In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

North to the Tropics - Part 2

North to the Tropics – Part Two
So now it is Saturday March 14 and we are finally spending a day on the beach in Australia. Emerald Beach is lovely. It is just a short walk from the campground to the beach, and the small town has a couple of restaurants, a small grocery store, and a few other shops.

After breakfast we walked north on the beach, barefoot and carrying our shoes. We crossed 3 or 4 headlands with stretches of beach between. After 2 – 3 miles, about an hour and a half, we reached the town of Woolgoolga, a much bigger town with lots of shops and restaurants. The first thing we wanted was a beer, but that proved surprisingly hard to find. The restaurants down by the beach were not licensed to serve alcohol, although they were BYO. This is a surprisingly common designation in the parts of Australia we saw. Finally we were directed to a tavern – these are almost always called hotels – which was still another half mile walk, but we quenched our thirst at last. We looked around for an Indian restaurant – the town has a large Sikh Temple – but the 2 we found were both closed. So we returned to the hotel for lunch and got a taxi to drive us back to Emerald Beach, where we finally had a swim in the ocean. The surf was actually a little harder than I liked, although Ron didn’t mind. There were a fair number of surfers in the water, who were fun to watch. We then swam in the campground pool. We decided that beach life was very nice. 16,500 steps today and no driving! It actually rained a little overnight, which reminded us to always put everything away.

Unfortunately, the next day we had to head back onto the road. We stopped for lunch at Byron Bay, the iconic beach town for the Gold Coast of New South Wales, full of surfers and New Agers. After a nice lunch we tried to get up to Byron Head, the farthest east point in Australia, but the parking lot was full, and we felt compelled to move on. We drove on into Queensland without ever seeing a welcome sign or anything. We skirted Brisbane and headed inland to the town of Toowoomba, up on the escarpment above the coastal plane. Drove 509 kilometers.

Monday morning we went out to Picnic Point for the view and had wonderful scones with whipped butter that seemed to melt into cream.

This picture shows that Toowoomba is at the center of it all.

We had come to Toowoomba to visit with a woman, Marie Cameron, with whom Ron has been in email contact about St. Eustatius genealogy. Marie’s ancestor Margaret Ann Moore Cameron was born on St. Eustatius in 1818, married in Guyana, then moved to Victoria and finally Queensland. She died in Toowoomba in 1918. So after our scones, we met Marie and her cousin Jennifer at Margaret’s gravesite for photographs. They then served us a nice lunch at Marie’s home, and we looked at old photos and talked about genealogy. It was particularly pleasant because we really had not been meeting very many Australians – Campervan people seem to keep to themselves.

After lunch we were back on the road again driving north through lovely pasture and forest uplands. This countryside seemed particularly empty of people, houses are miles apart and the towns we went through were very small. At the end of the afternoon we headed back to the coast, but luckily the slope was very gentle and not frightening like Waterfall Way where I was worried that our wheels would go off the edge of the road. We stopped at Maryborough for the night. We discovered that “Pokies,” which we saw advertised a lot, were not some kind of pie or something, but electronic poker games and slot machines. Drove 355 kilometers.

On Tuesday we got a better look at Maryborough, which turns out to be the birth place of P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books. She was born here, in the apartment above the bank where her father worked, as Helen Lyndon Goff. At some point when she moved to London, she became Pamela Lyndon Travers. So here is a picture of myself with Mary Poppins. I don’t think of her as being so short.

The town also has the biggest fig tree I have ever seen, more than 100 years old. Almost all of the green you see behind the palm tree is the fig. Perhaps, if you zoom in, you can see the trunk, which is huge. Figs also send down additional roots, which support the large spreading branches. The angel is on an ANZAC monument to WW1. Per capita, a much larger percent of Australians and New Zealanders died in that war, since there were fewer political consequences to putting them “in harm’s way.”

Coming soon: The town and beach of Agnes Water and finally – the Tropic of Capricorn!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

North to the Tropics - Part One

On Thursday March 12, we picked up our camper van and left Sydney. The plan is to head North to the Tropic of Capricorn for the Equinox. We plan to drive some in the mountains and some along the coast.

We love our little camper van. Often we don’t bother putting away the bed because we can set up a table and chairs outside. The rental company persuaded us to leave our big suitcases with them, for which I am glad because we would be crowded otherwise. There is a little refrigerator and microwave which we have used, but we have not bothered to use the gas stove or the sink. We are eating fruit, yoghurt, sandwiches and salads, and occasionally eating out and warming up leftovers. We wash up in the camp kitchen where we are staying. I mentioned the difference in coffee before; well now we have discovered the difference in french fries – chips as they are known here. The minimum smallest order, which costs $3 – 3.50 (US$2 – 2.50) is two to three times bigger than a large order of McDonald’s fries. McDonalds also has what they call a McCafe with pastries and sandwiches – adapting to local tastes.

Anyway, on our first day out we got to Tamworth, the Country Music Capital of Australia, in the hills 410 kilometers northwest of Sydney. The Oasis Hotel was next door to the campground and we went over after supper to listen to the Balladeers sing such old standbys as Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On, Waltzing Across Texas, and It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. They sang with typical country and western accents, which we also noticed listening to the radio, and did not sound like Australians. As far as we could tell, all the songs were American. However, later we did hear original Australian songs on the radio, although they still sound American when they sing.

Friday we drove North through the “mountains,” really a high plateau, to Armidale, which is a nice little college town with a pedestrian mall that stretches for several blocks. We had a picnic lunch there and then visited the Aboriginal Center and the Art Museum.

We then drove down to the coast on Waterfall Way, stopping to see Wollomombi Falls

and Ebor Falls.

The lookout area for Ebor Falls had some marvelous vegetation. Near this giant mushroom was a magical little stream which flowed through a glen just before it cascaded over the cliff, but it didn't photograph well.

We stopped at Dorrigo National Park, which is a well known rain forest preserve and walked out onto the Skyway, a platform that extends out over the edge of the mountain and over the forest canopy. We say our first walleroo – a kind of small kangaroo, except that I’m still not sure how you tell them apart. I think it is mostly a matter of size.

Unfortunately we had to continue on without taking any hikes in the park because we needed to get to our campground by 6 pm, which we just managed to do. We drove 326 kilometers this day. The campground was doing an evening wine tasting with a local winery, which along with a walk out to the beach was a pleasant way to end our day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


We arrived at the Sydney airport at 8 am on Monday March 9. Picking up our luggage and clearing customs was pretty quick and easy, and we took a cab to the Quaker Meeting House in order to check in and drop off our luggage.

Since it is recommended to adapt to your new time zone immediately, and not sleep and eat according to your old schedule, we headed out to walk around Sydney and get oriented. The Meeting House is just off Elizabeth Street, one of the main thorough fairs, so we started going up north that way. Sydney is a typical mix of urban styles and economic levels. Most of the buildings are new, but some of them can be as old as 200 years. Many of the older commercial buildings have been turned into shopping arcades. The main thing we noticed walking around was how young most of the people seemed – lots in their 20s and 30s, and very few over 60. We ate lunch in a Greek restaurant about half way and moved left a block or two to George Street and continued north to Circular Quay where all the ferries are. From The Quay you have a good view of the Opera House and the Sydney Bridge.

Then we walked into an area called The Rocks, which is where the city was first built, and we had a coffee. The coffee language is different and the cup sizes are normal, not Starbucks huge. We have ended up drinking what is called a flat white – coffee with hot milk but very little foam. They also serve a latte, and a short black, which is espresso, and long black, which is regular coffee. From the Rocks we walked up to Observatory Hill by way of the Garrison Church. The Hill gives you a good panoramic view of Sydney Harbour. Then we walked down the hill on the other side to Darling Harbour for a beer. Darling Harbour has many tourist attractions, but they are expensive and many of them oriented towards families with children.

Walking back to the Meeting House took us through their China Town and we also stopped at Paddy’s Market, an old market building converted into a mall, for groceries. The Meeting House has a nice kitchen and eating area, so we ate supper there. Although it seems to be in the city, it is considered to be in a suburb called Surry Hills, so we walked around there a bit too. Many of the buildings have second story balconies with lovely iron work balustrades, which seemed like quite a distinctive feature. Later we saw the same style in some of the towns outside of Sydney. It may have developed because of the warm climate. By the way the temperature was probably in the 70s. It had rained over night, and it was mostly party cloudy, so really ideal for walking about. My pedometer registered 20,790 steps! We were in bed at 8:30, and really were adapted to the new time by the next day.

Tuesday March 10 we were up early and out exploring by 8:45. Again we walked north up Elizabeth Street until we reached Hyde Park. Can you tell that these people came from England? There is an impressive Anzac Memorial there for WW1. Midway up the park we checked out St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, a very Gothic church, and then stopped for a coffee at the top end of the park.

Across the street we went into the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We remembered that when we were there in 1990, it had been wrapped by Christo, but the person we asked at the information desk couldn’t verify that memory. We looked at the 19th & 20th century Australian art, landscapes and portraits mostly. I liked the contemporary stuff more myself, which seemed less imitative of European art. Or maybe they were doing a better job with the 20th century art movements. There was some interesting aboriginal art also. Sydney has a huge Botanical Garden, which a person could easily spend lots of time in. We strolled through a good portion without really trying to learn a lot about the plants. We ate lunch at a café across from the Circular Quay. At a lot of restaurants, you order at the counter and then they bring you your food. It took a little while waiting for table service to figure this out. On the other hand, you rarely tip much, unless there is real table service and then it’s only 10%. From the Quay we walked up to the Opera House and around the inside a little. We walked back thru part of the Botanical Garden to the Sydney Museum, which has exhibits about the founding and growth of Sydney - interesting panoramas of the city from different time periods, for instance. This time we took a ferry back around to Darling Harbour.

We stopped in at Paddy’s Market again, and while Ron was doing some shopping, I got a fifteen minute Chinese back and shoulder massage for $15 dollars, which got expanded for another $5 to include some head and neck time too. I don’t think I have every felt so tight after 2 days of walking and lugging around a very heavy purse with guidebook and everything! We returned to supper at the Meeting House and some more wandering around the Surrey Hills neighborhood. We have already picked out a favorite pub. The weather again was pretty perfect – in the 70s with some cloud cover. 23,225 steps today.

On the recommendation of one of the other guests at the Meeting House, on Wednesday we took a train out to the Blue Mountains. Central Train station is just a few blocks from the Meeting House, and Sydney has a very extensive network of trains. In two hours we arrived at Katoomba. Luckily we brought an umbrella with us, but we could have been dressed a little more warmly. We had gotten used to the Sydney temperatures and hadn’t really planned for the mountains to be a lot cooler. Mostly it was foggy becuase we were actually in the clouds and therefore wet, but occasionally it actually rained. But it was not disastrously bad, only a little uncomfortable. Anyway, Katoomba has a sort of 1890s Art Deco frontier style. We had coffee at a café that supposedly also served Bob Dylan once. At the end of town, maybe a mile walk, you come to a cliff with a huge panoramic view, except that, of course, we were in the clouds and couldn’t see a thing. However we continued along the cliff edge trails to a different overlook and got below the clouds.

Their iconic rock formation is called the Three Sisters because it is 3 rock columns that stand out from the cliff. The story is that they were 3 sisters escaping from some unwanted male attention. A sorcerer transformed them and then died before he could change them back. As we walked back along the cliff trail, the clouds rose so that we finally got the expansive views across the valley to other mountain tops. The landscape is very reminiscent of New Mexico table land, but much more forested. At the other end of the trail is an attraction called the Skyway Station. We took a cable car across a narrow gorge with Katoomba Falls at the head. The cable car has a glass floor and the cliffs drop away very dramatically and the valley floor is far below. There were other cable cars and trams we could have taken down to the valley floor, but we elected to walk back into town for lunch. After lunch we looked into the Carrington Hotel – very old fashioned ritzy décor, felt like an ocean liner. Then we took the train back to Sydney. 17,440 steps total this day.