Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nana's Birthday

We head in the car with Aunt Denise, Daniel and his girlfriend Jess to Nelson Bay, back where our trip began. The sneaky Bond family decided to come down to celebrate Nan's birthday early (June 14th actual date) so we could be part of the festivities. Aunt Karen, Uncle Vernon, Uncle Ian and Tennille flew down early Friday morning and we arrived in the afternoon to meet them at the club for drinks. Nan made wonderful curries for dinner, and we stayed up very late drinking way too much, we can tell you more on that later. We had a wonderful evening, and we mostly recovered by lunchtime Saturday at The Deck, a nice restaurant at Soldiers Point Marina. It was really nice to spend the end of our trip with a family function. The weekend was great.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Port Macquarie & Bonny Hills

Our last week of the trip is spent in Bonny Hills with Aunt Denise, Uncle Jim, and cousin Daniel. We finally packed up all our stuff at uncle Ian's house. He sent us off with a lovely bbq with friends, good food again, and we hop on the train. We have a lot of stuff. We are not really suprised. We spend a few evenings at the club, and on Saturday, we go to Port Macquarie to go Dragon Boating. A little back info: on our first train trip to Brisbane long ago, we meet Anne and Gail who have been Dragon Boat Racing for Breat Cancer during the Chinese New Year festivities. They tell us about racing and invite us to join them, when we are in the area. Three months later, we call Anne and ask if we can come check it out. They have training/practice runs at 6am, and a few times a week, the 8am run is for beginners. We are welcomed, armed with lifejackets and given oars and a brief lesson. We stretch, which is smart. A Dragon Boat has twenty people, a coach bangs a drumand keeps the rythm (during races) and a "sweep" at the back steering. Our coach does not have a drum as he is teaching all the new people like us what to do. Alison and I are sitting right near the front, and our buddies explain better techniques. We start slow, go faster and after a bit learn the sprint start. These ladies are hardcore, and awesome, and most of them tiny, tiny like I can fit them in my pocket. They saw we paddle well, or strong at least. We appreciate the compliments. I splash water on the woman in front of me a lot at first. We have a really wonderful time, and Anne takes us out for coffee afterwards. We meet Aunt Denise later in the evening for Champagne at the club with her friends and tell them all about how we are already starting to feel sore. Sunday we wake early to play golf with the Bonny Hills Golf Club with Aunt Denise and the ladies, we play three man ambrose, like leapfrog taking the best shot of the players. I like golf like this, and suprisingly turn out to be not a bad player. Unfortunately this is not the case for Alison, whom does not play well at all. She paddled much harder than I did at Dragon Boats and is much more sore. We get a write up in the local paper. On Tuesday we go with Denise's friend Jenny to see the new Indiana Jones with the local movie club, and go for Thai afterwards. We spend our days with Daniel, who is recovering from knee surgery, he drives us around to see beaches, and lookout points, as well as the Koala Hospital. We have dinner together and drink wine, and Alison and I cook Greek one evening. We walk around Town Beach, and Rainbow Beach which has colorful stones all over it. Port Macquarie and Bonny Hills are filled with wonderful people and beautiful sights. We repack, and head to Nana and Grandad's again, that much closer to home.

Flashback: Lightning Ridge-we heart you!

We LOVE Lightning Ridge. Lightning Ridge might have been one of our favorites places. We are only sorry a) we didn't get to stay longer, and b) we were not able to write about it sooner. We read about Lightning Ridge, famous for black opals, and unlike Coober Pedy, above ground. During our stay at Boongalla the cattle station, Ian the owner allowed us his car for the weekend to go see Lightning Ridge. A four/sixish hour drive away. We are pumped, it is really nice of him to do, we get the weekend off, and we leave at 5:30 am Saturday morning. The sunrise is beautiful and we are aware of animals possibly still running around. I will remind everyone that we are in the middle of nowhere at this time, like driving in West Texas, dry, dirt roads at times and brushy. We do not hit any animals, but two birds do fly onto us, a kangaroos almost gets us, and two emus do a dance in front of our car as well. We are not even driving fast. This is all in the morning. We drive even slower. Our drive is beautiful, we stop in Hebel for a scone with cream and jam (me) Yum, and a meatpie for Alison. Arrival in Lightning Ridge brings us to the information center. We know we want to go digging, called fossicking in these parts, and stop to find out more information. Annie, is VERY helpful, she tells us of the tours available, fossicking options, and invites us to barefoot bowls at the club in the evening. At the edge of town there is a hot bore spring, it is like the neighborhood pool. Everyone in town goes there after work or the pub, we are intrigued, but not sure we'll make it there. We decide on Bluey motel, across the street from the bowls club, so we can walk home later. We book a tour with Black Opal Tours, and grab some lunch. The 1:00 tour is wonderful, our driver is great, and we learn the history of Lightening Ridge as well as what makes black opals unique. We see the first miners shacks in town as well as homes built more recently. Lightning ridge has no building codes outside of town, so we see shacks, trailers, houses, and even a castle built entirely by hand from rocks in the area. It is stunning. We stop by the Black Queen, a home with glass bottles in patterns in the walls, like stained glass. Another stunning building. The owners Gale & Roger are very nice and ask us to return the next day for a demonstration of their antique lamp collection, since we are on a tour we have to leave. We are having a wonderful time on our tour, and everyone is so nice. We stop at Down to Earth Opals, a shop with beautiful jewelry, and ogle at everything. We rest at the motel, then make our way to barefoot bowls. We meet great people, eat steak sandwiches, and win a gift basket, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker. We stay late, and drink a fair bit, and decide to not go to the hot springs, since our motel is across the street. We wake up early to try fossicking outside of town. We fossick unsuccessfully for a few hours, but of course have a good time, and head back to the Black Queen for the antique lamp lighting presentation. A beautiful collection, we learn the history of the lamps, how they became the collection, and have a really wonderful afternoon. This really marks the end of our time in Lightning Ridge, we don't want to leave. We rush to a few art galleries in town, paintings and photography, and rush to say goodbye to many. We have to get on the road, we don't want to chance driving at night. We are sad to leave this town, where every person we met, we wanted to spend more time with. If you live in Australia, or make it this way, go to Lightning Ridge, please, and tell them the New York girls sent you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Flashback: The Big Pineapple (Rachel's B-day)

Just to clarify, my birthday is in March, so this post has been a long time coming, but it was too wonderful to pass by without a post. During this time we were staying in Noosa, with Karen, Vernon and Tennille, and they graciously allowed us to stay a few days longer to celebrate my birthday and go sailing again. We had an tour packed day planned. The Big Pineapple, The Ginger Factory, a stop at the Emmundi Markets for Tai dumplings and we were trying to see how much we could fit in before sailing again and a dinner that Karen was making special. We begin at the Big Pineapple, a huge tourist destination in the 70's, and a working pineapple and macadamia nut farm. Now, not so much of either, when we first arrive in the morning, we are the ONLY people there, really, it's us and a few employees, we pay our $15 to take the train tour, the macadamia nut bus tour and the feeding/petting zoo of Australian animals and farm. We are the ONLY people on the train through the first tour. The train guys like us and answer our many questions, including ones about the downfall of the Big Pineapple itself. In it's heyday 5,000 people a day went through there, now they are happy if 30 come through a day. We learn about how pineapples are grown and harvested, and unfortunately see many rotting on the plants. They tell us they are sadly understaffed. They even used to have a chocolate factory there, now closed. But the train is wonderful and so are our tour guides. We hop off at the end and take our walk through the Australian petting zoo. Let me start by saying this is unlike any petting zoo our fellow Americans have ever been to I'm sure, not only because it is Australian animals, but there are no supervisors around, or guides, or zoo/vet/authoritative figures around. Absolutely amazing. You are responsible for your own behavior. We had bought two bags of food (grass like stuff) before our tour, and walk into a large pen of about thirty kangaroos. Now, we realize that since we are the only people here, we are the first to come through with bags of free food, we're not sure if we should be worried. We are excited, take lots of pictures, feed kangaroos, and a few of them when they stand up are as tall as we are, we try not to piss them off. It's really great and we spend a lot of time feeding and petting kangaroos, and a stray wallabie who wandered in to the area. They are cute, and both of us find our favorites, as well as a few we stay away from. The farm animals, are farm animals and we quickly feed and pet a cow, a donkey and a goat each. We are on a schedule, and we run to catch the nut bus tour and miss it. We have to come back another time. Which luckily the lady at the front desk allows us to do. We go back the next week. The tour guides think we're funny for coming back again, and we get more photos of the big pineapple itself which you can climb inside of. There is a life size diarama of how pineapples are canned and make it to your grocery store. The gift shop is AMAZING, they are selling the same souvenirs from the 70's and 80's and if we could afford it we would have bought something for everyone.


After Lady Elliot, our flight back to the mainland brought us to Bundaberg. We stayed there overnight so we could check out the rum distillery and ginger beer factory. We do love tours. Bundaberg rum is made from sugar cane, locally grown, which is made into molasses. It's very good, and much sweeter than Caribbean rum. The tour was very informative, and we got two drinks with our admission price – not bad. At the Bundaberg GingerBeer Factory, the interactive tour was great. They naturally brew all their products, “Just like your Grandma used to do”. We got to taste all their products, the ginger beer is great, and the peach and apple flavors are wonderful.