top of page

Down Under: Koalas, roos and whales, oh my!

Updated: Apr 22

"We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto..." Hang on, there IS no place like home!


This time it's my turn to play travel guide for a change, for our visiting friend from the USA. And more than happy to do so!


We met Libby on the back of a camel train in Petra, as you do, haha, and during the five years of correspondence and friendship via Facebook since, she decided to make plans to come and visit us from her home in California.

This will be the sixth time we have happily hosted a friend (or friends)

that we have met during our travels in recent years. They have visited us from Wales, Norway, England, Western Australia, Hunter Valley, and now the USA. We hope there will be plenty more in the future too, (Southsea, Sussex

and The Netherlands...you know who you are xx) we love it!

So, after planning for over three years and making two separate bookings that had to be cancelled, (damn Covid), Libby finally made it, woohoo, and we were absolutely thrilled to show her our amazing 'backyard'! This is but a snippet of what Australia has to offer, but for three solid weeks, we gave it our very best shot.





But first, a little welcome at the airport was the order of the day. As Libby is a retired officer of the law,

I felt it completely appropriate (or perhaps not...), to create this sign for her,

seeing that she couldn't get into Australia for three long years... She loved it! Phew. :)


It certainly got some looks and giggles from other members of the public. Good ol' Aussie humour!


Our home in Australia for the past 33 years (circa 2023 ),

is in Queensland's beautiful Gold Coast Hinterland,

only 20 or so minutes from the beaches,

but is surrounded by forests, creeks, waterfalls, and wildlife.

Lots of wildlife.

Some aren't as welcomed by our overseas guests as other cute furry or feathered ones,

(I have no idea why, lol)

but luckily it's nearly winter, and most of our slithery friends

are hunkered down for a little while. I said most.

I neglected to mention at the time, that my seven foot barn python

had made an appearance -

Some things are better left unsaid. (Libby, I did you a favour here, buddy! ;) )


At least this one didn't come inside our house...

Look, he's smiling. Don't you think? I do...Like Kaa from The Jungle Book.


THAT SAID, the day after Libby's arrival, I had popped out for an errand,

and upon driving home I noticed a mob of kangaroos,

just lounging around our local parkland, so when I got home, all I said was

"Pop your shoes on, and grab your camera, I found some roos for ya!"

Here you go guys, is this more of what you want or expect to see, hey?! This is normal? Yeah, nah. (That's a 'no' in Aussie slang...)

They don't wander around our suburban yards,

or cross the Harbour Bridge (well, not normally, it did happen once recently though)

and snakes don't come into your house, well, occasionally,

or do people die from spider bites, any more.


Let me, kinda, reiterate. Spiders no.

We have anti-venom for the bad kind, and if people die,

maybe it's from fright, haha, like in the car...

(it could happen anywhere) Ok, I'll stop.


Hey, in other countries people have to bury their poop and hide their food

when they camp...

Not here... We just need to shake out our shoes and zipper up our tents.


All good.

We're not as savage a country as people may think.

I promise. Our friend stayed at our place, on acreage, and we have all sorts of animals here...

and the worst she saw was a cockroach - which I might add, she whopped and disposed of on her last day ...(and she hates bugs) -

she is now known as an honorary Australian. Good on ya Lib, by the way.


So, back to our furry friends...






These locals were so chilled, not worried one bit whilst we crept up slowly,

quietly taking pics all the way.


We eventually just lay down next to them on the lush valley grass,

basking, alongside our furry friends, under the warm autumn sun. Libby was beside herself.

Just a usual morning scene around here in our little valley,

that we drive past daily, not really noticing,

or bothering to notice I should say...

So nice to appreciate how special it actually is,

through the widened eyes of our foreign visitor.


Lunchtime beckoned, and we were off to the first place I take visitors to have a meal;

Just a quiet 20 mins drive along just one creek hugging road to get there from our home,

our local surf club is situated literally right on top of the gorgeous Currumbin beach.

Sometimes on a full moon king tide combined with a huge storm,

the ocean actually comes right up and around this place,

literally making it an island until the tide turns.


Photo credit: Gold Coast Bulletin


But not this day...


Most days are like today; idyllic.

Plus it has the BEST views of the Gold Coast, both north and south.


Also this time of the year we start to look out past the breakers and see the first of the

mighty humpback whales swim by, as they show off their impressive skills,

breaching and frolicking as they migrate up here to give birth

a little further up our coast at the lower end of the Great Barrier Reef,

around Hervey Bay.

Up to 60,000 of them make this trip from the icy depths of Antarctica to our warmer

Queensland waters, and we have boat tickets to see them (hopefully)

at the end of these three weeks.


Nearly winter, and still in short sleeves.

Poor Lib packed for cold weather, as I said is was getter cold here. I think our cold isn't that cold on the world stage. ;)


---


Not a bad little start to your adventure Libby, but get your walking shoes on my friend,

we're off and racing.


As we live on the border with New South Wales, there's a lovely little loop drive of a couple of hours that we can take from our home, avoiding all traffic until the end, as we snake

(oops, sorry), as we wind our way around the country roads and townships,

stopping at amazing hilltop vistas, finally arriving at the

Natural Bridge National Park in Springbrook,

on our way up to Mount Tamborine.


Another spectacular day of weather presented itself...

so we hit the 'frog and toad', (road),

for a nice little intro to our beautiful hinterland surroundings.


Not far from our home, we first pass through the tiny villages of

Chillingham and Crystal Creek,

stopping briefly to take some pics of the original buildings there,

that have been lovingly restored. Such a quaint little place, and a popular spot for the motorcyclists to stop for a coffee whilst they cruise the same scenic route as we are currently taking.





Next on the list, was The Natural Bridge National Park,

which is a gorgeous spot I like to bring visitors if they have the time.


Gotta love our 'no rabbits' sign. Cracks me up every time.


Apart from taking the wrong trail, as I was talking too much,

(no surprise there),

and it was a wickedly punishing hill, sorry Lib,

we finally made it back to the right trail and an easy stroll past rainforest giants -

(not exactly the Redwoods Libby is used to where she lives, but giant for us...)

and the gushing creek to where the gorgeous Natural Bridge, or Arch, is situated.

I'd like to come back here one night when it warms up again,

to check out the glow worms that reside in the cave.






Libby showed me how to do a long exposure shot on my phone. Cheers, Lib!


Back in the car to head up to our local Mount Tamborine,

which is glowing in the colour of autumn at this time of year,

and not nearly as chilly as I had expected.


Founded in 1911, St Bernards Hotel is a brilliant place to call in to,

and besides their spectacular views all the way to the ocean off their rear deck,

they are more reknown for the family of

St Bernard dogs that have called the hotel home for decades. I love it when I pop in and there is a new litter of giant puppies. They also have a very photogenic resident peacock

that cruises around from table to table, looking for crumbs.


No puppies this time,

but we did manage to get our lunch order of wagyu beef burgers in just ten minutes

before the kitchen closed. Woohoo!




Heading further up for a quick stop at the top of the mountain,

we wandered through the normally very busy

art and craft market of Gallery Walk,

but being mid week it was nice and quiet today,

so we got the chance to pick up some mouth watering goodies for home.

Some delicious cinnamon and rhubarb conserve, (a request from Trev),

and some naughty fudge from an

'Adults Only' Fudge Shop. ;) YUM.



---


The following day was a bit of a chill out day, before Trev could finally join us in an outing,

as he's still been bringing home the bacon - not quite retired, yet. We are working on that, it IS imminent.


HOTA, (Home of The Arts on the Gold Coast) is the place to be on a Friday afternoon around sunset - and what better place than at the Exhibitionist Bar,

right at the top of the most colourful building on the Gold Coast.




This really is the best place to sit and watch the Gold Coast skyline say goodbye to the day, and welcome the glittering lights of the evening.


They have a small snack menu (ahhh, did someone say lobster roll?),

but an extensive cocktail list. A great starting place.

Or in our case, finishing place.

Oh wait, not quite.

We did finish at our local tavern on our way home for some

pumpkin, pesto and goat's cheese wood fired pizza,

as we only had a cocktail watching the sunset at HOTA. A first for Libby, to have pumpkin on a pizza, and yup, it was a hit!


---


The weekend arrives, and whilst we have big plans tonight with

Trev again accompanying us, yeay,

today was a quaintly random day, taking Libby to our largest shopping centre (mall)

on the Gold Coast, to see that we pretty much sell the same shite they do.


However the fun was actually had cruising through the food markets,

(always interesting to do in foreign countries),

and discovering some weird and wonderful fruit that even I have never been bothered to try, and a self serve bread and pastry bar that had 'treats for Trev' written all over it.


Arvo tea at home done and dusted!


Driving home, I decided to use these last few hours of glorious weather for a good purpose,

and swing by the famous Burleigh Beach and adjacent headland; The Burleigh Bluff,

for a look see and quick wander around the point,

watching local board riders catch their last waves along this

World Surfing Reserve

on this tranquil Saturday afternoon..


This area is the deadset middle of the Gold Coast strip, and is a favourite amongst many,

and despite how rare it is to find a carpark here lately,

I scored one front and centre

right by the headland, so we could get out

and enjoy the spectacular view through the trees, and north towards Surfers Paradise.


This is a special place for our family, and we are just about to walk nearby

where Trev recently spread his Dad's ashes,

as a tribute to the last 30 years he lived by this beautiful beach.




But now as evening approaches, it's time to swap our running shoes for boots,

and caps for cowboy hats,

as we head to the great Aussie arena show simply known as;


Another iconic Gold Coast event to take a visitor to,

as it is a feast for the eyes, and stomachs,

as we are served a delicious three course meal with drinks,

all whilst we watch a story unfold in front of us, of our great Aussie outback,

and the characters and skilled horse riders that are tied to its tough yet unique history.




It's always fun to come along to this with overseas guests, as the special effect lighting,

inventive stage props, along with some great stunt riding, makes for an awesome evening.


---


An enjoyable Sunday morning sleep-in must be a universal thing,

as it was a slow rise in the Watson household today.


All good, time to crack on with one of Libby's gifts to us, being a colourful jigsaw that she brought with her, knowing that Trev's more than a little partial to doing one of these

bad boys, when time permits.


Me?

I'm good for about 15 minutes, until something shiny takes my eye and I move on to whatever else steals my attention.


But it turned out to be a family affair, with our daughter Brittany joining in, and even sending us a photo of a section she finished off whilst we were out last night.

The cheek of it all!



Lunch was another drive over the border, and through the cane fields,

to the pleasantly serene riverside township of Tumbulgum,

and their historic pub.



Amazing food, yet today there seemed to be few items not available from their menu.



Just as well, their famous prawn and avocado bake was still on,

and my record still stands, of never ordering anything else from their menu. Libby enjoyed it too.

Y U M.


---


The beginning of a new working week, saw us head south for an hour's drive,

sadly, without Trev today,

to hit the stunning #Byron Bay on yet another cookie cutter day of blue skies and

mild weather conditions.


The 'most easterly point of mainland Australia' is always worth a visit,

and the lighthouse there is absolutely gorgeous. Yet another thing I have in common with Libby, is a love for lighthouses.


Actually, the first ever photo I was allowed to take on my mum's old camera back when I was about eight, was of a lighthouse. I remember it well.


One day, I hope to be able to print a book full of lighthouse images

I have taken from around the world over the years,

with that first photo, taking pride of place on the inside cover.


Once we arrived there, it's free to walk around, and then a gold coin donation to tag along with a volunteer's guided tour and history lesson of the old lighthouse. (You need to do this if you want to walk to the top.)


After over 36 years living on the Gold Coast,

this is the first time I've ever walked up this grand old girl. And it won't be the last, I can assure you. I'm smitten.


It's so cool.

The photos ops... And the view...

Wow.




How fabulous as well, that we actually got to spot our first whales, just off shore from here.

It's very early in the season, but they are here!

After tearing ourselves away, and driving by the adjacent

gorgeous, and exclusive Watego's Beach, always keeping an eye out for our

most famous local here, Chris Hemsworth... sigh


... we ended up back in down town Byron for lunch.

This is a rare place that doesn't and hopefully never will have,

a McDonalds, or even a traffic light.

Known for it's hippie and surfing culture, it unfortunately has succumbed to the real estate boom and prices have pushed it out of reach for the average, or even above average Joe.


That said, I'll still come down and support local business when I can,

the monthly markets are a feast for the eyes,

and Miss Margarita is the one restaurant where we always stop at

to have what I believe are the best pulled pork nachos I've had, anywhere! Coming from California, even Libby agreed that they were outstanding.





















'Nuff to share!



---



The following day beckoned a lazy day finishing this fun and colourful jigsaw,

conserving our energy - before 'hitting the town' later that evening...


...'The town' being just our local suburb of Miami,

to the famed #Miamimarketta, and we had tickets to see none other than

Oscar award winning actor Russell Crowe, groove out with his band.



This turned out to be a real treat, as I wasn't too sure what to expect,

but after watching him sing Folsom Prison Blues on Youtube,

I was secure in thinking we were in for a good night of jamming, and story telling,

which is exactly what we had.


I had muscled up to almost the front where the stage was,

as it was a standing venue,

and I truly enjoyed all his original songs, some funny anecdotes of his acting life,

and yes, he sung Folsom as his first encore.

I wish I could post what I recorded here, but it's a little long, so I might just post a link to one of his other performances on late show, a few years back. Just as cool.

I'd definitely see him play again.

(He actually went on from here on the Goldy to play at the Sydney Opera House - What a stark difference in venues!)


---


Now, it wouldn't be a complete trip to the Gold Coast, if we didn't hit the tourist strip of Surfers Paradise, even if it was just for one stop:

The Q1 building.


This is Australia's tallest building, and was the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere there for a while, until our neighbouring New Zealand felt the need to beat us in

something other than sport for a change, by topping our building by five and a half metres. Not competitive at all. Haha.


It's really worth the fee to soar up the 77 floors in just a few heartbeats,

and you certainly you need to pop your ears a few times on the way up.


The view is simply spectacular.

But don't bother ordering what used to be their signature dish:

The High Tea.


They now just serve it on a single plate, which is not nearly as pretty, or posh,

as a traditional three tired presentation,

and I truly don't believe it was worth the $57. You decide...

Like, really?


But don't let that dissuade you, there's plenty of other food offerings,

perhaps even just grab a tea or coffee,

cocktail or champagne, or even just chug on your own water.

It's the view you're really there for.




A little further up the road we go now, to The Spit, or the Seaway.

A scenic watery entrance to the Gold Coast Broadwater, river and canal system.

An easy park and walk, and they have a great off leash dog beach there too,

next to the sand pumping jetty.

Always a delight watching dogs frolicking in the waves, and the jetty provides some

great photo opportunities. I remember fondly bringing my Welsh guests here too, who are avid photographers as well.


I grabbed this shot off the net, as it's super hard to get one without people in it. Photo credit: Sarah Ward



Such a pleasant, and easy day of sightseeing. Tonight we have friends joining us for our yearly spectacle of State of Origin Football. Australia's equivalent to the Super Bowl.


Libby was a great sport, enjoying the evening, watching our rough and hard hitting game of rugby league with interest, as we passionately stood and cheered our

Queensland boys home in a thrilling victory. Game one of three, in the bag.

Yeah the boys!

There's a ball in there somewhere, but I don't think that's what they're after.

*bringbackthebiff

---


Finally a proper 'down' day. No plans at all.

Time to pack.

We're off to Sydney and The Blue Mountains.

Time to really get busy, hehe.

Giddy up!!!


---


The plan is: To fly down, stay three nights right on Sydney Harbour, then hire a car to start our road trip, stopping first out at the scenic Blue Mountains for a two night stay, then head for the 11 hour drive home with an overnight stopover on the pretty Coffs Harbour oceanfront.


And that's exactly what we did.


And what (should) you do when you first hit Sydney?


A quick lunch in the Old Rocks area, located right on the harbour's edge,

and it's actually the site of our First Fleet's landing. It is a heritage listed precinct, full of original convict built pubs, hotels and restaurants,

and then from there its an easy stroll around this sensational harbour.


One of these original old pubs that Trev and I have been to and loved,

known locally as just 'The Hero'. It's Sydney's oldest and most haunted pub, and in its cellar, it still has the shackles on the walls, that they used to shackle the rowdy and drunken sailors to. Some of these blokes woke to a shocking hangover,

many miles out to sea on a merchant ship. Back in the day... (Maybe they should still do it, lol)




Nowadays, The Rocks area is a lovely, safe, and fascinating place to stroll around,

steeped in history, and you get to walk in the steps of our early settlers - and convicts. I see something new every time. I love it.




We had to walk the Nurses Walk, to get back to our hotel every night. If the walls could talk...


The Harbourside of Sydney, to me, is the best in the world. Iconic sights like the Harbour Bridge and The Opera House, are so close to each other, it's an absolute joy just wandering around, taking pics of these most famous landmarks.



I was born and bred in Sydney, and I still visit yearly,

and I STILL will always take photos of these sights.

Without fail, especially if it's with a new friend, or a different time of day. The lighting, the clouds, the sunset... always throwing a different look.


I love the old with the new.

This tall ship is one Trev and I sailed on a few months ago,

for the Australia Day celebrations on the harbour. It was so awesome, we'll be doing it again next year,

but with some friends this time, who wish to join in the fun.


And fortunately for us, we are here during the famous '#VIVID SYDNEY' festival,

where many of the city's iconic landmarks, buildings, trees and gardens,

get lit up at night with spectacular laser light displays, as well as a HUGE array of pop up vans right by the Harbour's edge, serving you delicious foods from around the world.


It's as festive as New Year's Eve, and for Sydney...that's massive! It goes for three weeks,

and we have front row seats.



But first things first; it's time to jump on the classic Manly ferry, to get out onto the water,

and zoom across the harbour to the popular beachside retreat.



Nothing like getting the wind in your hair, and for Libby,

getting the first of many: 'pinch me, is this actually happening' moments.

Yep, Buddy, it sure is.

Welcome to Sydney Harbour, my friend!

Manly is a great spot to get to, only about 25 minutes or so by ferry,

cruising past all the fabulous sights of Sydney Harbour with it's

waterside mansions, yacht clubs and even a zoo,

and once there you can decide to walk down the plaza to the beach for some

legendary fish'n'chips, (and great BBQ ribs)

or just hang around the harbour foreshore, where there are plenty of bars and restaurants

to squat your bot, people watch, and just see the afternoon pass you by with a smile.


We were very surprised to read that tiny penguins have frequented this bay.

Wow, I never knew that.




And there is no way better than finishing your Manly visit,

than with a gelato at the ferry terminal,

before you head back to the city.

Trev and I would rather miss a ferry (actually, we have), than to miss an ice cream from here!

The ferries are constantly running, so its definitely worth it.



Dinner was a celebration tonight.

Of just being here.

Of Libby finally being here.

And no better than what Libby had booked for us before she left her home country.

Dinner atop of another icon,

The Sydney Tower.



I remember the last time I was here, it was probably not long after its construction.

We were celebrating my brother's (I think) 16th birthday there... he is now 59. It was very posh back it the day...with its revolving restaurant being a show stopper.


The restaurant is still there, still revolving, and has recently been refurbished,

with the view being even better now than back in the 80's,

particularly with the Vivid colours shining brightly through the buildings from below.

Libby treated this meal for us, and it was such a brilliant start to our weekend sojourn. Thanks, dear friend.



---


BIG DAY TODAY!

It's Libby's birthday!


And what better way to spend it, than sailing Sydney Harbour on a friend's yacht!

Yes please!!


In my last blog on Tahiti and Hawaii, I wrote that Trev and I met, and hung out a lot with,

long time friends travelling together, Gabby and Christine.

Well, as it happens, Christine and her husband, Alistair, own a yacht which is moored at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, which is just one cove away from The Harbour Bridge.

When I mentioned that I was looking like coming to Sydney with Libby,

Chris was so generous by immediately offering to take us out sailing for the day

should we make it down.


And here we are,

and what a day to have it on!


We were so excited for this, and I was equally pumped up to catch up again with our

cruise buddies, and to meet their respective partners, Tim and Alistair.


As per usual, my body clock wakes me at dawn, so I snuck quietly out of the hotel room,

as I had looked out our harbour view window, to a think blanket of fog. A complete whiteout!


This was great news, as when it finally lifts, it pretty much guarantees it to be a

perfect blue skied day.


But the fog lured me out first.

I knew I was going to get some cracking photos.

Check these out!

They were very monochromatic too, which I love.




Yet again, these icons photographed in a completely different aspect. And all the pros were out with their big guns. I just had my little ol' reliable iPhone. I remember standing under the bridge, seeing this ferry come along so I waited for the

exact time to take the shot. The photographer next to me said, "oh no" when he saw it coming,

thinking it was going to ruin his shot.

Hardly, I thought, I was more like, "oh yeah!" ...

and it is one of my favourites of the bunch! Everyone has a different eye.


A quick stroll on my way back to the hotel, I couldn't resist a quick peak at the stalls just opening up on the famous Argyle Street markets. Their yummy foods looked enticing as delicious brunch ideas for Libby and I later,

before we grab a ferry to take us across to the

Yacht Club, to meet the others!

Ahhh, but maybe not. Don't think I'm walking enough for these puppies! But it's Libby's birthday, and calories don't count today!



A quick day-bag shuffle before we left the hotel, as we won't return till quite late tonight -

we had to make sure had layers for all weather. Especially sailing.

We didn't know quite what to expect, and we have some really cool plans tonight,

which I'll get to later!


First stop: Kirribilli, for the Yacht Squadron.


Whoa, is all I could say.

WHAT

A

LOCATION!


And the weather was looking just like this photo, which I grabbed from their website.



First things first; wine and champagne were the order of the day

for me to grab from the clubhouse for the boat,

as Christine and Gabby were bringing a light lunch

and nibblies for us all.

Again, so, so, generous.



Honestly, I could've been quite happy just sitting on the yacht,

still moored, at such a great spot.

However, the harbour beckons, and away we went.



Without wind meant it was a day on motor, which was kinda nice as its less work for everyone (aside from Lib and I as newbies anyway),

so we all got to enjoy each other's company with a bevy or two without the worry of

hoisting a jib, or tacking.



The weather was so perfect that the water was almost glassy, and with not much swell at all, Alistair steered us towards Sydney Heads, and out on the open ocean!


What a treat!