Catching a wave

In classic fashion, the first night of 2023 was a very short one, making the 1st of January a bit of a write off apart from a load of washing here and some quick repairs there. Our broken handpump was no match for our host Zev’s handy hands and a generous blob of food grade silicone made it good as new. Henk saw his first vacuum cleaner since we became his proud owners and shed about a kilo of sand, sticks and stones that we had gathered between Perth and Canberra, and retrieved a large volume of crumbs from Piet’s child seat. With all the odd jobs taken care of we spent the next afternoon on Lake Burley Griffin enjoying our first ever stand up paddle (SUP) board session. Bex didn’t bring any swim attire, but was nevertheless keen to go for a paddle to show us how it was done. She effortlessly glided along the surface of the lake, until she was forced to navigate the floating barrier demarcating the swimming area. As she tried to cross the rope the fin underneath the board got stuck, stopping it dead in the water. Our experienced SUP(er)star used her momentum to dive gracefully into the water with all her clothes on, because hey…you mightn’t be able to control every situation, but you can control your reaction to it! As I mounted the board dark clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, turning my body into an involuntary sail. I struggled my way against the wind towards the rope, sat down and guided it over top of the board, with the wind in my back I paddled back effortlessly, like I’d never done anything else in my spare time. After spending some quality time in the nations capital we said our farewells and set our eyes on Australia’s biggest and arguably most famous city.

Sydney has always held a special place in my imagination, starting in primary school, when we were handed a notebook with the panoramic view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House on it’s cover and back. Standing in front of these famous landmarks for the first time as an 18 year old backpacker, I remember being in awe by the sight of them, serving as a physical reminder of just how far I’d travelled, filling me with an enormous sense of pride and excitement. After visiting Sydney for the first time together as a couple in 2018, Ireen and I share these warm and fuzzy feelings for this iconic place. This year we would double down on these emotions by returning for the first time as a family! But before we could return to the CBD, we first had to take care of Henk. We drove to a caravan park in the South of the city, in walking distance of the mechanics where Henk was booked in for a service. The campsite had a bit of a construction site vibe to it, due to a mini tornado ripping through the toilet block and camp kitchen only a few weeks prior. The repairs were still ongoing and a temporary toilet block had been trucked in to replace the one destroyed by the heavy weather. With rain and thunderstorms predicted for the next couple of days, it looked like bad weather was set to return. Early the next morning I dropped Henk off at the mechanics and was pleasantly surprised by the phone call around noon that he was ready to be picked up, free of charge, as part of our warranty. It felt like luck was back on our side, because even the breaks where still in good condition, which was a big sigh of relief!

The next morning we packed our rain jackets, popped Piet in the pram and first took the bus and then the train to Martin Place. We made our way from the CBD down towards the ferry terminal of Circular Quay as the mighty arches of the Sydney Harbour bridge slowly came into view. We strolled past the iconic yellow and green coloured Sydney ferries towards the Royal Botanical Gardens, until we stood smack bang in front of the Opera House in the same spot I stood nearly 20 years ago. Rays of the sunshine broke through the clouds onto our grinning faces as we shamelessly posed for some family portraits, before popping Piet back into the pram and enjoying the gardens whilst he slept. After about an hour a little voice piped up from the pram; “Bin chicken!”. Piet had woken up and correctly identified an Ibis. After demolishing the equivalent of a small field of fried potatoes we were ready to board the Manly ferry. Piet sat on my lap with eyes as big as discs, as we slowly turned past the Opera House and with full view of the Harbour Bridge the ferry accelerated and sped off towards Manly. The rain began to fall and the wind picked up, making the ferry bob up and down the choppy waters and spraying us with a salty mist. We spent some time in Manly exploring the shops in the main street, before taking shelter under a big tree on the water’s edge and cracked a beer whilst we watched the dozens of surfers brave the weather to catch a wave. Watching the spectacle we concluded neither of us had ever been surfing before.

Back at our campsite the rain continued to fall throughout the night and by morning it was not just raining cats and dogs, but donkeys and chickens as well. This was proper autumnal Bremer Stadtmusikanten rain and it was not going to let up for the rest of the day. Anticipating Piet wouldn’t be a very enjoyable toddler in the absense of a whole days movement we tried to find something for him to do and settled on an indoor playground…with jumping castles!! With childlike enthusiasm we jumped in the car and were ready to take off, before Henk had a splutter then a cough and then died all together “Bloody hell…again…after our service?!” Like the last time in Denison Campground, I found myself scouring the campground for a good samaritan to help kickstart Henk and once again found assistance from a well organized man with a battery starter pack. Ten minutes later Henk was purring again and we arrived at the sports hall to find the rest of South Sydney had the same idea, filling the hall with more kids than Piet had ever seen in his life. From the comfort of my arm he eagerly checked out the various slides, but his apprehension was palpable. Not only were these kids much older and bigger than him, they also didn’t take any notice of him. To be honest, it felt a bit like a zoo, but Piet was gonna slide…hell or high water! So we took turns to escort him on the various inflatables, shielding him from the arms, legs and feet flying all around him. Two hours flew past and utterly exhausted we ran back to Henk, drove back to Prinney and fell asleep to the sound of the rain on the roof.

Inevitably we packed up wet the next morning and Ireen bravely navigated the narrow Sydney roads north towards Grant and Lucy, our neighbours from our time in Bright, who gave us a warm Australian welcome. It’s amazing to cross paths with people you feel are on similar wavelength to you, but it’s something else for them to open their house up to you and treat you like family. Piet instantly made himself at home and effectively took up residence on the trampoline in the garden and was so well entertained that we actually had a bit of child free time. We used it to get to know each other a bit better, whilst we knocked out a beautiful lasagna. The plan was hatched over dinner, Grant was going to introduce us to the most quintessential Australian past time activity; the art of stand up shark dodging also known as surfing. To be fair, a trip of a lifetime around Australia wouldn’t have been complete without having a crack at surfing. The next day we were joined by Lucy and Grant’s son Max as we drove to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. On route we were introduced to the family car game called Spotto, where the first person to yell out “Spotto” upon sighting a yellow car gets a point. There were quite a few other cars that could bag you a point, but if you said Spotto to anything else you would be deducted 10 points. Arriving at the beach with first price for enthusiasm and a score of -49 I was ready to try my luck on a board instead. Grant took us to the “paddle pool” part of the surf and explained how to navigate the knee high waves and to both our surprises we did actually manage to stand up a handful of times. We felt the rush of harnessing the powers of the ocean as we rode the ankle high waves into shore. Proud as punch we drove back….Spotto!!!

The next morning we were ready to say a warm thank you and goodbye, until we tried to turn over the key to start the engine. Flat battery number 3 was its death knell and we were forced to call the battery doctor, who came four hours later and swapped out the dead one for a live one. After saying our farewells for the second time we made it as far as the fuel station, before turning around to pick up Ireen’s shoes. For the third and last time Ireen said goodbye and we were finally ready to hit the road again. Our campsite was located just south of Forster on a small strip of land, sandwiched between a shallow salt water lake and the ocean. This truly was a sub tropical water paradise for Piet, who splashed around the warm shallow waters till it was dark, with the sunsets providing the perfect opportunity to take silhouette photos. This place could’ve been a paradise for his parents as well, wouldn’t it have been for some loud and drunken neighbours keeping us up. For the first time I had to get out and ask our neighbours to please be quiet, which they did … around 3 am. Piet woke up around 7 and we used the opportunity to have a very loud breakfast, supported by music, with lot’s of fallen cutlery and a very enthusiastic 2 year old. We happily continued our raucous until Prinney was packed and left the “things I’m not allowed to call people in front of Piet” behind and drove onto Mylestom. It was hot, we were exhausted and had enough of life in caravan parks during the school holidays. It was time for our long awaited final destination, Wattlesticks farm in the “regional locality” (read: a handful of dwellings in the bush) of Jiggi, half an hour out of Lismore. We were ready to see Wormy & Doody and the cutest, never give up, four legged stick retriever called Pepper.

=============================== News update ==============================

The heartbreaking news of the passing of a very close family member turned our world upside down and saw us return to Germany a couple of days ago. Further entries about our last weeks in Australia will be written in due time.


In memoriam: Maroon 5 – Memories

Pacific Palms, Piet’s subtropical silhouette shooting paddle pool paradise ©️ Jasper Kruse

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