2006-01 (JANUARY, 2006)

A New Year Begins - Sydney, Australia

Sat: We touched down in Sydney on the morning of New Year's Eve. We collected our hire car and drove out to Cath & Craig's house, in Balmain, where we were staying. After a much needed coffee, we set about unpacking and swapping our winter clothes for summer one's as the thermometer rose to 36°C - a bit of a change from -2°C! Plans for the day included getting in supplies for the evening and for Andy, Holly and I to track down Andy's rellies, the Littles, who were in town until New Year's Day. After some frantic dashing about we collected Colin, Marie, Gareth & Caroline off the ferry at Balmain East and brought them back up to Cath's house for a cold drink. From there we all headed out for a (late) spot of lunch, during which we agreed to meet up again tomorrow for breakfast before the Littles flew home. The rest of the afternoon slipped by and Andy, Holly and I were in bed asleep by 18:00. Our sleep was briefly interrupted by the fireworks at midnight.

Sun: Today was forecast to be hot (what was yesterday's 36°C, then - a bit warm!?). We met the Littles for breakfast at their hotel (is there anything better than a top-notch, all-you-can-eat breakfast?) By the time we'd emerged the thermometer was above 40°C and still rising. This was not good - particularly for our 7-month-old daughter. We rang around to find a public building that had air-conditioning and was open on New Year's Day. This lead us to the Australian National Maritime Museum, where we camped out until closing time at 18:00 (together with the entire tourist population of Sydney). During that afternoon the temperature outside rose to a staggering 44.5°C. I'm struggling to try and bring that into perspective for anyone who hasn't experienced that kind of heat. Put it this way, the hottest bath or spa pool you've ever stepped into was probable no more than 42-43°C - and you could cool down by getting out. The air temperature today was several degrees hotter and there was no escape, even in the shade, unless you found some air con. It was like trying to breath the air coming out of a hair-dryer. It was awful. Even when we got kicked out at 18:00, the air temperature was still extreme thanks to the super-heated concrete and asphalt. Andy & Holly camped out in our car with the air con on for another hour-and-a-half until I had to evict them so I could go and collect Dave & Jenny from the airport. The plan for Dave, Jenny and myself was to drive up to 'Dogwood' that evening and despite getting on the road pretty late (22:00) we decided to stick to the plan. Unfortunately the gods were not on our side. We got lost on our way out of Sydney (too much chat, not enough navigate) and by the time we got ourselves sorted both highways north had been closed by bushfires. We had a couple of interactions with the least helpful police in the world ("Can you tell us if there is another way North?", "The highway's closed.", "Yes, but is there is another way North?", "The highway's closed.", "We understand that. Is the another route we can take to drive North?", "Our job isn't to give out traffic directions." - "What a helpful chap," Dave didn't say). We had to turn around and head back to Cath & Craig's, where we arrived after midnight. The final fumble for the night was my activating the car alarm instead of popping the car boot open - what a way to endear yourselves to your hosts when arriving after midnight!

Mon: We got on the road North again after breakfast. The weather had turned and it was much cooler (a chilly 20°C and rain was forecast for the day). The drive up to 'Dogwood' was peppered with rain showers, but the driving was easy. We got to 'Dogwood' by late afternoon and suspended a plan to press on North to Hat Head, where Dave had a campsite booked. Instead we blobbed around 'Dogwood' and I got to see the shed in all its almost-finished glory - she's a beauty! We dined on the deck, but the evening was not a late one.

Our campsite!Tue: Today Dave and I collected Daniel and got on the road to Hat Head, two hours north of 'Dogwood'. Along the way we filled the car with supplies - poor old Daniel in the back-seat was only able to breathe whilst the car was under heavy breaking (i.e. not very often). We arrived into a sunny campsite around lunchtime, disgorged the contents of the car onto our campsite (including Daniel, who we found under two cases of beer), found the deck chairs and cracked a beer. And some prawns. And some more beer. By mid afternoon an important executive decision was made to get the tent up before we had any more beer. This was a good decision. It did take a little bit of effort to enact, however. By dinner-time the tent was up, so we had another beer. One of the splendid things about camping at Hat Head is the community living - everyone is out of the boxes they normally live in and are interacting with their neighbours. An example of the upside of this was our dinner that night - fresh Marlin and Yellow Fin Tuna, caught that day and dished out to whoever wanted some by the proud fisherman. An example of the downside of this community living was our neighbours ("Sylvania Waters on Holiday"), but that's another story. We shuffled off to a friend's tent to cook and eat and drink the night away. It is worth noting at this point what constituted an average tent in this campsite. Whilst people were outside the box they normally live in, most had brought a significant portion of the contents of that box with them. A family site typically consisted of a palatial tent which was in turn covered in an enormous tarpaulin to create a huge covered 'deck' around the outside of the tent. The covered area was required because the tent was full of fridges, stoves, kitchen shelving, satellite TVs and god know what else, so there was no room inside for actual people. This did add to the community feel, of course, as everyone was forced outside - well, all except the kids, who were inside watching satellite TV, but who wants them about anyway? We had a great night.

Wed: The one word theme for today was "sleep". Dave and I were both knackered from our respective Eurojaunts and so we slept most of the day away. We went for a swim at some point, and had dinner at the local takeaway at some point, but the main focus was definitely sleep.

Thu: Today was our last full day in Hat Head, so we thought we'd make an effort to actually do something. Unfortunately it was raining today, which kind of put a dampener on things (no pun intended). Our achievements for the day included breakfast, lunch and dinner at the local takeaway, a swim in the rain and a walk in the rain. By evening the rain was really lashing it down, but this didn't stop a good portion of the campsite turning out to hear Richie Gudgeon play a set down in the community area - and, boy, was he worth turning out to hear. This guy was one hell of a musician! He could make a single guitar sound like three - if you closed your eyes you could hear rhythm, lead and bass all being played at once. Very impressive. When he continued this trick after breaking a string (he couldn't be arsed going out in the storm to get a new string from his van) we thought he was just showing off. He re-tuned the five remaining strings to cover a full spread of notes and then just kept on playing (presumably with different finger work to get the same chords) - all in the blink of an eye. Freaky cool! Needless to say we drank more beer and had a splendid evening.

Fri: Breakfast at the local takeaway was followed with a quick round of 'pack up a sodden campsite by stuffing it all in the boot of the car' - a favourite game from my childhood camping days. We got on the road back to 'Dogwood', with a detour via Port Macquarie to collect Dave's car. I pressed on to 'Dogwood' whilst Dave dropped Daniel off home. Once we'd rendezvoused at 'Dogwood', we had time for a quick bite to eat before I got on the road for the long drive back to Sydney. I was back in Sydney by dinner time. After a quick sprucing up, we were back out again. Andy and I dropped Holly off at Virginia's house to be baby-sat whilst we headed out to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, with Cath & Craig. This restaurant is superb - the Snapper Pie is a speciality and is just delicious! A fine finish to the Sydney leg of our trip!

Sat: Today was 'going home' day. Our flight wasn't until the early evening, but it took us most of the day to ready ourselves, pack, drop the car back, etc., etc. The flight home was not too bad (Holly was getting a bit sick of flying by this point, however). Air New Zealand were fantastic - we even got a bassinet without requesting one. God, I hope they never merge with that collection of muppets over at QANTAS! We touched down just before midnight, Kiwi-time. We avoided a car shuffle to get home by talking a taxi driver into taking us all without a car seat. We had had an absolutely fantastic holiday, but it was nice to be home!

The Bobster Arrives - Wellington, New Zealand

Andrea's Dad, Bob, arrived to stay with us for 3 months. He and Holly are the best of mates, so all three members of our household were excited to see him.