2002-11 (NOVEMBER, 2002)

Mr Whitten Comes Out To Play - NSW, Australia

Very early on Sunday, the 3rd, Dave collected Jane and I and took us out to the airport to welcome Mike to Australia. We did a quick 'drop-off and freshen-up' at Dave & Jenny's gaff before departing on foot for the beach. We pootled down to Bondi (where even us locals were shocked by the number of people shoe-horned onto the sand - everyone in Sydney was out to top up their tan, by the look of it) and then headed south on the cliff track to Bronte. Our walk unfortunately coincided with the 'Sculpture By The Sea' exhibition which meant the dual detractor of dreadful sculpture and sharing the narrow track with the rest of the population of Sydney - those that couldn't fit on Bondi beach, anyway. Fortunately the crowds thinned out the further south we walked, and by the time we got to Bronte the numbers of Sydney sun-lovers had returned to normal. We lazed and swam, ate Magnums and generally had a wonderfully relaxing morning and early afternoon - I suspect it was just what Mike needed after his long flight. Mid-afternoon rolled around and we decided to make a move to the Clovelly Hotel for a cold beer and a few games of pool. The afternoon slipped away and evening closed in. After a leisurely freshen-up back at Dave & Jenny's, we hopped into a couple of taxis and headed into Surrey Hills for dinner. Here we were joined by Andy and Sunil. For a "cheap eats" place, the AU$5 steaks at Forrester's were most acceptable. We didn't make ready to head for home until after 22:00, by which time even the normally-everlasting Mr Whitten was starting to flag. Not a bad first day, all round.

We kept it pretty quiet on Monday night and on Tuesday Mike and Jane departed on the first of their Oz adventures - Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and surrounds. It sounded like they had a great trip and got to see more than we did when we were there (the advantage of having more time in the area, I guess). The highlight was a dawn hot-air balloon ride over the Red Centre. Nice.

They returned on Friday and relocated from Dave & Jenny's to our flat. With another quick turn-around - enough to load a washing machine and very little else - we were off to the pub. Dave was already onto his second pint by the time we arrived, but we had a good go at catching him up. We decided to have an earlyish finish so as not to be too worse-for-wear for the following day's diversion. The early night plan was scuppered, however, upon arriving back at Darling Street. Dave and I had never come out of the pub in time to see people around, kebab shops open, etc. which, of course, meant that we had to get kebabbed up. We wandered over to Elkington Park and sat and ate our kebabs with our legs dangling from the end of White Horse Point. It was a splendid night and the harbour was still busy with late-night ferries. We sat and chatted until well after midnight.

We were up early on Saturday and off to hire a run-about on the Hawkesbury River. We collected our vessel from Bobbin Head (what a fantastic name) and motored straight out for an explore. Unfortunately the section of the river we were restricted to was less interesting than the last time we had done a similar outing, but the picnic was just as good (full credit to the Dave & Jenny Picnic Team). We meandered around until 15:30 and then returned to Bobbin Head. We were all pretty tired that evening, so settled for a nice and quiet 'beer, pizza and video' evening.

On Sunday we all went our separate ways. Mike and I took our cameras and walked into Darling Harbour and the Chinese Gardens. We had a bit of a mixed bag of weather thrown at us, but still spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Chinese Gardens which culminated with Green Tea on the balcony of the main Pagoda. That evening we continued the Asian theme and went to Sataysia for dinner.

On Monday I was working, but I did get to meet up with the guys for lunch. We made plans to go rock climbing at the gym in St Leonard's for the evening. I was particularly excited - it was the first bit of climbing I've done in over four years. We were all pretty evenly matched on the wall, which was good, and all had a very satisfying evening.

On Tuesday, Mike, Jane & Dave spent the morning doing a scenic flight over Sydney and the Blue Mountains. That evening Mike, Jane & myself went and saw 'Space Station 3D' at the IMAX cinema and then our visitors cooked us all dinner at home. Dave joined us and we introduced Mike to some of our favourite local beers (its pretty hard to find a drinkable one, I can tell you).

On Wednesday, Mike & Jane went and did the Sydney Bridge Climb, which sounded better than I had expected it to be. That night we all took it pretty easy - the guys had a very early start the next morning in order to get up to the Whitsunday Islands for the second of their Oz adventures.

On Thursday morning, Mike & Jane were off before 07:00 and Andy and I took it pretty quietly for the next few days. On Saturday, Andy & I met Chris & Judy for a long breakfast at the 'Orange Peel Café' on Beattie Street. We spent the afternoon on a Spring Cleaning mission and then went around to Chris & Judy's to baby sit whilst they went out to 'Banc' for Judy's Birthday dinner. Andy & I had our second 'beer, pizza and video' evening for the week. Splendid.

On Tuesday, Dave & I went to the pub. Mike & Jane found us there just after 20:00 and made a valiant effort to catch up on the 4 pints that they behind. We stayed out far too late for a school night, but had a great evening shooting the breeze with anyone who would listen (the middle-aged German bloke was particularly interesting to chat at). By the time we departed, it was well after midnight. This time Darling Street was its more familiar deserted self. Dave jumped in a cab and the rest of us drifted back to our house. What with a bit more chat and 8 million slices of Vegemite toast, it was well after 02:00 before my head hit a pillow. I paid for it the next day at work, I can tell you!

For the rest of the week our visitors were mostly left to their own devices (sod this 'working while your mates are visiting' lark!).

Group Weekend Away - NSW, Australia

Dave, Jenny, Mike, Jane, Paul, Marketa, Andy and myself departed Sydney on Friday afternoon/evening in a convoy heading north. Our destination was a fabulous pole-house situated beside a National Park, near Wagstaffe. Paul, Marketa, Andy and myself arrived well after the first car (our car had the workers in it) and well after dark. Jenny did a great job of preparing a BBQ for 8 whilst talking us in on the mobile phone. As soon as we had unloaded our car, it was BBQ time! We had a great load of food (that we somehow managed to get through) and at least one beer each. Mike, Dave and I almost blew the entire weekend by staying up drinking until after 05:00. Mmmmm, beer.

Saturday began slowly and the morning consisted largely of cooking and eating sausages and bacon. In the afternoon we dredged up enough energy to locate our nearest beach. The delightful Lobster Beach is 'boat access only' so we were able to escape the 'crowded Sydney beach' norm. The boys spent the whole time throwing around a cheap, foam filled rugby ball, much to the girls disgust. Upon returning to our accommodation we happily discovered that it was time for another BBQ. Lovely! The meal was a lot more experimental than the previous night and included such items as steak marinated in beer and BBQ'd bananas-and-chocolate. We all struggled to get any kind of drinking momentum up (we're all getting old, obviously) and the evening was all over before midnight.

On Sunday we all went our separate ways for the day. Andy & I decided to take a walk in Boudi National Park, down to Maitland Bay. We first took an inland track that terminated on the summit of a spur between Maitland Bay and Putty Beach. The view was spectacular. We returned to the coastal track with every intention of completing the circuit, but once we got down to the beach at Maitland Bay we decided to stay for a swim didn't move again until it was time to return home. We retraced our steps and drove back to base. All but Mike & Jane were back before us, and the two stragglers walked in not five minutes after us. We did a quick tidy up and then convoyed back to Sydney. Dave, Jenny & I returned the car to the airport. Mike and I spent the rest of the evening playing with digital camera stuff.

On Monday evening the weekend crew reassembled for Mike's farewell dinner. We went to the Welcome Hotel again (they do great food, too) and despite some momentary sad faces when we found that their World famous fish'n'chips had been struck from the menu, we had a great evening. We even finished at a civilised time!

On Tuesday morning, Mike & Jane departed for the airport and their flight to New Zealand. Dave & I will both miss the boy very much. :-(