Thursday, January 31, 2019

Australia and New Zealand – a look back at three months down under!

Back in Colorado for just two weeks, it’s proving hard to comprehend that we just spent three months down under. Australia holds a special place in both of our hearts, but this time, Margo and I found it tough handling Colorado’s wintery welcome after so much time under the blazing Aussie sun! As we flew out of Denver, all those months ago, the view from our plane was sunny and quite breathtaking despite what we knew were the conditions on the ground: Bring on the sunshine and warmth!

Then again, this trip to sunny down under was always going to be about optimizing our time and, faced with the potential of having to make three separate trips to Australia, it was enough reason to combine potentially many flights into a single trip. As for timing, knowing full well that we would be away over the Thanksgiving Weekend, Christmas and then New Year’s Eve, it only seemed fair to squeeze in time with my family while focused on business, for the most part.

However, to respond to numerous questions we have received upon our return to Colorado then no, we have no plans whatsoever in returning to Australia on a full time basis – we will do our best to visit as often as we can but with the passage of time, the flights between continents remain a daunting exercise. Furthermore, we have no intentions either in dabbling in Sydney’s real estate market. Purchase of a vacation condo makes little sense despite our fondness for travel, so any thoughts of going down that path have been irrevocably squashed. A future where we are retired will be most definitely anchored in the US remembering that we already have a vacation home albeit on wheels; yes our RV that will at some point revert to our ownership once we step back from full time work.

Friends! Yes, we took advantage of our time in Australia and New Zealand to catch up with family, friends and business acquaintances – good people with whom we just haven’t had time in the past to talk to at length and cover topics ranging from my early days in IT to where we did some crazy things like “slalom driving” around and between the cones on Sydney’s Harbor Bridge late one night.  

After five long years away from Sydney, there was no doubting how much we had missed the place and on arrival, my brother Greg picked us up at the airport and drove us to Manly Beach. We walked along the foreshore before enjoying lunch atop the harbor’s North Head.  The sights and sounds that greeted us open our minds to a flood of memories that once activated just kept on coming – how many times had we dined at Shelly Beach’s Le Kiosk? Well, no more unfortunately as what was a good place for fine dining has succumbed to the reality that fast-food sells a whole lot better.

It would be our plan to divide our time down under into five distinct periods – time with brother Greg as his guests in their suburban condo in Beecroft followed by an extended stay with my high school mate Dave at his amazing home atop Bilgola Plateau. Thanksgiving Week would see us board the Majestic Princess for a short trip down to Tasmania followed be an opportunistic schedule of the same ship that took us over a weekend to New Zealand and then back again just a weekend later and where we were able to catch up with colleagues and clients in both Auckland and Tauranga.

On our return, another stay with Greg meant we were with family for Christmas and the New Year before finally checking into the Westin on Martin Plaza for the first couple of weeks of January at which point, it was pretty much back to business before returning to Colorado. As for that travel day back to our Windsor home it just happened to be scheduled to coincide with our twentieth wedding anniversary so the day, courtesy of the International Date Line, lasted for thirty plus hours!

Perhaps to best answer the many questions directed our way is to provide a review of where we went, where we stayed, what we ate, drove and sailed and yes, and what we heard. When it came to air travel we really enjoyed the time spent on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner that United uses for flights between continents.

Being in Economy Plus doesn’t mean a whole lot these days but the flight was quiet and the service rather good – have we already described the return flight where we were served champagne, in real glasses, along with cupcakes and other treats all “borrowed” from first class? A very nice touch that helped cement that this day was a major milestone for Margo and me. As for travel once we were down under then we pretty much sampled it all! From planes to trains to automobiles along with a variety of seagoing vessels, it was a very mixed lot with experiences to match.

When it came to boats then hands-down, the day on the harbor spent with our good friends Dieter and Chris aboard their Riviera 50’ motor yacht – along with champagne followed by chicken and chardonnay really spoilt is for all else that followed. We had our daughter Anna and son-in-law Erich along for the ride - priceless!

Many thanks to Dieter and Chris for extending to us hospitality on a scale we weren’t really expecting. And it just so happened that we were on Sydney’s harbor as the big maxi yachts were preparing for the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. What a spectacle! When it came time to leave the yacht we were somewhat reluctant to do so, but then again, that’s what makes time with friends and family out on the water so special – you have to enjoy it all in the moment as it happens!

So, in no particular order, but with some friendly clues already provided, here’s where we stood with respect to what we did and saw as we now look back at this sojourn down under.

Restaurants: (1) Bennelong (2) Fish on the Rocks (3) Tied with two Merival’s restaurants making the cut – Felix and Bert’s Bar and Restaurant. This last reference to Bert’s counts as it was the venue from which we watched the running of the Melbourne Cup with David and where, Margo’s horse naturally won! As for the Bennelong with Peter Gilmore as Executive Chef, we have to admit we were a little apprehensive as, back in 2013, we had dined at Gilmore’s other, perhaps even more famous restaurant, the Quay. On that occasion we were left somewhat disappointed (with the menu) but not this time! Gilmore excelled and the diner left us not wanting anything more and did we mention the martinis? Fabulous! As for the location, under the sails of the Sydney Opera House as the afternoon sun began to set, with views of the Harbor Bridge, what more can I say? Again, fabulous!

Vessels: (1) Dieter’s Riviera 50, (2) Majestic Princess, (3) Magistic Cruises dinner cruise on New Year’s Eve. A special mention goes out to the operators of Sydney’s Thunder Jet Boat that came as a surprise Christmas gift from brother Greg and sister-in-law, Robyn. To spend time on two vessels named Majestic - yes that is the little one passing bigger brother in the photo below - even if one of them has taken the liberty to spell Magistic, was a treat, but the Princess Cruise was a time to unwind at a time when each day was simply running into the next.

We also spent a lot of time on different vessels of the harbor ferry service including the Manly Ferry, the local Ferry cats as well as the Fast Ferry service and they took us practically everywhere we wanted to go inside the harbor. Then again, Sydney is all about its harbor so it’s no surprise then to read about just how many times we went on the water or about how many different vessels we chose to ride.

When it came to transportation then there may be a couple of surprises install: (1) Sydney Transportation (Opal Card), (2) Lap of Bathurst Mt Panorama race course in a street Lexus, (3) Run down the infamous Comenarra Parkway in a HSV prepped HSV GTO. Special mention needs to be made of Greg’s VW GTi as well as to David’s beautiful turned out Mercedes Benz A45 AMG (I think that was the AMG model with dive planes, spoiler and rear wing / diffuser). Then again, wasn't it our local Pizza Bar owner, Tony with his BMW X6M and Ferrari California T that took the cake, literally, when it comes to cars? Tony occupied a store practically underneath Greg's apartment. Did we say cake? Tony provided us with one of the best cheese cakes we have ever eaten ... anywhere! Thanks Tony! 

Have to mention in passing too that we were picked up at our hotel and then entertained for a day by our good friend Kevin who arrived at the Westin behind the wheel of a very serious off-road Mitsubishi the likes of which I just haven’t seen anywhere in the US. But if you want to spend time wandering around in the Simpson Desert or worse, then he has the transportation you must have before entertaining any such idea!

What was most unusual about this trip down under was that we went there with no intentions of renting a car and depended upon public transportation whenever we could and we really liked the integrated approach to ticketing – all you need is the Opal Card – and yes, the ease with which we could call up a Uber ride any time we needed a car ride. No discussion about cars would be complete without some references made to where we went. Greg drove us to a weekend retreat at Port Stevens and Newcastle, north of Sydney.

We saw camels strolling along the dunes by the beach, a Santa Clause dressed in northern hemisphere’s winter attire walking (and sweltering) along the seashore and yes, we even paid a visit to the Air Force fighter museum. Sister Judy drove us down the south coast to see how Wollongong, the city where I first began work in IT, had faired in the intervening fifty-odd years but no, I didn’t recognize the place. It was Greg and Robyn who drove us out west to Robyn’s family farm at Forbes with side trips to Bathurst, Parkes and Cowra and that too was a revelation as we saw firsthand the impact this latest drought was having on the farming community.

Events: Topping the list it would have to be New Year’s Eve spent aboard the Magistic (for seven plus hours), tolerating the continuous pouring of reasonably drinkable Aussie “champagne” ducking, in and out of the viewing deck as thunderstorms wreaked havoc before the fireworks began, was a pretty good way to ring in the New Year. And then there were the fireworks themselves – amazing and living up to everything we had previously seen on television. However, in second place had to be the time spent on sister-in-law, Robyn’s family farm outside Forbes.

Witnessing a mob of sheep being driven down the driveway as we entered the homestead proper was a treat. Surprisingly, in third place had to be our very quiet almost private tour of both the state of New South Wales houses of parliament – what a surprise to be able to stand at the State Premier’s lectern and to sit upon the Speaker’s Chair.

As for the third event well, it had to be the tour my sister Judy provided us of Wollongong and it’s surrounds as it was where I first began my career in IT. Agghhhh - the memories – mostly of abject poverty as I first tried living on my own on a computing cadetship paying $40 per week and of riding my motorcycle up the Illawara Highway to Robertson on a Friday evening without a working headlamp!

As far as where we stayed during out time down under then it came down to making some tough decisions: (1) A tie between The Anchorage Hotel and Spa, Port Stevens, and The Westin, Sydney, (3) David’s Bilgola Plateau. We visited Dieter and Chris in their penthouse unit in Balmoral and we thought the place was fantastic!. However, it was the multiple occasions that we called Greg’s condo home and where we set up office during our extended time in Sydney, bringing with it memories of family times long ago that have been lost in time, that we treasure the most – I was reminded, more than once, that I hadn’t spent this much time with my brother… ever! Ouch … have to rectify that situation in the coming years!

And then again, perhaps its best left to reminiscing over time spent with daughter Lisa together with Greg and our whole family over Christmas lunch. Seated as we were on his deck, enjoying a very typical feast for that time of year complete with an Aussie Pavlova and yes, a jar of Vegemite, it was hard to think about our family and friends back in Colorado where the weather was the polar opposite. Can’t recall if we were given any news about Colorado enjoying a white Christmas or not – but then again, there would be little doubt that in a matter of a few short weeks, we would be back there, chilled and somewhat stirred (by our memories). Whatever happened to those three months? All we can say, thinking once more of the memories we made, priceless!


Craig Lawrance said...

Looks like you had a very special time Richard!

Craig Lawrance said...

Looks like you had a superb time down under Richard

Richard said...

We sure did Craig and already it seems so long ago - just got back from Germany so check the latest post just published.