Hobart – day 330

Deciding to avoid the squeeze in the kitchen for the final time, we opted to grab all our cereal, milk, foldable bowls and our sporks to eat breakfast al fresco at the summit of Mount Wellington. The drive through the streets towards the 1270m high mountain was pretty straight forward although, with no petrol stations en route refreshing our memories, we had got half way up to the summit when the petrol gauge light came one… Driving straight past one of the view points on our way up, the glimpsing view was spectacular and made us even more excited about the view from the top! However, after about 5 more minutes of winding up the road through thick temperate forest, we clearly started going through the cloud line… The lunar rockscapes were surrounded in mist and we couldn’t see more than 10 metres in front of us. Deciding that there was no way that the cloud was going to magically disappear by the time we reached the summit, we decided to cut our loses and head back to the view point we had driven past to park up for breakfast. Would have worked out quite well too had the fog not descended at the same speed as us and we got about 2 minutes of view before we ate our breakfast looking at a stone wall and some fog!Undeterred by the start of our morning, we headed back down the mountain, stopping at the closest petrol station we could find, happy to pay the extra cost for petrol in exchange for not breaking down in the middle of nowhere on the day we were due to fly back to Melbourne. Managed to weave our way through the back streets to the Cascades Female Factory, another UNESCO site but part of the 11 convict sites in Australia so we can’t count it. The Cascades Female Factory is Australia’s most significant historic site associated with female convicts and certainly one of the more interesting convict sites we have visited, despite not having much left. The original yard was built as a gin distillery but the other four yards were purpose built, creating a self-contained institution intended to reform female convicts who had been transported from England under the pretence of being criminals but basically being sent to reproduce with the male convicts to populate the British colony. 

Thousands of women and children were imprisoned here, and many never left, due to high rates of illness and infant mortality. ​​​​Using our YHA membership cards again, we got a concession rate on entry and a guided introduction to the site and its stories. During the guided tour of the site, the guide gave us insights into the regimented system of punishment and reform that operated within these walls. Made us question whether these women were more sinned against than sinning?​ The only building still standing is the Matrons house that was, until recently, still occupied by a local family before being resold to the historical society (I guess it must have been frustrating having tourists pressed up against your lounge window every day). We finished our visit to the site by looking at the book of names for children who had died at the site… The list went on and on – very sad, especially when the cause of death for most of them was due to poor sanitation and drinking dirty water. Getting back in the car, we headed out of town and, with a few hours to kill, headed to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary houses wombats, koalas, birds, quolls and many amazing natives including the Tasmanian devils. They also have over 80 free-roaming kangaroos which we got to hand-feed with complimentary kangaroo food. They were so much bigger than the kangaroos we fed on Kangaroo Island – it was slightly intimidating. We managed to squeeze in the 2pm guided tour where we got to hear some little-known facts about the wildlife (such as a wombat can outrun Usain Bolt) and stories of orphaned animals in care at the sanctuary. The tour included seeing the devils devour a snack (it looked like the carcass of a hedgehog) and pats and take close-up photos of the wombat and koalas – it was surprisingly good for a small place. 


Back at Hobart airport, we returned the car (having clocked up over 900km in four days) and waited for our plane back to Melbourne. A quick flight, an easy transfer on the SkyBus to the city centre and we were checked in at the YHA. Decided to treat ourselves to ‘dinner’ out, we went to the kebab shop we had spotted all those weeks ago when we had come to Melbourne for the weekend. Ordered a ‘snack-pack’ that was so enormous, we had to share it! Watched a little bit of TV in the television room before heading up to bed. Thursday 1st September 2016

Travelling – day 326

Happy 4 year wedding anniversary to us!!! Can’t quite believe it’s already been 4 years but wow – what a four years it’s been! We have been fortunate enough to travel to the far flung corners of the world together and still save enough money to take a career break from work and follow our dreams. It’s been tough and it’s been stressful, but the smiles and laughter have more than made up for the tears and arguments. Right, enough with the soppy stuff, and on with our day… Which, unfortunately, was pretty non descriptive. Had to get up reasonably early to catch our shuttle bus transfer to Adelaide airport. As we sat in the YHA dining area, all of us nursing a coffee to wake us up, we clearly looked like a group of people who wanted to be left alone in peace and quiet. Clearly not portraying this emotion well enough, the very enthusiastic elderly lady who plonked herself down next to us started talking animatedly about all the places we should see in Australia. Don’t think we even managed to get a word in to tell her that we only had a week left in Australia and that Tracey was actually an Australian! Standing outside on the street, we waved the little old lady onto her tour bus for the day as we clamoured onto our shuttle bus. We were supposed to be the last pick up but another customer hadn’t been ready so he did a quick detour on the way to the airport. Turns out they still weren’t ready when we arrived but just as we were pulling out of the parking area they came dashing out. The driver called out the window that he’d turn around before doing a massive loop through the one way streets back to the hotel only to find out the women had decided to get a taxi instead… FFS. Everyone was slightly annoyed at how inconsiderate they had been, especially the driver as he ranted for the rest of the drive about all of us in the bus being on time at our pick up locations and needing to get us to the airport. Fortunately, we got to the airport in plenty of time and flew through checkin with the quickest typist ever on the desk. Jayne disappeared after security with the pretence of going to the toilet. In reality, she was buying me a trashy magazine and writing a (post)card for our wedding anniversary.  

A quick hour and a bit flight to Melbourne and we were saying goodbye to Tracey. Felt really strange waving her off on the SkyBus back to the train station as we rechecked in our bag and got our boarding passes for Tasmania later on that day. A rather uneventful day sat in the departures lounge in Melbourne domestic terminal, alternating between organising photos and trying to upload blogs. Deciding that the wifi wasn’t strong enough to cope with uploading photos, we got ourselves some burritos for lunch and settled down to watch ‘Lilo and Stitch’ on the netbook. Slightly stressful moment when boarding our flight when TigerAir did the RyanAir trick of weighing everyone’s hand luggage. We quickly ducked out of the queue and put the heavier things from Jaynes bag into mine and kept our fingers crossed that our bag weights would be okay. Mine was fine and just as Jayne was about to weigh hers, the woman behind us in the queue started talking to the stewardess which allowed us to sneak on to the plane with 7.8kg in the allowed 7kg hand luggage. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones as people started stripping off several layers of clothing as they boarded the plane with one group of women looking like they’d filled their hand luggage with Krispy Kreme donuts. 

A few episodes of ‘Friends’ and watching a stunning sunset from the window of the plane later and we had arrived in Hobart. Picked up our rental car from Thrifty and, as we were checking it over, two foreign gentlemen came over to ask what we were doing. When we told them we were checking for any damage so we didn’t get charged when we returned the car. Clearly novice car hirers, they said they didn’t knew they should do that and started to do the same – our good deed for the day!

With Jayne navigating, we quickly found our way to the hostel, parked the car outside and checked in. Slightly painful carrying all our stuff up three flights of stairs after being so tried from our day of doing nothing! The dorm room was like a sauna when we got in from the Dutch girl who was, evidently, trying to kill her cold with heat. The room, unfortunately, also had the same odour as our Kangaroo Island room of sweaty bodies. We headed over to Woolies and grabbed some food supplies before Jayne made dinner in the smallest kitchen we’ve ever had to use in a YHA. Slightly frustrating as you really can’t have more than two or three people in it at a time. After dinner, we went back to our room where the Dutch girl had turned off the heating (thank goodness) and cleaned up. Jayne opened her anniversary card from me and we both got into our separate beds to fall fast asleep. 

Sunday 28th August 2016

Travelling – day 298

SO EXCITED!! Finally, after far too many years, I awake and am able to download the new Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Still gutted that I can’t see the play in the West End as we are traveling, I am absolutely delighted that at least I can download and read the book when it is released. Managed to download it before we even left the hostel this morning to catch our coach to Hervey Bay and was then even more excited (nine and three-quarters more excited!!) to see a whole stand of HP books at a shop along the way.Quite a lazy morning as we know we’ve got a seriously hectic week ahead of us with our Fraser Island and Whitsundays tours coming up so decided to abandon any previous ideas of going on an early ferry ride up the river in Brisbane and had a lie in instead. Got up, showered and had breakfast before checking out of our room. As soon as it was 9am Australia time, I was able to download the new HP book so I started reading that whilst Jayne did some Internet website work for Azra and the beauty clinic. Only had about an hour before we had to make our way to the transit centre to catch our greyhound coach. The sun was shining and, even with a slight chill in the air, it was a beautiful day.A pretty boring coach journey with nothing much to look at out the windows. We caught up on odd jobs that required internet (thanks for the free onboard wifi!) and I, obviously, kept reading the new book. Slightly strange reading a story as a play script but it’s still enjoyable none the less – really makes me want to go back and read the other books in the series (again!). Stopped at a service station for the necessary driver rest stop. Turns out that it is home to ‘Matilda’ the kangaroo who made her debut on 30th September 1982 at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. The 13 metre high mascot was then homed at a water theme park before being moved in 2009, and having 2 years of substantial refurbishment, to her current spot at the petrol station. We sat on the banks of the lake having the juiciest oranges ever – thanks Tracey for the tip – it was like eating solid lumps of orange juice!!Back on the bus for the remainder of the journey, arriving in Hervey Bay just after 5pm. As the transfer bus had to wait for another Greyhound to arrive, we took the opportunity to head to the supermarket to get some food for dinner and a goon bag of white wine to take with us to Fraser Island. The second coach never turned up so we waited all that time for no reason, although we did get to enjoy the noisy rainbow lorikeets that were flying around the car park.At the hostel, which is more of a caravan park which happens to have a dorm room than a hostel, Jayne got back onto her task of sorting out the beauty salon website whilst I reorganised our bags for tomorrow and cooked dinner (I know – it’s a shock to everyone that I cooked!!!). Made spaghetti bolognaise and let Jayne carry on with her work after dinner whilst I kept reading my new book!!

Sunday 31st July 2016

Brisbane – day 297

A lovely lazy morning enjoying the view of the city from the rooftop terrace and soaking up some sun! Having decided to skip the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary for three main reasons – it was expensive, we had seen loads of wild koalas, and it was the weekend so was going to be incredibly busy – we had to decide on a plan of action for our one day in Brisbane. Decided to head for a walk around the CBD and along the riverfront towards South Bank. I was in charge of navigation today and got us lost within the first ten minutes of walking… Oops! A quick map check and we were back on track for Central Station. Our first stop was the sobering Shrine of Remembrance which is located above the edge of Anzac Square. The shrine itself was beautiful with its ‘Eternal Flame’, the Shrine is a war memorial dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The whole area was calm and peaceful and the gardens surrounding it were full of bulbous boab trees, which Jayne impersonated, and some wandering ibises. We continued down the street, using the pedestrian subway to cross the road to get to Post Office Square where we went down an alley to visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The 19th Century, neo-Gothic building with a modern extension built in 1989. The cathedral houses sculptures and has a beautiful collection of nineteenth century stained glass windows from Germany, France, England and Ireland.We walked through the grassy courtyard, stopping to peek inside the adjacent chapel, before sneaking through the Eagle Side Pier shopping complex to get to the river. Another slight bit of mis-direction on my part(!) which meant we were able to enjoy the views of the river for that much longer… Also got to see where the 2011 flood waters came up to – must have had such a devastating impact on the restaurants and businesses down on the riverfront. Having corrected myself, we were down heading in the right direction for the City Botanical Gardens which is the city’s oldest park, originally planted by convicts in 1825 with food crops to feed the prison colony. The gardens include ancient trees, rainforest glades, exotic species, a bamboo grove, weeping fig avenue, mangrove boardwalk and ornamental ponds. We even saw a giant lizard lazing around by the pond which we pointed out to some, very grateful, Italian tourists. Walking around the gardens, we spotted some people abseiling at Kangaroo Point across the river, before crossing the Goodwill Bridge, a dedicated footbridge that links the Brisbane River’s north and south banks, connecting South Bank with the city at Gardens Point. It is just under 500 metres long but the brief walk along this structure gave us a whole new perspective on South Bank, the Brisbane River and the city. At the end of the bridge was The Queensland Maritime Museum which features the historic warship Diamantina. Berthed in a dry dock, the Diamantina has been restored to her 1945 condition and she is the only one of her kind left in the world. We didn’t go into the museum as it was too sunny to be inside, but it was great to see the Diamantina, the steam tug and the lightship from the walk way. From here, we headed north into the South Bank Parklands. Nothing at all like the South Bank back in London, this beautiful green strip is home to performance spaces, sculpture, buskers, restaurants, cafes, bars, pockets of rainforest, barbecue areas, pagodas, an epicurious garden and hidden lawns. The best attraction by far was the Streets Beach, a kitsch artificial swimming beach that resembled a tropical lagoon… If only we had brought our swimmers!!Crossing back over the river on Victoria Bridge, coming off just outside the gorgeous Treasury Building before going down an alley to walk along the shops on the Queen Street Mall. Found a tourist shop to try on a typical Australian hat…We finished off by admiring the towering City Hall and it’s attached clock tower which was built between 1920 and 1930, and has recently undergone a $215 million restoration. Headed back to the hostel via Coles to pick up some food for our dinner with Dennis. So good to catch up with him over dinner and wine on the roof top. He tried to explain ‘Pokemon Go’ to me and even managed to catch one of them on the roof of the hostel, although (sorry Dennis!) I still have no idea what is going on!! He then, very kindly, drove us to Mount Coot-tha lookout. Mount Coot-tha, which is 287 metres above sea level, has the highest peak in Brisbane and the lookout gave breathtaking panoramic views of Brisbane City and as far out as Moreton Bay. Back at the hostel for a quick scan of FaceBook and check of emails before heading to bed, Jayne reading a trashy magazine whilst I read a trashy novel…

Saturday 30th July 2016

Byron Bay & travelling – day 296

Woke up early in our dorm, delighted to find it was still just the two of us (or someone had come and left in the middle of the night without us knowing!!). Got dressed and checked out, putting our bags into a storage locker and having breakfast before heading out for the day. Byron Bay has a reputation of being a famous beach town and it was lovely, but not entirely sure what the fuss is about. I could have happily lived there as a local but, for us, a day as a tourist was plenty! The beaches are great but we’ve already seen spectacular beaches along this coast (and are due to see even better ones shortly!!). The vibe in the town is very surf culture meets hippie, resulting in lots of barefooted people padding around the streets and supermarkets. That being said, it was lovely – possibly because it wasn’t as crowded as it could be – and we had a great time wandering through the back streets on our way to the Cape Byron State Conservation Park. We started on the Cape Byron walking track and, before too long, we were treated to views of dolphins swimming adjacent to the morning kayak group (lucky bastards!). You can see how close they got…IMG_1956IMG_1967We continued along the path, encountering brush turkeys along the way and stopping off at various view points to admire the spectacular views and watch the migrating whales pass by… That’s right – we have now seen humpback whales for five days in a row. Jayne is beside herself and I think, now more than ever, I have a real chance of convincing her to move here!! The walking path hugs the headland as it dips and soars towards the lighthouse. We managed to spot some more whales passing at the most easterly point of Australia.IMG_1983IMG_2545We stayed for ages at the lighthouse, admiring the view and being wowed by the passing marine life. So much so that any plans of renting a surf board before our coach this afternoon went out the window as the time flew by as we sat and enjoyed. IMG_2547IMG_2550IMG_2000IMG_2012IMG_2016Walking back down towards the town, the path went through beautiful forests and it felt like we were the only people there for miles. Descended upon the beach and decided that, even though we couldn’t go surfing, didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun in the water so we jumped in!! Swimming in the ocean in the middle of winter in Australia is a lot more agreeable than doing the same thing back in the UK or Ireland!! Back at the hostel for a shower and a late lunch before catching our coach to Brisbane. Three hours later, we were walking through the streets to the YHA. I sorted out laundry whilst Jayne went to Dominos to get us something for dinner. Sat on the roof top terrace, enjoying the eye-popping views of the city before going to bed.

Friday 29th July 2016

Coffs Harbour & Byron Bay – day 295

Since we were able to keep the rental car until 9am this morning, we decided to use and abuse it by driving ourselves to the view point to get some last minute glimpses of humpback whales before we go up the coast to Byron Bay. Parked the car in the car park and headed around the cliff top walk to find a quiet spot to sit down and wait. Didn’t have to wait very long before a mother and calf passed by, quite close to the shoreline, and we even spotted a breaching whale way off in the distance as the sun slowly began to rise, changing the colours of the sea as the waves rippled towards the shore. Had some apples as we watched the whales before getting back in the car and returning it to the Thrifty depo. Apparently, I was the first person in 5 years to park it properly (i.e. not in the way!). Most people just leave it in the middle of the forecourt… Walked back to the hostel, enjoying the warm sun with our iced coffees. Packed up our bags and checked out before having some breakfast. Got a lift to the bus stand from Craig, who gave us loads of tips about what to do, where to go and what to see during our time in Australia. A pretty uneventful 3.5 hour coach journey to Byron Bay where we both had a blog to catch up on and some other bits and pieces to do. I finished my book ‘Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children’. I have to say that, whilst it wasn’t too bad, I’m getting a bit fed up of books that are written which clearly decide half way through to turn the story into a trilogy. Haven’t had any plot resolution from that book and I’m not sure I really want to read the next ones… Oh well. Arrived in Byron Bay and dropped our bags off at the YHA. The lovely Carrie at reception gave us a map and told us what we could do whilst in town. Clearly a ‘sleep all day and party all night’ kinda place, she pointed out all the good pubs that were open until 3am with live music! There really isn’t much else to do here apart from surf, walk and party! Decided to walk along the beach, stopping to enjoy the acoustic guitar set that was happening on the entrance to the beach. The stroll along the beach was beautiful and quiet as we watched surfers, dolphins and more humpback whales bob up and down between the waves. There were even bush turkeys strolling along the beach next to us, clearly looking for any scraps of food that people may have left lying around after their picnics. IMG_1918Jayne was braver than me as she wadded through the knee high water to the view point to see if she could get a better view of the whales. I sat on a rock and watched the surfers do incredibly well on what looked like very small waves as the sun set behind the mountains in the distance. IMG_1925IMG_1919IMG_1934On the return journey down the beach, the acoustic guitar players were joined by a couple of guys swinging around flaming batons. This town really reminds me of Montalivet with its, rather expensive, hippie dippy vibe. Headed back to the hostel via Aldi and the bottle shop to get some essential supplies for dinner. Vegetable gnocchi with white wine for dinner before climbing into bed to watch a couple of Friends episodes with popcorn and some peppermint chocolate.

Thursday 28th July 2016

Coffs Harbour – day 294

Alexander Graham Bell said, “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”. Mr. Bell was a Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. It is kind of ironic that I type today’s blog on a modern telephone and the first thing we had prepared for the day was pack the bags the night before and thus we slipped quietly out of the room nice and early without waking anyone.

A 4km walk to Thrifty to collect our car, we were a bit out of sorts when the grumpy old man behind the desk said that we hadn’t booked a car but rather requested it. We were told basically to get lost for half an hour and hopefully the car they were collecting from the airport would be suitable. Oh and where are your passports? Having not needed them in Melbourne this chap was insistent that he wouldn’t accept just the driving licence and need more money from us as a deposit for international renters. Thus, wandered up and down the road to find a wifi signal to send photos of our passports to the office. Returned to a more amicable gentleman behind the counter and with a bit of cooperation and business sense we drove away with a cute little car heading to The Big Banana. Nothing more than a giant replica of a banana, it’s famous in Coffs Harbour and has made it in to the Big Things of Australia book. It’s probably the first banana that Katherine has liked in years.img_1743-1Dorrigo National Park is one of the fifty separate reserves that comprises of 366,500 hectares in the NSW and QLD states. They are the most extensive area of subtropical rainforests in the world and you guessed it, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being listed as a WHS for three criteria: Major stages of Earth’s history; Significant ecological and biological processes; Significant natural habitat for biodiversity, the anticipation was building as we drove higher and higher in to the mountains with signs along the Waterfall Way for lookouts and waterfalls every few kilometres. We stopped at only one waterfall en route to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and for a simple donation of $2 each we were in. The view from the Skywalk was breathtaking. An uninterrupted view of the mountains, covered in forests, rolling gently down to the valley and sea. We more interested in just the views than taking many photos, which should hopefully give some credence to how beautiful this place is. We wandered through the forest, sticking the pathway (as other tourists said they crossed paths with a large black and red-bellied snake) and just got lost in time. The waterfalls were incredible. The less visited, further away fall was captivating and we wished we could have it as a garden feature. It was totally different to the cascading fall in to the pool that had so many tourists and incredibly serene and peaceful.

img_1825-2The walk back, a circuit of 6.6km went through denser forest areas. We saw a number of mature tallow wood trees, some of them slowly being encapsulated by the strangler fig. The webbing of the fig roots across the trunk of the host tree was akin to a sugar nest desert or for the film buffs, the scene in spider-man where he’s trying to to rip the venom costume from his body. It was almost to the end of the trail when we finally spied the Eastern Whipbird – a small blackish teal bird with a white head, it can’t be confused for anything else because of its call. A long piercing whistle, the retired gent on the skywalk earlier said they are called the Star Wars bird because the sound is like a blaster cannon with the female response (not always after the male) sounding like two small blaster shots. I must have been a bit annoying towards the end of the walk with me doing the two blaster whistles after every male call. Still, it brought life to the timeless forest and the brush turkeys that wandered about were boring in comparison. We had lunch up at the Glade. Unable and unwilling to take the rental on the unsealed road up to Never Never picnic lookout, we had a spot of sunshine and tranquility before visiting Dangar Falls. A total wow moment, not expecting the sheer size or quality of this site, we could easily have missed this spectacle if we had driven out of our way for lunch. The lads down at the bottom of the creek swimming must have been bonkers, for up on the cliff looking down at the waterfall and pool it looked freezing cold. IMG_1838We stopped to feed some horses some apples on the way to another lookout and this stop would later come back to bite us in the ass. We went to Griffiths Lookout, again another jaw-dropping panoramic view of the rainforests. We sat in silence before we mutually agreed without saying anything that we needed to head off. This was also the start of the massive allergic reaction that Katherine was having. Tears streaming down the face, sniffles that would put one of the dwarves to shame and eyes swelling up to match a puffer fish. We stopped in Bellingen for antihistamine eye drops and chocolate. Apparently chocolate, in particular Mint Oreo, is very important in the healing process. We detoured to the same lookout we were taken to the night before. The sky was clear, the hills having a beautiful orange glow on their crest and the sea behind was casting calm waves upon the shore. The canoeists had no idea that just behind the breakwater of the harbour a humpback was swimming past. Too slow to drive down to a proper vantage point to find the whale a bit closer at least I got an image to prove that we had seen whales for a third day in a row. It was another fab day and when dinner was finished we passed out, some of us a bit louder than others in the dorm. IMG_1883IMG_1875IMG_1878IMG_1893IMG_1869
Wednesday 27th July 2016

Port Macquarie & Travelling – day 293

Having heard that Port Macquarie is one of the best places to see whales, as it is the second most eastern point in New South Wales and after seeing humpback whales so close to the shore yesterday, we decided that a whale watching boat cruise was a must do! Having organised it through our hostel last night, we were up at 6am and walking down the streets to the harbour looking for an ATM so we could pay!! Finally found an NAB bank which gave us some cash and saw a koala sculpture inside the branch. Having seen a couple of koala sculptures at the koala hospital, we thought it was simply part of their display. However, it turns out that they are part of a Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, just like the Shepparton Moooving cow art. The fifty-one large scale koala sculptures are manufactured in fibreglass, individually designed and hand painted by local artists – had we known about them sooner, we would have definitely tried to find more of them! Down at the port, we donned some very fetching life jackets and climbed aboard our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) before heading out past the magnificent coastline and into the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean. A bit more of ‘whale chasing’ as opposed to ‘whale watching’, our captain seemed a little impatient to just sit and wait for the whales to surface (I guess you have to give the guests what they paid for!) We must have been out on the water for about 2 hours looking for whales – I’d spotted one breaching in the distance, so the skipper headed out north to try and follow it for a while. However, it didn’t come up again (or it changed direction!) so we headed back down south. We learnt that between June and October the whales begin their northern migration to to give birth in the Whitsundays, returning to the Antarctic with their young by December, to feed.

After a few curse words from the captain about the lack of activity from the whales, we spotted a mother and its calf within 10 to 20 metres from our RIB. It was beautiful and so special to see the fifth largest mammal on earth up close, with the fully grown adult weighing up to 40 tonnes each. One of the whales breached in front of the boat, which was amazing – unfortunately, the only photo we managed to capture was of the massive splash as it came back down!!! Headed back into shore and spotted dolphins swimming nearby the surfers at the beach (lucky bastards!!!! Although, the water must be freezing so I guess it is an appropriate reward for their dedication – I wouldn’t have been in that water, even in a wetsuit). Walked back up the hill to the hostel, checked out and hung around the hostel (using their wifi) until it was time to get the coach to Coffs Harbour. Managed to find myself a pair of ‘sports’ leggings in the free clothing recycle bin, which is great as I really needed a new pair of trousers that actually fit. Used the time at the hostel to catch up on blogs and clear SD cards of photos ready for the rest of our trip around Australia. The resident parrot came to check up on us, deciding that Jayne’s head was a perfect perch!Had some lunch before jumping in the van and getting dropped off at the coach station. Brian was our coach driver again and was in an equally cheerful mood as he was the other day when he drove us from Sydney. Only four of us on the bus today, so we chatted away about what we had done in Port Macquarie before setting off. (Un)fortunately, the wifi wasn’t working on the coach toady so we had to entertain ourselves the good old fashioned way – reading books, listening to music and staring out the windows. 

Took about 3 hours to get up to Coffs Harbour, where we were met by Craig who drove us to the YHA hostel (we are definitely being spoilt! I have to say, youth hostels are not as painful as I thought they would be!). Craig chatted away on the journey about what we could do and even took us to the view point so we could orientate ourselves with the town. 
Dropped us off at the hostel and we checked in. We have been placed in the staff dorm with the two cleaners, who are clearly used to being on their own… The place was a bomb site. Clearly embarrassed, the room was a (bit) tidier when we returned later on to go to bed!! Headed to the nearby supermarket to get groceries only to find it had closed 10 minutes earlier… The next nearest supermarket was 3km away so we started walking!! 
Back at the hostel, Jayne made dinner as I worked out ways to get us to Dorrigo National Park tomorrow (there is only one… Renting a car!). Booked a car with Thrifty for tomorrow and headed to bed, surprisingly tired after our early start this morning but our relatively ‘easy’ day. 

Tuesday 26th July 2016

Port Macquarie – day 292

We both woke up this morning slightly cold but delighted that we didn’t have to creep around trying not to make noise – we are the only residents in our 6-bed dorm. It was bliss! Showered and dressed before heading into the kitchen to begin our usual morning routine. Jayne makes breakfast and coffee whilst I make our picnic lunch. Decided to make the most of our full day in Port Macquarie and, with the sun shining down, we opted to do the 9km coastal walk along the Hastings River and the stunning coastline of the Pacific Ocean. 
We began at the Town Green foreshore, walking along the foreshore pathway out to the rocky breakwall, which is popular with anglers and each boulder has been painted by a different holidaymaker – either as a memorial or as a holiday memento. Before we had even gotten to the end of the foreshore pathway, we spotted bottlenose dolphins feeding in the mouth of the Hastings River estuary. Unfortunately, we were too flabbergasted by seeing them to take any photos, but it was incredible to see them so close to the shore. 

We continued along the foreshore pathway, which connects to Town Beach, the first of Port Macquarie’s series of eight beautiful beaches that are located along the route. We walked through several different beaches, pausing at various places for photos and to use the headland vantage points to look for any signs of passing whales – water spouts formed when the whales blow or splashes caused by their tail slapping the water. 

We got to Shelly Beach when we started seeing something far out to sea. Not sure if it was our imagination or our eyes playing tricks on us, we kept walking keeping an eye out on the horizon when every few minutes one of us would shout ‘there’ and point wildly into the blue. It was only as we began our ascent up some steps that the water spouts became so frequent that it couldn’t possibly be anything else – we were watching whales!!! Hurried along to Harry’s Lookout where we bumped into a guy who worked for one of the whale watching tour operators. He told us that they were migrating humpback whales passing by the coastline on their annual migration between the Antarctic and the Great Barrier Reef. Absolutely beautiful, we got to see them splashing around and even saw some spectacular leaps out of the water when they breached. A bit too far away to get any decent photos, but good enough to prove we’d seen them!! The guy gave us one of the brochures for his company… Maybe tomorrow?!? 

We sat at Harry’s Lookout for about thirty minutes, watching the whales and eating our lunch before heading on to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre where they have built a 1.3km walk through the rainforest canopy. We had a guided tour from a retired volunteer from England. He was brilliant as he showed us various plants and animals in this habitat. Since most of the rainforest resides above ground level, the boardwalk provided a perfect platform to explore it properly. We saw some different birds and evidence of them nesting in trees and we kept an eye out too for goannas and the slithering diamond python but, alas, we saw neither! We learnt that the rainforest was a rich resource for the Birpai people; they used the walking stick palm as a travel aid and made weapons from the python tree – the second hardest wood in the world. We also learnt about the hemi-epiphyte strangler fig that grows around its host tree, basically killing it. The way it wraps around the tree causes some beautiful shapes in the trunk. After our hour and a half free tour, we wrote in the visitors book, praising Jim for his humour and enthusiasm, before heading back down the coastal walk towards town. Stopped less on the way back as it was beginning to get dark (and cold!) although we did stop for a while to watch the surfers ride the waves.A quick stop off in Coles to buy lunch stuff for tomorrow and Liquorland for some wine before heading back to the hostel. Jayne cooked dinner whilst I looked into whale watching cruises for tomorrow morning before we catch our coach to Coffs Harbour. Chatted to a couple of guys over dinner who were adding cold Dolmio pasta sauce to their instant noodles… Thank goodness that Jayne loves to cook otherwise that would probably be what I would be eating…

Monday 25th July 2016

Travelling & Port Macquarie – day 291

The dorm room resembled a poorly made WWII film… 4 Germans, 2 French, 1 Irish and 1 British in a room that looked like a bomb had exploded!! Also, with one of the German ladies snoring like an aircraft, it is a fitting description!! Waking up at 6am, we tiptoed in the semi darkness as if we were trying to navigate a fully loaded mine field – avoiding the masses of strewn around clothing, shoes, shopping bags and rucksacks (what the hell happened here after we fell asleep?!?). Made it out of the room with all our limbs attached and, more importantly, without making a sound before checking out and making our way down the road to the bus station to catch our Greyhound to Port Macquarie. Had a wonderfully cheerful bus driver called ‘Brian’ who admitted himself that he had had a great nights sleep and was full of jokes as he chucked everyone’s luggage in the hold and chatted to all of the 8 passengers onboard (including us) as we waited until 7am when we were officially allowed to set off! The drive was easy – being a Sunday, there was no traffic leaving the city and before we knew it we were storming down the motorway. Clearly, the journey was going much better than Brian had anticipated as we stopped several times en route as we were ahead of schedule and couldn’t arrive at the next stop. Picked up one more passenger in Newcastle, had a thirty minute coffee break (with a cheeky sausage roll) at around 10.30am before continuing on the road.  Not sure what happened but neither my iPhone or iPad would connect to the onboard wifi so Jayne was left with the job of uploading photos to the blog and publishing while I entertained myself with music and reading my book… 

Another break in a town called Toncurry which had a gorgeous inland marine lake where people were fishing, closely watched by a nearby pelican. The water was crystal clear and even from where we stood we saw a puffer fish. I put my toes in the water – it was perfect scuba diving temperature!! Apparently it is possibly to do that there, as is spotting dolphins and whales… Hmmmmmm. Another town on our list for when we visit again. Arrived in Port Macquarie at 14.20 and had a free pick up from the YHA waiting for us. Said goodbye to Brian, who is going to be our bus driver on our journey to Coffs Harbour on Tuesday! Jumped in the van and drove through the streets chatting to the hostel lady (whose cousin is Hagen from House Rules…). Dropped our bags off at the hostel and headed straight out to the koala hospital.The Koala Hospital is not only a Hospital to treat sick and injured koalas but it is also involved in research with University Sydney, University Technology Queensland and the Australian Museum into koala diseases. It consists of a treatment room, 8 Intensive Care Units, 6 outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards, many of which have trees for koalas to learn to climb as part of the rehabilitation process. Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the Hospital annually and apart from Chlamydia, accidents involving vehicles and dog attacks are the most common cause of injuries sustained, predominantly during the breeding season. We were fortunate enough to arrive just after 3pm, in time for their Walk and Talk tour when the koalas were fed and a volunteer explained the issues that brought the koalas into their care. It was really interesting and we learnt lots (especially that koalas don’t get drunk on eucalyptus – they just don’t get enough energy from the leaves to move much!!). Walked around with the volunteer for over an hour as she pointed out the different koalas, explaining there various injuries and whether they were going to be reintroduced into the wild. There are 8 resident koalas at the moment, most of whom are blind, and a rehabilitation area that is not accessible to visitors for obvious reasons.  Having stayed for ages, made a donation and some enquiries about their overseas volunteer programme (http://www.koalahospital.org.au/volunteer/international-volunteer) before we started walking back towards the hostel via Coles to get some supplies for dinner. The rest of the evening was spent with Jayne cooking a delicious peanut curry and me sorting out laundry before snuggling up on the lower bunk bed to watch some episodes of Friends.  

Sunday 24th July 2016