Monday, 23 July 2018

Mrs TJ (and husband) Return to Oz

18 Months after returning home to the UK following 3 plus magical years living Melbourne, Mrs TJ and husband are returning down under once more. We returned in October 2016.

I was so busy working in the clinic, even treating clients on the same morning we left for the airport that I barely had chance to get excited about the trip. In fact I was rather "cranky" truth be told, I was getting over a cold and feeling pretty frazzled. Gareth, on the other hand was like a little boy on Christmas Eve and had definitely been ready to go for a week or more.

As ever he was the itinerary-meister and had done a brilliant job of it too. In all honesty, there was nothing to be cranky about, he had it all sorted, I just needed to pack and follow the leader!

Our trip started in ernest with a glass of pink champagne in the first class lounge at Heathrow.....and breath. We were making the most of the facilities as it would be the last chance we would ever be able to use it now that Gareth was no longer doing those transatlantic business trips and building up his airmiles.

We both enjoyed a "runway ready" facial and massage and kicked back. The only fly in the ointment was the conjunctivitis beginning to flare up in my right eye, grrr! By the time we reached Hong Kong it was swollen, weepy and very sore and air conditioning on the flight is no friend at all. We were delayed a good while in Hong Kong as the air conditioning was faulty, so we had to transfer to another plane. After 36 hours in transit we finally landed in Perth.

We took a taxi to the Flag Motor Lodge and our heads hit the pillow at 3.30am. Four hours later with our body clocks awry, we were at the car hire place and set off south on the 3 hour drive down to the Margaret River region of south west Australia.

As we drove, I had to keep pinching myself that yes, we were back. I had a lump in my throat, it was so wonderful to see the red earth, the iconic gum trees and the azure blue sky like no other. My eyes were so heavy and the straight roads were so hypnotic, that given the jet lag, I could barely keep them open. I had no appetite for food at all and I felt quite feverish and sick. Don't you just love jet lag?

We stopped in Bunbury at a farmers market "mart" for a reviving coffee and Gareth indulged in his first "Aussie" meat pie which he devoured pretty sharpish.

Eventually, we arrived in Margaret River, the town itself was small, really charming and a little sleepy in a bohemian kind of way. We pulled into the drive at Basildene Manor, a beautiful Edwardian home built in 1912 set in an elevated position with 14 hectares of mature garden, All the suites were named after a wine variety and we had Chardonnay. It was so very elegant and smacked of a bygone era but by then I was delirious with fatigue and crawled between the crisp Egyptian cotton sheet and fell asleep in an instant.

After a few hours kip, we headed into town to stretch our legs and perused the various restaurants for dinner that night, we decided upon a seafood grill place, oddly named Katch-Up as the Donningbrook Marron (crayfish) on the menu was most appealing. We then headed down to the beach, famous for its surf (and more recently great white shark sightings) and lay on the sand gazing out to the Indian Ocean. It was hard to believe we were back in the "lucky country". It was a warm, kind of home-coming feeling.

We stopped at the Sea Garden Cafe and sat in the sunshine where Gareth enjoyed his first bottle of Crown lager (his favourite) and I sampled a glass of the local Cabernet/Merlot from the Leuwinn Winery. Sat up high, we looked out over the ocean allowing the swirl of alcohol to relax and mellow and all felt quite right with the world. Sometimes silence really is golden.

That evening after we had dined out on our Donningbrook Marron (which was rather disappointing sadly) we returned to the Manor and slouched in leather armchairs in front of the fire, it is still chilly at night at this time of year (Spring). By 9pm those cotton sheets were calling us once more and we turned in.

The following morning we felt much brighter, we had slept as heavy as bricks and I had a deep crease right across my cheek where it had hit the pillow and stayed put all night I'm sure.

Breakfast was served in the light and airy conservatory overlooking the magnificent gardens. Far yonder we spotted a beautiful male, red Kangaroo grazing on the vegetation at the edge of the gum forest, he was a big fella and the fencing around the property ensure the prized roses and herbaceous borders were not on his breakfast menu.

Our menu however, was incredible, poached pears, fruit compotes, fresh fruit platters, yogurts, breads and pastries and a huge cooked breakfast selection too. With my appetite revived, it certainly set us up for the rest of the day.

Incredibly it was at this point that my blog just suddenly disappeared. I just couldn't access it in anyway nor source who or what or where it was being hosted now. I was distraught and concluded that I had been a victim of a fairly destructive "cyber-attack".

I spent hours and hours and sought advice from "tech professionals", long hours on the phone and getting nowhere. It was like my foot was nailed to the floor and I was going around and around in circles.

I was exhausted with trying and I had not realised how emotionally attached I had become to the content, hours of work and so many wonderful memories recorded in words and images, just gone!  I just decided to block it from my memory, like it had never happened, it was extremely upsetting and I just couldn't face dealing with it anymore. 

I put my head in the sand.

When Gareth fully understood the extent of the problem, he looked me square on and said

"We will get it back, somehow, we will" he was also very upset, he knew how much I had put into it and the hours I spent compiling the content but most of all, yes OUR very special memories we had made during an extremely special time in our lives were lost from our view.

JUMP TO 23rd JULY 2018

Yes literally 2 years later, (so very lapse of me) I felt ready to try and have another stab at retrieving Mrs TJ Downunder. I was gearing myself up for the battle so to speak. 

Not to bore with the details, my luck arrived when a local tech guy came to clean up my laptop and John proved to be the "saviour of tmy blog", 10 hours work and conversations in a language that could have been in Japanese to me and he brought it back from the ether.

I heard the magic words from a tech guy he was talking to in the States, "Hey I think she's up, do we have a kangaroo on the header and wow, I'm getting hungry I can see a photo of huge prawns on the bbq"

"Yes thats it!!" I squealed with delight, relief and the tears came, Gareth rushed into the office and was equally elated.

So here we are. I am going to try and retrace my steps from our trip back to Oz nearly 2 years ago as it was, as ever incredible. For those who have enjoyed reading the blog I hope you continue to do so. Life has been very full since we returned home with many changes occurring.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Meanwhile back in the "Motherland"

It was so hard to say goodbye to Australia.

So I just said "See ya later" just like all the 'strayans do.

I look back through this blog and think WOW! Did we really do all that and see all that and experience all those incredible things? 

We sure did smash it.

High five Hubster! 

For my amazing husband with whom I've shared this incredible journey, our soulful Radish who got dragged along for the ride only to discover his inner surfer dude and the lovable, lolloping Aussie boy, Kale, who we picked up along the way, I can't love or thank you anymore than I do.

Good times shared, together we lived the dream. It feels like a dream now, seems such a long time ago already.

Its been 7 weeks since I arrived home with the fur boys. Hubster is still out there tying up all the loose ends and travelling back and forth to see us. Less than ideal.

I would love to say I am wonderfully settled but its not true. There is no chance of that until Hubster is with me again,

Our home wasn't quite as I expected it to be, perhaps 'Ive had rose tinted glasses on but I found it to be somewhat unkempt and in need of some TLC and direction. Perhaps I've just described myself there, as I have been living like a student in our home.

Our furniture and belongings are still mid-ocean and most of the house is bare and echoey. I am managing with a few bits and bobs of rental furniture and home wares but hey who am I kidding, this is not fun.

What has been fun and wonderful is meeting up with all my friends and loved ones once more, being part of village life and especially in Spring time.  I have also received such a lot of love, practical help and support from the dearest friends and I wonder if they'll ever know how much I appreciate it. The visit booking system however, is at full throttle and will be for some time yet.

What has been great is that feeling of knowing that I fit in, this is home and for all its quirks and foibles, it is so familiar and that is very comforting. It gives me exactly the confidence I need to go about my day to day with strength and fortitude and as I recall, that was the very thing I noticed I'd lost when I first arrived in Australia.

You don't know how entrenched you are in your own culture until you are removed from it and what a relief it is to have that culture returned to you. A culture comfort blanket so to speak.

That said the adjustment is massive, I knew it would be, I was warned and so I am trying to go with the flow and accept this is normal and the uncertainty of feeling between two worlds will pass. I am fully aware that I have no routine whatsoever and that I am far from settled. Not exactly the time to be making any big decisions.

Radish and Kale have been amazing, they have just accepted all that has been thrown at them with much more grace than I have. I have seen just how deep their trust in me is and I truly value that, just as I value their sofa cuddles every night and their exuberant welcomes every morning. What a godsend they are.

So 7 weeks back into life back home and its a very mixed bag of great and not so great.

I see now that I lived my Australian life in a huge bubble really and as one friend said to me the other day, I'm back in the real world now and all this is just one huge reality check.

Yes I'll second that.

Mrs TJ is no longer Down Under.

With nothing but incredible gratitude and forever grateful for an experience of a life time, I sign off.

A new adventure begins.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Last Hurrah on Hayman Island

Well as I write, I look down the hallway and see that my bags are lined up in size order by the door. Soon Mrs TJ will no longer be Down Under and the end of an amazing chapter in our lives will fast draw to a close.

However, before that happens, I have one last adventure to relay.

We realised our time over here could never be complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, of course.

We opted to stay in the Whitsundays, a unique phenomenon in the world where there is a conglomeration of 74 rain forest drenched islands in the ocean, only 8 of which have any human habitation at all.

We headed for Hayman Island and the One and Only Resort Hotel there.

We touched down at Hamilton Island in pre-Cyclonic storms. It took 3 attempts to land and in the end the pilot appeared to just drop the plane on the runway from a height!

Apparently, the ground staff did not expect the flight to land, thank goodness it did because look what we would have missed!

We were upgraded to a Pool Suite, we have no clue why and certainly no complaint about it either. It was stunning and to be fair even the photos do not do justice.

We had a spectacular view over the vast pool area and bar and out to the ocean and islands beyond. It truly was idyllic and flitting busily and very noisily from palm to palm, were scores of cheeky cockatoos. Just lovely.

Nestled in the hilly backdrop of the rain forest, the resort was discreetly and beautifully appointed.

Many chose to arrive by chopper from the nearby airport.

However, we decided to take the 50 minute cruise in one of the islands luxury craft, a catamaran called Pure Adrenalin. She was a mighty fine specimen, all cream leather, chrome and shiny walnut and we luxuriated on board with a glass of bubbles and some delectable canapes in hand.

As the Aussies would say; living the dream.

A real island paradise gettaway, it certainly exceeded our expectations and we loved just how sensitively it had all been created with the natural environment in mind.

Beautiful orchids, ferns and figs attached themselves to many a host palm, adorning the trunks with a carpet of green and colour. All quite mesmerising.

Whole BBQ Snapper with a herb gremolata and a side of seafood paella to share.

Thai fish yellow curry and a sweet and sour tooth fish dish.

The cuisine was simply delicious and we found it hard to get past the seafood as it was just so fresh and tasty, well in Queensland, the world's fish tank, it was always going to be.

On a walk we did a rest was much needed as the perspiration poured down us, head to toe, in rivulets. I don't think I have ever encountered 85% humidity before.

The cyclones missed us thankfully and once the out reaching storms had died down, the skies cleared and paradise returned. We were delighted to hear we could go diving and the bay looked so still and inviting. This is what we came for.

Scanning the wake to see if a dolphin or two would pop up!

Our tanks were full and checked and we were looking forward to hitching them onto our backs. The boat moored up mid ocean to a resident bouy, she was lurching heavily left and right up and down. The swell in the open water was the like I'd never encountered on a reef before and the Captain declared "Its a washing machine down there!"

 The dive master gave us the obligatory safety talk and the full description of the dive site.

However, rather than instilling us with enthusiasm and vigour for the water. She managed to do the opposite with phrases like

"The current down there is very strong, we must stick together"

"If you feel it pulling you, make yourself into a star fish shape and fight against it"

"If that fails, grab a large piece of coral and hang onto it until the group reaches you"

"The entry is very choppy and the swell is very high, it could be a difficult descent!"

"We cant say how bad it might be till we get down there"............................................

and so it went on. With every word she uttered, my confidence and my interest waned and all the time I was thinking, given those conditions, the visibility will be rubbish. Hubster's expression also confirmed he felt the same.

The upshot was, the conditions were way too challenging for me. After a massive struggle trying to equalise and doing my buoyancy checks in such rough water, I ditched the dive and waved the white flag. I was in full hyperventilating, panic attack mode by that stage.

Gareth continued with the dive only to declare that it was a mitigated disaster with virtually nothing to see. I did feel a little better for bottling it but sad that on this occasion, Mother Nature had thwarted our chances at the Great Barrier and Hubster had had a more than average experience.

It was clearly not meant to be. The second dive was shelved, we all were sea sick and the boat broke down on the way back. A 1 hour journey took 3.5.

Needless to say the dirty Martini, tasted mighty fine that night after that and the massages we enjoyed in the spa the next day eradicated all thought and tension.

The resort had a lot of Chinese staying for the Chinese New Year. The resort embraced their tradition and heralded the New Year in with a fantastic firework display on the beach. My photo however, is not fantastic but I captured "something".

It was very symbolic for us too. The end of our time together in Australia and a new year for us back home was about to begin.

The day we left the island the ocean was like a mill pond, a far cry from the angry waters that we had encountered on our dive. The transfer was fantastic, hot, blue skies and we had the top sundeck all to ourselves.

If ever there was a photo to sum up my overall feelings for Australia and our time here, the one directly below says it all.

Regardless of the dive or lack of, we had an incredible time on Hayman Island. 4 nights could easily have become 2 weeks but sadly, the grains of sand in our Aussie timer are running out fast.

What an incredible 3 years we've had.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Fabulous Flinders

After our ritzy, glitzy night in the City. we changed gear completely and headed for Flinders Island for 4 nights over the Australia Day long weekend,

The stock question after saying we were going to Flinders Island was; "Wheres that?". Located in the Bass Strait sandwiched between Australia and mainland Tasmania, the island is a peaceful and unspoiled haven where the 900 inhabitants are hugely outnumbered by the 250,000 wallabies.

The flight was just 50 minutes from Melbourne in a little 12 seater plane, I must admit, I reckon I have sat in wider canoes!

There was a boys weekend shooting party on board, the island has a vast population of cape geese and ducks and so licensed parties are allowed to come and shoot. With all the talk of the amount of grog they were going to consume, I kind of hoped the birds would have half decent odds!

On arrival we picked up our battered old hire car and made our way to Whitemark.  Whitemark is the the main town for supplies on the island. Well I say town, it was one tiny street with a bakers, a cafe, a butchers/fishmongers, a tiny supermarket crammed to the rafters, a petrol station/garage, a post office and of course the obligatory tavern, which also served as the local grog shop.

The skeleton above the bar is that of a Pilot Whale washed up on the shores here.
Selling everything, including the kitchen sink!
 On the car park near the green was a guy selling fresh seafood from a refrigerated trailer towed to his car. We plundered some huge prawns and some juicy oysters. We then headed to the little supermarket and stocked up for the 4 days. Our accommodation at Palana beach was some 50km away with no other amenities other than here, so we had to be self sufficient.

Everyone was so friendly and one lady told us it was the island festival that weekend to coincide with the Australia Day celebrations so we were sure to come on down and join in the fun.

We were keen to get going and settle ourselves into our accommodation, Palana Beach House. We were not disappointed, it was absolutely immaculate, modern, comfortable and views to die for and so, so peaceful. All throughout the house, the only sound you could hear were the waves rolling in from the waters below and it was so soothing.

Once unpacked, a chilled glass of Chardonnay was called for, with our feet up on the deck, we were soon lost in the view before us. Oh yes, we were gong to be just fine here, it was just what the doctor ordered.

As dusk began to fall our little friends, the wallabies, began to arrive in good number. They were not too bothered by us and munched purposefully at the tufts of grass all around the property.

Each morning we had a wake up call from the many Kookaburras in the gum trees around us, heralding the new day with raucous cackles. They sound more like a troop of baboons, incredible how such little creatures can make such an impressive racket.

As planned that Saturday, we drove back to Whitemark to see the festival "island" style. We knew it would be quirky and somewhat hill billy and it was. Perfect, we just adore this simple way of life, where making music and making merry with your community is what its all about.

On the drive into Whitemark, we were so thrilled to see wild wombats munching away at the green grass on the verges. They were so cute and healthy looking, it was such a treat to see them in their natural habitat, we have only ever seen them in a sanctuary before.

The island is a very friendly place. Everyone greets one another on the street and also on the road without exception. I loved that. The steering wheel hand wave soon became second nature.

We had such a good time at the festival and we really enjoyed the little band, clobbered together with all sorts of instruments, some handmade and all kinds of folk, young, old and all different backgrounds. Their sense of fun and happiness was infectious.

This elderly gent was delightful, he had a long stick with taut string attached to a wooden box with a large hole in it and he twanged the string like it was a double bass, he made some great sounds and was thoroughly enjoying himself.

After a delicious fresh fish taco and a glass of the local island Pinot Noir, we retreated back to the beach house. As we drove out of Whitemark, all the members of the band waved to us. It brought a lump to my throat, thank goodness, lovely simple folk like this still exist in the world.

Each evening Hubster prepared and cooked a delicious meal, we really did eat extremely well.

Of course all that needed to be tempered with a little fresh air and exercise and the island certainly didn't disappoint. It was stunningly beautiful, like nothing had changed for 1000's of years and most likely hadn't. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, we just never saw another soul.

We adore the isolation and solitude, we so cherish this precious time for us in a world that is so hectic and frantic, finding pockets of our planet like this are priceless beyond measure.

The four days were just not enough. There were mountains to climb and we never knew there were mountains too!

We both declared that we could have happily lived there for a time at least and we really could have. We are both little hermits at heart and the ability to shun the crowds and masses and be connected to nature really feeds our souls. We need it and we pursue it.

Of all of our Australian memories, of which there are a mind blowing amount, Flinders will be up there in all its unique, simple, unspoiled, and natural beauty.

A happy island wave to you all!