Snow & Ice… But This Time Last Year…

More of the white stuff has fallen and is still falling this weekend.

It is bitterly cold outside – and in – as we are both confined to the one room warmed by the wood-burner. The rest of the house is cold on account of our ’emergency level’ of low oil. Unfortunately the long-suffering forgot to check the oil gauge as red light and pump sign flashed frantically on and off warning of dangerously low levels.

 

In his defence it is situated behind the door, not always visible, and this is our first whole winter in our house, nevertheless his shoulders are slumped as it is his job in our house to check these things.

A quick phone call to our supplier would not relieve the current situation for at least 10 – 14 days! The recent Beast from the East has meant delivery times have been extended to cope with the backlog. The present ‘mini beast from the East’ will no doubt have the potential to extend delivery times further still.

As I leave the comfort of the wood-burner and add some warm layers to make a hot cup of tea in our freezing kitchen, my mind drifts off to warmer climes……..

This time last year we had no such worries as we relaxed at the end of nearly two months away on a warm beach.

GROUNDS-11Thailand was the last leg of our indulgent long holiday after four weeks touring New Zealand in a Motorhome, followed by two weeks in Australia.

We stayed at The Shore Katathani resort for a two-week relax and unwind from an amazing adventure packed six weeks of travelling. Our villa – expertly researched by the long-suffering was a dream. Set into steep lush hillside with beautiful sea views and its very own private infinity pool he and I were not disappointed with his choice.

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The steep walk up and down many steps/ramps gave us ample cardio in-between just lazing around and generally being waited on, and if the heat got too much and sweating man made an appearance we could always take the ever available golf buggy up instead. With high humidity outside and air-conditioning inside, drawing back the blinds in the morning revealed condensation covered glass doors out to the view. Luckily the Long-suffering duly obliged with his window cleaning skills!

Primarily Thailand was our down time however, we did do one all day excursion involving a ninety minute coach journey followed by a speed boat trip to the Phi Phi Islands archipelago in the Andaman Sea.

Maya Bay shoot location of the film ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio was one of a few islands our tour guide took us to.

This island has recently been in the news, reported to be temporarily closing from June this year due to the extremely high visitor numbers – 5000 or more people a day.

From our experience last year, controlling visitor numbers can only be a good thing for the conservation of these beautiful islands and reefs.  Nothing prepares you for the sheer volume of people on what is promoted to be an idyllic beach. The posters depict it almost devoid of people and boats. The reality is anything but!

Brochure Picture………

Reality……….

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There were quieter moments walking through the lush vegetation out to the lookout, a welcome retreat from the masses.

We also visited Monkey Island……

For our part we preferred to view the Macaques from the boat which was just as well as the shore was busy with other tour boats, although the monkeys from a distance seemed at ease with the attention!

Bamboo Island our first stop…….

and Ko Phi Phi Don………..

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Sadly all the islands on our visit were just parking lots for the many boats lined up along the shores or bobbing in the water. I am sure in the non tourist times when the masses have left they would once again resemble the idyllic Islands the Brochures suggest!

An encroaching storm meant a rough and wet ride back to Phuket as we sped accross the water, even the plastic ponchos we were kindly supplied with were in danger of being ripped from us by the strong winds whipping around the open to the elements boat. Exhilarating to say the least!

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Back in the vicinity of the wood-burner our time away from the british winter last year is but a distant, happy memory. Nevertheless spring is around even if it is currently under a blanket of snow!

 

 

New Wheels – Mini Road Trip!

The Mazda MX5 RF has just been announced as the What Car top Cabriolet for 2018. The long-suffering is feeling smug with a told you so look on his face. It may be top car but I (and him) have not seen another one on the road since his purchase last summer!

In June 2017 the long-suffering suffered a mid life crisis and as such traded his old ‘sensible’ Mazda 3 Saloon for the new ‘convertable’ Mazda MX5 RF. Of course ‘he bought it for us…..to make us drive out on warm, sunny days/evenings/weekends’. Who is he kidding!

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Practical it is not in our rural location – hedges are high while we travel low, dwarfed by large oncoming vehicles in the middle of narrowing roads and liable to bottom out as we swerve to avoid collision into a potholed passing place!

However what it lacks in practicality – small boot, only room for two – it more than makes up for in its frivolously fun drivability. With the roof down, wind in our ‘greying hair’ I am transported back thirty years to our first date in long-sufferings original soft top, the characterful lopsided Triumph Spitfire.

The RF has an electronic retractable hard roof meaning boot space is tight. On the upside with the roof retracted we are a little more enclosed than the traditional MX5 – my hairstyle if not perfect at our destination does not now resemble a birds nest!

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Although the hip outwardly groans getting in, once down into the seat it is comfort supreme, my exit is a little more tricky and as after any journey of more than 30mins I revert once more to my ‘Quasimodo’ style of walk until limbered up again.

After a few evening drives out locally to Weymouth……. IMG_2337Studland…….

and Lulworth Cove…..

we were ready for a two day mini road trip to Cornwall……….

Day 1….. Our early start on a warm July day paid off and we arrived at Trebah Gardens – our planned excursion – just after opening. The leisurely stop for breakfast along the way had not happened as in a blur we passed breakfast vans and cafes at speed. Long-suffering muttering ‘there will be another one further on’ of course eventually there was not!

Instead almost at Trebah, hunger getting the better of him he pulled into a garage, where we had words over inedible warmed bacon rolls – me, and spilt hot chocolate over the RF floor – him!

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Trebah Gardens –  beautiful 26 acre sub-tropical ravine garden.  Australian tree ferns, lush waterside plantings, majestic, stately specimen trees, blue Hydrangeas on mass and its own private beach. A gardeners delight!

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Gunnera Plantation

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After lunch on the private beach, our next stop was Portloe – a pretty unspoilt fishing village in the Roseland Peninsular. We walked up one side of the steep valley before stopping off at the Lugger Hotel where we sat outside drinking cold beer looking out to sea.

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On to Portholland beach – a granite wall backs the rocky outcrops of this beach, between the small hamlets situated to the east and west with a total of only forty residents between them. We sat for a while in the warm sun reclining in two travel deckchairs we had crammed last minute into the boot along with the cabin size case, holdall, coats, and walking boots. Not such a small boot after all it would seem!

Off the beaten track……..

And finally our stop for the night Mevagissey….

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A walk where we shouldn’t with the aid of a kindly villager!

Evening Sunset View from our B&B terrace

Cornwall-19 Day 2 – After a good nights sleep and a ‘Full English’ for breakfast we set off heading east to Charlestown our morning stop-off on our route back home to Dorset.

Cornwall-36The working Port here dates back to the late 18th Century and little has changed in Charlestown since. It has a lovely old charm with little in the way of any large scale developments and creates the perfect setting for period dramas such as Poldark, Mansfield Park and Hornblower to name a few.

We explored the resident Square Rigger ship moored against the harbour walls, an area busy with tourists and a party of artists busy sketching and painting the scene before them.

The Shipwreck Rescue and Heritage Centre centre located in an a historic China Clay building kept our attention for a good hour, following the history from its early beginnings as a small fishing village to present day. We walked underground tunnels where the clay trucks were pushed out to ships in the port for the once thriving China Clay industry which followed on from the transport of copper from nearby mines. The construction of the port dock and harbour began in 1791 by Charles Rashleigh.

We had time after our light lunch sat overlooking the port for a quick walk on the beach before heading home roof down until the rain stopped play, however this small inconvenience only served to enable the long-suffering to demonstrate once again how quick and with very little effort – just the push of a button – we could be watertight once more!

My thoughts on this Cabriolet of the year….. It is fun, economical – compared to my 4×4 – a responsive drive – according to long-suffering and it IS making us take time out especially spur of the minute which suits my personality.

However It is NOT practical for visiting gardens that have either plants for sale or any gardening related paraphernalia as there is just not the room for impulse purchases unless the boot is empty and even then there is a severe height issue!

Having said that I did manage to squeeze in the boot some iron sculpture for the garden from Trebah, but the coveted tractor seat had to reluctantly be left in the shop.

This year 2018 I shall hope for a good dry summer and lots more garden visits after all isn’t that what he bought it for? Oh and maybe I will spot another Mazda MX5 RF on our travels this year. Are there any other owners out there to back up the accolade?

 

Buses, Ferries, Coastal Walk, Gondola ride, Zoo with a Spicy ending too!

Day 3 – After a good nights sleep and hearty breakfast we were back out front of our  hotel ready for the long-sufferings planned itinerary – fine tuned by the very helpful Concierge waving us off from the lobby!

For the first time since arriving we turned right out of our hotel and up the hill away from the harbour to catch a bus north to Coogee Beach.  After 19,000 + steps worth of  walking the previous day our legs were still feeling slightly fatigued.

The bus journey to Coogee Beach was almost the same journey our daughter from the house of two halves in Cyprus had taken ten years previous during her own travels in the ‘Sunshine State’. And now here we were following in her footsteps!

IMG_1257Coogee Beach was our start point for the 6km clifftop coastal walk to the famous Bondi Beach.

 

A medium effort walk along paved paths, some boardwalk’s, steps and steep inclines awaited us as the trail snaked and hugged the sandstone cliffs affording stunning panoramic views and beautiful beaches to stop at along the way.

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Gordons Bay – small, tucked away between Coogee and Clovelly, the tiny rocky beach covered with boats reminding us of a small Cornwall fishing cove.

 

Waverley Cemetery – here we were rerouted away from the coastal path due to a wild storm in June 2016 causing a landslip, buckling the board walk with it. A temporary route took us on a straight path through the famous state listed cemetery opened in 1877. Had it not been for the diversion we would not have experienced the real beauty in this graveyard with its huge sculptural memorials and crypts. I can think of no better place of rest than high up towards the sky overlooking the beautiful blue of the ocean as far as the eye can see.

 

Bronte Beach – surfs up!

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BONDI SURFER-1Bondi Beach – The view as we rounded the last corner was spectacular of this famous beach.

 

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IMG_1280Once on ground level we were on the beach discarding our walking shoes for the soft sand between our toes. We were slightly overdressed although this I think was a blessing given the competition all around!

 

Bus to…Watsons Bay – walk and steps up to Gap Bluff viewpoint. Lookout from tall ocean cliffs facing the Tasman Sea affording stunning panoramic views. Peering over and down from the safety of the angled barriers onto the rocky platform and crashing waves constantly pounding the rocks below it is hard to believe people would willingly throw themselves over the top to an almost certain death. Sadly like our own Beachy Head The Gap is now synonymous for the horror of suicide as well as the Beauty of its location.

 

A short walk through the park down to the wharf short stop for chips and cold beers before our Ferry arrived to whisk us off to…….

 

Taronga Zoo – after many weeks of all things high up the long-suffering has – whilst still not cured – become slightly less uptight about the whole ‘scared of heights scenario’. Just as well, as on arrival at Taronga we were offered the option of the Gondola to the top of the zoo! The photo opportunities this afforded swung the decision in favour, much to my amusement!

 

The zoo opened in 1916 and covers a vast area of 69 acres and houses 4000+ animals of which we only managed to see a small percentage. Nevertheless in the two hour time frame we had before it closed for the day a lot of ground was covered – including ground covered twice due in part to my useless sense of direction!

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Back down at the bottom our ferry was there waiting for the crossing back to Circular Quay and the now familiar steep walk back up to our hotel.

 

After a short rest, refreshing showers, quick change and we were ready for some food.

IMG_1275Walking back down the hill for eats, the Spice Room took our fancy and although busy we were squeezed in at a recently vacated table for two. Here we enjoyed good food – a shared buffet for two – lovely atmosphere and charming service… the perfect wind down to another hectic day. 20,624 steps and counting 15.56km and we still had to step back up the hill!

Tomorrow day 4 would sadly be our final day in Sydney and Australia……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Botanic Gardens and Opera!

Day 2 – 5am alarm, we were up, showered and out the hotel by 5.30am to capture the sunrise over Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. But first a route march to Mrs Macquaries Point backing onto the Botanic Gardens – not open as a cut through that early in the morning – a wrong turn and we were road side down an underpass busy, noisy and dusty before eventually regaining the scenic footpath to the point.

On our arrrival some professionals and amateurs alike were already set up to capture the moments. Long-suffering carefuly chose his spot although this changed as the hour progressed with a shuffling from all present to get the best shot!

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I missed what could have been my best shot from behind me where the sun was rising, as a keen photographer scrambling on the rocks to get his best shot ended up in the water drenched from head to foot!

Long-sufferings best shots then……

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The walk back to our hotel for breakfast through the Botanic Gardens was shorter and whetted our appetite for our own tour of the gardens that morning.

Royal Botanic Garden Sydney occupying a stunning position on Sydney Harbour with free entry and accessible all year round ensures these beautiful gardens opened in 1816 are a must see attraction.

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We were blessed with blue skies and comfortably warm temperatures for our visit. Although tours were available we decided as our time was limited to the morning only we would be our own guides, an easy option with clear signposting and plant/information boards along the way.

Immaculate gardens in a beautiful setting, secret pathways through the borders, long vistas and places to sit on seats and the grassy areas, nowhere it seems here is out of bounds.

Brachychiton rupestris The Queensland Bottle Tree – its common name in reference to the bottle shaped trunk which can reach a diameter of 2 metres!

Early that morning as we cut through on our way back from our sunrise – the gardens open at 7am – the main paths were busy with joggers, power walkers and commuters alike.  I can think of no better way to start the day than in this glorious place, I only wish our time had allowed for a longer more leisurely visit. Sydney residents are very fortunate to have such a place with free year round access on their doorstep every day, but even as a fleeting visitor these gardens have everything to offer.

An afternoon ferry cruise around the harbour offered us a different view of Sydney Harbour Bridge as we motored underneath its huge expanse!

There was much to see from our ferry – out to land and the busy waters…..

On our return back to land there followed a hike back up the hill, thirst quenching hotel drinks and hot showers. Finally posh frocks were on and a walk back down the hill saw us ready for………..

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A night at the Opera – Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House

The Production for that night ‘Great Opera Hits’.

 

 

 

The early evening walk Harbourside to the Opera House set the mood for the evening, as I was stopped in the street with the words from a female passer by ‘what a beautiful dress, you look fabulous’. The Long suffering his grin stretching from ear to ear gave me the look ‘I told you so!’

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Once I got over the shock of a complete stranger paying me a compliment it did much to boost my low confidence. The hip now subjected to heels after a day of almost continuous walking was having a hard time keeping my walk even. It was with renewed vigour I pulled up, tightened my glutes and walked as tall and straight as I could muster while intermittently hanging on to Long-sufferings arm whenever lurching/limping threatened!

Sydney Opera House was the perfect venue, from the buzz in the bar area for our pre-drinks, the anticipation as we waited in the full theatre to the awe inspiring vocals of the opera singers themselves. We came away after our first taste of opera with a greater appreciation for the art and a view to repeat the experience in the not too distant future back in England!

All that remained was to climb back up the hill to our hotel, a nightcap in the bar and hopefully a good nights sleep ready for tomorrows itinerary…………

 

 

 

Sydney

IMG_1231[1]Day 1 – We arrived from the Whitsundays into Sydney midday. Long-sufferings hotel of choice for our four day visit The Wentworth was conveniently located just a short walk uphill from the Harbour. A quick check in including a welcoming glass of bubbly in a huge lobby, incorporating shops, bars, library, comfy settees and for a short time only a single Rose encased in a glass dome at the desk, afternoon tea and ‘Belles reading chair’ situated between the entrances to the lifts and library. Beauty and the Beast fervour had arrived in Sydney!

After a brief inspection of our room, we were eager to get back out and onto the street for the walk down to the harbour, long-suffering grabbing my arm as I inevitably turned the opposite way – my sense of direction leaves a lot to be desired when exiting buildings!

Walking out from the shelter of the hotel we were forced back a step or two as the strong gusts funnelled and whooshed up between the tall buildings on either side of the street.  My hair – longer then after six weeks of travelling – an even messier untamed state without hat protection!

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We spent the afternoon walking around the harbour taking in and photographing  the iconic landmarks of this busy vibrant city packed with tourists all doing exactly the same thing!

We took drinks in the open air ‘Opera Bar’, luckily finding two newly vacated seats Harbourside to sit, relax and watch the world go by as we drank in our surroundings – the Harbour Bridge behind and the Opera House in front.

Tired now from travel and sightseeing we walked back up the hill to our hotel for a short rest, and freshen up before walking back down to experience Sydney at night!

Finally when we could walk no more we ate – after a short but weary wait for an outside table -freshly baked Pizzas at a Harbourside Italian restaurant a much needed leisurely affair after the hustle and bustle of dodging the crowds along the waterfront.  There followed a less leisurely route march – for the second time –  back UP THE HILL to our Hotel by which time we were ready to collapse into the welcoming folds of freshly laundered linens.

The ‘long-sufferings’ itinerary for tomorrow, well lets just say it was to be a very  early start! ………………

 

 

 

 

Before Cyclone Debbie

I started to write this post as Cyclone Debbie hit the Whitsundays from notes made of our time there, now seven weeks ago. At first I pondered whether to post at all for fear of seeming distanced from the very real suffering of those caught up in the aftermath of this devastating force of nature.

However, time has moved on tourism will be as important to help with the rebuilding of livelihoods, one such ‘Whitsunday Getaways’ our tour of choice. Their two catamarans survived the storm and they fairly quickly got up and running again. This our experience with them in this beautiful part of Australia………..

Day 1 – Back on long-sufferings planned itinerary we set sail – for a while at least – on a sunny late afternoon. Our 43 foot sailing Catamaran named Getaway II with its four comfortable private en-suite berths was everything we hoped. Our fellow sailors comprised – in order of importance – the crew, Chris the skipper who like me was prone to go ‘off itinery’ and Jess the skippers mate – Jack of all trades! And then in no order of importance the guests – one Canadian couple, one Austrian couple on honeymoon and one British couple – other than us.

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Unfortunately lack of brisk sea breeze eventually saw the sail dropped and the motor fired up as we headed to our first stop for the night – Turtle Bay. A small detail though as we sat out front or laid out on the nets strung between hulls revelling in the sea breeze whipped up as we powered through the deep waters.

Day 2 – After a good nights sleep – once we got used to the lapping waters and power noise for the air-conditioning – us two early risers rose! We crept up and out through the galley converted into the crews sleeping quarters while the rest of the boat slumbered, crew included.

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Up on deck we kept movement to a minimum and only spoke in hushed whispers as we watched the sun rise together, and a threatening rain storm on the horizon. By 7am most of the guests were awake but still no sign of the crew slumbering oblivious in the galley below! Eventually our parched throats were soothed as finally they woke scrambling sheepishly at 7.15am, to much amusement from us and breakfast followed only slighter later than the designated time of 7.30am!

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Morning – Whitehaven Beach, 7km stretch of breathtakingly stunning pure white sandy beach and turquoise, blue and green sea. We were each handed a stinger suit to help protect us against any sting rays that may be lurking – common in these seas apparently! Skipper Chris dropped us all off by tender with host Jess as our guide leaving us to walk through native bush and up to the lookout at Tongue Point. The heat & humidity under the thick canopy made for uncomfortable walking causing sweating man to return!

I was having my own sweats – of a different kind – imagining what may lurk above and below my head. With good reason as we encountered resident spiders waiting in huge webs strung between branches and Geckos, so rigid and still, almost to be missed, their skin camouflaging against bark or undergrowth.

Worth the worry and effort? Absolutely! There are few words that can possibly do this beach justice, it really is so beautiful as to be quite mesmerising. The intense brightness of the pure white sand like no other we had seen before and the mix of pure greens, turquoise and blues of the sea was captivating. Looking down onto the beach the people on the sand and in the sea  looked like an army of ants identically dressed in their black stinger suits. The tide was in, but on its way out, we were advised to come back up later when as the water retreated the sand swirls would be exposed.

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Walking partway back the same route we then took the descent track down eventually opening out to experience for ourselves this amazingly beautiful beach.

Bathing in our stinger suits – long-suffering looking like the man from the ‘lady loves milk tray’ advert – in clear warm waters and as the water retreated we felt marooned on the emerging sand bars.

IMG_1647[3] copy The soft 98 per cent pure white silica sand, we used to polish our jewellery -yes it really does work – our wedding rings sparkled like new!

Some of us did in the heat of the day make it back up the steep track for a second photo opportunity and yes it was worth it especially for long-sufferings ever increasing portfolio of instant memories.

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After a light lunch on board we sailed to Pitstop Bay for an afternoon of Snorkelling. Fish swimming in all directions, beautiful corals, it was like swimming in a huge aquarium.

Over the course of the next two days we had the opportunity for more snorkelling in Mantaray Bay and Butterfly Bay.  The only small disappointment for us was the sea  a little too choppy for the paddle-boards carried on the back. Nevertheless, with good food, great company, beautiful scenery, opportunities to just relax as we sailed – or motored – over the sea and our own exciting moment as we awoke one morning to a lone turtle swimming past our window, we were more than happy!

Whitsunday Getaways did not disappoint, from the time we booked months previously to our arrival in Airlie Beach the information and organisation for the trip was faultless. We left on time and returned on time, the boat was comfortable, food good – maybe not the frozen fruit breakfast, but it did raise a smile or two! Thank you Jess! The stinger suits, snorkels and fins in good condition if you don’t have your own.

Chris was a mine of information about the area we sailed and beyond, keeping us entertained throughout with lots of laughs, including his own ‘adopted Island’ found while sailing ‘off itinerary’ aptly named ‘Christo’ what else!

Maybe one day we will return, but for now we wish the Whitsundays much calm after the storm……………..

Facing MY Fears!

°Brisbane Australia, three days visiting Richards uncle and cousins – for once long-suffering had the upper hand on the next stage of our ‘trip of a lifetime’. He sat calm beside me on the three hour plus flight from Christchurch to Brisbane as I sat freaking out at all the wild animals, insects, reptiles, sharks etc. that may or may not  – crawl, jump, dive, slither, snap or bite terminating me from existence!

We had it on good authority – our youngest daughter – that Richards cousin Andrew and his wife Jodie – both originally from New Zealand with its almost zero population of nasties – would be great hosts for the duration of our three day stop in Brisbane. We were not disappointed.

Walking out from the airport we were not prepared for how hot this country really is and although our hosts were waiting with their air-conditioned car our clothes were already sticking to our bodies.

As my head swivelled  360° outside the terminal looking for any rogue predators – Jodie happily informed me their house – under her orders – was fumigated at least once a week to keep down the risk of any nasty intruders of the crawling/jumping variety. Already we were best friends!

Brisbane city – cousin Andrew had to work behind the scenes at the Adele concert taking place at the Gabba, leaving Jodie with the task of entertaining us for the evening – no mean feat considering we had only just met for the first time ever!

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We drove straight into Brisbane city from the airport dropping Andrew off at the Gabba before parking up beneath Eagle Street Pier in an underground car park. We took the steps up which led straight out onto the pier. From the terraced pier busy with bars and eateries filled with workers and tourists like us, tall skyscrapers loomed above our heads.

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After a couple of drinks getting to know each other – instant ease – at a River front bar we moved on to George’s seafood restaurant, not that any of us had seafood. But we did have a table overlooking the Brisbane River and Story Bridge.

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Had we had more time we would have liked to spend more time in this vibrant city, however the time we did have, was happily spent catching up with family we had not seen for many years, all who had once lived in New Zealand and had followed our recent travels there, especially the South Island where they once lived.

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At Uncle Rogers we browsed through old photos he had from when he first emigrated to New Zealand from Kilnwick in Yorkshire  – one of the original £10.00 a passage skilled workers needed out there. First working in labouring jobs including helping to build the Haast Pass eventually setting up his own sheep farm in Timaru before retiring to Brisbane. We compared photos – our full colour, all singing and dancing present day and his mostly black and white grainy snapshots – important documentation  of a bygone age in the South Island.

 

It was a welcome relief to stay in a family home  – especially one as welcoming as  Andrew and Jodies – after the impersonal hotel rooms before. We slept like logs in our boutique style room, ate like kings, and even had resident young Chinese students to keep us entertained during our stay and not a predator was seen – not by me – long-suffering did see a cane toad but I don’t think he counts!

All too soon it was time to leave for the next stage of our journey … Whitsundays beckoned ………