Hi everyone it’s Andy again. This next leg of the journey turned out to be one of our big highlights of our time in Australia. Of course we’d just found out the sad news that Emma’s Nana Jean was about to pass away, on hearing this we decided we’d put in some effort and make the long journey from Newcastle down to Melbourne. Newcastle is an hour or two north of Sydney, where we were due to return our van in 7 days time. We’d considered just hanging around Sydney for that week. Jean would have no doubt reminded us that we only live once and that we should make the most of the time we’re given, so that’s what we intended to do in her honour, so to Melbourne we went.
As we said goodbye to our friend Lisa in Newcastle, we parked up beside the sea with the wind out in force again. Emma called her Mum, Yvonne, and found out the sad news that Nana Jean had passed away peacefully in her sleep. It was really tough for Emma being away from home when this happened, we knew Yvonne had a lot to deal with at that time along with losing her Mum and Emma would have liked to have been there for her. Still, we knew Nana Jean wouldn’t have been too happy with us had we flown home!
As we sat taking in the news, a group of hang gliders leapt from the hillside next to us sweeping out over a main road, before cruising through the strong currents of air next to the sea, quite a sight. We started up our trusty old flowery van and began the epic two day drive into Melbourne.
You may remember us talking about our buddy Ron Jackson who we’d met on a minibus on the way to Vang Vieng in Laos? Well he lives in Melbourne and had extended an invitation to us to come and stay with him. Not giving him very much notice, sorry Ron, I let him know we were coming and luckily for us he was home on those dates.
It took us two pretty solid days of driving to reach Melbourne through some stunning scenery in scorching heat. We noticed lots more grassland and sure enough Emma’s hay fever appeared in full force, so the poor lass was sneezing constantly and with red puffy eyes. On the final leg of the journey we turned off the Hume highway at Seymour and visited the info centre. We made the little old lady who was a volunteer there laugh with everything we mispronounced. I referred to the town Yea as “yeah”, I should have said it as “yay” it turned out. I then amused her with some other places we’d been getting completely wrong too. Numbucca Heads is not like the aniseed tasting spirit, but “nambucka”. Lake Macquarie is not “mackary” but “mac-quarie”, funny that. Finally, Ballina is not “bal-een-a” but “bal-in-a”. Well she was amused anyway. Oh yeah, it’s worth mentioning now that we’d camped the previous night in a little town called Bowna, that made me laugh quite a lot, though I’m sure I’m just not saying it properly 😉 Bowna!
This last part of the drive was really scenic through some lovely rainforest. We were now seeing Wombat warning signs beside the road and so were looking everywhere to try to see one. We finally did see one, but he looked like someone had shoved a bike pump up his arse as he fermented by the roadside!
Eventually we arrived in Lilydale in the Yarra Valley. A lovely spot full of vineyards and surrounded by distant hills, just like the label on a good bottle of wine. We parked up outside Ron’s smart house felling a bit cheeky about leaving our hideous van out the front, I think his neighbours probably thought it had been dumped! It was a great moment when Ron opened his door, we’d not seen him for 4 months, back in rainy old Phu Quoc, Vietnam to be precise. He had a good old laugh at the monstrosity we’d parked outside his house and then we sat in his garden sipping a bottle of Tasmanian James Boag’s beer and caught up on what had been going on, quite a lot actually!
Ron had very kindly offered us a real, proper bed. One of those with a soft mattress and no fungus-covered roof a foot above your face. We were pretty chuffed about that, we’d be getting a rest from the awkward and uncomfortable bed in the van, our backs would definitely thanks us. We unpacked our bags, something we hadn’t done in a while and made ourselves very at home.
That night we got to meet Ron’s second son David, who of course with a Dad like Ron could only ever be a really nice guy. The four of us went out to the local golf course and ate a huge roast lamb dinner there, something again that we’d not enjoyed in a while 🙂 It was great to be with friends again after so long travelling around just the two of us. Of course I love my wife’s company but the conversation between us isn’t exactly riveting after 2 months together in the same van 😉
The next day, Ron very kindly dropped us off at the local train station and we headed into Melbourne city centre. As we were approaching Flinders Street station we passed the impressive Melbourne cricket ground and soon after found ourselves on Flinders Street itself taking in our first views of this lovely city. As we sat in Federation square, warming ourselves up with a coffee (the spring air was pretty icy despite the sunshine), the Japanese tourist next to us was taking sneaky perv shots of a girl’s thong that was hanging out the back of her jeans (g-string for any Aussies reading), what a dirtbag. Bowna! I managed to take a picture… of the guy… taking a picture… of the girl’s knickers, so I must be just as guilty :0 But then you’ll all look at the photo in the gallery below, so the lot of you are just as filthy, you disgust me!
After the sculptures and contemporary architecture of the square, we stopped by the beautiful St Paul’s cathedral where Em lit a candle in remembrance of her lovely Nan. It was a beautiful spot to spend some quiet and thoughtful minutes, in stark contrast to the busy city outside. We then called in at Cook’s cottage in Fitzroy gardens where some nutter had transported Captain Cook’s family home from Yorkshire and rebuilt it here, complete with a ye olde English garden!
After passing the parliament buildings and witnessing the fire brigade put out a burning bin in under 5 seconds, we hopped on the city’s free tram service which runs in a loop around the centre. It was pretty rammed, the female conductor was yelling at everyone to move down the carriage for most of the journey which amused us. The route gave us a good overview of the outer city including the new docklands area, and it cost us nothing. We got off on the south bank stopping to see the old Polly Woodside ship. We caught the latest Masterchef Australia contestants mincing over Princes Bridge for the cameras, whilst the show’s producers shouted at Emma for taking pictures. Ha ha, we know who made it through to the finals, shame we don’t watch it though!
After strolling more around the centre and Chinatown we stopped for a pizza in a pub as we were by now pretty knackered. Of course we had to have a beer as well, so a lovely pint of James Squire’s 150 lashes found its way through my mouth. This brewery makes it on to my top beers list for Australia, their Chancer’s ale especially.
The next day turned out to be Ron’s birthday, he doesn’t look bad for 80 does he, only kidding Ron! We had no idea it was his big day until the night before, we’d timed our trip well it turned out. That day Ron took us out in his car for a tour of the Yarra valley. I sampled a Ned Kelly pie (ham, egg and cheese – amazing) in the local bakery before we headed out further into the country. We stopped at a lookout point with a huge tower you could climb to further improve the view. We then walked through a small rainforest walkway that led you out to the canopy amongst some of the tallest trees I’d ever seen. Next stop was a surprise for us, the stunning Chandon vinyard. After admiring the beautiful views here of vines, lakes and mountains with nothing to spoil it, we found ourselves seats on their patio. We shared a lovely bottle of Yarra Valley sparkling wine whilst relaxing in the spring sunshine, an unforgettable moment, thanks Ron.
That night, Ron’s sons had arranged to go out for a meal to celebrate their old man’s birthday. They’d very kindly invited us too so we felt very honoured to be involved in the family celebration. We got to meet Ron’s youngest son Cam who was another very cool guy along with both son’s partners, we also met Ron’s lovely lady Claire. We had an epic platter of different BBQ meats and all stuffed our faces. The food was up there with Bo Dean’s back home, delicious! Lamb and pork ribs, pulled pork, the lot, all smothered in BBQ sauce 🙂
The next day the time had come to say our goodbyes. It had been a flying visit but we had loved every minute of it. Ron’s neighbours must have been pleased when the flowery crap wagon left their street! We were quite sad to be back in it after a few nights in a comfy bed. Off we went.
We were now heading towards Sydney, but thought we’d break the drive up by visiting the capital, Canberra. It would tick another state/territory off the list of those we’d visited too, it’s in Australian Capital Territory by the way. So on the second day of driving we finally reached the place and before we’d known it we’d driven straight through it! Everyone we’d met in Australia, and the majority of them Australians, had told us not to bother visiting, we should have paid attention. Still I can now confirm that there’s not much to see! Lot’s of relatively modern government buildings, nice but a little souless maybe. We drove out as quickly as we’d come in, heading north east to Wollongong, just south of Sydney.
After driving over a magnificent mountain range and through some stunning rainforest we were back on the east coast in Wollongong. Somewhere near here is Hicks’ point, the land that a young sailor aboard The Endeavour had first sighted as Cook sailed into the unknown heading west from New Zealand. The east coast of Australia was unknown of at that time. They then headed north along the coast of this vast country they’d found, looking for a sheltered bay where they could land and make their first explorations. Botany Bay was that safe harbour and we were now driving north towards it. Along the way on the Grand Ocean Road we passed over the Sea Cliff bridge, a stunning piece of architecture. Unfortunately it was pissing it down with rain so our view wasn’t the best but it was still a stunning journey. A long winding bridge with sheer cliffs on one side and open ocean on the other. A magnificent feat of engineering. Google it for some awesome sunny day pictures.
We arrived in Botany Bay and made our way out on the headland. We’d now arrived at that contentious meeting place between British and Aboriginal civilisation. We saw the plaques marking where Cook had first landed and even a grave of the first European to die in Australia, one of Cook’s sailors who was taken ill. Botany Bay is quite an important location in Australian history and the landing here an event that paved the way for British colonisation. The bay itself is so named after all of the new species of plants that Banks and Solander were discovering here, they must have been in their element with all of these species previously unknown to science surrounding them, and to be fair, Australian flora and fauna is unlike that found anywhere else in the world. The bay now houses a huge port, and the Sydney airport runs along its northern flank, the view’s not quite what it would have been back in 1769 when the waters were teeming with giant stingray and turtles.
After a quick thirty minutes taking in the sights and history, and also a soggy kookaburra who was sat close by in a tree, we hit the road on a short drive north to that big city we couldn’t wait to explore… Sydney. Oh yes, we would be having a VIP guest join us in the city in a few days time, Em’s Mum Yvonne!
Thanks for reading everybody and thank you Ron and family for having us!