The story so far

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Coffs Harbour: Above and Beyond

Christmas and New Year are now out of the way and things are returning back to normal.  We have now found a house which all-importantly will allow us to send Zoe to the school with a bilingual English-French programme. Also, I had my third interview with a company in Sydney yesterday.  Actually it was a test which lasted three hours and reminded me of being at school.  Still, I passed that so I now have a final interview with the New South Wales regional director on Tuesday.

I'm looking forwards to writing my next article more than this one because it will be my latest "Observations on Australia" which is far more interesting to write than a diary of events.  Still, we had a great time in Coffs Harbour and north of there on our summer road trip and I want to make a record of it for my future enjoyment.  This is a fantastic place to be.

Having garaged the old car with our hosts, Matt and Fiona, we forgot about it and started to enjoy life without the need for transport.  In fact I don't want to write about that car any more and since my father in law has written a great tribute to it, I will make no further mention.

Without transport, we had a good excuse to laze about, something which I am still not bored of.  After eleven years of hard labour, I always appreciate getting to lie in beyond 8.00 and any time spent "pottering" is still something I don't take for granted.  However, we were in a fantastic country, we had the time to see it, so having been generously lent Matt and Fiona's second car, we started to venture out and planned a trip north up the coast.

The first trip was a visit to the famous "Big Banana" in Coffs harbour.  As previously explained, Australians like to celebrate local food products by making giant effigies of them from fibreglass and incorporating them as part of the structure of a building.

The best part of the Big Banana apart from the delicious ice creams was the fact that it gave a location map for many of the other Big attractions.  These include, among others, the Big Pineapple, the Big Prawn and the Big Avocado.  The Big Prawn is particularly impressive as it makes up the whole roof of a building with legs and tentacles dangling everywhere.

Laura, Hannah and Zoe, posing at the Big Banana, with Esme marching around uncontrollably in the foreground.  Coffs harbour is famous for it's bananas which require steep hills to grow on because they are a giant rhizome with a single root system which grows uphill.  I got that particular piece of information from Matt, who is not a banana expert by trade, so don't quote me.  It is a fact however that Bananas can be seen thriving on the particularly all the steep hills of Coffs Harbour.

Later in the same week, we took a trip to Bellingen, which is a nice town just outside Coffs.    Apparently all the rich and famous of Australia have houses in that area.  The scenery is beautiful and lush and green due to the tropical rain fall which seems to happen quite a lot in and around Coffs.  As a consequence of the local affluence, Bellingen has a number of nice shops and galleries so is well worth a visit if in the area.

After a trip to the town, the highlight of the day was a swim in local creek (stream).  The air temperature was high thirties and the stream was refreshingly cool and fast flowing.  Swimming in open water is something we've done a lot in Australia and it something I love and something which makes me love being here.  Because the stream was so fast, I was able to find a point at which I could swim at 3/4 pace without moving upstream or downstream.  Even though the pool as only about 10m across, I probably swam about 200m without turning.

We celebrated Fiona's birthday later that week with a Japanese meal.  Hannah and I would provide the refreshments, in this case Sake.  Although Australia is lauded (by the Australians I know, who in general laud everything about Australia) as an infusion of cultures and a hot bed of South East Asian cuisine, could we find this exotic product in Main Stream Coffs?  It took a lot of searching and explaining to the local Liqourland salesman who was trying to sell us beer instead until we finally laid our hands on a couple of bottles.

Hannah and I were girding our stomachs for an onslaught of fish products which really ought to have been thoroughly cooked before consumption.  However, we were pleasantly surprised.  Matt put a convex round cast iron plate on a camping gas hob and we were allowed to cook our food before eating it.  The best bit was that as the eye fillet streak, proawns ans fish cooked, the juices ran down to the edge where the vegies sizzles as they cooked in their juices.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  It was a similar experience to a fondue where you cook your own meat, a nice slow, sociable way to eat.

Sake is foul, but I drank it anyway and the others seemed to enjoy it.  If asked to fetch Sake again in Coffs, I would definitely have a good excuse for coming back with wine made from proper grapes.

Later that week we set off for a trip to Brisbane and further north.  As you go further north, the temperature and humidity rises.  To be honest, I'm not suited to it and I found it very difficult doing many activities in this heat.  Firstly my skin is sensitive and I have to cream up every couple of hours.  Then I sweat a lot and up North in Australia this means changing my clothes much more often than in the UK, where, I have heard, some people can make a pair of pants last as longs as a week.  I am getting used to it though.  As I write this in Sue and David's apartment in Sydney, I am finding the warm but lower temperature very pleasant indeed.

We stopped in Byron Bay on the way up, a place where we had spent a few days on our last holiday to Australia.  It was just a short trip, we only had time for a quick meal at the Beach Hotel and some window shopping on main street.  Hannah's brain has not rewired itself yet away from the purchasing behaviour of her past, it was a personal test for her, I could tell, but she resisted temptation.

We were quickly back in the car and heading north towards the Gold Coast where we would spend a few days in the Jupiters hotel.

Zoe and Esme in the wind at Byron.

Our trip to Gold Coast was interesting, it seemed to be a kind of Costa-del-Sol of Australia, with cheap pubs, clubs, casinos and, I imagine, dancing girls.  I don't mean I imagine dancing girls, although that's not out of the question.  Anyway, after one trip to the computer room in the executive suite, I was perturbed to find that the windows auto-suggestion function was recommending "Brothels in Gold Coast" as a search term.  I'm not sure if I should blame Bill Gates or the string of frustrated executives that had used the room before me.  I washed my hands before breakfast.

The beaches were nice though.  Less crowded and not dominated by lager swilling Brits in Union Jack shorts and white vests.  There was a group of rather rowdy south east Asians who were all on the beach in jeans and shirts, taking photos of the one member of their group who wanted to take a dip in the ocean.  Later when Zoe and Esme got out, they were made to pose for photos for several minutes until Esme's lips went blue and Hannah intervened.

We spent our days on the beach, in the pool and eating cheap, greasy food in the evenings.  Saturday was good though, all the family got together for Chris and Jodies wedding celebration.  Chris is Sue's sister's son and he and Jodie had rented a big house with swimming pool for the occasion.  We all brought our own food and BBQ'd and drank to our hearts content.  I also leaned a new trick with a noodle.

A noodle is what we call a woggle in the UK, it is a long cylindrical foam swimming aid which kids can bend round themselves and use to learn to swim.  In Australia, the noodles are hollow and if you fill them with water and blow down one end, you can fire water all over your mother in law from a good five yards away.  I've seen "Universal Noodle Connectors" advertised in sports shops so I imagine the reason for the hole down the middle is to allow noodles to be connected and for structures to be made for them.  Its interesting to see the divergence in UK and Australian cultures due to the differences in weather.  Sunglasses here are quality and cheap, sun-cream is sold by the litre and they've taken woggle development to the next level.

The Jupiter's hotel where we stayed was a huge casino and people came from far and wide, especially on the Friday night.  The place was heaving.  Fortunately Hannah only had flip-flops so she couldn't scratch her itch and we didn't venture onto the casino floor.  Gambling seems to be a more prominent pastime in Australia than England; more on that later, but the VIP section of the car park was like an advert for why you wouldn't want to make money gambling.  You seem to lose all taste and style.

One evening as we walked past the row of Hum-Vees with spinning hubcaps and "Mr Poker" number plates, I decided, that I wouldn't want all that, I would prefer to make my money drilling oil in Texas and that's not saying much, I don't care for buffalo horns on my car or ridiculous cowboy hats either.

We left the Gold Coast after a relaxing five nights stay.  I say relaxing, but we've been living in the same room as Zoe and Esme now for the past two months and that kind of limits the relaxation potential.  I reckon Hannah and I are holding it together fairly well considering we don't really get any space.  Having two girls makes you realise why women talk all the time.  It's innate.  The point is that Hannah and I can't have a conversation without Zoe and Esme interrupting.  I've tried shouting at them, removing privileges and nothing works.  I sat Zoe down and discussed it with her and she told me with an earnest look on her face that she can't help talking.   Its good to have girls to get a better understanding of the way the female mind works.  A grown woman would never admit that "The words just come out".

We headed North to Brisbane and I called Richard and Tara on the way up.  Richard is Gary's brother and Gary is Zoe's friend Bryony's dad.  Gary and I have kept in touch despite his moving from Gloucestershire to Reading and it would be nice to catch up with Richard and Tara, faces from the UK past we had left behind.  We arranged to meet them mid afternoon so we parked in Brisbane centre and ventured out to look around.  Brisbane was a nice city, but too hot for my liking.  We had to cross a bridge over the river and the two hundred yard crossing took about five or ten minutes with Esme dawdling and stopping every five paces to swing on the railings.  I could feel my skin beginning to burn in that space of time, so I took the delicate Zoe on a run over the bridge and left the two crusty ones to cross in their own time.  I don't want to live and work in Brisbane, I think we got it on a hot day, but I reckon the temperature is that much more than further south and the sun is that much stronger.

Esme and Zoe outside the Indonesian Temple built for the World Expo '88 on the Southbank in Brisbane.

Seeing Richard and Tara was really nice, they both told us how they couldn't wait to get back to the UK, they prefer it to Australia, especially Tara who mentioned she liked the weather in the UK.  Slightly odd, but it's interesting to hear that view.  I hear too many Australians who call us whinging poms, whinging about the weather in the UK.  The seasons in England are what makes it an amazing place to live, you get the complete difference between summer and winter you get sun, rain, frost, snow and you get the long summer days.  Yes, winter is depressing, especially just about now, but it makes you appreciate the summer.  Don't get me wrong, I prefer the Australian climate, but I can also see the benefits of the British.

Richard took me for a drive in his 4x4, a Nissan Patrol with 8" of lift (Or something like that) all I know is that   getting into the cab was a rather inelegant affair for a man that has temporarily lost some of his former athleticism.  After releasing my grip on Richard's left thigh and deciding that it wasn't worth the effort to go back indoors and get my wallet, we took off for a trip to the local drive through off licence.  We shared a beer with Richard, ate some of Tara's delicious cookies and set off north again.

After leaving Brisbane, we continued North to Coulandra and Pelican Waters.  We arrived in a ghost town, tired and hungry at well-past-teatime.  Seeing a rather nice looking Italian restaurant, we decided to have dinner there.  The proprietor looked at her watch and shook her head sadly, clearly on a Sunday night in Coulandra, 7.30 was way to late to be turning up for dinner.

Sadly, our only option was the dodgy looking Chinese.  We had reached the point where the hunger was driving Hannah irrational and she was accusing me of being aggressive.  I left the meat of an undetermined origin and we all ate rice.

We spend four nights in Coulandra and once settled in there it was lovely.  We spend one wonderful day on the beach where the sea was warm and the sun was hot and parking spaces were easy to find.  On this day, Zoe and Esme played in the sea, their confidence growing and I body-surfed on waves.

Perhaps the best day though was spent at the Australia Zoo.  The Zoo was pretty pricey to enter (£100 for a family of four) but well worth it.  We watched the crocodile show, watched the girls pony riding, fed the kangaroos and stroked the Koalas.

The Kangaroos were very friendly and even the timid Zoe was not too scared of them.  We took the girls to the snake enclosure where all sorts of venomous snake we on display.  Apparently Australia has eight or nine of the top ten most deadly snakes in the world.  They seem pretty proud of this fact, but most of them are timid and will run away if you happen to come across them.  The only aggressive one is the brown snake and this is only the males in breeding season.  I reckon we'll be all right but I have been making efforts to caution the girls about exploring the bush and walking in long grass without adequate footwear.

Steve Irwin was the founder of the zoo and he was killed by a giant stingray.  There are lots of dangerous animals in Australia and lots of chances to die, but this guy, who actually sought it out survived into his forties. The point is that it isn't that dangerous to live in Australia if you understand the animals, but things can go wrong as they did sadly in Steve's case.  I reckon we will try and avoid socialising with deadly creatures and hopefully reduce the potential of being stung/bitten/attacked by one to a minimum.

All over the Zoo were tributes to the founder, who seemed to have been a really amazing person.  His daughter Bindi (which I think is the same name for a nasty prickly plant which they get in lawns here) presents a TV show on wildlife in his honour and the kids love it.  When Zoe and Esme saw a bronze statue of the Irwin family, including their hero Bindi, they clambered over it and I took their photo.

There were other people waiting to photograph the statue so I asked Zoe and Esme to get off.  Zoe did right away, but Esme, being Esme, would not get off until she had sidled up to Bindi, held her by both cheeks and given her a lingering kiss, head slightly tilted.  At least the waiting parents found it funny!


Perhaps the highlight of the zoo was the tiger enclosure.  The keepers stay in with the tigers from when they are cubs so they form a bond and don't get attacked.  They play with the tigers which involved letting the tigers jump on them and throwing balloons for the tigers to chase.  It's amazing.

Below, Zoe and Esme Enjoy the beach at Coulandra

All in all, Coulandra was a good experience apart from the Chinese meal.  There was one noteworthy event that happened one evening after the kids had gone to bed.  Hannah was reading on the balcony when I heard screaming.  She then came running into the room beating herself around the chest in a deranged ape-like fervour.  Later, it emerged that she had been reading, when an animal had entered her cleavage and proceeded to buzz around her top until she inevitably killed it with her simian mating display.  It wasn't until we returned to Coffs Harbour that we found it was a Cicada with a wingspan of around two inches.  They are completely harmless, but I think you'd agree, not the most pleasant addition to the contents of your bra.

We arrived back in Coffs harbour about a week before Christmas.  Matt was off work for the Christmas week so we drank ourselves to a stupor every evening and watched you-tube videos and DVDs.  We even played golf a couple of times and went to see Avatar in 3D at the Cinema.

Zoe and Esme had fun playing with James and Laura.  Sue, David and Rene arrived for the Christmas celebrations a couple of days before Christmas and before we knew it, the big day had arrived and we were watching Zoe, Laura, James and Esme opening their presents

Christmas is all about traditions and our new tradition is a Wiltshire family swim on the beach on Christmas morning before opening presents.  I am surprised that more Australians don't do it, but the beach was virtually deserted when we arrived at around 8.00 a.m.

The Wiltshires and Laura enjoying a Christmas day swim on Jetty Beach in Coffs Harbour.  We were due to go back to Sydney after Christmas but we had bought a new car in Coff's harbour and had to wait until 28th December for delivery.  I had struck up a really good deal with the Coffs harbour garage which involved a free roof rack, free alloy wheels and they even gave me money for the Fairlane.

David and Matt had been referring to the Fairlane frequently over the past few days.  I'm not sure if they understood the concept of a joke only being funny the first time round.  I didn't even find it funny the first time, but they both appeared to find themselves highly amusing.  Sue, uncharacteristically was trying to discourage their incessant malevolence, but to no avail.

Having some time on our hands we took the opportunity to go and explore the Dorrigo National Park and the rainforest centre.  The last time we had been to the rainforest, I had teased Zoe, aged three that we were going to see monkeys.  I thought it would make the whole trip more exciting, but I ended up carrying a quivering wreck around the forest with me.  This time, I assured here that there were no monkeys or any other primates in the woods.  But there were leeches.

We walked along the forest trail, while Zoe goose-stepped to avoid getting leeches on her and enjoyed the giant trees and amazing views.  Esme did get a leech on her dress but it not not get a chance to feed on her sweet infant blood as Hannah pounced and flicked it high above us into the air above us.  It must have landed elsewhere but for ten minutes afterwards, I could feel "phantom leeches" on various parts of my body.  So much so that I was worried that Hannah would ask me to stop "Playing with myself".  Zoe did not appreciate the constant stopping to look at signs and vistas.  She would hop up and down on the spot and implore us "Please don't stop, the leeches will get us"

We also took a step out on a high lookout which projected horizontally over the rainforest giving amazing views over thousands of acres of unspoilt rain forest to town of Bellingen beyond.  On the platform we were asked by an upper-crust Englishman how old were our two "delightful girls".  He was definitely a charmer and it turned out that he had lived in Australia for twenty or thirty years.  He lived in Manly and explained that while he was from Yorkshire he had made "Every effort to speak English correctly" he explained "to set an example to the Australians on how the language should be spoken".  I think he was only half Joking, but he did offer to take a rare family photo.

As can be seen, I have acquired a rather lovely hat to keep the sun off my neck and to accompany the rather lovely wife I picked up ten years ago and the two rather lovely daughters I acquired over the last six years.

We took the back road back from Dorrigo, but the map did not show that in fact is was more a farm track than a road.  Since we were in Matt and Fiona's good car, Hannah drove very slowly to avoid pot-holes but then it started raining.  It rained very hard and eventually, the track became, in places, a river.  Hannah sped up, a balancing act between protecting the car from shock damage and from flooding.  We emerged triumphant and relieved onto a tarmac road about forty minutes later.

After collecting our new car, we travelled back to Sydney stopping at various places on the way for snacks.
I woke up on New Years Eve with a severe headache and spent the day in bed with the worst headache I'd ever had.  It wasn't really bad, but I don't normally get bad headaches at all.  I recovered enough by 7.00 to venture over to the Party hosted by one of Sue's friends, Sue Young.  She has an apartment in Kirribilli overlooking Sydney Harbour and almost opposite the Opera house.

We had a great view of the fireworks and took a walk out at 10 to see the opera house.  I decided to go home as the headache was back, but it was wonderful to see Sydney on New Year's Eve.

Everywhere was the sound of peoples voices with outside parties everywhere, people on balconies, in gardens and in the streets.  That is definately the way to spend New Year's Eve.  We have come to the right place.


  1. I would just like to assure everyone that I did not kill the cicada, it flew off in the morning after a night in the glass

  2. Actually hannah said, I did not kill the Cicada