Australia, from Brisbane to Pittwater
Yesterday morning we left Fraser Island and after a trip with a lot of wind we finally arrive at the marina near Manly, south of Brisbane. Here we tie Happy to a jetty with running water and electricity. Luxury! But we need to do some work as well.We go to the watersports shop around the corner with a long shopping list. What a disappointing experience! The employee at the shop isn't exactly helpful: all he can tell us is "if it's not on the shelves, we don't have it" and he doesn't seem to provide any service whatsoever. We soon leave, after having paid far too much, but without a new dinghy or new hatches to replace our leaking ones. Just outside the city we find a small company which sells really nice dinghies and we buy our new hatches at Whitworths, in the centre of the town. We finish a couple more repairs and then it's time for some fun.
In Vanuatu we met Sue and Rod and their children. They live in one of the suburbs of Brisbane and we are going to visit them. They take us to a piece of land owned by Sue's brother where we are finally going to see our first kangaroos. And yes, we see one, in the middle of the road, flat and dead as a doornail. On our way there we stop to try the best meat pie in Australia and then we are off to look for live kangaroos. But it's the middle of the day, when you normally don't see kangaroos. For our lunch the barbie is lighted and we tuck into sausage rolls. At the end of the day we make another tour of the land to look for hopping fellows and in a flash we see two big ones quickly hop away.On the way back we stop at a meadow. There are at least four kangaroos standing around. They look at us suspiciously while we take a few pictures. We meet the owner of the land. He isn't that happy with the kangaroos, because they eat too much of his grass.
On Dory's birthday we head into the city. Her birthday present is a new watch, so we can keep up with the times. We visit a couple of tourist attractions and enjoy a last dinner with Sue and Rod. They really spoiled us with Grolsch beer and a bottle of Baileys. But then it is time to cast off and continue our trip south.
We are going to Southport on the Gold Coast and to get there we have to follow a meandering route via different inland waterways. Before we leave, we set up our course in our GPS with no less than sixty waypoints. At some point we turn right and are surprised to see enormous skyscrapers on the horizon. Southport turns out to be an enormous city where luxury life is all-important and money is no object. We drop our anchor in a bay which is a favourite among sailors because it's free, which is rather unusual in this expensive area. You can stay there for a whole week, free of charge. For several days we mingle with the rich and famous and their enormous yachts and marinas where Happy isn't welcome because it's far too small. Every ten minutes a helicopter with tourists flies over the bay and aqua scooters screech around our boat; the noise produced by all these holiday makers is deafening. But it's probably good for the economy.
A couple of years ago in New Zealand we found an old book by Alan Lucas in which he describes the beauty of the rivers on the east coast of New South Wales in Australia. Now we are finally here and Dory's dream of sailing along the Clarence River, the longest river in Australia that can be sailed with a sailing boat, is going to come true at last. With our newly bought, most recent edition of the old book we leave the noise behind us and sail towards Iluka at the river's estuary.
The entry of the estuaries of most rivers on the east coast of Australia is blocked by a so-called bar, a sandbank you have to negotiate. Several people told us they can be a dangerous obstacle when the current is wrong and the wind is coming from a specific direction.We plan the moment to cross the bar as accurately as possible and we arrive in Iluka without any problems. Here we wait for calm weather so we can continue on the river. We call Harwood Bridge's bridgemaster and arrange that we will arrive at the bridge at ten. Hans films us sailing under the bridge. We continue on our route, which again has many waypoints, among sugar cane fields alternated with charming views and little villages.
A couple of times we see our depth gauge go below 50 centimetres, but we manage to get through without feeling the bottom. We are now in Grafton, anchored near a double bridge which can no longer be opened. We visit the town which has a lot of old buildings along the river and we are amazed yet again about the many birds. We see a tree full of rainbow lorikeets and when we are on our boat, we sometimes hear birds sneezing or laughing.
We sail down the river again to spend a couple of days in Maclean. This village with a Scottish touch has stolen our hearts. It is very prettily decorated with beautiful old buildings, lampposts with different tartans en painted shop windows. We mount our new hatches and we top up our water and food supplies at the public jetty. Then we leave for Port Stephens. The trip takes two days and during the nights we see a lot of lights on shore. There are a lot of big ships. Our AIS keeps beeping. We arrive at the right moment to cross the bar and once we are in the inland waters of Port Stephens, we continue on to Fame Cove where we pick up a mooring buoy in a perfectly calm bay.
During the weekend this bay is filled with Australian boats and this is how we meet Irene and Douglas. They have a house in the area and they invite us to drop our anchor there and to pop by for lunch. But before we accept their invitation, we want to go to Kahrua. Without thinking about tides, we leave to sail up the river and pick up a mooring near Kahrua. When we see our depth gauge indicate 767, which means there is only zero centimetres left under the keel, we realise that we should have done this trip at high tide. But again we manage to reach a beautiful spot to drop our anchor (there was no mooring available) without feeling the bottom. We had already heard about the storms in this area and we now realise these are thunderstorms. At the end of the afternoon we hear a lot of rumbling in the sky and this continues until midnight. In the evening, we watch from our deck for a while and all around us we see flashes of light, as if hundreds of photographers around our boat are taking pictures. We have never seen a thunderstorm like this.
We walk around for a bit in the area near Kahrua and then we lift the anchor to sail to our lunch appointment. We meet Irene and Douglas and they spoil us the whole day. Swimming in their swimming pool, lunch on their terrace, a warm shower, our laundry is done and we shop in a huge shopping centre. This will keep us going for a while. We stay a bit longer in Port Stephens at various anchorages so we can take cover from the constantly changing wind direction. When the weather is finally calm again, we leave for Pittwater, a little north of Sydney.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)