Sydney, Central Coast & Blue Mountains

My last week in Australia started with an early flight from Gold Coast to Sydney. I was met by a smiling cousin Jan — once we found each other in the pick-up parking maze.  This was her first week as a retiree from her decades at a full-time job.  Like many of us who find that retirement is also a full time job and sometimes more demanding than the job with the pay check, Jan will be busy. We started off by visiting with a couple of her adult sons and a grandson, and strolling down to the local Balmoral Beach with them.


After a long wait for take-away we returned to Jan’s car up a very long, steep hill.  She heard that I liked to walk, and walk we did!  It also happened to be one of the hotter days so we needed to pause now and then. Back at Fergus’ apartment the three of them got busy with their mobile phones trying to find tickets to a performance at the Opera House. Nearly everything was booked for the days I had left. What a team effort!  We had no idea what we ended up with, just happy to find anything.


The next morning Jan and I drove up to Killdare Beach in the Central Coast area north of Sydney. Her cousin, Wendy, lives nearby and she and her husband Colin and their dog Poco were waiting for us at the Surfers’ Club Cafe on the beach, along with an old time jazz band which played until noon.


Wendy, Jan and I also took a short hike to an overlook of Hardy Bay, the local harbour.


The following day Jan and I visited the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney. We toured a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, as well as a famous destroyer, the Vampire, complete with canons and guns, and finally the freighter James Craig.

Replica of Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour 
Jan and Orysia on the James Craig

We also climbed to the top of an old lighthouse re-located from Bowling Green.  We then met with Anthea, a visiting friend of Jan’s, for lunch on the wharf. Our order came very late (they actually forgot about us) so we were given complimentary drinks and an extra dish of food (calamari) to share. Jan and I managed to return to her home on the train without falling asleep and missing our stop (all that fresh air, climbing up and down the lighthouse and ships on a warm day followed by 2 drinks). We took a nap, then prepared dinner for Jan’s family, a weekly affair apparently. That day her sons Robert and Tom and Tom’s wife Sharon came over, so now I’ve met the entire brood.

The next day Jan and I drove into the Blue Mountains to view the Three Sisters rock formation and hike along the top of an escarpment to a water fall.

Three Sisters


Jan descending some of the many steps on the track to the falls

We dined at the Boiler House Restaurant next to the Hydro Majestic Hotel, some of which was roped off for a movie set.  But which movie??  We finished our day with a short hike at Govett’s Leap before returning to Jan’s home in Beecroft.

My final day in Australia was a full on cultural experience. We began by taking the train to the heart of Sydney and the Shangri La Hotel, where Jan made New Year’s Eve reservations for some of her local and Canadian family.  While waiting for the paperwork we indulged in coffee and a fancy melt-in-your-mouth chocolate-covered mousse roll.



Before and after cake…….

Reinforced with caffeine and chocolate, we strolled over to the Royal Botanic Gardens and were suitably impressed with the huge and varied ferns, flowers and especially the Moreton Bay Fig tree.

Check out those huge brown fiddle heads, my east coast Maritime friends!


Giant insects and trees (Moreton Bay Fig above)


We toured the Museum of Art en route to the Sydney Opera House. The display of aboriginal paintings appealed to my colour senses. An appetizer for the play we were to watch after dinner at the Opera House Cafe.

Aboriginal art at the Museum

The one hour performance called Chrysalis was produced by a new theatre company that includes disabled, including non-verbal, actors.  Impressive!

I was not as sad as I thought I might be, leaving this beautiful, highly diverse country, in many ways not so different from Canada.  I was not sad to say goodbye to a number of wonderful new friends (and relatives) because I knew I would have to return.  This was a sampler tour.  I’ll be back for the main course!


Gold Coast and the Hinterlands

On November 7th I received a warm welcome from Jan’s sister, Sue Lassen, who lives in Gold Coast, north of Sydney. Cousin Sue and I decided on a plan for the week – while she was at work and I would be touring the area.

View from Sue’s condo which is in the middle of a golf course, with the city of Broadbeach on the Pacific coast in the distance.  Surfer’s Paradise is further off to the left, outta sight.
Rainbow over the golf course, Jacaranda tree in full bloom, a beautiful path around the course to walk Sue’s little dog, Gus

I took a Byron Bay Tour the next morning, November 8th, a rainy, windy day with spectacular vistas and a non-stop commentary from the tour guide/driver.

Hastings Point Headland, furthermost point of land on the east coast of Australia
Lighthouse above Byron Bay, with a lovely cafe where we took refuge in a sudden downpour
A wild day for the surfers at Byron Bay
The Natural Bridge and cave in Springbrook National Park. Behind me, inside the cave, glow worms and small bats clung to the ceiling, best observed at night I was told

On Friday I had a private rainforest tour with Kaylene Whitely in Springbrook National Park. Another soggy day to explore the falls at Natural Bridge and Purling Brook Falls. During one downpour we enjoyed freshly baked lemon cake and mocha at the Rosella Café. Later I saw the work of strangling fig vines which, over time, have ‘devoured’ entire trees.


On the path to ‘Best Ever Lookout’ Kaylene pointed out ancient Antarctic beech trees and her favourite, the ‘sentinel’ trees standing straight and tall and evenly spaced as if they had been planted that way.


Once at the lookout the fog was too thick to see beyond our out held hands, so when the skies opened up again it was a dash back up the track to the car. That evening Sue, Gus and I visited the Spit near Surfers’ Paradise. There were very few other people on our walk to the jetty and along the beach, with spectacular views back toward Broadbeach.  IMG_1748


Looking back at Broadbeach from The Spit – surreal view.


On Saturday, November 11th, Sue and I drove up to Mt. Tamborine. At O’Reilly’s we were surrounded by friendly parrots, lovely villas and hanging bridges over tree-tops on our rainforest walk.



We had a hot tasty lunch at the North Tamborine pub with live music. The local ‘Fortitude’ ginger beer was awesome. Then we toured the Mt. Tamborine Botanic Gardens. It was a gorgeous walk with with brooks, ponds and bridges and many shrubs, flowering plants and trees eg booyong.





I bade cousin Sue and Gus farewell early Sunday morning, returning to Sydney and cousin Jan.  The adventure continues….


Sydney- November 4-6

Purple jacaranda petals cover the walk from Jan’s Beecroft home to the train station nearby

When I arrived in Sydney on November 4, Jan Armstrong was waiting for me at the airport. Jan is a second cousin of the wife of my brother-in-law, so we decided I’d be a ‘cousin’ also since our relationship was too complicated to explain easily. She took me on a quick rainy tour of Bondi Beach before returning to her home in Beecroft, northwest of the city.  Jan explained the train system so I could go into the city on my own. I headed into Sydney the next morning, to join a free walking tour of the city.

Mocha and chocolate crepe cake at a Japanese cafe 

Before the tour I visited a cafe and had a mocha with a Japanese crepe cake – 12 melt-in-your-mouth layers of alternating crepe and chocolate mousse.  The tour passed through QVB (Queen Victoria Building), ANZAC monument from WWII, several gorgeous fountains, The Rocks. I also learned the history of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge where we ended the tour on Circular Quay.  Afterwards I visited the Museum Contemporary Art (Echidna below made of clay and wood) and watched the action on Circular Quay (see Sydney Opera House and cruise ship below).


Metal piggy sculptures at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Interior of the QVB and Paradise Tea Room

Monday I met with Fiona Papps for a Greek lunch near Town Hall.  Over the next 1.5 hours we did our best to catch up on the last 6 years, the last time we saw each other on PEI.  Later I had tea at the Paradise Tea Room in the QVB (Queen Victoria Building). I also discovered Haigh’s Chocolates in the QVB, in particular the cardamom dark chocolate. Yummm!

Sydney adventures will resume after my visit to Gold Coast with host, ‘cousin’ Sue. Stay tuned.



While the weather in PEI is normally chilly and messy this time of year, it seems they have had a lovely warm fall. Meanwhile, I was expecting hot weather in the southern hemisphere but it’s been non-stop chilly (except for one 30 C day in Tassie). But what has thawed me out is the warm reception I get everywhere I go. In Melbourne I’ve been staying with Sally Land, a good friend of my sister-in-law’s family (thank you Terri Lou!). And here is one of the critters that greeted me at Sally’s home when I arrived:

This little fella resides in the back garden

And here is more of the back garden scenery:


An amazing fence of woven brush, the rest being made of rock. The house and original surrounding walls were built by Sally’s grandparents in the 1930’s


Sally et al. also own a farm or two where they raise beef cattle. I had the great opportunity to visit two of the farms and an auction at a cattle market.

A view from the house looking over the farm and beyond, situated north of Melbourne


Sally in her Aussie work clothes and checking out the cattle at the market

Lots of farm gates to open and close as we walked to far pastures checking on the cattle, and especially looking for newborn calves. Rosie the Border Collie is supervising as usual
And here’s the proof I was there.  I did my bit to help — holding tools, binoculars and watching Sally work.
A visitor to the feeder just outside the farm house

And now for some city touring, beginning with the Melbourne Museum.

One of the tapestries on display at the Melbourne Museum
Part of the artistic antique barbed wire display – beautiful torture?


I also took a 4.5 hour guided bike tour of the heart of downtown Melbourne and along the Yarra River. Here I am in an alley covered in street art aka graffiti. Can you spot the Canuck?


Our group, which included visitors from Holland, Hungary and two other Canadians, had lunch at Grub, a quirky restaurant off a tiny lane near Brunswick Street.


Art adorned the walls of buildings around and on the restaurant.

A mermaid at the aquarium ignores the fish, rays and sharks that swim past her

After the bike ride I visited the Melbourne Aquarium. I was sad not to see octopus on display, but happy that they were free in the ocean (except for the ones that ended up in restaurants).


Can you spot the sea dragons?  Now this is Mother Nature’s artistry at its best.


Are they showing off, admiring their reflections, or laughing at all the crazy kids’ antics on the other side?  Do penguins have a sense of humour? I like to think so.


Every day Sally and I have been taking Rosie and ourselves for a brisk walk in the hood or on the farms, but today my host had city chores galore so just Rosie and I took a tour of local parks and streets. Tomorrow I fly to Sydney and Gold Coast to meet more of Terri Lou’s family and friends, and wrap up my Aussie tour 😦

Picnic at Opossum Bay

On my last Friday in Tasmania, Libby Goodsir invited a few writers to a potluck picnic at her lovely home in Opossum Bay. The sun shone, the winds were relatively calm, a perfect day on the beach. One of our group, Helen, was brave enough to swim. The rest of us were content to dip our toes in the chilly spring water and sit on the sand or absorb the warmth of sun-heated tessellated rock.


Still a bit too cool to put on a bather, but my feet are naked!


Ioanna and Libby in deep conversation


Kathryn communing with the earth


The Opossum Bay view of Mt. Wellington at a distance, in the centre

And now for a few Hobart scenes taken the next day, before I left.


I took a walk in this lovely park so near to the flat where I’d stayed for 4 weeks.




Then I took a last walk along the wharves at the Hobart waterfront. The sculptures were in honour of the Antarctic explorers who sailed far south to the bottom of the world.




And then my walk back to the flat along the water, in front of the CSIRO research buildings.


A desert-like bush on the left, a wispy she-oak on the right.



Looking past a she-oak on the right to a cluster of sailboats on a race day

Farewell Tasmania – I am sad to leave this beautiful place and all the new friends I have made.  I must return some day.


Orysia goes to work…

As part of the residency I agreed to run a half day workshop and do a public reading.  My workshop was called ‘Animal Tales’ – a discussion of writing about animals or using them as characters in any genre – fiction, memoir, poetry, whether the animals were real or imagined fantastical creatures. Ten brave women registered and we dove in on Sunday morning for 3 hours of discussion, intense writing, more discussion and lovely readings by participants. I know that at least a few of them (from novice writers to published authors) came away with fresh ideas and new skills and perspectives. I always learn from the people in workshops whether I’m taking it or giving it.


A scene from Cornelian Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon

Afterwards my friend Ioanna and I drove up to Cornelian Bay to enjoy the sunny afternoon. There were parents with kids running or in strollers, puppies being walked and socialized, lovers holding hands all along the beach. Or, like us, sitting on the grass overlooking the sandy beach eating crispy squid, salad and hot chips. Later we took a walk on a dirt track above the beach and behind a row of fancy boat sheds, with decks out front facing the river, set up to entertain or spend the night, which is not allowed, officially.


Exploring behind the boat sheds, Cornelian Bay


That evening, back at my flat, I watched in awe as the research vessel Aurora Australis chugged past, possibly off to Antarctica for another season.


Early the next morning, walking through Salamanca to my Pilates class, I was treated to another splendid sight. Ahead of me, lit up by the rising sun and snuggled under a white cloud shawl was the noble Mt. Wellington. I had to stop, breathe in that cool air and be amazed at the spectacle.


Another ooooommmmm moment in Salamanca

That evening I was back at Hadley’s Orient Hotel to take part in the Tasmanian Writers Centre quarterly event, Seasonal Poets. My public reading, folded into this event, was to follow two accomplished, published poets – Jane Williams and Anne Kellas. Beautiful poems, thought-provoking, humorous, sad – the entire spectrum of human emotions and experiences in two twenty minute bites. In between there were refreshments, book sales and swapping. I will be leaving my books behind and bringing new ones home with me. I ended the evening reading five poems and an excerpt from my young people’s novel, Kira’s Secret – high drama of course! It was a fantastic, well-attended event, lots of smiles on people’s faces as they headed home.


Two hard-working, competent women, Chris Gallagher and Marion Stoneman, from the Tasmanian Writers Centre, organized the Seasonal Poets event and many workshops and festivals for the Tasmanian writing community.

Afterwards I headed off to the Urban Greek restaurant with Gina Mercer and Ann Collins. Another extraordinary, shared meal – prawns with spinach, leeks, fennel and cherry tomatoes, charcoal octopus, zucchini croquettes, moussaka and the desserts – incredible! I was meant to be there, my zodiac sign, Taurus rearing behind me on the wall. I ordered a drink with Mastic liqueur, ginger beer and lime, delivered in a copper tankard. It was delicious though I don’t think I really tasted much of the Mastic. I suppose anything would have tasted great – I was delighted to be where I was, with what I’d accomplished so far and who I was with. A perfect end to the day.


On Tuesday I had another artist’s date with poet Sarah. We met at the Tasmanian Museum and Gallery to see the Derwent River exhibit – consisting of still photos taken 4 times each day, for 21 months, by several cameras situated along numerous sites from the St. Clair lake reservoir to just past Hobart. The views covered daylight and night, all the seasons and shifting weather conditions. The third room of the exhibit had 4 screens from different uninhabited (by humans) locations showing non-stop videos and sounds of the river. We could have remained in that darkened room for much longer, enjoying the sounds of the water and birds, but were rudely interrupted by the announcement that the museum was closing for the day. Sigh. It was pouring rain outside so we decided to have some tea and cake at a café, and got to talking and forgetting the time altogether. That cost Sarah a $40 parking fine, rather steep but she said it could have been $80. Free museum, expensive parking in Hobart. Since I can easily walk to the museum I plan to return to take in some of the other exhibits. I still have 4 days left in paradise.…