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Archive for the ‘Blue Mountains’ Category

Something of an Apollo 13 feel to our time in Australia so far; a string of technical problems and failures one after the other, requiring all our ingenuity to overcome them. Today we cleared out of our cabin in the Blue Mountains (we had 100mm of rain overnight, and we sure heard it), got the SatNav set up and made our way back down towards the coast. But the little gizmo that plugs into the cigar lighter to power Lady TomTom went on the blink almost immediately, requiring Kirsten’s magic touch to get it to work at all, with every bump of the road then breaking the connection again.

Soon it had degenerated to such an extent that Lady TomTom’s battery was flat so we turned off into Springfield to park. A rummage around in the boot to cobble together an alternative power source – another gadget that converts the car power socket’s 12 volts up to 240 volts AC, then a mains power adaptor to bring it down to 5 volts DC for Lady TT. Fortunately she was happy with this Heath Robinson solution so we continued our journey in her capable hands.

We cut across a corner to bypass Sydney, heading past Camden and Picton (we visited their namesakes in the USA and NZ respectively) to Wollongong where we picked up the Princes Highway (no, don’t know where the apostrophe should go; they never seem to use it) which runs around a fair portion of Australia’s coast. It turned dry for a while so we stopped to have our sandwiches (Hannah made them for us this morning) at a rest area.

Soon the rain resumed and the rest of the journey was in miserable drizzle. We attempted to stop in Berry (full of craft shops and nice places to eat), but even on a wet Saturday it was so popular with Sydneysiders and tourists that we could find absolutely nowhere to park. So we pressed on to Nowra and got directions to a big shopping centre with a KMart and a Woolworths. The former provided us with sets of bed linen (seems we’ll need our own sheets most of the time given our strict budget) as well as new footwear for the girls. We got a few days’ provisions at Woolworths (my debit card doesn’t work at this branch either) before driving on to our destination in Woollamia.

We got there just in time for tea. There’s plenty of space in this holiday home even if it’s a bit musty and tatty in places, and it’s tucked away in a quiet spot in Jervis Bay. Can’t say much about the surroundings as the weather has stayed too grotty to get out; the forecast is more of the same for Sunday and Monday but maybe our last day here will be fine…

This evening the ‘My Documents’ area of the laptop failed, becoming so corrupted that we are now barred from accessing anything stored there. At least we’re up to date with uploading our blog entries so we haven’t lost any text, but we are left wondering what is going to go wrong next. And at least the Apollo 13 mission returned home safely, so we’ll stick with that analogy…

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Plunder Down Under

When there was an item on the news yesterday about a copyright dispute over alleged tune-pinching involving two Australian songs I assumed it would all be lost on me, being a Pom and all that. But the songs in question turn out to be ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work (I remember it being a hit in 1983) and ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’, which features on the girls’ CD of Songs from Around the World.

And sure enough, the second phrase of the well-known flute riff in ‘Down Under’ exactly mirrors the first few bars of ‘Kookaburra’. But for nigh on 30 years no-one bothered about this, even the lady who composed the children’s round for a group of Girl Guides back in the ’30s. However, Larrikin Music acquired the rights to ‘Kookaburra’ (and I can hear one chortling away as I type) a few years ago and presumably saw an opportunity to boost their finances – and probably couldn’t believe their luck when the judge ruled in their favour. They now stand to receive a ridiculous 60% of Men at Work’s royalties backdated to the eighties.

This is a travesty. From a purely mathematical point of view, it is impossible to write a diatonic (white-note) melody without unwittingly quoting some existing composition; there are so many tunes out there already that you can’t avoid ’em all. The classic example is ‘Yes, we have no bananas’ which clearly plagiarises the Hallelujah Chorus in its first four notes. There’s also a healthy track record of intentional inclusion of musical snippets; are the French complaining about La Marseillaise featuring in ‘All you need is love’? (well, probably…)

If the main ‘hook’ is identical to another song, there’s more of a case, e.g. the ‘My Sweet Lord’/’He’s So Fine’ plagiarism suit. Even there, to rule that the former had only 25% original material over its predecessor does not explain the huge success of the Harrison song in comparison to the Ronald Mack composition. But an Australian band quoting a familiar folk tune (and not even as part of the main melody)? There should be no case to answer.

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Blue Mountains

I slept much better last night, probably because it wasn’t raining constantly.  But just as I was about to point that out to Tim, we had yet another downpour.  Was today going to be a washout like yesterday, or would we have a chance to get out and stay dry-ish?

As we were finishing our breakfast of grilled hot cross buns the sky cleared up and we quickly put our shoes and raincoats on and hopped into the car.  We had only driven a couple of minutes when we saw another low cloud hanging over the road and thought that would be the end of our trip.  But fortunately it was just that, a low cloud.

About five minutes later we arrived at Govett’s Leap Lookout.  We didn’t hold much hope of any view, but walked over to the lookout anyway.  Almost immediately we were rewarded with some view.  Although the clouds were still hanging low, we got some idea of what Grose Valley looked like.  And as by magic, the clouds lifted and the sun tried really hard to get through (just for us) and the views were amazing.  To our right we could see the magnificent Bridal Veil Falls and decided to walk down towards a lower lookout point.
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The path to Govett’s Leap was covered in trickles of water but we managed to get down and enjoy even better views of both the Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls.
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Ellen, being into horses, was really keen to walk down to the Horseshoe Falls.  But we had only gone down that path for a couple of hundred metres when we were faced with big puddle after big puddle and had to make a U-turn back to the car.

As we neared the car it started to spit with rain again and made it into the car just in time before the heavy downpour.  We were pretty pleased with ourselves – the clouds had lifted in front of our eyes and we stayed dry.

Because of the rain we settled for plan B, which was another visit to Katoomba, this time in search of the library.  After a couple of attempts (due to unexpected roadworks and detours) we found a car park just around the corner of the Arcade which houses the library.  We spent about an hour and a half in there flicking through books and magazines before going in search of a bakery for lunch.

We went back home armed with a baguette and a couple of doughnuts and cakes.  After lunch the sky was still clear so we dashed across the road to the playground in the Memorial Park.

The playground is nicely laid out with lots of climbing equipment, slides and whizzy things that Hannah especially loves.  At the top part of the park were a shoe, car, wagon and plane made out of metal.  The girls loved the plane, climbing on top and jumping off, pretending to be sky diving.  The grown-ups joined in as well, but it all became a bit too much after a while and we ended up having a rest while the girls carried on running around and “sky diving”.
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The grown-ups were in desperate need of a hot drink and cake so we managed to drag the girls back across the road.  As it turned out, again just in time before yet another major downpour.  It is now six hours later and it is still chucking it down, and it is really loud!

Our humble abode and posh car.
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The girls spent the afternoon drawing, colouring in and watching “Scorpion Island” and “Sleepover Club”.

A tasty supper of potatoes, carrots and chicken was finished off with juicy nectarines.  Then time again for diaries and winding down before bed.

Tomorrow we’re off to Jervis Bay and hopefully some slightly drier weather…

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It has now been raining for well over 24 hours without a break and it looks set to continue for the remainder of our time here. Such a shame when we’re so close to some spectacular scenery – apparently. But there’s no visibility; we’re often enveloped by passing clouds in addition to the sheeting precipitation. Last night the heaviest downpours woke us up, sitting in a tin can as we are.

We needed to get some food so we drove to Katoomba, the main commercial centre round here. Coles Supermarket provided us with a couple of evening meals and we then searched for a library where we could pass a dry hour or two. But things are so inadequately signposted here; the free maps have all the sponsoring businesses marked on them but nothing such as ‘parking’, ‘supermarket’, ‘bank’, etc. Even the Information Office proved elusive, and when we finally located it we were put off by the fact we needed to buy a ticket to park there.

So we paused in nearby Leura to have a morning snack; our view was like this. (That’s not blue sky, it’s the tinting on the windscreen.)
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On the way back we spent a small fortune on tickets to see a film called The Edge on a six-storey-high screen – although I’d say that’s a bit of a tall storey (probably more like four). Just over thirty minutes of footage taken around the Blue Mountains with helicopters flying over cliff edges, vertiginous views down waterfalls, descents into scarcely-explored canyons, climbers scaling near-impossible peaks. At least we could get some idea of what we’re missing.

Beans on toast for lunch to warm us up, and an afternoon looking out on this:
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We occupied ourselves for the rest of the day; Hannah produced the following (with Ellen assisting with the colouring). That New Zealand terminal ‘Z’ has clearly rubbed off on her.
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The forecast indicates rain for not just the rest of our time in Blackheath but also our four pre-booked days in Jervis Bay. We ought to be zooming down to Melbourne; they have unbroken sunshine from tomorrow onwards. But we’ve committed ourselves now – perhaps we’ll wait before booking anything further until we’ve checked the likely weather in that region.

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Hot and dry? Ha!

Kirsten’s first words to me this morning were “we ought to get some Feta cheese”. I gave her a baffled look, mainly because I know she has a strong aversion to the stuff (and it’s also a pretty bizarre opening line). It then transpired that she had said “fitted sheets” and all became clear – our next two stays do not provide linen.

We got up and packed by just after 9 this morning and fretted at the sheer quantity of miscellaneous bags we now require to contain our belongings. Seven rucksacks, a cool bag for food, a purple Farmers bag for fleeces and towels, two carrier bags for our walking boots, another for dirty laundry. That’s twelve, I think…

Farewell to AMG Ryde.
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Anyway, we took over half of Reception while we waited for the large taxi we ordered. It duly arrived and $42 later we were delivered to the Europcar depot in Granville. Fine, they had our reservation and the car was ready – just the formality of a credit card to pay for it all. Smile Visa – Cancelled. Okay, so let’s try First Direct Visa – Cancelled. What???

Now by this time I had no more credit cards left; Kirsten’s account was inaccessible and the FairFX card had insufficient funds to cover six weeks’ car hire. A grim moment – here we were ready to explore, all our bags laid out in the forecourt, nowhere to stay in Sydney and now left in the lurch with no car. Could we set up the laptop, transfer funds into the FairFX account and then hope that the card worked? But the laptop was playing up again (disk full).

The full implications didn’t really sink in, but this car is a vital link in our travels, getting us from here to Adelaide whence we take the train to Alice Springs. We can’t not rent it. The man at the desk was not especially helpful, apart from suggesting shortening the rental period so the FairFX card would cover it. Not really an option for us. Strongly-worded emails to banks began composing themselves in my head.

In an attempt to rule out any remaining options I handed over my First Direct Visa Debit card, not expecting any joy (this card always gets rejected at Woolworths). And it worked! O frabjous day! We had slain the credit-block; we were on the road. [‘Twas billing and the sly vetoes did mire the rental in the morn. All flimsy were the borrow-codes, nor the motorist o’er-drawn…]

I found the car, a plush new Ford, and checked out the boot space. Ample room for passengers, but not so much for luggage; perhaps we’d have to ask for a different model with a bigger rear. We gave it a go and were pleasantly surprised to find that it exceeded the capacity of our New Zealand vehicle – it swallowed our dozen bags with room for more.

Get Lady TomTom out for her final tour of duty and head off into the remote wilderness of the Blue Mountains. No – stop! Vital to pay our wad of cash into the owner’s bank account to reserve our four nights in Jervis Bay (before 3pm today, or else). So first a detour to the middle of Granville to make our deposit in the Commonwealth Bank.

Heading west at last; such busy roads after NZ, and riddled with speed cameras. The rain set in and stayed with us all day as we drove away from Sydney. Stretches of motorway with traffic peeling away at every junction; soon we’d be surrounded by pure mountain air and be revelling in the breathtaking scenery. We stopped at the information point at the gateway to the Blue Mountains; not just a board with a map on it but a fully-staffed visitor centre. Well, okay, more of a souvenir shop where they’d help you book your accommodation. We piled up the freebies and left.

Maybe one of the maps would show us where we could pause for a scenic picnic by a waterfall. Various points of interest marked along the road – no, wait a minute, they’re all shops and businesses. So we’ll drive on and stop at one of those NZ-style rest areas.

We drove on. An interminable suburban journey at 60kph, built-up zone after built-up zone. Not a glimpse of any mountain, any waterfall. Remote wilderness my [insert requisite part of one’s anatomy]. Lady TomTom ticked down the miles; through Leura and Katoomba in the grey drizzle, stuck behind lorries through to our destination of Blackheath. Nowhere remotely worth stopping to have our sandwiches.

Blue caravan signs led the way to the creatively-named Blackheath Caravan Park where we checked in. Here my Smile Visa card worked without a hitch – yes, the one that failed me just hours earlier. The owner was far more helpful regarding our difficulties – chip and PIN is a new thing in Australia and not all the card machines are set up to work correctly. So perhaps it’s not us, it’s them. Not that it’s any consolation when you’re unexpectedly barred from paying.

We are in cabin no. 1, right next to the entrance. It’s old but clean, we were informed, and it’ll do us fine for the next few days. Essentially it’s a small mobile home with a double bedroom, a passageway with a toilet/shower room off it along with a triple bunk, and then a kitchen diner with a sofa bed at the other end. We’re well off the road and it’s so peaceful here, with just the sporadic downpours and the odd kookaburra to disturb us.

We explored wet Blackheath to stock up with things for tea and supper before abandoning the latter in favour of fish and chips. When we later returned for our takeaway (the imaginatively-named Blackheath Fish & Chips) we were fascinated to see that our receipt read as follows:

2x Fish & Chips
4x Nuggets
1x no Salt
1x no Lemon
1x Female
1x Blue Shirt
1x Male
1x Dark Blue
1x Glasses

Never seen that before; do they have problems with imposters pinching someone else’s order? Though I would have thought that 1x Girl Pink and 1x Girl Red would have been a more discerning identifier. At least we didn’t have a price on our heads.

Back at base the girls watched their first Australian Children’s TV (a bizarre cartoon about a hypnotised dog called Gooser and ‘Scorpion Island’ – which has been shown in the UK – in which teams of children compete in various outdoor challenges). I struggled with our constipated laptop which now showed zero memory available and refused even to connect to the internet to allow me to search for a solution. We seriously contemplated ditching it for a larger-capacity model that works, but we don’t think we’ll find a Blackheath Netbook Shop.

At length and with great difficulty I tracked down the source of the problem (a series of failed installations clogging things up), but we were precariously close to losing our online banking, accommodation research, let along email and blogging facilities. It shreds the nerves to be on the brink of losing your means of accessing money and your means of accessing the internet, both on the same day.

The forecast looks damp for our entire stay here (thanks to Hurricane Olga) but we might check out the shops in Katoomba tomorrow; we’ll make a dash for the mountains and the views if the weather decides to clear temporarily.

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