I’m still basking in the glow of my sister’s visit, so I thought I would write a few posts on what we did each day. Kind of like a diary, but hopefully enough to interest others … well, I will skip the first half day, because that was all the usual settling in things that everyone does. But I must mention my sister brought Frangipani blossoms from her garden, and soon they were dotted around the apartment in dishes of water, dispersing their fragrance as you walked past. Delightful! (She was once a florist).
On Day 2, the Wednesday before New Year’s Eve, after a leisurely start to the day and light breakfast, and with Bill on the golf course, we decided to get in Tamara Grace and drive up the Pacific Coast north of Wollongong. For those who don’t know, she is the White 2012 BMW I20i convertible that my brother left me when he passed. My brother is not my sister’s brother but that story is too complicated to explain, so I’ll just explain that Tammy is named after Tamara de Lempicka and Grace Kelly, and I’m sure THAT is as clear as mud. She looks something like this:
Even though it is summer the weather has been rainy, so we didn’t risk top down on the way up. We didn’t go far, just 40klm (25 mi) to the picturesque coastal village of Stanwell Park, but we stuck to the coast road, so it wound through a cluster of northern suburbs before reaching Bulli. All the way, heading north, the Pacific Ocean is on the right, and the escarpments of the Great Dividing Range are on the left, and the land strip between can become very narrow. There are two steep passes leading up to the main highway to Sydney. One is immediately north of Wollongong and the other is at Bulli. The Bulli Pass has had many improvements over the years, but in my youth, one of its notable features was sandtrap runoff areas to catch vehicles, especially heavily laden trucks, who had lost control on the steep descent. All very exciting.
We were following a portion of the Grand Pacific Drive, total length of 140 kilometres (87 mi); and this section of the road is called Lawrence Hargave Drive, after the English-born aeronautical pioneer and inventor who settled here. His 1890s development of flying machines is only one part of his remarkable life story.
From Bulli, the road becomes very scenic, passing through small villages such as Thirroul, and Austinmer, popular with holidaymakers, and then even smaller communities such as Coledale, Wombarra, Scarborough, Clifton, Seacliff and Coalcliff. You may guess from the last name what these communities were built on – the escarpment foothills are rich in coal. All of these townships are serviced by train stations but the Sydney express passes through except for Helensburgh (north of Stanwell Park) and Thirroul (south), where you can transfer to an all stops service. If you ever take the train from Sydney, you might like to sit on the left heading south, and on the right heading north. This will give you rainforest and coastal views, but the reverse aspect is also interesting. Before the 1970s many people came to this part of the coast for their summer holidays and pitched their tents on the foreshore for free. It’s still possible to camp at some beaches, but with tighter control and more cost.
At this point the road is practically in the ocean, and is subject to rock falls and erosion, consequently in 2003 some communities were cut off when the road basically fell into the sea. The Scarborough Pub and the Imperial Hotel at Clifton closed and fell into disrepair (take a look at the link for a short video on how close it is to the ocean. Actually, there is a lot of interesting information and photos on that website). Both have since re-opened, with the Imperial more recently having a major face lift, and each was doing a roaring trade when we passed. Both carparks were full. (Eeek – my sister and I are avoiding crowds).
One of the jewels in the crown of this drive is the replacement Seacliff Bridge. You will find photos of this bridge in all the tourism brochures and advertisements. Although shrouded in sea mist, the picture below clearly shows the remnants of the previous road which collapsed.
You can find parking at either end of the bridge and walk all, or part, of it. We chose not to on this occasion, but I have taken tourists there in the past – so watch out if you come visit. Obviously, the views are great, and in the right month you might see migrating whales. Here’s how it would look from footpath level:
I’d arranged to meet a good friend of mine, fellow author Christine Sykes. She has two books under her belt, the novel The Changing Room, and her memoir Gough & Me. Currently she is contracted for a third novel, and I had some source material of interest. Hence the ‘less than attractive’ plastic bag on the table in the below photo, and the intense look of concentration on Chris’ face as I was obviously explaining a pertinent (or not) point. I recommend her books to you.
As you can see, the café where we met for a coffee, and, in our case, a shared light lunch for my sister and I, was outdoors, in a
converted weatherboard house newly built kiosk* (see Chris’ correction in remarks) with a wraparound verandah surrounded by lush coastal trees and palms. Those who remember my recent posts regarding naughty cockatoos will be delighted to see that one cheeky fellow joined us in the hope we would share our lunch with him.
It was a wonderful catchup, and my sister was interested in our conversation – in fact, she was very helpful with her insights into what she enjoys in books and film. I think being in the company of an author was a first for her 🙂 We ended up staying a couple of hours, longer than we’d intended, but time was not our master on this day.
The beach and rainforest hamlet of Stanwell Park sits in a deep valley between two high hills. Had we driven up to the one pictured below, we would have been on Bald Hill. It is from here that Lawrence Hargrave launched his successful flight. These days it is hangliders and paragliders who launch themselves from its 300 metres (980 ft) elevation. And the views from here are stupendous.
For us, it was time to head for home, with my sister happy snapping from the low slung front passenger seat. Tamara does have seating for another two in the back, but you’d hardly do a long distance trip that way. This classy lady is designed for sporty days out. The trouble is, in an Australian summer it can actually be too hot with the top down; and when travelling at motorway speed with large trucks either side, you can feel intimated. But like Goldilocks, this day out was ‘just right’, and with the sun out and staying out, we happily cruised back in convertible mode.
Back at home, we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed down to our communal lounge area. On account of the increase in transmission due to the Omicron strain of COVID, our restaurant and bar had decided to call off the New Year’s Eve celebration planned for Friday, and close altogether for the week, so we were free to BYO (bring your own). A couple of my neighbour friends were there and a short time later we were joined by a third. We had a pleasant socially-distanced get together for an hour or two before heading home to Bill for dinner, and – more chat. Good food and good company is helping my sister wind down 🙂