6-20 February: Hunter Valley, Newcastle and into our final weeks in Sydney before the next European adventure.

Author: Mr A

Location: Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Sydney, NSW, Australia

Well the climate gods have certainly had an amusing time throwing the whole fires and floods at Australia this summer! After years of drought, the worst fires on record (yes that’s a factual statement), many areas in NSW are now flood, receiving more rain in the last two weeks than for several years. What a welcome relief to hear the restorative power of those raindrops lashing on the roof.

We first saw the miracle of what solid rain could do when staying with friends in the Hunter after leaving the coast on our trip down to Sydney. Over the course of under 24 hours we watched their paddock go from brown to green. Unfortunately the rain will not save this years vintage. The Hunter valley usually produces some outstanding wines. Not this year. Apparently 80% of the wine growers will not be able to produce anything because of the tainting from the bush fire smoke that will only grow stronger as the wine sits in the bottle. Just another industry that is under stress from our changing climate.

Our friends took us wine tasting to Ben Ean, a relatively new business that has established itself in the old Lindemans winery. They were showcasing some excellent local wines, with a great mediterranean focused restaurant, and a small shop with local products for sale.

Into Ben Ean, now owned by two of the Hunter’s oldest wine making families, McGuigan and Peterson

I throughly recommend you check it out, together with the Gundog Estate winery next door. We picked up some fabulous wines here to take for our last few weeks in Sydney before we leave for 9 months, and the various dinners that would involve!

Picking up some outstanding drops in Gundog Estate, helped by the lovely Cathy

We also called in on another friend in the Hunter living on a vineyard, He has an amazing cellar and another case was procured to see us through the weeks ahead. Some really interesting wines in this little selection.

Please go and support these businesses up in the Hunter, they will really need us this year if we are to continue to enjoy a thriving wine industry in Australia.

Our next stop was Newcastle, up the coast from Sydney a couple of hours. This city is also becoming a real hub for good food and wine. Is that why our friends moved there? Well we had a cracking weekend finding out, with visits to excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, and some walks between showers to burn off the calories.

The rain held off for a coastal stroll
The surf is really rolling in with the storms
A sudden downpour calls for beer and negronis

Spending quality time with friends, breaking bread, shooting the breeze, sharing dreams and memories, this is so important to us. It had been a friend‘s birthday a few days before and her hubby had organised for six surprise guests to arrive for a night. Well the extreme weather and ensuing accidents on the roads put paid to Plan A, and then Plan B, finally Plan C worked and she was delighted to see not just the four of us for dinner but ten smiling faces round the table. Nothing better…

Pre dinner drinks at Bar Petite
Then the big surprise at Rustica restaurant
The surprise dinner

We luckily had a storm free run down with the caravan to Sydney and dropped it for repairs after my little accident in January. If you are the driver of white ute who careered round a corner in Nowra on the 2nd of January and forced a Land Cruiser towing a caravan to veer out of the way and hit a street sign…I hope you were rushing to something important enough to risk others peoples‘ life and limbs (and property).

Caravan-free, we made it to Matraville in Sydney’s south eastern suburbs , where our dear friends Jenny and David live. This is where our fur child is well cared for while we are away. These are always happy times, sharing meals and laughs with these guys and other Sydney based friends, tinged with a little sadness knowing it will be a long time before we see them all again. We leave on March the 1st and are not back until mid November. But what tales we will all have to share by then?

Looking back at La Perouse
Stopping on our ride around Yarra Bay for a cup of tea on the rocks
A golden orb spider
A red gum
Looking out across Botany Bay
Sunday morning hiking gang
A lovely catch up with friend Rachel at Japanese restaurant Izakaya Fujiyama
We cycled over to Maroubra for a cup of tea with friend Twiggy, visiting from Brisbane

We have managed to get out on our bikes for some rides, the last one being an absolute cracker along 18 km of almost continuous car-free cycleway along the southern beach suburbs of Sydney from Kyeemagh (just south of Sydney airport) to Cronulla.

Calm waters at Kyeemagh Beach Baths as we set off
Cook Park
Some welcome shade as we ride along through Ramsgate, looking out into Botany Bay
Lunch at Zimzala Restaurant in Cronulla

It’s so great to see some investment going into upgrading parts of this popular route. If we use this infrastructure then hopefully our councils will see the demand is there and continue to invest.

So now we settle into the last 10 days of our time in Australia, with much to still organise, and our excitement building as flight day approaches.

1-17 January 2020: Goodbye Sydney…for a few weeks

Author: Mr A

Location: Mosman, Sydney, Australia

I’m sitting in the our caravan waiting for Catherine to come back from yet another doctors appt. She never complains, just gets on with it. This morning is another set of steroid injections in her neck. Not a pleasant exercise, but seems to be keeping her breathing well, so for her worth the discomfort.

We are all packed up and ready to leave our house-sit in Mosman and head north up to Noosa over the weekend, via our friends in Newcastle.

Reflecting on our six weeks here in Sydney, we have missed breathing clean air, missed feeling well (we’ve both had the flu and lingering coughs), and both felt extremely anxious for friends around the country whose properties have been at risk from the fires. On the plus side we have had some great catch ups. Friendships can be maintained on line, but there’s nothing like sharing a glass and breaking bread, mostly a naan with a curry!

Friend Richard cooks up a storm on the only BBQ meal we have eaten on our trip back to Australia (so far!)
A delicious lunch with Rosemary and Richard at their house-sit in Clontarf
Sydney Red Gums frame a view over Middle Harbour

We have watched the bush fires rage around the country, and felt the affects of the smoke here in the middle of its largest city. Australia is going to be at the pointy end of climate change and likely will continue it seems to wrestle with balancing the economic dependence it has on fossil fuels, the lack of climate strategy a succession of our governments has failed to deliver, and being the hottest, driest continent on the planet. I will say no more because I’m not qualified to speak on the science of climate change, although that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

I have read all that I can absorb and have come to what I believe is an informed conclusion. I would encourage you to do the same. The most data rich (rather than “opinion rich”) source I have found is The Conversation, a network of not for profit web media outlets that publish content written by academics and researchers. Also NASA’s web site has some great global content as well. So who would you rather trust, the politician or the scientist? The news reader paid by Robert Murdoch, or someone who actually has some expertise? Sorting through the lies and distortion that hurtle at us from everywhere is going to be the key challenge I think for this decade. We are privileged to live in a democracy, a political system that is always under threat when the worst in humanity is stirred by those who appeal to our fears.

While based in Mosman we have dashed out on a few walks when the air has not been too toxic, and out on the water for some paddles. We have walked along a harbour side path numerous times, and hardly seen another soul.

Mrs A walking on a path around the Harbour – you can hardly believe we’re in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people
Looking out over the Spit
Eastern Water Dragons are plentiful on the Harbourside walks
A magnificent beast
Another fearless Dragon poses by the path

Sydney is such a city of contrasts. The bustling CBD, and then these quiet paths through our green spaces.

The Spit Bridge opens to allow sailing boats across
The serene waters on a lovely clean-air day

It’s one of the things we have always loved about the place we have called home for over 20 years. I really hope those who have stewardship of its future, state and city politicians, provide the strategic thinking it will need to continue to flourish.

16-24 December: Easing into a Sydney Christmas

Author: Mr A

Location: Sydney, Australia

We have had a couple of weeks already of our house sitting, based in Sydney’s lower north shore, catching up with friends, and getting out on the harbour in our kayak when the smoke haze allows.

We set off from Rose Bay for a paddle on a rare blue sky day
So happy to be out on the water
We paddled out to Shark Island, an island in the middle of Sydney Harbour, landing on a small sandy beach and enjoyed a picnic lunch with commanding views
We paddled back via some of Vaucluse’s grander houses
The water is a great place to be on a day like this

It has been great to spread out in a home once again, unpack and re-group. We have lived mostly in our caravan and motorhome for the last two and a half years., which has been an incredible adventure, but every so so often we have realised we need this stability. A series of doctors and dentists appointments for instance, are only enabled if you are in the same place long enough.

A glimmer of sunshine encourages us out for a walk around the coastal path nearby
The dragons are so still and blend in to their surroundings, you often don’t spot them at first
The boats and yachts sit calm in the turquoise waters of Middle Harbour
One of the Eastern Water Dragons we share the neighbourhood with, surveying his domain from the stairway up to the property we are staying in

Catherine has struggled with the smoke from the fires, aggravating a sinusitis response. It’s been difficult to watch so much of our country go up in flames, while our government stands by frozen in inaction.

We are safe from the flames here but the smoke is a problem. The view from our balcony frequently disappears behind choking smoke which hangs around all day long until the wind changes
The smoke lifts a little but still provides a constant filter over the sun, casting an eerie brown-orange light

Seeing friends and rekindling our relationships here has just been the absolute best way to spend this Christmas period. It makes you realise that geography nowadays has been relegated in the list of essential requirements in a relationships.

Christmas bubbles with friends Jenny and Karen
Joined by Tim, Chris and David
Not quite a full team photo, but a good bunch of friends
A morning-after recovery breakfast in Mosman
A Christmas catch up with friends Thomas, Asha and their budding photographer cutie daughter Tamara
A morning breakfast in Balmoral, Sydney

Of course its easier if you are co-located, but our digital channels now mean we can keep up with peoples lives and when we meet concentrate on understanding more than the banal catching up on the everyday events we would have otherwise missed. The “where are you working, how’re your kids doing, and where did you go on holiday” bit is already done for those who allow their friends to see that piece. What isn’t done is to understand their hopes and dreams for the future. This is where we can now spend our limited time together, and it has been so rewarding for us.

So with Christmas Eve upon us, we want to wish you all a wonderful time with your friends and family. We thank you for taking the time to read this blog, it gives us a lot of pleasure to know it enables you to keep in touch with us as we explore this increasingly fragile planet earth.

8-15 December: Culture, kayaking and conviviality

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

A week last Friday I had heard disappointing news about my airway. A visit to my local ENT surgeon found the scar tissue has returned again, closing my trachea by about 40%. Definitely not news I wanted to hear. He injected some steroids into my neck, a treatment aimed at shrinking the tissue – regular readers will know I have had a few of these procedures now, so I was hopeful it might work. Well, I don’t want to talk too soon, but so far so good – even in spite of the continued smoke, I am breathing much easier. Our fingers are crossed it stays that way over the coming weeks.

When it comes to breathing, higher numbers are better…

One of the main reasons for staying in Sydney is to be able to catch up with friends here, and breathing is always useful for that!

We had a great week full of lovely smiling faces of friends we haven’t seen for several months, with a couple of dinners out as well as hosting here in our house-sit, pleased to be able to repay others’ generosity while we have not had a home to entertain in.

There had to be a curry night with our friends John and Eveliene
And we found a local dumpling house to treat Rosemary and Richard to a Christmas lunch with a difference
A Friday night catch up with friends at the Opera Bar
L-R: Miles, Throshni, Mrs A, Owen, Mr A, Eric

I also joined a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW, always a haven of tranquility, colour and inspiration nestled at the edge of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and the Domain. At present there is an exhibition of work by Ben Quilty, an artist who uses art to spur debate and discussion on various issues. I first noticed his work back in 2011 when he won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, an oil painting of a fellow artist, Margaret Olly.

Delicious smears of thick oil paint make up the features of Margaret’s face in this larger than life canvas artwork
Using a Rorschach technique (painting one side and squashing it on another canvas to make a mirror image) this artwork is a response to an 1880 painting of Myall Creek in Victoria, where a terrible massacre of Aboriginals occurred. The woman on the riverside visible on the right, has all but disappeared on the left in Quilty’s version of the picture ‘Evening Shadows’. Quite moving to see it in person.
Another Rorschach technique painting, Fairy Bower, depicts another beautiful location which is associated with sadness and grief

After one of the worst smoke days we have seen, we awoke to cool temperatures and drizzle on Wednesday morning, the haze clearing over the water. Mark and I decided to take advantage of it and drove to nearby Tunks Park and launched our kayak.

Wrapped up warm in our rain jackets we could hardly believe the day before had been 36°C

We just love how you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by getting out on the water, with no cars or buses to disturb the gentle lapping of the water on the boat’s hull.

Peaceful paddling past the multi million dollar homes on the water’s edge
The boat launching nearest to where we are staying

We also launched our kayak on Saturday morning from the beach at Clontarf, paddling over to Balmoral for lunch and back. If only we could easily pack this beast in our luggage and take it over to Europe, what fun we would have exploring there!

At 7 metres 30cm it’s a bit beyond our luggage allowance, and actually longer than Truffy, our motorhome!
Launching from the calm turquoise waters at Clontarf
Sated post lunch in Balmoral, ready for bit more of an explore…Noticing my dirty neck? It’s actually the remnants of a big bruise from my injections last week!

We’re really enjoying staying in Mosman too, in the this little nook of Sydney we haven’t previously explored. We’re surrounded by tall gum trees, woken each morning by a raucous dawn chorus of birds. Bush turkeys strut their stuff around the streets, kicking up gum leaves, and flying up in to the trees to roost at night. Owls, tawny frogmouths and possums take up the night shift, chatters and calls joining the sound of cicadas in the evening warmth. It’s a fairly peaceful little haven, belying the fact it is only a 20 minute bus ride from central Sydney.

We joined a few of the neighbours for Jingle & Mingle, a Sunday evening seasonal catch up in the local park, taking along wine and nibbles. It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of people, with accents from around the world. We’re happy to make this area our home for the next few weeks.

30 November-7 December: Wallaga Lake and up to hazy Sydney

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake, Bermagui, Berry and Sydney NSW

Saturday-Monday: As we moved north with a deadline to get to Sydney, we stopped for what would be our final camping spot of 2019 at the serene Wallaga Lake – well, serene when the water ski boats finally stopped thundering up and down!

Two dozen freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters from Broadwater Oysters in Pambula – we cannot drive past this place with making a purchase
Another room with a view location, lakeside at Wallaga
Pelicans looking hopeful for lunch

A few kilometres outside of the small resort down of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake was a great place for us to just collect ourselves and work out what we would be storing in the van and what we needed to take up to Sydney. A day of cleaning and sorting and we felt a lot more organised. One of the less fun parts of this nomadic life, where we rent a house out and have no base other than two mobile homes in two continents, is working out what we need to take where. Anyway, a quality problem to have, we think.

We would stop one more night at our friends in Berry before storing the caravan in Nowra. Our friends Barb and Omar recently opened their garden for the Berry Gardens Festival, and had around 1700 visitors through! So we were keen to see what had been the drawcards since our last visit in February.

A creative way of hiding an unattractive garage wall and creating a cooler surface
A flowerbed full of natives still looks healthy and vibrant
A thirsty skink welcomes one of the many dishes of water Barb fills up for them around the property

Sadly the drying westerly winds and lack of rain had made it tough to keep some of the highlights alive, but still they have changed a lot of minds about the use of insecticides and the merits of permaculture. Our visits to these guys are always a fascinating insight into this subject I know so little about. I just taste the produce that comes out of their garden and groan in delight, including once again the smoked trout that comes from the swimming pool they convert to a fish farm over the winter. Amazing inspiring people.

Tuesday: Well, we dropped off the caravan and had one very stuffed Landcruiser chugging up to Sydney. We had been invited to house sit a property in the rather exclusive suburb of Mosman on Sydney’s north shore. We have been here now a few days and are settling in. Our fur child is especially pleased to once again have a large house to romp around, and has adopted one of the rooms as her special domain.

Tassie decides that cerise is her colour
A short walk from where we are staying takes us down to the water’s edge
An Eastern Water Dragon looking magnificent, with its camouflage blending nicely in with the environment
A young Grey Butcherbird hunting for insects
Spots and stripes are all the fashion when you’re a dragon
This little chap is pretty safe living here – we can only contrast that with the awful bushfire affected areas surrounding Sydney

We immediately commenced our usual “back in Sydney” program of catch ups with friends, but the joy we would normally experience is missing. It’s so sad to see Sydney bathed in smog from the bushfires that surround this usually beautiful city, the pollution levels ranging from an equivalent of smoking between 10 and 30 cigarettes a day.

The view from our balcony disappears as the smoke rolls in, coating everything in ash and poisoning the air we breathe

It’s hard not to keep thinking about what this means for our future. Add living in the hottest, driest continent to global warming, and we are unlikely to get a happy outcome. I met up with some friends for lunch and the three of us all felt a background level of anxiety that is increasingly affecting the pride and pleasure we have always had to call ourselves Australian. We should be setting an example in this big brown land as to how to tackle these climate change challenges. But we’re not, and that’s depressing.

We see no one competent taking a leadership role in Australia, and we’re not unique in that regard, I do appreciate. The impact on Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems had been already cataclysmic. The pictures emerging of animals burning to death is heartbreaking. People losing everything in bushfires, their homes and livelihoods, where will this end for us? But what as individuals should we be doing to affect change? Is there anyone we trust to think about the country, not their own thirst for power, and just take some brave decisions for the long term?

1-10 November: A very warm welcome on our return to Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia (including La Perouse, Maroubra, Malabar, Centennial Park, Coogee and Matraville)

We landed safely in Sydney on Saturday morning, an hour earlier than expected due to favourable winds from Singapore (nothing to do with Mr A and curry eating for once!), met by our lovely friend Jenny.

Jenny and David have again kindly invited us to stay with them for the week in their apartment, while we get ourselves settled in and tasks done in Sydney.

We spent the day getting reacquainted with Miss Tassie who quickly forgave us for leaving her, given we had appointed such caring foster parents in our absence, and later on cracked open our last bottle of Champagne from our trip to Epernay in France, carefully saved and transported back around the world. We enjoyed it with some Sydney Rock Oysters – definitely some of the most flavoursome oysters we have tasted, and high on the list of things we have missed from Australia.

Cheers! Our last bottle of boutique champagne from Jacquinot & Fils, Epernay. This retails for $75 a bottle in Australia – $34 at the cellar door in France

Sunday saw the four of us strolling down to La Perouse for brunch at the Boatshed, a beachside restaurant. La Perouse is situated at the northern end of Botany Bay, named after a French navigator who landed here in 1788.

The Boatshed restaurant behind us, busy on a warm Sunday morning
Pied cormorants having a clean on the bayside rocks
Bare Island – a fort on here was built in 1885 to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from Russian invasion – these days you can book a tour on Sunday afternoons
Compared to what we have seen in Europe, this bridge seems relatively modern, at just 130 years old
Crossing over the bridge to Bare Island
Sydney Sandstone – the bedrock that Sydney and surrounds is built on, used to be an ancient river. It is a very durable rock, and quite distinctive for the ripples of sand and deposits that are visible in the rock. Apparently it is possible to find gold in these rocks.

Jet lag plagued us for most of the week, allowing us to see some fabulous sunrises (sadly, much of Australia’s east coast bush land is on fire, smoke streaking the skies), and try to resist afternoon naps!

Good morning Monday…5am looked like this if you slept through!
Tassie gave us some yoga tips on how to stretch out after our long flight – this manoeuvre is called ‘downward cat’…

On Tuesday morning Mr A had his eyes checked using the best equipment in Australia, again getting the all clear that his pressures remain stable. It’s always a relief to know that his eyesight has been maintained, and one less worry for us health wise.

A half hour walk from Jenny and David’s apartment on Wednesday took us down to Malabar, a beachside suburb we have never visited before. It’s a real haven away from the traffic and very picturesque, reminding us just how quickly you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city in these parts.

Clearly fishing is a favoured activity by the locals here with plenty of vessels waiting to be launched at the boat ramp
Only the thick skinned were braving the cool temperatures in the sea-pool
A reminder we are back in Australia with a snake warning
Calm waters at Malabar beach and some early morning sunbathers

There were even people swimming in the ocean there – though at 17 degrees slightly too nippy for us softies!

After a haircut later in the day, we met up with friends Clive and Aisha for cocktails and dinner at Fei Jai, a Cantonese restaurant in Potts Point.

We had a literal feast, having ordered a banquet menu, and rolled out into an Uber back home at the end of the evening, having laughed lots and had a great catch up.

Lots of smiles with our friends

Thursday morning started with a dentist visit, followed by a much anticipated appointment with our trusted financial advisor, Paul Brady, to check we could still continue to live our life of world travels. We discussed a few thoughts for the future and got some great advice from Paul. Most importantly our nomadic lifestyle can continue!

Friday saw us travelling down to Nowra, south of Sydney, to where our car and caravan are stored. We caught a train and enjoyed the 4 hour journey down the sparkling coastline. Everything appears to be all in good order, and after Truffy, the Zone looks huge! We collected the car and drove back up to Sydney.

Later that day we bussed into the city and joined our friends John and Eveliene for drinks and dinner. Again it was so lovely to catch up on all their news over some tasty food and wine.

Australian-Thai fusion at Long Chim

Feeling thoroughly spoilt by all the love from our friends, we were treated yet again on Saturday. We began the day joining Jenny as she walked a friend’s dog, Jaffa, in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Sydney reminded us that it is still spring, with cool 15 degrees temperatures and a chilly breeze – stark contrast to temperatures in the early 30s when we landed last weekend.

Mr A hugging himself to keep warm while tough kiwi Jenny stands there in short sleeves. Jaffa just loves being out for a walk
Located just 3km from Sydney’s CBD, the 360 hectares of Centennial Park are a quiet haven from the city
A peaceful grove of paperbark gums – Over the past 130 + years the park has been used as a testing ground for growing native species
A huge Morton Bay Fig tree stretches its arms, providing shelter for a whole range of species

Mr A and I have lived in Sydney for more than two decades, but still love seeing places through new eyes. We haven’t been into Centennial Park for years, and it was a great reminder of what a wonderful resource this is for Sydney’s residents.

Our friends Karen and Chris live a couple of hours’ drive north of Sydney, but as Chris was flying into the airport on Saturday morning, returning from a trip to Hong Kong, Karen caught the train down and joined us at Jenny and David’s apartment.

The six of us went for lunch back at the Boatshed, Barramundi burgers all round satisfying our hunger.

David, Karen and Chris lapping up the sunshine
Mr & Mrs A with Jenny

Later on that evening we all travelled to beachside suburb Coogee (named after an aboriginal word for ‘smelly place’ after the rotting seaweed on the beach – not so smelly these days!), for a delicious Asian meal at Sugarcane.

Feeling replete after a consistently delicious array of dishes

Sunday was our final day in Sydney for a while as from tomorrow we are going to pick up the Zone and commence a new Australian adventure, so much of the day was spent getting ourselves packed up and final washing done. We made sure we found time for a walk, and took ourselves on a 6.5km circuit through the National Park down to Maroubra Beach and looping back around via Malabar Headland.

Maroubra Beach – not seen sand like this in a long while
Walking around the headland, a couple of scuba divers in the water behind me
A Peregrine Falcon soars above us on our walk
Malabar Headland, looking south

It was a gorgeous walk, the sun shining and much warmer than anticipated. The birds were out, with a peregrine falcon soaring overhead, also joined by a white breasted sea eagle. In the undergrowth the trilling song of superb fairy wrens entertained us, just lovely.

We concluded our weekend with a meal out with our other surrogate family, Rosemary and Richard, a treat for them plus David and Jenny for all their help in looking after Miss Tassie this year and for enabling us to undertake this wonderful lifestyle. Without them, we’d still probably be working and taking that commuter bus into the city every day. We are so grateful for having precious people like these in our lives.

Special times – Din Tai Fung in Chatswood – Taiwanese food to cap off the week

25-30 March: Ticking off our final days in Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

We’ve had a busy week getting our final tasks completed in Sydney and saying a few farewells to our lovely friends.

Monday night saw us treated to an absolute gastronomic feast, delicious wine and food prepared by friends Cathy and Scott and hosted by Donna and Andy – we were incredibly spoilt, and it was so great to see them.

Tuesday was a little dusty after the excesses of the night before, but I headed off early to see my Gastroenterologist in St Leonards to hopefully be signed off to continue travelling. Thankfully I got the tick of approval, and Dr Smith also organised for all my notes to be sent across for me to take to the UK, should anything go awry.

In the afternoon, I had a bouncy blow dry to add that little bit of glamour before we headed to drinks with friends at King Street Wharf. Despite it being a Tuesday night we had a great turnout with about 17 friends joining us.

A little bit of bounce….

Wednesday was a great day to pack – we both are currently Qantas Frequent Flyer Silver – probably for the last time ever, so have plenty of luggage allowance – 42kg each! Still it was a good practice to get it organised and bags weighed in advance to settle any nerves.

In the evening we met up with more friends, Clive, Aisha, John and Eveliene for dinner and drinks in Circular Quay.

Thursday was the birthday of one of our kind hosts, Jenny, who is currently working her socks off closing down one of her framing shops, and upgrading another. She came home to a well deserved glass of champagne before we all jumped in an Uber and headed to a fabulous Asian restaurant in Coogee Beach, Sugarcane. Highly recommended if you’re looking for somewhere new to eat and are in the area.

After a crazy week, Friday was much quieter. Mr A and I went into the city for a few final tasks (Mark’s shaver broke, but thankfully within warranty and exchanged swiftly) and I had my final medical procedure – steroid injections into my airway. They’ve been working really well, and my Otolaryngologist (ENT, head and neck surgeon) showed me he was delighted with how the scar tissue is drawing back and opening out my trachea. We just hope it keeps on working. Again, he has given me notes and videos to take with me to the UK.

We had a quiet night with Jenny and David, all of us exhausted for our own reasons after a busy week.

Saturday morning finally arrived, and after a walk around the neighbourhood we packed up for real and did a final weigh in – thankfully all within our allowance still, despite a total of eleven bags.

Our Uber XL arrived on time and we loaded up the boot….

All piled up outside Jenny and David’s apartment block

We are finally off!

Enjoying the final breaths of Sydney air for a while

We have checked in seven bags, and are hoping we will see seven again at the other end. We have a kind friend who is driving through the early hours of Sunday morning in the UK to pick us up…not sure we are prepared for the 2 degrees centigrade forecast for our arrival though!

This will be the first time in 20 years we will spend more time in Europe than here!

Farewell Australia!

18-24 March: Nomadic life has its moments…

Author: Mr A

Location(s): Nowra, Berry, Sydney, Morton National Park, Orange

Let’s set the scene here. We have our worldly goods scattered around various locations in Sydney and surrounds. Our house contents are stored in two big cages in a warehouse in western Sydney. Our caravan and kayak had been stored nearly 6 hours drive west of Sydney. Various other bits and pieces are with friends in Matraville and Forestville. Life was getting complicated. It was time to rationalise the logistics!

We have found a storage business in Nowra that will take our caravan, car, kayak and bikes, and it was all under cover, with access to top up solar power. Oh and the guy who runs it said if we want work doing on the car (we do) or caravan (we hope not) then he can drop off and help organise. Perfect!

We headed for Berry last week after our Jervis Bay jaunt, and spent a few days parked up next to our friends’ property, and loved being welcome recipients of their delicious home grown produce!. They are such good company, always up to something interesting in that lively community down there.

Then it was back down to Nowra to drop the caravan at its new storage home before we loaded all our gear for the next 7 months of our UK/Europe trip into the car and hightailed it to Matraville. I had my bi-annual eye health check and Catherine was off to talk at a medical conference in Brisbane.

Sometimes this lugging around gear gets a bit tiresome, then we think “all in a good cause!”.

Tassie immediately settled back into ‘city pad’ mode.

Solar cat recharging on the balcony

She has three sets of fur parents who love her dearly. She’s a lucky lady.

I dashed into the city and was relieved of $500 plus dollars and got the good news of no further deterioration in my eyesight. Medical expenses between the two of us are crazy and mostly not covered by Medicare or our private health insurance. No wonder there is such a strong correlation here between income and health. Still, we are glad we live in Australia not the US.

Our next task on the storage juggle list was to visit our stored house contents in western Sydney. We figured we needed to access the winter clothes bag having checked the temperature in England (a top temperature of 11 degrees centigrade anticipated for our arrival!) – we fly this coming Saturday, straight into the Brexit Storm!

Next job – collect the kayak and other bits was had left out at our friends property out at Canowindra. A 5-6 hr drive out into western NSW. I devised a cunning plan though, after reading about a overnight bike trip some people had done in the national park inland from Nowra. Mrs A was up in Brisbane at a conference, so I headed down to Nowra collected the bike, dusted off the bikepacking gear, and headed for the hills. Well, I couldn’t actually see the hills through the driving rain and fog. Was this a smart idea? I consulted with my more optimistic half. Mrs A said “the forecast looks like it’s better further inland”, so I applied the right foot and started winding my up into the very wet high country.

I parked up at a pub close to the start of the ride (handy hey?), and got the camping gear loaded on my beast of a bike.

Ready to head off…and the sun is shining!

I love that bike, and still smile every time I throw a leg over the saddle. I didn’t get away until mid afternoon, but the rain had held up so was feeling pretty perky. Well until I remembered I had forgotten one of the most essential items of gear…my tea mug! Oh no! I had snuck in some Tim Tams (yummy Aussie chocolate biscuits) for my favourite ritual on these solo trips of getting the tent pitched somewhere gorgeous and getting a brew on. Still I pressed on regardless and was thrilled that the maps app and routing a friend had sent me was working a treat.

One happy bike-packer!

The route traverses into the Morton National Park which stretches for just under 200,000 hectares through sandstone plateau country crisscrossed by gorges. I had been reading about a 5-day ride through it called ‘Attack of the Buns‘, but only had time for two half days. I’d picked the section that several people had commented was through especially stunning and wild country. They weren’t wrong.

I started dropping down towards a small stream I had read about in the trip write up. Well the small stream was now a grown up river after all the rain. I paused, checked the time and decided to camp just before it and see what the morning brought weather wise. My reading of the forecast was they had no clue. Weather up in the hills here is notoriously unpredictable.

The tent was soon up and the issue of the lack of mug solved – use my empty Pringle container! Yes it is all health foods on these trips without the conscience on my shoulder of the lovely Mrs A. Now I can definitely say, do not pour boiling hot liquid into a cardboard Pringle container. It all went horribly wrong and the much better Plan B of drinking out of my food bowl was implemented.

Norman no-mates tent

I rose in the pre-dawn darkness and checked the river. I was going to have wet shoes for the rest of the trip but so what. I packed the gear and set off when it was just light enough to see where I was treading. It was up to the hubs but I pushed through, and I’m so glad I did. The riding from here was stunning.

Stream? A full blown river more like!

Made it!

Friends ask me why I always do these trips solo. My response – I can go at my own slow pace, and when I see country like this I’m so glad I can take my time to just stop and look. Silver cobwebs were hanging across the scrub. Mist was hanging over the cliffs. Not a person to be seen. The stillness is just something else. No other voices to break the spell.

Magical morning mist, birds, wallabies and not another person…

Dew coated spider webs sparkling in the morning light

I rode the somewhat soggy track but it was pretty easy going and eventually reached a point mid morning where I reluctantly had to turn round.

So tempting to keep on going…

A stream or my pathway ahead? Thank goodness for fat tyres

Perhaps to some people it would have seemed a lot of effort to get the bike all loaded up for one night. But not for me. I love the chance to ride and reflect, listen, smell and feel the bush. I’m going to miss it in the UK and Europe, but it will be replaced with country so different to this, country shaped and filled by human endeavour.

It was a long drive to Canowindra and I was running out of daylight. You really don’t want to be on these country roads at dusk with kamikaze kangaroos about. My eyes are also not good for night driving. So kayak collected, I headed over to Orange, where a friend had recently moved back to from Manly. It was her birthday so a great excuse for a catch up. We had a lovely time, wine tasting and eating at a brilliant restaurant called Mr Lim. Check it out if you’re in town.

Pre dinner drink at the very fancy local RSL in Orange

All too quickly it was time to point the car back to Nowra and store it there until early November. It’s really happening…we’re off for a whole new adventure.

30 January – 3 February: Exploring new areas of Sydney

Author: Mrs A

Location: Matraville, Sydney, La Perouse

After a few initial culture shocks of being back in Sydney (lots of traffic, very warm, and a lot of time spent complaining to Telstra!) we have settled back in with our generous ‘flat mates’ Jenny and David in Matraville. We have had a busy few days ticking off the usual medical appointments – a biopsy and 90 minutes in a dentist’s chair for Mr A, an airway procedure with an ENT specialist for me (with tentatively great news about how my airway is looking – nice and wide open!), plus a few nice experiences tossed in for luck – hairdressers and a catch up with friends at a new restaurant.

Saturday Mark and I decided we needed to get some fresh air and headed off a short drive from where we’re staying to the coast, just a 5 minute drive to Kamay Botany Bay National Park.

Ever wondered where Matraville and Botany Bay National Park is?

We have both lived in Sydney for more than 20 years, and could hardly believe we are still being introduced to beautiful natural areas such as this as we set off to explore somewhere new.

Dramatic skies accompany us as we walk along the cliff top

And not a breath of wind to stir the waters…

Our destination is Cape Banks, and the ‘island’ we reach via footbridge. We had no idea this existed before today and the grey humid skies only added to the mysterious atmosphere.

Mr A takes the bold step off mainland Australia onto the bridge to the island

Despite the calm winds the surf crashes over the rocks

We find a little rock shelter to watch the water from

More sculptural rocks…

Once on the island we have fabulous views over to the mouth of Botany Bay

Container ships constantly enter and leave from Botany Bay…

The Minmi – a ship wreck from 1937 – It was originally built in Glasgow, Scotland and is gradually disappearing into the sea

More of the Minmi wreck – two crew members died when it ran aground here

We continued our walk a little around the bay, driving around to Little Bay where we took to the beach and followed the soft sand around to Yarra Bay. We had never heard of Yarra Bay, but found out it is a nominee for the best beach in Australia. We called into the Skiff Club for lunch.Oysters and calamari sustaining us, we then decided to inflate our peak rafts (handily stowed in our backpacks) and paddle back to the start of the walk. Perfect!Our day concluded with a delicious barbecued roast lamb dinner with Jenny and David, simply delicious.

Sunday morning saw us joining Jenny and David for another new experience, strolling along the Hermitage Foreshore Walk from Vaucluse to Nielsen Park. Just a short 1.8km each way, it links several little bays alongside Sydney Harbour and provides some gorgeous views.

Our first view of the bridge, helping justify the high price of property in this area

Jen, David & Mark set off along the walkway

A lovely crested bird – a Shrike-Tit perhaps?

My favourite view of all, through a sculptural tree creating multiple windows…

We farewelled Jenny and David after a swim and returning to the start of the walk, and headed off to Sydney’s north shore for a catch up with two more friends, Donna and Andy.

They treated us to a couple of delicious gin and tonics – including a non-alcoholic one for Mark as he was driving. Together with a delicious platter of cheese, biscuits and pickles and a great catch-up, it was as ever, lovely to spend time with our friends.

An exotic selection of gins and tonic waters

Soon though, it was time for more farewells as we drove to our final destination for the night and the coming days, Forestville with more friends, John and Eveliene.

I’m about to head into hospital for an operation and they have kindly offered a bed for my convalescence. It’s a strange feeling being ‘homeless’ in what has been our home town for so many years, moving from destination to destination with a car full of cases and possessions. We couldn’t do this without the kindness and generosity of our friends here in Sydney, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Goodbye NZ we will miss you!

Author: Mr A

Location: Auckland New Zealand

Well it’s nearly time to head to the airport and bid goodbye to this fabulous country and people. She has touched our hearts again with the beauty of the mountains and coastline, the fresh produce that can be brought at roadside stalls, the cooling breezes that even on a hot day provide a tingle of freshness.

Leaving Omokoroa was hard. We feel priveldged to have watched the sun set over the hills there so many times. To watch the clouds swirling round the peaks of the Kaimai Range in in the distance as we sat on the patio and chatted with Richard and Sue. To watch the flocks of godwits as the tide changes make their daily flight back and forward to their preferred feeding grounds, never failing to make us “ooh and ahhh”. To stand on the beach and breathe in that air that is so fresh and clean it makes your nose tingle. These are the memories we will store away.

The tidal mudflats, a feeding ground for so many birds
Oyster Catchers flying in to join their flock
We wish we could communicate the bird calls across the sands, the geese, the godwits, the swans, oyster catchers, stilts and more…
The sense of peace and serenity here is second to none

We once again have experienced the kindness of people as we travel. Yesterday was such a great example of that. Collected from our hotel, we were whisked out to a friend’s house in the posh end of Auckland’s coastal suburbs. It was a day we will always remember.

Friends reunited – strolling along the waterfront at Mission Bay
Excited to be seeing somewhere new
A little post lunch margarita action to celebrate Auckland Day
Bonnie the gorgeous cat-dog knows a good lap when she finds one!

The lively conversation with the whole family engaged. The fabulously long lunch down on the water. The sharing of stories, music and jokes. Suddenly 10 hours had passed in a blink, but the deeper friendship forged will last I think a lifetime. This surely is what life should be about if you have managed to carve yourself some space from the day to day pressure of earning a crust.

The sad fact of travel though is that you do have to say goodbye a lot, and we’ve said a few over the last days. However, we look forward to seeing the Sydney mob again. Fasten your seat belts we’re incoming!