You know that a vacation has been memorable when you realize that time has flown by like a jet and you are dreading packing up all the bits and pieces in preparation to head back home to reality.

This has been very much that kind of vacation for me – even without John I am afraid to admit. I’ve spoken with him once or twice each day, but I have hated going into too much detail or talking at length about my experiences as I feel like it would put a little salt on the wound. But it has been wonderful and I hope that my blog has reflected a true love of Australia and a desire to see oh so much more of it in the near future.

On our last day we spent it at the famous Bondi Beach and also at Centennial Park. Traveling around Sydney can be a little crazy, and Jenny has relied on “Giselle” (her TomTom device) to get us around the city and points beyond. It has helped us out in more than one occasion or we would still be driving around Sydney!

So Bondi Beach first – known the world over, it is a hotspot for the beautiful people, surfers and surfer wannabe’s. The day was the best yet and we ventured out in short sleeve shirts – a first for Mum and I! The sun shone all day long so it was fitting that it be our last! Bondi Beach is very much a typical beach, but as with Mollymook, the sand is fantastic, clean and fine underfoot. The area is also like a big rounded basin but the waves crash in and provide excellent surfing (for the surfers out there)! The water is crystal clear and you can see the shelf drop from bright teal/blue water as in the Caribbean to the dark blue where the sharks lurk in the depths beyond the nets put in place to protect those in the water. Still, never going out there…no way! 😉

And just our luck there is a RSL club there right at “Iceberg’s”. Iceberg’s is a famous restaurant/club /swimming club. The name comes from the swimming club that requires that in order to be eligible to join, you need to swim every Sunday for 2 years to qualify – no matter what the weather…icebergs and all. The swim team is also very competitive during the lifesaving competition that they have every year and plaques, medals and trophies are all around. Also, the pool is famous as it is filled by the seawater that is adjacent and crashes up against the side of the pool when hi-tide is in. We were there in the middle of the day, so no crashing about, but the concept is very cool. All the swimmers wear wetsuits to swim in as the water is the temperature of well, the ocean. [pictures to come – and I got some great ones!]

So after our visit to Iceberg’s RSL, we jumped back in the car and headed over to Centennial Park for a walk around until we met up with Ian for dinner. Centennial Park reminds me of Central Park with a lot less people and less skyscrapers surrounding it. But there are walkers, runners, horseback riders and many playing in the fields. The day continued to be beautiful and we had a good walk around looking at all of the plant life that only grows down here and seeing the larges cockatoos that I’ve every seen (except in a cage or zoo) flying around all above us. There were black swans in The Swan Pond and tropical birds and plant life all around. Interestingly there were no squirrels or chipmunks, or any types of birds that we have at home. I don’t think that small animals like the squirrel or chipmunk would survive here… too many larger predators about.

To cap off the evening… and the trip as a whole… we were back at The Lord Dudley for our last dinner where our adventure began two weeks ago. The Lord Dudley in Woollahra is the English pub that served the Beef and Guinness Pie that Mum has talked about the ENTIRE trip. So it was only fitting that we go back there for our last meal and see if it was just as good as the first one. It was.

I attest to the fact that they’ve had the best meat pies that I’ve ever had. Mum is determined to go home and try and duplicate the recipe. Good luck to her – they wouldn’t give her any hints, only that it had red wine and the waitress felt like she had told us too much by that point. Pies are taken very seriously here and if they enter these in competition, I am sure that they win regularly.

So back to the house in Mosman to pack.

It was a lovely, lovely cap to the holiday and I dreaded leaving for the airport this morning. I was trying to figure out if/how I could call in sick for a week without anyone really noticing… well that would never happen!

Sydney, Mollymook and The Blue Mountains were the three places that we visited on our journey to Australia. We’ve only scratched the surface and I hope to come back soon and perhaps visit Queensland… another jewel of Australia.  With no idea what to expect on this journey, the trip far exceed my expectations.

New South Wales is incredibly beautiful and scenic and it is the very best of what we travel distances to visit in the Northern Hemisphere. Think Laguna Beach/Southern California, Vancouver, Seattle and England all rolled into one… without the crowds, easy and favorable currency and friendly, friendly people. AWESOME!!!!! And I’d say that it remains this way simply because of its remoteness to the rest of the world. This country has the best of it all and remains unspoiled because of the cost, desire or the distance to travel that keeps so many away.

Australia is a hidden jewel right there in front of you… this trip will remain with me for many years to come…


One thing I’ve come to learn about traveling is that it is worth the extra money if you can take a tour with a local guide. We did this in Sorrento last summer and had an amazing time, and when booking the trip to the Blue Mountains, I imagined that it would be a perfect compliment to the trip instead of just seeing the typical tourist points of interest.

Through Lilianfels I hired the Tread Lightly Eco Tour group for the Rocks to Rain Forest Four Wheel Drive Eco Tour. Adam was our guide and picked us up at 9am. He is a really friendly guy, and yes, a guide needs to be friendly, but like all people that you are getting to know pretty quickly, you just kind of dive in and pretend that you’ve been friends a long time… that way you get the most out of the guide and you get a great and thorough experience as he feeds off of your questions and fills in the gaps.

One request for Adam is that we wanted to see the elusive kangaroo if at all possible. Adam scratched his head and thought about it for a bit. The kangaroo live in the valleys of protected areas and away from main roads, so seeing them is a bit of skill and luck. Adam couldn’t make any promises, but he said that he would take us to the Megalong Valley where they sometimes hang out. Kangaroos generally are more visible in the early morning when they come out for breakfast. During the hot days (not when we were here, of course), they escape to the bush and stay cool. Regardless, we were hopeful that we would see some.

And then we were off. We drove around the rim of the Blue Mountains and Adam stopped at a really picturesque look out point. No railings or guard rails, Adam stood right on the edge and even though experienced, I thought he was crazy. I was a few steps back from there (okay, maybe a few more). The wind was howling, so it was at times hard to keep your balance. We managed okay and got a tremendous view of one of the valleys and you could see some amazing rock formations in the distance. Back in the vehicle and we were off again.

We learned a tremendous amount about the eco system in the area including all of the beautiful flowering plants that are at their peak for spring time in the area. Also at full peak were massive and I mean massive Rhododendron plants – well really trees. Obviously these were not native to the area, but gorgeous nonetheless. In Michigan where we have all four seasons, I guess that we take the sudden burst of Spring color for granted as in NSW, you have to really look for the flowers as they only show themselves in small clumps here and there. For Adam it seems to be a major event if he comes across a botanical popping their head out after their version of Winter. Most impressive was the Waratah, the state flower of NSW… it is a crimson red dahlia-like flower that blooms this time of year. They are grown hydroponically and sold in florists, but if you pick one in the wild it is a $8K fine. They take their plants seriously here, indeed.

So on and on we went traveling all around parts of the Blue Mountains. There is a very small area of rain forest and the canopy is so dense that it goes from being light to dark very quickly. And then suddenly we were in the Megalong Valley with farms in the distance surrounded by the mountain range. And there, and admittedly very much in the distance, were a group of kangaroo sunning themselves in a farmer’s field. Adam had binoculars and we were able to see them quite well, but my little instamatic camera just captured little gray mounds and you can sort of make them out. Regardless, we finally had our kangaroo sighting! Check one more off the list!

So back to the hotel we made our way, but en route we stopped in a small town and Adam grabbed a couple of sandwiches to go. From there, we took a back trail that came to a head overlooking the valley below (which one, I have no idea), but the view was incredibly picturesque. Adam got a bit too close to the edge for my liking, so he back up, jumped out and proceeded to make a cup of tea for Mum and I. We’re not sure how he really did it, but with the cold it sure felt and tasted great. So we had our sandwich and tea by the edge of the cliff and watched as the hail and then the rain came straight towards us. The 4×4 was moving back and forth and I was a bit nervous as we were so close to the edge. Fortunately, it was a quick storm, but I was happy to be back on the road heading towards Lilianfels to warm up in front of a fire before our next outing.

Later in the afternoon we went back to Leura and had a mooch around the town. We were there only about an hour as the town is not that big, but has lots of lovely shops, cafes and other stores to mooch around in. I picked up a couple of cards and a few gifts and then we headed back for the evening.

In the end the highlight, of course, was the tour. We learned so much about the area – never possible to this extent without a tour. The area is just so incredibly beautiful and I can see why so many visit each and every year.

A note on weather: Los Angeles and the general west coast of the USA is overcast with mist/fog in the AM and then it generally burns off in the late morning and you end up having a lovely day. Maybe it is because of the Southern Hemisphere, or what I don’t know, but what I find particularly interesting (and disturbing) about this part of the world is how unpredictable the weather can be.

Sunday morning Ian woke up early and went out for a long walk. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When he returned about 8:30 am, it was starting to get overcast – and by early afternoon it was raining again. And it rained for the rest of the day. Geez…we ended up making our own fun by being relegated to playing Domino’s for a while and Jenny turned out to be the champion to Ian’s dismay.

Without much to do for the afternoon we decided to take a run over to the RSL – or the Returned & Services League. The RSL’s are also commonly known as Ex-Servo’s Club — are found all over the country. As the name implies, these are clubs specific for returning service members to come and have a place to meet, have a meal and relax. One could say they could be tied to the rotary clubs in the USA, but they are nothing like them whatsoever.

The RSL’s are pretty much the equivalent to the Mollymook Golf Club that I described in my first Mollymook post. And, quite strangely, you don’t need to be a member, retired or otherwise, of the armed forces to come in. They welcome “visitors” that live more than 5K away, or you can join at your local RSL as Ian and Jenny have done so by paying $5/year membership!

And they are beautiful. One requirement to operate is that they cannot make a profit, so the food and drink is very reasonable and they take all of the profits and pour them back into the facility. Some RSL’s are pretty boring, standard buildings from the outside, but inside they are palaces (so Ian and Jen have told me). We had a late lunch/early dinner in the RSL in Abudulla and not only was the building modern and clean, the food was very good. I had a pork roast dinner, Mum and Ian had another pie – this one steak and kidney, and Jenny had Beef Stroganoff which was also very good. They have raffles for cars (yes, brand new cars in the lobby) and slot machines to pass the time away – this is where they really make their money. For fun, Jenny bought raffle tickets for one a while ago and she won a meat box – literally all types of raw meat presented in a box that would be worth more than $50 for a $1 ticket.

So if you ever find yourself in Australia, be sure to visit a RSL!

And speaking of money, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the currency that they use in Australia. it is a combination of US dollars and British Pounds by it’s look. The money is all brightly colored – think Monopoly money – but you cannot get a $1 note, they only come in $1 and $2 gold coins. The smaller gold coin is $2 and the larger is $1. Mum, being very familiar with the British Pound, kept calling the coins “pounds” although they were dollars. And at a $1.15 USD exchange to the $1.00 AUS dollar, the currency is very favorable compared with most of the rest of the world!

Another reason to come back soon!

Saturday found us on the beach in the morning… what a fantastic beach! The weather was clear and the wind was much calmer than on Friday. Mum and I headed down to the beach and walked all along the inlet to the beachside town. It took us a good 45 minutes for the walk, but we stopped occasionally to take in the view of the waves crashing against the shore while dodging the jellyfish that they call “bottlenecks” here.  Squeak, squeak, squeak we made our way along as the wind blew in our face all the way. It was a good, good walk and we both needed the exercise after sitting in the car for most of Friday.

We made our way to the break wall and had a sit on the bench while watching the kids surfing in the water. Everyone surfs here… either standing up or on a boogey board… with all of the known sharks in the area, it is the last thing I would do. The locals, well they just take it in stride and go with the flow. Their favorite saying here is “fare dinkum” – which means “that’s fair”… or something like that…. Which also goes to their general thoughts on “that’s life”, “that’s how it goes”, “c’est la vie”… as the shark comes and takes a limb. Seriously….this will also be evident when we visit Pebbley Beach in the afternoon.

Ian and Jenny met up with us and we had a coffee at the local café before heading back to the house. From there we piled in and took a quick trip over to Bateman’s Bay for lunch. It was a quick trip compared to the drive down from Sydney, the weather was pretty decent (still a bit chilly) and we had lunch at a local café. Lunch was good… Mum and I split a quiche and each had pumpkin soup. I enjoyed another good cup of coffee (ranking #3 on my list of coffee so far) and just hung out and chatted.

Afterwards we had a mooch for all of 5 minutes (yes, the fishing town is that small) before piling back into the CX7 and headed to Pebbley Beach. Before we left Sydney, Ian read my guide book on Australia and came across Pebbley Beach which is supposed to have a “large community of kangaroos” that you can practically go up to and touch (although not advisable). So we were game… we would have our sighting!

We took a very back woods kind of drive to get to the beach and passed the largest termite mounds I’ve ever seen… okay, well, I’ve never seen a termite mound before. We stopped after seeing several by the roadside and Jenny got OUT OF THE CAR and walked RIGHT OVER TO ONE and kicked it!!!!! Crazy girl….but I got her picture! And then Ian prodded me out and I carefully walked over to it… oh geez… just take the picture so I can run and get back in the car! Classic vacation fodder for the rest of the holiday let me tell you.

So finally down at Kangaroo Beach and guess what…not a kangaroo in site..just lots of kangaroo poop. Another visitor told us that someone had drowned earlier in the day and the rescue/recover teams were in the water and above in the helicopter searching for the body. Consequently the kangaroos had left the area and were in the hills as they were scared away by the helicopter. Oh well… there goes my kangaroo sighting… but the whole thing came quickly into perspective for the drowning victim (of course).

Back in the car and back to Mollymook for the rest of the afternoon. We had dinner reservations at Rick Stein’s new restaurant at Bannister’s that Jenny had booked ages ago, so we wanted to get back and have a break before dinner. Rick Stein for all of those not in the know (and before this trip I also was one who didn’t have a clue) is a “celebrity chef” in the world of celebrity chefs in England and Australia (mostly from his BBC cooking show). He is not known in the USA as we all know the market is pretty well crowded with our own battalion of local celebrity chefs cooking in every major city.

Bannister’s is a seaside motel in Mollymook that underwent massive renovation a couple of years ago and it is considered the place to go if you are in from Sydney or points in and beyond. The rooms are very modern and the hotel is pretty cool – think 1950s/early 60s modern – something out of the movie Ocean’s Twelve that Brad Pitt’s character owns and is badly mismanaging. Well, this is lovely and modern with an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean crashing up on the shore. It is also incredibly expensive and we realized after our mooch around Bannister’s that we had made a very good choice on our alternate accommodation in the end – mostly value for price or even price, price, price. Bannister’s suffers from being the pretty girl at the party… after you talk with her after a few minutes, you realize that she is all flash and very little substance.  That also holds true to the hotel and the restaurant, I am afraid.

Don’t get me wrong, Rick Stein’s restaurant is very good – especially if you are a fish person. I am a fish person, and had a very good mussels appetizer which I will long remember, but the “sirloin” as they call it here was well, a disaster to be honest. I know that everyone comes for the fish and seafood, but there will be an odd person besides myself that may be interested in an alternative. And with all the pomp and circumstance that the restaurant has enjoyed with their grand opening in recent weeks (Costal Living magazine was on the premises shooting editorial pictures for the soon to be published article and yours truly is probably in one), the result was less than stellar.

I won’t go into too many details as I’ve been long-winded enough on this subject, but as much as the manager tried to make it right, it only made it worse. To his credit, he didn’t charge me for the entrée and also gave me a lovely cheese plate complimentary. And I don’t think that I was being a “difficult American”, just someone who is a big foodie, as many other patrons will be here, and they really need to get it right. Or consequently, the restaurant may become a big disappointment for some or many that may relegate Rick Stein at Bannister’s to an overpriced, so-so, holiday mini-break.

Destination Mollymook… Ian, Jen, Mum and I set out on Friday morning after packing the loaned Mazda XC7 to the gills with clothing and goods (ie food, beer and wine) for four. The weather was pretty good and getting better each and every day so we were happy that we seemed to be over the worst of the weather and wind (we hope) and were looking forward to 4 days out of the city.

The drive on the Princes Highway (1) out of Sydney was like watching paint dry… oh so long and boring. But once we got on the two lane highway we were on our way courtesy of “Giselle” (our Tom Tom nav device). We stopped for lunch in Berry on the way down the coast to our rental house. Lunch was quite good, in the old post office that had been converted to a restaurant and inn. Afterwards we mooched around for a bit before continuing on our way down the coast. I would say that this part of NSW (New South Wales) is very much like England… lots of rolling hills with cattle on large plots of land. Interestingly the area doesn’t get below freezing, so there is no true Winter for the trees to lose their leaves… they sporatically drop to the ground and and renew so the area doesn’t get that burst of color that we normally see at Spring when everything is so fresh and clean like everyone wakeing up all at once. Don’t get me wrong, this sure beats the 50 degree weather everyone is currently enjoying at home!

So onward and finally at our destination 3+ hours later we arrived in Mollymook. We rented the lower part of a two family house just steps from the beach with a magnificent view of the ocean and the beachside community. The sand is so clean, as is the beach itself, that the sand sqweeks under foot. Really it does. Interestingly there are not of shells that have washed up on the beach and a local shop sells shells for $2 each… for those die-hards that have to have a shell from Mollymook!

The house is really lovely, modern and clean. It is probably the nicest rental house that I’ve been in… equipped with everything, bedding (called Manchester here – will talk more on this later) is top quality, board games and there is a fantastic plasma TV with a good selection of the latest movies. And did I mention the hot tub???? So we were literally set for as long as necessary!

Okay, so you are probably wondering what “Manchester” is all about…. Well, I got the “official” explanation from Faye and Phil, the home’s owners that live upstairs. In Australia, the residents call all bedding, linen, towels, etc. as “Manchester” as it originated all those years ago in the town of Manchester in the Lancashire region of England. Okay, so a little crazy, but it works for them and now I have my answer. So next time you are at Bed, Bath and Beyond, be sure to ask for your Manchester and you never know what will happen next!

So settled in, we headed out to grab some fish and chips for dinner. Always on the prowl for the best fish and chips we headed to Ulladulla for a meal. This is a sleepy area (okay the whole area), so instead of a nice restaurant to have a meal, we were relegated to fish and chips take away as everything, and I mean pretty much everything shuts down after 5:30pm. This is consistent across the region (including parts of Sydney) as eventhough they’ve just gone through Daylight Savings Time, it gets dark here pretty early, so they begin their day pretty early as well. Fish choices were, well, one… Basa… a locally caught white fish that is (can I say) incredibly expensive at $7.50 per filet (without chips ie “fries”). So disappointing on what we got for the money, the fish was okay, but the chips were good!

After dinner we ventured out to the local golf club for a drink. Except for the very exclusive clubs, almost all Australian golf clubs allow out-of-towners to pop into the bar or play a round without a membership. When we walked in we just needed to show ID (and can I say I was the only one with it!) and we signed in as temporary members. The golf club had a restaurant, several bars, seating areas inside and out, a children’s area, casino (slot machines) and live music. Earlier I spoke about how sleepy the town is… well, this is where everyone was! There were about 200 people in the restaurant alone!  So we just spent the rest of the evening hanging out and watching the golf on the big screens and having a chat… I was just happy to be out of the rain.

In my limited time to prepare for my trip, the one thing that I knew that Sydney was known for are it’s beaches. Miles and miles and miles of them. I keep saying that the area is just like Laguna Beach in Southern California with harbors like those found on the North Shore of Boston and it is… the only difference is that these beaches and harbors go on and on and on for miles. I cannot stop remarking on the incredible scenery even while dodging rain (again).

Children are everywhere and it the community of Manley spans generations. But the children rule and run amok here. Children are taught water safety from an early age as it surrounds them. We saw the Little Nippers water safety class being conducted right on the beach in Manley. The little ones with their mini wetsuits on… three, four, five years of age and up learning how to surf properly by adult instructors. It is a lifestyle here and everyone participates. If the kids are not in the water, they are on the beautiful beach. If they are not on the beach then they are on the boardwalk racing their razors up and down, back and forth dodging parents, dogs and eachother…. oh and us!

Truthfully this is a bank holiday, Labor Day here. It is also the weekend for he Manley Jazz Festival, so as we walked around the boardwalk and around the town, jazz music was everywhere. The weather dried up for most of the afternoon (Hallelujah!) so we managed not to open the umbrellas. We took a break by the boardwalk and shared lunch under a heated patio listening to he big band playing just a short distance away.

Afterwards we walked around a bit further to the other side of Manley and took a walk around the pier past the water shuttle stop. We sat and enjoyed a drink outside (no rain) and the sun came out :-). It was lovely just taking in the scenery and the sun!

We are back now at the house. Our plans to eat dinner on the terrace were dashed when the rain came again.. so we are all inside now. The weather is due to improve tomorrow (hopefully). As for dinner, per Mum’s request, we are having sausages with mash and peas… oh so traditionally English!

As for tomorrow, Ian is back at work, so not sure what adventures Jenny has in store for us!