Hello from Byron Bay, and sorry for the long silence from us! We are currently on a month-long camping trip, so internet access isn't that regular. We're traveling in a Jucy campervan, which isn't so much a campervan as a large car converted to sleep two people in the back. Having said that, it's quite cosy: we have a little stove, a fridge, a sink and even a DVD player. I've really enjoyed driving again - I've barely driven at all since I sold my car back in 2005 - and thankfully I can still do it! We're mainly driving north up the Pacific Highway, so we are seeing lots of the gorgeous Aussie landscape as we go - lots of waterways, beaches and national parks.
Leaving Sydney over the iconic Harbour Bridge:
After a quick stop in Newcastle for a swim and picnic lunch on the beach, we pushed on to the Hunter Valley wine region, and swiftly booked ourselves on a wine tasting tour for the next day! Then we sensibly used the afternoon to go beer tasting at a local microbrewery. A really lovely brewer called Anthony gave us a tour of the brewery and explained the process of making beer, and what is added/changed to create the different beers we tried. They had some really specialist ones there, in particular 'Liquid Bacon', which is made by smoking the malt before brewing - it really tastes like smoky bacon! Our favourites were their Banana Beer and a German style Bock (dark beer).
Stu behind the bar, with glasses of malt and hops in the foreground:
The wine tour the next day was brilliant fun. We met some really lovely people and it was totally unpretentious. We started with a quick explanation of how to go about tasting wines/what to look for/etc, and then proceeded to get progressively sozzled as we went to about six cellar doors, tasting between six and fifteen wines at each one (just a few sips of each, but it adds up)! To break up the wine-tasting, we also stopped at a cheesemakers to taste some cheeses, a chocolate shop to taste some chocs, a place where we could taste olives, olive oils, vinegars, chutneys and jams, and a liqueur specialist where we tasted some interesting liqueurs including 'Dragon's Breath' (a shot of butterscotch liqueur infused with chilli and rosemary). The Hunter Valley is beautiful, and we merrily went from vineyard to vineyard admiring the rolling hills and fantastic views. An awesome day.
Grapevines in the Hunter Valley (the rosebushes at the end of the row act as an indicator of the health of the vine, like a canary in a mine):
The following day we went to Nelson's Bay in Port Stephens, where we went on a dolphin-watching boat trip. We saw loads of dolphins, all swimming in pods around the boat, some with babies. After a bit of watching from the boat, we jumped in the boom net at the back of the boat to get nearer to the dolphins, and to have a fun ride being dragged behind the boat in it!
Dolphins in the bay:
The boom net we sat in:
We then went to the next town along to see Stockton Bight, which I believe are the longest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. They were huge - like looking out over the Sahara or something - and they ran alongside the sea.
Having stayed the last couple of nights at a 'tourist park' with mod cons, we decided we wanted to see a bit more of the national parks, save some cash and rough it in a proper camping spot. So we headed to the Myall Lakes national park as the evening drew on, and stumbled upon a gorgeous 'primitive' camping ground on the river, where we cooked up a yummy dinner on our little stove and shared a bottle of Hunter Valley wine. The following morning was beautiful with the sun coming up over the river, and a pair of pelicans landed just in front of where we were camping. Lovely!
Well that's it from me; Stu is going to take over the tale from here to get you up to speed with where we are now!