Where distance starts to hurt, and empty spaces are too crowded…
Saturday 4th to Sunday 5th April 2020. As journeys go, this one was going to stand out. I remember a lengthy one by coach, travelling back home from the Rhine Valley – and getting caught in traffic snarl-ups around London. I still shudder at the memory. This one would be so-o-o much longer…
It started with a couple of illegal hugs, saying goodbye to Sue Mac, Lizzie and Kato. She’d been a wonderful hostess, sharing her home with us for longer than anyone anticipated, and making us feel so welcome. Elaine had helped out with some meals, we’d done our own laundry, and I’d offered advice on computers and done some washing-up. We stripped the bed and tidied early that morning, so forever more Sue would refer to us as “my servants”. But it was an emotional farewell.
Our trio of cases (“The Three Bears”) had been packed, locked and labelled yesterday. Travelling by a different airline had increased our overall allowance by another ten kilos, but we were well within it, despite being laden with numerous souvenirs. Now the Bears cosied up in the back of Linc’s car, leaving Delamere promptly at 8.30 am. We faced almost a two-hour trip to the airport, a further two-hour flight to Sydney, a second of over fifteen hours to Doha, and a third of seven and a half hours to Manchester. Not to mention the hour-long drive home from there, and all the time spent waiting in airport lounges. We’d have experienced something similar if we’d flown home on 25th March – but what would it be like now, with social distancing measures in place, and the serious threat of picking up a deadly virus that had already encircled the world?
Linc took the scenic route – literally. Kangaroos bowed their heads in farewell as we swept past Carrickalinga and circled the reservoir at Myponga. Elaine blew them a kiss and wiped away a tear. We’d been close friends.
Approaching the City that sunny morning, it was plain the virus was keeping people off the roads. Our journey took twenty minutes less than Linc estimated, and we braced ourselves for an earlier parting. It felt wrong, not being able to give each other a hug, but we were in a public space. The sentiments were still there, and the bond was unbreakable. Our “link” across the miles had been well and truly established, and it was the man from the Cape who recorded the moment as Elaine and I wheeled our charges towards their point of departure…
Our first encounter with the procedures that would get us home was promising. We joined a short queue (1.5 metres apart) to check-in the Three Bears, where a smartly-dressed lady wearing plastic gloves and a fixed smile courteously advised us we’d have to claim them back again at Sydney. No worries, we thought. Security was a breeze, apart from a little shaking of heads over what one guy called a “spray can”, and which Elaine confirmed was her deodorant.
The airport seemed eerily quiet. The bar where we’d sat waiting for our last flight to Sydney was closed. Security police and airport staff were only just outnumbered by prospective passengers, yet there was no shortage of plastic tape.
Our Qantas flight arrived slightly early, and we watched as people coming off queued up to present their passports to police officers and hand in some paperwork. Perhaps we would be expected to do something similar on arrival in Sydney?
Boarding was timely, and we had three seats to ourselves, but two sets of families with young babies nearby. The accompanying noise was a short-term irritation, and while no-one offered free wine this time, the complimentary pretzels, cake and water were very welcome.
Recent news of ground staff at Sydney being hit by the virus proved to be true, as there were even less personnel evident at the larger airport. As for a passport inspection, or handing in paperwork – nothing. The police were occupied elsewhere. We even saw one case of illegal parking of an aircraft (below):
It was at baggage retrieval that the panic began, and the whole journey sunk to a new level. A member of the airport staff called for attention from those of us waiting at the carousel. “Anyone needing International Departures must catch the shuttle bus outside in ten minutes!” We did, and we were. Well – we joined the crowds waiting for a bus they told us only went between terminals once an hour. A vehicle arrived, already half full of passengers and their baggage, to pick up another thirty or so passengers similarly burdened. It was a scramble to get on. Social distance? Hah! 1.5 metres? How about 1.5 centimetres… It took five minutes of stand-off between prospective passengers and the driver before she gave up and drove away. There was barely any airspace between those of us less-fortunates stood in the aisle, trying not to be crushed by “Daddy Bear” suitcases weighing up to 30 kilos. She-Who-Would-Not-Be-Deterred managed to grab a seat. Her hubby clung on to anything he could for the next ten minutes. Sorry madam. You just looked more solid than I felt.
There was worse to come. Now we had to be processed inside International Departures. This involved queuing at a doorway for inspection of our passports and boarding cards by a masked official. It was his job to then open the door and direct us to our next destination. “Do NOT come back downstairs!” he urged each of us. We didn’t ask what the penalty would be.
Upstairs we had the deep joy of discovering the flight Qatar had brought forward one hour had now been put BACK to its original time… Sigh.
That also meant we now had at least five hours to wait before our flight – the majority of which would be occupied sitting around a closed check-in area with another few hundred frustrated travellers, all mindful of keeping our social distance. Elaine and I have been fortunate in our travels to date. Sitting around airport terminals for hours on end with limited facilities had never been part of our experience – until now. This was a blot on our travel CV we’d be glad to see the back of, and even when we did see staff starting to man the check-in desks, our patience still had to be tested. There formed an e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s queue, officials barking at us to “keep one point five metres apart at all times!” The wait went on... and on…
Around thirty minutes of this saw us reach the desk where a smiling and patient lady under the name badge of Fatma relieved us of the Three Bears, and assured us we would reach Manchester united. (Excuse the pun) Free of our charges, we passed quickly through security (spray can? No – deodorant), and went in pursuit of something to eat. Such a huge building, but so few places with anything to offer, and a salad just had to do.
I almost feel the following text should come with a warning similar to the ones they put out on TV before a ‘soap’ is broadcast… You know the ones that include the wording “some viewers may find upsetting”? Forget all the stuff about keeping your distance. Imagine being crammed into a long metal tube with 366 other unfortunates (it was full) for fifteen hours with the doors tight shut. You’re sat in the middle row of four with arms and feet jammed up alongside two complete strangers. To add to your misery, you’re sat immediately in front of the busiest part of the whole tin can (sorry) aircraft – the toilets and the galley. There. I did warn you. And it gets worse.
My companions to the right were both wearing facemasks. The absurdity of this was amply illustrated once faced with an in-flight meal… “Shepherd’s Pie, sir?” “Er – yes please” I say. I don’t know about the shepherd, but something went astray. Meat, maybe.
You’ll gather by now I was not endeared by this, my first impression of Qatar Airways. The screen in front of me offered a similar range of entertainment to Emirates, but I had little appetite for it. Take-off had been more or less on time, shortly before ten at night, and my brain was telling me it was time to go to sleep. But there was a problem: despite closing my eyes and wearing earplugs, nothing could rescue my body from being aware of where I was and what I was doing. Fifteen hours… The screen stared me out. As I followed our slow progress out of Australian airspace, I discovered Qatar Airways were proudly boasting of being ‘Airline of the Year’ on five successive occasions. I know that because they kept telling me. Over and over again. Had the judges ever passed through the curtain and visited economy? I doubt it.
I looked to my left and noted Elaine trying to watch a movie, struggling to get rid of the constant presence of Arabic subtitles. I looked at my own screen, where smiling models were invoking the delights of Doha. Now I was being advised to remain seated while praying. “Get me out of here!” said my lips silently. But I stayed where I’d been put.
Our intermediate destination materialised at around 4.30 am local time. Like Dubai, Doha airport is a vast affair in steel and marble, but unlike our experience a month ago, the crowds and the shopping experience were almost non-existent.
We noted the huge teddy and the curious artworks, the Harrods restaurant (open) and the jewellery shops (closed). No water fountains available, so we had to buy a bottle for the equivalent of four British pounds. The plus side? Being able to move about; to breathe air-conditioned air at 23 degrees that just might be purer than the stuff we’d endured during the night; to know that the longest part of the journey was over, and the next leg was less than three hours away.
It is with some humility I take back what I said about Qatar Airways. Well – some of it. The next leg of our journey saw an improvement. Contrary to my earlier comments, I had managed to snatch some sleep overnight, giving me a brighter mental frame of mind to face our daylight flight to Manchester. But the real boost, to my mind, was in finding our aircraft (a Boeing Dreamliner) only about a third full. Socially distancing? Tick!
We were in the air around 8.30 am local time, and soon enjoying our second breakfast of the day. The air was more palatable, light streaming through large windows, and a quiet hum filled the spacious cabin. Nightmares were a distant memory – apart from finding Elaine’s touchscreen had somehow been desensitised, and we were still invited to pray while remaining seated. I wondered if it would say the same thing inside the loo? (It didn’t)
Europe was underneath us. Australia many, many miles behind. Ahead lay the UK, a mass of people huddled together on a small island riddled with a disease that could kill. Were we really sure about this? Strangely, yes. We’d been away longer than we intended. Our little Yorkshire Terrier (Ollie) would be waiting for our arrival, looked after by Elaine’s daughter Rosie. We’d have to keep our distance, of course, and faced another two weeks in self-isolation. The good news was that Aussie weather awaited – temperatures of around 18 degrees in pleasant sunshine, similar to Adelaide yesterday. How lucky were we?
It was a bumpy landing, just after 1.30 pm, and then we faced delays disembarking while we waited for the depleted airport staff to handle a flight from India that arrived minutes before. It gave us a moment to think. Would there be government officials handing out instructions for quarantining? Would we face questions by the police about where we had been? Whose air had we breathed? More importantly, would we be reunited with the Three Bears?
We were, but no to everything else. It took a little queuing to progress through passport control, not unusual, and we suffered no questions at all. Walking through those familiar corridors felt strange. It was as if there had been a mass evacuation but no-one had thought to include us, and it was a relief to find our car still there. I had one last hurdle to get over: this wasn’t the Jackaroo. It had two pedals, not three – and surely someone had swapped the indicators with the wipers?
Another surreal experience awaited us: empty motorways. No – really empty. An hour’s journey home and we passed only a few dozen HGV’s. Traffic management signals flashed their warning ‘ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY’. They almost made me feel guilty, but we had to get home.
There was Ollie, trying to wriggle out of Rosie’s arms. Pooh to social distance from his point of view! And who were we to argue? We had just travelled twelve thousand miles, been on a trip of a lifetime, and couldn’t wait to tell everyone of our amazing experiences meeting some wonderful people.
Now you know.
Thank you for sharing the journey.
Confidence restored (of a sort), a nursery like no other, a stitch in time – and my very own Jackaroo…
Monday 30th March to Friday 3rd April 2020. Monday morning, and Elaine had her doctor’s appointment to secure her medication needs. But another incident dominated the day: news that heralded a change in our status as Brits Stranded Overseas. The British Consulate in Canberra had sent a generic email advising anyone of our ilk (BSO) that a deal had been struck with two airlines to provide commercial flights home from Australia. Clicking on a link in the email took us to a page where we could book direct – at a price. While I got busy enquiring online, Elaine and Sue drove off for the surreal experience of speaking to a doctor over the phone while parked outside his surgery.
On their return we were able to agree a plan of action: both of us could be booked on a flight back to the UK with Qatar Airways for the following Saturday. But it would cost around five thousand Australian dollars. It would all go on the credit card, of course – and our travel insurance would have to cover that. The important thing was we could get home.
Another landmark. Could we be confident that this booking wouldn’t be cancelled too? We kept reminding ourselves the link had come from a government-controlled source. (Hence the lack of confidence.) But as the week rolled on, we began to believe.
Especially when we hit a snag.
Next day, just when we’d downloaded the Qatar app: a flight change. Originally, we’d been told the first leg would be from Adelaide to Sydney via Qantas, with an hour and a half between landing there and departing for Doha on the first of our Qatar flights. Despite us needing to travel between two different terminals at Sydney, the timing was do-able. But not today, when Qatar announced they were bringing forward their flight by an hour.
It meant yet more lengthy phone calls for me, firstly to Qantas, and then to Qatar. I clamped the phone to my ear, mostly listening to something vaguely resembling music on a stuck record. During that time, Elaine marinated the meat for a curry, chopped a ton of onions and left my portion in the pan while she and Sue ate theirs. It was what they call “a learning curry”: Elaine had found Aussie’s curry powder comes in double strength… By the time I’d come off the phone with an earlier flight to Sydney as my reward, my wife was on her seventh glass of water. Cheers!
The situation had returned to “normal” next morning – a new month, and a subtle drop in temperature. Perhaps we could fit in another excursion before our customary walk on Normy beach? Both the Barringtons and Sue Mac had recommended we visit a local nursery. (Not the childish variety, but one filled with the sort of things that grow in soil.)
Raywood Nursery had the distinction of being completely outdoors, and situated in the midst of some of the thickest “bush” in the area. It was also well-hidden. The drive there took us along Three Bridges Road again, the surface turning to gravel as we took a turning south and east. Eventually we caught a glimpse of a signpost inviting us to plunge into something resembling a scene from Hansel & Gretel. One way in. Same way out but without the breadcrumbs.
There was no gingerbread house. The narrow track came out in a clearing near a picnic bench, with a splash of colourful foliage glimpsed through the stringybarks. Here was an autumnal delight: a kaleidoscope of gold, green, red and brown; all manner of trees and shrubs, many in pots to grab and go, and little paths inviting us to explore deeper into this enchanted forest.
We were not in a position to buy anything, although we did discover a little hut with an honesty box inviting us to help ourselves to hot drinks or locally-produced honey. Then we encountered the owner’s daughter, imaginatively named Rose. In conversation we found she had been pally with Sue Mac’s daughter Alison, the two of them having once indulged in unmentionable pursuits together… Now in retreat, helping her aging parents to run the Nursery, she encouraged us to browse further – whereupon we met the owner (her father), appropriately tending an area filled with roses, and an extremely large chicken.
Quentin introduced himself, and we learned how he had built the nursery from scratch in 1974, after inheriting a similar business near Adelaide from his father. We also met his wife Jenny, summoned using a local telegraph system peculiar to Raywood: shouting. Bearing in mind the size of the place, the family members had got used to hailing each other across the shrubbery, rather than adopting new technology. Oh, what a wonderful world!
Our experiences of Australian life were drawing to a close. After leaving the country on Saturday we would have spent a full month here, rather than just over three weeks as originally planned. There had been time to get to know people, and to have a more thorough understanding of local life and pastimes. While my original reasons for travelling halfway round the world had been family-oriented, the trip itself had brought so many more rewards. Both of us had grown to love Australia and its citizens, so being stranded here for longer was not a hardship. We would be sad to leave.
There are just two more events to note, so please excuse the more personal nature of these anecdotes. Like my sister, her namesake (and our hostess) is skilled with a sewing machine. Sue Mac has at least one room in the house dedicated to her craft, and had already given us the timely gift of two facemasks:
But I had one last favour to ask. Being blessed with a pair of skinny legs, I don’t tend to look good in shorts. They tend to flap around my thighs like an elephant’s ears (even without an African breeze) – so I’d been keeping my eyes open for a pair of tailored ones. Here we were, on our last full day in Australia with no clothes shops open, and a skilled seamstress on site. I had two similar-looking pairs of stone-coloured long pants with me. Could Sue take one and turn them into shorts that looked better? Of course she could! Bargain.
My ambition to test-drive this addition to my wardrobe by walking on a beach with Linc and Lyn was foiled by rain. Not just the drizzly stuff, but REAL rain – the kind that drenches you in seconds. We’d set off in the Jackaroo to meet at the Cape with only a passing shower to trouble us, but by the time we arrived the wipers were set to frantic, and we had to take shelter in the garage before tackling the twenty-foot dash into the house under the shelter of three umbrellas. Time to revise our plans – yet again.
Keeping our social distance in the Barrington’s garage-cum-barbecue-cum-play area was easy enough, so we let the wet stuff batter away at the roof and made the most of our last afternoon together. With the Jackaroo now back at base, the keys were handed over so that Linc could drive us back to Sue’s house. But he had another incredible surprise for us. This man is a retired police officer, and he has hidden talents. On previous visits I had spotted some colourful objects inside a cupboard with a glass door, and now Linc chose this moment to show me what they were – model cars made of wood, and he’d carved them all himself. The detail and the finish are stunning. See for yourself.
They are not intended as toys, but probably served as a craft to focus on toward the end of a career that was sometimes traumatic. I was mightily impressed, and then shaken by emotion when Linc asked me to pick one to take home. It’s not often words fail me, but…
That’s mine with the black roof, parked immediately behind the bright yellow convertible.
Want to know what I call it? “The Jackaroo”.
Locking down with the locals, flights of fancy, and fighting it on the beaches…
Tuesday 24th March to Sunday 29th March 2020. Tuesday morning. Tomorrow we should have been flying home. Today we should be packing, saying our goodbyes. Instead I was reeling from a sleepless night that left me with no clear idea on how we were going to get home. Suddenly, the UK seemed a bloody long way.
A little before midnight I had been given a glimmer of hope. An email from Travel Trolley asked for my contact details, indicating I could expect a phone call. But it was fake news. I spent the next few hours doing some much-needed housekeeping on the folders in my laptop. Not an easy task when you’re wearing sunglasses at 3 am. Then came another email: “no options for flights remained”, effectively telling me I now had to make my own arrangements. I was not a happy roo.
Drained of all energy, I shared our plight with Elaine at 6 am. Sleep had been a stranger to her too – the consequences of being stranded was not something either of us could push to the back of our minds. Now we really were dependent on the generosity of our Aussie hosts.
Later that day, having exhausted any further avenues of help from the British Consulate, we continued to batter both internet and telephone when Virgin Australia held out hope of a same day deal with a connection at Sydney from Etihad Airways. BOOKED! Paid for on credit card (2,000 AUD)… and then the flight was immediately cancelled. Our misery was compounded even further, spending another hour on the phone to claim a refund.
Two days later, twenty-four hours before our once re-scheduled flight with Emirates, I got an email from Qantas. They apologised for cancelling the leg that Travel Trolley had successfully re-booked from Adelaide to Melbourne, but they had good news… they’d got us on a later one the same day! Whoopee. Now I had a further call to make, explaining how Melbourne airport was no longer a desirable destination if there was no onward flight to the UK. To give the girl credit, she did try to find another airline operating in our favour, and she did sympathise with our lot. She was sheltering an American couple stranded just like us.
In the meantime, Sue Mac assured us she would not be throwing us out on the street. (Not for another month anyway.) Surely something would be done between the governments? Having worked for one for thirty years, and then seen the Boris Johnson school of diplomacy at work, I had serious doubts. But I kept them to myself. There was something for me to smile about though: my glasses had been found in Peter and Ann’s car after all. Lyn phoned me with the news that they were being sent over via Sealink, and then on Wednesday morning they brought them round for me. Aren’t Aussies wonderful?
So, what’s it like being stranded in Australia during this new thing called “lockdown”?
We faced the same restrictions as everyone else. While supermarkets and petrol stations remained open, pretty much everywhere else was closed. We couldn’t go anywhere, other than to exercise. While we could buy a bottle of beer from a licensed street vendor, we couldn’t open it until we got home. Takeaway food was available, but we faced at least a twenty-minute drive before we could re-heat it in the microwave. Having said that, we could walk on an amazing beach at Normanville (Normy).
There’s certainly something to be said for being able to walk barefoot along the water’s edge for mile after mile, and only seeing a handful of people – at a discreet social distance. Finished off with a boysenberry-flavoured ice cream cone, naturally.
There were other issues to resolve as a result of being stranded abroad: Our car was sat in a car park at Manchester Airport, and we had no idea when we would be able to retrieve it, so I had to notify the company we’d booked with. Then Elaine had concerns about some medication she would run out of after another nine days. Sue Mac used her local influence and booked an appointment with her own doctor – but that would be subject to restrictions around social distancing. Apart from that, we were able to appreciate Sue’s two-acre sun-filled garden from the shelter of her porch.
On Saturday morning Elaine checked her phone and found an update from the UK government, advising British Nationals abroad to register their details with the British Consulate – something we had not been allowed to do on Tuesday. The invitation was intended for staff to compile personal details of every person stuck overseas, so that arrangements could be made for repatriation. News that Boris had now caught the virus failed to put us off – we still needed to get back somehow.
That simple action felt like a turning point. Our names were on a list somewhere out there. Let someone else take the strain!
Australia was moving toward Autumn, but it was happening gently. While the UK prepared for Spring weather by putting their clocks forward an hour that night, we found there was another week to go here – and that meant seven more official days of Summer. After a brief fall of rain overnight, Sunday afternoon brought warm sunshine on our shoulders, and we were back at the Cape to join Linc and Lyn for a walk on the beach.
Bearing in mind this is Linc’s idea of a walk (see Day Nineteen), we were not heading for Normy this time. Instead, he drove the Jackaroo in 4x4 mode down a cliff face to a place called Morgan’s Beach – a smaller stretch of sand, but very picturesque, and popular with the locals.
Compared to Normy, three sets of visitors enjoying the local ambience (each with their cars) almost made the place look crowded. It is a fine beach, surrounded by steep cliffs and ancient rocks similar to those we saw on Granite Island. As we neared the far end, Linc struck up a conversation with a guy fishing with two rods and lines. His partner, a girl of Asian origin, was sat nearby reading. Then we spotted a brightly coloured object being washed up at the shoreline.
“That’s a puffer fish,” said Linc. “Be careful. They’re extremely poisonous.” I kept my distance – but the Asian girl suddenly jumped up and ran towards it. That caused her partner to shout a warning, and she backed off after taking a photo on her phone. The guy turned to us and dropped his voice. “I have to watch her. Her kind will eat anything. They like any part of the fish – head, eyeballs, the lot!”
The afternoon continued with a close-up inspection of the nearby wind farm, providing another perspective of the dramatic northern coastline, and of Fisheries Beach to the south. The latter was once used to offload silver and lead ore from the Talisker Mine, but is now a protected area for wildlife around the point where the electricity cable goes under the sea to Kangaroo Island.
Scott Morrison (Australia’s PM) appeared on the TV that night, updating the nation (and guests) on the battle against the virus. He answered some tough questions from the media, giving heartfelt answers in a patient and straightforward manner. Could that ever happen in the UK?
We can only dream.
Impressions of Kangaroo Island, changes of plan, more Aussie kindnesses – and an all-night vigil…
Monday 23rd March 2020. The news this morning was not good – because there wasn’t any. Were we flying on Friday or not? We just didn’t know, because there had been nothing further overnight from Travel Trolley. We remained positive, as after all, we only had to confirm we were happy with their alternative arrangements – and we’d done that. It was time for our latest excursion, and this was one I had been particularly looking forward to. Today we would be joining Linc and Lyn on a ferry trip to Kangaroo Island.
Earlier in our travels, Elaine had discovered this was an island sufficient in size to support humans as well as kangaroos. It was easy to affirm from the Cape, where we could see a stretch of land towards the horizon. But being from the UK, I wondered how it compared geographically with anything I might recognise back home. Was it bigger than the Isle of Wight, for example? Or Anglesey off the coast of North Wales? So I Googled it.
The answer is that Kangaroo Island covers 4,405 square kilometres. To put it in perspective to a Brit, that is equal to the Isles of Man and Anglesey added together, plus the whole of Lancashire! A sizeable chunk of rock indeed.
Linc had organised our trip weeks ago. Some friends from Adelaide were taking their caravan onto the Island for a short break, and had volunteered to loan their car to Linc so that he would not need to take his own over for the day. Besides enjoying a pre-booked lunch in a pub near the ferry terminal, that meant we could travel a bit further and see more of what the Island had to offer. All sounded very promising.
After a warm and pleasant day on Sunday, the weather had brought a little cloud cover on an easterly wind, and the temperature was down to 17 degrees. We saw an occasional “white horse” streaking the surface of the sea as we descended the last hill down to the Cape, but the forecast was for calmer weather. It was our turn to drive Linc and Lyn the short journey to the ferry terminal, where we joined a sprinkling of other foot passengers waiting for the ten o’clock ferry. The virus was clearly keeping numbers down at a time when a boost from visitors was desperately needed. Barely two months had passed since bushfires had devastated three quarters of the Island (imagine the whole of Lancashire consumed by flames).
A few of the staff at the Sealink terminal were on nodding terms with Linc and Lyn, neighbours perhaps, or just people who recognised “the regulars”. Each of us noting the subtle changes affecting this part of the world, where signs now cautioned us to stay 1.5 metres apart. At the sales counter extra precautions were in place over the handling of money – cards the preferred choice.
Fortune favours the brave, they say, and our crossing was uneventful apart from one major disappointment: halfway across Linc received a phone call from the pub at Penneshaw where we were booked for lunch. They’d had to cancel it, as Government restrictions meant closing completely from noon today. Bugger!
Our plans needed urgent revision, as we were expecting to meet the Adelaide friends at the pub. Instead, once communication was established, we managed to rendezvous with Peter and Ann at a lovely “shabby chic” coffee shop called Milly Mae’s Pantry. The coffee was excellent, but we were put on notice that, if we wanted food, we had to order it before twelve…
With less than an hour to curfew, our table for six made the democratic decision that the preferred option for lunch would be fish and chips. Takeaway was the only option for food outlets now, and we’d just walked past a place round the corner we were confident would be open for business.
Penneshaw is, if anything, a smaller community than Cape Jervis, but nonetheless picturesque. After our six polystyrene-boxed meals had been collated, we found an ideal place, sheltered from the prevailing wind, next to a small marina. The quaintly named Christmas Cove provided an idyllic lunch break before the four of us took off in Peter and Ann’s wheels.
Linc was aiming to be back in time for the 3.30 pm ferry, so we would only have an opportunity to see a small amount of the island, and none of what we would see had been impacted by bushfires. It was the western and middle section that had suffered the most, with people’s livelihoods and thousands of animals lost. Nature was doing its best to restore new growth, but it would take years to bring Kangaroo Island back to where it was at the end of 2019 – always assuming it escaped any further fires of the ferocity seen in January.
For our part, we could relax and enjoy the scenery of the eastern end, with just the one main road leading us toward the centre past low-lying scrub, and through a parade of gum trees.
This stretch is similar to many other parts of K I, and it was not difficult to imagine how fire could spread so easily in hot, tinder-dry conditions. Strong coastal winds had fanned the flames, carrying them from branch to branch. Alan Cole told me the original source of the fire had been quite small, and was not considered to be serious enough at first. How wrong they were.
We took a brief diversion south to Pennington Bay, through rolling sand dunes where every effort was being made to preserve the natural habitat.
Then we continued on past Prospect Hill, one of the highest points on K I, before bearing north again to the place where Peter and Ann were camping: American River. It’s another quiet little community with tourist facilities and a boat-building facility by a peaceful cove, popular with wild pelicans.
Curiously, the place was named in part after some American sealers who operated in the neighbourhood in the early nineteenth century, but the area is simply a natural inlet on the coast. There is NO river, and no-one seems to know how it got that part of its name!
Time was getting short, so we re-traced our route back to Penneshaw. I had mixed feelings about what we had seen. Knowing how badly K I had been affected by fire, it was almost a disappointment to have only explored a part of it that remained untouched. But Elaine and I had come across some small areas on our visit to Robe that suffered from the flames, and we had all witnessed the news footage in January. Every ferry crossing seemed to include heavy plant vehicles and materials intended to help re-build communities that had not been as lucky as American River, and we could only hope that one day we might have an opportunity to return, in happier circumstances.
Another alteration to our schedule lay ahead. We returned in plenty of time for the 3.30 ferry, only to find it had been cancelled. With over ninety minutes to wait for the next one, we found Peter and Ann near Milly Mae’s and handed back the car keys before finding some liquid refreshment on what had become another warm day. We sat outside a closed establishment calling itself “The Fat Beagle”, but saw no evidence of its namesake while watching the world go by at a very unhurried pace.
We said goodbye to our kindly friends as we boarded the ferry back, although it was not to be the last time I would be in touch. It was only after dropping off Linc and Lyn at home that I discovered I had mislaid my glasses somewhere during the day. For the most part I had used my sunglasses, leaving my normal specs inside a pouch I had placed in the side pocket of a small backpack. When I hadn’t been carrying it, the bag had been left in the back of Peter’s car, and my immediate thought was it must have fallen out there. The word went out but, alas – to no avail. Could they have fallen out on the ferry? Linc would have a word.
Losing my specs was a nuisance, but it wasn’t to be a major source of interest compared to what we were about to discover. With no further news from our travel agent by email, we decided to phone them again and try to confirm what would happen on Friday. With Sue’s permission I used her landline to call Travel Trolley once office hours had been reached in the UK. “We’re in lockdown,” they told me. What the Hell did that mean? “Nothing is happening here. You’ll have to send an email to our emergency team at…”
It was the beginning of what would be a long night. The world had gone crazy. Flights had become things of fantasy, and travel agents were being hunted like prized rare specimens.
Elaine, Sue, Kato and Lizzie left me alone in the kitchen and went to bed. I hunkered down for the duration, reminding myself that UK time meant they were still only halfway through Monday. Surely someone would get back to me soon? I remained at my laptop, sending out questions that seemed to evaporate unanswered in the vague blackness of the internet.
Service with a smile, a baker’s dozen – and here’s mud in your eye!
Sunday 22nd March 2020. Travel continued to dominate our thoughts last night, taking in the television news and communications from home. So waking to an email from our agent telling us there were no earlier flights available, and all they could offer was the Melbourne one next Friday, we responded with a firm “Okay, go ahead.”
Today we had been invited to attend morning service. This meant a lot to me, as it was the website for this particular church I had once approached with a view to learning more about my parents’ time in Delamere. Mum had referred to it in a letter: “I did miss Easter so much, it is not observed at all here, though I suppose it would be in the towns and maybe in the tiny church at Delamere if we could have got there.” Five years earlier, Linc had been the first to respond to my email enquiry, describing himself as “the secretary among other things”. Now he was welcoming us to the building itself. How envious would my mum have been?
The church is indeed tiny, over 160 years old and nestling in a beautiful little valley just off the main road to the Cape. We were among the first to arrive, and I was delighted when Lyn gave me the honour of pulling on the rope leading up into the bell tower. It was a tradition to call the residents to service that way, and I couldn’t help wondering if that unique sound had carried across the fields to my mother seventy years ago.
Around a dozen of us almost filled the small space inside, where the furnishings were deliberately modest. The small organ would remain silent, as the lady who normally played it was poorly – but fortunately not with the virus. So, the lay preacher’s husband had brought his acoustic guitar, and he led the singing of hymns that were largely strange to Elaine and I. But the volume of noise! It was impossible not to feel emotional here, in what was probably the oldest and most charming little church in South Australia, caught up in the fervour of a community that made us so welcome.
There were readings from the Old Testament and from the Gospels, referring to the miracle of Jesus curing a blind man. The bible tells us he did this by first daubing the man’s eyes with mud, and then washing it off. Not a bad analogy for the present world affliction, suggesting we will only recover once we have endured some rough treatment. It was also interesting to note this biblical reference as the apparent source of the expression “Here’s mud in your eye!”
The Christian message continued after the service, next door in the hall, over a welcome cup of tea. We were all invited to take home donations of baked goodies (croissants, doughnuts, bread and hot cross buns) that the lay preacher and her husband had brought over from a bakery near their home in Aldinga, thirty miles away. One touch of sadness prevailed: due to government restrictions about to be imposed on social gatherings, this would be the last church service for the foreseeable future.
Our afternoon would be spent in quiet relaxation, allowing Kato to establish his new-found ability to befriend Elaine by jumping onto her lap. Another miracle?
On the flip side, there would be no more positive information about travel. Not for a long time.
Furry critters close-up, lunch at the Grosvenor, and tons of granite…
Saturday 21st March 2020. Travel Trolley had been busy overnight. We woke to an email suggesting alternative arrangements for our UK return. We were no longer looking at a route via Perth on Wednesday, but Melbourne next Friday. The television news here had intimated borders were likely to be closing soon, and that foreign nationals should look to make return arrangements as soon as possible. Our email response was therefore to ask if there might be an earlier flight, but otherwise we would be happy to take their offer. With the UK now asleep, we would have to be patient and wait for the next response.
There was plenty to occupy us in the meantime. Our evening at the Barringtons last night had concluded with plans made for the next three days, assuming that our stay in Australia was drawing to a close. Today, Linc and Lyn would be collecting us in their car and driving to Victor Harbor again. Sitting in the passenger seat was an opportunity I appreciated, and allowed me to spot something at the side of the road I felt needed an explanation: two microwave ovens mounted on poles near the entrances to adjoining properties. “Mail boxes,” said Linc. “Of course,” I acknowledged. “Good idea.” These Aussies…
Our first stop was the Urimbirra Wildlife Park, a small zoo on the outskirts of town that features only animals and birds native to Australia. And yes – that is a crocodile in the picture above, but it’s not real! Instead, have a look at a koala…
Now this one is real, and if you’ve never had a close encounter of the furred kind, let me assure you they really are cute. But as their keeper warned us, get between them and their lunch and you’ll look at them very differently. So watch your fingers, little girl…
I could fill this post with any number of stories from our morning at Urimbirra. I could tell you about the macaw that tried to chat up Elaine the moment we walked in, or how large are the kookaburras. There were some real crocs too, and a shy wombat snuggling undercover. We saw dingoes and ducks, snakes and lizards, and cockatoos and cassowaries. But most of all, we saw kangaroos.
I have to say that, for two Brits who struggled to catch sight of a single roo for a whole week after arriving in Australia, walking into an open space and being surrounded by the critters was a surreal experience. These guys are accustomed to humans, of course, and Linc wisely spent a dollar on a bag of feed that guaranteed the interest of a few teenagers. What you don’t see in these pictures is the sheer number of kangaroos spread around the whole park. I would estimate there were over a hundred in the immediate vicinity.
Everyone loves a Joey. Here’s one who dared to pop his head out of mum’s pouch at feeding time – although he seemed more interested in the ducks than us.
And finally, here’s one guy who gave us his impression of Beyonce…
That single morning wandering around a small park prompted so many photographs that I used up my camera batteries. As we parked up in Victor (Harbor) for lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel, I made a quick detour to a battery shop (“Not Just Batteries” said the tell-tale sign outside) and amazed the proprietor by telling him my camera took AA size. “Never come across that before” he said, disappointed he couldn’t sell me something more specialised – and expensive.
We noted that the town seemed a little quiet. News reports about “the virus” were starting to make an impact, and further restrictions on movement are expected on Monday. We needed to make the most of the freedom we currently enjoyed, starting with lunch. After our previous experience of dining at the Grosvenor (see Day Eight), we were again pleased to see plates dwarfed by their contents (a prawn salad and three chicken schnitzels).
Linc proclaimed he was not a walker. If the hotel toilets had been any further away he’d have gone by car. But we managed to persuade him to take a gentle stroll across the causeway to the Island. Perhaps he should have used this, but it was going in the wrong direction.
There’s a reason it’s called Granite Island, and Linc and I had a close look at some information boards before impressing our wives with a technical observation. “That’s a lot of granite, there, Linc. How many tons do you suppose that lot weighs?” “Oh, I’d say about 192,000, wouldn’t you?” “Give or take a boulder, yeah.”
On top of the Island there are several intriguing sculptures and wind-blasted rocks, but mindful of the heroic sacrifice in shoe-leather my friend had already made, we kept our visit short and headed back to civilisation.
Testing our wheels to Rapid Bay, unwelcome news, a special dish for Elaine – and some friendly emus!
Friday 20th March 2020. With our base at Sue Mac’s re-established, it was time to try and resolve the question of our return flight(s) to the UK. We were nine and a half hours ahead of London time, so the best we could do this morning was what the agent (Travel Trolley) had originally suggested: send them an email at least 72 hours before our flight to confirm arrangements. Then all we could do was wait.
Linc and Lyn’s generosity had put a car at our disposal, so today we could tick off the last place on my personal family history list: Rapid Bay. Seventy years ago, my parents had a rare opportunity to visit a nearby beach when one of my Dad’s work colleagues offered them a lift in his vehicle. The journey was only a few kilometres, not much further than our route today, but walking there in 1950 would have been a huge ask. The Bay is not large, featuring not one but two jettys and a stretch of sand and shingle, but it also has a place in South Australian history. In 1836 it was the first part of the mainland on which British sailors landed prior to Holdfast Bay (Glenelg), where Colonel Light chose the spot to build Adelaide.
The older jetty was built for shipping to take away limestone ore from a quarry close to the shore, but mining ceased there toward the end of the twentieth century.
The jetty fell into disrepair, and a second one was built alongside for the principal use of fishermen. Today it is a popular spot for catching squid, as evidenced by the inky black marks on the concrete slab surface. We were told this by a guy hoping to catch some from the two lines he had already cast. When we spoke he had only managed to catch two leatherjackets, full of bones and therefore thrown back. I hope we changed his luck.
Trailing across to the opposite side of the Bay we were drawn toward a huge cave in the cliff. By the look of the graffiti inside it was clearly a popular place, but mindful of stories about people getting caught by high tides, we didn’t linger.
Instead we returned to the car before stopping again only a short way along the road out of Rapid Bay. I’d spotted something that looked familiar on the way in, and wanted to make a closer inspection.
Going to the cinema in 1950 was easy enough if you lived in a town or city. Often there were multiple choices of ‘picture house’. But in the country? Smaller communities often used multi-purpose halls to set up a projector and screen for specific occasions, and the Veales had evidently enjoyed such an experience at Rapid Bay because my mother wrote about it in one of her letters. Lillian Cole had also confirmed the existence of such a hall at Rapid Bay in a letter sent to me a few years ago – with a photo of the building that had also served time as a village school. This was what I’d recognised. No Dolby sound or Cinemascope – but it must have made marvellous escapism at the time.
I was finding the Jackaroo easier to handle now, and so we decided to drive twenty minutes up the road and do some shopping at Yankalilla (or “Yank” as it’s known locally). We’d been invited back to Linc’s tonight for a special supper, and needed extra supplies. What we hadn’t banked on was an extra surprise:
An email pinged its arrival on my phone as we put our shopping in the car. Emirates had just cancelled our return flights, suggesting we contact our travel agent to make alternative arrangements. This I did (by email again) as soon as we got back to Sue Mac’s.
We needed a diversion. I found one just a short walk away. To wind the narrative back a little, it had been just a week ago that Elaine and I saw our first wild kangaroo. This time yesterday we had seen another as a graphic illustration on the wall above the Adelaide Arcade. It had been paired up in a coat of arms with another native Australian animal: an emu. And two of these enormous birds were apparently living in a field across the road. So we went to meet them.
Let me explain something here. This is a sizeable field that contains a small number of sheep, as well as two emus, so these were not wild. We had spotted one or both birds while driving past, but we were curious what they might be like close up. Were they timid creatures? Did they spit? (Oh, sorry – that’s llamas…) Our verdict: Not timid. They appeared as curious about us as we were about them. Oh, and one of them had a sheep as a minder. Honest – best pals. Don’t they have gorgeous eyes?
To the Cape for supper. This one had been promised for months, and it was in Elaine’s honour – crayfish. Linc is a keen fisherman, and has been known to catch the little critters when out in a friend’s boat. He let this slip in an email last year, and as Elaine is keen on eating shellfish, he’d promised to keep one in the freezer until our visit here. While the rest of us ‘made do’ with sausages and potato salad, Elaine tucked in to her own special plateful, washed down with something chilled and alcoholic.
At 6.30 pm local time it would be 9.00 am in London, and there was a reasonable chance of being able to speak to a travel agent and follow up on my earlier emails. The phone conversation was reassuring. While someone would investigate all options and get back to me within twenty-four hours, the initial reaction was that they could re-route us on the same day next week, probably by making an extra connection at Perth.
But as Big Sister Sue had already told me, the situation was changing by the hour, not just by the day. We slept easier that night, unaware how much worse the situation would get.
Hot deals on the Market, new rules on the bus, and the keys to the Jackaroo!
While the Sydney version had been quiet and disappointing, Adelaide’s was seemingly bigger and better in every way. Focused around food, the stalls were packed with colourful and quality displays of unusual and exotic fruit, pastries, meat and vegetables, cheese and yoghurt – with some tempting cafés serving breakfast. We lingered longer than expected, spoiled for choice before settling for an English-style fry-up with HP Sauce… Wisely, we kept to half-portions, as we’d learned that full Aussie plates were not calorie-controlled.
Our reluctant exit took us through the Chinese area next door, where Elaine spotted a jewellery stall. After a thorough investigation, and a battle negotiating a neurotic credit card machine, she walked away with a silver chain costing us/me 17 Aussie dollars (c £8.50).
The shady side of King William Street saw us returning to Elder Park and a fresher breeze by the river – but not before Elaine seized an opportunity to add another yoga demonstration to her portfolio. (This one’s called “Warrior”)
Beer o’clock comes early on hot days. The walk since breakfast had been both scenic and beneficial for our health, but other facilities beckoned, so we returned to the bustling streets that sprung south of North Terrace.
This attractive building (Beehive Corner) stands at the westerly end of Rundle Mall, near to the Paringa. We wanted to stay close to the motel, as we would need to return there by 2.30 to collect our bags. Remembering a street bar we’d used on our last visit, we strode up the Mall and had the undivided attention of two bartenders mourning a quiet day.
We stopped briefly in K-Mart (Australia’s bargain department store), then continued our browsing in the more attractive and historic Adelaide Arcade.
This was a place I’d spotted on our last visit, but time had been too short. Note the animals forming part of the heraldic crest above the portico. (Questions may be asked later) The Arcade has been around since 1885, and while it has survived the ravages of time pretty well (and a serious fire), it still maintains a distinctly classy appearance. That’s despite being split into two levels with some major re-designs at some point in the twentieth century.
But time was pressing, so we returned to the Paringa to wheel our bags back to the cooler waiting area of Franklin Street Bus Station.
Boarding the Sealink bus to Cape Jervis was our first proper introduction to restrictions resulting from the spread of the coronavirus. Passengers had to keep their distance. Every other seat had a cross taped on it, and we were told we must all sit individually, by the windows. So, I sat behind Elaine. No worries – it seemed like a novel idea, and gave us each a good view of the scenery for our two-hour trip.
Our driver Tony told us there would be only four stops during the journey to the Kangaroo Island Ferry Terminal at the Cape – the fourth one being ours. These were all scheduled around individual bookings, either to pick up or drop off. I was impressed with the whole business, relaxing into a comfortable leather seat where I could forget about driving and appreciate my surroundings. We followed the coast south and onto the Fleurieu Peninsula, through townships like Yankalilla and Normanville with which we already felt familiar. Then we passed Sue Mac’s place at Delamere before descending to the Cape.
Our stop was outside the Cape Jervis Tavern, chosen because the due time (5.30 pm) coincided with the Community Club being open. The regular Thursday night session would bring Sue Mac, Lyn and Linc, and Lillian and Alan Cole together, and we could meet them at the Clubhouse, two minutes’ walk from the Tavern. It was another perfectly executed plan – we’d only wheeled our bags about fifty metres when we spotted Lyn approaching in their car. As we flagged her down, Linc pulled up from the opposite direction in their older car – a 4WD, fondly known as “The Jackaroo”.
Here was another example of Aussie generosity: knowing we only had a rental car for a week, yet we’d be staying at Delamere for another few days, Linc had kindly offered to lend us the Jackaroo. It would give us some independence, as otherwise we would be reliant on Sue Mac for transport in an area where a car was essential. Tonight, all we had to do was put our bags in the back and drive to Sue’s.
It felt good to be with our friends again, and to be welcomed by familiar smiling faces – our adopted home community. It also helped to sit down to a nourishing meal of home-cooked chicken carbonara, washed down with a glass or two of wine, and catch up on the news. The charity lawnmower racing had been held while we were in Sydney, although not everything had gone as expected. Sue had to slip away for part of the evening for an inquest, as she was part of the organising committee.
We were getting to know a wider circle of the locals – Lorraine, Kay, Robert and Moira – and now two more faces we’d not met before. Wally and his wife Alvie had driven all the way from Alice Springs, in the very heart of Australia. The thousand-mile journey would be pretty punishing for most of us, but while this couple were both reputed to be in their nineties(!), they took it in their stride. Wally is a retired road-train driver, accustomed to hauling huge loads across the country over many years, and he had a host of stories to tell about his experiences.
But now it was my turn to focus on driving again. After the well-lit hall where we made our farewells, the car park seemed pitch-black. We found the Jackaroo from memory of where Linc had left it earlier, and Elaine and I climbed inside. It was still black as pitch until Elaine found the light-switch above our heads. This was just the first of several hurdles we’d to negotiate before we found ourselves back safely on the road. Turning on the ignition was straightforward enough – it was, after all, in the same place as all the other vehicles I’d driven. But certain things were different: a) it was a diesel vehicle, b) it had a manual gearbox while I’d got used to driving automatics, and c) Linc had left it in gear. It didn’t help that my feet had now completely forgotten what to do when faced with three pedals. Which one was the clutch again?
Having mastered reverse gear and found the headlights, I did eventually manage to point us in the right direction. Driving that switchback road with all its inclines and swooping descents, but without the assistance of streetlights, was an adventure in itself, so it was with some relief that we reached Sue Mac’s house unscathed around twenty minutes later. Re-united with our belongings, as well as with Lizzie and Kato, it felt just like home.
Barangaroo on The Rocks, a social encounter, changes of plan – and freaks on the street…
Wednesday 18th March 2020. It’s back to Adelaide today – but there’s a snag: Our return flight has been put back a little (not for the first time), and transferred to another airline. As a result, we’ve had to cancel the shuttle bus that should have met us at the airport. We’ll have to rely on a public bus to get us into the CBD instead, but at this end we do have a private shuttle arranged to take us to Sydney’s airport, for a similar charge as we’d have had to pay to sufficiently top-up our Opal cards.
Our journey would start from the hotel at 3.30, leaving us a few hours to kill. There’s a relatively new attraction opened near the Harbour Bridge, and with a name like “Barangaroo” it had to be worth investigating. The walk there took a familiar path, although we only found the entrance after seeking help from a guy who worked there. The Barangaroo Reserve is a green and pleasant stretch of parkland celebrating Sydney’s indigenous heritage. We began by watching a short movie concerning aboriginal culture handed down to present inhabitants. But not a didgeridoo in sight. Instead, we wandered along a path at the edge of the harbour until we saw a small group of people posing for photographs in front of The Bridge. They hailed from South Africa, but had the same gregarious nature as the Aussies. Somehow Elaine was inspired to pose too – displaying her yoga skills at balancing on one leg. (I’m told it’s actually called “The Tree”.)
The heat was rising, so we sought the shady side of the street to find our way across to The Rocks, and to the Italian restaurant where we had been serenaded on Sunday night. This time we enjoyed a pizza, but also a conversation with a fellow diner whose cruise around the coast of Australia had just been cut short. She would be flying back to Oregon tomorrow, another victim of cancellations caused by the spreading coronavirus. Her news made us grateful that (so far) our own plans were proceeding much as planned.
Our final destination in Sydney was a tram journey away down George Street. We got off at Chinatown and walked a short way to a large indoor space called Paddy’s Markets that (to us) seemed disappointingly quiet, with many stalls closed. Some of the stallholders were voicing concerns about their businesses if something called “self-isolation” took off, but there were still plenty of fruit, vegetables, clothing and souvenirs on offer. Then curiously we saw our Blackpool neighbours from last night. Their plans had also been changed. Bali was off, and their travel agent had advised them to return straight to the UK by the first available flight. Oh dear…
Returning to the Woolbrokers to meet our airport transport, we had plenty to think about. Up until this morning our “trip of a lifetime” had been exactly that. Now it appeared threatened by an early curtailment. But with the rest of our belongings hundreds of miles away in Delamere, we had little choice than to continue with our plans until we were reunited with our luggage. Neither Emirates nor our own travel agent had made contact with alternative advice, and I was due to email them on Friday to confirm our return journey at their own request. All we could do was to stick to our itinerary until then, and hope for the best.
So, then we had another surprise.
Sometimes the unexpected brings good news. Upon arriving at the airport we had to find the check-in desk for Virgin Australia, as we had been unable to use the online service when our booked flight had been transferred from TigerAir. The girl at the desk was cheery and helpful – and then offered to put our (overweight) bags in the hold, free of charge! Ker-ching… The experience got even better on board, with a bright and chatty flight attendant handing out complimentary savoury snacks with a glass (or two) of wine. Well done Virgin Australia!
And farewell to Sydney.
The flight had left late, and arrived in Adelaide around 8.30 pm. We found ourselves running for a bus and caught it just in time, dropping off in the heart of the CBD with a short walk to our final motel of the trip: the Adelaide Paringa.
With dusk falling rapidly, we were surprised at the warmth of the air. It almost felt oppressive, and after another conversation through a door intercom, we were relieved to reach our room and turn on the air conditioning. It was an upgrade on the Woolbrokers, but we would only have the one night to enjoy the comfort. And after depositing our bags there, our immediate need was alcoholic. Where might we find a cold beer?
I’d chosen the Paringa for its central location as much as its price. We were on Hindley Street, just off King William Street with Rundle Mall opposite. Our first impressions of the city at night were a little off-putting. A group of teenage boys were crossing the road as we arrived, one of them barefoot, and the words that leapt to mind were “street urchins”. All the shops were shut, very few people about, and we found ourselves walking back up Hindley Street to a bar just round the corner from our motel.
This had the quaint English-style name of “The Little Pub”, but there was very little resemblance to anything we’d seen at home – especially in these temperatures. Elaine found a table outside while I ordered the beers, and when I brought them out to her, she was already being chatted up by one of three men at the next table. “Anyone gives you any trouble, I’ll sort them out for you. There’s a lot of freaks round Hindley Street.” He spotted the beer in our glasses. “West End? That’s shit beer, mate.”
A toast to all the freaks of Hindley Street, then. It was small comfort to see “The Little Pub” was just across the road from the Police Station. So, we stuck to just one beer each and legged it back to our room as quickly as dignity allowed.
Crossing the Harbour, Manly pursuits raise the temperature – and something is going viral…
Tuesday 17th March 2020. St Patrick’s Day. But one like no other in history. Last night we heard the first nervous twitches about the growing threat of a coronavirus. Our airline (Emirates) sent an email, assuring customers of their vigilance and flexibility. Family members reported of a situation at home that was “changing by the hour”, and then news broke from Ireland: all their pubs and bars were now shut. Hey, this thing might just be getting serious…
But this was to be our last full day in Sydney, and after carefully considering her list, Elaine decided we should go to Manly. Several reasons for this: a) more than one person had recommended we go there, b) it would involve a ferry crossing of the harbour, thus providing a different perspective, and c) as it was some distance away, it would be best to have the maximum amount of time at our disposal to explore. So back to Circular Wharf we went.
We were lucky enough to be just in time to board a fast ferry, and find a sheltered spot at the rear of the boat. It gave me the opportunity to capture a view of the Opera House that we could only get from the seaward side, then the ferry speeded up on its twenty-minute voyage.
The approach into Manly Cove was picturesque to say the least. A mini headland flanked the bay with sundry pleasure craft anchored all around, and the ferry slowed its approach to a much smaller wharf than we had left a short while ago. The atmosphere was consciously laid-back – the Manly trademark, as we were to discover.
I’d studied a map before we arrived, so I knew Manly straddled a narrow neck of land leading to a higher point known as North Head. Our focus was the main beach on the opposite side from the wharf, and after the cool wind buffeting our ferry, we were experiencing genuine heat for the first time since arriving in Sydney. Once we’d reached the end of the pedestrianised shopping street, a place serving ice cream had already caught our eye, plus another serving iced coffees. As for the beach, well – yes. Bigger and better than Bondi!
Our energy already felt sapped by the unexpected higher temperature, so we sat for a while, taking in the hustle and bustle of a busy promenade. We were lucky to find a seat, and once there I set about the technical demands of trying to photograph the surfing community among others.
Elaine decided it was time for a change. Leaving me to play photographer, she went back into the shopping centre and reappeared wearing a new T-shirt. The clouds were thinning, the wind dropping, and the bikinis self-evident. What a contrast to Bondi Beach, where wet-suits were all the rage – and I don’t just mean the surfers…
We did take a gentle stroll along the sweep of the bay, followed by a leisurely amble back to the ferry wharf. The purpose of this was to find something to eat. Elaine had checked out some street food vendors when we’d alighted off the boat, and it looked perfect for a shared punnet of mixed salad that we could take away and enjoy at a bench in the sunshine.
Each of us found the fare on offer very tasty – but then Elaine spotted something even tastier: some topless hunky men…
Manly has a lot of water-based clubs – surfing, sailing, rowing, swimming etc – and it seems likely this lot were a club act. They soon put their man-boobs away and entered the water to swim out to a boat moored about a hundred metres offshore. Where they went after that, I have no idea. Was this some training with the Olympics in mind?
Our own interests were more leisurely, involving ice cream, another T-shirt (for me) and Happy Hour. This last spent at a bar near to where we’d spotted the hunky guys (in case they returned). They didn’t.
The nice thing about sipping cold beer in warm sunshine is that it gives you an opportunity to think. We worked out that, if we caught the fast ferry back again by around 5.30, we could get back to Darling Harbour in time for another leisurely drink at last night’s bar and enjoy their Happy Hour… (No, we’re not alcoholics. We just like people-watching. Honest!)
Regretfully, we left Manly behind with fond memories. The sunshine and the pace of life seemed to have seeped into our psyches, and this part of our adventure had indeed been about relaxing Aussie style. What a g’day.
Now here’s a coincidence: when you travel halfway across the world for a trip of a lifetime, you don’t expect to bump into one of your neighbours. That’s not exactly what happened here, but it’s pretty close. There we were, sitting at the bar in Darling Harbour as planned, when Elaine overheard what sounded like a Lancashire accent from a table behind her. Her inquisitive nature got the better of her, and she struck up a conversation.
We learned the couple came from Blackpool, around twenty miles away from where we lived. Even more unusual, the guy used to live in our home town of Longridge! It was by talking to them that we learned more about the growing threat of the coronavirus.
Their own holiday had taken in Perth and Melbourne, and they were shortly heading to Bali, but were concerned that new travel restrictions might curtail their plans. The latest news we heard was of five deaths in Australia from a disease originating in China. Five! How did that compare to deaths from crossing the road – or normal influenza? Surely this whole thing was being blown out of proportion. No need to lose sleep over rumours like that!
We were soon to re-consider…
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