Australia: Sydney, New South Wales To Los Angeles, California (USA!!!)

Posted Posted in Australia, North America, Round The World Trip, United States

Leaving Australia

Our flight to LA was at 10:30, so we arranged for a shuttle service at 6:30 in the morning.  We woke up at 5:00, and lugged everything down to the lobby.  And then we waited.  And waited.  At around 6:40, we called the bus company to ask where the shuttle bus was.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Jon: “Hi.  We arranged for a bus pick up at 6:30 at #1 Grantham Place.  We were wondering where the bus was.”

Woman: “What time?”

Jon: “6:30”

Woman: “Well, it’s not 6:30 yet.”

Jon: “Ummm… My watch says it’s 6:40.”

Woman: “6:40?  You mean 5:40.  Daylight savings starts today.”

Jon: “Uh.  Well.  OK.  Thanks.”

So we went back upstairs and watched the television for another hour until it was really 6:30.  The funny thing is that, yesterday, we spoke to the bus company, the airline, and the hotel, and NO ONE told us about daylight savings.  Not even the newspaper.  But the bus driver must have known, because he showed up at the “real” 6:30 as planned.

At the airport, we ran into a bit of trouble checking in.  Our box with the cooler and the wine was actually 42kg, which is 10kg over the 32kg limit.  So we had to rip it open and take out ten bottles of wine (1kg each) to carry on the plane instead.  A bit of a hassle, but it all worked out in the end.  Each of our other bags were about 25kg each.

The flight was uneventful.  We were the last row, which was OK because the back row was a two-seater and not a three-seater.  We watched “K-PAX” (not so good.) and then read for a while.  Jon napped for about four hours, and I got about two hours in.  The flight landed at 6:35AM on March 31.  Weird thing, because we left Sydney at 10:35AM on March 31.  But there you have it – time zones and long flights.

Back in the USA!!!

At LAX – Welcome Home!

LA was sunny but chilly.  Jon went to get the rental car, and I sat with our 128kg of luggage and waited for him to pick me up.  We followed Ketron’s directions to her house in LA, which was about 45 minutes away.  As we rounded the corner onto North Beachwood Drive, we saw the “Hollywood” sign and really felt like we were in the US again.  This, of course, is aside from the fact that we have to get used to driving on the right side of the road.


We got to my friend Jennifer Ketron’s house around 8:30AM and had to wake her up to let us in.  It was so great to see her again.  We hung out for a while and talked.  Then went to “The 101 Coffee Shop” for brunch/lunch.  For those of you who are fans of the movie “Swingers”, this is the same coffee shop the movie was filmed in a few times.  After lunch, we walked around the Hollywood Hills area where Ketron lives.  We passed the big Scientology retreat place, which was holding an Easter Brunch.  Looked like quite the party.

A little while later, we went to Griffith Park for a walk.  Well, it was sort of a hike, actually.  We walked past the Observatory and up a massive hill and took in a great view despite the haze of the day.  To get to and from Griffith Park, we went through Beverly Hills and saw some gorgeous homes that were an arm’s span apart.

Mexican Dinner!

We had warned Ketron ahead of time that we were craving Mexican food.  So she brought out the LA Zagats (just can’t live without a Zagats!) and Jon found a place to go.  It was a cool place in Santa Monica.  To get there, we drove down Sunset Blvd and Rodeo Blvd, past all the big LA sights.  For example: the Chinese Theater, the Kodak Theater, the Walk of Fame, the Vipor Room.  We’re such tourists!

LA sights:  The Capital Records Building in Hollywood

LA sights:  Rauman’s (sp?) Chinese Theater

Jon and I had been awake for about 30+ hours but refused to take any naps today.  The only way to beat jet lag is to go cold turkey.  Unfortunately, I fell asleep in the back of the car on the way to the restaurant.  So Jon and Ketron turned up the Beastie Boy’s “Sabotage” to wake me up.  It worked.

Despite the rude awakening, dinner was great.  Fajitas all around!  Thank god for Mexican food.

At Dinner with Ketron

Back at Ketron’s place, we got ready for bed.  Jon was so knackered that he fell asleep, fully clothed on the bed.  I crashed not long thereafter.

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

This morning, we went for a run along the Harbour.  Jon had to run 20 miles today, but he decided to run the first two miles with me (at my snails pace).  It was a really nice morning for a run, though.  We ran all the way to the Opera House, and then around it.  The weird thing is that I thought there was a long mural on the north side of the Opera House.  But I couldn’t find it.  Such a drag.  Jon and I split at the Opera House and I ran back to the apartment.

After showering and stretching, I got dressed and headed out to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

I took the subway to Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”) to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The Bridge was about 15 minutes from the subway stop, through some touristy area with street performers and the like.  Although it was cloudy, there were TONS of tourists out there.  Of course, this is Easter Weekend so why shouldn’t they be?

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay Area

I found the entrance to the bridge, which was through a pylon on the southern side of the bridge.  It was a windy walk, and the cloud cover meant the pictures were a bit shady but it was still a nice walk.  I walked all the way across the bridge, and then turned around and walked back.  One of the eastern pylons had an observation tower and an exhibit about the building of the bridge.  Interesting fact about Sydney Harbour Bridge: it was built without any support from the water.  The partially-made bridge was kept aloft by cables for the entire 20 years it was being built.  Pretty cool.

Sydney Harbour – View from the Bridge

The walk to view from the pylon took a few hours.  I headed back to the subway and to the long walk to the apartment.  Back there, I found Jon recovering on the couch from his run.  We spent the rest of the evening packing up our backpacks and the big box with the cooler and the wine.  It’s going to be a heavy one, but hopefully we won’t have any problems checking in on the plane to LA tomorrow.

We had big plans for Mexican for dinner.  We’ve been craving Mexican for months, and the guy who ran our hotel here was Mexican.  So he recommended a great restaurant where we could go.  Unfortunately, it was super far away and a pretty costly taxi ride.  We decided instead to stay in Kings Cross to find a place down the street.  “India Down Under” was the place we chose, and we were quite happy with it.  Very authentic and yummy Indian Food.

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

The Sydney Aquarium

We hit the Sydney Aquarium pretty early, but not early enough to beat the crowds.  The Aquarium was packed with families, but it was still very interesting to see.  We spent about five minutes at the platypus tank alone, just because we’ve yet to see a platypus.  Then we walked around the fresh-water section to see the crocodiles, fish, and plantlife in a freshwater environment.

After that, we wandered into the seal portion of the aquarium, where there were about 10 seals hanging out in the water.  There was a glassed-in tunnel through the water that we could walk through to see the seals swimming past.  Very cool, but Jon and I both agreed that it’s more fun when we’re in the water with them.  (See Dec 3 in Kaikora, NZ).

A Seal Playing In the Water

The aquarium really is an amazing place.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in one, but there’s so much to see and learn.  I think I could have stayed there for hours!  Delving into the salt-water portion of the aquarium, we wandered into “The Rocks” region, where we could observe the different types of marine life in the southern tip of Australia.  Namely – the penguins!

A Few Penguins Teeter Around

We missed seeing the penguins in the Otago Peninsula of New Zealand, and while this wasn’t quite the same it was still enjoyable.  The penguins really are cute and very, very active.  The penguin tank was one of the most crowded of the aquarium, and it’s no secret why.  These little buggers were all over the place!

After “The Rocks” area was the infamous Shark Tank.  This was an incredible presentation of marine life.  The tank was absolutely huge and filled with heaps of sharks and rays.  There were two domed walk-ways through the tank, so we could literally stand there and watch the sharks swim around us.

Jon and His Little Nurse-Shark Friend

There were nurse sharks, whitetip and blacktip reef shark, port jackson sharks, leopard sharks, among other types that I can’t recall the names of.  There was also a huge sting ray whose wingspan was probably larger than Jon’s armspan.  Incredible to watch it swim over us above the glassed dome.  We spent probably 45 minutes in the shark tank, just standing there watching them.

When we were in Thailand, we met a dive instructor who used to work here and specifically in the shark tank.  It was her job to suit up in scuba gear and do the shark feedings.  She said it was great fun, and that the sharks were very friendly.  In fact, she spoke of a leopard shark who loved to cuddle up and have her pet its stomach.  But as we stood there, it was difficult to picture any of these huge sharks cuddling up to anything.

After the shark tank, we made our way to the Great Barrier Reef area.  Naturally, our favorite.  We recognized many of the fish and coral life, and passed the “Coral Quiz” with flying colors.  There was a huge tank filled with tropical fish and plants, and a few shark that we’d never seen on our dives.  The “Shark Ray” had an odd triangular-shaped head.  So we learned something new as well.

The Great Barrier Reef Tank

In order to exit the aquarium, we had to complete the obligatory walk through the gift shop to see  if there was anything we couldn’t live without.  While I was tempted by the “Sydney Aquarium” soapdish, I decided to pass.

Darling Harbour

Across the harbour was a shopping complex, so we decided to see if we could grab a late lunch that didn’t include Mackers (McDonald’s) or Hungry Jack’s (Burger King).  We were happy with the chicken wrap and “Turkish Pide” that we got.

Walking around Darling Harbour was interesting today, because there was a big “Circus and Street Theater” show going on.  We stopped to watch a very comedic juggler for a while, and ended up giving him money because he made us laugh.  (Not that this is a difficult thing to do, but we generally abide by the “If They Make You Smile or Laugh, Then Give Them Some Money” rule.)

Leaving Darling Harbour, we toyed with the idea of searching for the Sydney Bridge Museum near the bridge.  But we were all museumed out.  Instead, we decided to find the movie theater and see what we could catch.

Black Hawk Down

A showing of “Black Hawk Down” was due to start in fifteen minutes, so we bought two tickets and settled into the stadium-seating theater.  The movie was excellent.  There weren’t any oscar-winning performances, but the story was incredibly moving.  In 1993, I was still at university.  But I wonder what kind of bubble I was living in that I didn’t pay any attention to this when it was happening.  The story was brand-new to me.  That’s pathetic that I was so happy living in oblivion back then.  Or maybe – after this trip and post-9/11 – I now feel a responsibility to be more informed about the events of the world.  Regardless, I left the movie with a big patriotic feeling in my heart.

Fitting, isn’t it, we fly into the US in two days?

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House has 76 steps.  I know this because I ran up and down them this morning.  20 times.  In between sets of five, I stood at the top of the steps and looked around the outside of the Opera House.  The tile work on the walls is pretty amazing, actually.  And it looks like the opera house is made up of many different houses – not just one stage.  (Lonely Planet says it’s 6-7 different buildings).  It was drizzling slightly, but it felt good on the run.  I also ran through the Botanical Gardens, which is where all the bats stay during the day.  They’re hard to miss what with the racket they make when they’re hanging out in trees.  On the way back to the apartment, I got a bit turned around in the gardens and had to backtrack to find an exit gate.  But it was still a gorgeous run.

If You Love Something, Set It Free…

Today – being Thursday – is the day we had to sell the truck.  Jon was terribly sad about this, but we definitely can’t bring it back with us so we’ve no choice.  On his way to Parramatta Road (home of the used car dealers), he dropped me off in Kings Cross so I could go to Global Gossip about our phone card.  While he was gone, I wandered about town and picked up some silly souvenir gifts.

Jon, meanwhile, took the opportunity to photograph almost every stage of his car sale.

Here’s the Truck In the Used Car Lot – Before the Transaction

Here’s the Dealer Driving Away in the Truck

This took most of the morning and into the afternoon, because the owner had to take the drive for a test-drive.  He docked the price by $200 because of a problem with the starter, but we figured something like that would happen.  We were just glad that we’d had the truck fixed in Brissie, because the dealer would have heard the horrible clank-clank-clank and probably would have docked the price by a few thousand.  So we were pretty happy.

They took Jon to the bank, which issued us an “International Check” in US Dollars.  Because of changes in the exchange rates, this conversion to USD actually worked out in our favor.  By a few hundred dollars, actually.  Quite the arbitrager, my husband.  So despite Jon’s deep depression about losing his little baby, luck was on our side today.

He got back around 2:00 and ate lunch.  Then we logged online for a bit and fielded emails and some other administrative stuff.

Sightseeing In Town

Around 4:00, we decided to head into the city and visit the Sydney Aquarium.  But by the time we got there, it was nearly 5:00 and we didn’t feel like we had enough time to spend in the aquarium.  Instead, we wandered around Darling Harbour and ended up in some large “Outback” shop.  Here, there was a free 30-minute “Sounds of the Outback” performance that we felt seeing.

In this show, a very amusing man played the didgeridoo while also entertaining us about the traditions and sounds of the instrument.  A didgeridoo, by the way, is a long, thick, hallow stick that makes a very interesting noise when blown into.  An experienced didgeridoo player can play it for endless amounts of time through something called “circular breathing”.  This means he inhales through his nose while also exhaling through his mouth.  And the sound that comes out is soft of like a muffled baritone kazoo.  I just asked Jon to describe this sound in words and he said that “it’s the kind of sound that you expect to hear from a long, deep, hallowed-out tube”.  Well.  Thanks.

Didgeridoo Player

It was an educating show, and very entertaining too.

Afterwards, we checked out a local movie theater to see if we could catch a showing of “Rabbit Proof Fence”.  But the only shows were American productions which we figured we could see in the US when we got back.  Instead, we headed back to the apartment to make dinner.

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

We woke up this morning to go for runs, but I woke up to a serious head-rush.  My lower back has been hurting pretty badly since we went surfing, but it comes and goes.  Last night, it was pretty painful so Jon gave me some pain medicine we bought in Kathmandu sans prescription.  This medication was supposed to have some sort of opiate in it.  The directions said that I should take two pills at first, so I did.  Who knew that – twelve hours later – they would still be going strong?  It was crazy – everything was spinning!

So Jon went out for his run and I went back to bed until he came back.  Then we got ready to head out to Bondi Beach.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is east of Sydney and is considered a “Sydney Suburb”.  It’s not far at all, but we figured we should take advantage of our last day with the truck and head out there.  Today was pretty cloudy and windy, and almost cold, but it was time to heat the beach.

We walked around the stores on Bondi Beach for a while – still looking for Jon’s Hawaiian Shirt.  We didn’t have much luck, but we did find a bookstore who would buy the small library we’ve been traveling around with.  We spent some time sitting at a little pizza joint sipping “lemonades” (Australian for Sprite) and watching the people walk by.  Then we decided it was time to go to the beach.

Bondi Beach has some great surfing waves, and there were about thirty surfers of various skills in the water.  We laid on our towels and watched them for a while, before turning over to read our books.  After about an hour, we started to get really chilly so we packed up stuff and went back to the truck.

Bondi Beach

Before we left Bondi Beach, we stopped by the Post Office and asked them to weigh our bag of scuba gear.  Air New Zealand allows two bags per person, at 32 kilograms per bag.  We wanted to know if our very heavy scuba bag would make the cut.  The nice man we spoke to dragged it into the back room and – five minutes later – dragged it back out and told us it was 24 kilos!  Wow.  I’d thought it was heaps heavier.

Sunset over Sydney Harbour

Back in the room, we settled in to check our email and watch some TV.  Since it had been cloudy and rainy all day, we figured we were done for the evening.  But then Jon glanced out the windows and said, “Hey!  It’s cleared up!  Let’s get some pictures!”.  So we speed-walked over to the Harbour, along the running path, to get sunset pictures before it was too late.

The sunset very peaceful and the pictures were gorgeous.

Sunset at Sydney Harbour

After Sunset

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

Run Along Sydney Harbour

Today was an administrative day.  We both woke up and went for runs this morning.  Not far from our apartment building, there’s a lovely running path that passes through “The Domain” and the Sydney Botanical Gardens.  The paths follow the Sydney Harbour, until we suddenly see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge pop into view.  It’s absolutely beautiful, and this morning was lovely weather for a run.  Jon ran all the way past the Opera House and to the bridge.  But I ran just to the Opera House and back.  Great run.

Finding a Truck Buyer

After breakfast, Jon took the truck to Parramatta Road to find a truck buyer.  We decided to go with used car dealers, because they’d be easier to deal with than private buyers.  We probably could get a better price from someone private, but it could take too long to sell.  And we’d have to figure out the registration problem.  So using a dealer makes it much easier on our lives.

Jon was gone for most of the day, and I spent the day reading and catching up on journal entries.  Hours later, Jon called and said he’d been to fifteen dealers and wasn’t able to get an offer above $12,000.  (We paid $16,600).  But he finally found a dealer who’d give him $13,500. The only problem was that we’d have to give them the truck on Thursday instead of Saturday.  This is because the banks are closed on Friday and Saturday and so we wouldn’t get a cashier’s check.  But that’s the price we have to pay for convenience.

Jon finally came back in the late afternoon, happy that he’d made a deal for the truck but disappointed with the final price.  We’d been hoping for more.  But in the end it was definitely less money than renting a car for these past four months.

And that was our exciting day.  Sorry for the boring journal entry, but tomorrow will be better.  

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

We had a nice sleep-in this morning, but our main goal of the day was to wash and wax the truck.  There was no place to do this at the apartment, so we had to find another place either to do it ourselves or pay to have it done.  We drove around for a while and ended up with the latter.  The deal we opted for was the “Deluxe Car Wash” which is one step above the “Budget Car Wash”, but included cleaning the inside.  We figure that they would do a better job than we when cleaning the inside of the truck.  And this is important if we want to get a good sale price.  So we dropped off the truck and went to do a bit of sight-seeing while we waited.

Australian Museum

We ended up at the Australian Museum, which is right next to Hyde Park.  We figured it would be something cool like a Natural History Museum.  That it was, but the first exhibit we walked into was a physiology exhibit for little kids.  Naturally, we were a bit concerned that this was a repeat of the Singapore Science Center (see Nov 16), where the entire museum was created for children.  But it was just that one exhibit that was for kids.  And, actually, it was a lot of fun!  There were a bunch of games to play relating to the human body.  I know that doesn’t sound very interesting, but we had a great time with the “Sperm Racer” video game, where the goal was to navigate the maze of fallopian tubes and get to the egg.   (I’m not kidding.)  Educational and fun at the same time!

“Go Sperm Racer GO!!!”

There was even a section called “fun with fiber” which outlined the benefits of fiber on the human body.  The exhibit was accompanied by sound effects of farting, burping, and other bodily functions.  Such a riot.  You could even squeeze the appendices to see the difference between digestive system with fiber and one without.  I gotta tell you, I’m convinced.  Fiber will now be a religious part of my diet forever more.

The rest of the museum was more grown-up.  There was a very interesting exhibit dedicated to the struggles of Australia’s indigenous cultures, e.g. the Aboriginies.  Very similar to the civil rights struggle of African-Americans.  Except, in the 1920s, thousands of children were taken from their parents to be raised in “proper white homes”.  This generation of children is now called the “lost generation.  So part of the exhibit included one artist’s interpretation of this generation.  The “lost generation” is the basis of the recent movie Rabbit Proof Fence, by the way.  I don’t know if this movie is generating as much press in the US as it is here, but it’s a movie I’d really like to see someday.

And, like all natural history museums, this one had the obligatory prehistoric/dinosaur/evolution exhibit.  We breezed through it until we got to the part about archeological research.  This section talked about Louis and Mary Leakey and the Olduvai Gorge, which we visited in Tanzania.  (See June 26).  So we found it pretty interesting.

Hyde Park

After the museum, we walked to St Mary’s Cathedral and ate some chips on the steps of the cathedral.  After our little snack, we walked into the cathedral but mass was being held so we kept to the back.  It was a lovely cathedral, though.

St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral

By this time, our truck was ready so we walked back to the car park through Hyde Park.  The park is a major landmark in the middle of the city, and has some lovely memorials and fountains.

Captain Cook in front of the AMP Tower

Hyde Park Walkway

Afternoon Waxing Job

After picking up the truck, which was lovely and clean, we went back to the apartment to chill out for a bit.  Then we went down to the garage to wax the truck.  Usually, this is Jon’s job because he does it just for fun.  But this time, I helped out because it was to make the truck look better.  My job was to first clean all the bug guts off the front of the truck – not an easy task.  But it definitely looked good when I was finished.  Then, I took a towel and buffed off the wax where Jon had waxed.

Two hours and one waxed car later, we were done.  We were also starving as it was close to dinnertime.  So we went upstairs, showered ,and made dinner.

Australia: Sydney, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

We avoided any potential wine hangovers and slept in until 8:00ish.  After showering and getting ready, we disassembled the tent and hit the road toward Sydney.

Nothing very exciting about the drive.  It only took us about 2.5 hours.  The shocker is that there is no freeway directly into Sydney.  The freeway turns into some four-lane local roads which have stoplights every 50 feet.  I can’t imagine what rush hour is like in this town!  Good thing it’s a Sunday.

Sydney Information Center

After driving around for some time in downtown Sydney, we finally located the main Tourist Information Center in the very colorful and lively Darling Harbour.  At the Info Center, we were given a list of self-contained apartments in Coogee Beach (pronounced “KuhJee”), where our friends from last night told us we could find some affordable places.  As it turns out, the apartments at the beach were more expensive than the ones in the city!  So we ended up making arrangements at “The Grantham” on Potts Point.  They have some nice studio apartments for a good deal.  (Although a “good deal” is all relative when you’re in a city).  At least we don’t have to pay for parking!  We’re in a cute studio on the top floor – Room #804 – with great view of the apartment building next door and if we stick our heads out of the window, a terrific view of the Sydney skyline.

So our main goal for the week is to find a buyer for the truck.  This means that the truck has to be washed and waxed and thoroughly cleaned.  Unloading everything out of the truck took us four different elevator trips!  That’s a lot of stuff.  Then we hit the streets to find a car wash or someplace for a “self-wash”.  What we ended up finding was a parking garage that does cleaning and detailing, which is what we wanted.  Unfortunately, it was 5:00PM and they were closed.  So we’ll try again tomorrow morning and then will spend the rest of the morning waxing the truck.  Then we’ll hit the streets to find a used car dealer who’ll give us a deal.

Organize and Dinner

The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting through three weeks of accumulated stuff and trying to figure out what goes to the US and what gets trashed.  We have eight cans of coconut milk and no other Thai ingredients.  But we refuse to make a special trip to the grocery store until we finish off the pasta, cans of soup, and other odds and end of food we have.  We also determined that we’ll have to ship a box of PADI books home.  Now that we’re the proud owners of a case and a half of Aussie wine, we have too much to bring on the plane with us.  Oh, and I should mention that none of the wine will be ready to drink within the next three years, by the way.

The “stuff organization” took us a while, but we were both happier when it was done.  We feel much more confident about what’s flying back to the US with us and how we’re going to check it on the plane.  So the next big step is to get rid of some of this food.  As part of that goal, we made a big pot (well, wok-full) of pasta sauce for the next few days.  As we were waiting for it to cook, we looked out the window and saw a MASSIVE flock/school/herd/gaggle of bats flying across the sky.  It was a really incredible sight with dusk in the background.

Bats Over Sydney

Australia: Cessnock, New South Wales (Hunter Valley Region)

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

Accommodation Switch

Since we decided just last night to stay for another day, we had to move from the Vintage Motor Inn to a local campsite.  The guy at Reg Drayton Winery helped us to find a campsite with availability.  So we drove up to the Mt View Tourist Park around 10:30 this morning.  In these campsites, the cabins and the powered sites always get the best spots.  We tent-campers usually get the back lot.  So we were a good walk from the bathrooms, but we didn’t mind.  The tent field was nice and spacious, and there was a little line of vines growing along the back wall.  Across the field, there was a rodeo going on in a large building.  We could hear the announcer talking about the horses and the riders.  Pretty funny!

Our Tent in Cessnock

One Broke Winery for Lunch

We went back to One Broke Winery for another baguette lunch.  Our sandwiches were so good yesterday that we decided for another round.  Jon did a tasting while we were there, although we thought the wines were a bit too “mass produced”.  (One Broke is a large-scale winery).  After the lunches were ready, we took them to some picnic benches at the shopping center and ate in the shade.

McGuigan Cellars

We stopped by McQuigan Cellars because they have – in their complex – the “Hunter Valley Cheese Company“.  There, we tried about seven different cheeses: brie, cheddar, goat cheese, and dips.  And oh were they delicious!  We bought some cheese called “Whiterind Cheese” that’s lighter than brie but of the same genre.  It was a nice break from wine tasting.

My Own Little Heaven, Made Entirely of Cheese!

At the Cheese Company, there was a separate room for tasting various olive oils, mustards, jams, and sauces.  Jon decided to taste one of the latter which boasted “10++ Very Very Hot”.  Of course, he asked for a sample.  Next thing I knew, I was being dragged off to the McGuigan Wine Cellars for some tasting just so he could get the taste of the hot sauce off his tongue!

Winery Tasting Notes McGuigan Cellars

This is a very large winery, filled with tour busses of people.  We tasted just so Jon could get the hot sauce off his tongue.  But we ended up liking the port, although we didn’t buy it. JYT Owned by Jay and Julie Tulloch, which they started after Jay “retired” from Tulloch Winery.  We talked with Julie for a while and tasted their whites.  They also had a “pink” which we weren’t too crazy about. Drayton Family Wines


Drayton is owned by the cousins of Reg Drayton Winery.  I tried the whites and Jon tried the Reds and ports.  We bought the Reserve Chardonnay and a Shiraz.  Jon also tried a “Maxwell” Shiraz and wondered out loud if the wine had gone bad.  One of the tasters agreed and thanked Jon for letting them know.  (Many tourists just assume it’s not a good wine and put it aside). Lowe Family Winery


We went to Pepper Creek Antiques and admired a gorgeous old rocking horse.  Next to the antique store was Lowe Family Winery.  I was “all wined out” so Jon did the tasting and bought the Shiraz. Mount View Estate


It was nearing the end of the evening, but we loved the Chardonnay, the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Tawny Port. Peterson’s Wines


Loved the ’99 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Reg Drayton Winery: “Sunset BBQ Stroll Amongst the Vines”

At 5:45, a shuttle bus picked us up at the campsite and took us to Reg Drayton Winery where we were having dinner.  There were about 40 people there, and most were Aussies from Sydney up for the weekend.  Robyn Dratyon, owner of the winery, walked us through some of the business aspects of running a winery.  We literally took a “sunset stroll amongst the vines” as she answered our questions and talked about harvesting.

The Moon and the Vines

Before dinner, we sat at the tables and did a wine tasting.  Robyn introduced us to the new bottle labels, of which we are some of the first to see.  She told us the story of how she came up with the idea of the labels, which are dark colors with a light rose pattern.  It turns out that she was in bed stressing about finding a new design (the winery couldn’t afford a designer), when it suddenly hit her: the floral pattern on her sheets was exactly what she was looking for!  The end result is a light and delicate brocade pattern in different colors depending on the wine.  I love being privy to insider information like this!

After the tasting, we all went to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.  Jon and I opted for the Cabernet Shiraz, which was a very smooth red wine.  During dinner, we sat to the right of a group of seven people from Sydney who gave us great suggestions for what to do when we arrived in Sydney.  On our other side were two couples from the Central Coast who cracked us up the entire evening.  Don and Julie Butler and Glen and Jan Lawrence have been next door neighbors for the past three years and are obviously great friends.  Don just retired, and he and Julie are preparing to leave for three months in New Zealand.  While they’re gone, Glen is going to mow their lawn.  How’s that for friendship?  I don’t even know the names of our neighbors in NYC.  Anyway, the four of them were quite the characters and definitely made the evening for us.

For dessert, we were served cheese and grapes, along with a tasting of three of Reg Drayton’s ports.  Jon and I have developed an affinity for ports recently.  And as I told Jon today, now that we are the proud owners of two ports, he has to take me to Ireland so I can buy some port glasses from the Waterford Factory.  Next month, maybe.  🙂

For those of you playing along at home, we have – in the last two days – bought one and a half cases of Australian wine.  One might ask why.  One might also ask how we’re going to get it all home.  But one should not expect an answer to either of these perplexing questions.

We left Reg Drayton around 11:00, after chatting with Robyn in depth about the winery.  Jon used to say that he wanted to run a winery someday, but I think that Robyn’s stories have removed some of the romance involved in that idea.  It sounds so glamorous – working amongst the vineyard and knowing wines inside and out.  But the bottom line is that Robyn hasn’t had a day off (not even weekends) since last August.  Her average day is from 7AM-2AM.  And she has three young boys to raise, too.  It’s a tough job, that’s for sure.

Rodeo Party

Back at the campsite, we showered and curled up in our sleeping bags.  Across the massive field, the rodeo-goers were partying late into the night.  It definitely sounded like they were having fun, and it didn’t break up until about 3:00AM.

Australia: Cessnock, New South Wales (Hunter Valley Region)

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

Today we made the rounds of the Hunter Valley, Australia’s wine region.  But to start out our days, we each went for a run.  This morning I ran up Allandale Road toward the wineries, but didn’t actually run far enough to come across any winery.

At 10:00, we hit the wineries.  Last night, Jon looked at the map of the wineries and was completely overwhelmed.  There are about 130 wineries in the area, and the brochure we have lists them in no particular order.  The bigger wineries are usually distributed all over the place, so we try to avoid them.  We prefer the smaller, boutique wineries because those are the wines you can’t get everywhere.  Here’s where we went and what we thought:

Winery Tasting Notes

Sandalyn Estate


There was a beautiful golden retriever named Hunter who met us at the car and walked us in.  And as we tasted the wines, he brought us his squeezie toy to play with.  We tried the whole line of whites and reds, and especially liked the dessert wine (which the Aussies call the “sticky”).  So we bought a sticky and got recommendations for other smaller wineries.

Allanmere Wines

At Allanmere, we tried the reds, and fell in love with the 1999 Shiraz (Australian for Syrah).  So we bought two of them.

Blueberry Hill


Here, we tasted the entire line of wines.  They had a delicious sparkling pinot and a good cabernet sauvignon.  But we didn’t buy either of them.

Carindale Wines

Here, we tasted three Chardonnays.  They were good, but we didn’t buy any of them.  Upstairs from the tasting room, there was a gallery displaying quilts and hand-painted fabrics.  We bought a piece of material for Mom’s quilt.

One Broke Road


We stopped at One Broke Road for lunch.  They had a lovely restaurant which we didn’t eat at, but we ordered baguette sandwiches to go.

We took our sandwiches down the road to a park/shopping area and ate on a picnic bench.  The sandwiches were really good for such a cheap price.  Jon had ham and cheese and I had chicken and cheese.  After lunch, we walked around the shopping area and looked at some wine racks.  We also bought two ice creams.  Magnum has a brilliant marketing campaign right now throughout Australia.  I don’t know if the “Seven Deadly Sins” campaign is also in the US, but basically there are a series of seven ice creams that represent the seven deadly sins.  The commercials are hysterical, but – more importantly – the ice creams are divine!  My favorite is “Gluttony” which has chocolate mousse on the inside and hard white chocolate over a milk chocolate shell on the outside.  Really, it’s to die for.

So we took our Gluttonies out into the parking lot and sat on an old stage coach and an old wagon while we ate.  While I was sitting on the wagon, some guy drove by on the road and yelled “Giddyap!”.  I thought that was pretty funny!

Jon on the Stage Coach

Winery Tasting Notes

Honeytree Estate


This place had some lovely reds.  We bought the Cabernet Sauvignon, which needs to cellar for a few years.

Scarborough Wine Co.



The winery was run by a couple, and had a really cute tasting room of a few dining tables and a black cocker spaniel who adored Jon.  They specialized in Chardonnays, so we bought two bottles of the ’99.



This was a fun place, with an hysterical wine steward.  They had some great reds, and so we bought a young red called “Cricket Pitch”, the Cab Sauv, and a Shiraz.


This is an incredibly small winery, with only a few wines to taste.  We loved both the ’98 Chardonnay and the ’99 Shiraz.

Reg Drayton Wines


We ended up spending a long time here.  The winery had a photo gallery which detailed the family history of the winery.  Five generations of Draytons!  We did the tasting here, and found out that – tomorrow night – they’ll have a “Sunset BBQ Among the Vines” dinner, tasting, and wine social.  But we didn’t think the motel would have room for us tomorrow night.  So Phillip, the wine steward, called a campground and made reservations for us.  Looks like we’re staying another night!

Jon and Me at Reg Drayton Winery

After Reg Drayton, we drove to Audrey Wilkinson Winery.  We’d been told that there was a gorgeous view of the valley from the tasting room.  We got there at 5:05 so it was closed.  No worries, because all we wanted were some pictures.

Jon and the View at Audrey Wilkinson Winery