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Friday, September 7, 2012

And on to Australia ......

Australia 2012                                                                                    September 1 – 30, 2012

September 1 – 2, 2012
This day began early and extended an extra 4 hours as we continued our journey, travelling from Tahiti to Australia. We awoke in Tahiti on Saturday morning and by the time the day was finished we were in Australia and it was Sunday evening.  What a peculiar day! It has taken us several days to adjust to the fact that much of last Saturday and some of Sunday simply vanished into the ether. However, there cannot be many people who can say they had breakfast in Tahiti, lunch in New Zealand and dinner in Australia. I think that certainly could be considered jet-setter status!

Our itinerary took us from Papeete, Tahiti to Auckland, New Zealand on the first leg of our journey. Jim and I were sitting side by side on the same plane but we were actually travelling with two different airlines. I was on the Air Tahiti Nui portion of this code-share flight and Jim was flying with QANTAS. Not a problem, or so you would think.

Except ….. Air Tahiti Nui was not able to check my luggage through to Australia whereas QANTAS checked Jim’s luggage all the way. That meant that in Auckland, I actually had to go through customs and immigration, claim my suitcase, check into my next flight (now QANTAS) and go back through security. I was actually in New Zealand for less than one hour. Meanwhile, Jim was happily installed in the QANTAS lounge relaxing and sipping a cappuccino.  There are some downsides to travelling on airmiles!

Once reunited, we enjoyed a beautiful lunch in the QANTAS lounge and waited patiently for our next flight (about 3 hours). Time to read, catch up on email, and simply relax.

Our flights today were very smooth and on time. Although we were at times 13 kilometres in the air, we were able to see the ocean far below and watch the white caps and from time to time even see a ship. The plane from New Zealand to Australia was a brand new aircraft and had a feature that Jim and I enjoyed. On the screens on the backs of the seats, there was an embedded ‘chat’ program which allowed you to chat with anyone else on the plane simply by identifying their seat number. Jim and I only knew one another of course but that did not prevent us from ‘chatting’. After all, there was an empty seat between us so technically we were not sitting side by side. Silliness prevails!

We arrived in Sydney on time and, after collecting our luggage, headed to our hotel to freshen up for dinner. We were meeting our friend, Sandy Boyd, for dinner. She picked us up and took us to a scrumptious Thai restaurant where ate, drank and talked and talked. Sandy brought a friend, Vince, with her and he certainly kept the conversation lively. Much laughter punctuated the evening. It was great fun.

September 3, 2012

A short night and we were up and ready for another flight, this one a short hop to Canberra. The domestic terminal was quite close to our hotel so we loaded all our luggage on a cart (remember we do not travel light!) and pushed it along the streets and into the airport. I think we looked more like vagabonds than travellers. Nonetheless, we made it to check-in without any mishaps and once again headed for the QANTAS Lounge to await our boarding time. (It was a year ago that Jim gave me a membership to the Airport Lounges and that has transformed travelling for me. Comfortable chairs, snacks and soft drinks, occasional meals, free Wi-Fi and hot showers are all available behind those mysterious doors. On a long haul journey, it is a gift to be able to relax and wait in comfort.)

Harold and Chris Small were waiting for us when we deboarded the plane in Canberra. It was so great to see them. We met them first in 1995 when we lived in Canberra. Some people become instant and fast friends and the Smalls are among those people in our lives. It took no time at all to pick up right where we left off when we saw them almost two years ago. Such a special time lie ahead for us.

Waiting for us at Harold and Chris’s home was Nadya, their daughter, and her three  beautiful children. Yossie is a quiet two year old boy and Gypsy and Zavida are active 13 month old twins. It was wonderful to meet the girls and reacquaint ourselves with Yossie. Nadya is a very relaxed though busy mom. In between playing with and feeding the children, we did find time to catch up on some news and enjoy a special time together.

Our first home made dinner in a month (shepherd’s pie) and an early bedtime topped off the day.

September 4, 2012

Spring has come to Canberra and we were surrounded by buds and blossoms of all kinds. The vivid yellow wattle was in full bloom along with the more delicate blossoms of various fruit trees. Even the magnolias had opened their blooms for us and daffodils bobbed their heads.

Harold and Chris have a new all-wheel drive vehicle and they were anxious to try it out on some of the country roads around Canberra. So we prepared a picnic and headed out into the Australian bush. The sky was spectacularly clear and deep, deep blue. The sun shone all day long and there was the warmth of spring in its rays.

We first travelled to Cotter Dam, a brand new and very large dam that is under construction. We had seen it in its initial stages of development in 2010 and were amazed at how large it actually is as it nears completion. One of the remarkable things about it is that they are using a ‘continuous pour’ process for the concrete. That means that once they began to pour the concrete into the forms, it would continue non-stop 24 hours a day until the entire dam is completed. What an undertaking! They have run into a couple of problems along the way and the pouring had to be stopped temporarily but for the most part, the concrete is being poured all the time.

Soon after we departed the Cotter Dam, we also left the paved roads. Australian bush roads are pretty rugged, not manicured gravel the way our country roads are. Deep potholes, boulders en route, steep inclines and sharp turns are all par for the course. And no guard rails or extra consideration given when travelling along deep precipices. It was an exciting ride. I must say though that the vehicle was extremely reliable and very comfortable. Harold was happy with the workout it got on this maiden voyage.

Along the way, Jim and I were reminded of the features of the Australian bushland landscape. So many colours of green, the aroma of eucalyptus, the burned out remains of trees caught in a forest fire , and the new growth that emerges because of the fire. Some Australian plants are unable to propogate without the impact of fire.

We enjoyed seeing some of our favourite birds – magpies, king parrots, sulphur-crested cockatoos.

We stopped for our picnic at another dam along the Cotter River, this one much older and smaller than the new one. It was a delightful place for a picnic and for a short respite from the bumpy road. But soon enough, we got back into the car and retraced our steps, this time mostly uphill, until we finally reached paved roads again. From there it was a smooth ride home.

Chris had invited some friends in for dinner tonight, people we had met when we were here 17 years ago. We were not sure we would remember them. Nonetheless the conversation was lively and the food was delicious. Chris is an excellent cook and we enjoyed the fruits of her labours. Yum!!

September 5, 2012

Another day of exploring the Australian countryside. This time we headed south toward Cooma. Our time was somewhat limited due to ‘grandparenting duties’ in the late afternoon. However, we made very good use of the time we had.

First stop was Royalla, a large tract of land that has been subdivided into ‘gentlemen’s estates’. Grandiose homes are being constructed in this area with ample space for gardens, bush and water dams. We stopped at one such home that was under construction. A labour of love, Harold and Chris’s friends are doing all the work themselves – digging holes, cutting and laying cement blocks, pouring concrete slabs, and installing a geo-thermal heating system. What an undertaking! It will be spectacular when it is completed, for sure!

On we went down the highway to Cooma. This is wide open countryside and as we travelled we could feel the wind intensifying. Cold, gray clouds filled the sky and the day changed from delightful to worrying. We took a short tour around Cooma and organized our picnic so we could eat it in the car. We did leave the paved roads to follow a narrow dirt road across the Murrumbidgee River and through a gap (pass) in the high hills in the area. As we drove, branches were being torn from trees and leaves were whipped across the road. It was a bit harrowing for driver and passengers alike.

We saw a small herd of kangaroo (yes! We are in Australia) and lots of sheep and cattle on the vast open fields of agricultural land.

Once home, we settled in for the evening. Left-overs made a delicious meal and a balance of conversation, computers, reading and television-viewing filled our time. It was hard to believe that we had only been here for two days and that we would leaving again tomorrow morning.

Happily, we managed to find a couple of days while we are in Australia that we can meet again. That made it much easier to say farewell.

September 6, 2012

Once again we were packed up and off to the airport, this time to fly to Melbourne, our true home away from home. Although sad to leave Canberra, we were excited to be heading to Glen Waverley, the place we had made our home for 2 ½ years (2000 – 2002).

We landed early and gathered our luggage for the last time for over 3 weeks. We negotiated our car rental and headed out onto the Monash Freeway towards Glen Waverley. (Yes …. I did remember to drive on the left hand side of the road!!) It was a gentle trip and we were soon on the Kingsway, the original shopping street in Glen Waverley, noting which stores were still open and which ones had transformed into restaurants. We have seen this area undergo a major metamorphosis over the last 10 years as the original small shops have given way to restaurants and eateries of all kinds (especially Asian). The centre of Glen Waverley is now a major entertainment and nightlife area.

We had lunch in one of the many Asian restaurants (it was delicious food) and then drive to David and Susan Morgan’s where we are going to make our home for the next part of our journey. A cup of tea, a brief period of unpacking … and we were all off to dinner at Barbara and John Hurst’s home. It was the reunion of the Aranui group along with Robert Fleming, another dear friend, who joined us for the evening.

It was a great homecoming for us to this, our home away from home.

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