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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Delivering Liberte to Mooloolabah with Paul and Gloria (from Scallywag)

Having been invited to sail with Paul and Gloria to deliver "Liberte" to Mooloolaba, we took the bus from our marina up to Sanctuary Cove on the evening of the 23rd. We joined the Scally's and some other skippers and employees of MultiHull solutions for a departure dinner at George's Seafood Restaurant. Frank and Paul got a little carried away and ended up ordering a seafood extravaganza feast for two that cost nearly $300! The platter took up the entire middle of our large round table and was spilling over with lobsters, Moreton Bay Bugs, prawns, calamari, oysters, clams,  mussels and accompaniments cooked various ways. It was almost embarrassing as we noticed people at other tables staring at those two gorging themselves and smiling wickedly. They couldn't possibly eat it all so  they began encouraging everyone else at the table to help them finish it off. I don't know if we did.  After dinner we spent the night on Liberte, setting out the next day for Mooloolaba intending to make it a two-day sail. We hit high winds on the nose as soon as we cleared the protection of land and hit the middle of the bay. Seas were choppy and as I'd never cruised on a catamaran this was a whole new experience for me. Liberte is a large (60 ft) cat. She can get up and go, but with these conditions we did an amazing amount of "slapping" like a rocking horse. I can only describe it as picturing your hand flat, palm down on the water...then you rock your hand heel-to slapping the water with the front of your had. That is what it felt like to me. At one point a rogue wave slammed us and we heard a loud crash inside. Glor and I went to investigate the crash to find shattered fragments of stemware all through the galley and saloon. This was very unusual since the glass was secured near centerline in a top shelf, but I guess the wave hit us just right - or wrong as the case may be.
We arrived at Pont Cartwright andgot a call from Gwyn, a Kiwi friend of the Scallys who now lives here, he was at the Point waving at us and snapping these photos. At approach to the Mooloolah River we dropped the sails.When we entered the calm waterway, Glor and I began putting out fenders and setting the docklines.

Once settled in to our berth, Gwyn joined us for a celebratory rest, then dinner at our favorite fish n chips. We spent the rest of the night visiting back on board Liberte.
Early the next morning, Gwen drove Frank and I to the train station for our return to Gold Coast.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 19 - 23rd, 2011 The Gold Coast and the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show

Leaving Yamba for the Gold Coast we heard from our friend, Russell Meggitt that he and some of his mates were heading up for the big boat show at Sanctuary Cove. Within the same few hours we received a message from our friends Paul and Gloria (s/v Scallywag) that they would be flying over to Gold Coast from NZ to man the sales team of the Fontaine Pajot exhibit. They wanted us to meet up with them and offered us boat show passes. Having good times to look forward to at Gold Coast, we arrived abuzz with new energy.  Russell secured a berth for us through a friend of a friend's brother at the already full South Port Marina. It is the place to see and to be seen. As we were berthing, Russell phoned to tell us he and his mates were waiting for us in the bar while watching us try to get into the berth…thanks for the help, guys.  We joined the boys for happy hour, as one of his mates whispered into my ear that many famous locals were present in the yacht club this night. He seemed to know them all. We were introduced to Rob Mundle, an Australian journalist, sailor and author who has written several bestsellers relating primarily to life and adventure on the sea.  One of his most famous books is titled, "Fatal Storm", about the tragedy of the 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race. After visiting with Rob for a while, he introduced me to his dear friend, Kay Cottee. If you are not a sailor, you may not know of Kay. She is the first woman to sail singlehandedly, unassisted, nonstop around the world on her 37-foot sailing yacht Blackmore's First Lady. She accomplished this feat in 189 days at the age of 34, in the year of our Lord, 1988. Kay has my unbridled admiration. I was even further impressed when I learned that her journey ended on June 5, 1987, which happened to be my 30th birthday. Having a quick think-back to who I was and what I was doing at that time of my own life I am further inspired to respect and adore her. She was asking me questions of our journey thus far, exclaiming how impressed she is at our daring and sense of adventure. I was astonished that she would find my life and exploits even mildly interesting much less impressive. I tossed dozens of questions to her that she very graciously answered and at the end of our visit she had a new #1 fan indeed.
Frank and I attended the boat show over the weekend thoroughly enjoying the precious time that we got to spend with Paul and Glor. Although they were working we found intermittent time to spend with them. We found ourselves seriously inspecting the cruising catamarans. FP and Leopard had some very attractive and impressive models that held our attention, and noticing this Paul managed to get us into the owners' party at the FP headquarters yacht. The weather was very uncooperative, throwing winds and rains at us yet we managed to make the most of this fabulous boat show. It far surpassed the Auckland Boast Show that we had attended in 2009 – blew it right out of the water, so to speak.
Our time in Gold Coast ended all too quickly, and before we knew it Paul and Glor made a proposal to Frank that we just could not refuse. He asked if we would like to join them on delivery of one of the FP's up to Mooloolaba on the 24th. This would require us spending Monday night on the catamaran with them in order that we could cast off early the next morning. We merrily accepted and began packing our bags and planning provisions for the event. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 14th – 18th Coff’s Harbour & Yamba

Coff's Harbour was a very quick stop where I got some laundry done and Frank took care of a few bits of boat business. We didn't do anything that would merit noteworthy mention.

The next stop, Yamba, was entirely new to us. The entrance from the Sea is known for taking boats and lives who attempt to cross the bar here entering the Clarence River.  We donned our safety gear and braced ourselves for the crossing over. It was rough. It was quite unpleasant and after getting through, we appreciated that we had chosen the optimum time and tide to navigate this nasty bar.  Leaving would be another challenge, but by now we are losing the fear and gaining a healthy and wise respectful knowledge of these Australian river entrances. The port at this river entrance is shared by two small towns: Yamba and Iluka.

We decided on Yamba, probably because we'd heard it mentioned by other cruisers and had heard nothing of Iluka. In fact we were such greenhorns that we tended to float and wander around for a long time through the shallows trying to locate a spot to anchor.  Could this be right? Are keelboats really intended to come in here? This place is shallow! We nearly ran aground a few times, trying to locate channel markers. Several spots used range markers instead, so we had to look up, look down and look all around! The markers were often jumbled and confusing to us, nearly putting us to the wrong side of a sandbar. We could spot other yachts but scratched our heads in despair wondering how on Earth they got in "there".

Eventually we made our way into what appeared to be an anchorage with some moorings. It was a very small area that did not look promising. As I stood on the bow, surveying potential sites to drop the hook, I announced to Frank that there was no room and we should try elsewhere. He insisted that this is the place he had been told to anchor. So of course, a debate ensued wherein I challenged him: "Who told you?" He responded with a vague, "They all told me." and of course I asked, "Who is They?"  Sometimes it goes on like this until we come to a compromise of sorts. The compromise this time was that I acquiesced because I was causing Frank considerable angst by arguing the point and he was tired and feeling stressed from the tense maneuvering into this place. We dropped the hook. I chewed on my fingernails and bit my tongue until I could no longer manage to keep it in, and exclaimed to him; "But, Frank, we are sitting in the middle of the Ferry route/waterway – won't we get into trouble?"  He did not respond, just shot me a "Frank Look" and continued about the task of settling in.

Sure enough, a Ferry approached, dodging us and not looking very pleased. Frank, being ever the optimist said to me that the boat (Destiny) would turn and then we would be out of the way. After a considerable amount of time this did not happen and we got a call from Marine Rescue  (Oz's coast guard), asking us to move. The kind volunteer directed us to the marina that we did not realize was available, as it looked like a commercial fishing boat wharf. Apparently inside of that and over a bit is a nice marina that had a casual berth available to us. Frank was dismayed and I kept my mouth firmly shut as we weighed anchor and moved into the proffered berth.

Once we got settled in, we took off for an exploratory walk to shake out our sea legs and to expel a bit of tension. All around were signs and advertisements that Yamba is the Top holiday spot in Australia…the best town in Australia, and so on. We think we must have hit it at LOW season, because we were not so impressed as all that. Most everything was closed, and in all fairness the weather was gloomy, overcast and cold. We took off in one direction in search of sights and amenities. Eventually, several miles up the road we came to a small shopping center where we had a coffee and bought some groceries. As we were setting back out, however, the heavens broke loose and unloaded a torrential downpour. We stood and stood under an outdoor awning, waiting for a break while the shops around us began to close for the evening. Finally, the rains abated and we made a run for it – really we made a hobble for it since our backpacks and arms were laden with groceries. It is difficult to run with a backpack full of orange juice and milk slamming up and down on one's back!  We darted and weaved our way toward the marina, getting soaked in the process. We would have hopped on a bus if we had seen one. Taxicabs were not around this neck of the town either, so we continued on foot until we came to the Fisherman's Co-op. We had been noticing ads for Yamba Prawns – the best (in the world maybe?). We stuck our noses into the co-op to see what all the fuss was bout with these prawns.  The price for these petite beauties was close to $60/kg. My goodness! Frank quizzed the lady at the counter, asking what is so special about these small to medium-size prawns, and she exclaimed "Yamba Prawns are locally caught and known all through Australia as being simply the best!". Well, OK then. We must have some!  Frank grimaced as he handed over our payment for ½ kg of these delectable crustaceans, and then onward we trekked back to the marina, soaked to the bone.

Returning to Destiny, we stowed goods, dried off, changed clothes and then settled in to enjoy our much-anticipated dinner. The prawns were good, but by Texas Gulf Coast seafood standards, we were not impressed – particularly by the gold-plated price of these little beauties. That's all right we had a nice adventure, nonetheless.

We arose early the next morning so to do a little more exploring before moving on.  We ventured out in the opposite direction this morning, toward the Australia-famous beaches of Yamba. By now, we were chanting, "Yamba, Damba Doo!"  The walks were very nice along the hilly shore, but again, the town was if not asleep getting ready for a long winter's nap. The small town looked like so many others we had already visited. Eventually we stumbled upon a café that was open for business and breakfasted on freshly baked, homemade victuals (vittles, in Beverly Hillbillies Speak!).  It was very tasty, and although I cannot remember the name of the café, it got our vote.

Although we never figured how Yamba is so famous, we enjoyed our short stay, however, we will not put it down in the books as a "Must see and do".  At 1 PM, we departed Yamba, making our way back out the Clarence River's challenging bar. Frank manned the helm masterfully and Destiny handled it beautifully. Only a few bits and pieces tossed about the cabins and galley.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 13, 2011 – Friday. Leaving a Port on Friday the 13th – Are we nuts?

We planned our departure from Port Macquarie for 3 ½ hours after the morning high tide. It is Friday the 13th, and the marina manager and all the little old sea-salts around the marina think we are foolish but we feel the conditions are better for leaving today than Saturday. Besides a blow is coming and we want to be up the coast before it hits. We are pleased to inform that their fears were unfounded. The skies were clear blue, the prevailing winds and seas cooperative and the ride comfortable as we enjoyed a cruise up into Trial Bay.

Trial Bay is largely a wide open, circular bay that in the wrong weather can be an absurdly uncomfortable anchorage. To the eye it is astonishingly beautiful. The blue waters sparkle as though filled with diamonds, the sandy beaches appear virgin and inviting. Arriving from land this would be a perfect vacation spot. The highlight of the bay, just along the heads sits the most imposing structure of the entire area: The Trial Bay Gaol (jail to us Yanks). Talk about a room with a view! I can't imagine being incarcerated here in the 19th century, which in and of itself would be terrible, but to be incarcerated with such a view would be torture! It was last utilized in the early 1900's as a WWI German internment camp (prison camp). We wanted so very much to go to shore and explore the remains, but we had arrived at dusk and were due to skedaddle at daybreak on the 14th. So we had dinner with a view and dreamed of returning for a visit to the "gaol".

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12, 2011 Last Day in Beautiful Port Macquarie

We just can’t believe how fortunate we are to have had so many perfect days here. Because we are coming up on winter, the evenings and mornings are very chilly! We decided since this is our last day here to take the bus over to Laurieton to visit the beautiful beaches there, so we layered and bundled up, packed the backpack for our little outing. We got to the bus stop to discover that we’d just missed the last bus out. Bummer. Oh well, we’ll save that for next time.

Instead, we decided to just go for a spontaneous hike. We took off in no particular direction and eventually found ourselves on the trail that leads along the coastline. It was spectacular! Part of the path goes through an area of preservation – vegetation and birdlife. The beautiful parrots that we love to watch were just all around us. Lots of the King parrots and colorful Lorikeets were just packed into the trees above, chirping and screeching their little hearts out. Passing on through we hiked up steep inclines and down deep drops to the beaches, the coastal path gave us one pleasant surprise after another and our eyes just feasted on the views. God, we love this beautiful country!

After about an hour and a half we arrived at one of the many surf clubs where a group of students were having their outdoor field day. We stopped at the little kiosk for lunch. Surprisingly the lunch was one of the best we’ve had. Mine was calamari and salad; Frank’s was a Mexican chicken wrap with salad. Yum!! By this time the sun was out in full force and I had stripped of my jacket and sweater and was down to a tank top/camisole. We sat enjoying the sun for a while, and then got started on our hike back home.

We arrived back onboard a little after 3 PM. Tomorrow is departure day so we began the process of preparing the boat to leave port and then went to the local Thai restaurant for an early dinner.

May 10 & 11th, 2011– Port Macquarie and a Surprise Visit

We awoke on Tuesday to rain, rain, rain and cold, cold, cold. I love these kinds of days, when I can just take my time enjoying the morning, snuggled up (still) in my PJ’s, with my hot cup of coffee, taking it slow and easy. We spent the rainy morning time browsing Facebook, catching up on what our friends and family are doing and then Frank and I both just kicked back and read our books.  Later on it cleared and as the lovely blue skies made their bold appearance we thought about going for a walk but had already started playing a ruthless game of Baja Rummy and had to finish. Frank not only won, he absolutely blotted me.

The local “world famous” (aren’t they all?) Italian Restaurant, Café 66, was offering 2 for 1 Pasta night this night so we set out to discover whether or not that was true. It was OK, and at their prices for a simple pasta dish we were happy to have paid for only one. At least I didn’t have to cook and clean up, but will probably not recommend this one as a Do Not Miss.

Wednesday morning, we received a call from Russell Meggitt. He and Jan had gone up the coast to visit her parents and thought they would stop by for a visit on their way back home to Asquith. What a treat! They arrived close to 11:00 AM. We took a nice walk over to Finnian’s Irish Pub for their $10 lunch special. We all ordered the Porterhouse steak. Now in America we call a large T-bone a Porterhouse, but here they call our Top Sirloin a Porterhouse. It isn’t really important except that we are still learning the proper names for cuts of meat here. Anyway, the steaks were delicious!  We visited for quite a while and then they had to get underway for the long drive back toward Sydney. What a lovely couple they are!
We said our farewells and because the anchorage was as calm as glass, Frank said we should probably go ahead with our fuel up now. So we spent the next hour getting fuel and wincing at the proffered $1,090 for the equivalent of 140 US gallons of diesel. Yes, that comes to just under $7.80/gallon. Ouch!
Afterward we took a long walk out to the jetties and then spent a very relaxing evening onboard.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 8th and 9th, 2011 – Enjoying Port Macquarie

May 8th Happy Mother’s Day! Another blue-sky day gave us the perfect catalyst to head to shore and go for a walk. First we checked in with the marina and prepaid a week on the mooring ball just in case we should decide to stay that long. We then walked across the street to the little shopping mall, window-shopped and, finding nothing of great interest, set off for town and a walk along the colorful jetty. The Iron Man event was here just last week so we figured we would see some new artwork on the boulders and we were not disappointed. Because of Mother’s Day the place is chockers with picnickers, waterfront diners and families out to enjoy the lovely day. Even the famous local pelicans were out en masse!  We enjoyed a very nice lunch at Finnians Irish Pub and then walked it off on one of the many trails that grace this town. We returned home pretty well pooped so we called it a day.

May 9th brought yet another glorious day so this time we set off in pursuit of a 5k nature trail that we had noticed yesterday.  It meandered past an old turn of the century (mid1800’s-1900’s) cemetery, through the mangroves, along the river and up into the deeply forested area that is home to 100’s of BATS! Flying Foxes, they are termed, just like in Tonga, Fiji and other parts of the S. Pacific. They screeched loudly as we approached and then became very agitated and restless as we passed underneath their hanging hulks. It was like a contagion. As we passed beyond them they settled back down until the next intruder dared approach. We reminded ourselves not to look up and to keep our mouths closed if we did as we passed under group after group of the hanging rubbery-winged creatures. I was real thankful I was wearing a hat as I stepped past the plentiful droppings of guano. I was on the lookout for leeches in the muddy areas and Frank was ever wary of snakes. But really it was a great hike and afterward we were starved so we hit the town center, lunched and then walked back the mile or so to the marina.  We’re now back on board reading (well I’m about to). Frank is buried in a James Patterson and I am immersed in a Wilbur Smith.

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 7th, 2011 – The Long, Long Day Out of Port Stephens

We departed Port Stephens at first light, around 5:45, intending to do an 8-hour stint up to Forster-Tuncurry. After getting through the bar and adjusting to the swelly roll, we settled into a perfect sail. Destiny was loving this one! We caught the wind just right and away she coursed, making amazing time up the coast. About 10 miles south of Forster-Tuncurry, Frank said to me; "Barb, we are making such great progress, what do you say to pressing on into Port Macquarie? I think we can make it tonight". I immediately began to stutter, "But, but, but what about the bar? What about timing the entrance? Won't it be dark by the time we get there?" I was terrified of this prospect, however, it wasn't even midday yet and we were so far ahead of schedule it just didn't make sense to stop, especially because Forster-Tuncurry is not much of an anchorage and most cruisers try to avoid if possible; it would just serve as a place to stop between jumps. So in the end I acquiesced.

We continued to fly for maybe another 2 hours and then the wind began to abate. It slowed and slowed until we dropped below 5 knots (of boat speed). Time to turn on the iron jib! Frank reluctantly cranked the engine on and we motor-sailed for several more miles until the wind dropped to 6 kts. Horrors! We met with a countercurrent and realized that this baby wasn't going anywhere fast the rest of the day. Hours passed and the winds never returned as we chugged along under power as all hopes of getting into Port Macquarie by dusk are fading away. The rest of the day was so docile that we both read books and just took it in stride. There was no point in worrying and the coast guard was tracking us as always. Daylight faded into night. We watched a beautiful sunset and saw disappointingly that the moon was just an eyelash skirting the horizon. We still had over 2 hours yet to go.

Finally at close to 8 PM, under full and complete darkness we approached the dreaded bar at the jetty entrance to Port Macquarie. We reported in with Marine Rescue to let them know we were on approach. They wished us well and we said a quick prayer for safety. Although the seas had been slight for our little voyage, they looked like a surfer's dream and a boater's nightmare when we reached the bar. I have probably stated this in previous journals, but it is a law that when crossing a bar (the river entrance into most of these ports) all persons on board must be wearing PFD's (life jackets) and should be tethered in. We of course were but I had to go outside the cockpit to give Frank a visual for approach. I sat, straddling the cockpit step, calling distances to Frank – distances from us to the rock jetty and any other obstacles that were lurking about such as buoys and channel markers, night fishermen. This bar is known for picking watercraft up and slamming them back down 90-180 degrees around. It is difficult enough when you have daylight, but really scary at night with no moon. We got picked up by such a wave and Frank masterfully got us quickly back on point as I was straining my eyes to see where we landed in reference to the jetty. All of a sudden a bright light flashed right into my eyes, blinding me. Someone on shore was taking pictures of us as we approached (probably thinking they'd get a good crash photo to send into the local paper for tomorrow's headlines, of the dummies who navigated the bar at night). I can't blame them really, but it killed my night vision in an instant and I was blinded for what seemed like an eternity. I blinked and wiped my eyes rapidly, mindful of our perilous situation as Frank held the helm waiting to hear my next report. I continued to blink furiously and prayed that no one else would snap a shot at us until we reached the shelter of the breakwater. Again we got twisted as though someone was trying to spin us like a top, but Frank recovered quickly and cranked up the RPMs enough to shoot us past the worst. Jut then I got another flash but was ready for it this time, I'd been covering that side of my eyes with my free hand. Now that we were past the rough and tumble, I stepped out onto the foredeck with the headset on and talked Frank through the channel. It was eerie to say the least. We had been in and out of here last December so we were familiar with the zigging and zagging of the channel and the shallow flats that flanked the sides. Eventually we made it into the anchorage area where the Port's lights shone brightly enough for us to spot the mooring ball. We tied up, reported a safe arrival to Marine Rescue and breathed a sigh of relief as Frank popped a top to celebrate our hair-raising success. We will NEVER do that again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 1–7, 2011 Port Stephens

I neglected to mention two of our highlights at Newcastle. On April 30th we took a water taxi/ferry Across the Hunter River over to Stockton just to see what is over there. Well, there isn’t much to see in the way of a town but there is a lovely walk along the beach leading out to a jetty that is completely formed of recovered ships that ran aground in this area. Stockton Beach and the Oyster Bank were notorious for shipwrecks. All along the walk are plaques identifying the name of the ship over which we trod, and the information gleaned from records of the ship, such as the type of vessel, the name of the captain, the date and circumstance of the wreck. It was a fascinating walk, and being so engrossed with the historic theme of the walk, before we knew it we’d gone several kilometers. Once again, it began to rain so we turned back to catch a loud reverberating sound replacing that of the wind and crashing waves.  Out of nowhere a couple of sleek racing boats sped by throwing beautiful rooster-tails in their wakes. What is this? We huddled underneath our jackets to watch the show. Apparently we had stumbled upon the time trials of the upcoming “Offshore Superboat Championships”. It was quite a thrill to watch these guys go airborne, jetting across the river and out across the bar into the ocean and back again. So loud!!! We realized we had better get out of here before we’re stuck in Newcastle until the races are over in a few days. This place is going to fill right up and the harbor will be closed to us.

On the morning of May 1st, as we are pulling away from the dock; Frank at the helm and me making the rounds on deck stowing dock lines and fenders, we get a shout from one of the “arms” (marina floating dock)…”Frank! Barbara!” We looked over to find Tomkat with Russell and Jan aboard waving their arms. They had come in to watch the races and yet neither of us had known the other was coming/going. We all blew kisses and vowed to stay in touch as we moved along the coast. Thankfully we got out of Newcastle before the race committee closed the harbor on us.

Our journey was fair, arriving Port Stephens’ Salamander Bay at 3:00 PM. Port Stephens is very large and within it are many bays, inlets, cruising, fishing and dolphin watching areas. It is so lovely that we motored around for a while before deciding to settle in. We grabbed a pink mooring buoy, which is complimentary to visitors for a 24-hour period and then went to shore for a walk along the shore.  Right away we noticed an abundance of beautiful birds all about. Literally hundreds of Rainbow Lorikeets, white parrots, large ravens and cockatoos danced about in the trees and screeched their little lungs out. Although beautiful to look at their screeching sounds like fingernails on a blackboard, so when you hear the combined chatter of hundreds of them you just want to put your hands over your ears! 

The walk we found all along the waterfront is extremely well laid out and diversely beautiful. They meander up and down through densely forested steps, along the beaches, through grassy and well-tended areas and literally through residents’ lawns right into small townships. We just took off and as we seem to do, later realized we were hungry and a little worn, so we stopped for a bite at a local fish and chips and then returned to Destiny.

Each day we did much the same – got to a new bay and then explored the trails on shore. One day we came upon a stump in a back yard absolutely covered with stuffed animals. 

Upon closer inspection we saw that they are a form of mushroom. We felt we were in an absolute fairyland of beauty.

On our return I began to notice tiny little feet imprinted on the walkway. Hmmm. It looked as though they were made from a stencil with either white flour or some sort of powder. Could it be there are Hash House Harriers in Port Stephens? We followed the trail for quite a long way, noting that at various points there would be two, three and sometimes four little feet printed together. Could these be Hash checks? I grew excited about the prospect of stumbling upon a HHH group here. We ended up going quite far beyond Destiny’s anchorage, up a very steep hill to one of the “points” before giving up and turning back. I “googled” Port Stephens HHH, but never did find out what that was about. Another mystery in the adventures of Frank and Barb.

Port Stephens is by far one of our favorite places to visit here in NSW (New South Wales), and we warmly embraced their little catch phrase or mantra: Port Stephens…P.S. I love you!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April 26th – May 1st, 2011 Exploring Newcastle

Gosh what a great city Newcastle is! The waterfront is being refurbished into an upscale living, dining and entertainment area. The boardwalk that begins just beyond our marina runs along an area called Honeysuckle, which meanders along the Foreshore, past Queen’s Wharf to just beyond the Bus terminal, ending at a grassy knoll known as the Convict Lumber Yard. We noticed so many historical markers just along the boardwalk that we decided to backtrack to the visitor’s center realizing there was much history to be revealed here.  We picked up several brochures and meandered through the maritime museum, then walked into the older part of town where the streets become pedestrian shopping areas. The first day out we just got the lay of the land as we often do. We discovered a little gelato shop called G & G Gelato in the old town and naturally gave it a taste test. It was by far the best gelato either of us has eaten outside of Italy! It surpassed our previous favorite. We must make an effort to visit G & G again. After a while our feet grew tired so we hopped onto the free shuttle bus, which delivered us close to the Coles grocery store not far from the marina. After a quick restock we ended our day back on Destiny.

Wednesday, we decided to embark on the self-guided Heritage Walk (tour).  The tour takes visitors over 200 years back in time to an era (of strife) for the indigenous Awabakal people, Newcastle’s original Aboriginal inhabitants. There isn’t much information to be gleaned about them, so my assumption would be that they were treated the same as all Aborigines we have read about which is not something today’s Australians are proud to advertise.  The walk led us into the convict industrial working areas such as the lumber yard, and the rail depot up the hill to Fort Scratchley and its underground tunnels, then out to the ocean baths, along some of the lovely beaches, down the old piers and wharfs, through the original settlement.

We veered off the prescribed 3K-walk course so that we could also take in the Christchurch Cathedral, an imposing structure along the periphery of our tour no matter where we ventured. Because our eyes were constantly drawn to its towering bell tower, we detoured to investigate this magnificent landmark. The grounds are beautifully and lovingly maintained. The cathedral has been being restored for quite some time and looks inviting. Upon entering its cavernous sanctuary I felt awash in warmth, love and peace.  As we wandered through the naves and up toward the alter, my eyes were drawn to the remarkable pipes of the organ that proudly dominated at least one-third of the structure. I could almost hear and feel the vibration and sound of these lofty pipes that ranged in size from that of my finger to a lodge pole pine, as they stretched far up into the cathedral ceiling. Wow! We took the stairs up to the second level that housed the organist and the choir. Then we noticed the door to the bell-tower and continued onward and upward into the dark, narrow passageway that rounded and rounded on small steep flagstone steps, until we emerged some 50-yards upward into the bell room which housed several bells, chains, cranks and shafts. From there led an even narrower, steel stepped staircase through the floor above. We followed it emerging on a parapet that resembled the tower of a castle with four bastion-like structures at the corners. The view from up there was breathtaking. Descending the tower, I felt sad to leave. This cathedral had a real spiritual impact on me. As we passed the front desk, we dropped a donation into the box on our way out.

Next stop was a very late lunch at one of the historic and beautifully built local hotels that is now a restaurant/pub situated among the government and judicial buildings, where men and women dressed in flowing black robes and powder-white wigs scurried about among others in business suits carrying briefcases. We knew that this hotel must be a favorite eating and drinking hole for this crowd.  The interior was rich with dark, heavy wood, brass and marble structures. We immediately decided we liked it whether the food was good or not. The food was good. What a nice way to round out our day of exploring Newcastle. From there we just walked. It was yet a good 3 miles (5K) back to the marina. Not a bad day at all!

The next couple of days were spent – as always – getting chores done, walking a bit and then planning our next stop. The tide tables and weather determined that we would make a late morning departure for Port Stephens on May 1.