Of trees, museums and excess baggage – plus a unique welcome from Sydney…
Saturday 14th March 2020. “Did the chainsaw wake you?” said Sue Mac as I entered the kitchen a little after 7 am. It hadn’t – one of the fringe benefits of wearing ear plugs. If Elaine’s snoring couldn’t disturb my sleep, what chance for a chainsaw?
It turned out the strong winds over the last twenty-four hours had done some damage to one of Sue’s trees, bringing part of it down over the main road. The hazard to ferry traffic had brought out a couple of the local “firies” (volunteer firemen) in the early hours, and they had used a chainsaw to clear the debris. After breakfast we inspected the tree, finding that part had fallen inside Sue’s fence. There was no damage to her property, thankfully, as that might have restricted Lizzie’s freedom. But as they say in these parts – “no worries”.
We were unable to contribute anything useful in the way of lumberjack skills, and said our farewells mid-morning as we set off for the ninety-minute journey along the coast back to Glenelg. The wind eased aside for the return of warm sunshine, while the forecast for our stay in Sydney was mainly for rain. Would it dampen our spirits? Not a chance! Especially now that we had become better at roo-spotting. Linc had told us to look to our left as we went through a place called Myponga, and sure enough – hundreds of kangaroos squatted near the roadside by the reservoir there. Somehow it felt like we were becoming ‘honorary locals’ – familiar with our surroundings, the driving, and engaging in open friendliness with strangers. There was much more to come, but it would not be without a few stumbles along the path…
We parked up on the Anzac Highway, a few metres from a familiar bakery in Glenelg, at around 11.30. We needed to return the rental car by 2 pm, so that left us plenty of time for lunch, and for one last box to be ticked on my mental ‘to do’ list. Big Sister Susan had preceded my trip twenty years earlier, travelling with her daughter Joanne and our father’s younger sister Pat. Their own visit had not included Keith, but they had toured the Fleurieu Peninsula and stayed a few days in Glenelg. According to Pat in particular, the museum here was a ‘must-see’, and this was our objective today.
Housed in what was the original town hall, the exterior was currently being renovated under scaffolding, but the building remained open for visitors. It sits at the seaward end of Moseley Square, and the museum occupies the whole of the upper floor. Here we learned of the aboriginal history for the area we had visited over the last ten days, and of the background story to why the Old Gum Tree is such an historical landmark. There were audio-visual displays and original artefacts, nuggets of information that revealed how South Australia was colonised and developed – and some often bizarre information relating to twentieth century Glenelg with its social and historic influence at the centre of the area known as Holdfast Bay.
Did I say we had plenty of time? Not enough, in fact. We had our lunch afterwards in the café below, then squeezed in a quick visit to Jetty Road for a lipstick (!) before realising we had about twenty minutes left to get the car back to Richmond Road, and fill it up with petrol…
I’m not shy of taking on a challenge, and this was one of our own making, but it didn’t help morale once we noticed (too late) a place selling cheap petrol. Then insult was added to injury when our last opportunity was over-priced – but (no worries) we did roll up outside East Coast Rentals bang on time. A smiling Lauren was there to greet us again, sending us off on the airport shuttle bus with a wave while we congratulated ourselves at still being able to stick to our long-planned schedule.
Let me take a moment to explain a little about this part of our adventure. For me, the main purpose of travelling across the world as far as it was possible to go, was to follow the path taken by my parents. I wanted to see the places they had been, with the exception of the two-day stopover they had experienced at Fremantle and Perth in Western Australia. When planning the trip six months earlier, I was very happy to go along with Elaine’s desire to include some time in Sydney. She wanted to see for herself those iconic images of Australia that are so familiar through the TV screens and glossy magazines – and why not? So, we agreed that our three-week stay should include four days and nights in the State Capital of New South Wales – a mere diversion of around 900 miles from Adelaide.
Alas, pride comes before a flight on Tigerair. Our two small carry-on bags didn’t cut it for weight. One of us (I won’t say who) had packed enough for a small (female) army, and we bravely accepted a financial penalty for our sins. What were the chances of escaping a similar penalty on our return? I’ll leave you to guess…
But at least this no-frills airline got us in the air on time, and we enjoyed a flight lasting less than two hours before catching a glimpse of the magnificent harbour as we came in to land.
The next challenge was to find our way to Darling Harbour, the area we planned to make our home until Wednesday. The airport is linked to the city centre (CBD) by a slick and expensive rail system. I say that because Sydney’s public transport is best experienced with their equivalent of London’s Oyster card – purchasing a pre-paid card up front, then scanning in and out at each stop en route. Unsure of how much travelling we might have ahead of us, we bought the minimum level card ($35 each), only to have half of it debited immediately – taking us barely two thirds of the way to our hotel! (Future travellers beware.)
Having reached Sydney’s Central Station, we next had a short hop on the Light Rail (Tram) service to a stop called Convention. Research had shown this to be a few hundred yards away from our accommodation, but it failed to tell me how difficult it would be finding where to board the tram after arriving at the Station. We went round in circles for a while, following contradictory signage, before realising the tracks set into the cobbles outside the main entrance were practically the only clue we were going to get. (Future travellers beware).
We disembarked only a couple of dollars lighter, but immediately faced another concern: While the forecasted rain failed to show up, it was now dark, and standing between us and where I estimated we’d find our hotel was a huge multi-storey car park. Which way should we go?
We followed some fellow passengers to the roadside, but was it left or right? For answer, we asked a taxi driver busy cleaning his windscreen. “Which way to Pyrmont Street, please?” He looked up and considered the question for a moment. “Pyrmont Street? Oh, jump in. I’ll take you.” Ah. We politely explained that we didn’t need a taxi. We just wanted directions. “No, no,” he said. “No worries. I’ll take you. Jump in.”
Still unsure we were doing the right thing, we stowed our bags and jumped in. He moved off, drove round two corners, and we were on Pyrmont Street – but in the wrong direction. I had a mental map of the area in my head, and told him we needed to be pointing south, not north. No worries. We did a U-turn and headed south, stopping again practically outside the front door of the Woolbrokers Hotel in less than a minute. Our Samaritan taxi driver had been as good as his word, just helping out a couple of Brit tourists – and earning our undying gratitude and respect. Would that ever happen in Manchester? I hope so.
Accessing the hotel after hours was our next challenge. Standing in the closed doorway with luggage of their own was another young couple. The guy was already on his phone (as a sign instructed us to do) to obtain a secure code for a small cabinet containing their key (and ours). He was the first to inform us of the growing impact of the corona virus: his airline had just cancelled their flight to Amsterdam, and he needed to try and find an alternative.
Hmmm… a sign of things to come? For the moment, we were just happy to carry on with our itinerary – even if this particular bolthole was a little on the Spartan side. The Woolbrokers is an old (even historic) building, and in dire need of an upgrade. But our room was clean enough, and had a bathroom with another huge shower on the other side of a small hallway. The lighting in this cramped aperture was set to economy (in other words “off” 99% of the time), but we managed by propping the bathroom door open.
Excited by the prospect of being so close to some of Sydney’s best highlights, we left our bags and went out again to explore. Following a woman up a flight of steps in what seemed like the right direction, we found ourselves walking on a raised walkway next to a busy road on one side, with towering concrete structures on the other – but then there came a gap, and suddenly the whole of Darling Harbour opened up before us. It was a glittering hubbub of activity – neon lights casting reflections across the water, bars and restaurants heaving with tourists and locals alike, and small boats bobbing up and down at expensive moorings. Reaching the top of a stairway leading down into this glamorous spectacle, we were startled by a small explosion in the middle of the harbour. It marked the beginning of a ten-minute spectacle of fireworks lighting up the sky. We were told afterwards this event happened every Saturday night at 9 pm – but for us, it was simply a brilliant welcome to our break in Sydney.
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