Australia 2007 part 2 - Port Stephens

Sandy on the beach at Port Stephens

We had arranged for a rental car the night before through the hotel. The guy at the conciererge gave me the tip that we should request that the car be delivered really early in the morning, like six am. He said that then they always brought it over the night before, so they didn't have to get up so early! That way you could be sure that your car was there ahead of time and before any other requests were handled. Sure enough, it worked just like he said.

Next morning we wanted to do a little more shopping before we left. Sandy hadn't felt well Monday evening, so we cut our shopping short. That wouldn't do. Fortunately, the shops in Sydney all open quite early, either 9:00 or 9:30. So we thought that we could make a quick shopping run before we left town on Tuesday. I had seen a really nice opal at one of the shops nearby and wanted her to go take a look at it. It was expensive, but a really fantastic piece. But in all the jewelry shopping I got confused, and the price was actually way more than I had remembered. So she decided to pass.

We collected our rental car, threw in our luggage, and got directions to the freeway. We drove over the Harbor Bridge and headed north. It was freeway at first, but like a lot of freeways right through the center of large cities it was old and very cramped. Sydney has very narrow lanes on it's freeways and other highways. It's not bad when you get out of the city. One thing they have lots of is space. After a while the freeway ended and we were driving on a highway on normal city streets. But I had printed directions from Google and everything was signed very well. I drove and Sandy navigated and we had no problem. The Australians drive on the left but since we live in Singapore that was no problem. And they use roundabouts heavily, but having lived in the UK I knew the rules. In fact, I think roundabouts work really well and I had fun driving through them again. I wish we had them in the US. But they only work well with the British rules! If you use the French rules, they are a mess.

Steve at trailhead in koala reserve

We drove up to Port Stephens. It is another huge, very complex inlet from the ocean, even larger than Port Jackson. But Port Stephens has no large cities on it, mostly small towns that are recreation oriented. We went to Nelson Bay, the largest of the towns on the south side. We had lunch at the Hog's Breath Cafe. Although it didn't say, from the menu and even the decor of the place, it was clearly associated with the Hog's Breath Cafe's that we have in Singapore. But I don't think it is connected with the famous one in Key West. We had a nice lunch looking out over the water on a beautiful sunny day.

From there we drove around to the Tilligery peninsula. There are only very small towns on this peninsula and it is known for its large wild koala population. There are a number of koala habitat reserves on the peninsula as well. A lot of effort goes into trying to preserve the wild koalas. There are signs with emergency numbers to call if you find an injured koala. They often cross roads at night and get hit by cars. They even have a law that restricts cutting eucalyptus trees - they are the koala's favorite food. The B&B we were staying at was right next to one of the reserves, and their website said that you could sometimes see them right through the window. So we were optimistic and anxious to see some koalas.

A hardened trail in a koala reserve

We found our B&B and it was very nice. The lady there said that no one had seen koalas nearby, but that the reserve a few miles away still had a lot of sightings. So we drove over there and took a walk. The path went along the edge of the water and was very pretty. They must get a lot of visitors as the trail is really "hardened". Most of it is a boardwalk so walkers don't do any damage. We walked along slowly staring up into the trees, but no koalas.

No worries. The lady had told us a place we could go to see lots of kangaroos for sure at dusk. I guess they gather like deer do in North America. So we drove over after our koala walk. No 'roos. We grabbed pizza and pasta take away on the way back to our B&B for dinner.

The place that we stayed was really nice. It was a house with an extra wing with just three rooms. Since we took up two of them there was only one other couple there as guests the night we were there. The rooms and decorations were really nice, and breakfast the next morning was great. And I'm not even a breakfast person.

The next morning we planned to leave for Coonabarabran. Try saying that three times really fast. Best I could tell when the locals said it, they pronounced it "coon a ba ra bran". And the last syllable came out sounding more like "brin". Not the way I guessed the first time, but it's their town so they can say it however they like.

Breakfast at the B&B on the Tilligery peninsula

We figured that we had five to six hours of driving. Our route went through the Hunter Valley. This is Australia's most famous wine producing region. There must have been way over a hundred wineries just off of the one highway we drove. The Hunter Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in Australia. It really doesn't have the best climate for growing grapes, but since it has been there so long and it is so close to Sydney, it has a lot of well established and famous wineries. The most famous winery, and one which you have probably heard of, is Lindeman's. It's in the Hunter Valley. We made brief stops at two wineries near the highway for tasting, and of course purchasing of wines. We figured that we could get a few bottles to drink while we were in Australia, and could bring two or three back home with us. Since wine is really expensive in Singapore, we figured that was a good deal.

Vinyards in the Hunter Valley

We did make one discovery. The wineries we stopped at had a wine called Verdelho that we had never heard of before. It was really good, so we got a bottle of it at each of the wineries we visited. Our plan was to take them back to Singapore. We looked it up and Verdelho turns out to be a white grape from Portugal grown on the island of Madeira and almost nowhere else, except the Hunter Valley of Australia. So it was a fun find. Unfortunately tragedy struck later in the trip. In our hurry to leave Coonabarabran later in the week (to be covered in a later post) we left the bottles of Verdelho in the motel room. That is two trips in a row where we lost our really good wine. On our trip to France, we had two bottles of Viognier confiscated by airport security when we tried to carry them on the plane. We have a very bad streak going. I hope bad things don't come in threes.

To be continued...

Additional pictures

Port Stephens