Australia 2004, part 5: WINE-ding our way home

Bob’s lookout

We travelled the 332km back to Cairns via the inland route, stopping off at a few lookouts along the way.

We had one night in Cairns, where we stayed in a Holiday Inn. Rather than brave the town, I opted for my first ever experience of a room-service dinner which was surprisingly pleasurable. (Actually, this remains my only room-service dinner, although we did have room-service lunch in Sydney before flying home.) Our table was set up by the huge windows overlooking the harbour and served with what I considered to be a finesse well beyond the grade of the hotel. These days, I would take photographs but we have none at all.

The following day we flew back to Sydney, and the day after that we embarked on an overnight Mount ‘N Beach Safari. This was a trip we had booked before leaving home: the first day was to be spent touring Hunter Valley wineries, and the second day included visits to Nelson Bay and Port Stephens to drive on sand dunes and go on a dolphin cruise. After my accident, we phoned to cancel on the grounds that my injury would make it very difficult. However, the company could not have been more helpful and assured us that they would choose the wineries with ease of access in mind. I am so glad we went, because the first day especially was a real highlight.

A misty Hunter Valley

We were picked up early and driven out to Hunter Valley, still shrouded in mist when we approached. True to the company’s word, the driver took us to wineries where he could park close to the door and there were no steps. Obviously, we couldn’t buy much wine because it had to fit into our luggage, but I think we did acquire three bottles. We stayed overnight at the Hunter Valley Resort where we had lunched earlier in the day. I remember sitting outside at a lovely table, with delicious food and a glass of wine, and feeling very happy and relaxed. The resort also has a brewery, so in the evening we sampled its products too. It was a special day – and so it should have been. It was my birthday! But do we have any photographs, other than the one above? Nope, that’s it. What were we thinking? I can only assume that the wine addled our brains.

The following day was slightly less successful. We were picked up after breakfast by a different guide, and taken for a drive on the sand dunes near Nelson Bay, then to Port Stephens for a dolphin watching cruise. The dune trip was fun, and in no way affected by my gammy leg.

After lunch, we boarded the boat for the dolphin-watching cruise. This was very tricky for me, and once settled in a seat I found it difficult to move again, especially at the speed required to get to the front of the crowd to see dolphins. So I didn’t see any – John did, but something went wrong with the camera, and after a few shots looking back at Port Stephens we have no pictures of this either!

We returned to Sydney for one last night before flying home the next day. I was very well looked after in all airports and on all flights  – until we got to Heathrow. We were met from the plane and got a ride through the corridors on a motorised buggy, which was fun, but were then dumped in an unstaffed area for passengers requiring assistance. Someone was supposed to come to wheel me onto the plane before general boarding, but only one staff member appeared and he took the other lady who was waiting. A few minutes later, she was wheeled back, loudly declaring “But I don’t want to go to Glasgow! I’m going to Newcastle!” By the time I finally got to the plane, many others had boarded and I had to hop through the crowds on my crutches. My carefully chosen aisle seat had been swapped for the other side so that I couldn’t, when safe, stretch my plastered leg out into the aisle, but had to cram it under the seat in front the whole time. (We found out later that a bigger plane had been put on the route to bring back the golfers from the Open which had just finished at one of the Scottish courses. This meant that seat bookings were all rejigged.)

Once home, I was faced with several more weeks on crutches and in physiotherapy. As I said in an earlier post, I still feel the injury today and will probably never be completely free of it. I bitterly regret that moment of carelessness. However, we had an amazing holiday despite the accident, and would love to return to Australia some day if that sort of travel ever becomes feasible again.

Australia 2004, Part 1: Sydney and Brisbane

We visited Australia for the first and, so far, only time in the summer of 2004. It was something we had looked forward to for years and we expected it to be memorable, which indeed it was, but not always for good reasons as you will find out as my story unfolds.

We arrived in Sydney at 6am one morning, having flown from Glasgow via Heathrow and Bangkok with no stopovers. It was my first time travelling Business Class (thanks to airmiles) which meant we got some sleep on the journey, but I still spent the first week with severe jet-lag. We had three nights in Sydney and spent large chunks of the time wandering around the harbour area in a complete daze.

One of the things that strikes me looking back over this whole trip is how few photographs we have compared to the number we would take today. John had a digital camera, but I was still carrying a camera with film. I’m not sure why, especially as many of my pictures replicate the digital ones, though there is an advantage to that because I have carefully labelled them on the back with exact locations. As an example of this lack, on our second day in Sydney we took an early ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walked the Manly Scenic Walkway to Spit Bridge, and took the bus from there back to the city. I remember this walk being lovely, but we have only two digital images and a handful of prints!

On our final evening we climbed to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, which was a great experience. I remember climbing a ladder, putting my head through a hatch and feeling a train whizz past. It felt like inches away but I’m sure was at a much safer distance!

The following day, we flew to Brisbane to stay three nights with my aunt and uncle, Elspeth and Ian McKay. Elspeth is the middle one of my father’s three younger sisters, and although she and Ian had lived in Australia all my life we had met at various points over the years. Some of their spells back in the UK were quite lengthy, and I remember Elspeth looking after Dad and me when Mum was in hospital having my younger sister.

The highlight of our visit was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which we discovered also housed kangaroos and a variety of birds and reptiles.

Ian died a few years ago, but it would be nice to think we could visit Elspeth again some day. If we do, it will be at the end of the holiday when my body has recovered from jet-lag and I’m less likely to disgrace myself by falling asleep every evening!

From Brisbane we flew to Cairns for the next part of our adventure: visits to the coral reef and the rainforest. Things were about to go wrong …