Category Archives: Lions 2013

The Final Test

After hitting a massive brick wall of tiredness last night I slept fine but also decided not to do anything too extensive this morning so I headed back to bed to try another couple of hours sleep before heading out to stock up on lunch before the warm up for the final test began. I also sorted everything out for the early morning start tomorrow, laid out the clothes, put the piles ready to put in my handbag in the morning. I couldn’t have been more organised if I tried!!

Headed down to Darling Harbour with Sophie’s folks & met her there as we did our usual pre-match ritual of a plate of pasta before heading to meet any of the others, this time for Kangaroo Court in the bar close to where we were boarding the boat. Sadly only part of the group was on time and as we had to help out with wrist banding everyone before they boarded the boat we missed out on it and the court was disintegrated pretty much. Tho I did later see one of the group with his shirt on back to front – I guess not everyone got away without any punishment then!! (Perhaps I should have found some proper rules and set them up prior to ‘court’ such as the ones here)

The timings for boarding & disembarking were very tight due to the sheer volume of people that we had to get on. Loyally all my lot could be seen near the front of the line as it swelled with a mass number of people all joining at once. Finally having got all 351 of us aboard we set off around Sydney Harbour all aboard the Majestic 2.

Majestic 2 - our mode of transport for the evening!

Majestic 2 – our mode of transport for the evening!

The lights of Sydney by night

The lights of Sydney by night

I excitedly collected my ticket off Fliss on the boat, got a drink & headed up to the very top deck where I could see the majority of my group had set up camp. One of them, it transpired, had left his ticket behind at the hotel hence the delay in their arrival! As a result he was, of course, dually trialled! Sophie was also presented with her punishment for her multitude of foot in mouth moments on tour – none of them will be shared as the saying goes ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour!’

Sophie with her punishment for the foot in mouth comments - repeatedly!

Sophie with her punishment for the foot in mouth comments – repeatedly!

Sandra and Chris (with his shirt back to front as part of his punishment!) 8.6 - that's all I'm saying

Sandra and Chris (with his shirt back to front as part of his punishment!) 8.6 – that’s all I’m saying

Nick's punishment leaving his ticket behind & having to go back and get it!

Nick’s punishment leaving his ticket behind & having to go back and get it!

The night soon set in as the boat left the dock and the view from top deck was spectacular. Back over the view of the lights of the CBD and the Harbour Bridge all lit up. It was stunning, simply stunning. The breeze set in quite heavily and soon I was alone with my thoughts. I stood there still pinching myself that this was all happening, and had happened. How lucky had I been? How grateful was I to my checking twitter & seeing that tweet back in May?!! I soaked the sight in, taking the mental pictures in my mind to ensure that they would stick, somehow I don’t think that my photos would come out of the views from the boat. It felt weird that this time tomorrow I’d be part way through the flight home, that the most amazing time would all be over.

As we docked it was a case of directing the passengers in the direction of the right bus. Lots of shouting pointing, smiling & waving and success! Off we headed, in what can best be described as old style school buses. Not quite what was expected, but they actually worked quite well as, being shorter backed it enabled a more relaxed and chatty atmosphere and so it’s really hardly surprising that the songs started up – in force!! Hilarious as we had a few Australian supporters on the coach too & our driver was only on his second ever drive in the bus! Classic. The journey went by quite slowly, or it might be that it was actually longer than planned – either way we got there and after explaining in no uncertain terms were they to hang around after the match in the stadium. We were on such a tight schedule with the mooring for the boat for the journey home we really wouldn’t be able to wait for anyone. Frustrating if we win, yes but sadly we could do little about that.

So in everyone ran, I had to find a loo before I went in which I managed to achieve – always the epitome of relief at every level! I had a feeling I’d be walking for quite a while once I had gone through the gate before I found one.

I took stock once more when I finally made it to the gate that I was due to go in. I paused for a fag & took in the mass of the stadium. Soaked up the moment. This was the third test of the Lions & win this and this evening, that boat home is going to be rocking!!

The exterior of the stadium - taking stock of where I was and what I was about to watch

The exterior of the stadium – taking stock of where I was and what I was about to watch

Having gone through I realised that I had quite some climb ahead. Like the car park at Cabot Circus – I listened to the noise from inside the stadium as I slowly made my way up in my own little world as everyone else had gone ahead. (mas was I glad I’d ‘powdered my nose’ when I did!) I was sat on my own too but – you know me – that’s not going to stop me enjoying it!! I was on my own for the RWC ’07 final after all!!

I finally made it up top and was only about 3 entrances down from the rest of the group. I soaked it all in, took the photos of the stadium on camera & iPhone to be able to savour this for years to come, hopeful at this stage that it would be for the right reasons!! Thankfully the kick off was delayed by about 10 mins and so in my slow moving state I managed to miss not a second of the match.

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The atmosphere was electric. I can’t even begin to describe it. Nothing like that will I ever feel again. The anticipation of what was possible, the nerves – oh god the nerves. From all the jumping up and screaming when we scored in the match and the points totted up. I’m glad my nails are fake, they would have been gone! I didn’t relax fully until the last 5 mins of the match – anything could happen still. Dreams could be shattered. But they weren’t, they bloody weren’t!! I hugged & kissed & screamed with those around me come the final whistle. Close to tears, still not really believing that I was actually here, that this was all happening. That we had done it. We had won!!!

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I left the stadium a few mins after the final whistle, I saw the initial cheers and celebrations – everyone running on. Halfpenny deservedly winning man of the series but listened to the award ceremony as I battled my way out of the stadium against the Australians heading home with a humongous grin on my face. We’d done it. We’d bloody done it, & I was there to witness that amazing moment.

I LOVED that the first person to text me as soon as the whistle blew was Linda. Without her input & support I would never be here walking back to the coach welling up with excitement & tears, desperate to see someone that I knew to bounce around & celebrate with. Getting back to the coach there were the Australian contingent already aboard but watching everyone else roll in jumping smiling & cheering, was something I’ll never forget.

Thankfully the coach trip back to the marina was shorter as we were at a different location to board. The crush of getting everyone on in time was insane but we managed to do it. Even if we had to take a slight detour on route home to pick Vic & a few clients up who were left behind. Fliss, Sophie & I celebrated the win together & the tour success in general with a glass of bubbles before heading onto the boat to share the win with the rest. It’s safe to say that the boat home was indeed rocking!

The Hamster and the mad Irishman with the face paint

The Hamster and the mad Irishman with the face paint

VU girlies enjoying the post match celebrations on the boat!

VU girlies enjoying the post match celebrations on the boat!

Happy Sophie - first 3 live rugby matches and she watches the winning test series - does she realise that there is no going back?!

Happy Sophie – first 3 live rugby matches and she watches the winning test series – does she realise that there is no going back?!

I HATE taking 'selfies' but this. This is funny!

I HATE taking ‘selfies’ but this. This is funny!

Disembarking it was a multitude of hugs saying goodbye to everyone, with my ridiculously early transfer to the airport in the morning I was not expecting a leaving party!! It was so rushed & so sad but still so exciting to have won. I just knew that the come down when I eventually made it home would indeed hit, and hit hard.

We headed into a bar in Darling Harbour with Vic, Fliss, Sophie & Rachel (the official photographer) for some bubbles to celebrate. I can only assume that the others that had said that they would be in there didn’t make it in due to their lions shirts. There were very few (none) in sight in there, that’s never bothered me before why would it now?LIIIIOOONNNNSSSSSS

I headed back to the bar opp the hotel to catch up with a few if my group before eventually hitting my bed at around 4am after final packing & quadruple checking the alarm was set for 730am the following morning. What a three weeks in such wonderful company discovering a small part of a beautiful country I am sure I’ll be back to see more if at some point. To bed, the early morning start & the absurdly long journey home awaiting. One last excitement in the morning of catching up with the Parsons on the flight home.

Thank you Australia. You’ve been amazing. I have 3 weeks of superb memories that will last me a lifetime. Bring on New Zealand in 2017!!

Baby Jensen Parson in his Lions shirt - CUTE as!

Baby Jensen Parson in his Lions shirt – CUTE as!

The Parson Family

The Parson Family

With Tim & Jensen at Singapore Airport (fellow Bath fan living out there & on same plane out of Oz as me)

With Tim & Jensen at Singapore Airport (fellow Bath fan living out there & on same plane out of Oz as me)

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

With such little time in Sydney I was at a loss with what to actually do that I felt that I had used my time sufficiently. Others were talking earlier in the week about wanting to do the Harbour Bridge walk, something that was definitely on my list to do. Not one to miss an opportunity I offered to book it on my iPad ahead of heading down there & so we did. It transpired that we had booked a time slot that was just after some of the others in our group that had booked it separately, almost like we were doing it together!

We arrived at the pylon where the booking centre is well ahead of schedule to ensure that it was all sorted to avoid any bitter disappointment. At this stage I had not seen the iconic harbour view or indeed the actual bridge. As we walked down to grab a coffee and soak up the scenery as it was a simply beautiful day. We have been so so lucky with the weather in general it is ridiculous. For the last 14 days or so Sydney has had the most vial rain which has been very persistent and heavy.

It was on the way down to The Rocks that I actually first caught sight of not only the bridge but also the Opera House. Wow! What a sight! They are both massive! It must be one of the most iconic landmarks in the world & here I was, little old me, standing looking at it. I took a few moments just to soak it all in. Pinched myself that this was all real!

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The way in which they sort out all of the kits that you have to wear to comply with the obvious health and safety precautions was incredibly well set out and very clear. We had pretty much everything that we could possibly need attached to our belts which went on top of the really in attractive onesie – but needs must and all that! I led the way behind the guide just in case I was going to need my inhalers which she was carrying as I was not allowed to carry anything. Even all of our watches and bracelets needed to be taken off?!

Kitted up to the nines, off we went. For some stupid reason I thought that we would be walking all the way over and then back rather than up one side to the middle and then back down the other side. Being first meant that I had my photos taken first and then had to wait for the rest of the group to catch up and be done. Good shout. Meant that I had a few moments all on my own each stop to take in the sights before me. I could have spent all day up there soaking it all in. I cleverly tout not to put the lenses in this morning, if I was struggling with them drying out on my eyes normally with the 65km per hour winds up there, I think that they would have literally blown out of my eyes!! It wasn’t really cold as such, just pretty bloody strong. The day was beautiful with an amazing blue sky in the background to make the pictures look even more extra special. Well, sadly they didn’t exactly come out beautifully as we were looking into the sun when they were taken my hair was blowing ALL over the place and my eyes were watering like mad!!

At the start of the Bridge Walk - easy to stand up with out being blown over here!!

At the start of the Bridge Walk – easy to stand up with out being blown over here!!

My poor eyes were not doing so well on the top of the bridge where the wind was blowing at around 65kmph and I was looking RIGHT into the sun for this photo!

My poor eyes were not doing so well on the top of the bridge where the wind was blowing at around 65kmph and I was looking RIGHT into the sun for this photo!

Coming backdown was a little more traumatic than going up to be honest. The ladders were vertical and the winds had grown, coming down the first two sets were pretty hairy. The worst part by far was sort of shimmying across from one set to the other as part of the handrail sort of disappeared. By the time we had got to the bottom it was all just a distant memory. It’s sad that you can’t take photos from up there to be fair but I guess the website will hopefully show you what some of the views looked like. I was tempted to buy half the shop out of souvenirs but in the end I just got a fake Pandora charm for my bracket as I have one space left, it seemed only appropriate that I filled it with that.

A day in the rainforest

Our second day in North Tropical Queensland took us up to the Rainforest, something we were all very keen to see – again there were 10 of ‘my lot’ as well as a few others too. The day was beautifully sunny and warm, just what we were expecting from the weather up here. Very handy having them pick us all up from the hotel I have to say, the location of the hotel (the Shangri-La!)being right in the middle of the marina was wonderful.

We headed up to Kuranda on the sky rail and booked to come back on the train – another day trip with a good 10 or so of my group members joining. The village is tiny with only a population of around 1,500 people but it is a set of markets selling pretty much anything that you need as a tourist. A total tourist trap in my opinion but it was more the travel to and from the we were all going for.

We headed up in a cable car which stopped off at a couple of points on the way up so that you could get out and walk in amongst the rainforest on one of them and see the breath taking views out. One of the things to look at was Barron Falls, as you would expect from the name – a waterfall. It was merely trickling at the moment owing to the time of year but you can tell at it would be quite a spectacular sight.

This youtube video (not mine!) gives you an idea of the sights as we went up. I’d suggest turning the sound down though as the wind is pretty much all you can hear – there is no running commentary!

Ed, Kay & Steve in our 'pod' on the way up & over the rainforest on the Skyrail

Ed, Kay & Steve in our ‘pod’ on the way up & over the rainforest on the Skyrail

Me with Sandra & Chris in the pod

Me with Sandra & Chris in the pod

The first look out on our way up gave us a great view out over the top of the rainforest

The first look out on our way up gave us a great view out over the top of the rainforest

One of the massive trees that we saw whilst walking along the boardwalks at the first stop on the cable car trip

One of the massive trees that we saw whilst walking along the boardwalks at the first stop on the cable car trip

Barron Falls - one of the stop on the way up on the gondola (as it was called)

Barron Falls – one of the stop on the way up on the gondola (as it was called)

Just slowly making our way up and over the rainforest was simply amazing, with a birds eye view of the place as we all soaked in the views back over Cairns as well as just looking down into the actual rainforest itself. I didn’t see as many birds as I thought that I would though, which I found rather odd (unless you of course count the turkey which was gobbling around at the Barron Falls stop?!). We saw quite a few very large butterflies including the impressive Ulysses butterfly which is a bright turquoise colour.

After a pint at the top a little meander around the town and a snoop at some of the markets and shops we headed to the train station as we were going to be getting the scenic railway back to where we were dropped off. The station in Kuranda is a very quaint little place, I could almost see a Miss Marple or a Poirot being filmed here! Of course the train that we were on was a very old fashioned one, with very old school carriages, I most definitely would not like to do this trip in the scorching heat, it would be seriously stuffy. It’s a 34km stretch that seemed to take forever to travel with 15 tunnels but most importantly some pretty spectacular views out into the rainforest and back over Cairns. We were all tho definitely looking forward to disembarking when the time came.

An art gallery in the shapre of an old boat selling (but I didn't buy) Aboriginal Art & decorated didgeridoos!

An art gallery in the shapre of an old boat selling (but I didn’t buy) Aboriginal Art & decorated didgeridoos!

The train station at Kuranda - very quaint!

The train station at Kuranda – very quaint!

Finding Nemo

The final Monday saw 10 of us head out on a catamaran style boat to visit the marvel of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a beautifully bright day and we were all incredibly excited about our forthcoming adventure. Me, perhaps a tad too excited about the possibility of seeing Nemo more than anything – it was going to be a massive let down if I didn’t see one!

My lot & I ready to find Nemo!

My lot & I ready to find Nemo!

The sea out was pretty choppy at times, but thankfully I was ok with it. I had also taken the suggested ginger tablets when I got on the boat which may or may not have been a massive help! It's not a pleasant after taste tho I will warn you if you drink them with coffee!! The way out to the reef took about an hour and a quarter – not too bad in my view, some of the others started to feel somewhat queasy and disappeared for some air. We were on the top level of the boat inside which was fine, apparently it's meant to be less rocky below deck – I beg to differ, the amount of people throwing up down there would have totally done me in! Had I seen, heard or smelt sick I would have been following suit & I'm not sure I'd have actually made it out in time either.

We moored up on the first reef and had been given the instructions on what to do i.e. in how to put on your snorkel and flippers and were told that wearing a lycra suit was not a must as its not jellyfish season so we would be very unlikely to be stung. I put one on anyway as I wasn't entirely sure quite how cold the water was going to be – even tho they had told us that it was about 23/24 degrees.

Snorkel on flippers on and I was away. I could actually see the bottom and so it didn't feel quiet as bad as when I got scared by the depths out in Egypt. There were loads of quite large fishes out near the boat – I guess that they must have put done food in or something for so many to be there. This particular part of the reef there was a bit that looked like the shape of Micky Mouse's head. I think I got out as far as that – it was easy to spot from the boat but not quite so much when you are bobbing around in the ocean!!

There were some beautiful fish swimming around, I scoured the coral to try & find Nemo – we had already been told that one like actual Nemo was very shy and not really all that common. I was buggered if I had come out ALL THIS WAY not to see the little blighter in his own place?!! I think for the first session in the water I was definitely the last of our group out the water. I was having a total ball. The sights to take in underwater were quite something. I was trying so hard to just take the photographs of the experience of seeing this entire new world under the water all in my mind so that I could savour them for years to come. I even managed to get my photo taken with Nigel – this massive fish, I can't remember what he actually was apart from being HUGE!

Nigel & I - he looks photoshopped - honestly he isn't!

Nigel & I – he looks photoshopped – honestly he isn’t!

Nigel & I

Nigel & I

Me & Nigel

Me & Nigel

We had lunch on board which is what looked like THE most amazing seafood (obv not my cuppa cha!!) they had a hot and cold buffet on board and I have to say I was very impressed with the quality – I had some delicious sushi rolls with tuna & cucumber in but no peppers! Needed some form of energy to keep me going to get back in the water for more time trying to find bloody Nemo. As the water was still pretty choppy we didn't actually move to the second reef but stayed moored where our first snorkelling session was. Again I failed to see Nemo, I could tell that I was going to be more than disappointed with the whole trip if I never actually ended up in seeing one.

We moved on a little to a different area of the reef for our final snorkelling session. Winky (yes, that was her real name) led anyone who wanted to do a guided snorkel and a few of us headed out with her. Bloody glad I joined in! She showed us some of the different type of coral, the clams – huge thing which she got to shut by pushing the water at it. We saw a Sea Cucumber which was the most random thing. She went down to the bottom to pick it up so that we could touch it. It felt very much like old worn leather. We saw a Nemo!!! Swimming in and around some spaghetti coral – I nearly choked with excitement & as a result managed to take in shed loads of water & even managed the nose trick with it all too! Ouchies! Just before she finished the guided tour we spotted a turtle which was amazing. It looks so like a grumpy old man!! The others that had been following the tour too all sort of dispersed and there was myself and one other girl (not from our group) who turned back a little to go and watch the turtle nibbling away on some food. It was quite some experience I can tell you. I had to control myself at one point as I really thought that I was about to cry in the mask – that would not have been much bloody use. The emotion & reality of what I was doing just welled inside me like an overflowing pot. It was truly breath-taking watching this amazing creature in its natural habitat going about its own business, which included peaking to the surface for air as it does every 20 mins or so. Seeing it underwater as it swam up arm distance from me, so close that I could actually touch it. See it taking its breaths and then heading back on down for food again. It totally took my breath away. I was happy. Job done. Great Barrier Reef you were all I had imagined, hoped for & dreamed about for years.

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Catching some rays on the front on the boat before the ride home

Catching some rays on the front on the boat before the ride home

The evening was spent taking onboard some Aboriginal Culture at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where we were having dinner as well. To be honest with the cost of food out here with wine at a meal too – it was possibly only 10 bucks more. Stupid really but there we go. I’ve eaten well, don’t get me wrong but the price of food is WAY higher than I anticipated. It’s relative to the Australians apparently for the wage that they get. I guess that for us in the UK the Aus dollar has gone down against the pound and so it probably wouldn’t have seemed so expensive a few years back.

Our evening included the Didgeridoo blessing as well as having our faces painted, listening to Aborigine folk tales as well as watching them make fire from rubbing a stick (no, really). It was dewy underfoot but thankfully not too cold as most of the evening took place outside.

Some Aboriginal tales told with a random dancing monster!

Some Aboriginal tales told with a random dancing monster!

The start of the Aboriginal Evening

The start of the Aboriginal Evening

A lit arrow was sent across the lake which set this flame alight

A lit arrow was sent across the lake which set this flame alight

With my face paint on!

With my face paint on!

When it came to coming back inside for the buffet meal there was further entertainment to focus our attention on. More singing and audience participation. There was a distinct lack of audience members wanting to be on stage with them, dancing and such the like. The teacher in me had my hand up straight away, I think much to the shock of those that I was with!! Initially we were on stage (myself & some other chap) helping the dancers to make fire by rubbing a small stick up & down between our hands – taking it in turns with the bottom of the stick staying in place on a wooden ‘fire block’ when you rub the stick up and down – after doing it for a while between the two of us one of the dancers warmed the palms of his hand and did it a couple of times too, obviously much more quickly than either of us! I then took over from him & a speck of lit ash jumped onto the bundle of dry grass. My name is Keith – I am a fire starter, a twisted fire starter!! We then had to participate in some form of Aboriginal dancing. 2 left feet Em whose dance moves include the funky chicken & the elbow dance did indeed look like a flaming galah!! It was very sweet of them, for my participation I was given a plain returning boomerang – that saves buying one!!

Getting ready to start making the fire

Getting ready to start making the fire

Starting to make fire using a stick which you rub between your palms, yes it was as random as it sounds!

Starting to make fire using a stick which you rub between your palms, yes it was as random as it sounds!

With the performers before heading home for a well earned sleep

With the performers before heading home for a well earned sleep

Some of the Aboriginal art around the restaurant area

Some of the Aboriginal art around the restaurant area

The Second Test

Match day came around once again and my nerves were in full flow! The not knowing for definite if I had a ticket for the match combined with the actual nerves for the big match itself was making my tummie rumble something chronic. I had a catch up call with Fliss on how the day was going to work and what we have been up to and checking in that all of my group are ok. Thankfully she confirmed that we definitely both had match tickets for this evening – one less thing to be nervous of! She also said that we are two tickets short for the final test and that as Vic wanted us both there I needed to go out and find two.

Cue MASS panic.

Down I went to concierge to find out where the Australian equivalent of Ticketmster office was so that I could go down and buy two on the credit card. They also looked up for me that there were some available but that they were single tickets and couldn’t see from the online booking system where they were, as in how far away from each other. I found out where it was and, in Challenge Anneka mode, off I went searching the streets of Melbourne for the office. Well it wasn’t where they had told me but I went into the theatre where I had been told it was to find out where the office really was, they pointed me in the direction of the office that is located on the edge of China Town which shut at two.

Now most of you already know I don’t do running as a rule. But if it was a case of getting a ticket for the final test or not, running it was going to have to be! So I ran, and I mean RAN (like running for my life ran), across town to make sure that I got there before anyone else got the tickets and the place closed for the rest of the weekend. I was possibly the actual colour of the Lions shirt by the time that I reached the shop and dripping with sweat & gasping for breath. On further looking it transpired that the two single platinum tickets that they had were not only one behind the other but they were also both on the aisle. Could not be more perfect if we had tried. Done. Bought. I confessed my undying love to the elderly gentleman behind the counter who did look somewhat bemused with my admittance. Tickets in hand I gently strolled back to the hotel, taking in some very big breaths to try and recover from the over exertion of the trip to buy the tickets! Happy to have the tickets not only in my pocket but also confirmed for the final test. Once back at the hotel I had to have a lie down to try and recover and get my heart rate back down to something resembling a normal rate!

Pre match hospitality was in a venue space in the Docklands area which was pretty much bang next to the Ethiad Stadium. It was rather a random place and not the easiest to find – I was very glad that Fliss had given me a few directions as to where it was once we got off the bus as it was not easily labelled! We had an open bar for 2 hours before the match and some sensational nibbles including individual portions of fish & chips. As Sophie & I had fed up with pasta pre match I was not really wanting much to drink. I got very edgy as I didn’t have my ticket in my hand still whilst we were in the Black Sail Bar until very late. The obligatory photo of it was of course taken and posted on Facebook!

Just a little excited to actually have the ticket for the match in my hand!! (with thanks to Lesley for the photo!)

Just a little excited to actually have the ticket for the match in my hand!! (with thanks to Lesley for the photo!)

Having played ‘heavy’ on the door for the majority of the evening it was lovely to be able to mingle for a little for the last hour or so before the match. Shared the joyous news that I had in my hand the ticket and if I recall was to be seen stroking it and kissing it at one point! There’s always one!! Lovely to see some of those that have been further afield and to catch up with the couple that I was sat next to at the welcome dinner on the first Friday night in Brisbane, which now seems months ago.

The advert that caused a lot of controversy out in Australia

The advert that caused a lot of controversy out in Australia

Ethiad Stadium, Melbourne

Ethiad Stadium, Melbourne

We headed on over to the Ethiad Stadium, a short walk along the dockside and the masses swelled as we got closer with the atmosphere booming and becoming more intense the closer that we got. It was amazing. There were loads of people handing out #seaofred try signs and red face paint – a brilliant idea I have to say. But I’m not sure that it will quite top my face painting efforts in South Africa?! We managed to pick up a few of the Australian bright yellow hats that were being handed out in a hope of stopping the Stadium being the sea of red again! The chants coming in had me in stitches – #you’reonlywearingyellow’cosit’sfree. We purchased the desired programmes and made the trek up to our seats stopping off at the facilities first – the ladies I never had to queue for in the stadium, but the men’s were absurd!!

In my seat I just soaked it all up again. Looked at the sea of red, took in how little effect the yellow hats seem to be having. Pinched myself that I was actually here, that this is all very, VERY real and savoured the moment. I still, even though I am in the middle of it, can not believe that this is all happening to me. That I am actually doing this, it’s all still very much like I am in a dream and that I am going to wake up every moment to Geri nuzzling into my neck as my early morning wake up call like she does.

Then the photos for the mementoes started.

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I was sat next to Soph for the match which was fabulous. I was so nervous in anticipation about what was about to happen on the pitch in front of us, just in the bottom of my tummie I could feel this horrible notion that we weren’t actually going to be able to do it. I could see it being like so many of the Bath disappointments that I have seen over the years. When on paper we should be able to, but when it comes down to it – nope. Just wasn’t pulling together.

This was the last kick of the match I think - not at all into it or anything??!!!

This was the last kick of the match I think – not at all into it or anything??!!!

Sadly come the end of the match that was exactly what happened. We were unsuccessful & theres a stadium full of Australians that were over joyed. Man, was I thankful that I had actually run out this morning to go and buy the two extra Sydney tickets. There was no way that there would be any left now!

My group were all present, correct and waiting for the nod that the taxi was here, we had no stragglers or anything and I had them all on the bus and singing songs whilst we sorted out what the others were all going to be doing. All a job well done on the organisation front, lets just hope those on the field can be as well organised for the final test, hey!!

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Yarra Valley Wine Tour

Funnily enough this was the most popular of the tours for those wanting to book on with me. In total there were 10 of us that headed out of town and into the scenic Yarra Valley for a spot of wine tasting for the day. We had 3 Australians on the bus as well who were quite quiet initially but warmed up throughout the day as the tasting went on!

It did feel somewhat wrong to be starting a wine tasting tour at ten in the morning?! We tasted 12 different wines, but I was a little bemused that we weren’t shown how to taste the full flavour and so on. We were just given a bit in the bottom of the glass told what the grape was each time & carried on. I think at the first vineyard, Oakridge, we tasted a total of 12 different wines – 6 white & 6 red. I tasted them all, of course, but was not drinking all of the tasters of the reds.

Loosened up on we pressed to the delicious cheese shop from the dairy farm in the valley, little samples of goats cheese which, were I staying longer, I’d have purchased the full piece of. It was simply delicious, so creamy and fresh tasting.

Our second vineyard of the day was Coombe Farm where again we tasted around five or six of the red as well as the whites.

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The lady telling us the details of all of the wines was a wonderful character and full of great humour. I clicked part way through that Lord Vesty is one of the other syndicate members in a couple of the horses that Dad has had an interest in over recent years. His daughter as well, of course I was at junior school with – Flora, but hardly remember her to be honest. Small world and all that! She reminded us of all the horrendous bush fires of 2009 and showed us where the fires came up to on their property, many of the vineyards in the surrounding area were badly damaged but thankfully the wind changed JUST as the fires had come up to the edge of the property the winds changed and blew it in a totally different direction. It was not far from here that the picture of the fireman giving the koala some water was taken.

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We headed on to where we were going to be dining (the Rochford Winery). No buffet here, instead we were treated to a delicious choice of main meals of which I chose a slow cooked beef off the choices. First though we had another wine tasting session. This would have, in my view, been far better placed AFTER we had eaten as we were all feeling rather topped up on the old vino already! Kay & I for one were incredibly giggly at nothing much in particular & she couldn’t stop at one point!

The lady giving us the wine tasting session was teaching us the way of doing it and helping us through the whole process a lot more than previous vineyards. Smelling it, swirling it, swooshing it spitting it which as I am sure you can possibly gather had us in stitches even more!

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Our last stop was the Australian version of Moët & Chandon (the name escapes me at present & my guide book is not currently to hand) After a full glass of wine at lunchtime I was feeling pretty full of wine and so decided to be sensible and not actually taste all of the different ones here and only tried the first sparkling before passing quietly and nipping outside to soak up the sunshine and the views.

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On the way home we stopped in on a chocolate shop and partook in a few samples, but managed to refrain from buying any to take home! The views were still stunning of all the vineyards out in rows, ok wrong time if year to see them growing but you could imagine the scene in summer time and how very different but yet even more beautiful the scenery would be.

The Great Ocean Road

Thursday was my really long day with the 0710 pick up to head down the Great Ocean Road and see some of the stunning scenery down there that I had been told by several sources that I simply HAD to do. Thankfully the weather was fine, a tad overcast but the main thing was that it was not raining so I am not complaining one little bit. It was a smaller group than the previous day but a long old journey down to the sights.

The traffic coming out of Melbourne, the daily commuters was horrendous and we were very thankful not to be stuck in that! When there is pretty decent public transport, certainly puts the UK to shame, in the city – I do wonder why people choose to sit for hours nose to tail on a motorway every morning.

The Great Ocean Road basically hugged the coast line heading south and reminded me of the road in South Africa where Dad had a freak out over the vertical drop over the edge of the cliff owing to his vertigo. There wasn’t that much of a drop though on this really. The road had been man made as in the had been a group of workers in the 1920’s that went along with dynamite blowing some of the rock face up to enable a smooth driving surface could be created along the edge.

As you can imagine, there were many stunning views along the way of the rugged coastline as well as some of the most sublime looking beaches, some of which had surfers on, I could imagine the area being absolutely heaving in the summer months as it is just so picturesque and some of the beaches just seemed so huge! The road would become a total nightmare when there is a rock fall as the road would be totally cut off and there were not too many roads leading back into the countryside that I spotted on route and so I can only imagine that the diversion could be a hell of a lot of miles!

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We stopped off at a spot that our guide for the day/driver, Max, knew there were possibly some koalas in the wild as well as some rather tame birds that he had brought some bird seed for. I’m not talking any old birds, lorikeets, parakeets beautifully coloured and they would come and eat put of your hand. Just as we came close and without any food in our hands they all started swooping down and landing on us – our heads, or arms, shoulders & hands. Incredibly scary at first until you got used to it as the feeling of them landing and there being so many it really was quite unnerving. Can’t help but shriek and swear. Once I’d got a little confidence up I asked for some bird seed and let them all descend on me as they fed from my hand. Amazing experience & I was lucky to come away with a clean coat & head!!

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We stopped for lunch at the Cape Otway Lighthouse, a quick sausage, potatoes and salad before hitting the road again before spotting some more koalas in their natural habitat just asleep in the trees, they just look so random! We headed on further down to first of all the Otway Rainforest which has som of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia in it. The peace and tranquility of just listening to the water trickling through was so serene it was blissful. We had about twenty mins or so walking along the broadwalk before it was back in the van and off to Gibson’s Beach, which would have easily been the Australian setting for Broadchurch!

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From there we headed down to Gibson’s Steps which lead down to Gibson’s Beach which is pretty much the gateway to the 12 Apostles. The huge foaming sea was very strong and you could tell that there were some vicious currents out there damned nearly got caught at one point!! The beach isn’t patrolled and so not recommended for swimming obviously, the tide seems to come in pretty quickly and so it was easy to see how people would easily get caught out there!! The steps were originally carved into the cliffs in the 19th century but have been replaced by concrete steps.

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From here it was on again to the main sight of the 12 Apostles. The weather over time has eroded away the limestone and has helped to create a wonderful series of blow holes, rock stacks, gorges and arches. Even though it is named so there are actually only 6 apostles that are visible from the impressive snakes of the broadwalks out to give us better views of the coastline.

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I once again bumped into the couple from the Royal Oak who were obviously doing a day trip too. But on the way back in to the bus and walking though the visitor centre, pretty pointless I have to ay, not a patch on the one at Stonehenge which is the same sort of thing., I bumped into a Pink Leopard from Dubai that I met out in South Africa on the Gulliver’s trip for the last lions tour. (Brian & Roger) my god it’s quite scary how small the world really is?! The views were amazing despite the slight sea mist that was starting to appear. The sea was still an amazing colour and I could, honestly have taken photos all day of that view!

We moved further on down again into Port Campbell National Park and visited the Loch Ard Gorge and again headed down to sea level. Known as one of Shipwreck Coast’s most notorious bits as it has taken out so many boats and the stories are the only thing that are left. We headed back after this one as it was by then a good 3 hours to head back into Melbourne. The vies today though will stay with me for quit a few years. I can really see myself coming back to this area to do a bit more exploring and just chilling out in the slightly warmer weather.

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Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

The morning after the Rebels match meant a lie in for me – perfect! Certainly needed after my only night of a fair few beers with friends & not far to walk back to the hotel on my own! I took it very slowly as I had a busy few couple of days coming up with a number of trips out booked for the following few days with some early starts!

The first was a half day trip which was concluded with a visit to the world famous Little Penguins of Phillip Island. After being picked up at the hotel just after lunch in a massive coach we picked up more on route and headed off to Churchill Island initially. The day was beautiful, blue skies and thankfully not too cold. We have been pretty lucky with it all things considered. The scenery was amazing with the water so calm and quiet – so serene. The photographic opportunities were a plenty with some beautiful reflections on the water.

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We headed to a Koala Conservation Centre which was very different to the environment that we last saw the koalas in at Lone Pines in Brisbane. This time they were in much more of an open environment and way up in the trees so it was a case of trying to spot them as there were tree top boardwalks around a specific area where they were living which was quite a way off the ground. They really are amazing animals and so seriously cute! Also spotted a Kookaburra and a Wallaby hopping around in the park.

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Our final stop of the day was Penguin Parade. Described as a world phenomenon, it is where the Little Penguins return from the sea to their burrows each evening at dusk crossing the beach at a waddle to do so. There are no photos to show of this as cameras etc are obviously banned so as not to disturb the penguins.

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Here is a YouTube clip as we weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos or anything.

It was an extraordinary experience which I feel privileged to have seen. It was pretty nipster as you sit on the pavilion overlooking the beach staring at the stretch of water in front if you awaiting the little things to pop up & start their waddle across the beach to the safety of their burrows. After watching this beautiful sight I then slowly made my way back up to the visitor centre where you could see, from the walkways, the penguins arriving back home and having a natter with their neighbours and friends.

They are so called the Little Penguin as they are all around 33cm high, literally tiny and simply adorable. Despite seriously feeling the cold I could have stayed there for hours just observing the beauty of nature in all it’s glory. Thankfully I resisted the temptation to buy a stuffed one to take home, as soft and cuddly as they were!

Decided to eat in the hotel bar as the price wasn’t too bad, I could catch up with any of the others from the group and I wouldn’t have too late a night as I had a somewhat ridiculous 0710 start in the morning!

Who’s coat is that jacket?

Caught up with James, who I first met out in South America back in 2001, on Sunday morning before we headed to the airport. We walked down Southbank and went on the citycat before having a coffee & a bite to eat at a little place in Teneriffe before he & Michael dropped me back at the hotel.

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Managed to get everyone checked in & through security no problem, thankfully! Noticed that Kev had been on his wifi moments before & so messaged as I was sure that they said that they were flying down to Melbourne that afternoon too. Yup they were in the airport so legged it down to where they were as we were slightly delayed boarding, caught up with them & what they had been up to – amused to say it wasn’t hard to spot Kev as he too was in his Bath Shirt!

Spent the first couple of days in Melbourne being quite lazy in regards to sightseeing. I had a good read through who was going where post Melbourne as I was starting to get myself VERY confused. After popping to the Visitor Centre in Federation Square and researching what we could do and so on, I went ahead and booked the tours that I had been talking about with others in the group. I managed to pop into a couple of sports shops to see what the prices of the Lions tops where & if they had any other merchandise that we didn’t have in the UK – OMG the strip is $120 as are all the other official strips, that’s absurd. I couldn’t find much other merchandise that we didn’t have in the UK. I found a fleecy blanket and a stubbie holder which I got.

Spent the afternoon sorting out the transfers and bits & getting my head around the next week or so! I also did more research on the possibilities in Cairns for my group as there are several expressing an interest in some of those similar to things I’d like to do. Just found out timings and so on & if there was space on the days that some wanted. I washed some of my clothes in the sink – not paying laundry in the hotel for my socks & undies?!!

Match day came round again & prepared for the colder weather it was the most beautiful day & of course, in the shirt rather sticky!! We had prematch hospitality in Transport Bar, literally bang smack in the middle of Federation Square & we had a private are for our group once again & once again sharing it with the Trevor Brennan Group. I enjoyed being a ‘heavy’ on the door banning people without bands! With it starting from 3pm & make your own way there, we had them all turning up in dribs & drabs to the bar but you could tell as the kick off came closer & closer by the sheer volume of red shirts all around!

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Originally Sophie wasn’t going up he going to the match as one of her group wanted an extra ticket for their son & so it would be hers that she would have given up. In the end tho it was decided that she should be with her group & I was without a ticket. My tummie went. I know it’s not a test match & ours were never guaranteed, but I just so wanted to be there. Thankfully it was all in hand, I had a ticket I just wouldn’t be sitting with our group. No bother, I had a ticket – sitting on my own did not bother me!! I ended up behind the posts around 8 rows back, surrounded pretty much by Rebels fans which of course meant I’d just have to shout more!!

The Lions chant in the stadium was phenomenal and of course we nilled them! A couple of very sloppy passes from our backs I must say, thankfully Faz’s kicking was right on target though! Zebo was also being chanted at one stage too, it must be such an amazing feeling for the players hearing that – both as a team & individually!

Headed back to the bar post match having managed to cram onto a tram & narrowly avoided getting stuck in the middle of some harsh words in the carriage. As I went to order a drink as I got there, who should be standing next to me but Lou! & they had not even got my texts telling them where I was! As there was no post match hospitality it was a free for all so I introduced them to some if the group & caught up with them for the evening – a total added bonus!

Catching up with Kev & Lou in Transport Bar post match

Catching up with Kev & Lou in Transport Bar post match

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Match day – First Test

Match day finally arrived & after discussion last night, I was going to put the suggestion forward of anyone coming with myself & one of my couples to visit Lone Pine Koala Park after everyone had collected their match tickets from me in the lobby. I managed to round up a group of 9 of us in total to share a cab up there including Sophie as well. Having read & realised that you can cuddle a koala & hand feed the kangaroos & wallabies I was as hyper as anything like a kid in a candy shop!! This greatly amused everyone I think, and they certainly seemed to feed off my enthusiasm!!

I was taken for a fool by some of them that told me that there was a bird in one of the cages that sounds like it was saying ‘Emma’ – fell for it hook line & bloody sinker. The buggers had got one of the keepers who was cleaning in one of the bird pens & was hiding behind a bush to say ‘Emma’ just as I walked past. I could see that I was never going to live this one down as I sucked it up (I thought it was like a parrot that repeated what people said – hence my excitement & utter gullibility, in my defence!!)

Seeing the koalas for the first time was phenomenal. Really, honestly, breathtaking. I was in utter heaven. They are SO cute its absurd & some of the positions that they sit in is ridiculous?!! It can’t be comfy – surely!!! They sleep for 18-20 hours a day so I guess if we were visiting them in a Zoo there would only be a couple of them but here there were over 100. The sanctuary started off with 2 in 1927 and has grown and grown ever since. With the retirement home, kindergarten and variety of other areas where the koalas were we managed to see loads of them. It is sad that we were at the wrong time of year for the joeys to be climbing on the backs of their mums, but hey – you can’t have everything! Instantly boosted to my favourite animal EVER. I really had to stop myself from buying a $35 large stuffed toy of one!!

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Of course I HAD to have my photo taken with one as did a few of the others. I had to move my hair out of the way before I could do any cuddling as it would need to see where he could hold on to. I cuddled Matt after being shown how to put my hands and that I was not to bring them up & that he would just sit there. I had the professional photo taken as well as loads on the iPhone & the camera so I’m most definitely not short of images!! I might have gone a little OTT with them, but hey!!

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We moved on from here to go & feed the kangaroos & wallabies which was again just fabulous. We had the most beautiful day for it I have to say! Having purchased the food we were keen to hand feed them but as most were in the rest area we were not allowed in to there were only a few that were interested in being fed outside of the area. We tried regardless! And posed for multiple photos!! I hardly got many of the kangaroos to eat anything that I put out in front of them so wandered off a little & found a female sitting quietly in the shade without loads of people around her and so I went down to see if she was at all interested in the nibbles – got a wonderful photo of her as I lay down feeding her! Their fur is so soft it’s amazing, I could have stroked her all day!

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Thankfully my group were all on time ready to get the bus to the pre-match entertainment that we were sharing with the Trevor Brennen Group as we will be for all pre & post match entertainment. Thankfully I did ask everyone to check their tickets, as in that they had them & for the right match?!! ‘Shit!!’ As one of mine disappeared back up to his room to get it! Driving the short trip through town was fab, seeing all the bars bursting at the seams with Lions fans as far as the eye could see & not so many Wallabies in sight though. Nearly every pub had a group in full song which we could hear from the inside of the coach! We were the first of our group to get to the bar & finding the function room was a little tricky but managed to locate the wrist bands that everyone needed to be wearing & led the group inside through a very busy bar.

I was buzzing, I had all the hairs on my arms standing on end & seriously couldn’t stand still – which was good as we were meant to be floating around the room checking everyone was ok in our group & generally mixing – networking almost! The beers were flowing for everyone & thankfully they were in sort of just over half pint glasses so no one seemed too inebriated, thankfully. I was getting really itchy feet as Sophie had been given her ticket but I hadn’t & I was DESPERATE to hold it in my hands & soak it all up pinch myself that this was actually really happening!! It was my golden ticket & once it was in my pocket I had the BIGGEST Cheshire grin on my face & had to pinch myself on a couple of occasions to check it was all happening (as well as running to the loo to take a picture of it to tweet & put on Facebook – the excitement was almost too much!) As one of the last out the bar to ensure everyone was out I could almost hardly walk, let alone talk with the sheer excitement.

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Walking in the stadium & up the stairs to the level where our seats were, I heard an Irish voice that I recognised – only the couple that I met in the Royal Oak a couple of weeks ago?! Not really a small world I guess but still, quite amusing!

Walking to my seat was amazing, taking in the pockets of red everywhere all over the stadium & trying to see how much of an impact the yellow colonial style hats were having – very little to be honest! I was on my own as such in that I had none of the VU group next to me but Fliss & Sophie were in front (Sophie’s first ever match of international rugby??!!! – what a way to start!!) I was buzzing & fidgety & everything you’d expect that comes with both nerves & excitement!! I was trying to be cautious of the amount that I was shouting, we all know what I can be like at times! Thankfully I was also able to refrain from screaming abuse of any form at either the re for the wallabies only encouraging words were uttered from my lips (took a lot not to I have to say, there were a couple of very close calls). Come the second half though I realised that I actually must have been shouting quite a bit as my throat was quite sore & I was sounding rather husky!

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The match was tense, we seemed to be all over them statistically at half time but yet only a few points ahead – it didn’t seem right? The match ended with our hearts in our mouths as a final penalty was given away in the last couple of mins. We have A LOT to thank Kurtley Beale for – slipping when kicking the penalty causing him to spectacularly missing thus leaving us with the win!! The screaming & jumping around & the run back to the bar, it was all exhausting! I was trying to get on the phone to send pictures FTC out on social media sources as well as whatsapp – little success as the battery was dying on everything! I did it when I finally got back to my room. Conscious that we had a reasonably early check out of 10am & I hadn’t packed or got my head sorted as to timings for transit day at all.

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What a day tho?!!! Cuddled a Koala, hand fed a Kangaroo & my favourite – stuffed a Wallaby!!

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