Adventuring in Australia with Tackless II
Tackless II is a CSY 44' sailboat in its tenth year cruising the world.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The End

Exactly three years ago today, we stepped off Tackless II in Scarborough Marina, Queensland,  Australia to catch a flight back to the US. A one-way flight.  It was a huge moment, and there were many mixed feelings and plenty of tears. 

There were several reasons why Don and I ended our cruise when and where we did.  The chief one was a grandson, then four years old, that we wanted to grow up knowing us.  Plus we felt the need for more family time with both our families.

We had never said we were circumnavigating.  We had actually thought, when we set out from Mexico,  that we would have the option to ship the boat back to the US after crossing the Pacific.  Had we gotten across in one or two years, that might have been an affordable choice.  But after five years, the cost to ship her had sky-rocketed.

The other option was, of course, to sail her on around.  Frankly, after ten years, we just didn't feel enthusiastic enough to do the mechanical refit this would have demanded, nor were we happy about having to choose between the long way around South Africa or through the troubled waters of the northern Indian Ocean.

Only in the past few months have I faced ending this Blog and the whole adventure with the final updates of our Australian camping trip and this farewell. Apologies to all my loyal readers who have followed us for ten years for taking so long; you must have thought we were lost forever in the Outback!

Moving On

Reality hit pretty hard back on terra firma in the good old USA.  We quickly realized that our RV lot in Crystal River, two hours north of where the kids lived, was too far away for the closeness with them that was our goal. Also, to make a living we would need to be nearer an urban area, and have more space than we could find in an RV park.

By June we had found and purchased a house in Tarpon Springs, FL that has proved to be amazingly perfect for us, making the adjustment back to land-living go far more auspiciously than either of us imagined.

As planned, we started a business -- a "Starbucks" kind of coffee truck on wheels, called Cafe Getaway Mobile Espresso -- which was inspired by all the wonderful coffee experiences we enjoyed in Mooloolaba.  As we hoped, it has grown in to a very successful family endeavor.  You can catch up with us here: and friend us on

In June of 2009, Tackless II was purchased by an Australian couple and renamed Chrysalis.  However, due to some family issue, we hear she is for sale again.  Her current listing -- again with our wonderful Australian broker Anita Farine is

Cruising is still in our soul.  In September 2010, we rented a bareboat in Sidney, Vancouver and cruised in tandem with our great friends from our Sea of Cortez days, Dennis and Lisa aboard Lady Galadriel.

Then, from July through mid-October 2011, we took a few months off in 2011 we were given the great gift of an invitation to go cruising with Tom and Bette Lee aboard Quantum Leap through Indonesia, and that account is here:

Looking for our adventures BEFORE Australia? Find them here: and

I (Gwen) am still writing my column the Admiral's Angle for Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine.  I am also still actively involed with writing and seminars in support of women cruisers.  To catch up on my columns and to discover a wonderful online community of women cruisers, please check out:  and specifically .

Finally.......Don't be deleting the link to from your favorites!  I've been hearing Don say that there could be a boat again sometime/somewhere in our future.  Who knows?  (We're buying lottery tickets on a regular basis!) 

But I am sure that we will not stop having adventures, and when we do there will get added here.

Thanks, everyone.  Fair Winds.

Gwen Hamlin & Don Wilson
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
March 30 – The Run Back to Queensland
The next morning we parted ways with Mike and Kathleen. We felt our clock ticking, since we were to fly back to the US April 15th. We had emails from our yacht broker(s) indicating some interest in the boat, which stirred the pot of our mixed emotions. Being out on the road so completely away from the boat had really helped us gain a little distance, but it was getting time to tie up some final loose ends.

We had a great drive northeast out of Greenfell through Eugowra, Molong, Wellington, Dulon and Merriwa. We tried to stop for the night at Merriwa Caravan Park, a tidy little curve of park right in town on the edge of a river, but the weather became abruptly gusty and flattened the tent before we could finish pitching it! A look over our shoulder revealed ominous clouds building, so we packed the tent back up and waited a half hour for the park’s attendant to arrive to see if the park’s one cabin was available. Incredibly, despite there being no one else in this park, the cabin was booked for that night! Bugger!

Back in the car we pushed on. We were now re-entering foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Our intention was to drive north back to Queensland via the New England Highway that we had earlier crossed at Glen Innes going and coming from the Mann River camp, and maybe the next day detour to the coast via the scenic Waterfall Way.

As the day grew late, the rain began. The entrancingly-named town of Scone offered on the map a caravan park with cabins. Unlike most we had stopped in, it proved to be a very close-quartered kind of place, but they had a cabin we could back the Grey Nomad right up to unload all our stuff – food, bedding and clothes! Talk about nick of time! The rain came down in torrents. Sooooo glad we’d discovered the caravan cabin option

The next day the rain on our side of the Dividing Range ended, but the skies remained cloudy. The morning news was reporting heavy rains producing very serious flooding on the coast dashing our hope to cross the mountains by way of the steep and twisty but much-hyped Waterfall Way. So, instead, we drove all day the next day through beautifully hilly country with lots of horse farms on the aptly named New England Highway. Strangely, the fall colors of New England we anticipated for this time of year were confined only to the towns where non-native species like maples and poplars had been planted.

We stopped for the next night in Tenterfield, birth place of singer Peter Allen – famous in the late 70s and early 80s, particularly for the song “I Go to Rio”, “The More I See You,” “Bi-Coastal” and “Tenterfield Saddler.” Tenterfield was just south of the Queensland border and almost due east of our first overnight stop near Texas. On our own, we were too lazy to set up camp so opted for another caravan cabin.

The next day we carried on northeastward, rejoining our outbound track at Warwick, back over the glorious Cunningham Gap, and back through the golden horse country southeast of Brisbane. At Ipswich, however we bore off north to pass along the shores of Lakes Wivenhoe and Somerset, vast catchment basins supplying water to Brisbane and the Suncoast. As we drove past in hot sun, the water level was way low. In just a few weeks it would be overflowing!

To end out our trip, we wanted to spend a few nights camping in Mooloolaba. Every morning from November to January that we had walked out from the Wharf Marina to do our daily 6-10k beach walk, we had passed the little campground on the beach, and it just seemed right to end there. We also wanted the chance for a last goodbye to many friends.

It was hot and sunny as we pulled into the Mooloolaba Caravan Park, and, as it was mid-week we were able to get a site at the back right behind the beach boardwalk. The price, however, was about double what we’d been paying, and the site itself was packed dirt, with tree roots threaded through!

However, the beach was right there. We could hear the surf. We set up the tent and nipped out the back gate with our books and beach towels.

It was a perfect beach afternoon: clear, with a light breeze, and mild. We spent quite a bit of time in the water, although the waves were too big and dumping for us for body surfing. It didn’t matter. We just enjoyed swimming and then lying in the sun and soaking up a view – from the Moololaba entry channel to our right, right up the beach past Alexandra Headland to Maroochydore – that over the previous months we had truly come to feel was home.

That evening we had a grand reunion/farewell with our Aussie-based best friends, Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, now based at the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and Randy and Sheri of Procyon, just back from their cruise to Tasmania. It was a lively evening! The girls alone knocked back two bottles of bubbly! Dinner was the carvery roast beef at the Surf Club overlooking the beach, and the night went late with good food, good drink and good friends.

Later… poured. The heavens burst, the wind blew and the mud ran. Fortunately, we had put one of our spare tarps over the top of the tent, so there were no leaks, but the tide of muddy water was rising. Surely, it would pass, yes? Every time we went in and out of the tent we tracked in puddles of muddy water. Don and I hid out much of the afternoon at the movie theater in Maroochydore. In the evening we huddled in the cozy salon aboard Otama Song for a second farewell dinner with our friends since Tonga Peter and Sandy. But the wind continued to blow and the rain rained on.

And on. The next morning we gave up. We took advantage of a pause in the squalls and struck the wet tent, bundling the sodden mess into the trunk of the car, and drove back to the boat in Scarborough Marina. It was an anticlimactic return in some ways, while, of course in others it seemed like mighty good timing.

The boat had done fine in our absence, riding very high in the water having been emptied of so much of our stuff. The inside was very clean, but also felt impersonal with most of our remaining personal belongings moved off to a storage locker. It was very nice to have a guaranteed dry bed, one from which we didn’t have to get up from ground level, and a private, flushing head only two steps away. But the camping trip had done its secondary job, we were beginning to disassociate, beginning to move on.

It took us days to get all the mud rinsed from our gear and to get the tent dried and stowed.
Monday, March 30, 2009
March 29 – To Greenfell
Oh, it was hard to crawl out of bed the next morning!  Once we did, we found the morning dew had been heavy and everything was wet, so we drew out our coffee and cold cereal while the tent dried.

This day’s plan was to head west to the town of Greenfell to visit some Aussie friends Mike and Kathleen had made during the previous season’s camping in N. Queensland.   These nice people had invited Mike and Kathleen to visit them at home, but graciously welcomed us to come as well.  It was a goodly drive, and the farther west we drove, the flatter and drier the land became.

Arriving in Greenfell on a Sunday was reminiscent of our arrival in the town of Texas up in the north of the province.  The town was deserted and all the shops closed.  It was a surprisingly charming town center, though, with some interesting storefronts that would have been fun to explore.

Mike and Kathleen’s friends’ new house was a bit outside of town on a rise in a field that probably not long ago had been used for grazing.  A huge tree shaded a circular driveway, but everything else seemed baked by the sun.   The house itself was fairly new and combined their residence with a still-evolving bed-and-breakfast enterprise.   We were made quite welcome and given pleasant rooms of our own at one end of the house, which opened onto a big shared living and dining area.

Colin and Pippa, a couple in their 70s, were recently retired from a 4400 acre farm on which they had run some 20,000 sheep, cattle, and a few crops.  Not long ago, they had turned the farm over to their son, but all was not going smoothly…at least from Colin and Pippa’s point of view.  With fairly short dispatch, the son had abandoned the sheep farming his parents had sustained and passed on to him and shifted his attention to grass-feeding beef cattle in six-month cycles in what he described as “a holistic system of spoke-paddock rotation.”  Colin made no secret that he was sorely disappointed.

After lunch we went out to watch the son load 24 head of cattle into a truck. On the way, Colin pointed out the boundaries of the farm.  Afterward the cattle were sorted and loaded, Colin and Pippa showed us the abandoned sheep shearing shed which still held eight packed bales of fleece awaiting cleaning, sorting and packing, and Colin demonstrated the how the shearing machine would work.  I must admit I’d have loved to have seen an Aussie sheep station in full operations.

We walked up a hill with Pippa to survey the land and listened to her describe how their daughter-in-law – now mistress of their old house – doesn’t want her to drop in to see her grandson without an appointment.  Clearly retirement was not proving to be all it was cracked up to be.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
March 28 – Janolan Caves
After a snug night, we woke to a gorgeous morning. The sun was out strong in a clear sky, and the camp ground was filled with noisy birds. Despite our plan to move on, we got a slow start, lingering over Mike’s pancakes, and, after packing up, detouring on the way out to Katoomba’s Chocolate Factory to stock up.

Our route to the Janolan Cave took us back west toward Lithgow, until we turned south. The landscape again was gorgeous, rolling hills and forests, until we entered the final approach to the caves where the road grew narrow and twisty descending through tight forested switchbacks deep into a narrow valley bottom.

You never know what you’re going to get in OZ! After passing though an incredible rock arch, TaDa!!...we might have been in Disneyland. It turned out that Janolan Caves is a well-developed tourist destination. A narrow street of touristy shops and cafes surrounded the hotel complex, whose architecture was a hybrid of kitschy alpine and castle! We were funneled up to a second level parking lot, from which we hiked back down to the street, where we stood in line to buy tickets to one of ten main cave tours. The tours, each billed at 1-2 hours long, were grouped into three different price ranges, and, were we staying longer, we could have bought a whole package. The choice was unexpected! How to choose just one? We hemmed and hawed over options as the line moved forward, the best-sounding one -- “The Orient”— showing as sold out. Then, just as we reached the ticket window, the phone rang, a bus tour canceled and suddenly we were in!

The Saturday 1:30 tour for The Orient drew a good crowd, probably around two dozen people. The group ascended a hill and entered the mountain through a “new door” blasted in the 1950s in order to tour the cave top down. Our guide let us know that she preferred the old way, bottom up. May be, but I’m sure top down is easier on the old folks, and it was a damn impressive show as it was.

After the entry tunnel, there were probably five caves linked together by ladders through tunnels, all of which was theatrically lit in stages. How they place these lights (now mostly converted to LED) is a mystery. It would be like stringing stage lights through a giant crystal shop, with fragile-seeming formations the guide called “decorations” growing prolifically up, down and horizontally over every inch of surface! The chambers were named after different countries – Persia, Egypt, India, etc. – and colors varied from blinding white, to apricot to terra cotta. It was mind-boggling. Everyone took dozens of pictures.

And then we were gone! Back out in the glare of sunlight, climbing back out of the deep valley, back out into the rolling countryside driving in search of a campsite! One would never imagine such a fantasyland lurking below ground!

The afternoon growing late, we ended up near the town of O’Connel at a free roadside camp spot called “Peat Rock.” This was little more than an open sloping field with a desultory river at the bottom. The several “prime” sites – ones with tables and fire rings along the river -- were already taken, so we simply plotzed ourselves in the middle of the field. It was rather rubbly and not quite level, and we ended up making up our beds athwart the tent so that we wouldn’t be rolling downhill on top of each other in the night! We cooked a big dinner on the smokeless grill set-up – lamb, mashed potatoes and salad – and sat back to enjoy the clear sky. Despite being out of the mountains proper, the night air grew chilly, and after our long day of driving to and from the cave crawl, we all slept snug and well.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
March 27, Katoomba and the Blue Mountains by IMAX
Rain began in the middle of the night, and the next day dawned foggy and drippy. It was too wet for the long hike we'd planned, so we opted to start the day with a couple of loads of laundry. Dawdling over our hot breakfast, we talked more with Elton and Patty (ending up buying their cooler) and decided to follow their recommendation to go see the Blue Mountains IMAX film at the Edge, a multi-theater complex in town.

The movie was awesome, showing us not simply the Blue Mountains at their best, but views of the park we would never otherwise see. The film divided itself between male rock climbers ascending cliff faces and female climbers belaying down waterfalls into subterranean gorges and pools, all supplemented with lots of aerial shots. Plus, there was a side story about a hidden gorge with the last remaining stand of a prehistoric tree, 4-storeys tall, dating from the dinosaur era.

In the lobby after the film, we noticed a poster for a live Aboriginal performance in one of the other theaters due to start in minutes. The day still being overcast, Don and I spontaneously decided to nip into this show despite all promises of it being a touristy production. Mike and Kathleen demurred, since they had seen much of the real thing in their travels in North Queensland, but we hadn’t and most probably wouldn’t, and I do love the didgeridoo! It turned out we were the only people in the audience.

It was a very short show for the price, but we enjoyed it none-the-less. Called Goomblar’s Dreaming, the show was a mélange of didgeridoo, dance and narration. Of the two main performers, one looked very traditionally Abo while the younger one looked nearly white! The troupe fairly successfully cast the spell, taking in their dance the character of various animals important to Aboriginal traditions, and the didgeridoo accompaniment was haunting. At the end, the actors pulled me onto the stage to join the dance! Afterwards they made themselves very accessible, and Mike came in to take our picture with them.

Outside, the cloud cover was beginning to break up. The air would go hot, cold, hot, cold as the sun came and went. The 2.5 hour hike we’d wanted to do seemed unwise in the remaining daylight, so we instead we walked via the Prince Henry Cliffwalk to the Three Sisters, a famous set of pillars projecting from the cliff face. Although there are handrails and steps, it was still quite a descent to the bridge that crosses to the nearest “sister,” and once out there you feel quite exposed. It is an impressive spot, but it is the kind of thing that, guard rails or no, turns my innards to liquid and my knees to jelly. It was hard work to climb back up!

When the cooking hall was overtaken by rowdy young campers, we decided to cook our marinated pork chop dinner at our site on the camp stove using our “smokeless grill” – a funky US product shaped like a donut with a griddle plate on top we’d brought along from the boat. Mike rigged a tarp to the awning to cut the chill breeze, and that, good food and a hot toddy finally warmed us up. Over dishes, we meet yet another travelling couple, this time young Americans from Iowa just back to Sydney after travelling on a 1 month rail pass to Darwin. Like I said, we have always loved crossing paths with young world travelers like this.
Friday, March 27, 2009
March 26 – To the Blue Mountains and Katoomba
We woke up Thursday to beautiful weather with yet another dramatic change in landscape on the agenda. From Lithgow, Matilda and the Grey Nomad climbed the steep highway east into the Blue Mountains proper. Our loose destination was the tourist town of Katoomba, the center of all Blue Mountain hikes and tours, but we weren’t sure or agreed on where we wanted to camp. Obviously, the caravan parks were convenient with bathrooms, hot water and amenities, but we all kind of liked, at least in principle, the wilder spots. After a stop at an “i” center along the highway, we picked three possibilities.

The first several miles before Katoomba was a caravan park that looked pretty if a bit sterile, but the manager, once we found her, evinced such a decidedly bitchy attitude at our presumption of an unplanned arrival that we left promptly, determined to camp rough at a small “park” the map showed on Megalong Valley Road.

But Megalong Valley Road was mega long, carrying us down, down, down tight switchbacks reminiscent of our foray to the Mann Valley, but this time into ever wetter and wetter forest. At the bottom of the road, we found a cluster of sites, barely hacked out of the soggy woods with no river and not even an outhouse! After our cold wet stint at Mann, we decided we just weren’t up for that after all, plus it put us a fair drive from the center of things at Katoomba. So, with our tails between our legs, we climbed laboriously back up the road and pushed further into town where we struck pay dirt at the new Katoomba Caravan Park.

Although the camp, which seemed to have two parts – a sweeping “lawn” for tent and small camper sites and a “parking lot” for bigger C-class-style campers up above, was fairly full, they were able to put us both on one site on the far perimeter of the camp – one site for the price of two! Hah! Oh, well, it was perfect for us, with the cook building just next door, and only a slightly longer jaunt to the facilities. Those facilities had warm, tiled showers (which were quite a luxury) and a laundry! A far cry from the Megalong sites! Ah, well, you’ve gotta tough through life’s compromises.

We set up our tent on a square of fairly level, cushy grass and Mike and Kathleen pulled in behind us, popped Matilda’s top and put up her awning. Then we emptied the Grey Nomad into the tent so that four of us could fit in the car for getting around.

Our first hike in Katoomba was the Leura Falls Walk to the Leura Cascades, then to Bridal Veil lookout, and then to Copeland’s Lookout. The Blue Mountains National Park in Katoomba is honeycombed with paths that descend from the ridge top down the nearly vertical cliff front to the valley floor way below, most well maintained and marked and many with steps and handrails. You can go down one path and up another, or branch to the right or left for relatively level paths that parallel the ridge top. There are promontories at various levels producing precipitous views, plus a cable car and a tram. We returned to the campground via Echo Point, our relatively easy afternoon circuit taking about 2 hours!

Unlike the other two caravan parks we’d stopped in, the folks in this campground were super friendly, perhaps because the Katoomba area drew more international visitors. Don quickly befriended Rod and Judy, an older Ulysses club couple who were pulling a Camparoo pop-up trailer behind their Honda Goldwing, on which they had a “wedge-tail trike conversion” (“Five minutes on and off,” Rod claimed). The pop-up trailer opened up and out to include, when fully set up, a queen-sized mattress, a camp table, and even a covered patio! Don was totally entranced! How could so much come out of such a small container! Then over our dinner of kangaroo steaks and salad, cooked in the BBQ center, we became friendly with Elton and Patty, a Canadian couple from Vancouver who had been car camping Oz for two months. This being their last stop before flying out from Sydney, they had lots of stuff for sale. It’s always fun meeting fellow travelers!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
March 20-23, 2009 – Part Two -- The Two Captains Become Two Campers
In the local Aboriginal dialect, Mudgee means "nest in the hills," which turned out to be fairly apt as we drove south into the long Cudgegon valley. Said to be a three and a half hour drive from Sydney, the region has all the ingredients to make it a desirable weekend getaway for urbanites. The town center has lovely old buildings, dating from the 1850s when the area experienced a gold rush, in which today thrive artsy boutiques and cafes side-by-side with all the businesses of a modern Aussie town. Mudgee's wine industry was established at about the same time as the gold rush by German immigrants and although the region is now famous for its chardonnays, there are lots of other varietals for one to try at any of the forty "cellar doors". And we did. But I get ahead of myself.

Don and I arrived a day ahead of Steve and Rachel. We set up the tent in a pleasant, maple-shaded caravan park right in town, and set out in the afternoon to explore the main street, pick up a little something for dinner, and get Don a haircut. The town was gearing up for the weekend's big event, a film festival out at one of the wineries on Saturday night, which explained why Steve and Rachel had had a hard time finding accommodations.

Don and I had never done the winery thing. Our knowledge of wine goes only a little beyond the basics of red and white, and more practically usually focuses on bottles or boxes! Saturday morning, we poured over the pages of wineries in the Mudgee regional magazine trying to decipher how one goes about it. I mean where do you start? We ended up putting ourselves in the hands of the local "I" center host who sent us off to the Pieter Van Gent Winery and Vineyard which offered a "spit on the floor" indoctrination on Saturday mornings. We called and spoke to a sexy voice named Luciano to see if there was still space available, and he said, "Come now." It seemed like a good way to get a start on things before Steve and Rachel arrived midday.

There are vineyards and wineries and cellar doors, but not all proprietors do all three. The Pieter van Gent operation did. The winery and cellar were set under some trees right amidst the grape vines. We were welcomed by two unexpectedly young men, one of whom was Luciano of the sexy Italian voice, who turned out to be the assistant winemaker. Luciano was looking a little worse for wear, but we didn't find out until later that it was because they had harvested four tons of grapes the day before and had had to load them into the crushing vat without the use of their normal forklift! Luciano took us outside to show us a vat of freshly crushed red grapes, in the first day of fermenting, which emitted a most heavenly aroma.

The juice is then strained, mixed with yeast, and put into 300-liter oak barrels. There followed an explanation of the different yeasts used for various wines and of two different kinds of oak barrels: French and American. The American ones are made from raw wood and impart a more "aggressive" flavor, while the French oak is aged two years first. About this time we were joined by another couple just as Luciano started extracting tastes of young wine cloudy with yeast from different barrels.

From the keg room we moved into the cellar tasting area. Let me remind you that it was barely ten in the morning, but we proceeded to sample pretty near every one of about sixteen of the wineries products, from their famous Chardonnays, through some reds, straight into their equally famous Mudgee White Port. They even had a spiced vermouth I thought intriguing. The young fellows produced an endless supply of tasting glasses, and let me tell you, nary a drop ended up on any floor.

We tottered out to the car (having boughttwo bottles), and managed to dial the phone and determine that Steve and Rachel were just moments away from their nearby B&B. Somehow the Grey Nomad conveyed us to the correct location. Hopefully no one was watching. It was quickly decided, after greetings and hugs, that lunch would be a prudent next move! We ended up at the Blue Wren Winery's pleasant café and spent about two hours there sobering up while catching up. (The process involved a nice luncheon and some Mudgee ales and a couple glasses of their Merlots!)

Readers may recall that Steve and Rachel were at Vuda in Fiji at the same time Tackless II's paint job was happening. Their boat Apogee was also on the hard, awaiting the installation of a new engine, a project in the hands of Baobab Marine who just didn't seem to be able to get around to it. As it turned out, Steve's employer had once again offered him work he couldn't turn down, so it wasn't the disaster it might have been. And as that turned out, it was just as well they were in Australia rather than out cruising because Steve's Dad was found to have lung cancer and Rachel was able to be with him throughout the duration of his illness while Steve commuted between Sydney and Perth. A tough year for them, this weekend was one of their first getaways together since his passing.

We spent the remains of the afternoon visiting three other wineries, one specializing in French varietals, one in Iberian Peninsula varieties (Spanish and Portuguese), and one in Italians. We were much more restrained in this second go around, but all voted the DeLusso Estate's Italian reds our favorite. After our elegant lunch, we did a more homely dinner at one of the town's pubs. Unfortunately, Steve and Rachel's dinners were served about forty minutes after ours, a situation that is always irritating.

Certainly a highlight of our time with Steve and Rachel in Mudgee was as their guests at the B&B's sumptuous breakfast the next morning. Called the Myan Breezes Guesthouse, the house was a lovely modern estate with six rooms, surrounded by gardens and a vista across the valley. The hosts, Michael and Ruth, turned out to be former cruisers themselves, and so made an exception in our case allowing us as non-guests to join Steve and Rachel for breakfast. Our table commanded the premium view out the window, and the meal began with fresh brewed coffee and fresh fruit salad (with wild blackberries!) with yogurt, all ready at precisely the moment we arrived. Then we had a plateful of eggs, Aussie style bacon rashers, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, garnished with sprigs of thyme, and home baked toast. It was altogether heavenly. I know we spend a lot of time talking about food, but, you know, when it's good, it's worth celebrating!

After breakfast we drove in two cars east to the village of Rylstone, gateway to Dunn's Swamp, a campground in the foothills of the Wollemi National Park on the west side of the Blue Mountains. We paused for a coffee in a small café with two friendly couples that rode in on their motorcycles. They pulled a table together with theirs so we could chat about their bikes – a BMW 1200RT and a Honda 1300ST – and about the famous Ulysses motorcycle club of which they were all members. The Ulysses Club has a minimum age of forty (for junior members) and claims a motto of "Growing old disgracefully," but they are a pretty upstanding group. I point this out because during this whole month Aussie outlaw biker clubs have been in the headlines daily for an ongoing gang war erupting in public places around Sydney. The Ulysses bikers are like us: "boomer zoomers" enjoying the riding for the riding's sake.

Dunn's Swamp was reached by another long, dusty dirt road. The remote campground is situated on a sinuous waterway created by a dam down river to provide, we understand, a steady water supply for a nearby cement works. We were concerned that the "swamp" might be as dry as Yarrie Lake had been, since bodies of water seem to be having a tough time surviving in Oz. We worried for naught, as the lake snaked away through yet another striking gorge, this one composed of limestone "pagoda" formations.

What was unexpected was the crowd! No place we had previously stopped had more than a handful of campers. The sites here were packed, and what empty sites there were were mostly "closed for native plant rejuvenation". Hoping most of the crowd would leave by evening, we parked the car without setting up and took off on a short walk along the lakeside path. Rachel is a great photographer and the winding lake and the unusual pagoda rock formations made great subjects. We also scared up a pair of lyrebirds, large birds reminiscent of roadrunners. While tracking them through the rocks, there suddenly came a great crash. Whipping around we caught a most embarrassed possum who had either fallen out of his tree or whose branch had broken off under him.

The good thing about arriving Sunday afternoon was the guys with the watersports concession were still there. Closed during the week during the off-season, on weekends they run a river cruise on a pontoon boat and rent out a fleet of canoe-kayak hybrids. We caught them in time to work a deal for use of a canoe on Monday, else we would have been up Dunn's creek without a paddle. (Sorry, couldn't resist!) They asked if we could swim, and we answered, hell yes, and licensed captains, to boot. They said, okay, you run the cruises and leave us the money. Unfortunately, they were just kidding!

Saying goodbye to Steve and Rachel that afternoon was the first farewell in Australia that we pretty much knew was going to be final. It was rather sobering. They have been in our lives for three years. We were very grateful they were willing to make the drive up to see us.

As hoped for, the campground gradually cleared out through the afternoon. Don and I stalked the campsites trying not to miss the ideal one. There were lots of tent sites networked into the woods and rock formations as well as along the water's edge, but we didn't want to get too far from the car where all our clothes and food would stay stashed and we didn't want a major midnight hike to a loo. We would have liked to pick a site down by the water, but several large groups lingered to the last minute, so we ended up picking a spot up the hill along the road where we figured it would be easiest for Mike and Kathleen to spot us if they made it in.

This was our first night bush camping on our own…and it was quite inconvenient without Matilda, because the campground was one of the ones with no picnic tables. We muddled through a pasta supper, and we did manage our own campfire, but the evening was marred by the crying of an unhappy child late into the night. We admit to un-grandparent-like thoughts. The next morning, we simply climbed out of the tent and into the car and drove down to a water-side picnic table to make coffee and breakfast.

How beautiful the "swamp" was in the morning mist. It was quite chilly, and we huddled around our mugs in all our clothes. Our cooking activity quickly drew the attentions of the local bush hens, a chicken-like bird with deep black and blue feathers and red legs and heads, and they amused us with their stalking. We were quite surprised then to see one fly across the water, although its water landing was essentially a belly flop.

We decided a brisk walk would warm us up so we set off down the trail for the pagoda formations. A short while and a little scrambling later, we were high above the gorge with a stunning view.

Later we ventured out in one of the plastic canoe-yaks. In the morning we paddled left a couple of kilometers down the twists and turns of the gorge to the dam, keeping our eyes peeled all the while for the elusive platypus. (Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the camera!) Not only was there no platypus, but, surprisingly there seemed very little wildlife around at all. Not even obnoxious cockatoos. In the afternoon, after several hours reading in chairs which we'd carted to a waterside campsite (by the time we were done we pretty much used the whole park!), we went for another paddle upstream, where it does finally become a little swampy. Swamp in this case, is tall dense grasses, gradually filling in the watercourse, but this direction also gave some great views of waterside rock formations.

As the afternoon waned the skies grew threatening, and we had a stiff paddle back to the campground. I landed Don on the nearest beach so he could dash up and close up the tent. When he got there, Matilda was squeezed into our niche and Mike and Kathleen were just zipping us up. Whew! We were back in the hands of professionals!

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