Rather than covering the same ground up the coast road between Sydney and Brisbane we decided to go back via the inland highway and only go back to the coast when we reached the Gold Coast. On the way out of Sydney we stopped at the Brisbane Waters National Park to look at some Aboriginal Engravings. These were simple pictures carved into the ground and not as impressive as the more colourful rock paintings we had seen in the Northern Territory. Because they were carved into the ground and weren't coloured they were difficult to make out. We then drove inland and spent the night in Singleton in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was Richard's birthday but we'd polished off the champagne the night before figuring it would be more enjoyable in our lovely apartment overlooking Manly Beach than in a motel on the road somewhere. But we had a good celebratory dinner at a nice old pub where Richard cooked his own steak on the bbq there - man cook steak on barbie! There are quite a lot of pubs in Australia where you can cook your own steak (chicken, fish etc) which is quite fun.
The next day we passed through another town which had an English name, Tamworth and funnily enough this is where my Dad lives at home! We have been through so many places named after towns in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The inland highway is much more picturesque than the coastal road which doesn't actually go down much of the coast. That night we stayed in Glen Innes which has a very heavy Celtic influence. They have scottish tea shops and have even built their own standing stones in the style of astronomical monuments such as Stone Henge. We thought they must be quite old but eventually found the date they were erected - 1992! Impressive but puzzling. After a sickeningly hilly and windy drive over the Great Dividing Range we reached the coast again where we saw the Big Prawn.
We spent our final week with Mum on the Gold Coast in a lovely apartment overlooking Surfers Paradise beach. This one had a great, warm, bubbly spa outside but with a roof to protect from the sun and we spent a good few hours in there over the week. There was also an outside pool but it wasn't very warm so it was a quick dip in and out. But we didn't put our feet up all the time, we had a great time seeing some of the most exciting wildlife of our trip. Surfers has the reputation of being the party capital of the Gold Coast so Mum wasn't sure if it would be her cup of tea but it's actually just a really busy, fun place with lots of cafes, shops and lots of nightlife for those that want it.
It was difficult to tell but I think we saw about five different whales and at times two or three were swimming together right beside or
infront of the boat. A couple even went underneath the boat and then surfaced just in front of us blowing water out of their blowholes,
waving a fin or flicking a tail. But the most amazing point was when they breached throwing their massive bodies completely out of the
water at least fifteen times while we were watching. It was a good job they breached so many times because often the first we knew about
it was when we heard a big splash behind us and then everyone would quickly turn their cameras and wait for the next appearance. On the
way back a couple of dolphins swam past the boat.
After whale watching we went on a guided tour of the Minjungbal Cultural Centre learning about how life was for Aboriginal people who lived in the area. Our guide, Latoya, took us on a walk through bushland and mangrove swamps to the river and then showed us the ancient Bora Ring which is no longer used but was a sacred ceremonial site used in the ritual tribal initiation of aboriginal boys into manhood.
The next day Margaret took us on a tour of the area where she has lived for many
years visiting viewpoints in the area where there were stunning views over the coast and inland to Mount Warning and the
inland rivers. So many of the houses in this area are built by the water, either by the sea or on a river which is either natural or
man-made and it must be one of the most beautiful places to live. The view from Margaret's house which is on a hill is lovely and from the
road behind the house you can see the ocean and whales when they are in season.
Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay made up of dead coral. As you can see it is a small island completely surrounded by reef and this makes it a perfect place to explore the reef from. No sooner were we off the airplane than we were donning wetsuits and climbing into a glassbottomed boat for a little tour of the underwater world before we went snorkelling. The first bit of excitement was caused by the sight of a turtle bobbing up for air near the boat. I was so excited as it was the first time I had seen a large turtle in the sea. When we were in Cairns some people had seen them but I had missed them.
The next bit of excitement was snorkelling, well it was for Mum and the other people on the trip because none of them had done it before. Mum was great once she got the hang of it and there were lots and lots of fish for her to see. As you can see we looked very fetching in our wetsuits as well - Creature from the Black Lagoon? Then the most exciting things happened, first of all I spotted this wonderful turtle swimming near me, so graceful and beautiful and not at all perturbed by my presence so I started to swim with it, slightly behind it and then I got the shock of my life as a large black menacing looking creature swam up beneath me right under my body and face. It took a minute for me to realise that it was a Manta Ray which can have a wing span of 2 metres, and although they look so imposing they are completely harmless. I was still terrified because as it glided gracefully beneath me I was worried that I might touch it and hurt it. Amazing.
And so that was pretty much the end of our holiday with Mum. But what a way to finish. I really didn't want to say goodbye and driving to the airport and leaving Mum there was hard. But I know that it won't be long until we are home again and in the meantime there is a big wide world out there to explore. When we left the airport we spent another few days in Brisbane.