Overnight in Port Macquarie

Our first port of call after Wolgan Valley was Port Macquarie, a popular seaside resort, with a temperate climate, on the NSW mid-north coast, about 390 km (242 miles) north of Sydney, and 570 km (354 miles) south of Brisbane. The town sits on the mouth of the Hastings river and it boasts many gorgeous beaches, a lush hinterland plus a surprisingly diverse range of attractions.

Rich in history, vibrant with art and alive with culture, Port Macquarie is a treasure trove of impressive convict built buildings to ancient Aboriginal land, from expressive public art to exotic exhibitions, and with an abundance of festivals and cultural events.

The town which is named after a former Governor of NSW was a penal colony for around 20 years from 1820. Its thick bush, tough terrain and indigenous folks (the Birpai) keen to return escaping prisoners in return for tobacco and blankets, provided large amounts of both isolation and hard labour to keep the criminals under control. These criminals would have been persistent offenders from the Sydney penal colony.

I’d picked it for an overnight stop as it was roughly midway between the Blue Mountains and Byron Bay. After almost returning to Sydney, we drove along the Pacific Highway, marvelling at the lush green pastures and rain forest either side of the road. The occasional burst of yellow blossoms looked just like mimosa, reminding me of home.

We arrived in time for a stroll around town before dinner in a great fish restaurant opposite our hotel. After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a longer walk around town taking photographs before eating breakfast in an organic cafe.

The town had been a great spot for an overnighter, let’s hope my other picks are as successful. All too soon we were back on the Pacific Highway heading for a few days in Byron Bay.

Postcard from the Blue Mountains

A mere three hours drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are easily accessible by car, or via a dramatic scenic helicopter flight. We opted for the former – we should’ve gone for the latter, but that’s a whole other story – to reach our home in the Wolgan Valley where we were anticipating much cooler temperatures than in Sydney. Daytime temperatures of just 10 – 15°C, though at night, at this time of the year, these temperatures can drop to as low as -3°C. Consequently, we’d packed anoraks, stout walking shoes and cashmere.

The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s natural wonders and the World Heritage area combines eight individual conservation reserves – Yengo, Wollemi, Gardens of Stone, Blue Mountains, Nattai, Kanangra Boyd, Thirlmere Lakes and Jenolan Caves Karst Reserve. I doubt three days will be sufficient to see all these wonders.

According to the ‘blurb, the Greater Blue Mountains is an accessible wilderness, covering more than one million hectares of rainforest, canyons, eucalypt forests and heath lands in New South Wales. It’s an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep valleys and swamps teeming with life – none of whom I suspect I would wish to meet! The unique plants and animals that live in this outstanding natural place relate an extraordinary story of Australia’s antiquity, its diversity of life and its superlative beauty. It really is a nature lover’s paradise with an abundance of colourful bird and animal life, the greatest concentration of eucalypt diversity on the continent, and landscapes ranging from rainforest to heathland.

More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, the long-nosed potoroo (what a fab name), the green and golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink. Flora and fauna of conservation significance and their habitats are a major component of the World Heritage values of the area.

Your home in the wilderness

Well, the Blue Mountains more than lived up to its reputation and, thanks to the guides where we were staying, I now know and understand a lot more about the important conservation work that’s  being undertaken in the area.
Wolgan Valley is the world’s first carbon neutral resort, set amid 7,000 acres, nestled between two national  parks within the UNESCO World Heritage site. Spread out in a valley at the foot of towering cliffs, the resort has an admirable commitment to broader social, ecological and environmental sustainability.
It was a a wonderfully relaxing stay and we particularly enjoyed getting up close and personal to the resort’s abundant wildlife, particularly its 5,000 strong herd of kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabies, its comical, camera-shy wombats and its many noisy birds. All too soon our stay – more of which later – was over and we were driving back towards Sydney, and the next leg of out Adventure Down Under.

Friday holiday photos #2

Today we’re starting our drive along the NSW coastline towards Brisbane. Here’s a few photos from our time in the Blue Mountains, a truly magical place. My photos really don’t do it justice. There will be further posts in due course about our stay here.

View from the dining room
Looking up towards the resort from our bungalow – one of only 40
This is Russell

(Another) Postcard from Sydney: Part II

We spent that first Sunday in Sydney largely walking around its splendid (and free) Botanical Gardens which we accessed from the other side of the wharf. The weather was glorious for a winter’s day as you’ll see from the various photographs.

The map below shows the gardens occupy prime real estate: a heritage-listed, oasis of 30 hectacres in the heart of the city. The Gardens wrap around Farm Cove at the edge of Sydney Harbour, occupying one of the city’s most spectacular spots.

Established in 1816, it’s Australia’s oldest scientific institution, home to an outstanding collection of indigenous plants and those from around the globe. The Gardens overall structure and key elements were down to Charles Moore and Joseph Maiden and have been built upon by successive directors.

It’s a popular place with families who were out en masse enjoying the fine weather and like us looking at the various displays, including one which  honoured the Cadigal, the original inhabitants of Sydney’s city centre and their relationship with this land.

There are spectacular views across the water from the Gardens and it’s possible to walk round to the Sydney Opera House, a piece of architecture which has stood the test of time, and that iconic bridge. After we strolled around the centre of Sydney looking for interesting doors and admiring the mix of old and new buildings before heading back to base.

 

I have no idea how far we walked because my beloved  forgot to put on his Apple watch but I’d say it was approaching 15km, well over our 10,000 steps!

 

x

(Another) Postcard from Sydney: Part I

We’ve arrived in Sydney after a stopover in Dubai. I should warn you that if you’re expecting to read about Sydney’s iconic sites, you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s what you’re after, check out my earlier posts from 2010 and 2016. No, this post is about one of Sydney’s many ‘burbs, the wonderfully named Woolloomoolloo, a harbourside town 1.5km east of the Sydney CBD, near to Kings Cross and Potts Point.

Woolloomooloo was originally a working-class district, largely docks, which has undergone significant gentrification, particularly along its waterfront where we were staying.  Its name comes from the first homestead in the area, Wolloomooloo House, built by its first landowner John Palmer. There is debate as to how Palmer came up with the name with different Aboriginal words being suggested. Was it Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black kangaroo?

After the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney, the area was initially called Garden Cove or Garden Island Cove after the nearby small wooded off-shore Garden Island. The first land grant was given to John Palmer in 1793 to allow him to run cattle for the fledgling colony. In the 1840s the farm land was subdivided into what is now Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and parts of Surry Hills. Originally affluent residents built grand houses here, many with spectacular gardens, attracted by the bay and close proximity to the city and Government House.

Woolloomooloo has a number of heritage-listed sites, including a couple on Cowper Wharf where we were staying. The town is also home to Finger Wharf built in 1911-15, and at the time the world’s largest wooden structure, to help re-organise Sydney Harbour’s foreshore facilities. The wharf’s influence diminished during the 1970s and it became derelict until the mid-1990s when it was turned into private residential apartments, a boutique hotel and several restaurants and bars. It’s now a thriving and popular area.

Friday’s holiday photos #1

While we’re away, I’ll be using the Friday slot to post a few photographs from our trip (WiFi permitting). The first ones are from Dubai where we had a few days’ stopover. As to be expected at this time of year, it was hot and steamy – thank heaven for air conditioning pretty much everywhere.

My first port of call was at the book shop in the Dubai Mall. I am nothing if not predictable! We then went window shopping until I bought my beloved a new toy, a rechargeable and portable Bose speaker. I may regret this if I have to listen to his choice of music all vacation. Maybe I should have bought some of those noise cancelling ear phones after all?

Thursday we just chilled around the hotel pool. We did think about heading to the beach but it just seemed like too much effort.

After two days of total relaxation we were ready to continue our journey to Sydney.

 

 

And, they’re off……………………….

Today we’re flying to Dubai en route for Australia, and another big adventure Down Under. On our three previous trips, we’ve not visited Queensland – too hot. But Australia’s wintertime seems to provide ideal temperatures, plus my beloved is attending a dental exhibition in Brisbane. You knew there would be some work involved!

Going via Dubai allows us to take a couple of days’ breather between long-haul flights even though it’ll be roasting there. We’ll be taking refuge in the shade and chillin’ wherever we can, plus my beloved can meet up with his Middle Eastern distributor – more work!

As usual I started planning our itinerary over nine months ago – never knowingly unprepared. Fellow bloggers have provided a veritable font of knowledge in terms of what to see and do, as have friends in Australia. I love, really love planning trips almost as much as I enjoy the trip itself. Luckily my husband adores “just turning up.” It’s not that he’s uninterested, he just knows I’ll do a much better job than he would.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I shouldn’t be too ambitious and plan to do too much, otherwise there’s no scope for any spontaneity. I book all the airport transfers, car hire, flights and hotels and a number of trips, plus a few restaurants. The rest I play by ear but, having done tons of research beforehand, I have plenty of ammunition to ensure we have a wonderful time.

From Dubai we fly to Sydney, rather than Brisbane, because I want to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Blue Mountains, and my beloved needs to meet up with his Australian distributor ahead of the August exhibition in Brisbane. After a few days in Sydney, staying not too far from where our distributor is based, we head off for three days in those mountains.

Careful planning means my beloved will, on average, drive no more than 5 hours per day when we’re on the move. I hate having to pack up on a daily basis, so there’s only a few spots where we’re spending just an overnight. With the exception of Brisbane itself, we’re generally spending 3-4 nights in most places.

After our spell in the Blue Mountains we’re wending our way up the coast to Byron Bay where we’re going to chill for a few days ahead of the drive to Brisbane (and the exhibition), where we’ll spend two weeks. Given that my beloved will be working for part of that time, I wanted to ensure he had plenty of opportunity to see all Brisbane has to offer.

In Brisbane, we’re staying in a hotel in the CBD which is part of same group as the one we’ve stayed at in Adelaide. They have studio apartments with cooking facilities so that we don’t have to eat out all the time.  The hotel also has a pool, a gym and an on-site restaurant. Fortunately, I won’t have to help out at the exhibition which will leave me plenty of time to investigate Brisbane’s culture and its book shops. We won’t be able to watch any cricket at this time of year but we would like to see an Australian Rules Game, a sport which is hugely popular in Oz. I need to understand what all the hype is about.

After Brisbane, we head north once more along the coast to Mooloolaba and Noosa, finally heading to Port Douglas. During this part of the trip we’ll be flying over the Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef and also visiting them in a glass-bottomed boat. This is shark territory, so I won’t be dipping so much as a toe in the water. We won’t be ignoring the rain-forest, we’ll also taking trips inland looking for friendly wildlife. Finally, it’ll be back to Sydney and then home once more via Dubai.

During the trip, I’ll only be posting pictures and snippets about our travels, waiting for the most part until I get back (early September) to tell you all about our travels in detail. However, it won’t be a WordPress blackout. I’ll try to keep up with all your posts and I’ve scheduled a few of my own, including a number of award posts, which will pop up while I’m away. I hope everyone has a great summer!

The Basque Country: Bilbao

We’ve probably spent less time in Bilbao than in its fellow Basque cities of San Sebastian and Vitoria-Gasteiz and our visits have always been prompted by watching stages in either the Vuelta al Pais Vasco or the Vuelta a Espana. That said, it’s a fascinating city largely because of its historical significance and its architecture, including the emblematic Guggenheim Museum.

Bilbao lies along the mouth of the Nervión River, 11km (7 miles) inland from the Bay of Biscay and it’s the largest city in the Basque Country. It started life as a settlement of seafaring folk whose inhabitants began to export both the iron ore found in large quantities along the river’s eastern bank and the products of their ironworks, which became well known throughout Europe. In 1300 the lord of the province of Vizcaya, Don Diego López de Haro, lord of Biscay, granted it permission to become a town and an independent municipality.

Bilbao’s port was also the centre for the export of wool from Burgos to Flanders. In 1511 the city obtained the right, like that of Burgos, to its own commercial tribunal enabling it to issue laws in the form of ordinances. The last of these, promulgated in 1737, formed the basis of the first Spanish commercial code in 1829.

During the 18th century Bilbao derived great prosperity from intensive trade with the American colonies of Spain. In the following century, the city was sacked by French troops in the Peninsular War (1808–14) and was besieged four times during the Carlist wars. These struggles produced a strong communal spirit that after 1874 directed itself toward industrialisation.

Bilbao is divided into two distinct areas: the left (eastern) bank of the Nervión River, which includes factories and working-class neighbourhoods, and the right (western) bank, including commercial, historic and residential areas. The old part of Bilbao lies on the right bank, its nucleus formed by the Siete Calles (“Seven Streets”), a series of parallel streets leading to the riverbank.

The old city’s notable landmarks include the Gothic-style Cathedral of Santiago (14th century), the Plaza Nueva (early 19th century), and the Renaissance-style churches of San Antonio, Santos Juanes and San Nicholas. Several towns on the left bank of the river were annexed to the municipality after 1890, forming the modern extension of the city. This section is a banking and commercial centre and is the site of the provincial government’s offices. Nine bridges, including Calatrava’s earily skeletal bridge, cross the Nervión to link the old and new parts of the city.

Bilbao is the one of the most important ports in Spain. Beginning in the 1870s, Bilbao experienced rapid industrialisation based on the export of iron ore and the development of the iron, steel and shipbuilding industries. The growth of industry drew workers from other parts of Spain, and their presence soon provoked a reaction in the form of Basque nationalism.

The good times stalled in the 20th century, as demand (and output) declined. The Civil War hit the city hard and, after the Republican surrender, Franco made it clear he wasn’t going to easily forgive the Basques for siding against him. The dictator’s death sparked a massive reflowering of Basque culture, symbolised by bold moves to revitalise the city.

Tourism and services have grown in importance since the decline of the steel and shipbuilding industries in the 1960s and ’70s. The opening in 1997 of the Guggenheim Museum, designed by American architect Frank Gehry in curving, titanium-clad shapes, has attracted large numbers of tourists. Also in the 1990s, city redevelopment projects included a subway system, upgrading of the airport and harbour, construction of a conference centre and concert hall (1999: home of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra), cleanup of the river, and a waterfront development near the Guggenheim that replaced former shipyards with a cultural and business centre. By the early 21st century, income from tourism had alleviated the effects of the decline in heavy industry, and Bilbao’s metropolitan area, which contains nearly half the total population of the autonomous community, continues to expand.

My favourite area, aside from the riverside, is Bilbao’s Old Town (Casco Viejo), tucked into a bend in the river, it’s easily the most charming part of the city, the oldest of which is the Siete Callles, the Seven Streets lined with bars and quirky shops, and some very attractive architecture. Now, I know I have some more photographs but can I find them on Dropbox?  Sorting out my photos must go on my “To Do List!”