Archive for July, 2011

Banana coast

When we left Rylstone, the sun was shining and the trip north into New England and down to Coffs Harbour on the coast was magnificent. Coming across some of the country’s large coal mines reminded us of the ongoing carbon tax debate in Australia and we wondered, what’s going to happen. Every single one of us should do whatever possible to avoid CO2 emissions, that’s for sure.

Harbour City Caravan Park in Coffs Harbour proved to be a great place to stay and we were looking forward to a couple of beautiful days in this subtropical paradise. But the bad weather seemed to follow us like a curse. When we got up the next morning, it was raining cats and dogs and it didn’t stop for days on end. Coffs and the surrounding mid north coast of NSW got up to 400mm of rain within the following 3 to 4 days and at some stage several towns got cut off by the floods, Coffs Harbour included. Eventually, after almost a week, heaven closed its gates and the waters receded.

On the first weekend of our stay, a fishing competition, the Snapper Classics, took place and we went out to the Deep Sea Fishing Club to see what was going on. Sadly the horrible weather made it close to impossible for the almost 200 contestants to go out fishing on both days of the comp and in the end most of the prices had to be drawn. Almost everyone got a price though and was in a good mood and some of the best known fishermen and fishing writers in the country supported the event. Steve Starling, Kaj Bush and Scott Amon shared their knowledge with the crowd and their passion was highly contagious.

Having read and very much enjoyed some of his books and many of his profound articles in various fishing magazines, we were thrilled to meet Steve and his partner Jo. Steve and his mate, shipwright Tyson Dethridge from CrossXCountry Boats, created our great little boat and to top it all, Jo designed the stunning vinyl wrap. Jo and Starlo kindly signed our book and we greatly enjoyed the short chat with these two very friendly and welcoming people and are looking forward to keeping in contact and seeing them again sometime.

The next weekend, the weather was sunny and nice and we went down to the market near the beach. Fruit and vegetable stalls, arts and crafts people, the ice cream man and lots more made for a colorful atmosphere and everyone was enjoying the sun after all the miserable weather. One man was displaying beautiful didgeridoos and playing them with amazing skill.

After talking to Kristian, the didge maker and player, we left with his leaflet in our pocket. In the evening we had a closer look at the leaflet and discovered that one can make one’s own instrument with Kristian’s help. We called him the next morning to ask how it works and decided to give it a go. The following day saw us heading to Kristian’s workshop in the morning. First we had to find the tree trunk for our instrument. There was a large amount of dried wood to choose from and Kristian answered our endless questions with great patience.

His knowledge is vast and he is putting a lot of effort into the musical quality of his instruments. He selects the trees, cuts and stores them until they are ready to become an instrument. He then spends a lot of time opening up the already hollow trunk with chisels to make sure the walls have a thickness as even as possible, all in the search for the perfect sound.

After we had chosen our piece of box wood, we had to work with the chisels as well and after several hours and quite a bit of sweat the inside of our didge started to look good. The next step was getting most of the bark off with a special knife and as a feature a bit of bark was left at the lower end of the didge. At the upper end of the instrument the thickness of the walls was then further reduced from the outside and after that we had to sand it with power tools and by hand, starting with coarse and finishing with very fine sandpaper to achieve a smooth, silky surface.

We had seen a beautiful mouthpiece made out of silky oak on one of Kristian’s instruments and with his help a piece of silky oak with an amazing grain was glued to our didgeridoo and a mouthpiece formed. To protect the instrument a first coat of varnish was applied and, 24 hours later, sanded and the second and last coat applied. When played, moisture accumulates in the instrument and may cause cracking. Kristian pours hot bees wax trough his instruments to seal them from the inside in addition to the outside varnishing. Apart from providing excellent protection, the wax smells very good indeed and makes playing the instrument even more enjoyable.

Time went by far too fast and three days after we had started we were able to pick up our finished didgeridoo. Kristian was a great tutor and we learnt heaps. To top a unique and wonderful experience, he gave us a lesson and showed us different techniques to play. Oh, and yes, our didge looks great and sounds amazing, at least when played by the master. No excuses for not practicing anymore!

Coffs Harbour definitely has a subtropical feel to it with banana crops along the coast and a lush, rich flora. We spent many hours walking along the golden sandy beaches, watching big schools of dolphins playing in the waves. During our stay, Humpback whales started to make their appearance on their annual migration north and we saw several of these giants leaping clear out of the water or waving their huge dorsal fins in the air.

While in Coffs, we had to visit Fishing Tackle Australia, the largest tackle store we’ve ever seen by far and conveniently situated across the road from where we stayed. For a complete tackle nut, suffering from a severe case of NAD (necessary acquisition disorder; compliments to Russell Rowse in Weipa), the temptations were almost too great and we had to pull ourselves together. The range of gear is unbelievable, but the store is not only huge, the guys working there are also friendly, helpful and know their stuff. A real tackle shopper’s paradise and easily the undoing of one’s travel budget.

Blue Mountains and beyond

The Blue Mountains have always been special to us. Steep cliffs, countless waterfalls, hidden valleys and the charming mountain villages are a world of their own, a mere 90km from Sydney CBD. Especially in winter, the villages have a resort like atmosphere to them and walking through the windswept streets, ten years after our last visit, made us feel at home. The weather was very cold – at some stage, nearby Lithgow got a bit of snow – with frosty nights and cold, windy days with lots of sunshine; the perfect weather to go hiking.

There is an abundance of well marked tracks available to suit everyone. Many of the tracks lead into the surrounding valleys with some hair-raising descents down the cliff faces. One of the longest and steepest of the many staircases is the aptly named Giant Stairway with its more than 900 steps.

The bird life in the Blue Mountains National Park is prolific and we saw many different species. Lorikeets, Rosellas, Cockatoos and other parrots are the clowns of the eucalypt forests and what they lack in singing ability, they make up for with their colorful feathers. One of the very skillful singers though is the Lyrebird and we listened to its melodies for hours. Lyrebirds are masters in imitating any other bird, in fact any sound, even a car alarm or a screeching door.

The clean mountain streams are home to the bright orange freshwater crayfish and we were looking forward to seeing them again. But despite our efforts we couldn’t manage to find one this time. Whether the water was too cold or whether we looked in all the wrong places, we don’t know.

What a pleasure to come home after a long day out, light a fire and have a hearty cheese fondue. To our great surprise we found cheese fondue mixture in one of the shops in town. One morning we had to stock up our groceries and left early. The car started beautifully with the first turn of the starter motor despite the frosty temperature. We found everything we needed up in Leura and – having it safely stowed – wanted to drive off. The starter motor turned as it is supposed to, but the engine wouldn’t run. After many attempts we called the NRMA and just 10 minutes later a technician arrived. Not having a car of our own back home at all, we were pretty nervous and wondering what might happen next and having to get the Troopy out of an inclined parking space on a busy car park without the engine running didn’t help either. It took our friendly helper half an hour to find out that the injection pump did not get power and therefore the engine didn’t get any fuel. He organized a tow truck and another half an hour later our Troopy was sitting in the back off the truck and we were on our way to the local car electrician. It was close to 5pm now and getting dark. We had to leave the car at the workshop and organize a ride back for the 20 kilometers to our cottage. The guys at the workshop did their best and eventually found a broken wire causing all the trouble. They did a very good job fixing the problem and we picked up our car two days later. Troopy was running again and purring like a big cat. Time went by all too quick and we had to move on to Lake Windamere and Dunn’s Swamp, an easy two hours drive to the north.

Breakaway Farm, east of Rylstone and adjacent to Wollemi National Park, was our next base and Jenny Franks’ rock cottage a very charming and comfortable place indeed. Our intention was to get serious with the boat, to give it a proper workout and to catch the first yellowbelly of the trip. But sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The weather was not only cold and windy day after day, but also very wet. We made the most out of it and did a lot of reading. One of the great books we read was Reg Franks’ – Jenny’s late husband – book “Out of my tucker box”. Reg and Jenny lived in the area for most of their lives and being given an insight into local history and local stories was great. We found many places described in the book and the knowledge we had from reading Reg’s stories made us feel like locals. On our walks along the Cudgegong River and up to Kandos Weir/Dunn’s Swamp we saw Platypus’ and turtles and the songs of Lyrebirds were always surrounding us. The area is very scenic with many rocky outcrops and caves. The going is tough and many years ago the rugged land around Nullo Mountain provided the perfect hideout for Elizabeth Hickman, known as the Lady bushranger, and Captain Thunderbolt, a well known bushranger lived here as well. The book about Elizabeth’s life made fantastic reading during our stay and being right in the middle of where it all happened made the book become very much alive indeed.

One of the highlights of our stay one Jenny’s farm was the guided tour she gave us up the mountain right at our back door; her knowledge and her love for the land made it a wonderful experience.

Mudgee, a good half an hour by car from Rylstone, has become the center of a grape growing region with many family owned wineries producing great wines and we enjoyed the hospitality of this country side town several times.

After weeks of cold and often wet weather, it was time to head further north and back to the coast in search of sunshine and warmth.