The Trail to Central Coast, New South Wales – Part 1

Greetings and Salutations,

This week, I say farewell to Uluru, fly back to Sydney and then meet up with fellow members of the Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison for two weeks of homestay with two clubs in New South Wales. More about that later.

On my last morning in Uluru, I took an early morning walk around the sprawling Ayres Rock Resort, while it was still cool at about 65°, it would hit the 90’s by mid morning. In the center of the grounds is a small observation mound or hill where I had one more look at the iconic Uluru some 20 km away (12 miles as the crow flies).IMG_6408

After my walk, I had a breakfast that couldn’t be beat, kefir and coconut pancakes with blueberries, chia seeds, coconut gelato and maple syrup. I had to take a photo before digging into this beautiful meal!IMG_6410

On the way into the restaurant I saw this sign advertising the climb closure celebration to be held the next morning. Apparently, this was meant to be low key as not to attract people who were opposed to closing the climb.IMG_6411

After breakfast, packing my gear and checking out of the hotel, I had some time before taking the short ride to the airport. I went to a presentation by Leon near the Town Square on the weapons used by aborigines for hunting and protection. It was very interesting to learn there were different sizes and shapes of boomerangs and clubs for different purposes. IMG_6424

After the presentation, I stopped by the resort art gallery and gift shop. I noticed these aboriginal designed fabrics for sale and took these photos for my traveling partner (she stayed home this time) as she is an avid quilter. No I didn’t buy any!IMG_6412IMG_6413


Soon it was time to head out to airport for the flight back to Sydney. Before leaving I looked down at my boots and observed they were covered with dust from the red soil so prevalent in the center of Australia. I decided to leave the dust as a reminder of my Uluru experience. Eventually, it did wear off but my memories have not!IMG_6428 (1)

Upon arrival at the Ayers Rock Airport, I found out there was a delay due to high winds in Sydney so relaxed and had a nice chat with a couple from Maryland who were on their way to catch a cruise to New Zealand. Sounded like fun. I usually don’t complain about seat mates when traveling because it’s the luck of draw and I recognize someone gets me next to them! This time I had a bad draw, the guy drank two beers in quick succession as soon as the attendants came around, he made obscene sexist comments about the flight attendants, wore flip-flops that he immediately kicked off, and then toddled off to the restroom in his bare feet. He was so uncouth and no prize, at least from my perspective!

After collecting all my belongings at the Sydney airport, I made my way to the budget hotel I’d booked when planning this trip. The real budget part my room was the bathroom, kind of an all-in-one with only a shower curtain separating the toilet and the sink but not by a lot. But hey it was budget and it was only one night. The next morning after breakfast, I headed to the train station for the 15-20 minute ride to Sydney Central Station. I noted a couple of interesting alerts for train passengers, ones I hadn’t seen before. I’m used to the Mind the Gap warning when using the London Underground, I guess the Australians want to be a little different than their distant cousins in the UK!IMG_6439IMG_6438

From Central Station, it was a three block walk to the Rydges Hotel where I would meet the rest of the Madison Friendship Force Ambassadors. There was track work on the train line so our Friendship Force hosts hired a minibus to pick us up in Sydney for the one hour 15 minute ride north of Sydney to the area called Central Coast. With a population of over 330,000, the Central Coast lies between the forested mountains to the west, ocean to the east, Sydney to the south and Newcastle to the north. The major commercial centers are Gosford, Wyong, Terrigal, The Entrance, and Woy Woy.  While a large percentage of the population commutes to Sydney for work, the area is also popular with retirees who have moved from the more expensive and crowded Sydney.

We met our hosts for the week at the Alison Homestead operated by the Wyong Historical Society. This Homestead was claimed in 1875 by William Alison and is considered the oldest established continuous rural homestead in the Wyong area. We had a great lunch prepared by the club members followed by a short program.  A friend of one of the members is an American who has lived in Australia for over 20 years, she spoke about her experiences in Australia.IMG_6444IMG_6452Central Coast FF-6146

Part of the Alison Homestead is a historical museum loaded with local artifacts. I was intrigued by this cloth used to raise money for Australian soldiers fighting the Germans in Belgium in 1915. There were several displays and tributes to soldiers who were killed in World War I.IMG_6464IMG_6463

After a brief tour of the museum, we adjourned to the Homestead Gardens where the Central Coast Friendship Force Club planted a tree to commemorate our club’s visit from the US. In the photo below, Jennelle Williams and I, as journey coordinators, had the honor (and work!) to plant the shrub, Ceratopetalum gummiferum Albery’s Red, commonly called Festival Bush or Christmas Bush. This was followed by a round to picture taking.IMG_6467IMG_6470IMG_6469Central Coast FF-6154

In the gardens, I noticed these two simple monuments to those who fought at the Battle of Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915 and 1916. This was a bloody campaign with over 250,000 casualties on each side and resulted in a defeat for the Allied forces. This battle is also considered the beginning of Australian and New Zealand national consciousness, now commemorated every April 25 as ANZAC Day. During our travels in Australia, we saw several war memorials both large and small, many that pointed to the Gallipoli Campaign.Central Coast FF-6148Central Coast FF-6147

Meet my hosts for the week, Jennelle and Rod Williams. They are a retired couple that live in a town house in a retirement community with their dog, Jasmine. Jennelle was born in Queensland and grew up on a farm in northern New South Wales. Rod is originally from Sydney and for a time was an accountant then operated a landscaping business. IMG_6708.jpgIMG_6607.jpg

After the welcoming festivities were over, we headed back to Jennelle and Rod’s home with a slight detour to Crackneck Lookout in Wyrrabalong National Park. This is a popular area to whale watch, view The Entrance and Shelly Beach, and hang gliding. No whales were visible but the wind was in the right direction so the hang gliders were out in force.  Take a look at the short video of a hang glider making his launch off the cliff. Not for the faint hearted! I did make a smart remark about the name of the Lookout, Crackneck, must be from the crazy people jumping off the cliff with only a chute to stop their fall then cracking their necks! Well, not far from the truth, it was from cattle running around, falling from the top and cracking their necks. This naming theory is in dispute but it sounded logical to me so I’m sticking with it.IMG_6474Central Coast FF-6175IMG_6472

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After a pleasant evening getting to know my hosts, a good nights rest, and breakfast, our host club took us on a tour of the Broken Bay Pearl Farm near Woy Woy. Now I grew up on a farm and have been connected to agriculture in one way or another most of my life but have never heard of or been on a pearl farm. Meet Celeste, a pearl expert, who gave us a very informative orientation to pearl farming and production. We learned that cultured pearls account for nearly all of the pearls sold today with naturally occurring pearls considered rare, only 1/1000% of the pearl market. Imitation pearls are made from the mother of pearl shells and then processed to look like the real thing. We also learned culturing pearls was developed by a British biologist, William Saville-Kent. He passed this knowledge on to a couple of Japanese guys who greatly expanded the “farming” of pearls in Asia. IMG_6482IMG_6483

We then boarded a vessel that would take us to the pearl bed lease located across the bay. Much like a land lease, oyster and pearl farmers “lease” areas in the water to raise their crops. IMG_6488Central Coast FF-6205Central Coast FF-6191

Meet Steve, the boat captain and passionate educator of all things pearl farming. Steve looks and acts like a stereotypical Australian male; rugged looking, strong, friendly and a great sense of humor. Central Coast FF-6186Central Coast FF-6213IMG_6492

These little shells will grow up to produce pearls (hopefully) in a couple of years. IMG_6502

Here Steve is showing us the harvesting of a pearl. It was like magic! We learned from Steve that while farming pearls, like farming the soil, takes a lot of technical knowledge and skill, it has many of the same risks such as vagaries in the weather (heat, cold, heavy rains, etc.), water pollution, disease, and crop failure.IMG_6524Central Coast FF-6198IMG_6522

I should mention the during our time out on the water, a brief rain shower came along the only time during my 3 1/2 stay in Australia that it rained. Below is a photo after the shower passed.Central Coast FF-6218

After our tour of the pearl bed, we were back on land with Celeste and her assistant, Liz. They took us through the process after the harvest such as washing, drying, in some cases polishing then sorting by size, color, luster and shape. This was a hands on activity as shown in the photos below. Celeste told us at the end that we probably know more about pearls than most retail jewelers!Central Coast FF-6181IMG_6490Central Coast FF-6232IMG_6535Central Coast FF-6234Central Coast FF-6241Central Coast FF-6251

After learning about the processing of pearls, Celeste and Liz showed us the end products of pearl farming. The items shown in the photo below were for sale with prices from $250 to $4000 AUD, no middleman. This might sound expensive to you but know that pearls raised in Australia are considered some of the finest and most valuable in the world.Central Coast FF-6244IMG_6475

One of our Ambassadors, Donna Ulteig, tries on a pearl pendant with the help of Celeste. I think she ended up buying this beautiful necklace. Central Coast FF-6257

If you find yourself in the Sydney area and looking for something unique consider this pearl farm tour, it’s worth the price of admission.

That’s enough for this week. Join me next week for more Central Coast adventures.

Until then, happy travels!