30th March – Brookvale/Manly, Sydney, Australia

I’d forgotten that Becky had work today and descend the stairs to an empty house. I spend the morning writing and blogging.

The sun is shining over Brookvale as I make the 20 minute walk to Health Conscious and my first yoga class since the big Jucy road trip. Izzy gently takes us through our post Easter vinyasa session, lots of muscle stretching and planking. It’s good to be back but I’m going to hurt tomorrow. Following class we are treated to healthy snacks and herbal tea. I walk home feeling awake and good about myself.

At home I prepare lunch ready for Becky to come home, then spend the rest of the afternoon writing.

When James comes home we get ready for boys night out. Becky drops us off in Manly where we walk along the corso to the harbour side and the 4 Pines brewery. With a pint of home brewed pale ale we sit out in the setting sunshine on the balcony overlooking the busy street below. James’ buddy Christian, who we bumped into in the Hunter Valley, arrives and we have a blokes evening filled with beer, conversation, BBQ pork ribs and hot chips (what the Aussies call chips!). Manly provides another beautiful pink sunset and we spot a cruise liner leaving the harbour through the trees and giant fruit bats swoop in the night sky.

In a scene from man versus food James impresses us when he orders a second plate of BBQ ribs and chips and demolishes the lot. Just watching gives me a stomach ache, think he may wake to regret that tomorrow morning. After a final pint Christian leaves and James and I get an uber taxi back home.

29th March – Brookvale/Sydney, Australia

Returning Jucy is bittersweet. It sadly marks the end of the road trip adventure but also means that I don’t have to sleep on the world’s most uncomfortable mattress again. With her delivered back to the depot, checked and given the all clear I’m on the bus heading into the city.

It’s grey, cloudy and threatening to rain but I still decide to go wandering. Alighting at Central station I make my way through Hyde Park and along Art Gallery Road leading to the Royal Botanical Gardens. I make an unplanned stop at the Art Gallery of New South Wales where I spend an hour or so admiring the art. I particularly like the exhibit of students work in the basement.

I make my way around Mrs Macquarie’s Point, spot Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, hand carved from sandstone for the Governor’s wife Elizabeth by convicts in 1810. The round the corner to see the spectacle of the opera house and harbour bridge, which, from this angle, appear to sit side by side. I continue to walk passing the elaborately dressed stage of the outdoor Sydney Opera on the Harbour. A huge dragons head and claw dominate the set and with the magnificent backdrop of the cityscape, harbour bridge and illuminated opera house must be quite the show to see.

I walk up through the botanical gardens and into the city, grab a sandwich from a cafe then sit at the ferry jetty at Circular Quay awaiting the next boat to Manly. James kindly picks me up in his ute just as it starts to rain. We go shopping in Balgowlah for food and some clothes for Finn before picking up the little man himself from daycare.

At home I prepare us all dinner, we eat, then collapse in front of the latest Hunger Games movie.

 

28th March – Cessnock, Hunter Valley/Bondi/Brookvale, Sydney, Australia

All good things must come to an end and so does our wine adventure. We pack up camp and hit the road in convoy arranging to stop for brunch in Wollombi, a small town James and Becky passed through on their way up. However, on arrival at Wollombi we have struggle parking as it would appear the whole world has descended upon the Easter Monday market. We take a stroll around the numerous stalls selling crafts, antiques, jumble, meats, organic foods and breads to name but a few. I make a beeline for coffee and we all eat a sausage bap that funds the local school. Becky buys a loaf of bread with roasted garlic cloves caramelised within and some fresh farm eggs. Finn has a little play in the park and we hit the road again.

We wind through the country roads and it’s not long before we spot the city skyline in the distance. I drop Rachel off in Bondi where Caroline loads all of the wine into her car, say a fond farewell for now, and then drive back to Brookvale. Jucy is just too nippy and I arrive home ahead of James and Becky, so FaceTime Simon from the doorstep and await their return.

I give Jucy a quick hose down as she is well dusty from our travels, put on some laundry, we eat an early dinner and have a final glass of wine with a cheeseboard in front of the tv. What a wonderful bank holiday Easter weekend.

27th March – Cessnock, Hunter Valley, Australia

During the night I have to leave Jucy’s cosy sanctum to relieve my aching bladder. As I tiptoe to the bathroom facilities in the twilight I see a little brown rabbit with a white tuft of tail hopping ahead of me on the path. Now I know I had a “special Nimbin cookie” before bed, and perhaps I was still half asleep, but I cannot help but think that it was the Easter bunny – it is Easter Sunday after all. Just saying.

Lining our stomachs with a camp cooked full English is just the ticket for today, Easter Sunday’s full day of wine tasting around the Hunter Valley’s finest winery estates. We begin with a wander around the Hunter Valley Gardens Village with an inaugural coffee and encourage Finn to wear himself out in the children’s play park. James has pulled the short straw as designated driver allowing Becky, Rachel and I freedom to wine taste to our hearts content.

We start at McGuigans Cellar Door. Wine tasting is free, small wine glasses are lined up on the bar and we are offered perusal of a long list of available wines. We begin with the whites, a snifter of wine is poured by the sommelier with flamboyant gesturing and graphic descriptive explanation of grapes and years, tastes and aromas, food pairings and prices. We nod, I pretend to understand, then we all swirl and sniff, sip and swallow, nod some more, sip some more before moving on to the next wine. In between wines we drink water to cleanse our palate. I’m listening intently to what the barman is saying but when I mishear him describe a wine as “herbaceous”, I agree with him that it’s a sexy wine that tastes very “curvaceous”, I’m laughed at and so continues my day filled with embarrassing wine descriptions.

At the next winery, Tempus Two of the Roche Estate, I describe a wine as “nonoffensive”, but with hindsight I think that could be interpreted as an offensive description. The wines are beginning to take effect and I purchase a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes really nice, but more importantly the label on the bottle is lovely!

On the same estate is The Smelly Cheese Shop, James joins us for some local cheese tasting. All of the cheeses we try are delicious and we leave with a couple to enjoy later back at camp. Following cheese tasting what could be lovelier than heading to Petersons Champagne House for a round of bubbly tasting served by a very attractive sommelier. We sip on sparkling whites, pinks and even sparkling reds. I’m not usually a fan of champagne, perhaps it’s because I’m in wine country, perhaps it’s the company, or perhaps I’m finally becoming sophisticated, these sparkles are lovely. Perhaps I’m just drunk!

Lunch has been booked by James and Becky, we drive to the Hunters Quarter @ Cockfighters vineyard. For only the third time in my life I try oysters again, jury is still out, I just don’t get them, then for about the millionth time in my life I enjoy fish and chips wrongly accompanied by Pinot noir, but at this point in the day who’s caring? We can’t leave Cockfighters without sampling some more of their fine wines so, while James entertains Finn, we enter their Cellar Door. The wines are lovely and I leave with a bottle of delicious Semillon.
With our fill of wines and a ute now carrying about 40 bottles (only 2 of which I can stake claim) we are driven back to camp. In order to wear out a very patient Finn who, for the most part, has been on best behaviour all day, Becky, Rachel and I take him for a swim. The water is cool and sobering.

For dinner, Becky makes pizzas and James bakes them on a special stone on the BBQ! Remarkable. They taste so good, smoky and crisp. We, of course, wash them down with a Merlot from today’s many purchases before the cheese board makes a welcome appearance. James heads to bed early and the rest of us drink wine and play cards until long blinking suggests it’s time to turn in.

 

26th March – Tamworth/Cessnock, Hunter Valley, Australia

Fully fuelled, Jucy with a tank of unleaded premium 91 and us with cups filled with caffeinated coffee $4, we’re all ready to hit the road. Rachel takes the driving seat and I the passenger, navigating our next leg of the road trip journey to the Hunter Valley – wine country. We have three hours on the road today and it passes quickly. I keep in regular contact with James and Becky, who arrived in Cessnock yesterday, and are busy searching for a nice lunch spot for our reunion.

We meet at Lindemans, a large winery with a lovely cafe attached. We sample a glass of their finest and catch up over wood fired pizzas. The next vineyard we visit is Audrey Wilkinson, a pretty winery set amongst line upon line of creeping vines . As designated Jucy driver I forego the wine tasting in favour of entertaining Finley in the beautifully manicured grounds.

The next stop on our mini wine tour is the Hanging Tree vineyard, a boutique winery that handpicked their grapes and only sells the wine they produce at their cellar door shop. The gang try the homemade tipples while I chase Finn around the garden. Slightly drunken purchases are made after almost ten bottles have been poured and sampled. I am well looking forward to tomorrow when I’ll be passenger and eager to get my hands on the vino!

Back at camp I park Jucy next to James and Becky’s impressive trailer tent set up and we crack open a bottle from today’s many purchases. And so the tone is set for the rest of the evening. We chat over wine and a delicious take out from the local Thai restaurant, then munch on our “special cookie” Easter treat before turning in for the night giggling!

25th March – Armidale/Apsley/Tia/Tamworth

Contrary to TLC’s 90’s smash hit advice that blares out of Jucy’s speakers we do go chasing waterfalls this morning leaving the rivers and lakes that we’re used to in Armidale. The friendly lady at the camp’s reception advised us to head to the Apsley Falls as the closer falls in the region have run dry. We stop for a coffee in sleepy Uralla, once a gold mining town, but now quiet and the once grand buildings rundown housing Subways.

On arrival at our destination of natural beauty we are devastated to discover that the Apsley Falls too have not even a trickle of water. The vast canyon is nevertheless impressive as is the echo it creates as I shout out from the precarious lookout reached by descending a steep wooden staircase.

We debate whether to turn back and begin our southerly drive to Tamworth, but Rachel finds the Tia Falls on the map, not far from here, so we head there with little hope of finding a waterfall today. We follow the signs turning off the main road onto a dirt and rubble track that takes us 7 km to a picnic area near the falls. We read the displayed information that gives some facts and history about the falls and also the wildlife we can expect to encounter. The funnel web spiders particularly catch my eye and keep me on high alert as we walk the forest footpath to the falls lookout. We already know that our search for a waterfall is triumphant as we can hear the powerful sound of falling water away in the distance. The Tia falls are far bigger than I was anticipating and cascade from a steep canyon. The gorge itself is gorgeous. Lush and green, meandering off into the distant haze.

We lunch at the picnic spot then begin our journey, retracing our drive for a little while before heading to Tamworth. The road takes us up through the mountains and down steep inclines that warn trucks and buses that a stop bed is located halfway down should their breaks fail.

After a long drive we pull into the Tamworth Paradise Tourist Park (I guess different people have different ideas on what makes paradise!), find our spot, do a brief park reccy, then walk into town. Tamworth appears to be a hub of car sales showrooms. The Woolworths supermarket has closed early for Good Friday and I begin to worry that the only place to eat is McDonalds. Fortunately we stumble upon the high street of closed clothes shops and, thankfully, the Pig and Tinder Box, a trendy wine bar and restaurant with live music. We circumnavigate the rest of the street to get a feel for the place, then settle outside the bar to liven to the guitarist singing, he has an obsession with all things Stereophonics. I drink local beer and eat dinner in the perfect people watching seat. As the evening progresses Tamworth comes alive with diners.

Back at camp I manage to connect to Netflix so we can watch Reservoir dogs in the back of Jucy with a beer and some peanuts.

24th March – Byron Bay/Nimbin/Armidale

Rachel gets a lay in today while I’m out foraging for coffee and pastries. The Road into Byron is already busy with Bluesfest ticket holders making a long Easter weekend visit. It’s the reason we had to move the dates of our stay here and sadly our time in Byron has come to an end already.

We pack up Jucy and hit the road. Rachel takes the first driving stint as we make our way out of Byron Bay heading inland. The roads are winding and mountainous, the landscape is lush and green and could easily be mistaken for the UK. Driving through forests the trees make way for delightful views of the undulating countryside. We pass mountains and farmlands on our journey to Nimbin, just before we arrive we spot a huge snake in the road, victim to a previous motorist.

Nimbin is an eccentric little town. Once home to the Aquarius Festival in the 70’s, some hippie festival goers decided to stay and continue living the festival’s ethos, making Nimbin their home. The town has become somewhat infamous on the Australian travelling circuit for their lax laws for all things marijuana.

On arrival, in under a minute, I have already been approached by a sleepy grinning local asking if I’m looking to buy any weed. The town is full of colourful friendly characters, colourful shops, colourful slogans – Nimbin is colourful, multicoloured in fact, the rainbow spectrum catches your eye from every direction, be it a tie-dye t-shirt, a sarong, a painted fence, a hat, a hippie’s hair. It is as if we have entered a bubble in the countryside where ganja smoke is pumped into the air. Everyone is jovial and happy. Almost every shop sells weed paraphernalia, bongs, rizla, rolling mats… Even the local coffee shop is called StarBuds! We enjoy walking along the street popping in and out of the funny Boutiques and organic food shops. Before long we’ve got the munchies, and it’s not from dabbling with the local herb speciality! We risk eating lunch at a little coffee shop. I hope that that’s rocket in my salad! I’ve got a four and a half hour drive to go!

After lunch we walk back along the opposite side of the road where some old time freethinkers continue to question political agendas with regard to legalising marijuana. Informative placards encourage passersby to question too. One flower-power nonconformist writes in chalk on the pavement where the random drug driving tests are taking place today to warn the locals.

Nimbin is fun and I’m glad we’ve visited, and although we weren’t tempted to purchase a bag of weed we may just have bought some “special chocolate cookies” from an inanely smiling nana (who doesn’t just sell homegrown pumpkins) to have at Easter! Watch this space.

Our drive onwards is long but beautiful. Rachel gets tired so I drive the next four hours through what has been dubbed New England. It is so pretty.

On arriving in Armidale we pop to Coles, the supermarket, for essential supplies. On spotting our less than inconspicuous bright green and purple Jucy camper van a friendly gent in the car park calls me over to the open window of his 4×4, “where you from?”, he asks in his Aussie drawl, “The UK”, I politely respond. With that he takes my hand in a tightly squeezed handshake, “Welcome to Armidale, have a merry… I mean happy Easter!”.

At the campsite we cook Heston Blumenthal burgers. We borrow a dvd from the reception’s limited collection and settle down for cinema night in Jucy, eating popcorn and watching Enigma, a very old film about wartime code breaking with a young Kate Winslet. The film is rubbish but the novelty of watching it on our ceiling mounted drop down tv is amazing!