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Astrologers tell me I was born with the moon in Pisces, which is supposed to explain my fondness for water and the fragile state of my mental health. Well, who knows? Anyway, perhaps that’s why I fell in love many years ago with the idea of a trip on a houseboat — not that I’m an intrepid sailor; I don’t know port from starboard, and though I can stay afloat in calm water, I can’t swim for nuts.

When it came my turn to organise the biennial get-together of a few old Ag Scientists and spouses (the operative word here is old; if you want to be politically correct elderly), I wondered what I would do. I live in a broom cupboard three hundred metres from the Pacific Ocean. Eight of us couldn’t stay there. What to do? Then I remembered my houseboat dream. l made enquiries. T’was possble: The rental for 4 days and nights was a little over $200 per person. This amount can be a lot or a little, depending on the state of your finances.

Off we went.

The first night one of my girlfriends and I spent a lot of time wandering the boat while everyone else slept. We were trying to uncover the source of various odd noises. Were we dragging the anchor? What was that strange banging noise we could hear upstairs? Had we dropped the anchor too short and the nose of the boat was slowly being pulled under the water as the tide rose? (My particular favourite.) Etc. etc. Eventually exhaustion overcame us and we slept. To put it in buddhist terms, we “wore the experience out, and so were able to relinquish it.” Whatever.

We had a bit of an accident on our first morning out. In attempting to get from the houseboat to the dinghy, one of our number fell into the river. But we fished him out and dried him off and gave him a cup of tea. Soon he was as good as new.

More adventures befell us. With me as navigator and our Fallen in the Water (FITW) skipper, we managed to run aground later on that day. Well, of course, what were you expecting? I have zero skills as a nav. In my defence I have to say that when we reached the point where we had to choose one waterway or the other, the green bouys I was following appeared equally relevant — or irrelevant, depending on how you were looking at it. It was just bad luck that decided me to tell our intrepid skipper to go right (starboard?) instead of left (port)?

“We need to rock the boat from side to side,” our FITW skipper told us. So we rushed to the upper deck and ran en masse from one side of the boat to the other while he revved the engine below. We were lucky: We were able tto reverse off the sandbank without having to submit to the shame of being towed off, or whatever it is they do under those circumstances.

We managed to get into and out of the dinghy without further mishaps.

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Here we’re returning from lunch at the Tumbulgum Pub; I’m the one in the orange pullover, clinging white-knuckled to the gunwale. Note to those in the Northern Rivers: The food at the pub was OK, but if you want ambience and nice food, skip the pub and go the the little Birdwing Cafe down the road.

With a little help from our friends, we got to the Tweed River Art Gallery to see the new installation: a recreation of some of the rooms in recently-deceased artist Margaret Olley’s terrace house in Sydney. Olley was famous for her house, which was a mix of objets d’art, paintings and clutter.

 Margaret Olley

 

It was a good trip. The weather held fine, the Tweed lived up to expectations — it’s a beautiful river and there was very little traffic on it while we were there. Evenings as the boat swung at anchor, the stars seemed to wheel slowly across the night sky, and the moon slipped in and out of view in the windows of the room where I was sleeping.

If you’ve never had a trip on a houseboat, think about trying it sometime. It’s different.

[Photos of the Tweed and the “Kalinda” by Dr Martin Playne. ]

 

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To be honest, I’m pretty damaged; I guess I’ll recover eventually. For 10 days, eight of us, friends from way-back university days toured New Zealand, lurching from meal to meal (we’re old, yn’kow) across the country — watch for my e-book: NZ Picnic Spots I Have Known. After a while, I grew tired and tended to crouch in the back of the minivan, whimpering, when we made yet another stop. But I never complained. Not even when I slipped on the insane tiling of the Hundertwasser Toilets, now a major tourist attraction for Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor did I complain about my experience in the Old Rotorua Bath House, now a museum, where I was underground inspecting the pipes that once brought in the healing waters when the information film showing unknown to me in the theatre above my head, reached the point where it depicted the 1896 earthquake, complete with sound effects, floor tremors and rocking furniture. (The patrons’ seats actually rock up and down, side-to-side.) There were no warning signs underground about the film. As my girlfriend and I fled the scene with our hair on end, I couldn’t help wondering how many tourists were lost to heart attacks while down there inspecting the pipes.

Yep, NZ is exciting. We dislodged retinas on the bungee jump and lost two of our number on the 8-Hour Redwood Epic Walk; but the Inflatable Rubber Hamster Wheel pleased all. Rotorua’s Perorming Sheep were, however, a disappointment. The corps de ballet lacked cohesion, the leading ewe kept falling off her points, and the costumes were uninspired. Top marks to the company, though, for enthusiasm, and the combined Southdown-Border Leicester choir was impressive.

Meanwhile, back in South Golden Beach the cats had devised various schemes to torment their conscientious keeper. The old cat was a challenge, as always — her profession, really. Worse was the young cat’s decision not to walk on the bedroom floor while I was away — some kind of cat oblation to the gods? Who knows. I’m told he leapt from shelves to ledges and pieces of furniture, never once touching the carpet, causing my friend to wonder what horror might be concealed somewhere on the floor of the bedroom she was sleeping in. (He’s the cat who brings in the snakes.) All in all, both cats had a good time, but I wonder about my friend, who never once told me later ‘what a lovely time’ she’d had.

Seriously, if you are in the North Island, a must-see is the Princes Gate Hotel in Rotorua — a beautiful, ornate timber 2-storey building built in 1897, which served a fabulous, 2-course Early Bird dinner for NZ$29.95, the Rotorua Museum (but give the underground pipes a miss unless you like to live dangerously), and the Waterfront Fish & Chip Restaurant (BYO) at Mangonui.

I rounded off my adventures with a 3-hour languish in the Gold Coast airport when the shuttle bus I’d booked failed to appear and I had to wait for another with no money left but the price of a cup of coffee. New Agers would say I attracted this experience with my fear of airports. As long as they don’t say it to my face, they’ll survive.

And so it’s back to my reclusive lifestyle. As the song says: ‘It’s very nice to go travelling, But it’s oh so nice to come home.’

If anyone out there reading this is intending to travel – have fun. I did.

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Is there anyone out there who feels the way I do about travel?  Surely I’m not alone in this. There must be a few other people who, no matter how alluring the prospect, find themselves thinking: I’d rather stay at home.

‘Are you excited?’ friends ask me when I tell them I have to go to New Zealand next Saturday for ten days — that’s my phrase: I HAVE to go away, as if I’ve been dragooned into the situation. ‘No,’ I tell them, ‘I’d rather stay at home.’ ‘You’ll enjoy it when you get there,’ they say gamely.

Maybe.

Already the burn back’s begun – what if someone slips a bag of dope into my luggage before I go through customs?  Most worrying of all is the trauma my cats are going to go through. (Note to Cat Lovers—Not: I’ve owned more dogs in my lifetime than cats, but the fence around my current home’s no good, so it’s cats these days.)

I tell myself that travel will be good for me. But I can’t seem to convince me.

The part I hate most is not the plane trip — I don’t mind the idea of dying if it’s quick. It’s the airport. I picture myself wandering lost forever around the endless corridors they always seem to have, like the character in the old Kingston Trio song, ‘But did he ever return? No, he never returned, And his fate is still unlearned …’

The fact that the Gold Coast airport isn’t big, and the cheap, pedal-driven airline I’ve chosen to fly with is little more than a hangar with no corridors doesn’t seem to make any difference. So there weren’t any corridors last time. There could be corridors this time. Well, there could be …

I’ve got a kindly, live-in babysitter for the cats; I couldn’t have gone otherwise. But they’ll still be traumatised because I hardly ever go anywhere, and they’re not used to it. I imagine the old cat living up the paper bark ti tree in the back yard the whole time, drinking dew off the leaves, sneaking in at night to snatch a few mouthfuls of food as death from malnutrition approaches. And I know the young cat will pine — when I went to Brisbane for five days in 2010, my formerly handsome, upstanding cat was a wreck when I returned.

Still, there’s nothing for it but to go. My ticket’s paid, my bags stand ready to be packed. I’m leaving on a jet plane and, like the song says, I hate to go.

Some people love to travel.

Not me.

Is anyone else out there a home body?

Danielle de Valera,  Australian author, editor & manuscript assessor since 1992

http://www.ecademy.com/account.php?userid=danielledevalera

@ de_valera

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