Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad

Day 1
A long weekend to head off to Port Macquarie for a family celebration. We’re late getting away and it’s pushing 11 am before we finally head off. The signs are warning of long delays on the M7 and we’re a bit dirty on the tollways at the moment anyway (something fishy going on with our account) so we mosey up the Cumberland Highway and onto the F3 heading out of Sydney. This is an unexpected boon to daughter2 as Pennant Hills Road – the section from James Ruse Drive to the M2 intersection is her favourite Sydney road. Each to their own.
We had been planning to find a picnic spot where we could take a break and go for a walk, but honestly it’s a bit of a wasteland for quality walks without significant detours off our route and time is now short. We end up pulling over at the 12 Mile Rest Area where we tuck into our corn fritters with smoked salmon and yoghurt dressing. It’s quite busy at the time and we are lucky to get a convenient table where Mum doesn’t have to walk too far. Towards the end of our meal a family of grey butcher birds flies over to start polishing off the morsels that the picnickers have left.. The male with his clearer black plumage on his head, baby in shades of brown. Quite a treat. I seem to be finding families of birds everywhere I go lately.
As we’re hopping back in the car I get a call from daughter1. Where are we? – in Port yet? They’re a bit later than expected after stopping for yum cha for lunch in Sydney. They’re just past Newcastle.. we chat for a minute or two, then daughter announces that they are approaching the twelve mile… aah, we can’t let them overtake us… I jump in the car and dig the spurs into the driver for quick get away and we pull out with much hilarity with daughter and son-in-defacto only a car or two behind us!! At least we kept the lead LOL. We still can’t get over the incredible coincidence – we couldn’t have planned it better if we tried..
The shadows lengthen as we continue north. It’s a fairly uneventful drive though I particularly enjoy crossing the bridges up in the Manning Point area, as they raise us up to be able to see across the floodplain to the surrounding hills. We also enjoy the golden light falling on the gums lining the road. As we approach Kew I suggest that it’s the perfect time of day to take Mum up North Brother for a look at the view and visibility seems pretty good today. So we turn off to Laurieton. Hubby misses the turn as usual and we turn the convoy around – this is one of our specialities. It’s always entertaining following our car! We climb up the hill reminiscing about the time we brought the kids up here one night to look at fairyland below. The kids were mucking about scaring eachother with stories of murderers and stuff. Identifying a car parked nearby as a potential threat. Son1 had recently won a nifty little mini-maglite (went to some sort of talk with a computer professional who promised the torch to anyone who could ask him a question he couldn’t answer).. anyway before we can stop them, they’ve shone this blinking torch in the windows of the parked car, only to exclaim at finding the predictable going on inside… great way to get yourself beaten up – we herd the mob over to the lookout furthest away, with much loud castigation for the benefit of the car's occupants. Fortunately the couple in the car decided to clear off without an ugly confrontation. Phew...
Anyway today we pull up, with the place to ourselves as the sun sets. Extensive views across both sides of the hill. The lookout to the north east looks across Laurieton/Dunbogan, Lake Cathie and up the coast to Port and further. The other side to the south and west, over Crowdy Bay National Park, Harrington and south as well as the rivers and flood plain and down to Middle Brother and South Brother.
Hubby and I are still anxious for that walking opportunity so we grab at the chance to walk the 500m rainforest loop, which along the way takes in a lookout that looks to Diamond Head. Diamond Head isn’t visible from the other lookouts. As we head down the rainforest track, passing the assisted disabled access path, we plunge into darkness. Just enough light remains to be able to travel along this path which has an uneven surface and occasional roots to look out for.. typical basic bush track. We disturb a large macropod of some sort... probably a wallaby. A dark shadow thumps away further into the bush. We stop briefly to admire the view and the sunset. Nice to be alone for a few minutes. Then we power up the hill via the bitumen disabled access path and back to the car. In the coastal towns and villages the lights are starting to come on. Time to go.
We wind our way down the hill and admire the black silhouettes of the trees against the deep orange skyline which fades to deepening shades of blue. Australian trees with their light canopy are made for silhouette and sunset is such a gorgeous time of day. Rather than head back to the highway we take our time travelling up Ocean Drive to Port Macquarie through Laurieton and Lake Cathie and past the christmas bell plain, arriving at our destination after 6pm.
No flies on daughter1 – she departed when we set off on our walk to check in to our apartment before reception closes. She and son-in-defacto have nabbed the master bedroom with spa LOL. Fair enough, first come first served and she was the one who organised the accommodation and in the end negotiated us an upgrade. She’s a wizard at such things. … anyway we are staying at Ki-ea All Seasons Apartments on William street. It’s a good location. Only a short walk to either Town Beach or the centre of Port. Secure underground parking and disabled access to the lift for Grandma and Grandad. Our 3 bedroom apartment (no 50 on the 7th floor) is HUGE. Two queen beds and two singles for our party of 6. Full ensuite – with that spa as well as the bathroom and separate toilet for the rest of us. A large dining and lounge area. Fully equipped nicely appointed kitchen – smeg microwave, granite benchtops, polyurethane cabinetry to kitchen and bathroom. Full Laundy neatly concealed behind bi-fold doors. But beyond all this an ENORMOUS, yes humongously enormous balcony area with ocean views to the north east. From the rail you can see right up the coast. There is a sizeable bbq and a large shade sail and two 6 large seater tables, as well as a couple of recliners. Brilliant if you wanted to have a party. Downstairs there is a heated pool and spa and a sauna. On the roof there are more shared facilities but we didn’t get up to check those out. Only down side, a pretty average TV to those of us grown accustomed to big LCDs/Plasmas (though it does have Austar) and the carpet is a bit grubby… not bad for the $210 a night that we are paying for the 6 of us (min stay 2 nights which suits us).
We settle in briefly before piling into the one car to head around and say hi to Grandad and let him know we’ve arrived. Half an hour of chit chat and we make our way back into town to the Pancake Place which we generally find quite satisfactory – the side salads on the savoury options are always fun with lots of fruit – even in this cooler time of year we have strawberry and blueberry, watermelon, mandarine, orange, peach, grape and pineapple, and that’s before we start on the vegetables and pretzels. By the way, the potato and bacon is far and away the best of the savoury options.. trust me.. The décor at the pancake place is lairy to say the least. Bright green rainforest motif. We are in a holiday mood and back up for dessert and find they are not stingy with the liqueurs in the liqueur crepes. Very nice and we’re out of there for only $200 for the six of us which includes the two courses and multiple drinks – the soft drinks are the tiny bottle size and are a bit of a rip, so you are better off to go for the spiders or iced chocolate. Better value.
We call it a night. We’re all pretty tired – daughter 1 is wrecked having just returned from a leisure industry senior managers conference on the Gold Coast where little sleep was had over the 4 days; daughter2 is coming down with a nasty cold – both of them have uni assignments to work on as well; son-in-defacto is looking wrecked too after a long week of hard work. Hubby settles in to watch the footy and I join him, while for Grandma it’s never a bad time to rest.

Day 2
To say we are sluggish this morning would be an understatement. Hubby and I are probably more tired than yesterday – the down side of buying a comfy bed at home – going away is never as comfortable..
We can’t even get our act together to go for a swim.. only daughter1 and I have our cozzies with us just in case. Daughter1 never leaves home without a cozzie, in fact most of the time she keeps a cozzie in the car just in case the opportunity for a swim arises…born a water baby like her grandad. Later in the morning my brother arrives. He’s flown up on frequent flyer points and left the family at home this time. He’s staying at the backpackers as he only needs a bed for the one night – turns out it’s just around the corner - how convenient. He's stayed there before and finds it quite satisfactory. We all hang about chatting on the balcony before finally motivating ourselves to get ready for our celebration lunch. Brother takes off to go and see Dad and make sure he’s ready and appropriately attired. Just as well he wasn’t any later doing this as he finds Dad beginning to tuck into some lunch.
Our celebration is at the Little Fish Café, at the winery down Major Innes Road, which has long been a favourite of Dads. My sister and her hubby, daughter and grand-daughters are in position when we arrive. They are closer so they've driven up thismorning. Sister and Niece are totally totally wrecked having stayed up all night working on the birthday book for Grandad – who has turned 80 this week. Sister is way more into party preparation than the rest of us and has come armed with silly hats which we all put on taking care to distribute the colours appropriately around the table…
Little Fish Café is generally reliable. A lovely location, big under cover verandah with disabled access. No sooner than we are settled than a heavy shower of rain comes down, but it doesn’t bother us. We start out with a selection of breads and an antipasto platter. Garlic on Turkish, pesto on toasted Turkish, a delicious tomato tapenade on toasted Turkish and warmed Mediterranean bread with caramelised balsamic and virgin olive oil. All delicious. The antipasto platter has fetta stuffed peppers; a delicious Tasmanian brie beautifully runny with water crackers; small pieces of Turkish, more of the delicious tomato tapenade, olives, salami… all delicious..
Mains were a bit disappointing on this occasion – the Pork Belly with Red Cabbage and Mash was popular, but the skin wasn’t crisp (grrr) a fairly serious failing for port belly IMHO. The steaks looked great and were enjoyed by all who ordered them. Brother was a little disappointed in his prawns and calamari finding it a bit tasteless. By the time we got to dessert some options weren’t available, however the rhubarb and apple crumble was good. The little sticky date puddings were OK too. Sticky Date is a tough choice to put on your menu these days. So many places do it, and even Sara Lee does a very good one, so you can be up against some tough competition when it comes to assessment time, but seriously, how bad can sticky date pudding get?
Finally the singing and cake and we all adjourn back to our place for the rest of the evening. Brilliant to have somewhere that accommodates everyone so well and where we can bring Dad to get him out of the hostel for the whole day. Elder grand-niece, and various grown ups playing cards. Sister, niece and daughter1 continuing work on the scrapbooking; hubby and I show Dad our house plans – ah, maximum 15 power points per circuit I’ve been meaning to ask him about that– just what I needed to know… The younger grand-niece (almost three) is having a great time playing with the men… hubby pretends to eat her arm and she giggles like crazy and struggles free and runs, but she’s back in a minute with a huge grin.. Very cute
For dinner we end up sending Brother and Son-in defacto out for “Off the Hook” (fish and chips) while the two rabid Manly fans (hubby and brother-in-law) settle in to watch the footy on Austar.
After a while I hear a light snoring and there is much merriment to find that younger grand niece is splayed out flat on her back arms and legs out like a cross fast asleep under the table. Only two speeds apparently – full go or complete stop! Her sister has done similar on the bedroom floor near her mum.. the girls are settled on the beds in the quiet room and the table is cleared for the returning hunters laden with several large parcels of paper wrapped chips and seafood. Off the Hook is always great. I haven't had bad off the hook in gosh, must be 15 years now.
Finally the gift giving. We all admire beautifully presented photos of Dad and his family through the years. Sister has done a magnificent job. Dad small and blond with his father and friends aged about 4 or 5 at (if dad's memory has it right) Whale Beach (Sydney) – must be about 1932,

a slim and muscular Pop in his full body swimmers sitting on the sand proud as punch of his little boy sitting between legs splayed out on the sand. Dad same age with friends all wearing sea-weed skirts;

A muscular and very handsome Dad standing and surfing in to shore on a wooden surf ski at south steyne 1948 (and looking just like son2) no doubt the surf ski would have belonged to Manly surf club where Dad was a member.

Dad holding an absolutely massive lobster and a large crab – Harrington similar vintage. Dad with huge catches of fish and a fantastic informal pose with the spear gun he made himself– Harrington again.

Dad on his motor cycle in his riding leathers by the sign to Brisbane.

Dad bearded working at the Kiewa power scheme (electrical fitter);

snow skiing (he got good enough to go cross country on his own);
….down the years…standing in his flight gear with other flight crew on the ladder getting into the air force plane;
flying in formation in lincolns (man he loves those shots he took himself – flying way close you can even see the faces of the pilots in the plane behind); wedding photos Dad handsome in dress uniform, Mum looking gorgeous;

Mum and Dad newly married Dad manning the BBQ frame over a low fire - Dad was the best bbq cook!

Good times on Cero (my grandparents motor cruiser). Never mind borrow the car, Pop would let Dad take the boat out on his own when Dad was 16 which was quite a chick magnet apparently. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be a top looking bloke either…Dad was awesome at handling boats...

Dad with his marlin – Dad’s marlin on the wall, his fishing record certificates; Us kids; grandkids – (great and fairly recent photos of my kids I haven’t seen before – even a good one of me- now that’s rare), great grandkids… pilot’s license, whale watching, Ball’s pyramid, every photo looking better than ever before. I’ve been delayed completing my pages – so it’s good to see what’s already in the album. Mine will be more Dad but playing with my kids at Towlers Bay (Pittwater), taking them flying and teaching them to fish at Lake Cathie. Never mind blood, Dad has salt water in his veins and the sky in his heart. Two great life long passions.#
Day 3
Not quite so slow a start today. Daughter1 and I venture down for a swim, daughter2 for a sauna to try and clear her head a bit. The air is colder today after a cool change but the water is a lovely temperature – the spa even better. A few laps and we adjourn to the sauna which is only just heating up.
We dress and pack and head over to visit Dad for a while. He’s enjoying the visitors. Not too many visitors day by day as all the family is either in Sydney or the Central Coast. The downside of retiring a long way from the family. We say our goodbyes and after giving mum a bit of a guided tour around Dad’s previous Port residences we hit the highway.
I’m a bit over the highway so suggest we head in to Gloucester for lunch. We think the scenery heading up into the ranges is beautiful. We stop at Mograni Lookout for expansive views over Gloucester in a stiff breeze, then head down into the town. There’s a few eateries open. We choose to dine at Perenti arriving just in time as the tables are filling fast. Daughter and Hubby have smoked chicken and pesto penne which they both enjoy. Mum has salmon cakes which are OK, while I go for the chunky meat pie with tomato and olive chutney – well above average. Side salads have a delicious dressing. We follow up with a couple of pieces of passionfruit cheesecake to share. Very nice. We like our cheesecakes unbaked. Everything incredibly reasonable in price. Most mains under $10, the cakes $4.90. We buy some Perenti apricot and almond confiture and some Byron Bay muesli and set off for home.
We don’t’ get too far before the traffic is at a complete stop. Fatality up ahead. Local civilians are directing the traffic. As we reach first in line we are asked were we are heading and given directions for a detour. This is an unexpected bonus, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to suggest a dirt detour today, but here we are exploring the way down through Waukivory to the Pacific Highway. Interesting, but fairly standard scenery for the area – which is pretty good of course.
Once we’re back on the highway it’s a pretty standard trip home.
# I’ve been hanging out to get digital copies of the photos sis restored, but finally I figure I’d better post the text so this blog doesn't get just too ridiculously out of order, and get back to upload the photos when I get round to collecting the disc… stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The beatification of Castle Hill

This is the story of how the saint came to be painted on the side of Castle Hill in Townsville. It is told of course from my perspective... ie mine having interviewed my Aunty...

The year was 1963***. A Townsville campus of the University of Queensland had just opened. This was a big benefit to the town as prior to the opening of this campus students from all over the far north were obliged to go to Brisbane if they wanted an education beyond high school level. My mother and my eldest aunty did just that, living in Brisbane for several years to get their tertiary qualifications during the 1950s.
The first intake of students at the Townsville campus wasn’t terribly large, say about 200. Most were drawn from country Qld. About 25 local kids attend and were encouraged to welcome those who were new to town and show them the ropes.
Among the Townsville kids was my Aunty. Youngest of my mothers siblings and evidently following in her Dad’s footsteps. My grandfather was something of a larrikin.
The academic year was divided into 3 terms. At the end of first term was an institution known as Commem Week. Commem Week was a traditional time of highjinks for the university students. My mother recalls a stunt that the uni students pulled for Commem week in Brisbane when she was there in training college. A group of students walked bold as brass into one of the court rooms carrying a long ladder while court was in session. They erected the ladder behind the judge and proceeded to remove the clock from the courtroom wall. They walked out without a murmur of protest from anyone! So you can see the students on the Townsville campus in its inaugural year had something of a challenge to live up to the standards set by their southern brethren if they were not to be labelled as pretty tame country bumpkins come commem week.

As you can imagine, in the early days of the campus there were many questions and uncertainties hanging in the air. Directions to be decided and pursued in all sorts of areas as the character and spirit of the campus was established. There was an air of questions and possibilities abroad including how the establishment of the local university campus would impact the town.
For those unfamiliar with Townsville, it is important to know that it lies on a fairly low lying flood plain surrounded by mountains. Dominating the town itself, solitary Castle hill rises above the town and shows a prominent face of pink granite to the sea and over the Strand which runs along the ocean frontage. Castle Hill was not a subtle landmark for small 1960s Townsville, as indeed it is not today. It has always provided a popular lookout with expansive views that locals are rather proud of. Castle Hill
It was a collective burst of brilliance by a group of students that had them decide that the perfect commem week stunt would be to paint a huge question mark in whitewash on the side of Castle Hill. The stunt was to be carried out prior to the Commem week ball.
First of course they needed transport and for this purpose three students were able to provide vehicles. An oldsmobile, a morris oxford and my aunty brought along my grandfathers Vanguard. Next of course you need a volunteer to go over the side with the paint brush. A mature age student (who will remain nameless in this publication) put his hand up. This plucky fellow also supplied a very long rope. To be sure the rope was strong enough, the students tested it prior to going up to the hill by tying it securely and having a large group of students grab it and run like mad give the rope a hefty tug. Satisfied that it would not send their trusty volunteer plummeting to his death the students with their whitewash and gear assembled at the top of Castle Hill in the dead of night to do the deed.
One end of the rope was tied securely to a very large rock . The other end was tied to the volunteer artist around his waist and through his legs and he was lowered over the side of the hill. In the midst of the proceedings a car came up the hill and a flutter of alarm ran through the students who were up to no good. However it turned out it was just a couple who had come to go parking.
In my aunty’s recollection the question mark must have been something in the order of 15 – 16 feet high. She recalls quite a bit of rope went over the side during the course of the work..
As my mother recalls it when the citizens of Townsville awoke to find their beloved Castle Hill so shamelessly vandalised there was a public outcry. The citizenry was outraged. Feeling ran very high and the activity was a criminal offence to boot. It is only in recent years that we youngsters of the family even became aware of the scandal let alone the deep dark family secret of my Auntys suspected involvement. It was the evil that dare not speak its name… But of course this is only part of the story we are still left with a whitewashed question mark ….patience dear reader.
Of course the hillside artwork was only an element of the artistic hyjinks, another touch was to paint little footsteps coming out of the sewer grate along the footpath and up to the nightsafe of the bank and then back to the sewer…
Now one night of large scale public vandalism does not a commem week celebration make. There was also a parade where the students pushed the boundaries of decency to an extent that went somewhat above the heads of the local police officers…parade highlights that went ahead after police vetting included three guys dressed up in sheets with a placard saying – “Did you see the three huns walking - down the vue de mond with Ginger Rogers*?” and another group with a placard reading “Is there life on Uranus? If not check on Mars.”
There was also a wheelbarrow full of horse manure entitled “passed by the censors”. .. actually that one is quite subtle - I only just got the additional level of meaning now..LOL
A third rather clever placard requires more explaining. The local mayor was named Angus Smith. Among to other council dignitaries were a Mr Thrust and a Mr Parry. The students managed to acquire a black Angus calf and lead it along with a sign saying “Aberdeen Angus: it’s the bull that gets you there. Politics is full of Thrust and Parry.”
Unfortunately there was a price to pay for all the efforts of preparation. My aunty had a date for the commem week ball, but having been out all night decorating Castle Hill and preparing the floats for the parade etc she went home to bed the morning of the ball and slept through until the next day. Her date arrived to pick her up and my grandmother was obliged to report that aunty was still asleep. He decided he’d go home to bed too… so both missed the ball.
About 8 days later was Anzac Day. It was decided that the students would march in the annual parade. As they started out they softly repeated the question “who put the question mark on Castle Hill?” creating a low hum. As they went along the chant became progressively louder.
….so you can see the students of the Townsville Campus of the University of Queensland were doing what they must to fulfil their obligation to needle the older generations..
As is the way with whitewash, after a few months the rains came and the question mark was fading away. By this time the students had become rather fond of it however so later in 1963, flushed with their earlier success the same group repainted the question mark in durable paint. The deed was done in broad daylight this time.
Clearly things were getting beyond the pale from the point of view of the local community in general and the Air Force (who have a substantial base in Townsville) who went in and painted out the question mark with a large green square of paint.
The following year, not to be beaten, and no doubt keen to make the stunt their own, a group of students, whom my Aunty believes were from Mackay, painted the first saint on the side of Castle Hill over the green paint. This group of students has come forward now and there names are a matter of public record. Clearly the student body collectively considered this to be something of an enhancement to the statement of student rebellion. It became a tradition that the students would repaint and maintain the saint. Over time the green square faded away. We don’t know if the students at what is now James Cook University (JCU) maintain this tradition today. Certainly the saint is still there, so someone is maintaining it.
The saint took on a life of its own over the years. At JCU all the sporting trophies had the saint on them. My grandfather was active in the community and a stalwart of the local football club and was presented with a plaque of appreciation which was also adorned with the saint. Unfortunately we don’t know what became of that plaque. I imagine one of my northern cousins may have been given it as a momento of him. that dear reader is the story of the beatification of Castle Hill as told to me by my Aunty and with input from my mum who was also resident in Townsville at that time …

Further information on the saint of castle hill may be found here

*** as Aunty tells the story.. but when we think about these events in relation to other dates that are more concrete 1963 doesn't quite add up... for example my parents moved to Sydney late in 1962.. my sister was born in Townsville in May 1962 and mum helped aunty collect sea creature specimens at Cape Palarenda for the Uni when it opened .. discovering a new creature along the way.. as mum recalls it she was living in Townsville when the graffiti outrage took place.. though she had no idea her sister was involved at the time....
*for the younger generation or others baffled by this placard: "roger" in this context was a euphemism for "penis"
..and if you are still puzzled by the horse manure reference, the subtle insinuation is that the censors are a lot of horses arses... not just that the stuff they allow to be shown is horse shit.

Friday, July 4, 2008

This is working?

Middle of winter in Sydney and end of the working year. It’s time for a divisional planning day and team building after a couple of years of work on some big projects. Time to reward and refocus. A couple of colleagues have done a brilliant job sussing out the options and democratic vote has us heading off to Q-station on north head at Manly. Q Station is the old Quarantine station. A beautiful historic setting with a collection of heritage buildings.
We meet at circular quay on the western side near the Museum of Contemporary Art and the water taxi jetty. The weather is looking cold and it’s raining. We are all loaded up with luggage as though we’re going away for the weekend which causes much laughter and comment. Unavoidable as we voted to go kayaking in Manly for our team activity so will need towels and change of clothes. Mostly we are coming to the conclusion that we must be mad and will likely catch our deaths of cold. None have piked it though.
We pile into a large water taxi and head off to the Q station. This is the way to travel! The conversation is excited and there’s lots of laughter. Our driver cuts across in front of the Narrabeen (Manly Ferry) and is rewarded by a couple of loud blasts on the ferry horn. A colleague takes a few snaps of the ferry from out in front. Great perspective. If you have a group water taxi across to Q station is brilliant. We all loved every minute..We pull up at the Q station jetty and as we approach several great cormorant and little black cormorant are disturbed and fly off into the harbour.
We are met by the Q station shuttle bus and all pile in for a ride up to the conference room where tea and coffee is waiting. I’ve been to the quarantine station before for planning and team building days, but it’s a while and before the lease to a private operator. The new operators are doing a fabulous job with the place and it's apparent immediately upon landing. There's a waterfront restaurant and theatre down here near the beach. All over the site the buildings are being restored and refurbished, the turf and landscaping restored. We settle in and do a bit of a checking out of the refurbished accommodation. 4 star. It looks lovely. From the top of the hill here is a wonderful perspective on the harbour.
We knuckle down to work. Morning tea is provided and we are all blown away with the quality. Everything is made on the premises, they even bring in their own pastry chefs. The pain au chocolate is crisp and still warm from the oven. Outstanding! Skewers of seasonal fruit with yoghurt for dressing – delicious, and vegetable samosas with mango chutney. Nothing is left over and we all decide it’s just as well we’re getting some exercise this afternoon!
We continue our discussion of divisional priorities and projects for the next year and finish up right on time for lunch. This requires a walk down to the dining room where a beautiful buffet of delicious salads and various panini, mini bagels, and bruschetta is laid out. Everything is delicious and just the right amount of food. Delectable mini bread and butter puddings with a velvety custard cream to dress it and lovely fresh squares of gateaux. We linger after lunch chatting with our host about the development plans for the site. The food and beverage manager comes out to take our compliments on the quality of the catering. The plans for the site all sound great and so wonderful to have a competent operator making the most of this fabulous community asset, increasing access but protecting the heritage and natural environment of the site – including the endangered bandicoots. I am very relieved - years ago when the site first stopped operating there was talk of selling the site off for development. That would have been a crime against the community, so you can imagine the outcry at the time.
Lunch over, with much trepidation we change into our clothes that we can get wet and head for the meeting place for the bus down to the beach. They are in the process of putting a stairway down to the beach but for now there's only the roadway as far as we know. We are all anxiously observing the weather which is still threatening rain. I’m dreading taking my shoes off…there is much excited laughter and discussion along the lines of OMG what were we thinking?! We meet the fellow from Manly Kayaks at the jetty and are directed to the gate in the fence that has been erected to protect the penguin habitat. There’s an array of get ups, everything from leggings, jeans, shorts. Some have waterproof shoes most are bare foot. The men in the party are congratulated on their fortitude heading out in bare legs! I’ve got my waterproof jacket over a thick tracky top and an old pair of comfy stretch jeans. We listen intently to our paddling instructions, though everyone is pretty excited and there is also much laughter. We don our lifejackets (surprisingly comfortable) and launch our kayaks. Your bum definitely gets wet! However it’s not cold. We still can’t believe we’re doing this in the rain in the middle of winter. Most are in double kayaks, but I’ve volunteered to go in the single kayak, as I’ve paddled before – and I find it easier on my own anyway. We were supposed to practice skills for a bit, but everyone is feeling pretty comfortable so we paddle off around to Store Beach. In one of our kayaks the team just isn’t working so our guide in the rescue boat suggests they head in to the beach and swap places. This does the trick and they are right from then on. We are given a run down on Store Beach, part of the national park and only accessible by water. Along the shore of the small headlands the rocks are crusted with oysters and the kelp beds are clearly visible through the crystal waters. There’s a bit of rubbish floating in the water. No doubt washed into the harbour by the rain. As I head in towards the beach a tern flies overhead which makes me smile.
Back in from the beach a small waterfall is running onto the sand. This beach has a penguin colony, and so our guide emphasises that if you come to this beach on the weekend you must absolutely not bring pets or the smell they leave on the beach will stop the penguins breeding. We don’t see any penguins at this time of day of course. I’m sure most of us forget to even look for them in the water along the way as we’re having so much fun paddling and trying to perfect our technique.
This water level perspective on the national park and the harbour generally is brilliant. And in this weather we’ve got the place to ourselves. It is AWESOME. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before. I’m in heaven. Along the way from time to time showers of rain pass over, but we hardly notice and it certainly doesn’t bother any of us.
Next we paddle around to Collins beach. I stop to watch a large sea bird fly over, by the shape I’d guess an Australasian Gannet. Congregating in the bay near the beach we have a chat about a proposal by the NSW Police Force to upgrade their training facilities that we can see up on the hill. It’s a controversial proposal. One thing about residents of Manly and the northern beaches, any proposal like that, which could negatively impact the local bushland or parks areas will be met by vigorous scrutiny and very active community comment and lobbying. You won’t find apathy on such matters in this part of Sydney that’s for absolute certain. The local rag, The Manly Daily is read by just about every local and it’s also very active in leading community dissent on such things.
Now confident in our technique we head across towards Manly cove and into the bigger swell. Up to now we’ve been in the calmer more protected areas. It’s a little harder going, but it is a very calm day on the water and it’s great fun. There’s some people fishing from the water’s edge, but mostly it is pretty quiet with few people around. We gather for group photos and proceed down to gather again outside the skiff club where a fur seal has taken up residence for the last few weeks. It looks like a brown blob. One colleague had mistaken it for a bag of rubbish. We laugh, it’s good to see but a bit underwhelming at the same time. We alight at the beach in Manly cove collect our valuables which have been kept safe and dry in the rescue boat. One group manages to catch the only wave around and arrives in great style sort of side on, with much laughter. Lots of excited chatter and mutual teasing and we head off to the skiff club where arrangements have been made for us to have a shower and change. The paddle has only taken us about an hour. If the weather had been better we probably would have stopped on the beach for a bit of a game or something and that would have taken longer naturally. When we're clean and dry we spend a couple of hours having a chat and a drink in the waterfront bar which is warm and cosy with a great casual ambience looking out over the boats to Manly wharf.
As the sun sets we make our way around to the wharf and loiter in the outside bar of the Wharf Hotel. It's quite a mild night and we are all quite comfortable outside. The taxi is a smaller boat this time giving a more bouncy ride over the swell and we have a fun ride with cheers and laughter as we ride the waves. The lights of Sydney are always beautiful, though for some reason none of us understand, the opera house and bridge are not lit up tonight. Safely deposited back at the taxi wharf, it’s a short walk to the old sailor’s mission and dinner at Sailors Thai. As we disembark we all agree that next year we should go to Q station again, but stay the Thursday night and take the ghost tour.
At Sailors Thai the ambience is very nice with the bare convict hewn sandstone a dominating feature. Service was very good and nicely casual. Thai is not really my scene as a whole and the preordering process we undertook internally was a bit odd resulting in a strange way to have a thai meal ( which is no fault at all of the restaurant of course) but the deserts are unusual and delicious. It’s not your average thai – very upmarket. Everyone enjoyed their meal. You’re looking at $40 a main, close to $30 for starters and about $14- 14 for dessert.
It’s been a long but fabulous day. Once a sceptic on corporate team building activities from the first time I actually went on one I've been a total convert. It has such a clear payoff in productivity, motivation and team functionality... and boy we really needed this one!
Q Station is definitely on my agenda for a weekend break sometime soon. I would highly recommend the kayaking and if I were doing it again I’d probably choose to do it in winter. The only thing that would really put me off is if the water is too rough. I wasn’t cold for a single moment the whole time. The coldest part was getting around wet to the skiff club, but even that wasn't bad. It was absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended.

Q Station
Manly Kayaks
Water taxi
Manly wharf hotel
Manly Skiff Club

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk et al

Posts are a little out of order. This trip was undertaken on 29 June 2008.

We’ve had a long period of quiet hibernation at home and I’m starting to climb the walls. The lack of opportunity to walk whilst in the mountains with the nephews has led to a back up jaunt today for sanity’s sake. It was a possibility for our anniversary trip, but what the heck, we decide to take a run down to the southern highlands and check out the Illawarra Fly Tree Top walk.
We’re late getting away it’s 12:45 pm, so we don’t dilly dally with scenic routes today and just head off to Robertson via the quickest route – though that’s not too shabby for scenery in any case. It is again glorious sunny winter weather and as we pull up at the carpark we shouldn't be so surprised to see the huge number of cars in the carpark displaying number plates from a range of States and the ACT. They’ve built a very large carpark, and clearly their estimate of what would be required is pretty much on the mark, though there’s no need to hunt for a space at this stage.
When last I was here very shortly after opening it looked like some aspects of construction weren’t quite done with with trucks and so on still on site. Today things are clearly rocking along, but it gives off a strong whiff of tourist trap. On a busy day this late in the afternoon it’s looking a bit tired with the heavy patronage. There are still people lining up for tickets and after a quick check of the café we join them and say goodbye to $19 per adult. We are given a map along with a brief verbal description of the walk and are advised that the walk should take about 45 minutes.
We head off down the track lined with recent plantings. Along the way are a series of numbered information points with brief text in our map brochure to match the numbered points. The number signs are positioned fairly hastily and though I’ve done this kind of walk a number of times in similar vegetation communities I don’t find it easy to identify the particular plant they are talking about. As we round a corner the path heads suddenly downhill quite steeply and I am very glad I didn’t bring my mum. There is a roar of noise of people coming from the direction of the walk, which doesn’t bode well I think to myself. We commence on the suspended walk itself and I’m a bit bemused by the level of noise the whole contraption makes. It creaks and groans with ours and other peoples activity along the walkway. The forest below shows the signs of the construction process, but has been planted out and mulched in the disrupted areas and they seem to have kept the disruption to a minimum. It’s kind of interesting looking down on the tree ferns from above, but it’s not mind blowingly awesome and anyway I don’t like looking down very much…so maybe I'm not a good judge. The views along the walk itself are very lovely, but fairly typical for the area. We climb up Knights Tower which is a sort of crows nest and the views from there are about as good as it gets over lake Illawarra and the ocean as well as inland to the ranges. To the east and slightly south is Bass Point. As I emerge from the staircase I run straight into a work colleague and his family – small world, but then he does live not so far away from here. We take our time over the view and climb down. The next viewing spot is out to the eastern extremity of the walk and the views are fairly similar. Knights Tower is the killer view though. Nothing much to detain us so we head on up the hill and notice that there is a collection point for people with mobility problems. These people are collected in a kind of golf buggy type vehicle. As predicted we are done and dusted in about 45 minutes. Not a bird in sight in the treetops. Can’t blame them. If I was a bird I’d keep well away. Perhaps in time it will all settle down a bit.
I decide to show hubby the competition and take him down to Illawarra lookout in Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. This is more my style for interacting with nature. There are already – or should that be still – flowers in the heath. Bright little tea tree stars brighten the greyish green of the heath land and banksias are flowering in profusion. Along the walk we suddenly come across a hot spot of birds. A grey shrike thrush, the ubiquitous New Holland Honeyeaters, eastern spinebills, thornbills, yellow faced honeyeaters. After a while I spot a lewins honeyeater. After watching the spinebills and the new hollands flitting about the lewins looks huge, though it also is not a very big bird. Crimson rosellas fligh past to alight on a low tree about 20 metres off. Maybe nothing terribly unusual but this is heaven to me anyhow. Last time I came here on this very path I happened upon a conference of spotted pardalotes. Dozens of spotted pardolotes, close enough to see with the naked eye males, females, youngsters. Unreal. They have to be up there with the most beautiful Australian birds, though this exquisite little bird is also very tiny. They were landing on the ground in front of me, perching in groups of a dozen or more in one small open branched shrub, then gradually flitting of to another nearby perch. I was absolutely transfixed with sheer joy in watching them.
After a little while I catch up with hubby who a little way further on at the turn off to the lookout. We take in the wonderful view. Naturally I say – see – this is the competition. Free.
We set of back to the car. As we walk the views to the west are expansive. We set a course for Berrima to check out the eating options. It’s 5 oclock and we’re a little early for the Journeyman with reopens for dinner at 5:30. The restaurant across the road is closed Sunday night. We couldn’t be bothered waiting around, though Berrima is quiet with the day trippers and weekenders having departed. There is the sniff of woodsmoke in the crisp mountain air. It is delightful. We hop back in the car and head home.
Along the way we spot a wombat walking towards the road. We slow and hope he doesn’t venture out. He’s safe as we pass but there is a steady stream of cars behind us. Hopefully they will keep their wits about them at this dangerous evening time period.
Travelling back along the highway the sky is a fairy floss confection of pale orange, pink and purple. We watch as the orange fades out and the deeper purples blend in with the pink and then that ruddy smudge at the horizon behind the silhouette of trees and finally the darkness.
Another lovely afternoon in the highlands.
Thinking about the Illawarra fly I conclude that it is, and will be a very valuable additional to the local scene. You can do a day trip down from Sydney on the Cockatoo Run – a heritage rail trip on an old scenic rail line no longer used for the main stream railways. It stops with views over the coast also and has an option where they provide a coach to take you to the Illawarra fly then back for the return trip on the train. Not everyone can hire a car while in Sydney and there’s no need to go into the Barren Grounds as well as the visit the Fly. This is good. Not everyone appreciates the beauty of the heathland, whereas many enjoy the rainforest. It reduces pressure on this critical wildlife habitat that the reserve protects. So I would encourage visitors to support the fly… and you really won’t see a better view of the coast than it provides.
The website for the fly says it is awesome in the mist and I can well imagine that would be true. Like walking suspended in a cloud.

barren grounds link

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Perfect Day

Today is a milestone celebration. Hubby and I married 25 years today. It was touch and go for a while but both of us have managed to get the day off work. Unfortunately an overnight isn’t possible though. Hubby suggests we fulfil a long standing list item and take a drive out to Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, or more specifically, Kanangra Boyd National Park.
Though it’s a glorious sunny clear winter’s day we pack up the car with some sleeping bags and water and picnic set and some starvation rations. Insurance against breakdown in whatever remote spot we might happen to go through. We’re filled with petrol and on the road not long after 8 am. It’s still Sydney commuter peak hour so we decide to give the motorways a miss and head up the northern road which we join at Bringelly.
As we wind our way up the mountains the weather closes in and we have light showers of rain. We give a prayer that the western side of the ranges is getting some of it.

By 10:05 we are through the mountains and taking the turn off to Jenolan Caves. The road is perched along the edge of steep mountainside and in the final stages narrows considerably. Careful driving is essential. There are a few rest stops along the way with fireplaces and picnic tables and views across the road to the narrow valley. Finally we come to the dramatic Grand Arch at Jenolan Caves and drive carefully through, on the lookout for pedestrians as we admire this natural tunnel. We make a brief comfort stop at the Jenolan Caves facilities at approx 10:50am and continue our way to the national park negotiating the hairpin curves carefully and noting a number of accommodation places along the way.

The road is sealed all the way until the park entrance, where a pay and display station is located well before the park signs and maps. The elevation is about 1250 metres. Almost as soon as we hit the park we spot a wedge tailed eagle circling above the park.

It’s a fairly wide straight unsealed road out to Kanagra Walls. The road surface today is very smooth. Dirt roads don’t get too much better than this. In the early stage of the drive we pass though an open area of grassland bounded by high country forest. The parks website says the park includes snow gum forest, but I’m no expert on identifying snow gums – anyway they look like small eucalypts.

Turning a curve in the road – fortunately not driving overly fast - we disturb an eastern grey kangaroo on the road. The rest of its mob are nearby in the grass and all stand up straight to see what’s going on. There is a high wind blowing and the roos look like they are rather surprised to see people out and about today. They disperse in graceful bounds as I open the car door to snap some photos of the beautiful grasses that sway and dance in the buffeting wind. Georgeous. Grasses swaying in the wind always reminds me of my elder daughter, who at age 7 when visiting my cousin’s cane farm in Far North Queensland after snorkelling on the barrier reef commented that the grass swaying in the wind looked like a sea anemone swaying in the current…

We move on and back into the cover of the forest and very soon after a wallaby bounds off. This bodes well so far! The scenery is fairly consistent for most of the drive with thin trunked trees in large numbers fairly densely packed. A good proportion of scribbly gum amongst it. We’re driving at a reasonable pace, and hubby isn’t too attentive to birds but as we go we see some tantalising glimpses. A grey shrike thrush flying up. Was that a quail thrush scurrying off the verge? Then a group of what looked like maybe thornbills, a clear rich buff rump clearly visible as they fly, but we pass too quick for anything more concrete in the way of identification. There is a camp ground along the way by the road at Boyd River. The NPWS website says you get all manner of wildlife at this camp at night. I scheme for a campout when the weather warms up a bit.
As we move on bright green splashes of moss on the rocks introduce some colour into an otherwise subtle symphony of pale khaki, grey and white. Everywhere an understory of banksia shrubs in flower forecasts no shortage of honeyeaters.

We pull into the parking area. There’s a half dozen other cars, but not much in the way of people. A large brown bird flies from the bushes – just enough of a glimpse for me to see it’s interesting and not some everyday bird. Tease! Around the carpark are several varieties of banksia again in full flower. The banksia pictured looking all the world like someone had sketched in the colour using a yellow highlighter pen. Extraordinary. Though they are lying low out of the wind, there is abundant bird call all around. The New Holland honeyeaters clearly among them. I wait patiently for hubby hoping to catch a glimpse of someone but the winds are very strong and the birds aren’t risking it.
200 metres of level walking and we come to the lookout over Kanangra Walls. As we step down to the viewing area a wedgie suddenly soars straight up in front of us from below the cliff edge, only metres from the lookout. FANTASTIC! The view is stupendous. Wilderness as far as the eye can see. The dramatic cliff face of the walls is a golden brown in the bright sunlight. Rugged ridge tops and dramatic valleys all around. I won’t post a photograph. Discovering Kanagra Walls for yourself is more fun surely. But I’ll post the lookout map for you to give you an idea… oh and a teaser...from the entrance to the lookout..

I’m not overly fond of heights and I have a job convincing hubby to keep away from the edge… reminiscent of climbing the lookout at Stanley chasm, though that was worse..

Having taken our fill of the lookout we venture to the Waterfall track. This is rated as hard and suggested time is one hour depending on how long you spend at the bottom. Who doesn’t like a waterfall? So we set off. The track is simply a long steep staircase.

Along the way I stop to admire a beautiful hairpin banksia in flower. This is, without question my favourite banskia and one of my favourite flowers. Golden cones with true black styles that are the source of the common name. It looks exactly like a cushion stuffed with shiny black hair pins. Very dramatic. This photo doesn't really do it justice but it will give you an idea.

At the base of the cliff there is a viewing platform over a pool and stream of crystal clear water edged with ferns. To the left from the viewing platform is a beautiful waterfall, not hugely tall, but it is very pretty. The view is partly obstructed by vegetation, but lovely anyway. We only spend a short while down here before we set off on the return. We realise how comparatively calm it is down at the waterfall as the roar of the wind meets us as we climb back up. The whole thing took us 25 mins but we felt the cardio workout on the way back especially.
Heading back towards the carpark I stop to photograph some gum tree bark that is sparkling in the light where it has bled it's rich red sap.

It’s still only 12:35 pm so since some exercise was one of our aims, hubby encourages a go at the Plateau walk. This takes you down a long flight of stairs. As we go I’m thinking I’m going to regret neglecting my lower body after all this. Oh well…

In the wind this walk was a good choice. Down below the plateau on this side we are protected from the wind and in a short time it is clear the birds like this calmer area. Plenty of eastern spinebills are visiting the flowering banksias along the stairs. Not particularly bothered by us passing. Beyond the stairs we reach a comparatively level pathway bordered by an area of shrubs nestled against the cliff face. It is alive with birds. Many spinebills and also I believe buff rumped thornbills, suggesting my guess along the road as we were coming in was correct. Looking up at the birds above me the clouds racing over the edge of the rock face seem so close I feel like I could reach out and touch them. A thornbill lands in the shrub right near me and sings his little heart out with a lovely melodic warbling call. This is a new species for me. I dawdle for a few minutes and hubby gets along ahead. I catch up and pretty soon we arrive at Dance Floor cave. We explore the cave and read the interpretive signs explaining the use of the cave by settlers and stockmen who have constructed a small drinking basin at a seepage point in the roof. The dance floor is long gone now. The water dripping from the roof to the bowl is no doubt pristine, but who knows what some passing ratbag may have done to the water actually in the bowl so we don't sample it.. Coming back to the path water dripping over the edge of the cave sparkles in the light from shafts of sunlight. Lovely.
At this point as we rejoin the path we reach another flight of stairs that will take us up onto the plateau. An inward groan and we head on up with determination. This is the plateau above the Kanangra walls and it feels like standing on top of the world, despite not being the highest point in sight. The vegetation on top of the plateau is tough, dense heath which seems to grow on a grey sandy soil on top of the rock. It is quite moist at this time of year and round about are luxurious patches of rich deep green moss that brings to mind Miss Ellen's velvet drapes.

The scenery is mesmorising and if not for the wind I could easily hear pan pipes playing and float along like Miranda from picnic at hanging rock - well, perhaps not so gracefully. Perhaps a cross between Miranda and the dancing hippos from fantasia! The path for the most part is simply the exposed areas of rock between the vegetation. To this point the walk has taken us 35 minutes and we could turn back from here, but I see a hiker coming toward us from the end of the plateau demonstrating that there is path continuing in that direction. I pity the hiker with that huge pack in this wind. We quizz him as we meet and decide to continue on for a while. He's come from deep in the wilderness and climbed up to the plateau. He's very nice and helpful but I suspect he could cheerfully slap me for interrupting his rhythm with that pack. We spend about half an hour wandering about on the plateau our spirits soaring with the winds over the wildnerness to north, south and all around.

Finally we reach a point where we can look back along a section of the walls and we decide it's time to turn back. Returning back, the path is easy to lose. It is marked only by discrete patches of red tape attached to small bushes every so often but quite a distance apart. We have a couple of sessions of nosing about looking for the path. None the less we get back in good time. At the return up the flight of steps heading to the carpack track I channel my recently deceased grandmother and start to count the steps.. I'm part way up before I start but I get to 200 before the top. They rate this walk as moderate and suggest an hour depending on how long you spend on the plateau. By my estimation it is a bit more than moderate. Certainly it would have as many stairs in total as the waterfall walk, or close to it. You just get a break in between. The plateau walk has taken us about 1 1/2 hrs.

We feel a sense of achievement and spiritual peace as we return along the path to the car. Pleased to see the tree opposite our car space hasn't fallen onto our car in the wind. We break open the picnic set and have a glass of water each and set off.

I am tempted by the concept of a circle down around the mountains to the southern highlands for dinner in Berrima, but on consideration I note that it takes in the Oberon - Goulburn road and then from Wombeyan caves up to Mittagong. I've done both these drives before and vowed not to do either of them again so we decide to return back past Jenolan Caves. By the time we are parked and down at the cafe at Jenolan Caves it's about 3:10 pm. We have a look at Chisolms restaurant menu in the lobby of caves house. They are restoring Caves House and it has a lovely ambience. We head to check out the cafe and while hubby buys himself some lunch, I go across to see when the next cave tour is leaving. Some consultation and a shared chicken schitzel lavash (very nice) we head back over to the ticket office. The next tour is at 3:30 and I ask how strenuous it is, wondering how long my legs are going to keep agreeing to go up and down stairs... the bloke behind the counter cheerfully advises "not very" in a reassuring tone so we buy our tickets for the Chifley cave tour and head off to meet our tour guide in the Grand Arch, carefully stowing the passes that will give us free entry to the nettle cave and a half price tour valid for 12 months. A comfort stop near the departure point is interesting. They have just built a stone wall open to the roof of the arch with narrow little cubicles in it... different....
By this time we have noted in the guide book we've picked up that Chifley cave involves several hundred stairs hmmm. We set off with no incident. The cave starts out fairly modest and our guide points out a few nice features, however as the tour progresses we come to chambers jam packed with spectacular formations. Magical and very pretty. The only down side to the tour was a foreign gentleman.. well actually he wasn't a gentleman he was a dickhead* and proud of it - claimed he was a kid in a man's body. Despite repeated requests from our young guide he continued to go ahead and play with the lights. Even when people were coming down the stairs. Dickhead.
We emerge into the light and head up the hill to the car park. I've made it through the cave no worries, but the somehow the series of stairs leading up to the car park are getting pretty uncomfortable and I'm glad to sit down when we get to the car. Off we go to Katoomba / Leura for dinner as the sun sets, though it makes no particular display today. Along the way hubby reminds me of the depth of his love, pointing out that it is the state of origin decider tonight and he hasn't even taped it, but he is happy to make this heavy sacrifice in honour of our special day.. ohhhhh... I point out that it isn't that much of a sacrifice as the Blues are going to get done anyhow! LOL Ah hubby is so loyal and optomistic as a footie fan.
We don't have reservations so we drive around Katoomba in a fairly aimless fashion before heading purposefully to Leura on the off chance of a one of a couple of preferred locations there. Le Gobelet is closed. Good I'd rather go to Solitary anyhow and we are pleased to find it's open now (about 6:30). We are the first patrons to arrive and are seated by the heater. Fireside tables are booked naturally. We have a lovely leisurely dinner. Taking a happy anniversary call from daughter during the mains. Every dish was delicious including the complementary hors doevre. The service just the right level of attentive. A really lovely evening to cap off a perfect day. We're all done by 8:30pm and arrive home at 9:45 keeping abreast of developments in the game as we travel. We are home just in time to see the Blues get done in the last short period of the game. .. well at least hubby didn't have to miss the whole thing....

* my apologies if this term offends... it's an old Australian term for just this sort of person.... :o)

A visit to Zig Zag

Weeks of lying low but today it’s glorious sunshine and we (hubby, daughter 2 and I) are off to take nephew1 (6 yrs) and nephew 2 (3yrs) for an outing to Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow NSW. We make a departure from Stanmore at about 9 am. The driving is easy, just a hop and a skip and we are on the Great Western Highway which runs from Broadway in Sydney right across the Great Dividing Range, through a lovely series of mountain villages.
When the time comes we take the option to divert to the M4 motorway which blends seamlessly back into the Great Western Hwy at the foot of the mountains. We have a fast and smooth trip until near the Leura turnoff the traffic suddenly grinds to a halt, perfectly positioned to allow us to give the traffic snarl a miss and divert through Leura. A little scenic driving admiring the views and we rejoin the highway at Katoomba where there is no sign of a problem.
We pass Blackheath, and the Hydro Majestic. At Mount Victoria we follow the signs to Zig Zag across the Darling Causeway very pleased to note that we should arrive at the right time for the first trip of the day at 11am.
$82.50 later and we board the train and find ourselves a cluster of seats together. It’s quite busy and the carriage we are in is full of the hubbub of excited patrons. An interesting mix of elderly people and young families.
The Zig Zag Railway was an engineering marvel in it’s day. Innovation was required to enable trains to travel from the ports of the coast to the great inland agricultural area so productive of wool and wheat. Land of the golden fleece. The railway is cut like the mark of zorro into the side of the mountain. Top road – which ends with “top points” then middle road leads to “bottom points” and the end of Zig Zag’s heritage service. Bottom road is below and is still used by the main line services today which run into an apparently impenetrably dark tunnel through the mountain.
Today the train is hauled by a sweet blue locomotive very reminiscent of Thomas the tank engine. Indeed this engine with face attached is used for special “Thomas and friends” days during school holidays. After travelling through a tunnel and over the first of the viaducts we alight at top points to watch “Thomas” uncouple. Just the ticket! On first sight of the locomotive nephew 1 – a serious Thomas aficionado in his younger years – announces that the real Thomas only has one space for coal rather than two and he also has a “tender” – but his eyes are wide at his first real life steam engine none-the-less. He and I – with many others - go up to the viewing platform above the tracks to watch “Thomas” steam along the tracks, then we move down to the new head of the train to watch him couple to the train all with much chuffing and steam. The whistle blows all aboard and we climb in for the next stage of the journey to bottom points.
We’re in a new carriage this time and when we go through the second tunnel this carriage is excitingly dark. Across a couple more stone viaducts with better views of the all three and down to some buildings in the valley below which I think I heard them say are a school and brewery. Finally we arrive at Bottom points where there is a more substantial station with a small number of toilet facilities. Here “Thomas” changes ends again and also refills with water and some sort of additive, all of which is very interesting and draws the kids and their parents, and a few others all of whom watch intently.
All aboard and we’re off on the return journey to top points for a repeat of the earlier spectacle. We give others a go on the viewing platform. Nephew 1 runs and hides behind the shrubs in the park by the platform. We watch the recoupling and climb back on board for this longest section of the trip. We’re pleased to be in this carriage which is right behind the engine for maximum appreciation of the chuffing as the engine works hard to haul us back up the mountain.
Nephew 2 without leaving his seat silently extracts a lolly snake from the couple adjacent who have an attack of the munchies. I laughingly tell them that they have just given him his favourite lolly in the whole world! They laugh and say yes, his eyes said it all! In the end this nice young couple give each of the boys two “nakes”. Nephew 2 wastes no time in shocking his cousin and cruelly eating his tail first…”oh poor snake!”
We have once again skilfully left our camera in the car, so a quick dash and we make up the deficit before the train loads up with the next round of passengers. Some browsing and souvenir buying in the shop - replica locos, a steam train pencil sharpener and finally a souvenir coin.
By now it’s well and truly lunch time. It’s nephew 1’s birthday treat and he announces he’d like macca’s for lunch. Blue Mountains local council won’t allow fast food chains in (very sensible) so we travel down to the macca’s just out of Lithgow on the highway. It is insanely busy. We find a parking space but baulk when we open the door and clap eyes on the queue. Nephew 1 graciously consents to go to Uncle’s favourite – KFC out of sight along the highway towards the mountains. The food is good – as usual from this KFC. Well above average.
We were going to take a stop at Blackheath and go for a walk, but nephew announces he’s feeling pretty tired now and would like to go home. Both the boys are fast asleep in no time and a hassle free trip has us back at Stanmore at 4:30pm, with two little boys full of excitement and stories for Daddy when he gets home. Hubby, daughter and I have all enjoyed the trip very much also and all agree the Zig Zag Railway is well worth a visit. Surely quite unique among heritage rail experiences with so much shunting to watch during the 1 ½ of the journey.