Australia on fire ….
When the bushfires starting making the news mid October, we felt relieved that it was a month before we embarked on our roadtrip from Brisbane to Sydney. Plenty of time for things to be back to normal. Little could we have even begun to contemplate what would happen, how things were to deteriorate and the fires would be far from over as we set off early December. As I write this on 1 January 2020, large areas of the country are still on fire. Hundreds of home have been lost, smoke is still billowing across Australia, over the Pacific and covering parts of New Zealand. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with thousands of people affected.
Driving down the coast ….
Friends that we’d hoped to see at their home in Gosford were holidaying in Nelson Bay so we had the opportunity to return to a place we hadn’t been since our early days in the country. As it is a fair distance off the main road, it is not somewhere one stops in transit unless there’s a reason to do so. This meant taking the coast road, which seems to have been under construction ever since we arrived in the country 25 years ago. It’s impossible to describe how dry everything was and the starving cattle we saw along the way – no grass around and insufficient money to buy food. Areas of bushland were blackened from the recent blazes and roadsigns were melted from the heat. Similarly indescribable was the amount of smoke – all the way from the QLD/NSW border and particularly heavy as we approached our first stopover. With only one road in and out of the beautiful beachside town, we were aware that there was always the risk of getting in and not being able to drive out.
Once checked into our apartment, other than the weird red tinge to the sky, we were fortunate to be able to escape the terrors around and enjoy a relaxing time. We even saw a koala with a joey on her back very low in a tree next to the road. The following morning was spent catching up with our friends Martin & Michelle – always inspiring and challenging people to chat to.
Having spent a lot of time at Lake Macquarie before our move to Manly in Sydney, it was good to have an excuse to stop off there too. Other friends, Cathy and Robert recently moved into a new development in Cooranbong a rural community near the lake. We spent a couple of days driving through some old haunts, seeing some new ones and talking, eating & drinking too much.
We stayed in an apartment in central Manly that we’d stayed in before and owned by a lovely family. Our first morning we woke up to the smell of burning – like the apartment building was on fire. The smoke from the nearby bushfires was so bad that day that it was setting off fire alarms in city buildings and even one of the main train stations.
Other than a few appointments, most of the time was spent enjoying seeing a few people and having dinner with our friend Tracey to celebrate her birthday.
Our ferry trip across the harbour from the city to Manly was fun. We were on board one of the new Sydney ferries for the first time. Even more interesting was sailing alongside one of the Sydney to Hobart maxis, Wild Oats XI. We’ve always enjoyed the ferry ride but this was the icing on the top.
Inland to Armidale….
We took the inland New England Highway for our return trip to Brisbane, stopping off at Armidale to see Michael & Melissa, friends we hadn’t seen for ages. Armidale was buzzing while we were there. The town centres on the university, UNE, and it was graduation weekend. We were caught up in the excitement as Michael runs the law faculty.
Whilst we couldn’t visit any of the local national parks as they were closed because of the fires, we had a great time eating pies at neighbouring Uralla, tasting gin at a nearby distillery and having a guided tour of the university.
Sadly, with so many fires in the area and because it is in a dip, the smoke in Armidale was particularly bad. Whilst we were very sad to say goodbye to Melissa & Michael, we were happy to leave some of the bad air behind.
An eventful day….
The terrain seemed a little greener north of Armidale. We stopped off at Stanthorpe to support a local community that has the current reputation of being the place that has run out of water. In supporting the local baker, we wondered whether it was a good thing to contribute to the economy or whether we were just draining some more of the precious resource. On chatting to him, we realised that he was grateful for the customers – as he said, he’s running a business and has to keep things going anyway.
After the NSW/QLD border, we had to take a detour as the main Cunningham Highway was closed. Whilst the threat of bushfires in the area had dies down, the risks of trees falling on to vehicles was high. Unfortunately, the windy road we chose as our alternative road turned out to be a less than optimal solution. A car had hit a tanker head on and a semi-unconscious man was trapped inside the car. The truck driver was unscathed which was good. There were enough people helping and the emergency services was still to arrive. Rather than wait in the 44 degree temperatures for what was likely to be hours, we decided to backtrack and take a longer way around. The benefit was that we could stop in Toowoomba for a coffee – we’d never been there before and we found a good coffee shop.