Friday, 31 March 2017

Exhilarating helicopter flight to Fox Glacier

PHIL: Day 47/2 Apr

At 7 a.m. Allie already thinks our plan to leave at 8 is too late. It is true the day is sparkling and she has already glimpsed Mt Cook, over 100km away, on the horizon.
first glimpse of the mountains

Our departure, on the dot of eight, is grumpy because Allie thinks we may have ‘blown’ our planned aeroplane/helicopter flight over the glaciers because cloud is already building as we drive. 

I think she might be right, but Andy has warned us that his Toyota doesn’t take kindly to fast cornering and of course the cast road to Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers is all sharp bends.
Allie boarding the helicopter
At Franz Joseph we try two helicopter outfits (Allie has decided a helicopter will be more fun than an aeroplane) but neither can accommodate us until midday – a two hour wait. 

A third operator can take us in half an hour but from Fox which is 30 minutes drive further south. We opt for this in the hope that we may beat the gathering cloud, and find the guys at Fox very relaxed. 

Furthermore we have the helicopter to ourselves, so it feels like a private charter.

 The pilot looks about 12 years old (I guess it’s my increasing age which has this effect on people in positions of responsibility) but soon has us scooting up the Fox Glacier in broken sunshine which becomes continuous as we crest mountains to reveal the Fox Glacier and, most magnificent of all, Mt. Cook. 
On top of the glacier enjoying the sun and magic views!
Landed briefly on a snowfield at 7900ft. then back past the east face of Mt Cook itself. Gives a really intense insight into glacial structure with bergschrunds, nevees etc which take me back to the Geography Department at Bristol over 40 years ago.

incredible masses of ice and snow flowing down the mountains

Next task is the easy walk to the glacier terminal face which is just as impressive but on a different scale and perspective.

Onward to Wanaka, home of the southern hemisphere’s best airshow this very week – but only in even-numbered years, alas! 

Allie does another of her drives where I am nervous about her concentration and she insists on having windows open to admit freezing air.

If we ever have a serious row it will be over this kind of conflict. We agree she ‘doesn’t do cars’.

ALLIE: DAY 47: Monday, 2nd of April

A helicopter flight up Fox’s Glacier and a drive through wild scenery to Wanaka

Sometimes it would have been better to give dozing around in bed a miss! Certainly today. As it turns out this is a most beautiful morning. Pure sunshine, not a single cloud in the sky and the whole of the mountain range stretching out in front of us.
stunning views over the Fox Glacier
Even the top of Aoraki Mt. Cook – the highest peak in New Zealand with 3754 metres – is clearly visible. We waste another precious 40min by waiting for our breakfast but then we start racing down the 140km to the Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately the road is very windy and our car is not very good around corners. The fist clouds are already building up and we are worried s..less that we may have missed our chance.

View up the Glacier
By 10.00 we get to the little but very touristy town of Franz Josef Glacier and inquire with the various helicopter agencies for available slots. All booked out until 12.15! What a pain. 

By then the weather is forecasted to deteriorate. We try one more agency and tell us to race down to Fox Glacier where we could get a flight at 10.30. Great!

Another windy pass and we arrive to the helipad. Phil is concerned to get a missing type – I don’t care as long as we can go up soon.

The guy behind the sales counter turns our to be our pilot and within minutes I find myself sitting next to him in the front seat of this Mac Donnell Douglas 500E. 

My second helicopter flight and I am really excited about this. The rotator blades start and within a few seconds we zoom off towards the steep valley of Fox Glacier. The visibility is incredible. I can photograph every crevasse in the deep blue ice of this amazing glacier. 

Our young pilot takes us across the top of Mt. Haast (3114m), past Pioneer Pass and across the next deep valley filled with the longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier (28km). We are so lucky with the weather! 

Allie with the captain
..and Phil
The pilot suddenly brings the aircraft into landing on a tight piece of snow on a mountaintop at about 2500m above sea level. 

The view is breathtaking! Within 100km only snow mountains and deep valleys. It feels so warm up here that I don’t feel a bit cold in my T-shirt. 

On our way back we pass the summit of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (3497m) before cruising down the glacier valley back to the base. What a fantastic experience. And I didn’t feel the slightest sickness whilst flying – maybe I should also get my helicopter licence! A walk up to the rim of the glacier finishes off our ‘icy’ experience. 

At the rim of the Glacier

Then it’s a long drive through wild and uninhibited countryside before we stop at Lake Moeraki, where I dare a quick and freezing swim whilst Phil stays safely in the car. We both feel very tired, me mainly because of all the sitting and driving. A stop at the long and completely wild Haast beach gives me the chance for a walk and Phil the opportunity for a 30min sizz.

the cold lake Moeraki
The next 140 kilometres are along the vast Haast river and up the Tioripatea pass before we reach the 40 km long and 5km broad Lake Wanaka. Stunning scenery which can’t be compared to anything that I have ever seen. This time not even to Scotland, since the surrounding mountains are much more steep and rugged.

At 5pm we finally reach Wanaka and find ourselves a home for the night at the ‘Aspiring Lodge Motel’ (frankly I wonder to what the hotel wants to aspire to, or it definitely needs a lot of aspiring cause it didn’t look very inspiring from the outside). The town itself is also not very inspiring. The houses all look very boring and the few restaurants and bars are just the same. Anyway we eat at the “Ale House” and drink ‘Mt. Difficulty roaring Meg’ wine!    

An exciting balloon flight and beautiful drive to Hokitika

PHIL: Day 46/1 April

Is this a good date on which to make a balloon flight in a difficult location in marginal conditions? This is the question we ask ourselves as we peer into the gloom at 0600 trying to track a helium-filled party balloon with a searchlight. A strong north-westerly is forecast which would quickly take us to Lyttleton, Christchurch’s deep-water port, surrounded by ocean and with few if any suitable landing sites.

Getting the balloon ready at the farm
The ‘pi-ball’ heads initially west, however, before curving to the south. If we can emulate its track we could stay on the western fringe of the Port Hills and land in open pasture. 

Andy has already invited the octogenarian former owner of his farm to fly, for the first time, from her old home, so there is some moral pressure. Allie & I want to get April in our log books just in case later attempts are thwarted by weather, which adds to the temptation.

The balloon is fully prepared when a strong gust of wind in the ‘wrong’ direction makes us all glance skyward. By now we are in a ‘go-for-it’ mood and a final test balloon convinces us we can make a safe flight providing we stay very low and creep into the next valley to the south.

I am nominated as pilot-in-command and we are airborne by 6.55 as I juggle the need to avoid tall trees with the desire to stay in the lowest possible airstream. I get the mix about right and we track slightly west of south at a fair clip (about 20kph). Andy keeps his passenger entertained with a commentary on all the properties we pass over.

fabulous landscape during our first drive heading South
After 20 minutes I see an empty grass field and, despite Andy’s blandishments to press on to nearer a farmhouse I decide that the ‘bird-in-hand’ principle is preferable and put the balloon neatly into the welcoming greensward.

The old lady is beside herself with excitement and Allie & I have got April ‘in the bag’, so honour is satisfied. Looking at our track on the map afterwards it is salutary to note how only a few degrees difference in the wind could have resulted in a less happy outcome.

Andy has offered us the use of his ‘ute’(Kiwi for flatbed truck) to drive around South Island for the next week so we eat a swift celebratory breakfast and leave for the west coast via Arthur’s Pass. Miraculously the fine weather follows us westward to arrive at Hokitika for an unobstructed sunset over the Tasman Sea

The empty beach at Hokitika
Allie has her lunchtime ‘walk’ to some impressive waterfalls (with me in tow) but on arrival at the beach is overcome with her usual need to take further exercise in the sea.

Eating out in Hokitika is not to be recommended either for ambience or quality as we discover at dinner and breakfast.

ALLIE: DAY 46: Sunday, 1st of April
A balloon flight in country nr 24, crossing the alps and overnight in Hokitika

Early get up to check the weather. We managed to convince Andy that he should try to fly out of his property, something that he somehow hasn’t go around doing in two years! The weather looks strange. Some pi-balls go off towards the hills, some drift along the valley. We want the latter to happen. 

And amazingly wishful thinking does seem to help. But as we rig the balloon in one of the fields a strong gust towards the hills nearly destroys our hopes of getting into the air on the first of a new month. Still, at 6.55 Phil (the pilot), Andy, Amelia, Robert and Betty (an old lady who used to be the owner of Andy’s property) and me are up in the air and drift swiftly across the first mountain ridge towards the south. 
happy Mrs Betty after the short flight

The direction is not brilliant as it means going toward the huge lake and eventually to the sea. So after 20 minutes Phil chooses to land in a big field. 

We drag for about 40meters on the ground and then stop all of us laying on top of each other having difficulties in knowing how to detangle ourselves without squashing each other. But what a great achievement! And Betty is just thrilled. ”I had always wanted to fly in a balloon”, she says, “I love adventure and thrills”.  Amazing words to hear from a 75 year old lady.

After a hefty breakfast Phil and I set off to travel across the Southern Alps towards to West coast of New Zealand. The alps are reached after only an hours drive but then the roads winds up and the countryside changes its appearance. Barren mountains surround us and a few rain clouds remind you that indeed we are now at about 3000ft of altitude. 

Fantastic scenery and empty roads!
We take a rest a the Arthur’s Pass and top up with caffeine and hot scones. Then it’s time for a bit of exercise and a climb up to the 105m high waterfall of  ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’.

Trees covered with moss and lichen. ‘Lord of the rings’ was filmed in this area and we can just see how the magician and all the weird figures climbed around this wild mystic forest.
Allie enjoying a walk at the waterfall
At 4pm we finally reach the former gold mining town of Hokitika. Great to see the water again. This time a wild and empty coast without any vegetation. It was a dangerous landing site for most of the early settlers. 

In the late 19th century more then 80 ships had stranded here, every fortnight a boat would find it’s end here along the coast. But nothing could stop the miners from streaming into this deserted bit of New Zealand in the hope of finding gold or jade. 

Walking around the town tells it’s history: I pass the Gibson Quay Custom House from 1897, the clock tower from 1902, Wong’s Wok, Millies Café, The Regent Theatre showing ‘Marie Antoinette’, the ‘Greenstone Jade factory’ and the ‘Gold Room’! 

We by the way have booked ourselves into the former Southland Hotel now the new ‘Beachfront Hotel’ featuring a modern block building overlooking the sea. We indulge ourselves with staying at a room with a balcony and devout the rest of the afternoon to writing (3 days to catch up!) and walking around the town – and Gin and Tonic drinking at sunset time!

our 'fancy' beach front hotel
Hokitika hasn’t got the most exciting range of restaurants. In fact, there are exactly three pubs to choose from. We end up in the quite cosy looking ‘Tin Shed Gallergy and Café’ and maybe should have given more emphasis to the fact that it says ‘café’. 

The waitress came up to us and nearly collapsed at our table excusing her exhaustion with the fact that the owner had just given birth and that she was on her feet since early morning.

I fancied the ‘seafood chowder’ but they had run out. So I try the curry pumpkin soup but that turns out to be a disaster as is the garlic bread (she has to run first to the nearby supermarket to buy it!). We end up swapping food, I eat Phil’s mushrooms he my stone solid soup! 

A stroll around Christchurch and drive to the beaches of Akaroa

PHIL: Day 45/31 March

Downtown Christchurch (a clone of the UK)
A brief tour of central Christchurch where the Anglican cathedral has pre-Easter concert practice underway. Quite a modern piece which we don’t recognize but nicely performed. 

Allie remarks on the very British street- and place- names (including some such as Sydenham and Belfast, which belie the origin of the country’s main immigrant stock).

We fail to buy a book on the (many) golf courses in NZ to give to Allie’s dad as a birthday present because the few which exist seem all to be out of stock.

Drive to Akaroa
Akaroa beckons: a pretty, if touristy, town on the stark Banks Peninsula. Although only an hour’s drive from Christchurch, this seaside settlement formed the beginnings of a French toehold in New Zealand early in the 19th century before being taken over first by the Maoris and then the British. 

Quaintly the street and shop names reflect a past of which residents are obviously proud, even to the extent of tricolours everywhere. There’s even a French Cemetery, though it has been rather unimaginatively restored in recent times.

On returning to our hosts they are keen for us to watch the newly-released video of the film ‘Borat’. As the ‘plot’ unreels it is clear that Andy and Rachel’s liberal tendencies extend to their 9-year-old son watching a very unrestrained piece of (admittedly hilarious) black humour. By the end we are mildly shocked and have aching stomach muscles, concluding that Baron Cohen must have considerable ‘balls’ to have made the film. 

ALLIE: DAY 45: Saturday, 31st of March

Exploring Christchurch and the Banks Peninsula

Anglican church in Christchurch
Slept well and didn’t hear the possum on the roof! Phil and I set off to walk a bit around Christchurch in the morning. We expected a rather busy town, but everything seems to be very laid back and quiet. 

So quiet that we have a hard time in finding the ‘lonely planet’ for New Zealand or a golfing book for my dad. But we visit the lovely old Anglican Church and have a stroll around the centre of town.

I find it rather spoilt by many modern buildings from the 70ies like it’s the case in so many cities in Europe.

I am itching to head out for the countryside and so we drive the 80km out towards the South heading for the little French town of Akaroa in the Banks Peninsula. 

The roads lead us past the huge lake of Ellesmere and then across a very windy pass before we reach the summit and take a break at the Hill top coffee bar. Fantastic views over the bay of Akaroa. The similarity with the Lake District in England is amazing. Barren hills, a few pine trees, cottages and the blue waters that could be lake Windermere!

over the pass to Akaroa
Akaroa is filled with cyclists that have just finished their race from Christchurch to here. Lovely sunshine tempts me to brave the waves and I jump into the 16 degrees cold sea. 

But whilst my husband would hate it, I definitely enjoy the cold shock and the exercise!  A stroll along the harbour front reminds us of the first settlers to this little fishing town. 

They were French. Had these settlers arrived 20 years earlier, the Banks Peninsula might well have been a French colony. 

But as it was, the Brits were here already and had made their claim. Nevertheless, the many pubs and restaurants and even street names are a heritage of the French and so we walk along ‘rue du Jolie’ and eat at the ‘patisserie’.
The pretty coast and harbour at Akaroa
Back to Andys house we are welcomed by Champagne and fresh oysters (hm my delight but Phils plight!). Rachel cooks a delicious meal with grilled chicken, couscus and ratatouille. 

Later that evening we end up in watching the hilarious DVD called ‘Borat’. It’s actually not suitable for children under 16 because of it’s language (again a lot of f,b, and s words) and it’s contents ('she has a vagina like a wizards sleeve!') but the Nicholsons don’t seem to mind that their kids also stay up to watch.

We adults laugh our socks off and I am amazed by the courage of the producers and the actor that have dared to create such a provocative film knowing that nearly everybody would try to sue them – which indeed they did!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Arrival in Christchurch/ New Zealand!

PHIL: Day 44/30 March

on approach to Christchurch, NZ
QANTAS to Christchurch and a country Allie has never before visited. Andy Nicholson, whom I first met at a hangar party in Kalgoorlie on the 1988 Trans-Australia ‘race’, meets us and drives to his ‘new’ farmstead in the Port Hills just south of town. A steep and gorse-ridden valley insulated from the nearby cityscape by volcanic hills.

We walk his 60-acre sheep farm in evening sun and swap aviation tales over a bottle of Cactus schnapps we brought from Namibia

A plan is hatched to make a balloon flight (the first in Andy’s two-year residence here) from the paddock on Sunday morning

ALLIE: DAY 44: Friday, 30th of March

Across the sea to New Zealand –country of my dreams

Early start at 6 am to get a cab to the international airport. Flight QF 45 takes us with a delayed departure at 9.25 across the Tasmanian sea into Christchurch the biggest city on the South Island. 

The flight takes only 2.09 hours to do the 2130km. We are lucky with the weather and I can enjoy some great views over the mountains, a huge lake and then the Canterbury plains with its thousands of square fields and horse racing tracks.

Andy Nichelson, Phils ballooning friend for 20 years greets us at the airport and drives us back to his new house, or indeed sheep farm I should say. 

He earns his living as pilot for Air Catham flying in and out to the outer small islands. But he is also a commercial balloon pilot flying the odd rides for some of the operators around Christchurch. His longstanding dream though was to raise cattle and sheep. 

over New Zealand
So two years ago he bought a sheep farm 20km outside of Christchurch with about 30 hectars of farm land nicely situated at the end of a valley. A dream place for Rachel his wife. 

The weather is absolutely beautiful. It’s sunny and around 24 degrees and the leaves are starting to turn red – it’s the beginning of autumn here! How strange to come from spring in China to fall in New Zealand.

Andy shows us around his land. He owns the odd 100 sheep, 8 cows, two dogs, two cats and two balloons! The main worry in this country is the ever so rapidly spreading gorse (a pest that was introduced from abroad in the last century and overgrows about every native bush) and the possums that climb up the roof at night, make noise and eat all the crop. 

Enjoying the lovely views around Andy's farm!
Andy would take his rife and shoot the possum but he can’t shoot the gorse, so he uses some pesticide that might ruin his health in 20 years he admits. But if it makes life easier now – who gives a sh…, he says. (The f,-s,- and b,- words do rather often occur here, but make the place very homely).

Rosco the ram
We enjoy a wonderful view over all his land from the top a little hill, then walk back to the shed where Andy would sheer his sheep just before winter starts, that is in June/July. 

And there is Rosco the ram! Rocso has the honour to get all the females excited. Unfortunately he has to leave the main pleasure to his mate since he for whatever reason is sterilized! 

The aim of the game is that all the lambs are to be born at roughly the same time. Most of them are kept, some are sold, some are faced with a short life. Both Rachel and Andy love their secluded life on this farm even though it means hardly any free time or holidays away from home.

the lovely house of the Nicholsons
A little walk with their daughter Amelie gives me insight in a teenagers world. She wants to become a nurse, but maybe a school teacher but maybe also a balloon pilot. 

At the moment she is learning Chinese even in extra sessions on a Sunday. Who knows for what it may be helpful. She knows a lot about how to use a computer and helps me (stupid old lady!) to transfer music from a CD onto my ipod (finally somebody who understands these things!). 

At the barn viewing the sheep shearing equipment
Robert the 9 year old also seems to be more interested in his game boy then anything else. But that’s probably the case anywhere now in the world.

We ‘oldies’ sit together after dinner and drink a couple of nice New Zealand wines and taste our Namibian cactus schnapps.

A great start at the other end of the world!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fabulous balloon flight in Camden and chilling out at Rose Bay

PHIL: Day 42/28 Mar

beautiful sunrise over the misty landscape of Camden
Only four hours after getting to sleep we drag ourselves into consciousness again to drive out the 60km or so to Camden where our friend Rick Gillespie runs a balloon ride business.

It is very chilly at 0430 in the field at Cobbity Bridge where he has chosen to take off from. Other passengers include a well-known (to Australians) moto-cross rider and his moll plus two Bondi gays celebrating a birthday. 

The flight ends, after a magical drift through radiation mist, on the glider airstrip at Camden Airport where, conveniently, Rick has arranged a serious breakfast with Phoebe. 

Phoebe is a lady of uncertain age who looks, and talks, like the heroine aviatrixes of the inter-war years. Her father founded Camden Airport in the 1920s only to lose control to the military in WWII. 

Captain Gillespie has brought us safely down!
Only her small but exquisite bungalow remains to the family alongside the aerodrome boundary, but her tales of early Australian aviation are ineradicable.

Filled up with Australian ‘champagne’ we retreat to the beach at Bondi to recover – Allie by swimming amongst the surfers, me to doze and watch the ‘beautiful people’ of both genders (and, no doubt, both orientations) gradually fill the sea and sand. 

Bondi is timeless in appearance, and recalling the great worldwide surfing era of the 60s and 70s the inevitable ‘Beach Boys’ tunes ring in my head.

chilling out at Rose Bay
Nearby Rose Bay, devoid now of the stately Sandringham flying boats which served Lord Howe Island when I first worked in Sydney in 1969, still has bobbing seaplanes amongst the yachts. 

Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s truly beautiful marine/urban combinations and we discuss our affection for the others in San Francisco and Bristol.

ALLIE: DAY 42: Wednesday, 28th of March

Another Ballooning adventure and a swim at Bondi Beach
mysterious morning mist over Camden
3.00am! What a time to get into a car and drive out of Sydney for 60km to an airfield called Camden. 

That’s where we meet Nick Gillespie and his team for our second flight in Australia. With some 10 odd punters we drive out into the fields and look for a suitable launch site. 

It’s very cold and I am glad that by 05.55 we finally get in the air and the heat of the burner makes it a bit more bearable. 

Just a few minutes later the sun rises above the clear cut skyline of Sydney and create a magic light. Haze and clouds of fog stretch over some parts of the countryside and the shadow of the balloon reflects in them creating a great scene for a picture. 

passengers enjoying the magic views
The winds are very light and Rick manages to fly us a box. So we cross over the airfield and drift towards the town of Camden nearly getting stuck with no winds over the police station. Lower level winds then take us back towards the airfield where we land after a 50min flight.

Rick really seems to enjoy his job as pilot and as entertainer; he cracks one joke after the other (when he presses the remote control of his camera to take a picture of all his punters, he just says: ‘this makes all the garages down there go up and down!’).

Since we landed so conveniently on the airfield, it’s just a two minutes walk back to our cars and the breakfast place. 

Here an old lady, called Fhoebe, invites us into her lovely home situated right in the middle of this local airport. Her grandfather obviously founded this airfield after some distressed aircraft had done an emergency landing on his farm grounds. 

with Rick after a lovely flight
Being a gentleman he not only helped the pilot but also thought that planes were wonderful and started to invite more pilots to land on his grounds. Such the creation of Camden airfield. 

Up to date this is a very active airstrip with a pilot training school and loads of antique aircrafts (my husband of course going all mad about taking pictures of them!).

After lots of nice Australian champagne we manage to say good-bye to our friends and Fhoebe and drive back towards Sydney with a stop a the notorious Bondi beach. 

surfers braving the waves  ..
It is THE beach in Sydney and I have to see it, Phils says. Indeed it’s got a lovely wide sandy beach and beautiful clear water. But the waves are high and the currents fierce.

...and me running away from them!
So it’s not really a place to do serious swimming. You should rather be a keen surfer to enjoy the 2m high waves. It’s quite impressing actually to watch those surfers in their numerous vain attempts to reach the top of their surfboards and skate within or on top of the waves.

Most of them crash after nanoseconds in midst the foam of a clashing huge wave. No a sport for me I decide and fall into a tired doze.

A short stop at Rose bay to check out the seaplanes (they are not operating at the moment I must gladly admit to say, otherwise Phil would have been very tempted to fly in one of them) and back to the car hire place to drop our car. Unfortunately Avis seems to try and hide from the outside world and we drive 10 times around the stupid place and cannot find access to the building.

Trying to find a sunset bar in Sydney seems to be impossible. We end up buying ginger ale and tonic water from a shop and sit on a bench to watch the setting sun over Darling bay. 

It’s not really our lucky evening as the “Lord Nelson Hotel bar” also decides to be against us having any food there. So we end up nibbling cold sweet bread with cold cheese and a few pickles. Yummy!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Climbing Sydney bridge, a stroll around the Botanical gardens and Carmina Burana in the Opera house

PHIL: 27 Mar/Day 41

Allie returns from her morning run through the Botanical Gardens bewitched by Sydney and titillated by having seen a couple having sex on their balcony at the waterside Hyatt.
On the famous bridge overlooking Sydney
We debate doing the Bridge Climb but, at $160 without being able to take your camera (for safety reasons) and the likelihood of my vertigo freezing me half-way over, decide to walk the normal walkway and climb just the concrete pylon. 

It is well worth it an light conditions are exceptional. Helicopters, seaplanes and boats mill around everywhere with gawping tourists like us.

We call at the Opera House box office on the off-chance of returned tickets for the evening performance. 
spectacular views to the harbour

To our delight they have ‘standing’ seats which turn out to be rather better (and much cheaper) than most of the allocated seating. 

A thoroughly 20th-century programme of  Bernstein, Barber and Orff follows in the impressive main concert hall which, on all my previous visits to Sydney, I have not been inside before. Hickox is as dominating as I remember him and considerably more corpulent.

Another clash of wills with Allie. Her universal habit, bred of claustrophobia (or is it actually agoraphilia ?) ,of brinkmanship at airports, train stations and now , opera performances results in us nearly missing Carmina Burana. 

Her statutory loo visit at the end of the interval leaves me agitatedly waiting outside the ‘ladies’ whilst urgent recall bells become increasingly insistent. She saunters out to find me alone in the vast mezzanine whilst attendants prepare to refuse further entry to the auditorium. 

I suppress my annoyance but perhaps insufficiently. She claims never yet to have missed a time-critical event by trying to maximise her time in the open air, but I don’t want to be there the first time she does.

ALLIE: DAY 41: Tuesday, 27th of March

Exploring Sydney, a walk across the bridge and a concert in the opera house

A morning jog is always a wonderful way to explore a city. I run around the botanical gardens and hear this most amazing noisy sound like a thousand birds. 

But it turns out they are ‘flying foxes’ or fruit bats (pteropus poliocephalus) returning form their wild nights out to hang themselves upside down in the trees of the gardens to rest for the day. 

But what a smell, noisy and battle! Sydney seems to be a very fit city since I am definitely not alone on my run. Young, old, fat, slim – everybody is trotting and jogging around the bay.

After a delicious breakfast at our cosy B & B we set out to explore the downtown area on foot. Phil has worked here for BA 30years ago, and so we try to find his old office in Pitt Street, but its no longer there. 

What we find though is “Phillip Street”! The old central post office for the whole of the country has been turned into a variety of exclusive shops and restaurants. It used to be one of the largest and most elaborate buildings of the town, but now in the time of email and mobile phone the post office is squeezed into a tiny corner.

Our long walk takes us back through the botanical gardens and along the bay, then up to the opera house to check a last time for tickets. And we fortunate: we leave with two standing tickets for Carmina Burana tonight!

At lunch time we meet with Phils ballooning friend Rick Gillespie and his wife Heather. 

The weather now is sunny and warm and it’s great to sit near the harbour and watch the world passing by.

with Rick and Heather Gillespie

We start a discussion about the particularities of the Australians compared to the Brits. Two topics come to our observation. One being that the Aussis seem to be proud of everything. 

You see labels announcing that this beer was ‘proudly produced in Australia’ or that the ferry company is ‘proud’ to take you across to the zoo where you can watch our ‘proudly in the Sydney zoo raised koalas’. 
The Brits would scorn this attitude as being too arrogant. 

The other being the fact that the Australians make quite a big fuss about their ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Armoured Corps) day. 

That is a memorial day in honour to all the casualties and soldiers that fought in all the wars and battles that Australia and New Zealand have been involved in. It would be quite impossible especially in Germany (or even in the UK as Phil tells me) to celebrate such a thing. 

A bite to eat and a pint (or two in the boys case!) at the “Australian Hotel” and then I get ‘ants in my pants’ and want to move on to walk across the famous harbour bridge. The bridge was built in 1932 and had just celebrated its 75th anniversary. What a view!

Standing on top of one of the pylons we enjoy stunning views over the many bays of Sydney, the skyline, the ferry boats … 

We watch the bridge climbers that have paid an expensive 200 Dollars just to walk across the bridge being bound together on ropes and wearing fancy suits and caps. 

The light couldn’t be better and the only thing that would have made my husband even happier was if he could have flown in one of the seaplanes that we see cruising over the bay.

We want to hire a car, but it takes us ages to cross the city first by taxi to get to Avis and even longer to drive back through the evening rush hour. Parking is a nightmare in this city and the traffic lights seem to be forever red. 

it is undoubtedly a stunning building!
Not much time for a quick bite to eat, then we rush off for our great concert at the opera house. 

It’s Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and  Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 conducted by Richard Hickox. 

The concert hall is packed, we have to stand. But the musical and cultural experience is absolutely worth it. 

Half dead we drop to bed at 23.00 knowing that there are a mere 4hours left until we have to get up again!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Arrival in Sydney

26 Mar/Day 40

Head out of Cairns on Qantas to Sydney. Not very good service which I consider might reflect staff antagonism to current plans to sell the airline to institutional investors (it was until recently, I believe, owned 25% by BA).Flight delayed an only a mumbled apology – none from the Captain, which I always think makes any excuse sound a bit more sincere.

approach to Sydney
All this is compensated for by a superb view of Sydney Harbour, the bridge (75 years old only a week before and built by the company – Dorman Long – in Middlesborough for whom my uncle Gordon worked many years ago.), and the Opera House on final approach to Mascot/Kingsford-Smith Airport. Can’t get used to everywhere  feeling it must call itself ‘………International’ these days instead of a bit of variety and local history.

Allie and I have a slight contretemps over whether or not to take a taxi. Ever the thrifty Schwabian, she thinks bus/train might be (and undoubtedly is) cheaper. I, equally committed as a minimum-hassle-unless-the-cost-is-outrageous adherent, plump for taxi. This has mixed blessings as the taxi driver, I guess a Greek by origin, clearly does not know our hotel despite an exact address and ends up doing circuits of the Rocks area (at my expense).
the famous Sydney opera house
The B&B I chose on the internet is perfect and within 500m of the Opera house and even closer to the Bridge. We saw an advert for a performance of Carmina Burana  at the former tomorrow night and rush down before the box office closes only to be told it is sold out. 

Particularly disappointing as Karl Orff is buried at Kloster Andechs near our former Tutzing home. Richard Hickox is musical director, I notice, and I recall seeing him conduct a concert including pianist John Lill at the church on Wandsworth Green in 1984.

ALLIE: DAY 40: Monday, 26th of March

Flight to Sydney the harbour city of Australia

Another wonderful sunny morning. I run to the beach and dive into the sea whilst Phil is ‘allowed’ to have another quiet hour in bed – the perfect marriage arrangement!
The rest of the morning is spent on the internet or with writing and packing. Then we are off to the airport to drop our hired car and check in for our flight QF 925 to Sydney.

stunning views across Sydney harbour
The flight is delayed, but once we are up in the air it’s only 2 ½ hrs. We cross parts of inland Australia. 
What a huge deserted country. How must life be in these outback farms where your next neighbour lives 100km away from you and the only medical service can be done by the flying doctors?

The approach into Sydney International airport is stunning. We are lucky to sit on the left side and get an excellent view over the downtown city area, the opera house and the famous harbour bridge that had just celebrated its 75th birthday.

Within 25min of a taxi drive and we arrive at our small “TheRocks” Bed & Breakfast.  The location is excellent. We are right in the middle of the ‘Rocks’ the quirky and lively old town centre. 

It’s just 5min to the bridge and to the harbour side. We take an evening stroll to the famous Opera house and ask for tickets for tomorrows Carmina Burana. But alas it’s already sold out. What a pity!  
The harbour front is full with ferries and lined with trendy coffee shops, oyster bars and expensive restaurants. 

You certainly need to earn a fat salary in order to live here comfortably. Everything is very expensive. 

That’s part of the reason why we end up later at an Irish pub eating bangers & mash and fish & chips and not at an harbour front Trattoria eating oysters and looking at the illuminated opera house. 

But we have life music and the band even plays a special song for me! Phil says, he never should leave me alone for a minute, I always get chatted up by some boys.

But if I am left to buy the drinks…that’s what might happen!