Sunday, 18 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 30: Sydney -> Blue Mountains

This was the most urban place we'd stayed in for a while - I was woken up by people on their morning walk going past the front of the house and talking loudly. It wasn't early though, probably around 7.30. We had a relaxed morning, hanging out in the kitchen/family room, eating breakfast and chatting and playing games. The kids spent some time on iPads and all the boys and Amelie played Minecraft for a while (although Amelie's world wasn't working properly) and we played Love Letters again, with people swapping in and out of the game as other things were happening. Our friend's daughter had dancing so she went off to that, and the boys all went with her mum to pick her up, bringing back a big box of delicious donuts from Grumpy Donuts. I was in the shower when they got back out, and returned to the kitchen to a very yummy treat.

Our hosts were going out around 11.30, so we organised to leave at the same time. I got everything in the car and locked the front door and just as I drove off remembered that I'd left my water bottle in the bed - I figured it wasn't worth the hassle of organising to go back inside to get it, so we gifted it to our friends.

We drove around and over the Harbour Bridge which was quite exciting, then I chose the wrong lane as I exited the bridge but still easily found my way to my brother's house in Greenwich. We parked on Greenwich Rd, finding a lengthy parking space fairly easily, and walked around the block to my brother's. His son was a little unsure about all these people coming in to his house, although he eventually played with Caitlin for a little while. When he wanted his Maman and Caitlin offered to go with him to find her though, he wasn't interested, he wanted Papa to take him. He went down for a nap before lunch.

My brother cooked the most magnificent steaks and sausages on the bbq, as well as some awesome chips and his wife made a salad, and we sat on the balcony to eat lunch. They had a friend over as well and she was fun and interesting to talk to. I had a great time catching up with all their day to day news and the kids joined in at times, and looked at the view or retreated with their iPods for a while. Their cousin woke up after a while and still wasn't keen on playing or talking with the kids, but did give them all a high-5 when we were saying goodbye.

We left a bit before 4 and the drive up to the Blue Mountains was quite easy. We pulled into a free camp at Woodford and discovered that all the vehicle camping is on the road, only tents can go on the grassed area (there are large rocks around the edge of the grass). At first I wasn't sure where we'd be able to set up, and we were thinking of getting out our little tents, then I decided I could probably manage to get the tent up in the one bay that was available (everywhere else I felt like the tent would be in the way of through traffic).

The bay was definitely big enough and I had no trouble backing in. I wanted to set up quickly so we could go to my friend's house (I'd said I'd be there around 6 and it was 5.30 when I unhitched). I had a moment of worry when I unhitched and the trailer rolled backwards - I caught it and managed to unlock the toolbox with one hand and get around to the wheels to chock them before it rolled any further. We did a very quick (38 minutes, including the beds) setup in hot, late afternoon sun. I was covered in sweat and very red in the face. The set up was a bit tricky too because half of the bay was asphalt so we couldn't peg all the corners down, so I used ropes on a couple of the corners. The slope was a bit inconvenient too so the tent looks a bit wonky - but for a short overnight stop it was fine. The zip decided to play up just as we were about to leave - I zipped up the fly door instead and we went to my friends.

We were greeted at my friend's house by her 3 legged dog who wasn't sure about these strangers in her house - she settled down after a while and spent a lot of the night licking Amelie and Liam's legs. We sat out the back and had nibbles and drinks and then a BBQ with sausages and chicken skewers. Great food and fantastic conversation. Both my friend's adult daughters were home and I loved catching up with them (I've known them both since they were born). It was a very relaxing and funny night. The kids spent some time looking at the birds and talking to one of the girls about them, and Amelie watched Beauty and the Beast (the new one). I remember watching the original Disney version with my friend in this same house, about 25 years ago! They had recently renovated their kitchen and changed some other things in the house so I was happy to see all the changes and we reminisced about what the house originally looked like.

We didn't leave until after 11 - Amelie was already asleep and everyone was pretty tired. It had been a very enjoyable evening. We drove back to camp and pretty much went straight to bed, all three kids were asleep within minutes.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 29: Newcastle -> Sydney

I wanted to make sure that I saw the girls and their Dad before they left for school and work so that I could say goodbye, so when I woke quite early I didn’t try to go back to sleep. I had enough time to go for a walk and this time went straight to the granny pool for a swim. The sky was grey and there was a light breeze blowing in from the ocean – the feel and smell of the air reminded me so much of swimming at Merewether Baths on a cloudy morning. The water was cool and refreshing and got to about chest deep near the gap in the wall, where the water flows in from the channel. I swam around for about 10 minutes then went back to the house to say goodbye and thanks for letting us stay.

After I’d had some breakfast I chatted to Tony for a while, then Caitlin said that the oldest cousin had missed her bus. I drove her to school (which also gave the girls a bit more time together) and then stopped at Woolworths on the way back to get some more bread and milk. The bridge was up again as we left Swansea. At home I was just about to start packing when Tony rang again, it was great to have a chat of more than a few minutes with him.

I didn’t start packing until 9.40, then had everything done, ready to go by 11.40 which I was very happy with.  I was hot and sweaty so had a cold shower and got changed, we checked that we had all our stuff and were on our way by just after 12.

We stopped for petrol at Doyalson – last year I’d bought a Pokemon DVD at this petrol station so Amelie wanted to see if they had more. There weren’t any DVDs that interested her, she and Liam bought some chocolate. The drive down to Sydney was fairly easy, there was a lot of traffic but it mainly kept moving. Getting through to Leichhardt had a few moments of tricky traffic with the trailer on, but we made it fine. As I approached our friends’ house I saw a parking spot about 2 ½ cars long, in front of a boat. It was long enough for me to drive into it, then reverse back at bit and wiggle back and forth to get the trailer fairly straight (and mainly off the cycle lane). It was only a few houses away from where we were staying so I was very pleased with the spot.

Our friends weren’t home until after work, so we had some lunch at the car, then walked down to the Light Rail station at Lilyfield. We stopped on the way to buy Opal cards, and I bought a scratchie as well which we did at the station – we didn’t win anything but the kids enjoyed scratching it. The train was very crowded and took a long time to get to Central. Once there we caught a regular train to Circular Quay – we sat upstairs which was exciting for kids used to Melbourne, single level, trains (and I always love catching Sydney trains). Getting off the train at Circular Quay we had a great view over the Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. We stood at the edge of the platform and looked at the view, and noticed a street artist down on the path below – he was completely dressed and painted in gold, and appeared to be hovering in mid air – he had one hand resting on top of a pole, and was sitting cross legged about a metre off the ground. We headed downstairs to see if we could see how he was doing it, but he was packing up by the time we got there. From what we could see, the pole was firmly anchored in a base plate, but there was no other support – so we think he was balancing just on the strength of his arm on the pole.

We wandered around to the Opera House, looking at the markers showing the 1788 waterline. We admired a street artist’s painting of the harbour and gave him some money. At the Opera House we sat on the ledge around the edge of the point and looked at the Bridge, the boats and ferries going past, and the sails of the Opera House. We walked across the base of the steps and went down to the pontoon at Man-of-war steps, Amelie didn’t like being on the moving pontoon, so she played with some soft, sparkly sand on the path back on dry land. Caitlin and Liam had a look around, then we walked back up the Opera Houses steps and sat on one of the sloping parts in front of a window. It was tempting to run up to the top of the slope but there was a sign saying not to, so we sat at the bottom and looked at all the different aspects of the sails that we could see from there. We went over and touched some of the tiles and looked at the different patterns and how different they looked from a distance compared to up close.

Amelie wanted to see the Botanic Gardens so we wandered over there and the kids played around a sculpture of mother earth, Caitlin climbed a fig tree, and we went to look at gazebo that was installed recently, which had lots of symbolism about the colonial impact of Governor Macquarie and his wife. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon so the backdrop was incredible, with the harbour and boats and bridge always in sight.

We wandered back towards the station, stopping briefly to share a cup of delicious lemon sorbet. We got to the platform just in time to jump on a train – one of the newer ones that I don’t think I’ve been on before. We admired the old fashioned style of Museum station as we went through, then got off the train at Central. The light rail train was just pulling in as we arrived at the platform, we were able to get on and get seats this time. The trip back seemed much quicker, and we wandered up the hill in much cooler temperatures, just before sunset.

Our friends were sitting on the front steps waiting for us when we arrived. We had a drink of water then sat out the back for a while and the kids played tennis with small plastic rackets, until the mozzies got too bad. We had delicious pizza for dinner and all the kids got on well. (Our friends’ 2 kids and another friend of theirs who was sleeping over). The younger kids played with loom bands for a while and did some puzzles, Caitlin sat with the adults and we played a game called Love Letters. The boys played Uno then started to watch our game, and we switched out players so that everyone had a turn. My host and I had a cocktail and it was a fun night, full of laughter and catching up.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 28: Newcastle

Once again I was up first and went for a walk to the beach. The water was clearer today, less seaweed and no muck. It was sunny and beautiful in a different way to yesterday. There was one surfer in the water and I decided to go in - the undertow was strong and the waves were breaking fairly close to shore. I thought about going past the break but didn't feel confident given that I was there on my own. I stood in waist deep water for a while and it was lovely, then hopped out and kept walking. I walked to the end of the beach and all the way out to the end of the break wall. There was a big swell coming into the channel - it was really cool to see the waves from behind as they rolled past me. There were some good splashes on the edge of the break wall but nothing really breaking over onto the path.

I chatted for a while with a couple and their dog (the dog didn't want me to come too close to it's humans, until we started talking and then it came over to me for a pat and was quite happy), then wandered back home. I had a shower and some breakfast and chatted to the kids as they woke up.

At 10 an old friend from BHP came to visit, we sat out the back and talked for a couple of hours, it was fantastic to spend some time with him. After he left I tidied up a bit, talked to a friend from home on the phone, then we had lunch and got ready to go out to see another friend (Caitlin's godfather).

We drove down to his house in Wyee and had a lovely afternoon chatting, looking at his garden and the work he's done in the yard, talking politics and lots of other topics. The kids played with his girls and came in and out of our conversation. They played Uno and hide and seek and read books and played with stuffed toys, then Amelie and his girls watched TV until we left. Just as we were getting ready to go his wife came home from work, I'm so glad we got to see her as well.

Back home and the cousins were out at the beach so we relaxed for a while, when they came home the kids played on the trampoline and chatted. The youngest cousin was here and she and Amelie danced to Moana again. My BIL set up a fire in the backyard and the kids sat around that and ate their dinner, some went inside afterwards to watch tv together, some stayed outside. I chatted to the other adults and it was a lovely quiet evening. After the little one and her mum and brother had left, the kids all stayed inside and my BIL sat outside near the fire until quite late, talking about lots of deep topics. I had thought about packing some of our stuff tonight, then decided the conversation was more important.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 27: Newcastle

I woke early and went for a walk along Blacksmiths Beach. The sky was quite dark and made the ocean a steely grey metallic colour, with the sun shining through the clouds on the horizon. There was a coal ship silhouetted in the rising sun and it was gorgeous. I considered going for a swim - the waves were pretty big, there was a lot of seaweed, and there was a layer of some sort of muck just beyond the break, so I decided to give it a miss. I walked up to the break wall and a little way out - the waves at times were crashing onto the wall so I didn't walk any further, just stood and admired the view for a while. On my way back to the house it started raining - not heavily, but enough to get fairly wet. It was refreshing though, not cold.

I had a quick chat to Tony while I got ready to go out, and at 10 we headed off. I drove via Eleebana to show the kids the house that my grandparents used to own - it's changed a little and I would have like to take photos but there was a lady glaring down at me from the top balcony so I did the very difficult multi-point turn to turn around at the end of the road (and I did use the driveway a little, which my grandparents didn't ever like people doing) and didn't linger there. I got a bit confused in Warners Bay, trying to figure out which road I needed to take to get me up to the bypass - I ended up on Warners Bay Rd and came out just before Charlestown which worked OK. Driving down into Merewether was exciting as always, so many familiar places and the view of the beach as I came down Scenic Dr is always amazing.

We met 2 of my uncles in the carpark at Dixon Park beach (easier to park there than at Merewether). It was warm and sunny by now, we took a while to all get sunscreen on and find our hats, then we were ready to walk down to Merewether Beach. I was surprised at how many people were there, walking, swimming, sunbathing, surfing or at the cafes, for the middle of a weekday. It was great to chat to my uncles about music and their recent travels and sport and Newcastle. We had gelato at the surf club and once we'd finished eating we walked down to the baths. The kids changed into their swimmers and went for a swim (Amelie was reluctant at first, I think the size and ocean water put her off a bit) and I took a heap of photos of one of my favourite places in Newcastle. The baths have recently been refurbished so many things were different, like the ramps into them and the walls and the seats around them. The lap markers were the same and the fences looked similar - it was fun to explore and just soak up the atmosphere. I sat and talked with my uncles and Amelie got out and lay in the sun for a while, the others swam to the far side of the baths and climbed out and explored the rock pools, finding a sea slug and some fish. The waves were big although not big enough to break over onto the rocks there - they were splashing against the edge and making quite an impressive spray.

The kids got out of the pool and went to play in the rock pools along the edge of the beach, and Amelie joined them. We sat in the shade and watched them and chatted some more. When the kids came back to get changed I realised I didn't want to leave without swimming in the baths myself, so I ran down and dived in and swam across and back. It felt fantastic, so refreshing, good to be swimming laps again, and great to be swimming in such a familiar place. I'm really glad I did a quick swim.

As we were about to leave a massive school group (from St Paul's, Booragul) arrived so we were happy to be on our way. We walked back to the cars and said goodbye to my uncles. From there I showed the kids the unit I lived in in Merewether, then drove in to Nobbys Beach, past lots of places that I pointed out to the kids. We drove around past Newcastle Beach and then through Cooks Hill, Hamilton South and Adamstown, then past the house I lived in when I was a baby, then back home to Blacksmiths.

We relaxed at the house for a while and I popped out to get some groceries so I could cook dinner. Once the girls were home from school I took Caitlin and her 13yo cousin out for coffee - we looked in Swansea first (and had to wait at the bridge to let a yacht go into the lake) but everything was closed, then tried Belmont and found nothing, so went to Belmont 16 footers - which is where we ended up going last time we were up here and I took the girls out. We ordered hot chocolates and chai, and a piece of chocolate mousse torte to share, and sat overlooking the lake and the sailboats while we ate and drank. The girls played cards (Spit) while we waited for our drinks to arrive and while we chatted after finishing them. It was a lovely afternoon out with 2 gorgeous young women.

Back home my BIL took all the kids down to the beach (he had the bus from school so could fit them all in) while I cooked spag bol. The kids came home happy and wet, changed their clothes and watched TV together. I dished up dinner and sat out the back chatted to my BIL. Liam joined us after a while and we saw possums coming down out of the trees - the kids fed them some fruit and enjoyed hanging out with them. They noticed one of the possums didn't have a tail and we discussed how that might have happened. The cousins went off to bed and I followed soon after and wrote and read for a while, and the kids came in to the tent as they were ready.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 26: Newcastle

It was the eldest cousin's 13th birthday today, so Caitlin and I made sure we were up early enough to say Happy Birthday before she went to school. I spent the rest of the morning sorting out my photos and emails etc, while the kids watched Netflix and YouTube videos (and chased the chickens out of the house anytime one of us left the back door open). In the afternoon I walked over to the hardware store to see if they had a new fuse for my fridge cord - we thought we'd fixed it in Brisbane (the fuse had slipped out of place) but the fridge still wasn't working. I plugged it in to 240v power here and it worked fine, so I knew it was the cord. The hardware store didn't have the fuse so suggested I try the automotive place. He looked at the fuse and said it was fine, and said he'd have another go at getting the fuse to stay in the right place. He tested the cord and said the fuse was working but the power wasn't getting to the other end - so I came home and opened up the new cord I'd bought, and that works fine. I spent a bit of time organising to see people during the rest of our trip.

The girls came home from school and their dad from work, and the kids all hung out in the front room for a while. Amelie and I made a birthday card. The youngest cousin and her mum and brother came over, and we had chocolate mud cake for birthday cake. The kids all moved out into the back yard and played on the trampoline and the adults sat and chatted for a while. The other mum and I went down the street to get fish and chips for dinner (we walked to the closest one, which was closed, so we came back and drove into Swansea. On our walk we met a scared, scruffy looking dog, who wouldn't let us get close enough to pat him - he didn't have a collar on and he looked lost, I hope he is ok).

When we got back the girls were dancing to the Moana soundtrack in between jumping on the trampoline. We ate our dinner and hung out in the backyard until the mozzies got too bad. The boys had moved inside earlier and were playing on the iPad. Once the visitors left everyone wound down pretty quickly. I sat out the back for a while and chatted to my BIL, mainly about the Uni cricket club days, and some of his memories of Tony as a kid, then I went to bed and read my book. The kids all came in soon afterwards. A very relaxed day before a week of seeing different people every day!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 25: Armidale -> Newcastle

It was even colder this morning - 6.7 degrees when I got up. Beautiful and crisp though. I started sorting our stuff a little and was about to make a cup of tea when some people arrived at our tent - a man and lady from the New England Lapidary Society, saying that they were setting up for their gem show and would I be leaving today. I said I was and asked what time they were starting - they said 9am. It was just before 8 at this stage so I said that I wouldn't be out by 9, but I'd be as quick as I could. They went around to all the other sites and told people that they had to leave - several of them had paid for another night, or even the whole week, and were understandably quite upset. The gem people were quite rude about it too 'Well we have this area leased, so you'll have to go'. (The caretakers had been away on the weekend and volunteers had helped out, and we figured they must just not have known about this previous booking).

I started packing up at 8.10, and we were all ready to go at 10.20, one of our quickest pack ups ever. By this stage the caretaker had come down and apologised to everyone and said that the lapidary people had no right to go from site to site - and that they didn't start their show until Thursday, they were just marking out the sites today, so everyone could stay a few more days if they wanted to. Some people had already packed up enough that they decided to go anyway, others decided to stay and move in a few days.

We all went to the toilet and on the way back we stopped to chat to several people (and met a very cute puppy), so it was 10.50 by the time we left. It was a beautiful sunny day and not cold any more. I really enjoyed the first part of the drive to Uralla - I've driven that road many many times and it was exciting to see it all again. From Uralla I kept going to Tamworth rather than turning off to go the Buckett's Way - I figured the highway would be easier with the trailer on.

The drive to Tamworth took a lot longer than expected. We were stuck for a good while behind another camper trailer who was driving quite slowly. Twice the truck driver behind me leaned on his horn because I hadn't overtaken the trailer when he thought I could have (neither times felt safe to me). I was glad when we had an overtaking lane and the 2 trucks behind me were able to get past us both. At the next overtaking lane I was also able to get past the slow trailer and was able to drive a bit faster - although I'm often quite slow on windy roads. Before Tamworth the road has a few very steep sections as the elevation drops quickly - this time the speed limit for buses and trucks was 60, so this was possibly steeper than the scary hill a couple of days ago. There was no one behind me as I came down these 2 hills, which made it less scary but I still didn't enjoy it at all, I found it rather stressful. I appear to have gripped the wheel quite hard too because my forearm was very tight and sore afterwards.

We eventually made it to Tamworth and drove past the Big Golden Guitar, then continued south. The road from Tamworth to Muswellbrook had a lot of of roadworks and we were frequently stopped or slowed to 60 or 40, which made the trip take a lot longer. There was another steep hill coming in to Murrurundi. As we came into the town I noticed a dragon fly stuck in my windscreen wipers, so we pulled over opposite a park so I could let him free. I also wanted to check my brake lights on the trailer as on Saturday the connection from the car seemed to wiggle loose as we drove - everything was still working today. We all went over the road to use the one toilet available - Amelie was amused that there were 3 different toilet paper dispensers, all different designs, all fully stocked. There were more roadworks as we continued south and we eventually made it to Muswellbrook around 3pm - way later than I had expected. As we drove in we could see open cut mines on the other side of town - whole hillsides that had been exploded, it was quite striking.

We stopped at the park next to the railway station and I made us some sandwiches. While we ate we saw 3 long trains go past with a variety of engines on them. We explored the park a bit and had a rest, then continued on through town and got some petrol, and stopped at Aldi to buy a 4-pack of Choc-mint ice creams (it took us a while to get to Aldi because first I turned left out of the petrol station instead of turning right across the highway, and tried to get there the back way, then ended up turning right onto the highway further down, and then missed the turn into the street I needed and had to go far enough up the road to find a place to turn around.) Eventually we had our ice creams and were on our way again.

The drive to Singleton was easier, and I enjoyed driving through both Muswellbrook and Singleton and seeing all the old buildings. And lots of memories from both towns. Beyond Singleton, just before Branxton, there's a new road which skips all the rest of the towns and makes the trip to Newcastle much quicker. This was much easier driving and we made good time. It was exciting to come into Newcastle through Wallsend and point out more familiar landmarks, including another street where I used to live. The trip out to Blacksmiths went smoothly and we arrived at my brother-in-laws around 6pm.

The kids were all excited to see their cousins and we sat and ate pizza with them and then I sat out the back and had a cup of tea while chatting to my BIL. Once I felt rested enough I went to get the trailer - when I'd arrived there were lots of cars in the street so I was worried that it would be difficult to even get the trailer to the driveway - by the time I was ready to try, everyone had left (there is a yoga studio across the road so the cars were from the yoga class). We'd moved the couch out of the garage, last time it made it a just a bit narrow and a bit tricky to turn the trailer at the end to avoid the garden. With great directions from my BIL, I backed up the street, into the driveway and through the garage, with really no problems. We unhitched in the garage and pushed the trailer the rest of the way into the yard, and quickly had the tent up. After a bit more of a chat I put the beds up and enjoyed listening to Liam talk to his uncle about movies and books and science and puzzles.

Caitlin hung out with her cousins (either on the trampoline or watching tv) until they went to bed, then she rang some friends. Once everyone else was in bed, Liam and Amelie watched Dr Who and Pokemon on Netflix, and I went to bed to read for a while. The kids came in not too long afterwards.

Brisbane Trip Day 24: Armidale

This was definitely the coldest night we've had on the trip so far, and a bit of a shock after such warm nights in Brisbane. We used all the blankets and it wasn't too uncomfortable. I was up early and there was a fog covering the show grounds, with the sun shining through and silhouetting all the show buildings, it was very pretty.

I had a cup of tea and breakfast and the kids joined me as they woke up. Once I'd eaten I started work on my car window - being a Sunday I figured there'd be no one around to fix it, and also I didn't want to pay someone again, I was sure I could figure it out. It took me a while to get the door panel off, there were a couple of screws I didn't find until I looked up a diagram online. With the panel off I could see what the problem was - the window had jumped the rails and was jammed between the window column and the door frame. I tried to shift it out but it wasn't budging at all. I thought I just needed more strength, so asked the guy in the camper trailer next to us if he could help. He was a young guy, and a mechanic, and happy to help out. He'd also had a similar problem with his own window. My window though was well and truly jammed and he couldn't shift it with strength. He tried a few things and eventually found a screw that loosened the window enough to move it back and out of the jam, then put it into it's rail. He put everything back together for me and the window worked perfectly. I was very grateful.

By now it was nearly 11am so we quickly got ready and headed off to explore. We drove around Armidale and I showed the kids places that I remembered. Amelie was impressed with all the churches. I wanted to show them the 3 houses I'd lived in, on the first pass I couldn't find any of them - everything looked so different. We got petrol and drove up Elm Avenue to the uni, I was pleased to show them this beautiful road that I walked up so many times. There were a few yellow leaves here and there, but it was mainly showing it's summer glory. Driving back through town I found 2 of my houses and I think the driveway of the third.

We set off along the Waterfall Way to the east. I love this countryside - with the elevation so high the sky seems to go forever and the clouds sit differently to what we are used to. The land is pretty dry, with beautiful dead trees in all the paddocks, and lots of large rocks strewn everywhere. It's pretty tough land, very beautiful. We saw 3 eagles on our drive out to Wollomombi Falls.

At the falls we wandered around the picnic area a bit, got a glimpse of Chandler Falls, looked at the gorge, used the toilets then checked the maps and decided to do the walk that goes towards the tops of the falls. The walk was quite pretty, through wooded hills with a mix of living and dead trees and interesting undergrowth. The first lookout gave us a good view of the gorge - it was deep and immense looking - lots of places where we could see that rockfalls had happened, huge slabs of rock lining the walls where there hadn't been falls, and the river way way down below. The day was hot and at one point the kids were thinking about heading back. We could see a cool looking metal bridge up ahead though so kept walking towards that. The bridge crossed the river, above (and a few hundred metres back from) the top of the falls. It was gorgeous, the river trickling between lots of big rocks, and the river banks sloping up to grass and then trees and the blue sky above. We had a play around on the rocks and saw some rock skinks (one swam across the river to get away from us). We found a spot in the shade and sat and ate some lunch (tuna, avocado, ritz and saladas). After eating we explored a bit more above and below the bridge, then kept walking to the lookout at the top of the falls. It was pretty as well, we could see several arms of the falls coming from a rock pool at the top, and had a great view right along the gorge. We couldn't see the bottom of the falls though, they were way below us. After resting a little and admiring the view, we continued on to the lookout for Chandler Falls (two rivers meet at the bottom of the gorge, and they both have massive waterfalls dropping into the gorge just before the meeting place. Wollomombi Falls are the tallest in Australia, over 200m). These falls were also impressive. Not a lot of water in them at the moment, but we could see it falling in steps all the way to the bottom. The gorge here was similar although had different things to look at - a slightly less recent rockfall, different trees, more farmland at the top. We could also see the top of the ridge between the 2 rivers.

The walk back was pretty again although we were all quite tired. The views of the gorge from the lookouts, and even the river at the bridge, looked different because the sun had moved and the shadows were very different. Back at the car we had a big drink of water and a snack and felt a bit refreshed. We drove down to look at the camping ground (which I hadn't realised was there) - it looked pretty and was quite cheap, although the sites looked pretty hard and possibly were all gravel, so it might be tricky for us to set up there.

I'd planned to keep heading east and see Ebor Falls, Dorrigo and maybe even Bellingen, but we'd spent quite a bit of time here and got started later than I'd thought we would, and we were all feeling tired. So instead we went back towards Armidale, then went out to Gara Gorge. The last several kilometres of the road were gravel, and parts of it were the most heavily corrugated I think I've driven on. I had to drive at about 10km/hr in one bit so that the car didn't feel like it was going to fall apart. It seemed to take a long time to get to the gorge, through some very pretty countryside - then suddenly we were on paved roads again as we entered the National Park. We stopped at the Blue Hole and got out to have a look. I remembered people swimming here, and while it was attractive to look at, it didn't look inviting to swim in. No one else was there and there were no obvious paths down to the water either. We found a path through the grass that led to a big rock so we stood there and watched the birds and the skinks and enjoyed the peaceful surrounds.

I'd seen people coming out along the road who had been swimming, and several cars came past from further into the park, so we went down there. There were a lot more cars at the next carpark. We walked down to the river and saw kids in the water, and people walking back up the path in wet clothes, so I popped back to the car and got the kids swimmers. The other kids had said there was a better spot to swim further down the river. Liam and Caitlin clambered over the rocks to explore, which was fun (although Liam scratched his shoulder quite badly on a tree). They came back up and the 4 of us walked down the path a way until we found another place to reach the river. The rocks rose up quite steeply either side of the water, and the valley was narrower and more full of trees than the valley we'd had lunch in. This was beautiful as well, in a darker way. The water was reflecting in shimmery patterns on the overhanging rocks, it was very cool. The kids sat on the edge of a rock with their feet in the water and the fish nibbled on their skin, and I found a beachy area where I could wade into the water. It was cold, though bearable. The kids joined me (we had to duck under a tree branch to get to the beach) and Caitlin made her way over a rock to sit on a submerged (slippery) rock. I'd walked in to about my waist and Liam came with me, then swam out to a rock in the middle of the river. Caitlin made her way out there as well, then when she came back in I went out. There were lots of big rocks under the water and while the water was clear it was in the shade and hard to see, so we didn't swim around a lot. It was lovely though, being in the water and looking up at the rocks and the trees (and the extra reflections that the ripples we were making created on the rocks). Amelie played in the water near where we came in, it sloped down quite quickly there so it was easy to get right in to the water.

We got out and talked to a couple who were making their way up the river going from rock to rock - just where we were there wasn't an easy way to get across or around so they walked through the water. I sat with my feet in the river for a while and enjoyed the fish nibbling on my dry skin. We got dressed and walked back to the car. Amelie read the history of the water flume that used to be here - there was hydro power here once. It was interesting too to look at the debris stuck in the trees and see how high the flood level is here when there's been a lot of rain.

The drive out was a lot easier - the sun was low in the sky and was highlighting the corrugations in the road so I could avoid them as much as possible. We called in at Coles when we were back in town to grab milk and eggs and a 6-pack of beer for the guy who fixed my window. We drove around a little more so the kids could see the attractive main street and the fountain in the mall.

Back to camp and we all went and had hot showers, then had egg and cabana sandwiches for dinner. We tidied up (and I did the dishes so they weren't slowing us down in the morning) and once again were all in bed between 9 and 9.30.