Saturday we finally hosted our first party in our not-so-new-now house. The triple celebration occasion (birthday/house warming/unemployment) called for a cocktail party. It is a sign of our getting old that we stuck to the proper recipes for most of the night. Andy invented the two most popular cocktails of the night (my favorite of the two was a blend of Bailey's, Frangelico, Vodka, cream and crushed ice, which we dubbed the 'Andy 1' - yum!)

Sunday was rounded out with a group trip to see 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'.

A Busy Month: Week Two - Sydney, Australia

My first week of being unemployed involved the abandonment of many fine plans and catching up on much needed sleep. Ah well.

On Sunday I jumped on a plane home to Christchurch to commence the Christmas week with the whole family (the first time in five Christmases). I was collected by Mum, Dad and Milly, despite my arriving after midnight. It was most excellent to see them all, I can tell you.

A Busy Month: Week Three - Christchurch, New Zealand

The run up to Christmas was a bit of a blur, but obviously involved the consumption of an enormous amount of food, given that I returned to Sydney six kilograms heavier than when I left.

Andrea arrived late on the evening of the 20th. We spent the rest of a grey and rainy week shopping, snoozing, reading and playing Tomb Raider III (well, I did). Bex and her contingent arrived on the Saturday, bringing the number of people under our roof to ten (six family members and four hangers-on).

A Busy Month: Week Four - Christchurch, New Zealand

Tim's friend, Matt, departed on Christmas Eve, and so our numbers for the big day were reduced to nine. I made an extra large Summer Pudding, my contribution to tomorrow's feast.

Christmas day was excellent. The pressies this year seemed to bring extra special pleasure (helped, no doubt, by being all together for the first time in so long). Our Christmas lunch was superb and the Summer Pudding went down a treat.

On Boxing Day, Andy and I took the Honda NSX over to Akaroa, my first visit to the place since Sha (my Grandmother) had died. The place wasn't the same without her, but we did have our only day of glorious sunshine and took in the Lavender Farm, the lighthouse and the Gardens of Tane, as well as lunch on the waterfront. We had to burn home to be in time for our evening's entertainment - a family trip to the opening night of 'The Lord of the Rings' and dinner afterwards at 'The Lone Star Café' (where I added three of the six kilograms to my bulk in a single sitting - you have never seen so many spare ribs on one plate before!).

On my last evening in Christchurch I blew the family out in favour of catching up with Master T Andrew Stroud, who I hadn't seen since he had left London some 18 months previously. We had a great old natter, and a couple of drinks turned into many. When we were finally kicked out of the Dux Deluxe, we caught a taxi back to our respective abodes. I was quite sad to see him go.

Early the next morning Andy and I were off to the airport for our return flight to Sydney. After a tearful farewell and a dull flight we arrived into a bush-fire-smoke-swathed Sydney and collected a hire car, our transport for our last adventure of 2001.

A Busy Month: Road Trip - NSW, Australia

We stopped back at home just long enough to exchange our Christmas gear for some camping gear and to collect some intelligence on the bush fires that were raging all over NSW. The reports were so confused and contradictory that we decided to take pot luck and see if we could get to the far side of the Blue Mountains before that evening.

As it turned out, we were very lucky that the road had been newly opened to traffic and we were able to see firsthand the destruction the fires had caused. A large portion of the gum trees looked merely singed and brown, and it was only when you took in the charred stumps of other species of trees scattered amongst the gums (and the occasional road sign) that you really got a feel for the intensity of the blaze that had scoured the area (and the relative fire-proofing enjoyed by gum trees). I was still unable to fully appreciate the severity of what we had seen until Dave explained that a large proportion of the 'damage' comes in the months after the fires. The animal life that survives the initial blaze (forced to return to the burnt areas due to a human-induced lack of habitat) slowly dies of starvation - all the fruit and new shoots are the first things to burn.

We made better-than-expected progress today and managed to traverse the Blue Mountains via Blackheath (where we met up with Andy's boss, his wife and two friends for a cup of coffee), before finally choosing our stop for the night - the Janolan Caves, South of Lithgow.

The drive into the caves descends a steep and treacherous road. Immediately before the village, the road actually winds through a huge cave and out the other side - spectacular! We were in time to find a spot to camp, set up the tent and get back to the village for the 20:30 tour of the caves. By chance, we had arrived for the 'behind the scenes tour' which only runs a handful of times a year and takes a much smaller than normal group of people into parts of the cave system that few visitors get to see. The highlight was the underground steam that was lit from below the surface of the water - absolutely stunning. We were back and in bed by 23:00.

We were up early, had a quick breakfast of bread, cheese & tapanade and were on the road by 08:00. Our first port of call was Oberon and then Bathurst, both unremarkable Australian towns. At Bathurst we had some lunch and then turned from the main road and took the back way South. We stopped briefly at the Abercrombe Caves, but elected not to go in. After an ice-block and a drink we continued South. We took a detour up the road to Bigga to take in the Snowy Mountain Lookout. Continuing on through Crookwell (great fish'n'chip dinner) we made it to Goulburn campsite for the night. Tonight we were asleep soon after the Sun left the sky.

Up early and off to Canberra, where we had a scungy breakfast at the only café we could find during 20 minutes of driving around (the bulk of Canberra is so well tucked away, it easy to think that there is really nothing there at all). From the centre we continued South into Namadgi National Park. We got to see more of it than we had been expecting due to a wrong turning on my part, but it was quite pretty. I ran over a five foot long black & yellow snake, which was a bit of a shame. Returning North to the centre of Canberra, we then headed East to reach the coast at Bateman's Bay. We had heard of a cute-sounding place to stay just North of the bay. Unfortunately, so had the rest of NSW. We finally found a camp site with a vacancy at Ulladulla, but it wasn't ideal thanks to the large contingent of teens gearing up for their New Year's Eve the next day. Andy was particularly disillusioned by the reality of coastal camping at this time of year (just too many people) which she had been looking forward too a great deal. We reluctantly decided to cut short our road trip and return to Sydney in time for New Year's Eve tomorrow.

Another early start today and off North up the coastal road. Again we got to see evidence of just how fierce the bush fires had been and just how much bush had been wiped out. We cut inland at Nowra and climbed over the mountains and down into Kangaroo Valley. The valley is extremely pretty. At Fitzroy Falls we parked up and went for a short walk to the waterfall. Continuing North, we rejoined highway 31 just North of Mittagong and made our way back into Sydney. A bout of frantic text messaging ensued to organise our New Year's Eve evening and we were home around 17:00.

A Busy Month: New Years Eve 2001/02 - Sydney, Australia

Dave, Alex, Vicky, Purr and myself (Andy stayed at home) descended on the Rocks with enough food and booze to last us for the next twelve hours. We got through the booze in six and had enough food left over for several days worth of serious picnicing. Still, we got to see the fireworks at midnight which were pretty spectacular (you'd think so, too, given that the show cost over AU$3,000,000 to put on). At around 03:00 we jumped on a bus out to Bondi Beach. Alex, Dave and myself had to go skinny dipping and I bodysurfed buck-naked for a good hour-and-a-half. We watched the Sun come up, minced around a bit and then boarded a bus home. Needless to say the rest of the day was a bit of a write-off.