I once saw a clip on YouTube of a man trying to get a massive spider off his kitchen ceiling with a broom. Jab-jabbing away, he was, at the megafauna. It was so big, if it’d dropped, it would’ve covered his entire head. Clearly what he should’ve done was leave the house by the nearest exit and then torch it to the ground. I mention this because the kitchen (and spider) were in Australia. Watching it confirmed my worst suspicions about a place that really didn’t hold that much appeal anyway, being that it contained only two things I admire – wine and bolshiness – and I can get both of those elsewhere.
What it did contain, I surmised, were a fair few things I could live a whole life quite happily without: big hairy poisonous spiders and … slightly smaller but still unacceptably proportioned spiders. Also, Australia involved an entire day on a plane, something which I would sign up for in the bat of a moth’s eyelashes if I didn’t have to take the kids, but a journey that WITH them would be masochism of a kind that even I-who-signed-up-for-a-world-tour-with-four-kids would balk at.
AS a result, I’d written Oz off. When would I ever end up there? I’d have to have been kidnapped. So it was a weird experience landing in Sydney and feeling a surge of excitement, the likes of which I thought I’d left in the 90s. SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE was right outside our hotel window. Now I know it’s not outside every hotel window in Australia, but it was outside ours. And it’s really really cool.
The whole harbour area is very cool actually. And compact. You could swing a (largish, admittedly) cat and hit the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the Quayside and finally you could dump your cat on the deck of one of the large cruise ships that dock right smack bang in the middle of it all.
Adam was in a nostalgic mood because December 2017 marks exactly one quarter century since he spent his year off in Sydney. We made a pilgrimage to McMahon’s point where he used to live, in a windowless basement with his mate Henry and – according to photos from the time – that moon-faced girl off Home and Away.
The nostalgia-fest continued at Luna Park, a beautifully restored retro fairground which was apparently derelict when Adam lived here and where the ‘win a cuddly toy’ stalls are so massively rigged, they make the Venezuelan elections look pedantically fair. I burned about £30 trying to win the kids a stuffed Nemo and walked away with an empty pocket and a small jellyfish. Proper old school rides, though, plus wobbly mirrors, wonky floors, mirror mazes.
The excitement all got a bit much so we headed into the bush to decompress, via Sydney’s very own Grand Canyon and the rock formation known as the Three Sisters. You can also take ‘The World’s Steepest Railway’ part of the way into the canyon, one of those attractions that sounds about 18 times more exciting than it actually is.
Finally we hit Wolgan Valley at sunset and spot our first kangaroo sign. Then we spot our first kangaroo. Boing! I take hundreds of terrible, blurred photos in a panicked state before the driver points out we’ll see lots more. And we do. There are roos outside our room when we arrive and we have to swerve to miss them at night when we cycle to dinner. It’s a roo bonanza.
Turns out they’re not all kangaroos, but also wallabies and wallaroos (no, me neither) and they share the valley with another rampant marsupial, the wombat. These are truly nocturnal but we managed to find a nice fat one near our room that Eddie tried to catch and adopt and train in the ways of the ninja.
Wolgan Valley is beauteous in the extreme, a grassy basin surrounded by sandstone cliffs, streaked with iron deposits and thickly forested with eucalyptus and shady gunnels of lush ferns. It’s a outdoorsy paradise. I make my biannual foray onto horseback (the girls ride a lot more) and we check out the original Homestead from the early 1800s, partly constructed from termite poo, bizarrely.
The highlight though was when I sodded off and did a 10km hike along a disused freight railway that was cut and blasted into the side of the mountains in the 1800s. The landscape, the views, the flora and fauna – all wonderful, but the big draw was… wait, can you hear that? No? EXACTLY. The absolute lack of anyone else: no screaming, no arguing, no crying, no whimpering, no bargaining, no shrieking, no nuthin’. While I love the Insane Clown Posse I’m travelling with, I also love sanity and – quite honestly – I think I/we might be losing the plot somewhat. Put it this way, if you’re hovering over the ‘Buy’ button on a Round-the-World ticket for you and your adorable offspring right now, can I just impress upon you to reconsider and use the cash for alcohol, crisps and fast living instead? You will thank me. Diamond shoes notwithstanding, living on top of each other (and out of a suitcase) for so long is COMPLETELY DOING ALL OF OUR HEADS IN. So my solo hike was a tonic for the soul. And a gin for the tonic.
I even conquered a major demon along the way, managing to walk the length of a pitch black railway tunnel, alone, to see the glow worms that twinkle inside. I don’t like the dark much, I’m slightly claustrophobic and, naturally, there was also that YouTube video (if I was a massive Australian spider, I’d totally live in a sparkly disused railway tunnel) so I almost got to the tunnel mouth and turned back.
But it’s a measure of how badly I need a break – and how bonkers the Wandering Knights World Tour is turning out to be – that a dark, damp, potentially tarantula-infested tunnel seemed like a great day out. Ayers Rock next, in 42 degrees heat. And apparently it’s Christmas next week. Pray for me.