A New Adventure for Team J – Coffs Harbour, NSW

So after a good nights rest in our lovely room at the Charlesworth Bay Beach Resort in Coffs Harbour, we were up early to embark on a full day of activities.

Coffs Harbour is one of the largest urban centres on the North Coast of New South Wales. Situated 540km north of Sydney and 390km south of Brisbane, Queensland Coffs Harbour is our favourite holiday spot to relax and unwind. It is probably most known for the tourist attraction and amusement park, the Big Banana – a massive banana, the first of Australia’s Big Things it was built in 1964 on a banana plantation. You can walk through the Big Banana, pose for photos out the front too. It is a popular item on the Aussie tourist to do list. The weather in Coffs is always lovely – even in winter, and there are plenty of accommodation options available.

Up and ready for the day ahead, we started off by grabbing breakfast (and a coffee for me) at the Coffs Central Shopping Centre. Whilst there, I popped in to some shops for some bits and pieces for the day’s activities, and Mike bought the kids a Play Station VR set for Christmas. Whilst walking about the shopping centre we came upon Santa who was handing out candy canes. Caffeine hit, new swimmers (bathing suit), sunscreen, batteries for Tilly’s camera and the first Christmas gift sorted, we set off to our first activity for the day – checking out the Clog Barn Holiday Park.

 

 

This is a cute little attraction and accommodation option, that Mike and I have stayed at previously (December 2004 on our first posting from Sydney to Townsville). Back then the accommodation was clean and comfortable and unique. This time, we took the kids in to walk through the clog shop and model Dutch village before grabbing an ice cream each from Big Oma’s Coffee House (the morning was warming up quite quickly). Whilst eating our ice creams we met a lovely little pup by the name of Katherine who was enjoying her breakfast next to her owner. She had finished her breakfast before him though – for a tiny dog she could eat like Flash Lightning! Meanwhile, her owner was enjoying his big breakfast serving from Big Oma’s and holding conversation with Tilly and Mish. The staff there were all lovely and super friendly. At certain times, they run a clog making demonstration – we were too early for that, but you can still check out the workshop and look at clogs that have been made and are available for sale.

From there the Team headed to Dolphin Marine Magic. This is a fantastic education centre for young and old alike. The team there run shows daily to educate visitors on marine life and the conservation and preservation of our oceans. We arrived in time to catch the dolphin presentation which had a cameo by the lovely sea lion Adelaide. The dolphins, Zippy and Bella flipped and splashed, jumped and called out to the audience. The children were all enthralled by the experience. After the presentation, everyone was invited to come down to the pool where Zippy and Bella were doing the rounds for belly rubs (the LOVE their belly rubs). If you have not had the opportunity to pat a dolphin, they are very soft and smooth. Round and round they went, lapping up the attention. Then it was off to look at the other animals. We hung around the pool for a while, watching Zippy and Bella swim and play. They would come up to the sides to look at people, checking everyone out. Sometimes they would grab one of their balls and push it to the side to who ever was standing there wanting them to play. Mish was one of the lucky ones to be chosen by Zippy to play fetch – and he absolutely loved every minute of it.

Whilst we were still with the dolphins, Mike had snuck off to organise for the kids to meet Ozzie – a great big and beautiful sea lion. Last time we visited the park in 2009, the kids had their photos taken with one of the seals, and here they were going to get to do it all again. Ozzie, as you can see in the photos is a great big beautiful sea puppy. The kids were smitten with him, getting the chance to give him pats, toss the ball with him and feed him. For the photos they decided to poke their tongues out instead of getting a fishy, whiskery smooch from Oz.

Following the meet and greet with Ozzie, we headed up to see the Little Blue Penguins get their lunch. Initially we thought it was to watch the handlers feed them, but they had it all set up and visitors were able to line up and feed the penguins. They were so funny to watch, huddled up waiting for the handler to open the gate. The little wings and tails wiggling in anticipation for the big bucket of fishies. A few of them tried to climb off the little platform to dive right into the feeding bucket, the handler would gently set them back on the platform. They were adorable little characters, and oh boy can they put away their food!

 

The whole experience at Dolphin Magic centres around conservation and preservation of these wonderful creatures and their habitat. They are running an awareness program called Experience. Discover. Act. You can become involved in this program by simply snapping a selfie of you out and about picking up rubbish and tag on your social media it to #EDADMM – in doing so, they hope to spread awareness of the plight our marine life are facing due to pollution.

 

Before we knew it, it was coming up to lunch time and we were heading over to the next attraction – The Big Banana.

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Tilly and Mish letting me take a nice “normal” photo of them…

I don’t think a visit to Coffs Harbour is complete without a visit to the Big Banana. It is a large amusement park, spread out through a banana plantation. Right up behind the Big Banana is the café where you can enjoy coffee, cold drinks, cakes, hot meals and frozen bananas. There is a kids arcade next to the café, and out behind is the ticket counter for the other activities that are on offer. You can choose from tours, theatre (4D experience is coming soon), mini golf, laser tag, tobogganing, and if you are brave enough, you can try the Racer Slide. There is also a water park too cool off in, a cheese shop (for blessed are the cheese makers!) which not only have all things cheese, they run cheese making workshops and have a selection of amazing handmade chocolates to choose from. There is also a candy and opal shop on site too. We bought tickets for the Racer Slide and the toboggan. First up, the Racer… Holy cow it is a big, long slide! The hike to get up to the top can rattle you if you are not a mountaineer, or just fit in general. Mish made it to the top, but upon looking down the slide he went pale and shaky and decided he wasn’t dare devil enough to give it a go. Mike went down the slide twice, I had one go and that was enough for me – self preservation kicked in as I felt my bum lift only so slightly off the slide. I didn’t see anything other than my life flash before my eyes as I screamed all the way down, clutching the carpet sack I was sitting on for dear life. Tilly on the other hand, first go and she was wild about it.

We gave her all the remaining tickets, and she would bolt up the steep incline, carpet sack over her shoulder – without breaking a sweat. She would then take her spot on one of the lanes and as soon as the light turned green, she was off like a shot, arms up in the air and whooping it up in adrenaline. Mike had over estimated our eagerness for the slide and as such had purchased a heap of tickets for it. So much so, that Tilly befriended two other young girls and was only too happy to share the remaining slide tickets with them (we didn’t mind, and we could see the girl’s parents were grateful for the chance to be able to get off their feet and have a cold drink and a rest whilst the kids wore themselves out).

Slide tickets finished, we headed up past the water park to the toboggan ride. Mish was apprehensive about it, but I managed to convince him to come with me on my toboggan. First round, he loved it – I put him in control of the brake, so he felt comfortable. Second go, he wanted to remain with me. The third round and he was ready to take the ride on his own and he and Tilly set off to do the toboggan track with the parentals watching on.

It was getting late in the day, so we wrapped up our visit to the Big Banana with a stop in at the cheese shop to sample some cheese and buy a box of handmade chocolates (yum!). We decided it was time to head back to the resort where we would finish the day with a swim in one of the three lagoon pools at the resort and then a wander down from the resort onto the beach for a spot of shell collecting. Unfortunately, we had to be on the road the next day to head to the next stop in our road trip, so the quiet swim and beach combing was a lovely way to finish up our fleeting visit.

Some other places we wanted to check out but didn’t get round to seeing was the Bunker Cartoon Gallery and the National Marine Science Centre. This just means that we absolutely must and will go back to Coffs!

To be continued…

We were also sad to learn of the passing of a wonderful man, Coffs Harbour local and Australian surfing legend Scott Dillion. We had the absolute honour of meeting him during our 2009 holiday when he was running the Legends Surf Museum. He passed away on the 12 December 18 at 90 years of age. I will always remember our meeting him – he absolutely adored the kids and took us through his museum, finishing with us all sitting on the porch and chatting and goofing around, and before we left, he had gifted us with an autographed poster. A very down to earth Aussie bloke. 

May he rest in peace.  

 

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A New Adventure for Team J

Things are starting to settle down on what has been a month of big changes for our family. As I sit here typing this, we have just clocked up our first week in our new place. So, where will I begin? Last month was crazy. We were packing up our home in the lead up to our posting interstate, I was also trying to continue with my university study and working full time right up to our pre-pack day. Our daughter Tilly was closing the chapter on six years of Primary School, graduating year six and also saying goodbye to all her friends as she was getting her head around the fact that she will be starting her high school journey in another state, away from the friends she has made over the last four years of our posting to Sydney.

The day of her graduation was surreal – I could not link the Tilly standing next to me, holding her graduation certificate with the tiny Tilly who walked through the gates of the school on her first day of Prep, with such swagger and sass. Her school bag was bigger than her, and now she stands the same height as me, and is on the cusp of her teenage years. I sat through the graduation ceremony, in a daze, but holding it together. I cried when the Principal dismissed the year six students from the hall “for the very last time.” The teachers were all wiping away tears…so were all the other mums in the hall.

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Tilly on her first day of school with her cousin Em and little brother Mish (2012) to last month’s graduation with her dad Mike and little brother Mish

That night she had her formal, so we made a big fuss about it for her. She had picked out her outfit two weeks earlier and now she was excitedly getting dressed. I let her wear a little mascara and a touch of tinted lip gloss. When she came out of her room, myself, Mike and Mish all were caught off guard by just how grown up she looked. The little Prep Tilly was well and truly gone. She was driven to her formal in a Corvette –owned by my boss’ husband. Tilly loved it, she could not stop talking about how great the car sounded and all the attention it got when she pulled up the front of the venue. The boys in her class were pretty impressed by her ride.

All the year six kids looked so different now. Like young adults, they were ready for a night of good food, dancing and cake. Parents were not allowed, we had to go off and do our own thing, and this was just for the kids. Mike, Mish and I enjoyed a dinner with some friends before we went in to get some quick photos, have a dance with the kids and then head home. It was a fantastic night for Tilly – she had so much fun partying with all her friends. I exchanged numbers with other mum’s so our kids can all stay in touch. Then that was it.

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Last day of school.

The day of the removal up lift was the kids last day at school. They had their shirts signed by friends and teachers, exchanged Christmas gifts and cards with friends and come the final bell, it was hugs and final goodbyes. Tears and more hugs. I grew up an Army kid and we moved every two years. I hate this part of the life – it never gets easier and I felt so sad for my kids and their friends.

That was that. The next morning the cars were packed, we checked out of the hotel and we started our journey to the next posting. Dwight our cat and Ripley our dog were already in the pet resort in our gaining location of Brisbane. They were flown up the day before the up lift. From all accounts of the pet transport company and the pet resort, they were doing just fine. Our guinea pig, Doctor Who was going to travel up with us – he rode shotgun in Mike’s car. Doctor is 5, almost 6 years old, so in guinea pig years, he is a little old man. He handled the trip really well though. We had a comfy travel crate for him and a portable pen for the hotel stays.

The drive out of Sydney was surprisingly really smooth considering we were heading out on the very first day of school holidays. Tilly and Mish rode in my car and we had it stocked with lots of snacks, cold drinks and audio books – the kids LOVE the Tree House series by Andy Griffith and Terry Denton. We were on the first leg to Brisbane – Sydney to Coffs Harbour. We love Coffs, it is our favourite little family get away spot. So we were all pretty excited to be going back there for a two day mini-vacation. By 3pm that day we arrived in Coffs and checked into Charlesworth Bay Beach Resort. We quickly unpacked and set up Doctor by the big double doors so the cool ocean breeze could cool him down. No sooner had we unpacked, I was running the kids down to the little beach – the very first beach Mish was taken to when he was seven months old (we had stayed at this resort back in 2009 when we had a little family vacation upon Mike’s return from deployment). It was really surreal watching him running into the waves. Last time he was at this beach he was not too thrilled by it.

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We finished off the long day with Thai from a great little place called Memory Thai (Tilly highly recommends the Pad Thai and Mish and I love the Yellow Curry).

To be continued…

 

 

A Haunting in the Hawkesbury

 

It was late 2008, during a Friday luncheon at the oldest hotel in Australia, the Macquarie Arms Hotel in Windsor, NSW; when my daughter Tilly (who was two years old at the time) had an encounter with one of the hotel’s residents – of the paranormal kind. But, before I go any further Dear Reader, I will first go into a brief history of the Macquarie Arms Hotel…

 

In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie had granted land to emancipated convict Richard Fitzgerald. The instruction given to Mr Fitzgerald by Governor Macquarie was for him to build a two-story hotel that would service the town of Windsor and provide accommodation to passing gentry. Mr Fitzgerald set to work, and in 1818 the Macquarie Arms was opened to the public. The hotel was also known as the Royal Hotel (1872-1900) and in its early years was occupied by the 73rd Regiment Red Coat Soldiers – who lived in the upper levels while down in the cellar, the convicts lived. The convicts managed to secure themselves access to rum, smuggling it up from the banks of the Hawkesbury River through the aptly named “Rum Smugglers Tunnels” to keep themselves merry and warm whilst living in the cellar.

Later, the Macquarie Arms would become a private residence before reverting back into a hotel.

With such longevity, it goes without saying that the hotel has a life within it. Tales of ghosts are inevitable in a place so old and so worn as the Macquarie Arms. From reports of seeing soldiers on the upper levels, to run-ins down in the cellar with convict brothers Richard and Fitzpatrick, who met an explosive demise in the cellar thanks to an incorrect mix of chemicals in their endeavour to make rum. Then there are the stories of little Mary who lived in the main bedroom on the second floor and at seven years of age, had perished in a fire that had trapped her on the upper floor of the hotel.

Back to late 2008 and the luncheon. I had been to the Macquarie Arms a few times prior to getting married and having children, but this was the first time going there with our daughter. At the time I was also pregnant with our son Mish, and as a stay at home mum with a rambunctious toddler and another bub on the way, I was looking forward to eating a meal that I had not prepared, and spending time in the company of other adults. I love the Macquarie Arms Hotel, as I walked through the gate I looked down at the well-worn steps (it was the last time I was able to see my feet and the ground beneath me before the big belly swell) and found myself wondering about all the people that had stepped through over the 190 years the hotel had been standing. Tilly, holding my hand, leapt up over the big step with ease and she began to try and wrestle herself free of my grip, wanting to march right through the front entrance on her own.

Stepping through the entrance, Tilly and I stood and waited for my husband to arrive. Whilst waiting, I looked at the lunch time menu deciding I would have one of everything (what? I was eating for two!) and when I looked down at Tilly to ask her what she would like from the children’s menu, I found her engaged in chatter with someone off to our right in the dining room. She was smiling, waving and saying “Hi! My name is Tilly!” She would wave again and let out a giggle. She then put her little hand over her eyes and went “peek-a-boo!” Hmmmm…okay. I sidled back so I could see into the dining room to see who she was talking to. I couldn’t see anyone there. I walked over, holding Tilly’s hand and stood in the doorway of the dining room. It was empty save for tables and chairs. Tilly was still chatting away to someone…something…

“Imaginary friend” I thought as my husband arrived and we proceeded upstairs and onto the balcony that faced over towards the Hawkesbury River.

Tilly and I were seated on the end of the table closest to the doorway into the hotel. We were facing the direction toward the far end of the balcony and the river. Tilly, in her high chair looked about and then her gaze settled on the far corner of the balcony. She smiled and immediately began waving and saying “Hello! Hello again man!” I followed her gaze and the corner was empty. I wanted in on this, so I asked her who she was talking to. “That man” she said, pointing over to the corner. “What man?” I asked, the hairs on my arms began to stand up. “The man there in the red coat. See?” No, I didn’t, I didn’t see, couldn’t see, but it did not mean that something was not there. Her face told me that there was something, someone standing right there, and they too were interacting with her.

Then as lunch was served, Tilly, who had been happily chatting away to the “man in the red coat” suddenly waved in the direction of the corner and said “bye-bye!” and that was it. She turned her attention to her food and made a stellar mess of the kid’s serving of spaghetti bolognaise, turning herself orange and smelling of tomato sauce. Over lunch, I quietly informed my husband, who has a very weak disposition when it comes to all things spooky of what had just transpired, and he instead chose to cling to the hope it was just an imaginary friend and she was just being a typical toddler. I decided to think of it as that way too, until it came to her afternoon nap when we got home from the lunch. As I sat on the side of her bed patting her to sleep, she sleepily said; “He was a soldier…” and with that she rolled over and was sound asleep.

BOOM! (or should that be BOOOOO!) Paranormal activity right there!

Fast forward to last Friday evening where after spending all day cooped up in my home office working, decided to drag the kids out and head into Windsor to stock up on candy from the lolly shop and maybe grab some dinner whilst in town. Satisfied with our candy stockpile, we wandered down in the direction of the restaurants that sit adjacent from the Hawkesbury River. We were intending on having stir-fry, but as we approached, I found myself looking across the road at the Macquarie Arms Hotel. I had not been there since that lunch in 2008 and I knew that we had to go there for dinner instead. The kids were immediately sold on the proposal – they know all too well of Tilly’s encounter and the history of the hotel, and they were now hoping to see if the soldier or one of the other ghostly occupants would make themselves known over a chicken schnitzel, fish and chips and a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, washed down with a few glasses of lemon squash (lemonade for my dear overseas readers) while seated in the exact same place we were sitting in back in 2008.

 

Unfortunately for whatever reason, the ghosties did not feel in the mood to join us for dinner – however this did not stop those of us alive from engaging in a discussion on all things paranormal in the Hawkesbury region. I was telling the kids about other stories I have read regarding the paranormal activities in this area – and there are plenty of stories and first (second, third… ) hand accounts available on line should you wish to investigate it further (I have provided some links on the Hawkesbury region and paranormal accounts for your further reading pleasure).

Although we were stood up by the spirits, I did take the opportunity to take some photos of the upper level of this beautiful building. I will be honest – I was hoping to capture a flash of a human shape or an orb, but no luck (I did get the tip of my shoe in the photo of the staircase, but that does not count). I will however, in the near future be looking at going on a local history/ghost tour of Windsor so you just may never know what I will see then… I will keep you all posted!

Jasmine x

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Sunset over the Hawkesbury River

*All photos are mine, and were taken using my trusty old iPhone 6S Plus – JJ

Links for further reading:

http://www.macquariearms.com.au/history/

http://www.discoverthehawkesbury.com.au/heritage/heritage-trails

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85930517

https://www.hawkesburygazette.com.au/story/3905753/the-ghost-of-the-regent/

http://unexplainedaustralia.com/21-ghosts-hauntings/68-wisemans-ferry-ghosts

 

 

Escape from Pompeii – The Untold Roman Rescue

Last Friday we decided to take the river ferry in from Parramatta into Darling Harbour and spend the day strolling around the harbour with grandma. As we made our way round to the Harbourside Shopping Centre for a pancake brunch, we passed the Australian National Maritime Museum where out the front was a big sign promoting their latest exhibition: Escape from Pompeii – The Untold Roman Rescue. We quickly decided that after we had eaten, we would go and check it out.

With tummies full of crepes, pancakes, ice cream and maple syrup, we waddled over to the museum and purchased our tickets (FYI they offer a discount to ADF personnel). We were told that at 2pm they would be screening a short film about Pompeii. With time to spare we went out to the dock and let grandma explore the Australian naval vessels; the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the submarine HMAS Onslow. Due to my dislike of confined spaces I opted to sit out the tour of the submarine and instead checked out the exhibits in the building that is situated between the two vessels. I was intrigued by the map locating where the remains of Australian navy ships lie. The images of the wreckages underwater were sad, eerie and intriguing. Some were sunk following being decommissioned, others were lost during war, taking their crews with them to the bottom of the ocean.

Soon enough hubby, Grandma and the kids emerged. My kids bolted across and onto the HMAS Vampire. My mother-in-law informed me that she had suffered a “ding to the shin” whilst trying to step through a doorway, and that Mike had successfully bashed his head on everything inside the submarine. I noticed his bald head was looking a bit worse for wear with a few newly acquired dents. We all wandered around the deck of the Vampire; Sydney had put on a glorious day for my mother-in-law (who had come all the way over from Canada to see us). The sun was out, the sky was blue and the breeze was divine. Ship tour done, we still had a bit of time to kill so we wandered over to the replica of the HMS Endeavour. The kids climbed all over the ropes, watched the school of fish swimming around the bow, and soon enough it was time for us to go in and watch the short film on Pompeii.

I forgot to mention that the film is in 3D, so we got to wear these groovy 3D glasses.

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Running for approximately 8 minutes, the film details the progression and result of the eruption of Vesuvius. There are no people, you are watching from above the rooftops. The first tremor hits – roof tiles tremble, dogs bark, birds frantically fly away and you can hear a baby cry out. Eventually the tremors get stronger, the city starts to crumble, ash falls down to earth. With each passing hour, you begin to feel the dread. The fear. These people never stood a chance. You watch as Pompeii is wiped out and eventually everything is still and silent. I have never been to Pompeii, it is a place I would so love to see. In the meantime, I have read books, watched documentaries about it (even the Doctor Who episode – The Fires of Pompeii, which featured the now 12th Doctor as Caecilius); but this little film made it real for me. I thought about all the victims, lost for 2000 years. Even now, five days on I am still thinking about it. I can still hear the rumbling, the dogs, the crying baby.

It was very well done.

After we watched the short film on Pompeii and the following 3D film on Great White Sharks (brilliant by the way – highly recommend watching it) we went on to see the exhibit. In this exhibit, I learnt that the Roman navy had attempted to evacuate people from the area. This evacuation was led by Pliny the Elder, who died during the evacuation.

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, which destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Oplontis, while going to the aid of survivors and spurred on, no doubt, by his scientific curiosity, Pliny lingered to observe the volcano at close quarters. Landing at Stabiae from a small boat he was overcome by the sulphurous fumes and died on 24th August 79. Pliny the Elder – Natural History: A Selection, Introduction, p xi.

He was 55 years old.

Pliny the Elder - Natural History: A Selection

The exhibit contains rare artefacts from the areas affected by Vesuvius eruption in 79AD. It details Roman naval history, and how this terrible event highlighted the importance of its navy to the Roman Empire. You gain an insight into the lives of the sailors, the culture in the Bay of Naples and how beautiful and resplendent it had been in that day and age. You see how Pompeii served as a successful maritime port, boosting the trade business which flourished owing to the navy, and how quickly and horrifically it was erased.

The exhibition runs daily (0930am – 5pm) from the 31st March through to 03rd September 2017.

If you are in Sydney during this time, I highly recommend you check out this exhibit. You can find further information on the Australian National Maritime Museum website: www.anmm.gov.au

Note: all photos were taken by myself, using my trusty iPhone 6S Plus.

Wollongong, NSW

With my mother-in-law here visiting us all the way over from Canada, and the spectacular mild winter weather we have had of late, we decided to head on down to Wollongong to visit a dear family friend.

The drive was smooth and we arrived in time for lunch. My kids were in awe of the large yard and spent the whole time outside exploring the bush that surrounded the property, playing by the pond (my son “accidentally” stepped in the pond, his shoes and socks soaked right through and covered in mud). They ran around with the two dogs, spent time talking to the chickens and picking lemons off the lemon tree. They loved it so much, to have all that space compared to our home which is a tiny shoebox with a tuft of grass for a back yard, that they were devastated to be heading back home. Our friend mentioned a driving tour or Wollongong, including a stop at the beach and this was all they needed to hear to get them in the car quick smart!

Oh, my goodness, how beautiful is this place!!! We made our way to the beach and Wollongong had turned on the charm big time. The winter weather was a mild 14 degrees Celsius, sky was azure blue and the waves were bashing and crashing onto the sand. Surfers were in their element, riding the waves in, and my children were down the stairs and on the sand before we could stop them. They ran straight into the water – shoes on and they were loving every minute of it. We managed to get them to take off their now soggy shoes and told them they could go no more than ankle deep in the water as we did not have towels or change of clothes for them.
This is their understanding of ankle-deep… soaked right up to the waist…

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After they had worn themselves out at the beach, we had to strip them off to their t-shirts and undies and they huddled under my big knitted coat as we proceeded with our driving tour of ‘The Gong’. Dusk was coming in and as we wound our way around the Grand Pacific Drive, with the ocean to our right; the light created a magnificent hue over the coastline.

Wollongong Coastline at Dusk

We stopped at Bald Hill lookout where we said our goodbyes to our dear friend and we made our way back home to Sydney, but not before I managed to take this final photo…

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We love you Wollongong! We will be back soon (with towels and bathing suits) I promise!!!