Arrived Down Under
Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
92Trip End Apr 22, 2011
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Where I stayed
Mark & Diane Gillies
The seven hour flight flew by and we managed to fit in three films, one episode of Bones and a number of glasses of Chardonnay. We arrived on time at Sydney Airport and nearly fell off our seats when the pilot announced the temperature outside was 13 degrees. We shouldn't have been surprised just before we came into land all the passengers who had boarded the plane in shorts and t-shirts like us had now changed into jeans and jackets. The Customs & Excise are very strict in Australia but they are not necessarily looking for drugs or too much duty-free, no they seemed more interested in dirt and if we had been hiking in walking boots. Lucky for us we didn’t look like major mud smugglers so we got waved through the green lane.
Fourteen years ago Gary and I were camping in Byron Bay on the East coast of Australia and Gary got chatting with an Ozzie guy called Mark at the BBQ. Mark then invited us over to their cabin for a beer and to meet the rest of the family, his wife Diane, their three boys, Diane’s brother and his wife and kids. This was the start of a wonderful friendship. When we let Mark and Diane know we were coming back to Australia again, they thoughtfully offered to pick us up from the Airport which was fantastic and very generous as it is about two and half hours away from where they live. They picked us up in a Ute which is their word for an open back truck. They have lots of great words for things out here but I will get to that a bit later on. The remainder of the evening was spent chatting and catching up before we hit the sack, sleeping back in the same room we stayed in all those years ago.
The next morning we got up to a full breakfast, eggs, bacon, mushrooms the works, all cooked on the BBQ ....delicious. As we have no warm clothes and the weather here is pretty chilly I have borrowed most of Diane’s wardrobe just to keep warm. Gary borrowed a pair of cords until we could get to the shops and buy him some jeans. We are staying in Redhead which is a small town in Newcastle on the East coast of Oz two hours outside of Sydney. They have the most beautiful natural beach here which has been left untouched, no drinks kiosks or donut stalls. This is a town where all the kids surf and every house has a surf board or three in their garage. We spent the day driving round Redhead in Marks lovingly restored VW Combie van which he originally owned thirty two years ago, sold it and then stumbled across it again twenty seven years later seriously neglected in an auction. It was in such a bad state that he couldn’t bring himself to buy it but a friend at work put a bid in for him and he won. It sat in his garage for a while until one day he started tinkering with it and then didn’t stop until it was finish. He has done an amazing job on it, all the parts are original VW parts and the van looks like new now.
We drove round to visit their boys, who are all grown up now, the eldest Adrian is married with two kids and has a fabulous house which they built a couple of years ago. This is one of the major differences between the UK and Australia the houses. Every house in the street is different and in most cases the house has been built by the owners. Most people buy the land the house is on rather than the house itself, often a shell of a house will sell for a lot of money just because it has a great view. Mark and Diane have just bought a new house. With all the kids now grown up and moved out they no longer need their fantastic 6 bedroom house they built 26 years ago. They have bought a house with a great view of the sea, but it is very run down. The plan is to live in it for a year while they build a house for their middle son Luke and his girlfriend, then knock the shabby house down and build a new two story home with amazing views of Redhead beach.
After our tour round we went back to the house and had lunch in the garden (round the pool) as the sun was out. There was a kookaburra in the tree so Gary grabbed the camera and took a photo and Mark said they these birds laugh at their own jokes. When the Kookaburra got going it sounded like he was chatting and then laughing, it was funny to hear.
The next day Mark and Diane exchanged on the new house, so we all piled into the car to go down and have a look. The house is massive, I have never seen such a big front room, there are six bedrooms, a large dining room and nice size kitchen. The house is fifty years old and hasn’t been maintained in that time, so is going to a lot of work doing to it before it’s liveable. They have until the 24th September to move out of their house so they have time to do some work to it. Gary and I have offered our skills, the few that I have, there will be plenty of painting and decorating to do so we are happy to get stuck in and help out....it’s the least we can do to repay the amount of food and beer Gary will be consuming while we stay with them.
The plan while we are here is to buy a campervan and tour round oz for a year. We have been searching on the web for dealers and private sales and have a few places to visit. We have been lent the youngest son, Jay’s, car to use as he is working in Western Australia. This is great and it’s has given us the freedom to come and go without having to rely on lifts. We went to visit a campervan dealership down the road from Redhead to get an idea of the type of camper that would suit our needs. The choice is incredible, but then again so were some of the prices. We had a look through the cheaper range but nothing interested us, they had a lot of the huge Winnebago motor homes, these are mini apartments on wheels. Each vehicle had all the essentials, separate double shower and bathroom, fridge freezer, washing machine, dishwasher, DVD, Lounge Suit, breakfast table, double bed and fitter wardrobes in the separate bedroom area. Not bad for the small cost of £100,000, just a touch outside our price range....!!!
After the campervan dealership we hit the shops to try and get Gary some warmer clothes, we went to one called Target which is their equivalent to Matalan, they also have K-Mart here which is like Wilkinson’s....can’t find anything equal to Primark yet, but I haven’t given up hope!! We had a pie for lunch, Oz is big on its pies and these ones were award winning and delicious.
That evening we sat round the fire chatting when River their Jack Russell went out and suddenly started going mad, barking at the fence. We went out to investigate and there was an enormous possum half way up the tree. They are a bit of pest here, they build nests in the eves of the house and cause damage, and having seen the size of this one I am not surprised. We enticed it down with a bread roll so we could get a better photo but I scared him with the flash and he shot up the next tree like lightning, for a chubby boy he certainly could move.
Mark had great pleasure in getting us out of bed early the next morning for our big trip to suburbs of Sydney to visit some more campervan dealers. Armed with a satnav we set off ohhing and ahhing at the sights along the way. In the short time we have been here we have been stunned by the beauty of the small piece of the country we have seen.... we really can’t wait to see the rest. Every corner you turn you’re suddenly met with a breath taking view of the sea or a hill top view of the houses below. We arrived at the first dealers and spent ages looking round, they had a great choice of campervans and most of them were in our price range. We have been looking at the Mercedes Sprinter converted campervan on-line but when we got to look at it we felt it was a bit too big. So we looked at the Renault Hi-ace’s which were fully equipped but not quite big enough. We found a Mercedes Hi-ace type van that was bigger in size, had the right mileage and was in our price range. We looked it over and then looked round at all the others again, when we came back to it and decided this was the one. We went to one more dealership just in case it had anything better to offer us but our minds were made up and we went back and bought the Merc. They couldn’t better the price but they did throw in a flat screen 17’’ TV/DVD, CD stereo with MP3 connection and 2 camping in Oz books. We pick it up next Thursday.
That evening we came home and Mark was cooking Kangaroo stakes on the fire. The food has been great, they have really fed us well while we have been here. The kangaroo was delicious much tastier than beef. Diane went to work the next day and we offered to do the cooking, I made Lasagne (no shock there) and finished off with a batch of brownies. Gary made the fire up and by the time they came home from work dinner was on and the fire was roaring.
We have had a couple of problems getting the money from the UK to Australia, the way the banks behaved you would thought we were trying to move millions of pounds rather than just twenty thousand. The only way round it was to open an Australian bank account, transfer the money into this and the get them to write a bankers cheque for the cost of the campervan. The lady in the bank was a friend of Diane’s and really helpful, it’s unbelievably easy to set an account up here. We also had the get a customer number from the RTA (DVLA) so we can register the van. We did all this in a pretty little town called Belmont which is on the edge of a large lake. We were very proud of ourselves because we managed to get from the house to Belmont and back again without the aid of the sat nav.
That night I went out with Diane and her girlfriends. They had recently been on holiday to Bali and met up with two English girls from Benfleet in Essex. These girls had come over the Australia and were staying with Julie one of Diane’s friends, so the plan was to go out for dinner and get the pommies to meet up. We went to an Indonesian restaurant that was BYO (Bring your own bottle) and the food was mouth watering. It was a fun night and great to meet Diane’s friends we all drank lots of wine and chatted. The nicest thing was to dress up and go out, luckily I am the same size shoe as Diane and she has great taste in clothes, so not only did I have her jeans, top and leather jacket on but I had a gorgeous pair of brown, leather boots to borrow.
Gary has been down the new house a few times to do bits and pieces, he has changed the glass in front door and help Mark secure all the windows and doors. I think he misses work more than he realised and is enjoying getting back on the tools.
We had a BBQ at one of the neighbour’s houses on Friday night, Ann-Marie was also at the meal the night before and it’s her sister who has the Pommie girls staying. So there was a small gathering to say goodbye to the girls as they leaving the next day. There were steaks on the Barbee and Diane had prepared a fab pasta dish and I made potato Salad (sorry Nikki I’ll send some home). It was a bonzer night our first Ozzie BBQ.
Saturday Mark was a bit crook (ill) so we had an easy day and had chip shop fish and chips for dinner. Although England is meant to be the home of fish and chips they do it so much better over here, I think the fish is just tastier. You can also buy a Pluto pup in the chippy.....saveloy!! We have had some fun with the name of things over here, some of them however are very obvious. Gary pointed out a bird with a red bill and asked want it was called.....a Red Bill obviously!! We have to stop Mark all the time to and ask him to explain what certain words mean, but a lot of the time I think he makes the words up, just to be funny......we had to Google Pluto Pup!!!
We are changing the look of the blog while we are down under. We are going to be doing more travelling day to day so we are going to make the blog more of a diary and publish it every Monday. This shouldn’t change the content too much but should make it easier for me to write it.