195. Nowra: The Fleet Air Arm Museum

We made a special trip down the mountain to visit the RAN’s Fleet Air Arm Museum outside Nowra. Quite a way outside in fact, we were beginning to wonder if we were on the right road.  Warning: Lots of aeroplane photos ahead!


Here are some of Dave’s photos of the aircraft at the Museum.  Fairey Gannet

FAA Museum01Sea VenomFAA Museum02 Skyhawk TA-4G  Once owned by the RNZAFFAA Museum03 Skyhawk A-4GFAA Museum04 Grumman Tracker Anti-submarineFAA Museum05 Fairey FireflyFAA Museum06 Hawker Sea Fury    (One of my favourite Aeroplanes).FAA Museum07 Oh the Irony!!FAA Museum08(Nancy:) The difference between the following two aircraft carriers was amazing. HMAS Sydney III (1948-1956) served during the Korean War. HMAS Melbourne II (c.1956-1967) was the last aircraft carrier to be in service. In 1964 she was involved in a tragic collision with HMAS Voyager II near Jervis Bay, in which 82 Voyager sailors lost their lives.



There were several early aircraft instruments matching the ones I have at home, originally used by my first husband’s father, Squadron Leader Bill Hoffmann, in WW2.


After the Nowra museum we drove around the coast towards Kiama, stopping at several small beaches and headlands ……


….. and visited the Kingsford Smith memorial at Gerringong. Unfortunately the view towards New Zealand was completely obscured by trees. Seven Mile beach was however visible. It must have been a very exciting time in January 1933.



Approaching Kiama, we investigated Bass Point where a large tanker ran aground in 1943. Nearby is the remains of a ship-loading facility. There was a quarry nearby so perhaps that is what it was for.


We were heading for the famed Kiama Blowhole, but when it became obvious it would take literally hours to get close, park the Jeep and then fight our way through the tourist hordes, we gave up.

That evening we met friends for dinner at Jamberoo, then returned to Westy via a different but no less steep and twisty route up the mountain. Through Bowral yet again; the autumn colours are a delight.P1150205


194. The Southern Highlands & Illawarra

The Richmond Club caravan park had a 4-day stay limit so we were soon off again, heading for the NSW South Coast (Illawarra) via Campbelltown where I hoped to pay my respects to great-great-great-grandfather Hugh Vesty Byrne, a political convict who was freed on arrival,  in the historic cemetery next to St. John’s Roman Catholic church, one of the oldest churches in Australia. But I did not have the address of the church, and the Information Centre, when we finally found it, was closed. As we were towing a large caravan Dave was not at all inclined to drive around the town streets and we couldn’t just unhook and leave the caravan somewhere. So reluctantly we decided to press on. I had been to the cemetery in 2006 on the 200th anniversary of Hugh Vesty Byrne’s arrival in Australia, so it was not a huge disappointment to have to miss a second visit.

We had very foolishly neglected to book well ahead, it being the Thursday before Good Friday. The traffic on the Hume Highway was incredible, not helped by an accident some way ahead, four lanes inching along a metre or so a minute in a 110 km/hr zone.


We soon discovered via several helpful Apps that all the camping grounds around Kiama were fully booked up, and even many well away from the coast, eg at Berry. There was one which was near the highway but was not answering the phone; hopefully we left the congested highway and went there only to discover the campsite was closed. So on again as far as Mittagong where there WAS a campsite available.

As a footnote, when we arrived I could not find my glasses. After a quick search of jeep and caravan it was concluded that they had fallen out when we were inspecting the closed campground  earlier and trying to find another place … so we drove the 60 or so km back, did a thorough search of the roadside, found not a thing, so back to Mittagong and there were the glasses coyly hiding on the kitchen bench behind a curtain, where we had both searched previously. Just as well too as it seemed I had left my spare pair of glasses beind in NZ.  At least we did not have to drive quite as far back as we did when Dave dropped the caravan keys north of Mackay and we had to retrace our steps from near Eungella.

Spotted somewhere – “…plant a shade tree and then do something about it…” Errr – water it?


Once settled in camp, we began to explore the Southern Highlands area. Autumn colours were everywhere. This is an old church near Berrima. The little township was full to bursting with tourists so we did not linger that day but visited several days later.


We did however inspect Harpers Mansion, high on the hill overlooking Berrima and at first sight not particularly imposing. “The circa 1835 house is a fine example of a colonial Georgian residence and is furnished in period style”. Once derelict, it has been lovingly restored by the National Trust and was full of interesting things. What delighted me was that every room had a written description of all the room’s contents and their history, the sort of stuff that guides reel off effortlessly but which is usually quite lost on me. For example, the four-poster bed may have been comfortable with its multitude of mattresses, but was also probably full of fleas; a thinner mattress may have actually been more desirable.


Outside was a maze full of screaming children… and us! Eventually we managed to escape. There was also an extensive garden with many very old roses including several examples of the lovely white climber ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, first exhibited in 1893. Being late autumn of course the roses were well past their best. At the time the National Trust took over the house and grounds, the ‘garden’ was a paddock; the Trust employed a landscape gardener who lived in the house with his family for several years and gradually created the lovely garden there today. Lucky family.


We had a quick look at the famed Berrima courthouse and gaol but did not linger. I was hoping to see inside the courthouse but it has been taken over by a sort of continuous Son et Lumiere-style performance with, of course, an inflated entrance fee.


Another day we drove down the mountain range via the Kangaroo Valley to Nowra, going over the Hampden Bridge on the way. Almost identical to the bridge at Ophir in NZ. “Hampden Bridge is not only a remarkable example of Victoria engineering, but is also a unique demonstration to create an architecturally romanticised structure in a beautiful remote rural location.”  It was an important factor for the district’s development – “… Cobb & Co. coaches ran frequently, mail deliveries were easier, an Annual Show was organised…”  “…. It is still considered a vital link to facilitate the continued viability of the entire valley.”


Dave had long wanted to see the Naval Fleet Air Arm Museum outside Nowra. It did not disappoint, although the news that the cafe had closed and only vending machines were available was not welcome, and “…would we like to sign this petition asking for the cafe to be reopened…?“ We would and did.

Dave wants to add some photos so …… next blog!

193. Wiseman’s Ferry

On a fine early Autumn day we set off from Richmond, heading north to Wiseman’s Ferry, an area with a rich convict and colonial heritage. It dates back to the very early days of European settlement in the Sydney area and is about 75 km from the city. The road wound along the top of a plateau then started to descend steeply. Here’s our first view of the Hawkesbury River – the ferry is just out of sight.



The Convict Trail – a series of convict-hewn stones – commemorates the early crossing, at one time the only means of access northwards to the Hunter Valley.P1140985P1140982P1140987P1140986

There are actually two ferries. We took the slightly more southerly one at the confluence with the Macdonald River.  Houseboats are a familiar sight on the rivers.


About 16 km northwards of the ferry and alongside the Macdonald River was our lunchtime destination – the Settlers’ Arms Inn at St. Albans, built in 1836. Amazingly, the great flood of 1889 rose to the verandah eaves of the inn! It was once a stopover for Cobb & Co. coaches travelling between Newcastle and Sydney.


The food was awesome. Dave’s huge pie with mash and peas oozed gravy and huge chunks of meat. My lamb shank and beans soup with crusty bread may not have looked so attractive but the flavour was delicious. I’d go back for more any time.


Replete, we headed back towards the ferry but on the opposite side of the Macdonald River, along what was once the convict-built Old Great North Road.  An old graveyard beckoned ….


Many of the graves had modern bronze plaques attached. There was also a garden seat with a moving message. Imagine discovering your family at age 91.



We continued along the narrow road to the ferry:


On the way back to Richmond we stopped off at Ebenezer to admire the oldest church in Australia, erected in 1809.


To my surprise one of the settler families was named Johnston (my maiden name). But they were not my family, alas. Nor Dave’s. We are both Johnstons but unrelated.


Convict-hewn stoneswere everywhere.


Note the shaped corner stone.



Nearby is an old schoolhouse. This little plaque shows the flood height in 1867. The river is far off down a steep bank.


Why was that pile of stones fenced off? We found out …


Next morning we nearly missed seeing a balloon take off from a nearby field.


We left Richmond, heading for Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands. A whole new area to explore, but one that was once very familiar to me in my childhood.


192. The Blue Mountains

The camp at Richmond, in the grounds of the Richmond Club, proved an ideal base from which to explore the Blue Mountains.

Our first exploration took us through Kurrajong Heights with an old church and graveyard right beside the highway. Not my best photo, shot from a moving car. We intended to visit Kurrajong Village itself at a later date.


We drove along Bell’s Line of Road, said to be the most scenic route into the mountains, climbing higher and higher to Bilpin where the guide books assured us there would be a multitude of roadside stalls. But it was late in the season and only apples were still available. This area supplied all the food to early Sydney.


During the fruit growing season we’ve been told you can download an App called the Farm Gate Trail to help discover the best local produce.  A pity we did not pick a better time to visit!

Then on to the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens at Mt. Tomah. There was a weaving display there which I wanted to see.


Young waratahs, not yet fully formed.


Beautiful woven baskets using a variety of natural materials. Many years ago I did a weekend course in weaving and have never forgotten it.


The view from the main information Centre was breathtaking. Millions of years ago the valley would have been an extensive sandstone plateau, then violent volcanic eruptions capped the hills with lava which hardened into basalt. Over time rivers then cut ever deeper gorges and canyons.


The Information Centre was indeed informative: The blue haze that envelopes the mountains comes from oil vapours rising from the leaves of eucalypts below. There are more than 700 species of eucalypt in Australia.


The Wollombi Pine was featured. (I first saw a single specimen some years ago in Armidale, where I was informed of its unique history):


In the gardens was an unusual equatorial sundial, it reflects the basalt columns characteristic of the mountains, and was also inspired by the magnolia flower which has many features of the earliest flowering plants. P1140907

A little further on we took a side track….P1140910P1140912P1140915P1140918P1140919P1140920P1140921

Lunch time! So we stopped at this little cafe in Mt. Victoria, I did not catch the name but the food was superb.


Mt. Victoria was the turning point for our Blue Mountains exploration. Autumn colours were just starting. P1140930

Govett’s leap beckoned…..  it’s actually a waterfall, not a place where someone called Govett jumped out into space.P1140931P1140933P1140935P1140940

We spotted this insane tourist trying to attract attention; I think she was with the people on the left, we were studiously ignoring her:P1140947

Still high up in the Blue Mountains but heading downhill very gradually, we came to fabled Katoomba, absolutely awash with tourists. When I was very young we used to take the train up to Katoomba for a holiday. I loved the place. The very air was different from that in coastal Sydney, so much fresher, brisker and definitely colder (!).


Fighting our way through hordes of tourists, after having parked the Jeep ($4 for an hour) we finally reached the Three Sisters. The light was changing all the time.


There are various legends but basically the three sisters were belonged to an aboriginal tribe which was at war with another tribe, and the witchdoctor changed them into pillars to protect them during the war, intending to return and change them back … but he was killed so the three sisters have remained imprisoned ever since, as nobody can un-cast the spell.SS

The tourists had eyes for nothing but the valley and the Sisters, but we soon spotted something else, lording it over the whole valley: a Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica. At least that’s what I think it is.


P1140963P1140964P1140966P1140969With dusk falling we headed back to Richmond down the fast highway.

191. Lake Macquarie & Some Art

The Morisset Showgrounds proved an ideal location from which to explore the Lake Macquarie area. One day we headed north round the Lake to the regional Art Gallery where there was an amazing display by final year Art students called “First Class 16”  – no photos allowed alas – certainly I was never taught those sort of techniques at school.

Then we repaired to the nearby Cafe for a delicious if slightly pricey lunch. Afterwards we explored the grounds – the Art Gallery is in a beautiful setting beside the lake with a number of large garden sculptures. A mob of cockies contributed.  The nearby heritage-listed home was not open.


Still not quite sated with Art, we then paid a visit to Sir William Dobell’s home at Wangi Wangi.


He won the Archibald Prize three times, the first time with a portrait of Joshua Smith, a fellow artist, which some people declared was not a portrait but a caricature. A lawsuit followed; Dobell kept his prize. He also painted the wonderful portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore which I included in an earlier blog when we are at Silverton near Broken Hill. His studio was at the top of the house up some very rickety stairs, and it was wonderful. The smells immediately evoked my granddad’s studio with all his painting paraphernalia. He had tubes of oil paints everywhere, but in Dobell’s studio someone has tidied up maybe a wee bit too much! (That’s a reproduction of the Joshua Smith portrait on the easel).


My artist granddad sometimes did “blueprints”, which I had completely forgotten about until I saw this:


I was delighted to see a long discussion about Dobell’s portrait of Margaret Olley. My school Art teacher Mrs Abbott all those years ago was always telling me to look for harmonious curves in art. Dobell’s work was often used to illustrate this. Mrs Abbott was magnificent, she made sure I understood everything she said by giving me numerous notes often written on odd scraps of paper.  How I wish I had kept them.



Another view of the Lake at Wangi Wangi:P1140856

Lastly we visited the site of a WW2 Flying Boat base at Rathmines, where 2,000 airmen  and 1,000 WAAF were housed during WW2.  Over 200 Catalina crews were trained here.



“The role played by Catalina aircraft and crews has received very little public recognition because of the need to maintain secrecy….”

The RAAF Catalina Memorial is impressive. It overlooks recently-named Catalina Bay , although remains of the old ramps and hard standing are around the headland in another bay. (I can’t believe I omitted to take photos there). There are plaques for every airman, whether he/she perished during the war or long after. There were some for people over 90 years old.



This was not the first Catalina memorial we have visited in Australia. There is one in Bowen Queensland, and another in Karumba up in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Back to camp and another lovely sunset. I have been wondering why the nearby trotting track has not been used – probably too wet – but next morning at last there were two horses doing their stuff.


On our last day in the area we caught up with Vic and Anna who we met in a camp at Cloncurry last year. We shared a rather wet experience at the Cloncurry Stockman’s Challenge and some wonderful pizza made by Anna in an old fireplace in the Cloncurry campground, then went our separate ways.  We had a lovely catch-up. They are going to head north again soon but we are going home so I can write a couple of books. That is now the fixed plan according to everyone else!

190. Maitland to Morisset

Reminiscence mode on: I was hoping to catch up with an old friend who lives in Newcastle. We shared many experiences when campaigning for increased television captioning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first time I saw captioning was in Bowen in Northern Queensland (NQ) in 1985-6, it had started the previous year in capital cities. I must have bought the first television with teletext in NQ and then had to wait impatiently for at least six months until the service was extended past Brisbane. At first there was very little available; the husband of one friend was disgusted to learn I wanted to rush home to watch “East Enders”, the only other thing captioned in NQ at the time apart from the late night News!!  When I moved to Brisbane I joined a group campaigning for more captioning particularly on the 7 o’clock news, and eventually ended up as Chair of the ‘National Working Party on Captioning’ (NWPC) for 2 years. Those were the days when there was plenty of money around and the Australian Caption Centre flew state representatives down to Sydney several times a year – which I appreciated as it meant I could also visit my father and aunt in their nursing homes a little more frequently.

Captioning is not subtitling, strictly speaking: the former is a visual representation of the soundtrack, (speech plus noises like music, people coughing, tapping sounds, footsteps), while the latter is translation – but the terms are commonly used interchangeably.  The very first captioned movie shown on Australian TV was “Ghost”, on Channel 9, sponsored by Toyota. At least one Deaf person was so happy he went out and bought a brand new Toyota!  The funeral of the Princess of Wales was live-captioned, a marathon effort by a few very dedicated former stenographers. Unfortunately real time captioning like that is STILL a rarity in NZ.  (Reminiscence mode off).

We had to wait a few days until Karen was free so spent the time exploring. The notorious old Maitland Gaol received a quick visit from the outside only.


Then on to the historical town of Morpeth with it’s cobbled footpaths, beautiful old sandstone buildings and enticing little boutiques – it must be where all the fashionable Maitland people go to buy their classy clothing like alpaca coats. Morpeth dates back to 1821 when it formed part of a land grant given to Lt. E C Close by Governor Brisbane. “Influenced by its desirable location on the Hunter river and the realisation of the area’s immense potential, Morpeth evolved from a rugged bush base to a frontier town and heavily frequented river port by the 1830s.”  There were once 18 inns in the main street. Morpeth helped lay the foundations for the entire Hunter Valley.



Nowadays the Hunter is a muddy little river, -swollen and discoloured at the time we were there due to recent rain. I could not get any good photos due to roadworks closing off all the approaches to the river and bridge.


Maitland proved a good base, not too far from Newcastle and not too far from the Hunter Valley wineries. We decided to visit one for lunch and set off with high expectations and NO map of the wineries area, so initially headed in the wrong direction. Beautiful green hills and valleys and little bridges were everywhere. But no vineyards.


Finally discovering a huge road sign with multiple wineries we headed down a dirt road but after many km could only find one with an open gateway – and a closed cellar bar and restaurant. Retracing our steps we went further into wine country but everything seemed deserted. It was a Thursday …. in Blenheim all the wineries would be busy. Here it was deserted. Perhaps at the weekends? – but we didn’t hang around to find out. The vines look quite different to NZ ones, more scraggly and untidy, on long spindly crooked legs. When we left Blenheim in early April the vines were just starting to turn autumn colours; here they are not yet so advanced, although harvesting has obviously ended.



We did much better the next day, firstly meeting with Karen – a wonderful catching-up morning which went by all too quickly.

Karen suggested we go for a drive ‘along the foreshore’ of Newcastle, so we did. The area leading to the eastern breakwater has become fashionable with lots of apartments and that means lots of little restaurants. We found one at 33 Hunter St. called simply ‘Moor’ and decorated with beautiful old Arabian tiles, where we  had a memorable lunch. Me with three large perfect fallafel with oozy cheesey interiors, green tahini sauce and Arabian salad; Dave with something less outstanding but equally delicious. A pity my photo is a little out of focus.


Then on to the rather long breakwater, no family art there as at Port Macquarie but a series of bas relief sculptures commissioned for the Bicentennary.





Nearing the end…


The breakwater was constructed from several different materials including cement-filled sacks, apparently


Rock sculpture on one of the natural rocks.P1140757



We did find this little painting on the seaward side of a large rock at the far end of the breakwater – I wonder what it is doing there and what it symbolises.


Two lone surfers braved the waves close to the lighthouse.


P1140744P1140755 About that time we discovered a crack in the windscreen, it starts right down at the bottom. As it has been raining on and off every day for ages, the first windscreen repairer we approached wouldn’t even look at it, said it had to dry out for at least 24 hrs before he could attempt anything. We decided to wait till we were at our next destination – somewhere around Lake Macquarie. Not to be confused with Port Macquarie which is some 100 km north. Morisset Showground sounded suitable and not likely to be as high priced or crowded as the lakeside commercial camps, particularly with Easter coming up soon.

As it turned out, after we’d carefully covered the windshield area with a tarpaulin one night in case there was any more rain after a lovely fine day, a repairer said it was impossible to repair as the crack started right down at the bottom. He did however drill a tiny hole which will hopefully stop the crack spreading any further. We have already used up the Jeep’s glass insurance for the year so hope we will not need to replace it just yet.

Lake Macquarie contains more water than Sydney Harbour, but does not take nearly as long to drive right around. Which we did – twice! The first windscreen repairer was in Swansea on the seaward side of the Lake, so we took the opportunity to visit Cave’s Beach and then Catherine Hill Bay, both just south of Swansea.  The caves are Cave’s Beach are only accessible at low tide; lo and behold it was right on low tide when we arrived. The rock formations were interesting, alternate layers of very hard conglomerate and soft sandstone. It was easy to see how the caves were formed.




Catherine Hill Bay is a historical mining village, of which very little remains now but an old pier. I think there were some mine remains further up the hillside but we did not go that way. The beach was practically deserted but surf lifesavers were still in attendance (their clubhouse was up on the cliffside). The main road through the township is lined with beautiful little miners’ cottages; we shot past them before I thought to take some photos.


More about the Lakes area in the next blog.

189. Port Macquarie

We arrived in the rain and left in the rain but in between there was one half day of brilliant weather – the morning we scattered my brother’s ashes off the breakwater, in company with some of his friends.

We checked out the breakwater the evening before. The local council encourages people to paint the rocks, with the result that many are covered with either remembrance notices, or records of family visits, sometimes over multiple years. The wind blew strongly and only a few surfers were out.


That evening we discovered a super little restaurant right next to the camp. Gleefully I ordered my favourite prawns (in this case panko-crumbed, served on a slate plate with mild wasabi-flavoured mayo) … and then my favourite dessert, affogato. For once it was served correctly (at least according to the Italian lady who first served me affogato, in a tiny northern NZ town of all places) – a scoop of ice cream, a demitasse of strong coffee, and a liqueur. Bliss.


We went back again two days later. This time Dave ordered the prawns and I had something else. Not nearly as memorable. Why is it that the first time you try something new or go somewhere new, the second time is often not as good.

Next morning, after the ashes-scattering, six of us repaired to the local Bowling Club for a few hours.  We chose a quiet table in a far section but before long were surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of bowlers from all over Australia, there for a tournament. Eventually they departed for the links and peace reigned again!!




We visited the Port Macquarie Maritime Museum, housed in the old Pilot Station, a little gem with a lovely knowledgeable guide. I think I impressed him by correctly identifying a bo’sun’s whistle which had only recently been put on display and was yet to be labelled. (But when I put this photo on Facebook, immediately several knowledgeable friends piped up … (!)


There were rooms devoted to different aspects of maritime life including local shipwrecks (many!) and decorated with signal flags …..  P1140581


… early oyster farming (they used full diving gear similar to that used for pearl diving in WA) ….



… the usual early artefacts – Matthew Flinders called in here of course (no, not the museum) …


… a huge old binnacle complete with small magnets ….



… photo of a railways ferry ….


… the usual outdoors display …. and rope knotting display….


P1140594and some wonderful models of old sailing ships.  P1140587P1140590

A box sextant excited my curiosity, it’s very different to an ordinary sextant.P1140595

Port Macquarie does not have a big banana, big tomato, big salmon etc – it has big koalas. Not that big but certainly more than double life size, all the same basic model but painted in all sorts of different themes. These are three of the more intricate, the last one in the grounds of the old Court House; we didn’t manage to see them all. Some were merely in football club colours, McDonald’s, etc. I think there are 33 in all.




It was blowing hard again when we drove past Nobby’s Head but then stopped at Flynn’s Beach ….


P1140615….. and then visited Tacking Point, named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. The lighthouse remains but not the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.



There were wonderful views south along Lighthouse Beach.


A sign told of numerous wrecks in the vicinity. “Many fatal shipwrecks have been recorded along the northern NSW coast since records began before 1800, and more than 25 of those are off the coast of Port Macquarie alone. ….  Following outcry a the appalling loss of life at seas, the NSW Marine Board issued a directive to “… illuminate the coastline like a street with lamps”.”

Before leaving Port Macquarie we made a last trip to the breakwater. This time the sea was quieter and the clouds were clearing.  Also to Flynn’s Beach, this time it was  low tide.




P1140680We had several chats with my brother’s friends including his legal Guardian who was appointed five years ago, and as a result I have been able to piece together a few more parts of my brother’s life. We were very different people and did not see each other for long stretches, particularly as we lived far apart. I was glad I was able to see him last year when we dashed over to the coast from Broken Hill before heading north for the Queensland outback.

188. Heading South – the Bowen Boaties and other friends

It was still raining but not so heavily when we left Tamborine Mountain, going straight to the M1 as our proposed route via Murwillumbah was cut off by flooding. We spent a night at pricey Brunswick Heads, right on the river…..


….. before shifting to Mullumbimby where we stayed wetly on a very muddy field for the next few days. I love that part of the NSW countryside, all hills and dales and green grass (and doubtless other types of grass), hippy country with charming little townships full of cafes and art and dress shops.

Mullumbimby itself is a popular haunt of weirdly dressed and dreadlocked inhabitants, and the “Information Centre” was a single stand inside the newsagents. Mysterious odours wafted from certain shops. Our tour of exploration was cut short by – you guessed it – more rain. We did manage one evening trip along narrow hinterland lanes to meet one of the babies I did knitting for during our earlier touring.

We made a day trip to Bangalow so I could see an osteopath about my recalcitrant neck; a pinched neck nerve or two occasionally makes life miserable.  Bangalow has streets lined with vibrant purple ‘something’ trees, as well as a lovely antique shop where it was difficult not to fall in love with all the old restored furniture. The whole area is a colonial furniture collector’s paradise.


By then the weather had eased a little and I had a wonderful time catching up with various friends from the days when my first husband Geoff and I ran the Bowen slipway.

We lived on board our boat “Cornelius” on which my daughter spent her first five years. Geoff acted as harbour master for the numerous boaties and fishermen who came and went in the popular harbour in the late 1970s, so we were never short of new people to meet. I acquired a few more old photos …..





It was so wonderful to see them all and visit their homes which I had not seen for many years, particularly ‘Serendipity’ deep in the bush with its abundant wildlife.



P1140374P1140380One last evening we shared a meal with Pete and Dee sitting in the near-empty carpark at nearby New Italy, it being far too hot and humid to be in the caravan, especially since I had the bright idea to make a salmon quiche in the oven! (We nearly didn’t have it anyway as the oven went out  at an early stage, fortunately discovered in time).


The Pacific Highway has certainly become wider since I used to beetle up and down it in my little VW in the 60s.  But the narrow opening bridges are still there.


An important side trip was made to Evans Head, near which my Great-Uncle George lost his life at sea when the SS “Cahors” ran aground on Evans Reef in 1885. The reef cannot be seen from the shore, but here are views looking in the general direction, plus views of the modern-day breakwater.  George’s story is told in detail at https://nancyvada.me/sailing/george-johnston-sailor-boy



P1140398A shop spotted in Evans Head:


On to another beautiful camp at Yamba, with a  small pool where I did morning laps, something I sorely miss in NZ…

P1140477 … and another long-time friend to meet and hug and swap reminiscences with. Dave has met most of my friends over the years so was far from feeling  left out.  Kay and Peter’s home is right on the river, oriented just right to catch the sunsets.


P1140504P1140505Like Evans Head, Yamba has a huge breakwater where the enormous Clarence River enters the sea. Pilot’s Head furnished wonderful views.



Here’s the vista looking the other way into the extensive estuary. Aboriginal art  gives some idea of the size.P1140440

P1140471A lasting memorial (with a little camellia tree) overlooks the breakwater. It was obviously somebody’s favourite spot.

P1140436The lighthouse….P1140446

And the former pilot’s house, now restored and the home of the local radio station.


P1140453Two local inhabitants. The second one has lost part of his/her tail.



P1140500The views from beside and on the Yamba breakwater. Decorating the rocks seems to have become the in-thing. P1140473




The Yamba Historical Museum is well worth a visit, with lots of well-presented exhibits. We learnt some more about the lighthouses we visited the other day…….


….. and Dave also chatted with one of the researchers who had written about the “Cahors”, and an exchange of information resulted. It has been some time since I first researched my Great Uncle George, and lots of new information has come to light via on-line old newspapers.


Spooky Beach (yes that’s it’s name) just south of the breakwater. The rock pools were formed after quarrying to build a railway -there’s a piece of railway line sticking out in the bottom photo.


Yamba Prawns are justly famous. Dinner one night was simply prawns, home-made seafood sauce, fresh bread rolls and some NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  We should be drinking Aussie wines and we try to do so but all too often they are priced well out of our budget. We’ve heard the Aussie market is flooded with NZ wines and the growers are angry, yet in NZ some growers are importing Aussie wine and bottling it under their label!!

Cyclone Debbie caught up with us the evening before we were to leave Yamba. We made a rain-sodden dash 250 km or so south to Port Macquarie without mishap and are now in a small camp high on the cliffs. My brother’s ashes-scattering ceremony is tomorrow.

187. Back in Australia

We’re on the road again. The last few weeks have been busy and as usual I am way behind with this Blog. I started writing this on top of Tamborine Mountain south of Brisbane, not too far from the state border. It was pouring rain, just like on our last visit there about 5 months ago. It was the first time it’d rained there since then, so of course when we went to the Information Centre and mentioned that, they wanted to keep us here. I don’t mind the rain, it cools things down beautifully. So long as it doesn’t manage to find a way through the overhead ventilator and onto our bed… (which of course it did). 


Even the scrub turkeys were looking a little bedraggled. Most birds were sheltering from the rain but this hopeful kookaburra hung around.



It was wonderful to catch up with my dear friends Ian and Leonie and Bobbie, my “Brisbane family”, in their beautiful homes with the rainforest right in their backyards.

But back to the beginning ….. We were very fortunate to find the perfect foster family for Penny just before we left Christchurch, and have received various encouraging messages and some photos since then. The latest was: “She is very very good she loves my (dog) grooming clients too – new visitors with different news!!”

We went straight to Nic and Mick’s on arrival in Queensland, well sort of straight, via the efficient overhead monorail from the airport then a train to Caboolture where we were met. Our very grand Jeep Gand Cherokee which had been languishing under cover since last October was fine, the battery had been kept charged by a small solar panel. 

The dogs gave us the usual lovely welcome and the cats were sightly less frosty than before, so we were soon all set to do some serious house and animal sitting for five days while Nic and Mick took off for some much-needed R&R and a birthday celebration.



House sitting Nics02


The two calves Brie and Cracker only needed feeding from a bottle once a day and only three of the ten or so horses needed supplementary feeding, the rest were off in the far paddocks with the cattle.

House sitting Nics01


There were the usual beautiful sunsets.


Dave had fun trying to mow the “lawn” early one morning before it got too hot …..


When the fan belt of the ride-on mower broke we drove to nearby Esk for a replacement only to find the last one had been sold about an hour earlier. We consoled ourselves with lunch at “Nash” then drove to Toowoomba.


I felt that the long drive justified spending more than 5 minutes getting a new fan belt, so bought some knitting wool and a pattern and also a new Western-style canvas hat. I was surprised that the local Lincraft was so relatively poorly stocked compared to NZ. We all know the art of knitting has declined but is having a resurgence in NZ; obviously not in Australia though. Well it is a bit hotter here. Also HUMID.

We collected the caravan in Caloundra without mishap, it had been well stored and smelled good, even if the cover was a bit torn. Bad weather, they said. The storage people (who had supplied the cover) tried to get us a replacement from the manufacturer, but no go. Still, courtesy, efficiency – much appreciated.



Grandy was taken down to Banyo near Brisbane airport for repairs to the rear bumper bar, which someone had run into just before we left Aust. last October. Our insurance company insisted we use their recommended place in Banyo and I was stunned at the efficiency of the whole operation. Arrive at the appointed time, drive into one of two reception bays, welcomed by a smiling lady and in no time an assessor was looking at the car. 2-3 days, he said. They paid for a taxi to the airport to pick up a hired car, we drove back to Toogoolawah, then the very next day they phoned to say it was ready. Back to hand in the hired car, free taxi to the repair shop, here are your keys, sign here ….


By then I was craving some Queensland prawns so after a hunt we found Morgan’s at Scarborough (not Redcliffe as I had thought) where many years back we would go to order a huge Christmas seafood feast; and enjoyed some prawns in their outdoor area, surrounded by the local birds.


We left Toogoolawah with the usual regrets, it is a very lovely piece of country; fortunately they’ve had some rain since our last visit. Some local roos were lining the drive to wave us off.




First stop en route to Ipswich was Lake Wivenhoe, source of Brisbane’s water supply.

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We headed for the Ipswich Showground where we camped for a few days while we caught up with friends and Grandy acquired a new set of tyres. The Showground actually had a welcome kit – first time we’ve received one. There was even a biro. The facilities were excellent. There was a huge old tree nearby, actually only the remnant of a larger one, a stump can just be seen on the left.


Then off again heading for Tamborine Mountain. And the aforesaid rain.

186. Rarangi again

We had such a lovely time homesitting at Rarangi Beach near Blenheim in a glorious beach house with two friendly dogs and some chatty neighbours. The same place we homesat over two years ago. it was almost like coming home.




The dogs Nunny (Valhund) and Dudley (Standard Schnauzer) obviously remembered us and Penny too so the transition was very smooth. We all enjoyed the daily beach walks. 

img_5410img_5427img_5428img_5488img_5486Blenheim is always interesting, the rows and rows and ROWS of grapevines occasionally become monotonous but the colours are always changing with the seasons. This time it was late summer, almost everything was still bright green, the variety of ‘haircuts’ was interesting, and the bridal veils for keeping birds off the ripening grapes were only just being brought out – we saw huge rolls sitting by the side of the road waiting to be placed.

We had lots of visitors including Dave’s sister, so we had an excuse for several vineyard lunches, the only problem being which one to choose. Brancott Estate was first, because of its location, with sweeping views of acres of vineyards. The grapes were just starting to ripen.




Brancott has a small falcon breeding facility, their two birds are unable to fly due to injuries but there’s nothing to stop them doing other things and eventually their progeny will help protect the vineyard from avian grape robbers.


Another day, the weather not being so good we decided to forego a long drive towards Kaikoura and the Peter Yealands vineyard, instead opting for one of our favourites, St. Clair, where the huge Tastes of Marlborough platter is always excellent. Huge green-lipped mussels, local olive oil, artisan bread …. and so many other delicacies.

The new people next door wanted a couple of ancient pine trees felled, they cast too much shadow over their new Natives garden. The first few came down Ok but the last one needed prolonged discussion. Our house owners were expecting their woodshed to be a fatality but the tree came down perfectly.




I have long wanted to experience the Marlborough Sounds mail run to various outlying settlements, and at long last we managed to fit one in, albeit only a half-day run in a fast hydrofoil rather than an all-day in a small launch. Penny was allowed along and thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly as we stayed on the top deck and she could lord it over the dogs which occasionally ‘met’ the mail boat, probably eager for the dog biscuits which the helmsman/postie kept handy.





Penny was not allowed ashore at Ship Cove which Captain Cook visited several times, the only place where we humans were allowed ashore.



We took Dave’s niece Viv for a long drive to Cape Campbell, north of Kaikoura. There is a caravan/motorhome camp nearby at Marfells Beach, which we inspected for signs of the recent earthquake damage (nothing much obvious) ……


…… and then continued to Ward Beach where the seabed has very obviously been raised several metres. The road to Kaikoura was blocked a little further along. No fishing is permitted along quite a long stretch of the coastline, until marine life recovers.



All too soon it was time to pack up yet again, the sunset that last evening was softly beautiful.  The dog owners tell me that Nunny kept on checking our bedroom for me each morning; he was in the habit of jumping on the bed if I was not up by what he considered a suitable time!



We’d heard our geocache at Blackball was full of water again and needed a new container, so we headed that way, stopping for coffee at our favourite little roadside wheelie cafe in the Wairau Valley and then for diesel and some purchases at a small farmers’ market in Murchison. The road is beginning to show obvious signs of the great increase in traffic since the Kaikoura quake. We spent the next two nights in the Ahaura Domain near Blackball, a pleasant place with free showers at $5/night. A trip to Greymouth for a new container, then up to Blackball. It being around lunchtime when we arrived of course we had lunch at the Hilton! (For non-Kiwis, this old pub was grandly renamed the Blackball Hilton some years ago, then when the Hilton Hotel chain heard about it and threatened to sue, the name was changed to “Formerly the Blackball Hilton” which it retains to this day.)


And so back to Christchurch via a less frequented road which took us around Lake Brunner (not actually sighted), Arthur’s Pass (nobody told us a new straight road is being constructed there, Dave is not happy, he likes the curvy bits!), the beautiful road beside  the Waimak, a stop for a cuppa, excellent pies from the Sheffield Pie Shop on the way, and  so to our usual haunt in the chestnut orchard. We have just two days to go as I write this, before returning to Australia for three more months. We have found an excellent dogsitter for Penny, she should be happy there in the company of two other small dogs and two cats.