08/19/2005 - 08/30/2005 0 °F
HAPPY 33rd BIRTHDAY, STEVE!
Today, we headed out early to the Australia Zoo. This was so much fun! We saw so many exotic animals, wandered around, ate lunch, had ice cream & just enjoyed the day. When we first arrived, they were feeding elephants. I got to feed an elephant a pear. That was a trip highlight! We checked out Harriet, a 175-year-old tortoise, who has since passed away. Forget all the koalas we saw, & dingoes, wombats, & snakes!
Here is Steve petting a koala!
We even got to feed ‘roos! Steve’s parents called to wish him a happy birthday while we checked out the elephants.
Here I am with a 'roo
After the zoo, we drove to Toowoomba, where we’d finally meet Becky & Steve. We were in the middle of nowhere & at the top of this hill, we saw all these lights glistening (it was twilight). I couldn’t believe how big Toowoomba was! I didn’t realize it was a city. We stayed in a cottage for the 1st night since it was Steve’s birthday. I found it on the internet; “Damia Cottage (13 Buckland Street) is a comfortable suburban hideaway for couples, nestled in the shadows of a magnificent Macadamia tree, close to all major facilities, but seeming a mile away from the hustle & bustle”. It was a little cottage behind these people’s house. We said hello to the owners & their family & checked it out. It was so cute! She even had macadamia nuts in a bowl with a nutcracker. There were citrus trees all around the place. Every room in the place was adorable & had cute little touches, and it was CHEAP!
After we cleaned up, we decided to go to the Thai Cottage Restaurant (on Margaret St.) as recommended by our Lonely Planet guide. They said that is where the locals go. We had a fabulous meal there for Steve’s birthday. A table near us looked at us after we started talking, presumably because we had American accents. They were probably wondering what in the world we were doing in Toowoomba!
After dinner we were to go to Becky & Steve’s for a nightcap (it was about 9pm). I had directions to their house, but was unable to reach them by cell phone. So we pulled into their driveway & knocked on the door. This is someone I’ve heard about my whole life! I’ve been told we girls would get along so well, & that we had so much in common, except she’s older than me by one month! These are the most free-spirited people I’ve ever met. We had a lively night with them & their cat, Haplo. Becky’s boys were at their father’s house, so we could be loud. They play guitar, & jammed for us. It was fun.
Lonely Planet describes: “On the edge of the Great Dividing Range & the Darling Downs & 138km inland from Brisbane, Toowoomba is the largest town in the region. It has a commanding location, perched 700m above sea level on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, & there are great views from the parks & gardens that fringe the eastern side of town, earning Toowoomba the nickname, ‘Garden City’.”
In the morning, we picked up Becky & she took us over to her school (Southern Queensland Univ) & walked around the Japanese Gardens there & drove around. We showed her the cottage we had rented the night before. The next 2 nights, we’d be staying at Becky & Steve’s, but we loved the cottage so much that we booked it for one last night (since we were getting up so early & heading out anyway)
Becky & Steve showed us around Toowoomba. We went to their mall, & this cool fairy store, where I bought some butterflies for the girls in the family. We really enjoyed the downtime just hanging out & getting to know them better. Plus, everyone seemed to know Becky & Steve. They are both so friendly & personable, so it’s easy to see why everyone would know them. Later, we took Becky & Steve out to dinner at Weis, & had a fabulous buffet.
When we returned from dinner we sent emails to family & Becky & Steve were playing guitar for us.
Today we met up with Karen & Roel, Becky & Steve. We all went to lunch and wine tasting at Wedgetail Ridge Estate, described as “a winery, just a short drive west of Toowoomba, where visitors can relax & enjoy wine tastings at the cellar door & experience a distinctly different luncheon experience.” We had a really fun time there.
I drove everyone back to Karen & Roel’s house from the winery, which was a funny experience, because they were all busting my chops about driving on the wrong side of the road. Back at the house, we were introduced to their pet turkey, George, & their birds. Steve hillariously told us what the Aussies thought about Fosters beer, which we recorded. Back at Becky & Steve’s, in the evening, the boys played “floor avoiding”, which was a hoot to watch (they are working on a website called www.flooravoiders.com). They basically attempt to get from room to room without touching the floor, stepping on anything & every thing. I swear, there are the most free-spirited people we’ve ever met. Cameron & Brendan were such a treat!
Here is the view from Karen and Roel's house at sunset.
Today, Karen, Roel, Becky, Cameron, Brendan, Steve & me (Becky’s Steve was at work) went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. LP describes it: “Just a short bus ride from the [Brisbane] city center, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is set in attractive parklands beside the river & is home to a variety of Australia’s wildlife, including kangaroos, possums, wombats, emus & lyrebirds. The star attractions are the 130 or so koalas. They’re undeniably cute & most visitors readily cough up the $13 to have their picture taken hugging one. Hand feeding the tame kangaroos is cheaper - $.50 for a bag of pellets.” Of course we coughed up the $13! We held a sleepy koala named Fabio! I was in total heaven with him in my arms & Steve got to hold him too! He was as stinky & sleepy as he was cute.
We also watched a sheepdog show & fed roos & wallabies with everyone. A peacock even fanned out for us! It was animal-central at that place. Becky’s boys really took to Steve. They were the most well-behaved boys we’ve ever met!
That evening we went back to Becky & Steve’s with Karen & Roel & had dinner. Sara (my other cousin) stopped by later. We hung out & said our goodbyes. Cameron wanted Steve & me to tuck him in. How sweet! We feel like we’ve known Becky & Steve our whole lives & the boys are such dolls! It was different to spend time with them after traveling just the 2 of us for so long, but the two of us needed to get back on the road again. We returned to Damia Cottage this night, so we could get up 1st thing without disturbing anyone & head out. They remembered that I pulled a blanket out of the closet when we stayed on the 19th, & the blanket was already on the bed when we returned. Little touches like that made our stay there so pleasant!
In the morning we headed out early to run errands & drive the 7 hours to Tamworth. On our way out there was a small sign for a 360-degree lookout, which we checked out. There were a lot of roadside oddities on the way. At one point, we were really lost & stopped in a small town in the middle of nowhere for help. We also grabbed some lunch – nothing fancy there, a personal frozen pizza & an ice cream bar from the freezer case. It was in this town that we stopped in the food store & picked up a small container of vegemite.
We finally got to Tamworth around dinnertime. LP says it, “ is not so much a town as an institution, not so much a regional center, as a holy land. The religion is country music”. We checked into the YHA Tamworth, which occupies a 100-year-old boarding house. There were unisex bathrooms at this hostel & it was so quiet, I only encountered one person in there. It was a nice cheap place to spend the night. Our room was reminiscent of a college dorm. I would recommend it.
We did laundry at the hostel after walking around town looking for a place that was open for dinner. We had great pub food at the St George on the main drag for dinner. We also stopped in the local mini-mall where there was a Coles (like our Shop Rite), picked up some supplies & hit the cookie stand.
In the morning we headed out on the road again heading toward the Jenolan Caves & enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Blue Mountains, stopping a bunch of times to enjoy amazing views.
We rolled past our B&B on Jenolan Caves Road at about 5pm. They took cash only, so we headed out to Oberon (about 25K away) the closest town with an ATM & gas station & it was pretty deserted.
It is described on their website: “Set on 30 acres of land with a spring fed dam, Hampton Homestead also provides a ‘farmstay’ experience. It occupies the site of an earlier weatherboard inn called the Imperial Halfway House, which was a coach stop & popular resting place for travelers & their horses.”
Since it was so quiet, we decided to dine in at the Hampton Homestead & enjoyed the quiet & the fireplace in the lounge. The proprietors run a restaurant in there as well, but it only operates on weekends. There just aren’t enough people out there to have a restaurant open all week & be profitable. They call it “Phuell Phine Dining”. We had the whole place to ourselves & we hadn’t eaten this well since Heron Island! After dinner, we shot the breeze with the proprietors (Carolyn & Mr. Reid), a semi-retired couple, doing this for fun. (We've met so many interesting people on this trip!) We then headed off to our room. We were the only guests on this night, (well, except a resident cat, named Cog). A resident cat is always a good sign! There seem to be a lot of them in the B&B business! We could see the blue mountains from the claw foot bathtub.
We had a fabulous fresh breakfast. It was about 50-60 degrees, as it was their winter, & there was a fire going. This was a memorable stay, one of the best we’ve ever had, in all our travels! Off to the Jenolan Caves . . .
From LP: “30km from Oberon, has the most spectacular & best-known Limestone caves in Australia. They are a world-renowned example of caves of this type & have been open to the public for over 150 years. These caves are believed to have been first explored by European settlers in 1838. On the western fringe of the Kanangra Boyd Nat’l Park, the awesome Jenolan Caves are one of the most extensive & complex cave systems in the world. Named “Binoomea” or “Dark Places” by the Aboriginals, the caves were formed over 400 million years ago. General tours traverse the warren of vivid & surreal stalactites & stalagmites in 9 of the caves”.
This place was rustic. When we got there, it looked like a little German town or something, lots of people stay on site at one of the lodges. Our stay in Hampton was cheaper & more idyllic (if that was possible!) We headed into the Temple of Baal cave at about 9am & explored the Lucas cave after that. It was pretty cool & the acoustics were amazing in the Lucas. Afterward we had lunch there since there was nothing anywhere around, plus it just kept reminding us of a little European mountain village! These brazen & beautiful birds wanted our food & one of them successfully lifted a french-fry from Steve’s plate as we were looking for a place to sit down. This was an excellent stop.
We were driving in the Blue Mountains toward Bundanoon & got a flat tire!
Luckily we were on a good road to pull over & change it. All we had was a doughnut in the trunk, so we’d need to replace the tire. Still, the tire fee was significantly less than it would have cost to insure the car for 2 weeks. Anyway, we expected about a 3 + hour drive to Bundanoon, where we were staying while visiting my grandparents in Exeter. It took us much longer, since we took Wombeyan Caves Road! Nothing on the map indicated that it was a bad road. Actually we got the map from the Reids at the B&B since our map didn’t even have that road on it. We followed the road for its entire length. It is described as follows: “Although this is a road that requires extreme care it remains one of the most spectacular drives in Australia, with stunning scenery”.
A assemblyman in the area also said of the road, “ I say to anyone that ventures on the road…drive slowly & steadily. Wombeyan Caves Road is not to be trifled with. Recently I had similar comments from members of the Volunteer Rescue Association of New South Wales who held their annual conference at Wombeyan Caves. Those people are used to fairly rough terrain but even they commented on the challenge they had in getting to Wombeyan Caves that day. On behalf of all residents who live along the road, the workers at Wombeyan Caves, the businesses that rely on safe & available access, & the tourists & families who have to think twice about making the trip because of the condition of the road, I urge the Government to get behind & help the council upgrade Wombeyan Caves Road”
Finally after about 2 hours of sheer adrenaline; dodging wallabies, mountain goats, tight turns with huge drop-offs, dirt road with washouts everywhere, twisty, curvy 2 “lanes”, we were relieved to be on normal terrain. We couldn’t believe we were in the right place. All that was around us was sheep. No sign of human existence. We determined that if we weren’t in the right place, we’d wait until daylight to venture back on that road again. I was the navigator during this whole trip & according to the map, we were going in the right direction. We were in really rural areas & saw wild roos everywhere! I did navigate well; we were in the right place. We got to the hostel in Bundanoon shortly after dark.
From Lonely Planet : “This spectacular area of mountainous countryside was well known to the original aboriginal inhabitants as 'a place of deep gullies'. Their name for it, as interpreted by the Europeans, was Bundanoon.”
The owner was so impressed by our drive down Wombeyan Caves Road to get there that she gave us free towels (usually you have to pay for them). After settling in we went to my grandparents house in Exeter to do some visiting. I have heard about this place my whole life & finally we were here! It was surreal tooling around, looking for their house. Everyone was thrilled to see us!
This morning, Chrissy threw some bread out for the birds, & all these brilliant tropical birds flocked to it: galahs, parrots, & cockatoos, a ritual their cats, Uli & Daisy Blossom, relished. We spent the morning running errands. We had to get our tire replaced in Moss Vale, & Chrissy knew the guys at the garage. We stopped in at the Library with Chrissy & sent emails. We also got the car washed to cover the fact that we were on Wombeyan Caves Road (since we hadn’t gotten insurance & weren’t supposed to take it on “unsealed” roads). For lunch we went to this trendy & delicious little café down the road from my grandparents’ house. It is attached to the post office, so we packed a box to send home to lighten our loads a little.
In the evening, we checked into Yallambee B&B (the hostel was fully booked with a school group). There were 3 rooms in the house, each with a huge bathtub & double headed showers. The 30something couple was really nice. Their B&B is actually a part of their house. The wife even offered to do our laundry.
From their website: “ ...set in a very quiet location adjacent to the Morton National Park. The house… overlooks the treetops of the national Park. Many of the parks features- lookouts, stunning walks & the Glow Worm Glen are accessible from the doorstep. Large cedar windows let in a flood of natural light in the mornings while you enjoy a fully cooked country breakfast of your choice.”
After acquainting ourselves with our B&B, we planned to check out Glow Worm Glen before heading back to for dinner with the family. “Glow Worm Glen, best visited at night, is a half hour walk from the end of William St in Bundanoon. It has been one of the most famous attractions of Bundanoon for over a century. A rocky rift with overhanging caves, it is home to an insect which emits a fluorescent glow in the dark. An easy walk to the Glen through the bush, best taken in the day only for the sake of the walk (glow worms are only seen at night). Park at the top end of William Street. From here a steep track descends towards the glen. It will be pitch dark. In the rocks around you are small insects which give off a fluorescent glow, providing a magical experience. But you must be quiet, & show no lights so as not to upset them, or they might turn their 'lights' off.”
At dusk, we ventured out to Glow Worm Glen, entering the park from the dead end of a residential street (William St). We could smell fragrant flowers & hear children playing in their yards as we walked toward the Glen, as it was still residential. This 30 minute walk was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It seemed as though we were just taking an ordinary walk, but we were one the other side of the world, plus we were anxious to see what awaited us at the Glen! Eventually, it was pitch black & tiny little lights started to reveal themselves after a long & very quiet wait. There weren’t many of them, since it was wintertime & they were tiny, so they were impossible to catch on film, but it was a very cool experience. We headed back to William St, where we had the car parked. At gma & gpa’s house, we ordered Chinese food, which was a little different than Chinese food here. What DO they eat in China? Afterward, we played a lively game of Trivial Pursuit!
In the morning, we had a fantastic breakfast at Yallambee (the husband, incidentally, is a very talented cook). There was another young couple weekending there with us. They were from Canberra. They had been to the US. They seemed really nice. After breakfast, we headed over to Exeter, to gma & gpa’s house, but first we stopped in Bundanoon because we noticed a cute potter’s shop. He made beautiful artwork & we bought a gorgeous sushi plate there (that I planned to put candles on). He chatted us up forever, it seemed. Incidentally, he had an interest in spiders & other creepy crawlies & insisted on showing us his collection. We had to eventually slip out of there because we were now running late to get to my grandparents.
Steve, me, Gpa, Chrissy & Uncle Alan headed out to the Dingo Sanctuary in Bargo, NSW, described as “a public education facility for Dingoes & their preservation, run by the Australian Native Dog Conservation Society Limited.” We were lead by a girl who volunteered there with a passion for dingoes. She told us about each of their resident dogs & some background info on dingoes. We even got to hold 2 new puppies which was a highlight for all of us!
Next, we headed over to Morton National Park, which in the Budawang Range covering 162K hectares, with “magnificent sandstone cliffs & waterfalls that fall to the forests deep in the valleys below.”
In the evening, we planned on going to The Briars Inn (in Bowral). Per their website, famous for their “cook your own” entrees. This was fun. Chrissy & Steve BBQed everyone’s selections. My family even ran into people they knew there!
After a filling dinner we headed over to the RSL Club for cheap drinks & karaoke. RSL is like the VFW here, except the RSL clubs are major social centers. There are slot machines, a bar (with discounted drinks), dancing & a DJ there & you must be a guest of an RSL member to get in. So we all got in since Gpa was an RSL member (even though he served in the US military in WW2, he was stationed in Australia to protect them from Japan, so he has a membership!) We signed in & watched these really drunk people karaoke to “Love Shack” which was hilarious!
On our way back to the B&B we saw a big wombat ambling across the road. We stopped to let her cross & filmed her with the camcorder. Hey, it is not everyday we see a wombat! This was a long day, so it was nice to return to Yallambee.
Today, we returned to Morton National Park, to the Jersey Lookout & Fitzroy Falls, among other highlights. The spectacular Fitzroy Falls have an 82m drop.
Later, we checked out a dam with a huge goanna; bigger than the Lace Monitor at Hook Island! We also checked out Kangaroo Valley. We lunched at the “Source at Kangaroo” which is located right beside Hampden Bridge on Kangaroo. It was sort of an artsy café where we had really nice lunches & I ordered a “lemonade” which is like lemon soda to us. It was nice not to have to drive for awhile. Everyone was so accommodating & hospitable toward us.
After a fun & long day of sightseeing, we decided to call it an early night & headed back to Yallambee. We had the place to ourselves now, since it was a Sunday evening. So we looked through their small DVD collection in the lounge & watched this offbeat film called “A Life Less Ordinary”. The husband who enjoys cooking prepared a delicious dinner for us, & they gave us a bottle of wine & a plate of cheese, just for the heck of it! B&Bs are definitely our favorite places to stay, & are the best value.
It was morning and the B&B owners had left for work, so they asked us to lock the door & leave the keys behind on our way out. Since we weren’t planning on having breakfast there, they discounted the rate significantly! These people were so nice. We had toast & jam at the little cafe down the road from my grandparents’ house where we said our goodbyes & packed up the car for the 1-1/2 hours drive back to the center of Sydney to drop off the rental car (which went smoothly!)
Back to the Lord Nelson. It was nice to return. We did return to the fabulous shop in the Rocks, by the way, although our pockets were pretty empty & we were hoping to have a nice dinner on our last night. After settling in we went back down to Circular Quay & hopped on a ferry to Darling Habour to check out the Chinese Gardens & get film developed.
We returned, got cleaned up, & took another ferry out to Manly Bay for dinner. We walked around a bit & decided on a place called Out of Africa for the last real meal of our adventure. We were also starving, so much so, that the waitress even joked about the amount of food we ordered! It is described as “The atmosphere is raucous & fun & the spicy, inventive meals show you why this is a favorite with the locals. The African fare is authentic & dishes such as the couscous with orange, saffron, dates & white berries is a singular treat.” We took the ferry back to Sydney & enjoyed the view from the boat. We walked around & took in the city at night before heading back to the inn.
All good things must come to an end. Our flight wasn’t until 1:25 pm, so we were able to stow our bags at the Lord Nelson & do a little more exploring before heading out the airport. We stopped into the pharmacy to get me more Telfast since the rash was returning on my hands. That was kind of scary! We noticed that there was a huge international economic summit going on at the opera house, & there was security & K9 units & SWAT everywhere, since there were a bunch of planned protests organized & much of the area was cordoned off. We were glad to have checked it out before! Anyway, it was time to go home, & it would be a long journey, between missing a flight, waiting on line for new tickets, & having a mix-up with our ride from the Newark airport. Thankfully, Steve’s folks stepped in & gave us a lift. Experiences like this really change your perspective on things. We saw so many different kinds of things during this journey. What a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!