11th May, Sydney, Australia
Both Manda and I had had a great time in New Zealand and were feeling sad at leaving for Sydney. Some people might find this strange: not the leaving NZ part but going to Sydney. However, we'd been there 3 times before. Returning after NZ meant our fourth touchdown on Sydney airport and it had lost all its glamour. All we had to look forward to was seeing Ethel - our VW Kombi - or at least assuming that she was still in one piece (check), had not been stolen (check), hadn't been vandalised (check) and was still running (erm, not quite - after 6 weeks being parked up, the battery had drained away to nothing ... but nothing that a jump start couldn't fix).
Leaving New Zealand on such a clear day afforded us excellent views over the Southern Alps. We could clearly see the line of cloud-fringed mountains running up the spine of South Island.
We had about an hour wait in Sydney airport while we waited for breakdown services to arrive and get Ethel's heart pumping again, then made tracks for North Sydney (specifically Lane Cove River holiday park). It may be a little way out of the CBD, but like I said, we'd done that to death already. An alternative - and a much nearer one - would be to go to the camp site at Rockdale. It's a stone's throw away from the airport but it's also the 'World's Grottiest Caravan Park ™'. Honestly, this was a place that neither of us wanted to go back to, and hopefully never will. What it gains in convenience to the local train station it does not even come close to make up for in terms of amenities, cleanliness, friendly hosts or good-sized camping spaces. In short, it sucks. Thankfully we weren't going there, and besides, Ethel needed a good run so the further from the airport the better!
Monday and Tuesday have been total chill-out days for us, then. No need to go into the city, no need to do much of anything except sit and wait for some post to arrive (for me - my replacement cash card and so on), tidy up the van and decide what to mail home and make some calls to people we want to visit. And there were also possums to rescue ...
For those who don't know, possums are cute-looking, tree-hugging animals with the kind of big, dark, watery eyes that postcard manufacturers dream about. They are native to Australia, but we'd just got back from New Zealand where they are considered pests. In NZ, they have these stupid birds - Kiwis - that have no wings. It's a product of their environment: no natural land-based predator means no need for wings. However, since the introduction of stoats, ferrets and possums, the national icon of NZ has had a hard time. As a result, possums are not much liked by New Zealanders, and they're only marginally culled by car drivers (I saw so many dead possums while driving around the north and south islands). They are, however, routinely killed and turned into fur coats, jackets and even nipple warmers (no, this is not a joke!).
Having seen so many dead possums on the road - and so many that were once quite healthy but now made for a good set of cuff warmers - I wasn't quite sure what to do when I saw a possum walking, nay limping, across the fence next to our van this evening. My natural instinct upon seeing the sizeable wound on its rear left leg was to rescue it, take it to some kind of animal shelter (or at least report it so that they could come collect it); my other instinct was to say: "Ah, the poor bugger's had it," and beat it over the head - once, but firmly - with the 6-cell MagLight torch that has been a van companion since Cairns. However, I chose the former and tried to pull the possum off the fence as it struggled to cling on, taking it up to the camp site office. By the way, the camp site is actually on National Park grounds, and the employees here are all park employees. Had this been Rockdale, I might have been more concerned about what might happen to the possum (a filling for a burger for the grunting, conversational-averse, heavily tattoed owner?), but these guys knew what to do.
The possum struggled, claws flailing, but I managed to get a good hold of the little fella. I even tried stroking him/her with my thumb as I held the animal out at arm's length. As I neared the office, though, the possum started making a noise not unlike that of a cobra's hiss just as it's about to strike. I walked into the office, telling them about the badly injured possum, just as it launched 'Operation Enduring Freedom'. The claws flailed once more and dug in, and I was forced to drop the little git (for that's how I had very rapidly become to view the animal) and he limped off out of the office and up a tree. Slowly. Maybe I should have used the torch instead of compassion, after all?
A few alcohol sterile swabs later and my scratched hands were OK. Well, I assume that did the trick, but if this is the last post you get from me here, you can assume that that animal was an infection-carrying, pommie-killing possum.
They still look cute though.