Chapter 18

Sydney/Emu Plains

31 Dec 11 - Woke to an overcast sky but it was warm with a possibility of improvement later. Having had several suggestions regarding where to go to watch the fireworks, we walked down Greenwich Road and found a place where the Bridge was visible but not the Harbour so decided to stick with our original plan and go to Blues Point.

We walked back to the flat and sat outside on the terrace for a while and were not impressed when it started to rain! Luckily it didn't last long and soon the weather improved and by the time we left to go to Blues Point the sun had come out and it was looking good for the rest of the day.

At around 3.00 pm we walked to Wollstonecraft Station and took the train two stops to North Sydney and joined several thousand people walking down to Blues Point. Around half way down the road we and everyone else had to pass through a Police checkpoint where our bags were searched. Most of outdoor Sydney, including Blues Point, had been designated an alcohol-free zone for New Year. There had been quite a lot of advertising to say that the police would clamp down hard on anyone found with alcohol.

Once we got to the edge of the Point we found a spot, staked a claim with our camping chairs and sat down, preparing for a long wait. People watching was quite fun and we whiled away a number of hours so doing, but it was a very long afternoon and evening!

The local fire brigade had parked a fire engine not far from us and the firemen were giving out free packets of crisps to the children. The police and ambulance personnel were parked opposite us. There were already a lot of people there when we arrived but the numbers kept coming and coming - mainly young people. The girls, in full make up, all looking about fifteen (and probably were only fifteen!) and had just two dress styles - shorts or micro/clinging dresses! I sat and mumbled as we all do and then thought back to when I was that age (well, somewhat older actually) and realised that I too wore the same length dresses although not clingy! Did someone mention the generation gap? The boys seemed to spend their time wrestling with each other or flirting with the girls - I know, same as it has always been!

Gradually all the available space was taken up, there were even people sitting down on rugs on the road in front of us. It was all very good humoured and fun. The police were there but were very much low key and there was a really good carnival atmosphere. There was quite a lot going on on the water, with lots of boats and sailing ships moving around so although I had brought down Mike's Kindle to read I didn't open it.

At 6.00 pm there was an air display with a small plane performing aerobatics over the Bridge and the Harbour, this lasted about twenty minutes, with a slightly longer display an hour later. There was even an airplane 'sky-writing' high above the buildings behind us! Eventually it got dark and the boats and ships were outlined in different coloured lights - great to see. The Port Authority's fire-boat gave an impressive demonstration shooting a huge jet of water skywards as it sailed around near the Bridge for about half an hour, showing off its capabilities for tackling fires should any break out in the harbour.

At 9.00 pm the first of the two firework displays took place, this one low-key and specifically for the children, it was nevertheless very good. Several children near us were suitably impressed, even the babies were wide eyed! The display lasted about twelve minutes and as soon as it finished there was a mass exodus as the mums, dads and children left in droves presumably to go home.

It was actually quite chilly as there was a cold wind and I was glad I had brought my rain jacket with me, Mike hadn't brought any extra clothes with him and was just in his T-shirt. I decided to go and queue for the loo and an hour and a half later came back - there were only fifteen loos for many thousands of people - crazy! Everyone was very good natured though.

When I came back from the loo Mike looked and felt frozen (in his T-shirt) but he'd managed to acquire a discarded silver foil sheet which he wrapped around himself while he thawed out. By now a lot of the youngsters were obviously very drunk - despite the supposed alcohol ban - and the police and ambulance crews were being kept busy. We saw several girls who had obviously fallen off their incredibly high platform shoes - either drunk or having just tottered over - being carried to the First Aid tent and, in some cases, off to hospital in the ambulances.

Every half an hour there was a burst of fireworks lasting about fifteen seconds, just to keep us tantalised - and the number of people really started to increase from 11.00 pm onwards.

As midnight approached the excitement mounted and all eyes turned to the Bridge where a countdown displayed in illuminated numbers (appearing backwards from our vantage point!). The 10-9-8 ... count was soon taken up verbally by the crowds and then, bang on midnight, the fireworks started. To say they were spectacular was an understatement - all I can say is it was A-MAZ-ING!!

The display lasted almost 15 minutes and was actually synchronized to music, although we couldn't hear the music where we were! We were very lucky as we could see the fireworks taking place in Darling Harbour behind us as well as seeing the main display on the Bridge and in the Harbour behind it. At times it felt as though we were completely surrounded by flashing lights and noise.

It is difficult to describe how great the atmosphere was but it wouldn't have been anything like as good had we stayed in and watched it on the TV - like so many live events, you simply have to have been there! It'll go down in my book as one of the great memories of my life. 

We had got ourselves packed up ready to go just before the fireworks started so as soon as they finished we were able to head straight away back up the hill towards the station, together with thousands of others. We were walking behind four Riot Squad policemen so by following them closely we probably got out quicker as the crowds parted to let them (and us) go through. The police were very much in control without any heavy handiness and everyone was moved along quickly and safely out of the area.

As we got to the station there were continuous loudspeaker messages telling people which platform to go to depending on their destination to speed up the queues. We were incredibly lucky, we arrived at the platform, the train arrived after two minutes and we crammed ourselves on, together with loads of others and travelled the three stations North to St. Leonards (we didn't fancy walking through the unlit park at Wollstonecraft Station). It felt as though we were on the Tokyo underground - breathing was something of an optional extra! However, we were back in Ben's flat by just after 1.00 am and toasted in the New Year with a couple of glasses of bubbly!

We thought of everyone here in Australia, over in New Zealand and back home in UK and raised a glass to you all!

1 Jan 12 - Woke surprisingly refreshed to a brilliant blue cloudless sky and warmth - it was going to be a very hot day! We had a quiet morning but before we left the flat we watched the London NYE fireworks at 11.00 am live on the TV. The display was almost as good as Sydney's(!). We then took the train from Wollstonecraft Station into the City and wandered into the Rocks where we had arranged to meet Hannah, Les and Jo McD for lunch and a catch up.

Jo McD suggested we go to the Harbour View Hotel (excellent choice, Jo!) which was right underneath the Bridge. We had lunch on the third floor where we sat overlooking the Bridge in the sunshine and watched the groups of twenty-odd Bridge walkers returning from their climbs every fifteen minutes or so (most looked petrified!) and we toasted the New Year in (yet again). It was lovely for us to see the youngsters! Several bottles of wine and several hours later Hannah and Les left to meet friends for the evening, as did Jo, so Mike and I strolled back to Circular Quay to try to take a ferry back to Greenwich.

Much to our disappointment, we discovered that the ferry only ran on weekdays so we had no option but to go back by train, getting off at Wollstonecraft and then walking back through the park and up the road to Ben's. It is a lovely walk - thank you Adrienne for telling us about it! I was rather dehydrated when we got back so had lots of water during the evening but still had a very hot restless night! However, a truly memorable New Year!

2 Jan 12 - Another beautiful day dawned! Luckily we had not got a parking ticket on the motorhome and we left Ben's at around 10.30 am to drive to a campsite at Emu Plains where we had booked to stay for the next two nights (our last nights in the van). We reached there in around an hour and a half and, as it was such a beautiful and hot day, decided to carry on up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, hoping to see the views from there in good weather.

Bad mistake - we and also, it seemed, most of Sydney, had had the same idea and soon the traffic queue was virtually stationary winding up the road towards Katoomba. This was not much fun, going at about five miles an hour for twenty yards and then stopping, all uphill. I think Mike would, justifiably, describe it as pretty hellish! Eventually I conceded that even if we ever reached Katoomba there was no way we would find anywhere to park, so reluctantly we turned round and came back and retreated to Emu Plains and our pre-booked campsite.

The site was full - luckily, because we had pre-booked, we had a space waiting for us - it was the most expensive of the campsites we had yet visited, probably because of the time of year. However, it was very nice and we settled back into camp life. The weather for the whole day had been glorious, with more forecast in the next few days. Hope you all had a good New Year and let's hope it is a happy and healthy one for us all.

Chapter 19

Emu Plains/Sydney

Hello once again! This is our last missive from Australia!

3 Jan 12 - Woke to yet another scorching day so decided that rather than boil on the plains we would head back into Sydney by train and have a last nostalgic day there.

The train station at Emu Plains was only about a quarter of a mile from the campsite and was an easy trek. We caught the train to Sydney Central and then took another one to Wynyard Station in George Street as my main aim of the day was to get a replacement battery for my watch, which diligent readers will remember gave up on me Christmas Day.

This proved more difficult than I would have imagined, and it took an hour and a half to find a watch repair shop, eventually finding it by judicious use of Mike's iPad. Once we had found the shop, which was run by a family of Chinese, we couldn't fault the efficiency and within ten minutes of being there I emerged with a fully functioning watch again! Hooray! My blood pressure had risen somewhat during our long search and so to reduce it we walked to the Rocks and went back to the Harbour View Hotel for another lunch overlooking the Bridge and the Harbour.

The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very cheerful and we were soon chatting to some young Aussies, Judy who was in the Navy, Travis who was in the Army and Mark, a farmer, who was Judy's brother and was visiting her from outside Adelaide where he had a 12,000 acre dairy farm. They were great fun and we all amused ourselves for a while by waving at the Bridge walkers who trekked by all roped together in groups of about twenty every ten minutes or so, none of them looking happy - in fact most seemed positively miserable!

We also started talking to an English couple who had been in Australia for five years and who had just got their citizenship. By this time we had both had several glasses of wine and were faced with an evening of packing and cleaning the motor home ready for handing it back the next day - and we still had to get back to Emu Plains! We had one last look around the Harbour and then headed back to Wynyards via Coles in George Street where we bought some cleaning stuff. We managed to get a direct train back which got us to the campsite by about 8.30 pm.

Neither of us felt like cleaning anything at that time of night but we did at least pack our bags, deciding to get up early the next morning to do the cleaning. It was so hot in the motor home that we had to have the air conditioning on for most of the night but, despite this, we had a fitful night's sleep.

4 Jan 12 - Got up at 7.00 am as we had planned a busy start to the day. It was already hot and all indications were that it would get much hotter. We knuckled down and did all the cleaning and sorting of the camper van and rather amazingly had everything done in time to leave on time at 10.00 am which was when we had to check out.

The drive to Caroline's only took an hour and a half and we arrived there without any difficulties and offloaded our luggage into her garage. She was on her way back from up the coast where she had spent the previous couple of days with friends and had not yet returned. We drove the short distance to Thornleigh to return the motorhome. Sitting in the cool of the office we waited whilst Wayne checked the vehicle over, he found some extra scratches on the top which we knew about and which were caused by some overhanging tree branches outside Ben's flat. Without complaint, we paid a nominal sum so that the scratches could be buffed out. Other than that, there were no other problems and we felt quite sad to have to give up our trusty little home!

We were very lucky and were given a lift back to Caroline's by one of the staff, the lift was extremely welcome as we had not really been looking forward to the two mile walk back there in the 32°C heat. We sat on the bench outside her front door for just a short time whilst we waited for her to come home.

We all had a fairly quiet afternoon in the heat and Mike and I then had the evening to ourselves as Caroline went off to a family outing. The weather was scheduled to change during the evening with a 'Southerly Buster' likely to blow in (a southerly wind that often occurs between October and February with gusts up to 60 mph resulting in a sudden drop in temperature of at least five degrees over a three hour period). As predicted, the wind really picked up over the next few hours with some huge gusts making the windows in the house rattle alarmingly and the temperature dropped rapidly from feeling like 38°C down to 24°C within an hour - much more comfortable for us though!

5 Jan 12 - Our last full day in Australia! It was MUCH cooler when we woke up - the temperature must have dropped over ten degrees from what it was the previous day - so much more pleasant! It was still cooler in the garden than the house and it was great having breakfast outside watching the Lorikeets and the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos feeding and arguing as usual.

By late morning we decided to go out, with our first stop being Hornsby where we bought a small case each in which to pack our excess luggage which we had up to then been carrying around in shopping bags (we were in danger of becoming 'bag ladies'!). My case is bright pink! Caroline then took us for a drive and we stopped at the Wildflower Garden in Ku-ring-ai National Park where we saw some wonderful trees and plants - not quite up to The Botanical Gardens at Mount Tomah but pretty good - we saw a wild bush wallaby feeding and then, very excitedly, a poisonous Red Bellied Black Snake just sunning itself on the grass by the path we had walked past it a few minutes earlier. We would have missed seeing it but one of the Rangers pointed it out to us and, keeping it at a safe distance from us, we managed to get some good photos.

We then drove up to West Head from where we had a fabulous view of several beaches including the one where the filming is done for 'Home and Away' (if anyone watches this Aussie soap!). The weather had been pretty hazy for most of the time there but the sun did eventually come out and we took a second lot of photos as views look so much better in the sunshine.

We stopped off on the way back and bought some prawns and seafood salad for supper and went back to Caroline's where we sat outside enjoying our last meal and drank a toast to our wonderful last ten weeks. We should have started our final packing but instead sat and chatted.

At around 10.00 pm there was thunder and lightning with increasingly heavy rain. I decided to start my packing and went into the bedroom but after only about ten minutes there was an enormous clap of thunder and all the lights went out! Luckily Caroline had plenty of candles and torches and we realised that there was little chance of the lights coming back on for several hours at least. Mike was tracking the storm on his iPad and it was obvious there was a lot more very bad weather to come. We realised there was no option other than to get up really early in the morning to pack and went to bed using a torch to guide us!

The storm was fairly spectacular with wonderful sheet lightning, frequent loud crashes of thunder and torrential rain, lasting for about a couple of hours. The lights finally came back on around 1.30 am and, although the rain and thunder faded away, there was still a lot of almost continuous sheet lightning for another hour or so. It remained very hot so sleep was fitful. It certainly was a spectacular finale to our stay in Australia!  Tomorrow we're off to Fiji for a few days before heading back to UK.

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