Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Australia - Part I: Sydney 02-16/02/2011

After an event-free flight on possibly one of the nicest planes on which I've ever flown (certainly one of the newest) we arrived in Sydney, Australia after some amazing farewell views of NZ. Yet another landmark moment: as far as we were going to get from home both physically and emotionally.

We were very lucky to be staying with a long-time friend of Katy's family, Justine and her family in a suburb to the North of Sydney. So, exit airport and enter Sydney's rail system. A fairly easy navigation and a single train change saw us on a double-decker carriage to Thornleigh. Around fifty minutes later, we disembarked in a quiet neighbourhood and waited for a short while before being greeted by Justine and her three daughters: Keighlee, Magalie and Ellesha. Tim's not good with names anyway, so the fact that Keighlee and Magalie are identical twins only added to the confusion.

A few minutes drive and we were home. A lovely house in a beautiful location, right on the edge of bushland full of trees, shrubs and very noisy animals! Literally on the edge; their garden drifted into bushland with no visible barrier between the two.

When husband, David, returned from work we had a mini party on the rear deck with bubbly both to welcome us and to celebrate Katys birthday. Being right by the bush, we were hearing all kinds of alien animal sounds like kukaburras and cockatoos. The evening was very hot and humid even by Sydney standards and we were wilting badly. Add to that the meanest mosquitoes we've ever encountered... even with thick socks they managed to pierce our feet all over. So we went back inside with the obligatory fly-screen closed.

We all had a fairly early night (the Nobles having work/school in the morning and us being shattered) but sleeping was dificult in the heat of the night. I eventually dosed off but awoke with a start as I could feel something crawling up my leg.  A quick look to my left confirmed that it was nothing to do with Katy, who was zonked out and by now it had crawled into my boxer shorts. You have to understand, by this stage we've been fed so many stories about insects that can kill you as soon as look at you with their compound eyes that I was genuinely scared... the thing felt huge (and that is not just typical male over exaggeration in the underpant department). It started crawling again so - with the speed of a cobra - I pounced, grabbing hold of sheet, boxers and hopefully the killer insect. The kerfuffle was enough to wake Katy I think she must've thought i was delerious until I turned on the light and slowly looked at the evidence. Fair dinkum (!) there was a squashed something with long spiny legs. Its fair to say I didn't get much more sleep that night, panicking that the spiders family was going to come seeking revenge. Justine assured me it was a harmless one but I'm pretty sure she was just trying to make me feel better about things!

The morning wake-up call is pretty early here, being so close said wildlife. Kookaburrahs (still not sure how to spell that) start making their cackling racket at day break if not before.  Not long after, three young children start to find excuses for coming into our room, just to make sure we haven't fallen back to sleep (are you kidding? with those spiders?!).

With the children at school and Justine and David working full time, we usually had the place to ourselves during the day. It was really nice just to have a solid base for a while without the constant moving on. It was too comfortable really and we had to force ourselves to move on as the Noble were being very generous and letting us stay longer than probably any of us had planned!

The girls were just lovely. Very pretty and very bubbly, always dancing and jumping around the room. I'm sure the twins - Keileigh and Magalie could be maths genii if they wished and Ellesha is such a performer. A delight to be with (even if they do wake you up at daybreak).

It didn't take long for katy to go for a run in the bush, but first time out got a bit lost and was sent home by Danny, a nice man with gps and mountain bike.  But after that she was right and loving it.

At home with the Nobles is a full on business. David and Justine work very hard and the girls are always involved in one activity or another. One evening, Tim was volunteered for a pizza evening. This involved making the dough with the girls who became really quite competitive about the whole thing! Katy made ginger biscuits with them another time (a first for Katy) which tasted great.

Thankfully there were no further night insect attacks (other than omnipresent mosquitoes) and we eventually became used to (if not entirely comfortable with) the insect life of the area. One friend in particualr was Hannah the huntsman who would appear in various places in the house, but mainly in bathroom. She was our first huntsman spider and to us appeared huge. She is good (apparently) because she catches the nasty ones (which, thankfully, we never encountered).

The girls are real water babies, so Katy would often be dragged into their lovely pool and at the weekend, we all headed off to Shelly Beach for 'little nippers' which saw the shore line packed with hundreds of shouting and laughing young ones... and Katy. Another great beach and such warm water.

Slightly less fearful, having been their a few days we decided to hike through the bush by the house. It was more like a tropical rain forest with many new sights, sounds and smells. I was still convinced every time a leaf brushed my arm that we were about to attacked by a nest of killer ants, but we were lucky. This time. It was a lovely walk despite the ever present humidity.

Eventually the humidity was broken by torrential rain... they don't do anything by halves here! Unfortunately we were walking to the train station at the time and had to take shelter under a tree.  But it was a small price to pay for what was otherwsie gloriously hot weather.

We popped back into Sydney a few times to do the obligatory touristy things, but there's nothing wrong with that, it is a great city. The harbour bridge is majestic and its size is fully appreciated when enormous cruise liners pass below. The opera house is similarly very impressive but smaller than you might expect (apparently everyonre says this). There are some lovely walks around the waterfront.

We endured a walk around the art gallery showing aboriginal art... sorry, not impressed! So we cut it short and had a much nicer time having a picnic lunch at the harbour front.

On a couple of occasions we did the famous beaches. Bondi was clearly a beautiful setting and a great beach but was full of back packers and way too many Brits. Actually, it was way too many people full stop, but it was nice to see it in the flesh. In contrast, Manly beach had a much nicer feel, with less people and a chilled atmosphere. In any case, its easy to see why this part of Australia is so (too) popular; the lifestyle is so laid back and just makes you feel happy.

The Nobles were kind enough to take us out to see the sites a few times. We went to the Blue Mountains, which I'm told are beautiful. When we got there they were shrouded in mist and visibility was just a few metres... still, its nice to get out! Undeterred, Katy wanted to go for a hike, so she and David descended to the valley floor, whilst Tim and the lady Nobles strolled into town and found a chocolate shop with quite possibly the nicest hot chocolate.  Ever.

We wandered back to the car in the drizzle at the agreed meet up time and waited for the explorers' return... and waited... and waited. We were genuinely concerned that they might have walked off a cliff before they came squelching around the corner.

Katy had friends from home that had emigrated to Sydney and it was great to meet up with them, so they could talk about the good old M and S days. We met Carly who had only been in Sydeny for a week and was anxiously trying to sort out some work interviews.

We were also invited to stay with Janine and family in a town adjacent to the Nobles. We had a lovely time there with her Husband David and children Christian and Rachel (who loved their toys). Great food, great conversation and yet another beautiful house. I think Katy was Rachel's temporary bff*.

And with that our Sydney adventure was almost over. In the last few days, we had made arrangements to do some more HelpXing in Cairns, Queensland and to that end had a flight booked to our new adventure.

So, back with the Nobles, we were treated to a farewell barbeque, where we had our first taste of kangaroo and decided it was like red chicken. After dinner we were treated to a pop performance by the girls to rival anything that Lady GaGa could manage. We had such a wonderful time with the Nobles and can't thank them enough for their hospitatlity.

[* Best Friend Forever]

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