This is the first weekend since March that we have been allowed to travel outside our local region. I’m still very wary of COVID-19, but the other two were desperate to get out of the house.
On Saturday morning I drove us under clear blue skies down a very busy and, at times, very slow Hume Motorway to Berrima in the Southern Highlands. We joined the socially distanced queue to buy pies at the Gumnut Patisserie near the old post office, then condiments from further down the street, breathed the chill air scented with bare winter poplars and other imported deciduous trees.
It was still early, so we continued on, back towards the coast past Fitzroy Falls, where rangers were directing traffic away from the packed carpark, and down the steep and tightly winding path of Moss Vale Road down the escarpment to Kangaroo Valley. I could barely take my eyes of the road, but what glimpses of the view down the valley were spectacular, as if we were flying above the landscape.
Past the town of Kangaroo Valley I turned off to the road of the same name in the direction of Berry. Here the road is narrow, barely two cars wide, if that at times, and as steep and tight as the previous route. It was fortunate that nobody was in a rush, except perhaps for the cyclists who braved the route.
Berry was thronging with visitors, like us eager to escape the confines of our limited lives. I have hungered for weeks for the doughnuts from the Famous Berry Doughnut Van, but alas the crowds were too much and I was not prepared to risk our health amongst them or for the long wait to be served.
The crowds make me a little anxious. I dislike crowds at the best of times and now cannot yet trust their health and feel their unintended threat, small though the risk is reckoned to be. Nobody, including us, wore masks, though most tried to keep their distance, to sanitise. But habits are hard to break.
As we wandered through the lovely little toy shop and the many home wares stores I felt a little sad. Trapped in our home I have craved beautiful things, craft creations, boxes of magic things to take the mind someplace other than its routine existence. None of them were for me, able to brought to life with the bits of electronics around the home that are waiting to made into something.
We left with a sushi decorated blanket that we could have bought from our local shops, contributing less to the locals than we might have liked.
I was exhausted when we arrived home and it is fortunate that we brought back a big cottage pie from Berrima for dinner because cooking was beyond me.
Alex enjoyed the trip south so much that he wanted another long drive today, to Kiama, which we skipped because I had no wish to return in the dark. Eventually we acquiesced and decided to take the coastal route towards Wollongong.
There was another traffic jam near the end of Old Illawarra and the junction to Heathcote Road as others came to the same decision as us. Fortunately the peak was small and we made it to the Waterfall entrance to the Royal National Park in good time.
Along the winding road south beneath eucalypts and temperate rainforest we saw many cyclists and quite a few police. We emerged at Otford, spotted a car park by the cliffs, and pulled in. Across the road was the Otford Pantry from where we bought yet more meat pies (actually, I had an empanada) for lunch.
Stanwell Tops was packed with cars and other daytrippers, so we continued the winding road to Coal Cliff, where spotting another parking space, we pulled over. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise until we started walking how far it was to our destination of the Sea Cliff Bridge. Down the steep hill, through a park and a suburban street featuring a garage sale and a thong tree.
The gracefully curved bridge overlooks the Pacific Ocean, waves crashing across the rocks below on one side, the sheer sandstone cliffs of the Illawarra Escarpment on the other.
We first walked down the gravel access road to beneath, felt the spray of the waves as they smashed against the rocks that would disappear at high tide. Many other families joined us, a few from East Asia, but mostly Indian in origin, chattering, smiling, enjoying the scenery as much as we were, happy to be out of their own houses.
Back up along the bridge, the views were vast and spectacular. Cargo ships on their way to Port Kembla, the mountains and cliffs fading into the haze towards the north, dramatic rain clouds approaching the coast. There was a real sense of scale that has been missing from our lives these past few months.
We returned wearily to the car, B stopping at a lower car park and waiting for us to pick her up, Alex and I powering up the steep hill, though my joints were getting tired and sore.
Heading back to Sydney we pass a very full Symbio Wildlife Park at Helensburgh before rejoining the F6 motorway. We go all the way up to Hurstville, for some Asian grocery shopping, then return home.
In the food court at Hurstville I saw so many things I have been missing out on, yet still do not feel comfortable trying them. And as I gazed out along the coastal vistas I felt the stirrings of the travel bug that I dare not yet let loose. I want so desperately to step aboard a plane or a train and just explore, but I try not think about it. The skies were still clear of the jet aircraft that would fly these paths so regularly before the pandemic. Though things are supposedly getting back to normal, they are not normal and that normality is so fragile that I am afraid to accept it yet.