Our intrepid explorer Margaret Patten continues her adventures Down Under.

When you have a four week holiday, it seems endless at the start. Then, having spent three wonderful weeks exploring New Zealand, all of a sudden it felt like time was rapidly running out. Now we were on an early flight for the final week in Australia. Not nearly long enough!

I was looking forward to hotels instead of camping, my daughter and I had explored New Zealand in the “comfort” of a two man tent. This made the prospect of a nice hotel seem like heaven, even though they were to be budget. Our first pit-stop turned out to be in a rather seedy area, with some “interesting” shops. Thankfully the hotel proved to be clean and well positioned for the station. Day one took us through the Botanical Gardens to Sydney Harbour – a magnificent sight dominated by the iconic Opera House. I was thrilled to see P.O. Oriana docked in the harbour – a familiar sight as we had sailed on it in the distant past. A tour of the Opera House advertised Carmen for that evening. The tickets were quite expensive and we were trying to stay on budget, but it was an opportunity not to be missed. Before taking our seats we ate dinner overlooking the harbour. Carman was wonderful with live horses on stage.

The following day we were meeting up with a former University friend of my daughter, who was working locally. We were off to the Northern Beaches, one called Curl Curl – one of the best surfing beaches in the area. My daughter and her friend surfed while I took a book and relaxed with a coffee at the Life Saving hut. I never did open the book as it was more fun watching dogs in the water and the surfers.

Another day and yet another friend. This time an early train to Newcastle, where we were due to stay the night. We enjoyed the train journey which included some great scenery. My daughter had met her friend, a lawyer in the Northern Territory, one New Years’ Eve while awaiting midnight at Sydney Harbour, and had become firm friends. Both were travelling alone. We were met at the station and arrived at their lovely house overlooking a lake in a really pretty area. By now her friend had married and moved back nearer her parents. The only thaing that slightly tarnished the visit was pouring rain. It didn’t stop us going out to explore and of course we ended up at the Surf Club. They promised to come and stay with us but to date this hasn’t happened.

Bondi Beach was next on our list. A gathering place for the beautiful people. It reminded me of the 90’s pop song by Bombalurina, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”. I enjoyed people watching and the many shops. I had heard so much about this area in the past, when I rented a flat to some life guards who spent their summers in England and winters on Bondi. All so fascinating.

Then it was on to Manley. The ferry service from the harbour is worth taking just to cross the beautiful bluw water and take in the view which includes the sea side of the Opera House. Another area and town to explore, and another tree lined beach to walk along.

It was now time to move on, with a flight to Cairns and the Barrier Reef. The scenery was great on our journey from the airport and at last our accommodation was spot on – a very small holiday park of chalets, and no one else staying. It had a pool which was so welcome in the humidity of Cairns. Leter we explored the beach which had several notices warning, “beware of crocodiles!” also many mosquitos. Although the shops were expensive it was a pleasure to browse just to take advantage of the air conditioning. Walking back we took the path along the slow train line as we had to pass a swampy area. We were keen not to chance an encounter with a ‘croc’ as there were still warning notices. It would certainly outrun me, my daughter is more athletic.

The Quick Silver boat took us out to dive at the reef. It was a great experience and very well organised. My daughter left me to it, as she wanted to go much further than me being the stronger swimmer. I don’t think she wanted to risk having to rescue me again, as she had during our Hector Dolphin experience in New Zealand! I was perfectly happy exploring underwater in a warm calm sea. So very sad about the state of the reef though, as it is all so beautiful. We enjoyed a Chinese meal before going back to our delightful chalet to pack for our long flight home via Hong Kong.