Our Antipodean Adventure

And so here we have a blog not directly related to our life in China and therefore I was unsure about whether to post it. But given that we would not have had this opportunity to go to Australia had we remained in the UK and given that this is an online diary and someday Eleanor will read this I wanted to record it.  Some of you may switch off entirely at this, but for those of you who want to read further, go and get a wee cup of tea.

My Great Uncle Hugh in the 1930’s bought a one way ticket from a small farming community in Northern Ireland (Ballyvernstown) to Australia.  He was a man who had 8 siblings and to leave that home must have been an incredibly sad time for all concerned but at the same time it would have been an amazing adventure.  Very different from our journey to China.  We hopped on a plane and have maintained links with everyone via technology, my parents have already been out to see us. Uncle Hugh got on a ship. Dear knows what that journey must have been like, letters would have taken an age to come through.  His family back in Nothern Ireland would have wondered if he had arrived safely, what his surroundings where like, had he made friends…

Uncle Hugh married Auntie Joyce, an Aussie lass and it was Auntie Joyce who was a prolific letter writer.  She communicated with all the family back in Northern Ireland right up to her death.  They had six children (5 of whom we met – the youngest, Don lives in Perth and we didn’t get there this time).  My Gran, (Dad’s Mum) was the only one of the siblings to ever go out to see her brother, she did so in the 1970’s. 40 years later and Martin, Eleanor and I decided that we would go to Australia see some of the sights and some of the family and friends we know we have out there.

Out of my grandparents generation, 3 of my 4 grandparents have descendants living in Australia.  We managed to see my Mum’s father’s relations and my Dad’s mother’s relations but we didn’t manage (this time) my Dad’s father’s relations.  Martin had the audacity, whilst we were visiting Hyde Park Barracks museum in Sydney, to ask whether my relatives were convicts.  He was told that none of the family were that old having come out in recent memory!

When I was growing up, over the years we had members of the families from “down under” visit, there would always be an open invitation to visit and I always wondered why we never did – the reason it is very expensive and a very long way to go!!! When planning the trip, we had imagined that we would all fly from Shanghai change at Hong Kong and onto Sydney.  That is what Martin did. Eleanor and I started our journey in London on 28th June. Overnight of about 11h 30 to Hong Kong, met Martin in the airport for 6 or so hours and then just another 7 or so hours to Sydney arriving on the 30th.  Having uttered the words in HK oh its just a short distance of 7 hours…I regretted those words about 2 hours into the Cathay Pacific flight – 7 hours to go is still a long way having already pulled an all nighter on the flight before.

Eleanor and I were checked in all the way through to Sydney which meant that sadly Martin’s seat wasn’t anywhere near us.  As Eleanor hadn’t seen Martin for a month we agreed Martin and Eleanor would sit together and I would sit in Martin’s pre allocated seat.  I thought I was fine about this arrangement, but actually I wasn’t.  I didn’t like being separated from the rest of my family.    However, the journey was pretty uneventful save for the drinks we bought to go onto the plane with being confiscated at the door of the aeroplane as you can’t go on the flight with food or drink (even if you are going to consume it on the flight).  Welcome to the tight rules of Australia to prevent disease from coming in.


Our Australian adventure saw us fly into Sydney, have a one day adventure with my Mum’s cousin, Roger and his wife Ruth in the Blue Mountains (they really are blue because of the haze the eucalyptus oil causes), go to the Sydney Opera House 3 times (once to look around, once to go on the Children’s Tour we had booked the day before when looking around, and the last time to go to a concert for Martin’s birthday).   It is a spectacular design but a huge shame that the original architect never got to see the building completed as there was a falling out during the build.  We also went up the Harbour Bridge – though we didn’t pay a fortune for it, nor did we walk over it.  The South East Pylon Lookout is open to visitors, doesn’t cost a fortune, was relatively quiet, child friendly and we had an amazing 360 degree view.

Sydney was also the first place where it really struck us that it was winter.  Temperature wise it was 20 degrees.  A nice warm sunny day in Northern Ireland.  We had wall to wall blue skies and then we happened upon St Mary’s Cathedral.  Outside it a temporary ice skating rink had been erected and so Eleanor and Martin had to go on it! IMG_1592

From Sydney we went to Melbourne and the state of New South Wales.  We stayed with Karen, a Guiding violinist doctor.  Martin and I both know her from the days of the National Scout and Guide Symphony Orchestra and we were very lucky to have such great hospitality from her and from my great friend from school, Graeme.  Between them, we were treated to some great experiences.  Cake and Penguins at St. Kilda and the beach huts, Christmas Carols in July, eating fantastic pancakes,watching pelicans being fed, stroking a Koala, feeding Cassowarries (birds from the dinosaur age that can easily kill a human!) and Kangaroos, buying wine (24 bottles for shipping back to China), watching the film Babe on it’s 20th Anniversary with a live orchestra, being conducted by the composer and having the actress who played Mrs Hoggett on stage alongside the Director.  But nothing could beat visiting Ramsey Street (I was a huge Neighbours fan growing up!).  The street really Pinoak Court, is a lot smaller than expected.  But then it is home to only 6 or so houses.  We didn’t pay a fortune for a tour, Graeme took us, with a home made sign.  The 24 hour security guard watched our every move and so long as we didn’t go onto anyone’s property, or take a picture of the real residents there wasn’t a problem.

IMG_1687 IMG_1725 IMG_1982 IMG_1995 IMG_2135 IMG_2175IMG_1839

So from Melbourne we then headed down the Great Ocean Road, and made a stop at Round the Twist lighthouse (remember the 1980’s/1990’s Aussie children’s programme), stayed at Lorne and had fish and chips, conquered the Otwey Fly Zipline tour, in the rain, dried out and then headed to the Apostles (in the rain) before getting to Allansford and meeting the McCluggages. IMG_2382 IMG_2391 IMG_2398 DSC03215 DSC03223 IMG_2450

The Otwey Zip was 6 zip wires through the Eucalyptus forest.  Despite the fact that by the end of it we were soaked and cold, the three of us had an amazing time.  And having looked at the photos, Eleanor was clearly very scared at the beginning but by the end of the first zip wire she was screaming with delight.  She was just the right height to do the wires unaided something which was unexpected and which our fellow zip wirers thought was very brave.

Our time with family was very special.  I think Eleanor got overwhelmed by the fact that all these people we met were related (Martin too) but we loved it, we were welcomed into homes and given home cooked food! Including a to die for Meringue, 3 roast lamb dinners and 2 apple crumbles.  No wonder I have come back to China a little heavier than when I went!

As my family have all got farms (either sheep or dairy), Eleanor got up close and personal.  She has bottle fed lambs, fed Crackle the pig and stroked a day old calf.  By the end of it she wanted to be a farmer.

It was in Allansford and Warnabool that we saw wild koalas.  The last one I saw was sitting on a sign which indicates the danger of bush fires.  The koala was sitting on the sign when I went to Church and when I came back from Church.  But by the time I went back to get my camera and the family, he/she had gone.

On our way back from another cousin’s house we were treated to an amazing rainbow.

IMG_2656Our time spent with family was over after a week.  We received a warm welcome from all the family, and it just makes you realise that family is to be treasured.  No matter where in the world you or they are.


From Melbourne we missed our connecting flight to Cairns via Sydney because it was minus one in Melbourne!  As we landed in Sydney, the Cairns flight was taking off.  Thankfully QANTAS were excellent and whilst we got into Cairns some 6 hours late, and rather than taking 1 flight (Sydney to Cairns) we took 2 additional flights  – Sydney – Brisbane – Brisbane-Cairns.  In Sydney we booked the cheapest (but decent) motel in Cairns as the river ferry at Daintree to Cape Tribulation doesn’t run past 10pm (ish).  At Cairns we collected luggage and hire car and went to our motel.  Upon arrival, we discovered that our suitcase had split.  Martin went back to the airport at 11pm to declare the damage and was told to come back the next morning.

Next morning at our motel and we discover it is run by Chinese staff.  Back to the airport and effectively told that when we get back to Sydney, QANTAS will replace our suitcase.  YAY! We then do a bit of shopping and go on our way to Cape Tribulation, the most northerly point you can get to on the East Coast without a 4 wheel drive.  The coast line was again beautiful.IMG_2717

Cape Tribulation Beach House had been recommended by my friend in Suzhou, and whilst remote and basic, the setting was beautiful.  It is where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.  It is also where Eleanor had her first trip kayaking, where I lost my leaving present from Battens (sunglasses), where I lost my underwater camera (which hadn’t made it snorkelling) and where I had a lovely horse riding trip through the rainforest and onto the beach – not surrounded by nudists.  (My last beach ride was at Studland – a naturist beach in the UK).  Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef was fantastic.  The guide at Ocean Safari looked after Eleanor and took her snorkelling using a life saving ring.  She was very privileged.  We had two dives and on the second dive, Eleanor stayed on the boat as she was very cold and got changed into dry clothes whilst Martin and I went out exploring.   We were taken onto Mackay Cay and whilst some of the reef was really vibrant with colour, other parts were devoid of colour but had plenty of fishes.    The Guide was superb and Eleanor and he saw a giant turtle.  Martin and I weren’t so lucky as we hadn’t followed them.  I think she probably saw (and knew what she was seeing) more than Martin and I.  On our way back from the Reef we saw “baby humpback whales” and their mothers.  We had also gone whale watching at Warrnambool and saw Southern Right Whales and their offspring.

Back at the Beach House we were not allowed to swim in the sea because of the risk of crocodiles.  Thankfully the only crocs we saw was at Hartley’s reserve on the way back to Cairns airport.  IMG_2766 IMG_2805 DSC03315 IMG_2907 IMG_2956 IMG_2994

We did go swimming in the sea at Cape Tribulation, but not intentionally.  I single handedly capsized the kayak we were in.  Whilst Eleanor and Martin were shocked at the impromptu dip, they got over it, not least because the sea was WARM.  I, however, lost my sunglasses and camera –  I stupidly turned down buying the flotation aid that could have been attached to it.  OOOPS. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

At Mason’s Cafe in Cape Tribulation we had a taster menu of 6 mini burgers…Camel, Kangaroo, Crocodile, Wild Boar, Emu, Buffalo.   Delicious and very definitely did not taste like chicken!

Cape Tribulation Beach House was lovely.  It was a youth hostel but with a fantastic restaurant. Eleanor got to know the staff and vice versa.   Most days were spent paddling on the beach and at 28/29 degrees it was bliss.

Time to leave and we headed back to Sydney this time with no delays.  We collected a brand new suitcase from a QANTAS agent, sadly it doesn’t match our “set” bought in the UK in May, but it still stands out on the luggage carousel.

We met Roger again and were taken to see Bondi Beach.  We are still wondering what all the fuss is about.  It is just another Portrush, or Weymouth but with more surf.  We were taken on more of a coastal tour round Sydney before heading back to have dinner with Ruth, and another cousin Penny.  At the Rocks Cafe Eleanor tried out Daddy’s joke on a waiter whose first language was not Australian…”Can I have a crocodile sandwich and make it snappy”.  The joke fell flat and instead of getting fish and chips (what she ordered) she got a crocodile burger! Main courses over and onto dessert.   HUGE portions of Lemon Merengue Pie and other treats were served, and everyone finished!

Having not seen enough of fish in the “wild” we went to the Aquarium at Darling Harbour.  A few of the exhibits were being revamped, but we saw dugongs (Pig and Waru) and a lot of sharks.   And here we witnessed Eleanor’s knowledge of what she had seen and been told about the Barrier Reef.

Whilst we didn’t go back to the Opera House, we did go to see Matilda the Musical.  We had taken Eleanor to see it in London for her 5th birthday and we were all so taken with it that we got tickets in Sydney.  It was fascinating to watch as we were told before the show that it was the first night for many of the cast.  (mostly children of course!).  The children were Australian but all of them sang and spoke with a British accent.  Remarkable.

Our last night was spent with Holly, my 3rd cousin. Penny’s daughter.  We went to a Pizza place that we probably wouldn’t have gone to had we not gone with a local.  And that really sums up our time in Australia.  We saw and did a lot of things that had it not been for people in the know we wouldn’t have had the time we had.  We have eaten in cafes that we wouldn’t have looked at twice.  Graeme took us to a cafe with a queue for brunch that from the outside we would have walked on past.  The tables and chairs and flooring had seen better days, but the queue was 30 minutes or more.  And the food was delicious, Martin’s Eggs Benedict got a huge thumbs up.  The second brunch we went for with Graeme and David had us queuing up in the rain and our name written on a brown paper bag  to note down where we were in the queue. The food we had on the family farms didn’t have many food miles and the desserts were mouth-wateringly delicious. The wine was cheap but of excellent quality and whilst we have brought some back we haven’t drunk any yet!

We will be back Australia.