12th June - Totton to Sydney

From leaving Totton at 6pm on Wednesday evening, a pretty uneventful and relatively painless journey delivered us to Sydney early on Friday morning. Along the way we'd enjoyed the benefits of the A380 Airbus, which is a world apart from any other plane I've ever been on, and the pleasant & friendly service of the Singapore Airlines cabin crew. Singapore Airport made for a great place to stop for a couple of hours, though our experience was limited to a very rapid four large ones in the Hard Rock Cafe. Ray tried a unique technique to make his drink last longer by continually drawing on his stirrer rather than the straw!

On arrival in Sydney half hour early, we also managed to whizz through customs without drama to find one of the Angells best mates, Mark, had driven up from Melbourne to surprise the boys off the plane. Apart from how stoked they were to hook up with him earlier than expected, this had the added benefit of a lift into the city in Marks trusty Ford Falcon (echoes of New Zealand here) . . . . . . and so the tour begins!

14th June - Sydney

Accommodation: Hyde Park Inn

We arrived at the Hyde Park Inn at 6:45 on Friday morning to be told that we couldn't get into our room until midday leaving little option but to try to find a pub to pass the time, it was 15:45 back home after all.

The neighbouring streets to the hotel were awash with Asian restaurants and coffee shops, the girl Rob approached in the take-away booth must've been surprised when it wasn't a coffee he wanted but directions to an open pub! Fortunately she was able to point us across the road to Scruffy Murphy's, and so it was we found ourselves at 7am sinking our first pints on Aussie soil.

I have to say that one of the things that concerned me most about the trip was 4 weeks drinking lager. The relief for Ray & myself on finding a couple of pale ales on tap was beyond words, what's more they weren't bad either! After a couple of pints of Lashes we decided a bit of brekkie might be a good idea, which also gave the chance to explore the area further. The added bonus to this was getting away from the irritating Irish lad who'd decided he was everyones friend (he wasn't!)

It therefore seemed a good idea to head in the direction of the tourist area of Circular Quay, from which you could view & access The Harbour Bridge, Opera House and The Rocks, which consists of many of the best pubs in the city. After a decent brekkie and another beer we did the touristy bit of taking photos and absorbing the atmosphere of this iconic hub of activity. Thankfully it was soon midday so we trekked back to the hotel and the comforts of our 15th floor room (and beds!)

Some months earlier, young Totts explorer, Findlay, set off from dear old Blighty bound for the land down under via the backpacker route through South-East Asia. As he'd finally debunked in Sydney we arranged to meet in the aptly named Three Wise Monkeys (Neil's not particularly wise!) two minutes walk from the hotel. So began a cracking night which took in the very swanky Opera Bar, with its great mix of live singer and sax with dance mixtap backing, then finishing off in the polar opposite of The Orient Hotel, where what was left of my voice was written off singing along with virtually every rock anthem ever written. The taxi dropped us back at 3am, 20 hours after that first pint . . . . ouch!

It'll come as no surprise that there was a slow start to Saturday, we'd been informed that Waverley Rugby Club, who are based near Bondi Beach, had thrown a warm welcome to all Lions fans and were playing back-to-back matches from midday. Unfortunately, in the cold light of day, that was beyond our depleted energy reserves. Another ex-pat from Totton, John Boyle, provided valuable advise on the best pubs in the vicinity of the stadiumSo it was that, with Findlay in tow, we headed off to The Bellevue Hotel in good time to watch the New Zealand v France match being shown before the Lions took on the 'Tahs. What a great call that was as it's a good old-fashioned boozer much like you only tend to find in London these days! What's more the staff & locals were really welcoming and happy to chat and enjoy the craic.

It didn't seem long before it was time to make the 15 minute walk to Allianz Stadium for the match, and what a great venue it is to! I'd had some delusional idea to make match time booze free only to find we had people waiting in every queue to optimise beer buying resources. The match, as most of you will have seen, was very entertaining and gave continued hope for a successful series, though occasional defensive lapses served as a reminder for caution to temper the optimism. Afterwards we followed further advise and headed for The London in Oxford Street but it was absolutely heaving, as was every other pub in the area so we decided to head back to the Monkeys, if only to allow a hasty retreat when the full-up signs kicked in. Surprisingly, it was another 3am finish for Ray & I, with the Angells, Mark and Findlay sampling a local club for a further hour.

The plan for Sunday was to take the ferry to Watsons Bay for lunch at the highly rated Doyles fish restaurant. This however proved to be somewhat ambitious so a hasty change of plan would take us to Darling Harbour for a bit of tucker at one of the myriad of eateries the area has to offer. Before this I'd taken the chance to visit the Anzac Memorial which is visible from our balcony overlooking Hyde Park. There I got talking to RSL volunteer Ian who'd, in typical Aussie fashion, offered me a couple of dollars to get some proper trousers as I'd obviously fallen on hard times and couldn't afford anything other than the shorts & tee-shirt I was wearing. I pointed out that sunshine & 20 degrees was summer for us and dressed accordingly. Ian was an enthralling giver of information many us Brits are unaware of regarding the Antipodean contribution to any conflicts in which we'd been involved. He described himself as a "child of the Empire", a wonderful description of a knowledgeable and thoroughly charming man I consider myself lucky to have met.

The visit to Darling Harbour pretty much drained what remained of the energy levels so an evening of jetlagged catnapping and watching telly was all anyone had in them, good thing as it turned out as this gave us the chance to make an early start to the drive down to Canberra the next day.

17th June - Canberra

The best way to describe Canberra is that most Australians wonder why on earth you'd go there. While I'm sure the city has more to offer than this simplistic viewpoint of outsiders, I'm afraid we didn't find anything to contradict it.

The 260km drive down from Sydney revealed a surprisingly lush and not unpleasant countryside, disappointingly our game of 'spot the kangaroo' didn't produce a winner. As we were an hour too early to get in our apartment we decided to acquaint ourselves with the city centre. We were shortly enjoying a pint of Coopers Pale Ale in an Irish bar, where we prised info from the bar staff about places to eat & drink.

It was soon time to meet Mechelle at the two-bedroomed apartment we'd call home for the next two nights. As it was within 10 minutes walk of the city centre the location could hardly have been better, that it took us until the last morning to actually find the quickest route was typical of our jaded faculties. It had everything we could possibly want and the welcome grocery pack encouraged a couple of home-cooked breakfasts drummed up by Ray & myself.

To be fair to Canberra, there was more than enough choice of restaurants to meet our needs and the biggest pub in town, King o'Malleys, was a perfect hub for the Lions-following hordes.

For no particular reason, we chose Suzies Kitchen for our evening meal and what a result that turned out to be! Not only was the food absolutely delicious but Andy & Owen Farrell were sitting at the next table. Not to miss a photo chance, Rob respectfully asked if they'd mind a picture when they were planning to leave, which they duly obliged us with later on. Best wishes were exchanged and off they went leaving us pretty damn happy as we wandered round the corner to King o'Malleys, inside which we were to encounter Trevor Brennan, Alan Quinlan and Donal Lenihan mixing with various touring parties.

I'd always held big Donal in high esteem as a player, especially as captain of the legendary Donals Doughnuts on a previous Lions tour, however I was to get a frosty stare when informing him they'd put extra guards on the Australian flag at the Parliament building when they heard he was in town . . . . . . well I thought it was funny!

On the advice of Ian in Sydney, I decided to enjoy the sunshine and visited the National War Memorial while the others caught up on some much needed sleep, poignant stuff indeed and well worth a visit if you're ever in Canberra. I had to laugh when this chubby little redhead, not unlike Sharon from Kath & Kim, told me how many lovely Welsh people she'd met, I quietly pointed out that we don't regard them in quite the same way J

It was then back to the apartment to get ready for that evenings match. King o'Malleys was heaving with excited fans and we somehow managed to get a table from which to order pizzas. We soon got talking to a couple of hefty local lads who'd originated from the delightfully named Wagga Wagga. As with Sydney, the conversation was all about wanting to see good rugby and mutual appreciation of the merits of players from both teams. The anticipated sledging just hasn't materialised, good humour for sure and there's nowt the matter with that.

From what had been a pretty nice day, the weather turned for the worse and we were hit with heavy rain, then hail and a drop in temperature to -2 degrees. Unfortunately, apprehension about the team selection proved to be well founded and the Lions got battered off the park by totally committed Brumbies side who were able to feed off an inability to get anywhere near the gain line, not helped by a hooker who couldn't hit a barn door whenever we did manage to gain some field position. Best thing to do was shrug the shoulders, shake hands with the opposition fans and forget it ever happened, something we managed to do easily by the time we reached the free bus back to town and a couple of final pints at the pub.

A good nights sleep, a hearty cooked breakfast and we were soon on our way to the airport for the flight to Brisbane.

19th June - Brisbane

Accommodation: Rothbury Hotel

After the cold & rain of comatose Canberra the sun & sparkle of Brisbane was just what was needed to crack us back into action. Home for the next four days would be the Rothbury Hotel, which could've stepped straight out of an episode of Poirot. Unfortunately this meant that one vital aspect of the building hadn't joined the 21st century, the promised wi-fi never materialised into anything usable causing much frustration when trying to contact home and, more urgently, tracking the whereabouts of two of our Melbourne match tickets. Fortunately the Asian cafe next door had free wi-fi so we weren't cut entirely adrift. The food, coffee & juices weren't bad either!

We were soon into our summer gear exploring the surrounding area and, on advice, headed to the Eagle Street Pier ten minutes walk away, which is the hub of Brisbanes vibrant riverside food & drink scene. Over the next few days we tended to alternate between two of the pubs, the British-themed 'Pig & Whistle' and the more cosmopolitan 'Riverside Bar' located, as the name suggests, down on the quayside. Given that many of the best restaurants in town are here, spotting past international rugby players was easy as most were staying in the Marriott, along with our very own Robbo & Christine, who'd arrived via stays in Nelson (NZ) and Byron Bay.

Given that nothing we'd eaten so far had included veggies, The Pig proved a perfect place to eat that night as the traditional British fayre on offer was just what we all wanted and, given that it's a chain pub, the food was pretty damn good and service excellent, something that seems to be the norm here in Aus. Although busy, most of the Lions followers were yet to arrive so we spent the rest of the night at the pub as the beer & atmosphere was good and there was still enough room to be comfortable. As it had been a pretty heavy session we decided to take a taxi home, even though it was only 10 minutes walk around the corner . . . . . . big mistake! You'd think a taxi driver might have some idea of where things are, not in Brisbane! So it was that we trudged up the hill vowing never to moan about British cabbies again, that won't last long though.

Oh yes, for the benefit of Robbo, this is Scott Gibbs (who wasn't in The Pig)

and this is Mark Regan (who was taking hospitality to an admirable level)

We were out early Thursday morning exploring more of the city when Robbo called so a quick (and free!) water taxi had us back at Eagle St Pier to meet up. The afternoon was spent in the Riverside before grabbing a very tasty Thai meal in the neighbouring cafe. While ordering, Neil had tried to ensure there was plenty of chilli heat to his dish but could see the young waitress was somewhat bemused. To stress the point he said "I want it hot, hotter than even you can take it!" Sure enough 15 minutes later she emerged from the kitchen, steam billowing from skillets hot enough to mould a horse-shoe . . . . . Christ were they hot! No extra chilli though, priceless! That evening we returned to the quayside for more beers in the two bars, throwing in a fleeting mix with the very (very!) young clientele of Jade Buddha thrown in, I couldn't wait to get out but the others were drawn by the cheapest G & T's in town, only $7 a throw

As Troy & Sarah had flown in late the previous night, we arranged to meet up with them and Steve Lacey at the Riverside on Friday lunchtime. Before that we met Robbo & Christine by the pier and took a boat trip along the river. Completely out of the blue it was raining!!! Thankfully the boat was fully enclosed so we were able to stay dry while admiring Brisbanes finest, and no doubt most expensive, riverside pads. On return it was time to hook up with the others and, after all the handshakes, hugs & kisses, were soon settled down to an afternoon of food, drink and catching up. Lots of fun and the time flew by all to quickly, goodbyes were soon being made as it would only be Troy & Steve joining us at Suncorp the next day. We in turn had to get ready for the Classic Anzacs v Lions match at the legendary Ballymore Stadium that night, little knowing what great entertainment lay in store.

After the previous nights debacle we were by now very wary of Brisbane taxis so you can imagine the mood as we drove straight past a sports stadium with floodlights on then went down some remote looking country lane. On hitting traffic he suggested we walk the rest of the way to the ground only to have four baying hounds bark back at him "we want the bloody rugby ground!", you can imagine the slightly sheepish chuckles as, true to his word, Ballymore was just around the corner. $25 later we were standing on the iconic 'Hill' soaking up the great atmosphere. As it transpired, the proceeds of the match were all going to the 'Mates4Mates' charity, which is the Aussie version of Help For Heroes. All suppliers had donated freely, from Domino's Pizza to the program printer, a fantastic effort raised over $600k. As good as some of the Pommie players were, an Anzacs side containing Larkham & Latham was always going to have too much class, and so it proved. There was no disgrace though, as "Big Trev" Brennan was a well deserved man of a match made fantastically entertaining by the caustic wit of the Aussie commentators, who took particular delight in crucifying one of their own, former Wallaby Greg Martin, who is believed to be the first player ever to play a match wearing a pair of glasses!!!

As with Canberra, free buses were laid on back to the city and we, once again, managed to get on the first one and were soon heading back into town. Rob & Neil decided to head back to the hotel leaving Ray & I to make our way to our regular haunts. You can imagine my surprise when out of the shadows emerged Manu Tuillagi enjoying a late night stroll. He duly obliged our request for a photo, except there was one problem, I had no idea how to turn on the flash on my new phone. "No worries" he said, took it off me and proceeded to spend the next few minutes trying to sort it out. Problem solved, photos taken and we were soon chuckling about it back at the Pig over a few pints, a cracking night!

Finally the big day was here . . . . . . . THE FIRST TEST ! ! !

We eased our way into the day with another nice breakfast next door before having a look around the main shopping mall, anything to keep us out of the pub really. There we happened upon Wallaby legend Joe Roff having a morning coffee, thankfully he was wearing flip-flops (they're called thongs out here!) so there was to be no repeat of him skipping over the Lions try-line that night. A quick chat about the previous nights great match and the tour so far was followed with the obligatory photocall. Neil asked the guy sitting at the next table if he'd mind doing the honours only to get a brusque reply "nah mate, I'm trying to read me bloody paper!" Hilarious! Even Joe commented on the legendary Aussie hospitality, an absolute gent. It was not for long before it was time to meet Robbo & Christine in the Riverside. Rob had also been in touch with Tom Franks and he joined us later that afternoon for a few beers. We decided to beat the rush so at 5:30 took a taxi to Caxton Street, which is where everybody drinks before matches at Suncorp. The atmosphere was stunning!

The thing about Caxton Street is that virtually every one of the 52,000 going to the match has to walk down it. We tried the local favourite, Caxtons, but after initial success it was almost impossible to get a drink so we went in search of somewhere a bit quieter. Amazingly, amongst the chaos we found Calypso, which looked really busy but you were able to get a drink pretty quickly, and there we stayed until it was time to go to the stadium. Troy & Steve joined us there a bit later, Ray & Rob cut out a bit earlier to meet Dave & Ally Palmer in the Caxton. After the obligatory rake of beers it was soon time to hit the stadium . . . . . . what an atmosphere!!! You'll no doubt have watched the match so not much to say about that, only that we got away with it. The nature of the win had meant a more humble appraisal of the match back in the Calypso afterwards, fact is the better side lost, I'll take it though! A taxi back into the city and we were soon finishing off the night with one last visit to the Riverside, tomorrow we'd be off to Melbourne.

23rd June - Melbourne

We arrived in Melbourne to be greeted by Kate & Maeve, looking resplendant in her Wallaby jersey and bursting to yell out her newly rehearsed "Go Wallabies". Mark had also travelled up from Frankston so between them we were whisked off to our apartment on the Southbank, which turned out to be every bit as good as the photos had suggested. Robbo & Chris were staying at the nearby Langham Hotel, reputedly one of Australia's finest, and we'd arranged to meet up on the way out to investigate what, for the next 8 days, would be our home city . Contact had also been made with Jordie Coffin so we met up with him and his travelling buddy from Millbronx, Mike Phippard, at the local Irish bar (there's always one!) PJ O'Briens before seeking out somewhere to eat that night. To our surprise, they all had 'Brook stalwart John Kidd in tow.

I've neglected to mention that today is a very special day, it's Rays 60th birthday so we had to make it a meal worthy of the occasion and The Waterfront restaurant didn't disappoint. As we were to discover, Melbourne has a dining scene it is justifiably proud of.

Monday was spent beginning to explore the CBD, each turn of a corner uncovering unexpected & interesting places the like of which seem to have disappeared from Britain mainly due to commercial pressures rather than lack of imagination, it's a real shame as some of the discoveries brought a real smile to your face. The Laneways are awash with every manner of eatery & coffee shop imaginable and were a favourite breakfast place throughout the week. Hopestoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade, which had the most wonderful array of delicious cakes, was a particular favourite with everyone.

The focus of Tuesday was the Rebels match at AAMI Park that night. Before that we decided to experience the trams with a trip to St Kilda for a walk along the promenade and afternoon tea & cookies at a cafe by the beach, Michael Lynagh & Jim Rosentahl were also there at a nearby table. Amusingly we came across a rather eccentric lady out walking her pet piglet which was rather tastily named "Crackling", he's lucky Razz wasn't with us! Armed with our new-found tram expertise we met up with Kate & headed to Richmond for pre-match drinks on Swan Street, it was then on to the architecturally & aesthetically impressive new stadium for a match the Lions won at a canter. After a pleasant riverside stroll back to Southbank we finished off with a few celebratory beers in PJs.

On Wednesday I took the ferry to historic, maritime Williamstown to spend the afternoon & evening with Kate & Maeve, meanwhile, having been impressed with the plethora of stadia within throwing distance of the CBD, the others did a tour of one of the worlds’ greatest, Melbourne Cricket Ground, something I'd hoped to do by watching my beloved Collingwood (The Pies), unfortunately fate decreed that wasn't to happen.

Thursday included a visit to Queen Victoria Market, with produce you'd crave to have as readily available back home. There was also a trip up to the Skydeck, which is on the 88th floor of Australia's highest building. That night we went to Brunswick Street, which is renowned for great bars and restaurants and it didn't disappoint. After a delicious Thai meal where, under direction of aficionado Neil, I had my new favorite soup Tom Yum Goong for the first time, we went to Naked For Satan, a really cool bar whose roof garden, Naked In The Sky, has an awesome nighttime view of the city. You can imagine our surprise when, first, Matt Stephens appeared and obliged with a photo, then the rest of the midweek squad emerged from the lift.

Spirits were high when someone decided we had got a bit too excitable and imposed an obligatory glass of water needed before being served more drinks. Hilariously, we indignantly drunk the water then left the bar anyway!!! Good call as it turned out as the bar over the road had a half-decent singer performing to an adoring crowd of groupies, another good bar which finished off the night well. As usual Ray & I dipped out first leaving the Angells to sample the vast Crown Casino long into the morning.

The next morning was to be one of recuperation for the boys so Ray & I headed out to explore the city further. Later that afternoon, after a lunchtime pint & cheesy chips with Kate in a cool roof garden bar near her office, we bumped into the Robinsons waiting to meet up with former Fawley player Keith Wilson and his wife. After a couple of pints in the Charles Dickens pub, which turned out to be more Testwood Club than quaint “olde English”, we returned to base after a tasty box of noodles en-route from one of the plethora of street stalls. The Angells had by now headed to Frankston for what was to be another late night with Mark, unbeknown to Ray & I that would be our lot for the day. Ray went for an hours kip and emerged 14 hours later! No bother at all to me as I was more than happy watching Friday night AFL, a much needed rest night and also a chance to source the extra match ticket we still needed.

Saturday had finally arrived, day of . . . . . . . THE SECOND TEST ! ! !

Thankfully I’d managed to get the extra ticket so that would need to be picked up later. Bright & breezy from a rare alcohol-lite day we met up with the Robinsons for another fine brekkie after which we even resorted to a mammoth clothes washing session to avoid hitting the bar too early. I ventured out to finally get some Uggs for my darling daughters from a shop Christine had recommended in the impressive Shot Tower Mall

Dave & Ally Palmer had once again travelled for the match so we arranged to meet them at Left Bank bar on the Southbank. The place was absolutely rammed when we got there but we’d soon perfected our technique for getting served. Hilariously the Palmers mate, Steve, had flown in seperately from Noosa dressed as The Queen. I swear he couldn’t have got more attention if he’d been the majestic one herself! Hundreds of photocalls later it was time to head to the Etihad Stadium. Unfortunately, as Steve has a chronic back condition, this would mean Kate and another mate, Gary, virtually carrying him the half hour walk to the stadium. Once again the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic, unfortunately the match itself didn’t really hit the heights, though I thought we were pretty much in control until the last 20 minutes when the Aussies upped the pace whereupon we cracked with 5 minutes to go. I tend to believe that if you haven’t tried to play any rugby for 75 minutes you’re not going to succeed if you then try in the last 5 and so it proved. Much to Kates delight, the Wallabies held on for the win they needed to keep the series alive going into the last test. It’s quite surreal to be enjoying yourself too much to get bent out of shape by the defeat but so it proved. Back at the Left Bank we finished off the night with a few more, reflective, pints.

Sunday was the final day of an awesome stay in Melbourne, we’d been unbelievably blessed with sunshine throughout, which certainly played no small part in our regard for the city. The Robinsons had kindly invited us all for lunch at The Langham, a culinary experience revered as one of Australia’s finest, I can assure you it didn’t disappoint! There was a fine and varied array of food on offer, from Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, seafood to the good old British roast. Rest assured, we had the lot! Absolutely delicious and made all the better by the table overlooking the busy riverside Robbo had specifically reserved. As everyone had eaten way more than comfortable, a long, slow amble along the riverside in the evening sun was much needed, after which we said fond farewells to Kate as she was picked up by Damir & Maeve.

As Dave Palmer had been unable to make lunch (lightweight!), we arranged to meet up again at Left Bank that night. As we had a 4am taxi booked for the following morning, the plan was to just have a couple of beers then an early night, which you might guess just didn’t happen. So it was that we were boarding the plane for Cairns after 3 hours sleep.

1st July - Cairns

Even though we’d been incredibly lucky with the sunny weather throughout, the warmer climes of our three days in Cairns was something we’d all been looking forward to. The early flight, while stamina sapping, meant we had a whole day to look around the town and suss out the best trip options. The apartment was once again top notch, though the huge building project going on next door somewhat disturbed the daytime peace. This however was of little concern as we were to be hitting the tourist trail for the remaining two days.

After a day of poodling around and wallowing by the pool, we strolled the promenade to the centre of town and what appeared to be the liveliest pub, Rattle & Hum, for a reasonable bit of pub grub and a few beers, nothing out of the ordinary really, that is until Trevor Brennan walked in!?!?

Firstly, I’d never realised how big the man is and, secondly . . . . . IT WASN’T MY FAULT!

Rolling back the clock to Brisbane, “Big Trev” had been absolutely awesome in the Classics match and I was just telling him how impressed I was, especially as he hadn’t played for 5 years. Of course I’d forgotten that the reason was he’d been banned for jumping into the crowd at Toulouse during a Heineken Cup match to sort out an abusive fan. To say he’s excitable is an understatement and it was during one such enthusiastically related tale that I snorted out the mouthful of Corona I was trying to drink, the problem was it was all over “Big Trev” and his two guests! Aghast, he scowled at me “What the feck! Oi battered the last bloke that spat beer on me!” Equally mortified, I’m like “it wasn’t my fault, you made me laugh!” as apologetically and with as much sincerity as I could muster. Thankfully he accepted my apology (and a bottle of Corona) and was soon back into regaling more tales of his very colourful career. A large Jamesons was later to be slid my way along the bar with a wry smile, gratefully received and necked in one by your very relieved scribe. I was careful to make sure my mouth was never again aimed in his direction.

Once again the late night didn’t seem such a bright idea as we embarked on our 13 hour round trip to the Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation at 7:20 the next morning. That we were late on parade didn’t endear us to our driver & guide Andrew, fortunately his enthusiastic character meant he wasn’t rattled for long. Outbound involved a 3 hour journey into the heart of the rainforest, taking in a visit to a sanctuary for a bit of brekkie and a chance to see some of the indigenous animals which had proved particularly elusive so far. This was followed by a cruise down the Daintree River for a bit of croc-spotting (Scarface, pictured left), lunch, a trek along the boardwalks through part of the rainforest, then the return journey via an old cable ferry (memories of Woolston here). Throw in a couple of beautiful beach stops and Andrews continuously informative commentary and that was about it, a long but thoroughly enjoyable day, finished off with probably the worst Indian any of us will ever have and a few more beers at the Rattle & Hum.

As we didn’t have to check in at the ferry terminal until 8:00, it almost felt like we’d had a lie-in the next morning. We were soon aboard the 32 metre Ocean Spirit catamaran and heading for Michaelmas Cay, which is only reachable by the bigger vessels in a daytrip. After a bit a brekkie during the 1½hr journey we were soon merrily snorkelling away amongst the coral, giant clams and shoals of colourful fish. After a sumptious lunch we boarded the semi-submersible to see an even wider array of underwater wildlife, including a couple of turtles swimming by. It was then back for a final snorkel whereupon Neil made the ‘Spot of the Day’, a stingray which first swam by him, then me, then finally Ray. A great spot and perfectly timed to call it a day and scuttle safely back to dry land, I prefer a crotchety Ray to one with a sting!

Our two trips had certainly given us plenty to talk about during our final night in the Rattle & Hum. Surprisingly, given that we had another 6am flight, we actually had an early-ish night (10pm), though the collective sleep deprivation had already taken its toll.

4th July - Sydney (REVISITED)

And so it was that we arrived back in Sydney for the final three days of our great adventure. Somewhat amusingly, it had rained virtually every day since our last visit but, almost on cue, the sun was shining on the righteous once more. As we again had time to kill before getting into the hotel, we headed to Darling Harbour for a bit of brekkie in the sun followed by a ferry trip to Circular Quay, which provided great opportunities for pics of the iconic Harbour Bridge & Opera House. With that box ticked we mooched about the area before heading back to the hotel for a recharge & freshen up then hooking up with Findlay from work in the Three Wise Monkeys.

While we’d been in Cairns, Robbo & Christine had taken a few days driving the coastal route from Melbourne to Sydney, stopping on the way, first at Eden then Kiama, which they were particularly taken with. Like us, they had until now failed to see any of the indigenous beasts Australia is renowned for so had spent part of Thursday at Taronga Zoo to satisfy their needs before also joining us at the pub, from where they ventured for a romantic Chinese meal together. Age, fatigue & failing body functions had taken their toll on Ray & I so we left the young ‘uns to it from about 9 o’clock. Without us to slow them down, the boys ended up in the Establishment Bar in The Rocks until the early hours where, once again, they came across the non-Test Lions squad and a bevy of ex-internationals fresh from playing in yet another Classics match. As always the players were happy to mix with the fans and accommodate a few photo calls, by all accounts a great time was had by all

As Rob & Neil had barely had time to rest their weary heads it was just Ray & I who met up with the Robinsons at the impressive Queen Victoria Building the next morning before taking the ferry to Watsons Bay, which is renowned for beautiful sunset views of Sydney and the well-regarded Doyles Fish Restaurant. We then took the bus to Bondi Beach (another box ticked!) from where we walked the cliff-top path to Bronte. While waiting for the return bus one of the locals, very excitedly, had spotted a couple of southern right whales playing out to sea, they certainly put on quite a show as they took turns to surface, another great spot!

A bus & train later found Ray & I at the Central Station in Strawberry Hills where we happened upon a few pubs worth investigating, one of which being the Evening Star where we got drinking with a couple of Irish ex-pats. From there they took us to Aurora roof-bar and the session was soon in full flow, needless to say we were a bit wobbly by the time we met up with the others back at the Monkeys. Jordie & the Millbrook boys were also there so a good night ensued, especially for me as I got to enjoy watching the mighty Pies crush Carlton on the big screen, much to the bemusement (and embarrassment apparently!) of the others. Once again the two senior citizens failed to last the course, leaving the rest to it. As it turned out this gave the welcome opportunity to find that our outstanding match tickets had finally been delivered to the hotel J

Saturday morning and it’s . . . . . . THE THIRD, DECISIVE, TEST ! ! !

Longevity was to be the order of the day as kick-off wasn’t until 20:00 and we all wanted to enjoy and actually remember the whole occasion. A gentle stroll out for brekkie in the morning once again revealed the build-up in numbers of red and gold shirts milling around the Sydney streets, much to the intrigue of the locals who were, mostly, oblivious to the occasion.

It was mid-afternoon before we finally set about the pre-match revelries at the Monkeys to meet up with Findlay, whose staring contest with his only pint was very funny. From there we headed to the Central Station for the free train service to the stadium, stopping en-route for a disappointingly mediocre Thai meal at Café Kasturi on George St.

The atmosphere & excitement began to build on the packed double-decker trains as banter amongst rival fans made for an enjoyable and often amusing ½hr journey. Emerging from the station at Olympic Park brought a first sight of the impressively presented ANZ Stadium and the swarms of supporters, the goosebumps were tingling crazily now! Though not ideal for watching rugby, it is without doubt an outstanding facility and the atmosphere inside was awesome!

The abundant bars and merchandise stalls were ignored as we parted company to take our seats in various parts of the ground. Mine was five rows from the front on the 22-metre line which, as it would transpire, was plumb position for seeing the three decisive 2nd half tries . . . . . UNBELIEVABLE ! ! ! After all the debate about selection Gatland & Co had been wholly vindicated, personally I liked the balance of the match squad and feel that, above all, we were able to bring players off the bench without weakening the team.

After enjoying the presentations & celebrations in the stadium it was back to the Monkeys for the last time, spirits were high but the impending 24hr flight back to Blighty the next day brought about a modicum of sensibility . . . . . we still had a few though! With time to kill the following morning, we met up with the Robinsons for a final coffee in The Rocks before heading to the airport for the long, but almost comfortable, flight home. With that our journey ended . . . . . thank-you Australia, it has been an absolute blast!