Sunday, 29 April 2012

Psuedo-campfire/Damper in Ashes

A wonderful experiment - well worth doing again!
Nick was still on leave when we returned from Jenolan Caves, so we did our best to maintain the holiday vibe as long as possible.

Some time back Nick picked up a 44-drum section from a roadside collection and later he found a tree that had been dumped in a nearby reserve. 

When we spotted an abandoned frypan put out for collection, we collected that too - because one man's trash is definitely Hamby treasure!  What did we do with all this good loot?  We made fire! 

The she-oak wasn't ideal firewood but we did have a lot of fun with it, just the same.  The frypan made an excellent stand for our camp oven, holding plenty of coals without damaging the outdoor paved area or grass.  We shared our camp oven roast with visiting family, who left some beer in our fridge when they departed the next day.

As the coals were still warm in the morning, it seemed a splendid opportunity to try something I had wanted to do for ages.  I've watched Andrew Dwyer's YouTube clip many times but revised the method once more before putting his instructions into practice.  I was well pleased with the result - and will definitely make this variety of damper again, even if I have to buy some beer specially for making it!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Jenolan Caves

It took around an hour to drive from Lithgow to Jenolan Caves.  The last 8km was quite windy, with a chain mesh safety fence supported by rotting white posts!  (Nick was extra careful through that bit)!

It was a first visit for everyone and there were many "oh, wow"s as we caught sight to the blue lake (tinted by limestone) and the huge arched cave over the road as we approached our destination.  We had decided to visit the Lucas Cave and arrived in good time to purchase tickets and use the loos (built into the walls of the Grand Arch!) before assembling for our guided group tour.

The tour took around 2 hours (and many, many stairs) and we saw some wonderful formations.   Our passes included a 45-minute self-guided tour and half-price admission for another tour; so we are keen to return within the 12-month validation period and explore further. 

We had certainly worked up an appetite for our picnic lunch after the tour, so enjoyed potato/leek soup and cold meat sandwiches while looking out at the rain and newly-washed greenery.  Vaughan spotted a leech and asked what kind it was.  Erin very quickly responded:  "The gross kind!"

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Winners are Grinners! (21-22 April)

The MC-monk asked a question late on the second day of Ironfest.  Erin knew the answer and bolted down from the grandstand, with Vaughan in hot pursuit (octopus tentacles bobbing as he ran)!

They were the first/only bods to be bothered responding - and as you can see, Erin was very pleased with her prize, autographed by the authors.  We cheered for her win, as did a number of people who were sitting near us!

(She has since finished the book and quite enjoyed reading it).

Horses for courses (21-22 April)

This year's Ironfest marked the advent of Australia's first international horseback archery tournament.

I had been very impressed by the black and white horse, Merlin (top, left corner), last year and enjoyed seeing him up close this visit.  During the first day's archery event I was standing at the end of the course.  The pace of the horses was so quick along the short track that their riders struggled to pull them up before the (flimsy) barricade.  A footman stepped up to slow one of the horses, causing it to stop quite suddenly.  It's rider would have fallen but for her quick-thinking dismount over the horse's head and neck!

As well as the archery events, there were skill at arms competitions - including individual pegging (pegs to be taken from the ground at the gallop with a lance), quintain (where a shield on a pivoting arm is struck aggressively with a lance at speed) and collecting metal rings upon the lance (again, at speed).

Of course, there was some jousting also!

Camp Kitchen (21-22 April)

Cooking enough to feed an army?!
There was a tent village in the central grounds of the "Kingdom" where the various re-enactment groups stayed over the weekend.

I stood for a while watching these workers go about their tasks in this large camp kitchen.

I am not sure how many they were catering for but the huge trays of chopped onion and other vegies were very impressive, though I did wonder how much butter was going into the meal!

(The men scrubbing the pots were using pieces of chain mail, so praps that might be a good option for cleaning our camp ovens)!

Harping on! (21-22 April)

Yes, I'm still harping on about Ironfest! 

I haven't been able to find details for the trio of gemshorn musicians in the pic at left but you can read about the instrument here

The same site also has two short sound/video files showing modern and traditional gemshorns being played.   It was late in the day when the harpist stopped to offer Vaughan a chance to play her wheeled harp. 

He wasn't keen - but I was.  The strings were colour coded so even a non musical novice could look good - well, as good as one can look in a silly hat!

I am not sure how my "melody" sounded as the music of the gemshorn trio (in the background) carried quite strongly on the wind and it was difficult to hear much above them - which was probably a good thing!

Breakfast burritos (21-22 April)

My Ironfest menu plan was influenced largely by my memory of our previous visits to Lithgow.  Temperatures had been quite cold so I wanted hot, no-fuss breakfasts.  I cooked as much as possible prior to departure - and prepped quite a lot also as I wanted a break from routine too.  (We took one of our Engel fridges with us, running as a freezer which was set up in our small bathroom and raided as necessary)!

We often have a full cooked breakfast one morning while away but it didn't fit my less-mess theme for this break.  I spotted these breakfast burritos on a once-a-month cooking site though and liked that they could be made ahead, frozen then re-heated in the microwave.  Ours were rather more basic than the full version, in the hope that Vaughan might actually eat them!  Of course, leaving many of the ingredients out meant a much lower yield but the theory worked quite well and we may well have these on another trip.

Flashback - pikelets over the coals at Yowah (July 2010)
Pikelets are another regular for special breakfasts - at home and while away. 

We usually cook them on site but again that didn't fit with my cook's holiday ideal!

Instead I made a batch in the lead-up to departure, flash froze them on trays and then packed in a container.

They remained frozen till required and were very successfully reheated in the microwave and served with lemon and sugar on our final morning. (Some might argue it would have been better if I had packed a container of sugar rather than having to use the small complimentary sachets intended for coffee/tea but who's perfect)?!

Packing the Me n U (21-22 April)

There are people who menu plan - all the time.  I am not one of them!  I do find it much easier to pack for our camping (and other) adventures if I write up a plan covering all meals for the time we are away. 

My first attempt at this was our 18-night camping trip to Yowah in July 2010.  Given Yowah's remote location we filled one fridge with cryovaced meat to take with us, which meant deciding what we would be eating each of those nights so as to instruct the butcher with quantities etc.  At the time it was quite a daunting exercise but since then I have done an even longer menu plan (for our month-long Yowah adventure), which makes menu planning for our shorter trips quite easy.

I save all the menu plans and then can adapt according to the number of campers, season/destination/facilities etc - and I do try new recipes/ideas.  We do not have a large budget for our trips, hence we camp or choose self-catering budget/bargain accommodation.

Butter Pork was created on our first longer camping trip.  The cryovaced chicken at the Texas Butchery looked less than appetising, so we bought cryovaced pork instead - and liked the substitution so much that it is a regular feature on our trips away.  Butter beans are an important inclusion and while it tastes best when cooked in a camp oven over an open fire, the thermal cooked version is still very good.

We stayed in a studio cabin while at Lithgow and were quite impressed by this set of plug-in hotplates.  They were fine for our needs and we may well procure some for our camping kit (when staying on powered sites).

Good, old-fashioned fun! (21-22 April)

There are pictures of devil sticks in Egyptian tomb friezes - betcha didn't know that?!

"Whether they were reinvented in, or traveled to China, there is no doubt that by 2000 B.C. the Chinese were using devil sticks. Devil sticks have been used in Europe since the Renaissance."

Regardless of their history, Vaughan was fascinated and spent a lot of time at this Ironfest stall playing with the devil sticks (and other equipment) put out for just that purpose.  The lovely stall-holder demonstrated some techniques and Vaughan choose a set of sticks (with a book) to bring home with us. Erin purchased a diablo and I also bought a juggling book.  If we get any good, we could always start busking to offset the cost of some of our adventures?!

I picked up a business card, in case we need anything further down the track.  I was expecting a boutique toyshop but our devil stick demonstrator is actually the director of Flamewater Circus "Sydney’s premier circus and fire arts provider. Whether you want a world class performance at your event, or want to buy your own circus toys, Flamewater Circus has everything you need."  They have performed at the Commonwealth Games Ceremony in Delhi as well as other shows around the world - so now we are even more impressed!

Just kidding around! (21-22 April)

We really enjoyed our time at the Lithgow Tourist and Van Park.  The resident goats provided plenty of amusement and our kids (big and little) had lots of fun feeding them.

Our favourite pic is of the goat poking her tongue out!

P(r)obbley a Pobblebonk (21-22 April)

In between Ironfest visits, we found time for some geocaching.

On Saturday evening, Vaughan found the cache and spotted a frog.  Our aid was enlisted and the frog was soon in (Vaughan's) hand!

In reality, it was quite dark ...

Vaughan and I searched online today. 

After some involved discussion, we finally agree that our Lithgow frog was most p(r)obbley a Pobblebonk or Eastern Banjo Frog - or more formally Limnodynastes dumerilii.

We didn't hear it call but there is a sound file on the link, if you are interested.  (Seemingly the noise is thought of as banjo-like and when one frog calls, others usually respond rapidly, hence it's common name).

Vaughan was very impressed with his catch and has written a recount today: "When we were at Lithgow we saw a frog. It looked like a cane toad but it wasn't."  Our (wartier) frog more closely resembled the pic on this site, even though the information is about South Australian frogs.

Wayward Minstrels (21-22 April)

We saw the Wayward Minstrels (yes, that's really their name!) at different points during the weekend.

At the time I stopped to listen to their music and take this group photo, they were playing "Totentanz" which you can listen to here.  Ricarda was very happy to demonstrate her hurdy gurdy instrument while the group took a break from performing.  It was quite interesting to see everything so closely - and note how the various components worked together.

Knight School is cool! (21-22 April)

Vaughan received some birthday money to spend at Ironfest - and was keen to accomplish his mission very soon after arrival!

I missed seeing Vaughan's gallant efforts at Knight School but Nick took these shots with his mobile phone to share.

Cheap shots?! (21-22 April)

Given Vaughan's second name, it seems quite appropriate that he would thoroughly enjoy the hands-on archery exhibit!

One of his arrows actually hit an animal target but unfortunately bounced off, rather than lodging firmly.

Nick and Vaughan both had a number of shots and plans are afoot to enrol in a local-ish club now that we are home again!

Hats off! (21-22 April)

The Happy Hamby Hatters?!
The hats were Nick's idea - really!  We had seen some fabulous costumes during previous Ironfest visits and did have vague thoughts of constructing our own themed attire this year.

Time got away though and when Erin came home with her leopard hat (a discount store bargain), Nick thought to visit our local op-shops for even greater low-cost variety.  Past Lithgow visits were warmly remembered (particularly for the cold temperatures), so our hats were constructed with a winterish focus.  (Of course, the weather was quite mild for the most part so many of my anti-freeze preparations were not required.  Typical)!  

When we visited on Saturday, the lady who made yeti hats was quite vocal about Nick's teddy-bear opposition!  She was noticeably silent when he came back on Sunday, possibly seriously worried that more people would go out and buy 50c op-shop toys to make custom hats, rather than purchase her creations!!

Quite a few people stopped Nick to ask where he bought his hat and/or was he selling them - and just as many (or more) asked to take his photo!

Flying High! (21-22 April)

Without doubt, our favourite Ironfest exhibit this year was the free flight bird show.

The two presenters were dressed in medieval falconer costumes and had a collection of falcons, kites, owls, a black-breasted buzzard – and a wedge-tailed eagle.

Erin, Vaughan and I queued patiently and each paid $5 to have our photo taken with Sabrina.

She weighs 5kg, so we needed the assistance of the handler to hold our arm steady.

It was definitely a magic few minutes!

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Ironfest was awesome, as expected!  There was just so much to see!

Even though it was our third visit we spent most of the weekend in the "Kingdom". We still found new stuff to look at - and missed seeing other things.

(I took close to 1,000 photos during the weekend, which should give some indication of the event's scope).

Friday, 20 April 2012

Lovely Lithgow!

Our home away from home - for a few nights!
It was a leisurely drive from Nick's graduation ceremony to our Lithgow accommodation.  (We even turned around at one point so I could leap out and help a tortoise across a busy road at Richmond, earning myself many farmer's friends for my trouble)!
We had planned our Ironfest adventure long before notification of Nick's graduation was received.  He had suggested deferring till later in the year because of the clash but with a few modifications to our plan, we all enjoyed the pomp and ceremony of the event - which was a great start to our weekend away.

Although we originally intended to camp, it generally takes us 3-4 hours to set up - and unpacking into our cabin was a much easier option after all the excitement of the day.  Our hostess, Meredith, extended a warm welcome upon our arrival and we happily recommend Lithgow Tourist and Van Park to anyone needing accommodation in the area!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Wild Walks

I was able to track the route we followed on our "giant bush walk" using the resources at Wild Walks, "a free online bushwalking and camping guidebook for NSW.  There is currently detailed information on 955 walks, and more to come."

Where did we go?  We started our trek at the Thommo's Loop, a little way down from Staples Lookout - you can see the Wild Walk track notes, here.  After lunching by the waterfall we then headed for Wondabyne Station, the reverse of the route detailed, here!

We walked a bit over 9km in total and were definitely feeling the effect of our exertions today!  Both sections of the track are rated "hard" though, so we are rightfully tired!

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Given our geocaching ant-ics, we missed the first Woy Woy train so waited an extra hour to the next one.

After waiting for what seemed like ages, I used the commuter telephone to double check the time of the next train - and confirm how to signal!  I was instructed to wave to the driver, so I did - and it worked!  (I had been a bit dubious given the approaching darkness and short distance where I would be visible).  The platform is only one carriage long and we got on at the very last set of doors.  What a day's adventure!

We caught the train back to Woy Woy station, retrieved our car and headed home - very glad of our thermal cooked dinner when we got there!


We reached Wondabyne station at around 4:30pm, so would have been able to catch a train 20 minutes later had we not been lured by the temptation of another cache.

The GPS indicated the geocache was a mere 75 metres from where we were, so we headed into the thick lantana scrub. No go.

We tried again in another spot.

Vaughan, wise beyond his 7 years, stood in the cleared section and declared us crazy! 

Undeterred by Vaughan's commentary, we battled in for a bit then decided against going further. I turned about, stopped - and investigated an acute burning/biting sensation on my inner thigh.

There was a huge ant gnawing through my jeans! Nick spied many more so we bolted, as much as we could, from the lantana jungle - tripping over the vines ensnaring our feet and undaunted by the face/neck whips of other taller vines.  Back in the cleared area, I flicked off various other ant assailants - and dropped my jeans to dissuade a couple that had made their way under. Oh, the burning of the bites I sustained!

I walked briskly to the station, deposited both backpacks on the seat and hunted for the sting relief. Mindful of the house near the platform, I positioned myself with a half-wall between me and it, then dropped my daks again to apply the spray. Ah, relief!

I wriggled myself back into my jeans, zipped up the fly - and looked up to register the 24-hour security camera warning notice with one camera aimed very squarely in my direction!! I am sure the rail security team would have had a great giggle at my ant-ics!

Bum-fluff flies!

Early in the day, Vaughan was excited to point out some very neat small insects.

What looked like fluffy seeds blowing in the breeze were actually bum-fluff flies! Very nifty!

Not surpisingly, Google hasn't been much help when using "bum-fluff flies" as a search term!

There are pics of wooly aphids that are somewhat similar but not quite right. Obviously, more research is warranted!

Wandering down to Wondabyne

Our last walk through Brisbane Water National Park was cut short by my afternoon commitment to a photography workshop.   But for that booking, we would have all been happy to continue further along the track.

There was some talk of completing the full walk on Friday, 13 April but we decided to go on Saturday instead.  (Superstition didn't feature in the decision, it was our lack of organisation that delayed departure)!

After preparing dinner in the thermal cooker we drove down to Woy Woy station, parked our car and caught a taxi up to the Thommo's Loop trailhead, near Staples Lookout.  It was a little after 11am when we started and very soon afterward we saw a sea eagle soaring overhead, a very auspicious sign!

There were many small birds along the way, plus a huge group of black cockatoos at one point. Tiny skinks scuttled in the leaf litter, though we didn't see any larger lizards as had been spotted on our last visit.  Nick and Vaughan saw a red-bellied black snake by the track coiled, sunning itself, but it moved off quickly when it saw us. I just caught the movement of the vegetation. (We saw a brown snake the previous time - both unusual occurrences as for all our walking/caching we don't generally see them).
As on our last visit, there were many varieties of banksia and quite a few other flowers that I know by sight only. There were lots of sundews (carnivorous plants) yesterday and it was fun to see Vaughan kneeling to test their stickiness. I don't remember them from the other week, so praps the recent rain was to their liking.

There were plenty of rests along the way (by the Kariong Brook waterfall and Myron Brook as well as other pretty spots) and a few deviations for caches.  Even with our relaxed pace and regular rest stops, we reached Wondabyne Station at around 4:30pm - about 5 hours after starting, so not a bad effort for the 9 km!

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Quite a few years ago, when visiting very good NZ friends, I was offered a hottie at bedtime.  Seemingly my eyes lit up and I answered very hurriedly in the affirmative! 

I'm not sure what I thought I was going to get but it definitely sounded good!  It was good of course - as good as a hot water bottle gets on a cold night. 

Based on my mini rice bag/hand-warmer success earlier this week, I decided to make larger, bed-warmer rice bags.  They do get quite hot, so for protection (and aesthetic appeal) I adapted some soft toys from around the house - a bright idea from another NZ friend.  The teddy in the pic was purchased for 50c from an op-shop.  He is styled to lay upon his tummy, so I gently operated on him to create an opening underneath and space for re-stuffing with a rice bag.

Vaughan's crocodile puppet has a long, lined pocket running along his underside.  I made a longer rice bag to fit - so the croc can do double-duty as a bed warmer.  Vaughan is not keen on the smell of the hot rice, so I have put a few drops of essential lavender oil on the bag in the hope that it will overcome the rice smell (and our boy's wakefulness)!

My preparations this week are very much made with Lithgow's cold temperatures (and our cabin accommodation convenience) in mind.  Generally we camp in non-powered areas, so wouldn't be able to zap rice bags in the microwave. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Dressed for comfort?!

Best-dressed feet?!
Last week I felted a woolen dress I used to wear when I was 20 or so.  Of course, like too many other things, that same dress has been carted about with me for 20 ish years since then!  (Obviously it was long overdue to serve some useful purpose).

There were many wonderfully creative projects I could have made with my "dress felt'" but in light of our upcoming Lithgow Ironfest adventure, I chose to make very practical felt innersoles.  These were my inspiration. 

My method differed somewhat.  I traced one of my feet and used the tracing to make my innersoles.  (As you can see, I interrupted Vaughan's Pokemon viewing to trace one of his feet too)!

As my "dress felt" was thinner than Maya's, I decided to sew two layers together for extra thickness.  I am pleased with the results.  They are not perfect but once tucked away in our boots, no one will see them anyway! 

Just to put our Ironfest preparations in perspective, Lithgow's mean (minimum) temperature last April was 7.1 with 0.4 degrees as the April low.  In contrast our closest weather station recorded a mean (minimum) of 15.5 with the lowest April reading being 12.3!  (When we visited last year, it was barely 4 degrees at 9:00am)!


I stayed up late last night making these mini rice-bag handwarmers, in preparation for our Lithgow Ironfest adventure.  (Well, technically I finished the first pair in the very early hours of the morning). 

I used the tutorials here and here - though my warmers are more rectangular in shape because I was using the lines on a tartan piece of flannel when I first started cutting.

I zapped them in the microwave for 30 seconds and they were very toasty inside my pockets, though I have to conduct more testing in terms of heat retention times.  Someone commented on one of the links that 30-45 minutes was the expected duration.  I guess that isn't bad for a 30-second zap?!  (The material is leftover scraps from my son's pyjamas, so no great outlay involved if the project is a failure)!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

10 Sleeps till Ironfest!

There is a sense of anticipation in our household - and a bit of a countdown!  There are only 10 sleeps left till we attend Nick's graduation ceremony and depart immediately afterward for Lithgow!  Our Ironfest tickets arrived last week (as did some new merino thermal underwear for Nick and I).  It's all happening!

I have been busy doing a stock-take of our warm clothes and everyone has been engaged in making silly hats.  I have sketched out a menu plan and will start the various meal preparation soon.  Thanks to Nick's recent overtime efforts, we have extended our original accommodation booking and will return home via Jenolan Caves.

Although we had planned a camping weekend, the timing of Nick's graduation prompted a re-think of that idea.  In the alternative we will stay in a basic cabin for three nights.  The lovely manager has said she will turn the heaters on if we haven't arrived by 6pm.  Now, that's a warm welcome!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Thonging for you?!

This "thong tree" was in the street where we had parked our car, while exploring the Sea Cliff Bridge. I expect writing on an odd thong to express one's love is a greener/cheaper alternative than having a lock engraved?!

If you google "thong tree" you will find references to special trail marking trees, like these.

Feeling locky?!

Some of our favourite locks ...
When we visited Wollongong last July, we were intrigued by all the locks at Keira Lookout

It seems the sentimentalists have locked onto Sea Cliff Bridge also!

There were many locks. Quite a few had traditional "locked together" messages but others displayed more unique sentiments.

I really liked the one addressed to Gerard (bottom left) for it's story - and the fact that the engraving was so nicely done.  The engraving standard varied widely and some people had favoured black texta as a cheaper option. It was clear that the cheapest locks rusted faster, though praps we shouldn't have interpreted that as an indicator of the relationship's staying power!

Sadly, there were a number of people who chucked the lock's packaging over the side - which tarnished the aesthetics considerably (top centre).

See Sea Cliff?

The Sea Cliff Bridge was impressive - and not just because it cost a total of $52 million to construct!

You can read of the bridge's history, construction and see some better photos, here.

There is a FAQ page, too.

Modelling his geocache sunglasses!
We drove over the bridge both ways before parking Elmer so we could walk along and have a closer look. 

That is, most of us walked.  Vaughan ran.  He had already reached the far end by the time Nick caught up - and then dashed back to our starting point, where he waiting for 10-15 minutes before we joined him!

We retrieved Elmer and then drove up to the other parking area, so that I could see the far end of the bridge - where Nick and Erin had only managed a brief look before following after Vaughan!

Bald on top?!

After spending several enjoyable hours at Symbio Wildlife Park we left to have our picnic lunch at Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Park.

What a beautiful spot!

Of course, we had all our picnic provisions with us and even (briefly) considered setting up our trusty picnic table.  For those less prepared though, there was a coffee/hot food cart.  The lookout is a major hang-gliding spot but we didn't see any while there.  However, we did find the nearby geocache, bringing our tally to 261!

"It was on the beach below Bald Hill that Lawrence Hargrave, an Australian pioneer of flight, experimented with box kites in the early part of the 20th century. A memorial cairn dedicated to him has been erected at the peak of the hill near the car park."

There was some discussion as to our activities after lunch.  No-one thought of kite flying!  Erin and I were both keen to have a closer look at the bridge we could see in the distance, so we packed up and headed downhill to the coastline.

All white!

Every so often we see an echnidna in the forest.  They always cause great excitement!  We have never seen a white one though as they would not be viable "in the wild".

We really enjoyed seeing "Leo" at Symbio Wildlife Park.  You can read a little of his story, here.

The cost of comfort ...



I subscribe to a number of daily deal sites and occasionally nab a bargain. Earlier this week, we decided to do a day trip down to Helensburg to use our discount Symbio Wildlife Park entry vouchers.

Given the cost of fuel and Elmer's thirst, we did consider driving making the 350(ish) km round trip in our far more fuel-efficient Hyundai.  It was a brief consideration.  Comfort won out!  Our day's adventure probably cost an extra $50 in fuel but it was definitely money worth spent.

We were up at 5:00am and departed at 5:40am - and then spent 20 minutes filling up at the extremely slow petrol pump.  The sign-writer wasn't kidding!  Travel through Sydney was also slow, as expected.  We arrived at our destination at 9:45am so were well pleased with our decision to travel in comfortable seats!