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The Voyage of Spectacle Newcastle

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Bali, Indonesia

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The Voyage of Spectacle

Archive for the ‘Newcastle’ Category

Eavesdropping at the Yacht Club and Off to Rugby League

Posted by: melissa

After our nap yesterday, we realized that the Newcastle Knights were playing the Canberra Raiders in rugby league that evening, and we felt pretty good and recovered enough from the passage to go out.  Andy bought tickets online, and we set off.

First, we went to the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club for an adult beverage.  It’s a very nice place, and chock full of local boaters.  Andy and I were eavesdropping on the conversation going on at the table behind us.  They were in a heated discussion about the Gold Coast and how it is culture-free.  We hear this a lot, and of course, the same criticisms are frequently made about the United States.  And I think it’s all pretty harsh.  I mean think about it … places like Sydney and Los Angeles are just never going to be Rome or Istanbul, but that doesn’t mean that they’re culture-free. 

In a way, Australia has a much better excuse than the United States.  Captain Cook and the Endeavor landed in 1770, but the First Fleet didn’t arrive until 1788, and that was for the penal colony.  Plus, Australia is far more remote than the U.S., especially by the standards of early days.  And, exploration and travel across Australia was far harsher than the experiences of American settlers moving west.  To this day, large parts of Australia are still uninhabitable even with technological advances. 

Newcastle Knights Super Fan -- and much warmer rugby league spectator!

Newcastle Knights Super Fan -- and much warmer rugby league spectator!

My point is that I think Australia has evolved into a very distinct culture given its youth as a society and its many geographical and topographical challenges.  As we further eavesdropped, one guy tried to make the point that China has no real culture either, just a long-standing civilization.  I still haven’t figured out what that craziness actually meant or what it has to do with Gold Coast, but I thought it was pretty amusing.      

We then went next door to have a bite at the local restaurant which happens to be one of the best in Newcastle, and it was really good.  We hopped into a taxi and headed out to the ground.  I immediately realized that I was going to be too cold, so we swung by the team shop and I instantly became a Newcastle Knights super fan by double bill-boarding with hat and scarf.  After a convincing Knights victory, we cabbed it home, had dessert and decaf at the local, and went to bed.  Tomorrow we’ll rent a car and head out to the Hunter Valley wine country.

Off to Hunter Valley

Posted by: melissa

I woke up fairly early and headed out to get a flat white takeaway and rent a car.  Unfortunately, the Europcar office conveniently located about a block away from the marina is closed on Sundays.  I returned to the boat, jumped on the internet, and found a reasonably priced car available at the airport. 

I failed to note the location of the airport, however, and after a taxi ride where I wondered if the driver was actually taking us out to a deserted pasture to rob us and kill us, we finally arrived to the tune of a $60 fare.  We got the rental car, started driving, and while looking at the map and the road signs, we were overcome by suspicion of a taxi scam.  Oh well, live and learn.  At the very least, Europcar is letting us return at the local rental office so we don’t have to endure another cab ride to oblivion.

Hunter Valley is the wine producing area of New South Wales.

Hunter Valley is the wine producing area of New South Wales.

The road to Cessnock, the jumping off point for the Hunter Valley wine country, is rural.  We got lost several times, and the signage is pretty bad … none of those huge and reflecting traffic signs with bunches of grapes to show you the way.  Most importantly, we were really hungry having skipped breakfast and then stuck in the taxi. 

After passing several Macca’s (the Australian nickname for McDonald’s) and Hungry Jack’s (the Australian Burger King), we came across a couple of small take-out cafes that were just too sketchy to venture into.  I’m not being stuck up, but I just can’t eat a sausage roll from an establishment called Smelly’s, and the thought of out-station Australian Chinese food was just too much to bear.  We finally happened upon a hotel pub and restaurant, and ordered soup and chicken fingers thinking it to be fairly safe.  Unfortunately, the chicken wasn’t cooked all the way through – seriously, how can you screw up chicken fingers?  We left still hungry but armed with plenty of jokes about our upcoming bout with salmonella.

We drove into, and promptly out of, the rather charm-free Cessnock within a few minutes and missed the tourist office all together.  After a rough day so far, wine-tasting was exactly what we needed!  So Andy directed us to the nearest cellar door…

Back from Hunter Valley

Posted by: melissa
Spectacle at the Dock in Newcastle

Spectacle at the Dock in Newcastle

We spent Sunday night at a nice and pretty famous inn called Peppers in Pokolbin, where we had a surprisingly good degustation menu for dinner … scallops, quail, and veal, all very nice.  We also enjoyed delicious dessert called “Night at the Movies” with savory popcorn-flavored sorbet, Coca-Cola jello, malted milk balls, sweet Sprite sorbet with pistachios, and a couple of other chocolate items with creative twists on candy treats.  Very yummy!  We then passed out watching an Australian 60 Minutes special on the American Amish. 

On Monday, we had breakfast, did some wine-tasting, and met three guys, all Ph.D. candidates in math, in the area after a convention in Sydney … one from South Africa, one from Colombia, and one from Switzerland.  All three were wickedly smart and super interesting.  We had a lovely late lunch together, and then Andy and I drove home to Newcastle.   

Back in Newcastle, we took advantage of having the car, drove around a little just sight-seeing in general, and ended up at the local brewery at Queen’s Wharf for some televised rugby league, beer, and burgers.

Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Posted by: melissa
Canned Lambs Tongues -- YUCK!

Canned Lambs Tongues -- YUCK!

The car was due at 12:30 so we decided to make a trip to the grocery store for a few assorted goodies, including drinking water which you can never have enough of.  One thing I can do without is canned lambs tongues, even for the low, low price of AUS$4.05.  And of course, tongues are conveniently shelved between the corned beef and Stag beef chili.  Gross!

After depositing the groceries and returning the car, we noticed that it was a warm and sunny day which was quite a novelty for us after chilly and rainy Sydney and New Zealand.  So we put on our running shoes and set out for a long walk. 

Newcastle‘s population of almost 250,000 is an eclectic combination of university students, surfers, and people associated with the current thriving coal industry and the rapidly dying, if not dead, steel industry.  At the mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle is the world’s largest coal exporting port which has been a fundamental component of Australia’s overall economic growth.  Coal industry of that size brings blue-collar workers as well as highly compensated upper level management, and the town reflects this dichotomy. 

Newcastle was established in 1804 as a penal colony for those convicts too hardened for the original penal colony in Sydney.  In 1846, the nearby island of Nobbys Head was joined to the mainland.  The long and picturesque sand spit, complete with a scenic lighthouse, is now a favorite spot for runners and strollers.  Fort Scratchley housed a gun installation which fended off an attacking Japanese submarine in 1942.  In 1989, Newcastle suffered Australia’s biggest recorded earthquake which killed a dozen people and destroyed many buildings.  Subsequent rebuilding included strategic moves to increase tourism, foster real estate development, and shake off the seedy reputation of an industrial past.

Our walk through the central business district and the waterfront wharf was quite lovely.  We returned to the boat to find that our local restaurant was closed, so we were back online to research a place to eat.  

We ended up at a relatively new restaurant located in a recently renovated historical building that has been, at different times, a church, a theater, a community center, and a homeless shelter during the Depression.  We met some fellow diners who were also, ahem, historical.  One woman said that her father went to church there as a child. 

The menu was thoughtful, and the food was delicious and well executed.  But the best part of the evening was the signature cocktail menu.  I had a fantastic modified Cosmopolitan in a frosted glass, but Andy ordered probably the single best cocktail we’ve ever had – top shelf gin, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, honey syrup, peach bitters, and lemon twist.  It was absolutely delicious, and so well balanced that the liquor was almost completely disguised.  All in all, a very lovely day!

Arrival in Coffs Harbour

Posted by: melissa

Yesterday, we had big plans to leave Newcastle at first light since Coffs Harbor was about 175 miles away and the East Australian Current is always a concern.  Unfortunately, we slept in so soundly, and then suffered some separation anxiety with the marina’s cheap, fast, and reliable wifi.  But we managed to shove off around 10:30 with a flexible plan of making landfall at Port Stephens (about 5 hours away), Coffs Harbour (about 30 hours away), or Gold Coast (about 55 hours away).

As we made our way through the channel, we noticed a lot of traffic.  One tugboat was leading a container ship out, and another tugboat was leading another container ship in.  Several container ships were loitering outside the breakwater waiting to be taken in.  Since we usually see freighters from afar, seeing one up close is a weird reminder of how gigantic they actually are. 

We made our way through the breakwaters and found a nice, calm, flat Tasman Sea … just like we like it!  Andy went below to check our position, and then I heard a loud booming noise.  I looked in the general direction of the noise, and having grown up within a couple of miles of an Air Force base, I knew that some kind of fighter jet was headed in our direction. 

The trick to communicating on a boat is the delicate balance between notification with a sense of urgency and scaring someone to death with a tone of emergency or impending disaster.  I leaned into the companion way, and as calmly as I could, I said “military plane” in a flat but loud voice.  Andy shot up immediately to catch the show.  It made a wide loop out over the ocean at fairly low altitude … deafeningly loud and very exciting.

About 10 minutes later, we had a humpback whale sighting!  Again, I leaned into the companion way, and as calmly as I could, I said “whale” in a flat but loud voice.  Again, you have to be careful not to communicate a message of panic or emergency, but rather just a really cool sightseeing opportunity.  Anyway, it was a pod of at least three whales traveling up the coast together.  We mostly saw their spouts and backs … no flukes or fins or full breeches this time, but very cool nonetheless.

The rest of the day was quite nice and uneventful.  I’m reading a book called Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  It won a Pulitzer Prize and I can definitely see why.  Andy’s reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and constantly shaking his head at the disturbing tale. 

This storm, and the weather warning of high winds, chased us all the way into Coffs Harbour.

This storm, and the weather warning of high winds, chased us all the way into Coffs Harbour.

Unfortunately, we downloaded some weather forecasts and a weather warning had just been issued for high winds for our area around Coffs Harbour the following night.  As I mentioned, we had decided that if we didn’t make it to Coffs Harbour for a daytime arrival, we would try to press on to Gold Coast.  This new weather warning killed that idea promptly, so we had to pick up the pace a little bit to make sure we made it to Coffs Harbor with daylight to spare. 

And we just barely made it!  Literally, we had minutes to spare as a huge, angry-looking storm chased us in to shelter.  The slip was barely big enough to hold us and the neighboring boat already moored there, but, in his best performance yet, Andy perfectly threaded the needle.  Oh, bowthruster, how do we love thee?  Let me count the ways!

We grabbed the shower bag, stopped at the marina office, and per their instructions, opened the lockbox to obtain the keys.  We had dinner at the closest restaurant, and it was actually pretty good.  I had yellow fin tuna that was probably just a few hours fresh, although, I felt Andy’s brother, Erik, also known as the Seahadist (the seafood Jihadist), breathing down my neck for not eating something else (Artic Char?).  His overwhelming knowledge about, and activism to stop, overfishing are really cutting into my enjoyment of seafood!


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