2003-03 (MARCH, 2003)

My Dad's 60th Birthday - Christchurch, New Zealand

This weekend my brother and I flew home to New Zealand to attend my Dad's surprise 60th birthday party. And, boy, was he surprised! Probably not a wise thing to do to a 60-year old man, but hey.

We flew out of Sydney early on Saturday afternoon and touched down in Christchurch just after 18:00. Milly collected us from the airport and took us back to the family residence (well, almost - she kicked us out round the corner and we had to wait until we got our cue to enter). A small gathering of friend's was in full swing in the back garden and the guest of honour was rather surprised to espy his two sons walking into the middle of the party. He was really touched that we had managed to make it, although we did inform him that we mainly there for the free beer. After a round or three of some bubbly stuff, we set off for a local Thai/Malaysian restaurant for a meal. There were some interesting characters in the group, including two super-fit people (one of whom represented NZ in running at the Moscow Olympics - or was it the Munich Olympics?) who got really smashed on a glass-and-a-half of wine each and then proceeded to make complete arses of themselves. Most amusing.

On Sunday we just lazed about and ate food. My brother and I were politely, but firmly, told to clear out the rest of our junk from the various storage vestibules around the house. This turned out to be a right laugh. I found a whole load of memorabilia from University - I will be adding the scans of my "Student IDs Through The Ages" to the photo gallery soon (some great hairstyles, I can tell you).

At 03:30 on Monday morning (02:30 Sydney time) I had to arise, dress and depart for the airport. I was back in Sydney by 07:45 and went straight to work. A splendid weekend - I wish I could have stayed longer.

Camping In The Blue Mountains - NSW, Australia

This weekend, Andy and I decided to do our bit to help ease the drought in New South Wales by dusting off our tent and heading up to the Blue Mountains for a spot of camping.

We hired a car for the weekend (I got "up sold" to a four-wheel drive - excellent!) and were on the road on Saturday morning by a reasonable hour. An hour into the two-hour drive the grey clouds had started to roll in and rain had begun to fall. By the time we had got to our campsite 5km behind Blackheath, however, the blue skies were back - "the rain had been just a temporary glitch, after all" we (foolishly) said to ourselves. A quick check on the campsite notice board revealed that all of the tracks that we had hoped to do some hiking on were closed until further notice (for no apparent reason). Bugger. We set up camp and repaired to Blackheath for a cup of coffee and to consider what hikes from our walking guide were still available for us to do. I was in training for my holiday in May/June, so I was keen for some short walks on which to test some different combinations of my rag-tag collection of hiking gear. The 'Bakehouse in Blackheath' proved to be the undoing of our great intentions as it had just too many good things to eat. We sat there until after 15:00, during which time we got to briefly see Bob & Muriel who were driving through on their way to a birthday lunch. We finally dragged ourselves off to do the 4.5km walk around Porter's Pass, a fabulous little walk through some wonderful canyons and cliffs. By the time we had got back to the car the first drops of a more serious looking band of rain were beginning to splotch the ground. Back at the camp site, we had to make a dash for the shelter of our tent. It was at this point that I discovered that, for the second time running, I had forgotten to bring any source of fire with me - no hot dinner for us. Doh! We consoled ourselves with about 200 Mars Bars each and the fact that at least our little, silver-coloured tent was good and waterproof. As darkness set in we were faced with a different question with regards to our little, silver-coloured tent - was it lightning proof? Yep, the rainstorm had turned from bad to worse, and I can now tell you that there are few experiences more invigorating than sitting in a small tent, at the top of a hill with bolts of lightning crackling all around you at an excitingly high frequency. We played "poor man's Trivial Pursuit" (no dice, no pies, no board, just made-up questions and a healthy dose of disputing the answers) to take our minds off the storm that was raging around us. Fortunately the sugar-shock induced by the 200 Mars Bars helped as well. We fell asleep eventually.

Sunday dawned stiff and a bit sore - I had neglected to bring anything to use as a pillow and had paid a high price for my lapse. Andy wasn't much better (despite bringing her feather pillow from home - God I hope no-one saw her bring that into the tent!) so we decided to head back into Blackheath for a conciliatory fry-up - the hard-core camping weekend was well and truly over. After an excellent feed at the 'Gardeners Inn' we elected to do the Wollangambe Track, near Mount Wilson, in order to save a little face. This track is one long, steep descent to the Wollangambe River (and hence is one long, steep ascent back). By half-way down, however, we had decided that the track was actually pretty dull and so elected ed to about face and return to the car. The Mount Wilson area is one of the prettiest parts of New South Wales that we have found so far, so we decided to take a wee drive around to explore it in a little more depth. We stumbled upon 'Windy Ridge Gardens' and Andy went in for a look around whilst I sat outside and read. Instead of taking the normal road back to Sydney, we returned via the Bells Line Of Road, a (rather strangely named) back route through the far side of the Blue Mountains. We were home and unloading our gear by 15:00, and, after 40 winks, returned the car to the rental office in town. Our plans to catch a movie before making for home were thwarted by the Premier of some movie that meant that the George Street cinemas were closed to the public for the evening. An early night in a real bed was a more than adequate substitute.