Mixing Woodworking & CNC Machining

One of the benefits of having hand tools, woodworking machinery is that when embarking on a small project you pretty much have everything you’re likely to need. In previous blogs I’ve written about making all sorts of things by hand but one of my frustrations is my accuracy of cutting or chiselling wood. I always have good intentions but the finished results never match my expectation.

Hence getting the CNC machine.

Now I have the means to produce accurate pieces with wood and a some modelling software. Knocking up a sign or box using a pre-programmed design is simple and the results always impress. There are limitations of course, as the machine bed has a maximum capacity of two feet square but for most builds that is sufficient.

Whilst we were on a break in Devon last year, I spotted a wine rack in a shop in Kingsbridge and thought it would be a good project to make at home. I knew I had some oak timber that would be perfect but realised that the rack would need lots of joints and they would need to be neatly done or else it would look a mess.

Firstly I worked out how many rails would be required and went about planing them down to the size I thought would be suitable. I then worked out how to make the tenons and mortise using the CNC and also created a jig to ensure I could get repeatable cuts.

The CNC makes light work this type of job and I was please that the rails connected nice and snug and straight. I used a square to ensure the frames glued up true and left it overnight to ensure it dried well.

Assembling the frame to the rails was then fairly easy and soon it was starting to look like a rack. Once again I glued it up and left it overnight. The next day I rubbed down the frame with some sandpaper and added some rubber feet to the legs to finish it off, leaving it a natural finish rather than finish with any wax or varnish.

The wine rack is now situated in one of our downstairs rooms and fully stocked following a delivery of twelve bottles of wine that my team bought for me at Christmas ūüôā

Going out out

Since the original lockdown last March, I’ve only ventured into the office three times. The first time was to familiarise myself with the Covid restrictions and changes that had been implemented and I only stayed there for a couple of hours once I’d done the tour. Whilst it was clear the company had done a lot of work to try to make the site safe such as one-way corridors, the restaurant was closed and some temporary staff didn’t seem rot follow the guidelines such as wearing face masks when walking around the office.

The second time was to visit the new office space that had been created for my division, but again the restaurant was closed and there was lots of building activity going on making it a difficult place to work.

The third time was this week.

I’d been invited to go into the office as a couple of my colleagues and my boss were meeting up so I booked a desk and drove to Birmingham on Tuesday. The new work area had now been completed and desks allocated for our department but as only a few other staff have returned and with social distancing rules still in place the area felt pretty empty and uninviting. On the plus side, the restaurant was also now open, albeit at a reduced capacity so at least there was the better refreshments than the coffee machine.

Anyhow, on arrival I found a desk and fired up my laptop, having first visited the Starbucks counter to get a Latte. Regrettably I couldn’t get the stand-alone screen to connect to my laptop as I knew I would struggle to work on a single screen, especially so used to my home set up of having three screens. So I started messing with the larger monitor connections trying to get it to come to life. Unfortunately, I subsequently managed to knock my large cup of latte over my laptop, mouse and laptop bag, sending me into sheer panic. Fortunately, a quick-thinking colleague obtained some kitchen towel and I was able to mop up the spillage and wipe down the laptop, which luckily hadn’t got covered in the coffee.

Once I’d calmed down I then proceeded to do some work and also have a nice catch up with my colleagues; it’s surprising how just seeing people face to face rather than on the phone or via Teams makes a difference. We all had a good natter and put the world to rights and then I had the job of ringing round my team to inform them their pay-rises & bonuses. Of course, it would have been much easier to do at home as those types of conversations are best done out of ear-shot of others but I found a small office and delivered their good news.

And then it was my time to get the news of mine from my boss and pleasingly it was very good news. Suffice to say the tax man and Tina will benefit ūüôā

I remained in the office until late afternoon before heading back home and whilst we agreed it was great to meet up, I think the visits will now be fewer than I did in the past, even after the Covid situation goes away.

When I arrived home, I was greeted by Rio, who for the first time in a long while had been left alone, very excited to see me and wanting some attention for abandoning him. I think if he sees my laptop bag being packed up again he’ll pick it up and hide it so I can’t go back to work.

A medical enigma

If in 1981 I’d written a blog (if there was such a thing then?) about my dad surviving to see his 80th birthday, readers would have thought I’d gone mad. Not because his mum and dad died young, but that year saw him hospitalised due to a sinus problem and the emergency operation resulted in him sustaining brain damage.

He spent six months in a London hospital, with my mum travelling daily to visit whilst as teenagers, myself, brother and sister tried to carry on as normal not knowing whether we would have a dad for much longer. Eventually he did recover enough to come home, but from that moment onwards life would be very different for his family. He was 40 years old.

Dad had suffered brain damage as a result of the botched operation. It left him with limited mobility due a stroke, loss of sight in one eye and only peripheral vision in the other and short term memory loss. His injuries were such that it was difficult to say how long he would live so whilst we were relieved to get him home, we really didn’t know how long we would have him around.

In the early nineties, dad suffered another setback, when his consultant had to remove another sinus mucocele, the same issue that caused him to go into hospital first time around. This was shortly followed by a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lungs and then incredibly he was diagnosed with a pituitary tumour, which was also operated on to remove. In the early 2000’s he suffered another PE, followed in 2010 by another.

During the eighties, mum started proceedings to sue two Health Authorities for negligence in mis-diagnosing his original condition and the Queens Hospital, London for causing the brain damage during the emergency operation. They all eventually settled out of court in 1990, basing the award on his expected life expectancy of 15 more years, which would take him to 65.

Fast forward to 2021, and dad has defied all medical logic and is still going and is about to celebrate his 80th birthday later this month. He has to have a live-in carer as, sadly, mum passed away in 2014, ironically by suffering her first and only pulmonary embolism. When she passed, the expectation was that dad would have to go into a home but incredibly seven years later he still lives at home and coping reasonably well. Even Covid-19 hasn’t got him.

His health has deteriorated in recent years; he’s starting to struggle to speak properly and his mobility has slowed considerably, although he is still capable of going out on him mobility scooter. But considering what his body has been through, for him to reach the ripe old age of eighty is nothing less than a miracle.

Sadly it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to celebrate his birthday with him this month due to the ongoing lockdown restrictions but I’m sure once things relax we’ll try and sort out a get-together, hopefully including his surviving younger brother and older sister.

Workshop lodger

Concerned that my new car would attract undesirables, I decided to install a CCTV system covering the front of the house including the drive. As my brother is in the security industry, he recommended a system made by Hikvision which Amazon were selling at a reasonable price for a four camera system.

Installation was pretty easy as the camera wiring could go straight into the garage, where the main recorder would be installed. Alan suggested three cameras would be sufficient and I soon had them fitted and wired up. Setting up was simple and the software allows for zones to be set up to prevent false alarms. The quality of the video capture is excellent, especially in daytime light, and the night vision is sufficient at close range.

As I only needed three cameras to cover the frontage, I decided to fit the spare camera in the garage. I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few tools and equipment over recent years so having a camera looking over them felt like a good use of the last one.

The system has a 1TB hard drive which continually records the output and there’s also an app that can access the live stream as well as review the recorded footage. And I’m really impressed with the system; it was easy to set up and hooking it up to a spare monitor means I have visibility of the cameras whilst I’m working in the workshop.

Within a few weeks of the CCTV system going live it was already being called into action when our neighbours asked us to check the recordings as they’d had a couple of guys trying front doors in the middle of the night. Whilst the blokes could clearly been seen walking across the gardens opposite, the night time camera resolution wasn’t good enough to make out any personal features.

Still, the fact that the camera was able to pinpoint the time and pick out the two chaps was positive.

Anyhow, back to the camera in the workshop. As mentioned, the system has the ability to set movement detectors, which when triggered, places a marker and also sends an alarm to the app. Within a few days of the camera going live I started to notice it was getting triggered at night, often only once or twice. On reviewing the footage it was clear I didn’t have any burglars but I did seem to have a creature flying across the garage at speed. It would always move left to right towards the garage doors and not hover or circle, suggesting it wasn’t a moth or spider. And I never saw it return suggesting once it was out of the garage, it stayed out until morning when the camera system stopped detecting movement.

On one occasion I did actually see it on the drive camera, once it had made an appearance in the workshop but it moved at such speed it wasn’t easy to determine what type of creature it is.

I’ve even tried leaving the workshop light on during the night but my lodger seems to be artificial light camera shy and never appears. I’m pretty sure it’s a large insect of some sort but I haven’t got a clue what it actually is.

I guess it’s not really doing any harm other than triggering my CCTV so as along as it doesn’t start using the machinery during the night it can continue to use my garage as a resting home.

Going all electric

Since passing my driving test I’ve always driven combustion engine vehicles, whether they be company vans or cars, and as I generally lived a distance from my base office didn’t think twice about filling them up. For me the vehicle was a means to an end – I needed it for work and it was just a necessary expense.

Of course, up until recently there wasn’t really any other choice, with fossil fuel vehicles continuing to outperform in terms of practicality and cost, despite the government trying to de-incentivise their use by penalising both petrol and diesel drivers heavily through fuel and personal taxation. But in recent years, manufacturers have woken up to the fact that oil-based fuels won’t be around forever so have started to move towards producing electricity-powered vehicles, which also come with tax incentives.

Firstly we started to see hybrid versions. The advantage of hybrids was that they didn’t need charging but instead used regenerative breaking to supplement the fossil fuel engine and thus improve performance and extend range. This meant that the existing fuel station infrastructure remained a neccessity as cars still had to fill up, albeit less often.

I did consider switching to a hybrid at one point, mainly to reduce my monthly fuel outgoings but the cars were still quite expensive and I couldn’t justify the extra cost for the moderate return in fuel savings. But certainly the fact that the cars could go almost third further on a tank of fuel was enticing, especially as I hated the chore of having to fill up at petrol stations.

Of course the perfect solution would have been to switch to an all-electric car but the choice was limited, and with my commute of over a hundred miles a day, the cars on the market were either not practical or prohibitively expensive.

But the idea was always in the back of my mind.

And then Covid-19 came along and way we work was completely transformed. Gone was the daily drive to an office but instead the ask was stay at home, working remotely wherever possible. And for me that suited me just down to the ground as the regular commute was now just to move from the bedroom to the study, where I could be just as effective as working from an office.

But at the same time, my existing car, a 2012 Hyundai i35 started to show its age, even though it was spending most days sitting on the driveway wondering why its owner has stopped racking up the miles.

Now I’m not one for regularly switching cars; the i35 was bought 6 months from new and for me it is was just a vehicle for taking me to and from work and shelling out a fortune on a new model every couple of years was not a good investment, especially as I was adding +25,000 miles each year.

But lockdown got me thinking.

With the likelihood that driving to work each day was going to be less of a requirement I started to look at my options. Should I go diesel, hybrid or even electric and should I buy or lease?

Fortunately the choice became clearer when a colleague suggested I investigate the company car leasing salary sacrifice scheme, also mentioning that the deals on electric vehicles were really competitive. And with the benefits in kind tax on electric vehicles at zero percent leasing was viable option.

And they also had Tesla’s on their list.

Now I’d been watching how the Tesla company had been progressing in car manufacturing when I saw one for real at the Birmingham Gadget Show in 2016. At the show they had demo versions of the Model S and I was smitten by how modern they looked, and the silence from the car was mesmerising. And the battery range was improving, 200 miles on one charge. One day I thought.

Fast forward four years and with a promotion secured, my ‘spending’ power had increased significantly. By then Tesla had brought out their Model 3, a lower priced, saloon version with significantly improved range. I completed the online form to get my estimate of monthly costs, not quite believing my dream of getting an EV was becoming a reality. The salary sacrifice scheme really is a great way to be able to get a car that would be way out of my league to purchase at ¬£50,000 as the lease costs are taken before tax, making the bill affordable.

In July I took the plunge and completed the order and was given an estimate of 8 weeks delivery, taking me up to September. That would give me time to sell my existing car, sort out a charging point at home and look at power company charging scheme options. I also hit YouTube for every video I could find on Tesla Model 3’s, eager to learn as much as I could before delivery. I also downloaded the online manual and read it cover to cover multiple times, to the dismay of Tina, who couldn’t understand my obsession with ‘a new car’.

In early August I received a text from Tesla, confirming a delivery date at the start of September and the VIN number of the car. This information enabled me to track the delivery of the car across the Atlantic through The Tesla Motors Club forum on the shipping movements page, helping to build up the excitement.

My new car arrived, as scheduled, on the 2nd September and was immediately named ‘Trevor’ which seems to be a tradition bestowed by Tesla owners on their new vehicle.

In a future post I’ll give a run down of being an EV driver.

Workshop Update

The enforced national lockdown back in March last year began just before we were about to travel to Jersey to see our daughter, so instead I had the added bonus of a week off spent in my workshop.

Having managed to get to grips with my newly purchased CNC machine by making some signs, clocks and a crib board for my dad, I was keen to explore new things to make. I’d also ordered a pallet of hardwood from eBay, which would give me plenty of material to use as well.

Firstly, I wanted to try to produce a brass stamp on the CNC which seemed quite a cool thing to try to make. I had already ordered some brass blocks from eBay and so set about designing the stamps on the Vectrix software. The plan was to make a stamp that could be used for embossing my woodwork pieces; my very own makers mark. What I didn’t realise was that cutting metal, even a soft metal like brass, isn’t as easy as you think. My first attempt caused the router bit to break but once I’d sussed out the correct feed and speeds needed I managed to produce a pretty functional stamp.

I then thought I’d have a go at making some cutting boards, again out of left over oak worktop, but this time I wanted to try engraving onto them using the CNC. I made three different sized boards and a stand and then used the CNC to produce some pretty good looking boards.

Having no use for the boards I stored them away after first sharing photos on Instagram and shortly after an ex-colleague reached out for me to see if I would make her a set. As they were not required at home, I duly posted them to her and are now regularly used in her kitchen. Another project successfully completed.

Over the next few months my CNC output increased as I grew more confident in designing and creating new things. I even managed to get a couple of commissions from a chap in Scotland having seen my photos on social media.

Firstly he asked if I could make him a sign for his newly installed hot tub and then a sign for a work colleague. He loved them, especially as I only charged him for the postage.

Ideas were coming thick and fast by the time we came out of lockdown, not before dabbling in making some keyring, nick-nack trays and boxes, more signs and BBQ trays.

As the workshop warmed up in the summer, my activity slowed as the temperatures got unbearable but I still managed to knock out some football signs for friends and family.

In my next blog post I’ll run through some other projects including making beer bottle openers, signs for the garden, a box for a baby and a clock for my dad for Fathers Day.

Australian Diary – Part 6

Palm Cove – Thursday 20th November. Today was our last full day in the tropical North, so we decided to take a break from doing anything and instead relax and spend time on the beach and poolside.
After breakfast we walked across the road and found a spot on the beach, under the shade of a tree, and stayed there for the morning. Because of the danger of jellyfish and sea crocodiles at this time of the year, there was a section of the beach sectioned off for safe swimming, a large barrier extending out to sea protecting the public from the menaces of the sea. This area was also patrolled by a lifeguard, who ensured no one misbehaved and used the area safely. We remained there until lunchtime before returning back to the apartment for some food and spent the afternoon by the pool.

Whilst relaxing in the pool, we got chatting to a retired couple from St Albans, who were over visiting family in Sydney, but had come to Palm Cove for a break from their grandchildren. They had also just been to see The Rolling Stones, who were on tour in Australia and loved them.
For dinner, we found a Thai restaurant and although I enjoyed the food, Tina wasn’t so keen. Back to the hotel for an early night as we had a long drive the next day.

Palm Cove/Airlie Beach – Friday 21st November. After checking out, we loaded the car and set off on the journey for the next stage of our Australian adventure, heading south. Ahead of us was a 650km (405 miles) drive to Airlie Beach. We drove into Cairns and stopped for petrol before joining the A1 Bruce Highway, which runs southwards through Queensland. For the first couple of hours the scenery was lovely, the tree covered mountains to the right looking spectacular. We had a couple of breaks from driving including a place that the hotel manager had recommended, Frozen Mango, then eventually stopped for lunch just outside Townsville, about half way to our destination.

By then it was around. 2pm so we pressed on, this time driving through pretty uninteresting countryside. The main crops grown throughout this part of Queensland was sugar cane, with railway tracks running parallel to the road for hundreds of kilometers, which are used to carry the trains hauling the sugar plants off for processing. As for wildlife, we saw plenty of dead things in the side of the road, but was fortunate to see a wallaby sitting close to the edge of the roadside, waiting to be run over, I guess. Other than that, we only saw cattle looking very sad, munching on very dry grassland.

We eventually got within 100km of Airlie Beach so pulled into a petrol station to fill up and have a wee. Just as we came out the station was invaded by a coach load of teenagers; we timed that visit just right as all of them headed for the loos. Little did we know that the encounter wasn’t going to be the last we had of teenagers whilst in Queensland.

We finally reached the coastal town and after a few wrong turns finally found the hotel and checked in. On checking in we were informed by Pete, the hotel manager, that it was the start of ‘schoolies’ and the town was about to be invaded by school leavers. It seemed that in Australia, there is an annual event where all the kids leaving school after their exams descend on the coastal resorts for some ‘relaxation’. And when I say relaxation I mean booze, sex and loud music. Tina remarked it could be a good time to get some earplugs.¬†The Best Western was a bit out of the way of the towns shops, bars and restaurant but of good quality and the pool area lovely.

We decided that enough driving had been done so we walked in to the main part of Airlie Beach, not realising it was good mile or so. Fortunately it had cooled down a bit so was not too uncomfortable. We found a bar and grill and a table outside and ordered our food only to find it didn’t have half the items on the menu. It seemed they were about to close the restaurant for 10 days and were running stock down. Great. We managed to order some food they did have left after enjoying a nice meal. Whilst we sat, we observed the start of the arrival of the schoolies, all wearing coloured lanyards with their photos on, showing that the event was fairly well organised and under some sort of control, certainly early on. The time was still early so we browsed some shops before making the long walk back, stating that a taxi might have been a better idea.

Airlie Beach –¬†Saturday 22nd November. I woke early and popped to the local supermarket for some milk whilst Tina slept. On the way back I went in to reception to speak to Pete for advice on things to do in the area. He suggested booking a trip on a tall ship, the Derwent Hunter, so after speaking to Tina we agreed it would be a good way to see the Whitsunday Islands.

We wanted a chill out day after the long drive the previous day so walked back into the main part of town, bought some prezzies, sat on the beach and generally relaxed in the warm sunshine. By this time the town was starting to fill up with schoolies; there were hundreds of them, but all seemed well behaved…at this stage. We walked to the Airlie Beach lagoon and paddled in the cool water before getting some lunch in a nice cafe in the town. More prezzie hunting before we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel and use the pool facilities at the hotel. We drove back later for a meal; earlier than normal as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to get a table with some many kids around.

Airlie Beach – Sunday 23rd November.¬†An early start for the boat trip; 7am on a Sunday morning was not the time we’d expected to be up on holiday but with the coach pick up shortly after that time we had to breakfast early.¬†We were taken to the quayside and soon were boarding the ship, a small tall ship built in 1946. As we boarded we had to remove our footwear so as to not mark the decking. This was fine but we’d specially bought Tina some white soled flip-flops the previous day.

The crew were young and enthusiastic and soon made us feel at home. There were only 25 guests sailing so the boat didn’t seem crowded and there was plenty of places to sit and enjoy the scenery as we sailed out of port. As we crossed the bay towards the Whitsunday Islands were were given a talk by the captain, a young guy, about the history of the tall ship followed by a safety briefing on snorkelling. I managed to let the ships cook, Jade, know that I needed gluten free diet and sue said it was fine and could accommodate. Great.

As the ship sailed on we were treated to some beautiful scenery, although we weren’t able to see any of the famous beaches at that point. We arrived at our first snorkelling destination after a couple of hours and boarded a small dingy to cross over to the sandbank. We were told there was a good chance we’d see turtles and even swim with them and sure enough someone had spotted one as we crossed. We did some snorkelling and spotted more turtles; the waters were not as clear as the were seen further north but the reefs were still full of fish. After an hour or so we moved off to our second spot; Black Island, and did some more snorkelling. The coral there was more colourful and had an abundance of various types of fish, it was really an honour to experience this wonder under the sea.

We sat on the beach for a while before returning to the ship for some lunch, a really good spread. The ship then slowly headed back to port, not before getting a talk on the fish and other creatures we might have seen. There had been an official photographer with us during the day so it will be great to see the pictures he’d taken, including lots under water.

As we neared port, the wind picked up so we were able to unfurl the sails to get the boat to do what it was designed to do…sail. I helped pull up the sheets and soon we were under the power of the wind and it felt such a wonderful way of spending an afternoon, slowly crossing the bay towards land.
Eventually we arrived back in port and disembarked and were taken back to the hotel where we freshened up before driving to Airlie Beach for some dinner. The schoolies seemed a bit rowdier tonight, clearly incapable of holding it together after 24 hours of drinking. We grabbed an ice cream then sat by the beach for a while before driving back to the hotel for drinks on the balcony.

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The hike from the hotel to Airlie Beach restaurants included this hill

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A room with a view – Mango House Resort

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Selfie – Airlie Beach

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The Derwent Hunter, our tall ship for the day

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Black Island, Whitsunday National Park

Australian Diary – Part 4

Yulara – Sunday 16th November – We had such a wonderful evening watching the sunset over Uluru, I decided to set my alarm clock for 5 am and take the opportunity to watch the sunrise. When I woke it was just starting to get light so I set off with camera and tripod in tow to the mound which allows for good views of Ayres Rock and the surrounding Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park. I wasn’t disappointed and experienced a beautiful sunrise, although the photos I took didn’t do it justice.

What I also got whilst waiting for the sun to rise were mosquito bites, the first of our holiday. And boy did they itch. (Note – I am writing this blog five days later and my arm is still red and itchy). One of the bites on my leg caused swelling and was uncomfortable for a couple of days).
I returned to the hotel room and woke Tina as we’d paid for an early breakfast so we were ready for the pick up for the helicopter trip the I’d pre booked. For our 50th birthdays, Tina and I had been given some Australian dollars by my brother and sister so we agreed we would use the money for something we would both be able to remember on the trip.¬†The last helicopter flight we did was over the Grand Canyon and we both loved it so we thought seeing the rock from the air would be a great idea and very memorable.

The minibus arrived promptly and we were greeted by TJ, who turned out to be the pilot, in what appeared to be a one-man operation. And as we got chatting on our way to the airport we discovered it pretty much was. He did the pick ups, the flying and the commentary, as well as confirm the booking times too. He was expecting another guest to be on our flight but after waiting at her hotel for 10 minutes he decided to abandon waiting and we headed for the airport. It turns out she’d overslept and took a later flight instead.

When we arrived at the airport we went straight to the helicopter, a small four seater and waited whilst TJ did his checks, including siphoning off some fuel, which is apparently a requirement and checking the helicopter over (blades connected, windows intact etc). He did a quick safely briefing before we were strapped in ready for the flight, then started the engine and we were soon off. We had booked 30 minute flight, which gave us time to fly over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which is another sacred rock formation close to the main attraction.¬†The helicopter trip didn’t disappoint and we experienced a fantastic view of the rock and the surrounding landscape, with TJ commentary helping us to understand what we were seeing.

After the flight was over we were dropped back off at the hotel where we explored the town of Yulara until it was time for the coach transfer back to the airport for our onward flight to Cairns, the tropical region on the east coast. I’m glad we went to see, what is essentially a great big rock in the desert, but until you do you can’t really appreciate the wonder of it.

We didn’t have long before we were boarding the flight and the hours later we arrived at our destination about an hour before sunset. We were hoping for a quick getaway once we arrived so that we could drive our hire car in daylight, rather than hunt for the hotel in the dark but it wasn’t to be. The luggage came through very quickly but it took ages to get the car and by the time we’d loaded our cases it was dark.
The car was a large Mitsubishi, very comfortable and would do us nicely for the rest of our holiday (the air conditioning was a godsend as it was a little warmer than we’d experienced elsewhere on our travels).

We left the airport, following the instructions given by the Avis Rentals man and headed north on the Captain Cook Highway, towards Palm Cove, which was to be our base for the next five nights. The driving ¬†was very straight forward, helped by the fact that the Australian’s drive on the same side of the road as we do and the car was an automatic, so it was just a case of follow the signs until we find out hotel.

Thirty minutes later and we were there; the reception was shut but a note had been left giving us instructions on finding our room, a very spacious apartment of a very high standard finish. I’d chosen this particular hotel as it had the best rating in Trip Adviser, and by first impressions I could see why. We unpacked and found a nice restaurant close by and then headed back to the room after a long day again.

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Australian Diary – Part 3

Sydney – Friday 14th November – So today, someone had turned the heater up a bit with temperatures higher than any day in the week we’d been in Sydney. As this was our last full day in the city, we decided to take it easy and chill out in the same way the Aussies do and take the day as it came with nothing planned. We agreed to take the short boat ride around to Darling Harbour but pretty much as soon as we got there realised that it would be too hot to walk around so we bought some drinks and found a shady spot to people watch.

The area was Tumbalonga Park, just off the harbour and was a great place to sit and relax and watch the world go by. As it was a Friday we suspected there were many people doing the same thing, skipping off work early for the weekend and just enjoying the sunshine. In the park there were snazzy deck chairs and mats to use, free of charge and we soon found a spot under a brolly and remained there until lunchtime. Surrounding the park were ¬†cafe’s, restaurants and takeaway outlets, ideal for visitors and workers to use; the place was really set up for a relaxing time. I grabbed a couple of Greek salad takeaways and we ate in the shade before strolling back to the market we’d visited yesterday. A few more prezzies later and we decided to have an earlier dinner, returning to the Nando’s we’d missed out on last night.

We ordered our food, as we normally would in the UK, but to our amazement the portions were huge and we both struggled to finish the meal. A slow walk back to the hotel to start to pack for the next part of our Australian trip.

Sydney/Alice Springs/Ayres Rock (Ulura) – Saturday 15th November – In order to get to Yulara, the town that has been purpose built for the Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park, we firstly had to fly to Alice Springs, smack bang in the middle of Australia, although actually in the Northern Territories. We ordered a taxi to get us to the airport, which did so with plenty of time to spare as traffic was light on an early Saturday morning. The Qantas check in was so easy; everything was done self service, including printing the tickets, weighing the cases and printing and attaching the baggage labels on the conveyor belt. A short queue through security and we were in the departure lounge (after having my bag sniffed for explosives… none found btw). The flight departure was on time and we were soon flying north west towards Alice Springs, some three hours away.

Our arrival at the transit town was weird; the place seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, which I guess should be expected as it was. We disembarked from the plane and left the arrivals lounge to collect our cases for the flight to Ayres Rock. We waited, and waited but when we were the last at the collection belt with no cases left to collect we guessed Qantas were doing the donkey work for us and sure enough after a quick confirmation from the check in desk, we were assured the cases would be on the next plane.

We grabbed a coffee and then waited a short period before boarding the next flight, not before checking out the gift shop, which was the only one at the airport. The aircraft was only a third full of  passengers and so were able to take off early (we were the last flight of the day and it was only 2 pm!)

Three quarters of an hour later and we were landing at Ayres Rock, seeing for the first time the iconic landmark on the horizon. After collecting the cases we boarded the complimentary coach to the hotel (there are no taxis in Yulara) and were soon checking in and unpacking.

The town of Yulara is a purpose built place, dedicated solely for the visitor to the national park, with only three hotels and one bar. Any organised excursions had to be booked through two agents, AATKings being the one we’d used. We had booked a sunset viewing of the rock followed by a BBQ under the stars and at the agreed time we were picked up from the hotel, along with a number of other guests.

We arrived at the viewing area and were offered a drink, some nibbles followed by more drink until the sun started to drop. By this time there were quite a few other coaches that had arrived, the guests all waiting patiently for the main spectacle. As the sun started to drop, the rock was a sight to behold, colours changing every minute that passed and the cameras started in earnest. Also the sunset behind us was spectacular, adding to the beauty, it really was worth experiencing.

We then departed for the BBQ; a number of tables set out in the middle of nowhere and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, which included steak, kangaroo meat, chicken skewers and lamb sausages. And plenty of wine. After the meal the tour guide led us to a spot near the coach, switched off the lights and talked about the stars in the sky. This night was the first time we actually managed to see any stars, as most nights had been cloudy. The dark surroundings, devoid of street lights allowed for a magnificent view of the night sky and we saw, for the first time, the southern hemisphere stars. Once the lights came back up we reboarded the coach and returned to the hotel, falling into our bed after a long but enjoyable day.

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Fancy deckchairs in Tumbalonga Park, Sydney. They weren’t so comfy as they looked.

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Darling Harbour

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Alice Springs Airport. Not the biggest I’ve been in…

 
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