Our Trip to Australia …….. Arriving

Finally the day was here 24th January 2016, we were on our way to Australia. This trip had been a year in the planning. No way were we travelling half way around the world and not exploring the place! We also wanted to spend some quality time with Corrinne’s brother who had recently acquired his Australian citizenship. This in itself provided us with the ultimate dilemma. For so long now we had covered up any issues that we were living with, but our plans included a ten day stay with my brother in law, and there was no way that we would be able to hide his Sister’s condition, 24 hours a day. Especially as he would want some quality time with his “Big Sister”.

How were we going to disguise the memory problems, the drowsiness and all the other issues? I couldn’t be around all of the time. They were bound to see it if they spoke to her on her own. These were all the worries that we faced, before we even got there. The only solution was that I needed to speak with him and be honest. But first we had 21 hours of flying and a transfer at Singapore airport to negotiate. Everything else could wait.

Packing always seemed to be my job.  Corrinne would make piles of clothes on the bed and leave me to figure out how on earth they were all going to get into her suitcase. We were always a good team, each checking over what the other was taking and making sure we had everything we needed. At the time this just seemed like a normal packing session, but looking back now there was definitely a lot less input from Corrinne. 

The journey was everything we thought it would be, long, tedious and extremely tiring. You can only watch so many in-flight movies. Whenever we were flying, I always tried to make sure that we got the seats by the emergency exits, not because of escaping but for the extra leg room. I had even remembered to pack those sexy flight socks. As we were flying with Singapore Airlines, I thought it only natural to enjoy the odd Singapore Sling, merely to pass the time, of course. These were amazing and helped us both to relax and sleep.

The break in the journey came at Singapore. We had to disembark, make our way across the terminal and meet our connecting flight, all within three hours. Trying to gather belongings, feeling as tired as we did was a challenge in itself. Unfortunately I managed to leave some valuables on the plane ( Kindle, Tablet, & my Brand new Beats headphones). I only discovered that these were lost when we finished the journey, and when reporting them, my lack of faith in humankind was proved correct, as they hadn’t been handed in.

The transition at the airport was a challenge. Corrinne’s dislike of trains, especially crowded ones, had to be dealt with, along with carrying all hand luggage. We managed it, somehow and arrived at the departure gate, just in time. I’m not one for arriving anywhere too early and having to wait around.  The last leg of the flight seemed to pass relatively smoothly, as we knew that next stop was Perth.

Arriving in Perth seemed quite smooth, I guess we had already had a practice run. We gathered our belongings and made our way from the plane to the Arrivals lounge. I knew that this was a moment that Corrinne had longed for, for so long. To visit her younger brother, and see what all those amazing things that he was constantly telling her about, and to take him some good ol’ British tea bags. As we walked through the gate, there he was and it was the magical moment that had been hoped for.

Dale didn’t live too far from the airport, so it wasn’t too long before we arrived at his home. They sat in the front chatting most of the way, thankfully I wasn’t needed to much to cover during conversations. Besides, it could all be put down to tiredness.

We had no idea on day or time, as it all just seemed like a long blur. But we had landed in Australia on Australia Day, so this was not going to be a quiet relaxing day. Corrinne has always needed so much more sleep than me, so after a quick drink and chat, she went off to bed to try and get some sleep. I always keep going through the jet lag to try and keep my body in a routine so I stayed up for a while, drinking and chatting with Dale.

After all the obvious catch up talk and all the updates on Brighton & Hove Albion, and of course the drinks were helping the relaxation. I knew that this was the best time to steer the conversation to Corrinne. I had given this so much thought, what I would say and how much detail to go into. It had to be easier with Corrinne asleep, and oblivious to what was being said. She had no idea that I was going to discuss this. She certainly would have insisted that I said nothing, but that really wasn’t an option, anymore.

There isn’t much I remember about the conversation that followed. I have no idea how long we sat there for that evening. It just didn’t matter. Naturally, it must of felt terrible for someone to hear, that the big sister who is absolutely adored, was struggling in this way. The body blow, was balanced out by the relief that I finally had been able to talk with someone. A very emotional evening, not how you would expect to start a holiday, but absolutely the right thing to do.

Australia Day is definitely the day to be in Australia. The country comes to a standstill and the celebrations are something else. We spent a lazy morning around the pool, before the guests arrived for the traditional barbie. The food and drinks are well thought out and in abundance. The radio stations are all geared up to the countdown to the number one song. Once this had been revealed and heard, thoughts then turned to the evening celebrations. 

We spent the evening at the waterfront in Perth.  There were stalls and activities everywhere, to satisfy the ever-increasing crowds. The firework display that we witnessed was absolutely amazing. It seemed to last for ever. A truly great evening.

Our plan was to spend ten days in Perth, so that Corrinne had plenty of time to spend with her brother. We would then fly over to the Gold Coast, hire an RV and go on a road trip from Cairns to Sydney. We would then fly back over to Perth for the last few days, before returning home.

Those first days in Perth seemed to fly by so quickly. We managed to see so many of the local sights. Went out on day trips. The number of breakfasts and meals out that we had was insane, definitely back to the gym on our return! It was great to have some lazy times as well, Corrinne definitely needed those, as the medication being taken contained a large proportion of sedative.

It gave me time to confirm the route that I was planning for our road trip and to work out the best stopping points en route. Our plan was to drive 2,000 miles in ten days, so we needed to be organised.

What an amazing place Perth truly is. I always knew that Australia was where I wanted to be, nowhere specific but the culture and setup was always so appealing. The hardest thing for me would be leaving to come back home. Corrinne on the other hand would struggle with adapting to a new lifestyle, so far away from home, friends and family. I don’t think a day passed by without a subtle hint from me, on how we could start somewhere new….

Seeing the love for the country that her brother has, and the enthusiasm that he had as he so proudly showed us so many of the sights. Every trip in the car took an amazing detour, just to show us something else. I know that this would of been done so many times before, for everyone visiting him. But the passion still remained.

All too soon the time came for us to leave and begin the next part of this exciting journey. But, at least we would be back……..

Our Trip to Australia …….. The Road Trip

As great as our time was in Perth, this was our opportunity to explore. I had spent so many hours convincing Corrinne that this was going to be an exciting adventure. Let’s put it straight out there…. Corrinne does not do camping! tents, caravans or anything associated with sleeping in anything less than 4 stars, just simply does not get considered. “Glamping” was definitely introduced for her…

This whole adventure was in jeopardy long before we even left the UK. Her youngest daughter had been travelling for six months around Asia and Australasia and was now with three other friends, in a camper van, travelling around Australia. Their road trip had been nothing but constant problems with the van. They were constantly on the phone back to the UK for help trying to resolve issues. To all of us waiting at home, it felt like they were in a mobile death trap (slight exaggeration, possibly!). As you can imagine this was not working in my favour, trying to convince Corrinne that this was going to be amazing. However, the promise of the luxurious of Motor Homes eventually persuaded her that all was going to be ok!

After waving a temporary good-bye to Perth we boarded a flight to Cairns. A short flight across to the other side of the country, only four and a half hours. We had travelled less for most of our holidays! Kinda puts into perspective the size of the country. Quite a standard non-eventful flight. We had only brought half our clothes with us on this trip as we were not sure on how much space we would have to store, but even so Corrinne’s case was at least twice the size of mine!

After a short taxi ride from the airport to the Motor home hire centre, we then had the tedious task of sorting all the documentation. Another fact, Corrinne is not the most patient of people in situations like this, she just wants it sorted and on her way. Two drinks, a long walk and a bit of sight seeing later, after having to “kill time” whilst the van was being prepared we eventually completed all the necessary insurance details and finalised all arrangements.

The centre had a wide range of vehicles on its premises and of course we played the game of selecting which one we hoped would be ours. As long as it was not one of those dreaded green cheapies that travelers used and were always broken down on the side of the highways.

We certainly were not disappointed! OMG! ….. this was luxury on wheels. We had hit jackpot, and oh so big and roomy. I then remembered that I had to drive this, but wow it was so much better than we had imagined. All doubts were instantly removed and nothing but excitement remained. And so our road trip began……

Our plan was to drive from Cairns to Brisbane (1,750 kms) in ten days, we would select places to stay en route. The idea was to enjoy the day at a location, then travel evening time to the next caravan park. We had been recommended that before we began our journey south it was well worth the trip to head north to Port Douglas first. This is exactly what we did. A nice relaxing first evening, enjoy a walk in the town, have a nice meal and begin to explore.

Port Douglas was quaint so many lovely little places to visit. However, what struck us both the most on that first night was the sound of the bats flying overhead, what a racket. Whilst we were out exploring we booked an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef for the next day. Again, swimming in the sea with fish etc…. definitely NOT one on Corrinne’s bucket list!

Of course it was a lovely hot day, as we sailed out to the reef. The only downside was that we had now entered “Jelly Fish Season” so In preparation for our dive we had to put on full stinger suits to protect us. It was amazing as we swam out and dived around, and what we saw was so inspiring. We also decided to take a mini excursion on a glass shelled mini-sub to go deeper and see even more amazing sights. The day was finished with a huge seafood banquet, before heading back to port.

After such an amazing day, our road trip had to begin, so we packed up and headed to our next destination. Mission Beach. We comfortably arrived at the sight, in plenty of time to set up and wander out for an evening stroll before retiring for the evening.

This was where I began to notice that Corrinne was becoming more confused than normal. She seemed totally disorientated and well and truly out of her comfort zone. She was needing more and more assistance with more basic functions. She wasn’t retaining any details and repeatedly asking the same questions. Naturally, the medication, the travelling, a strange environment and general tiredness were what I thought were causing this. It was no bother to me, to help her so that she could enjoy the experience.

Mission Beach was number one on my bucket list. A skydive over the Great Barrier Reef. If you are going to throw yourself out of an aeroplane it has to be with a spectacular view. This certainly ticked all the boxes. This had been something I promised my Nan that I would do with her (when she was in her 90’s!), sadly she never got to do it, this was my opportunity to do it in her memory. Corrinne was going to wait on the beach and watch.

I have total admiration and have been in awe of Corrinne for all the things that she has done. Never one to stand on the side. As this trip was showing, things might not be her preference, but that would not stop her from doing them. After a lengthy wait due to weather conditions I finally got called to go. I couldn’t believe it when at the last minute she decided to come with me as there was a space available. Wow what an experience, we both had. A story that always brings a smile to her face when I remind her that she jumped out of a plane!

The next phase of our journey was quite lengthy with some stops on the way. Eventually we arrived at Airlie Beach. We needed to relax, so stayed an extra day here to allow ourselves time to unwind. Here, we took an excursion to the Whitsunday Islands. Such a beautiful pretty place, with beaches of the most magnificent sand. A lovely day exploring, swimming and enjoying the sights. The sand is so pure that if you rub your jewellery in it, the items are revitalised and cleaned. This sand is protected from tourists taking it. You are checked before boarding a boat and hosed down to remove any sand on you.

The next part of our journey, we were now heading towards Brisbane. This was a little more routine and we were just going to stop as and when, or if we saw something that we wanted to visit. One such place was Bundaberg. It was a quiet Sunday with very little activity anywhere. We saw the rum distillery and they were doing tours, this was a good idea to break up the journey, and hey we might even get some cheeky tasters too.

Having previously been to Dublin and seen the Guinness factory, this was equally as fascinating. Of course the highlight was the tasting at the end. The tour guide took great pleasure in ridiculing all poms saying how we kill the taste of rum and whiskey by adding coke to it. His advice was lemonade or for spiced spirits, ginger beer. I have to say having tasted the drinks, it has changed how I drink them from now on. A few bottles of Spirits to take back home, were soon added to our luggage.

During this last phase of our journey we had been in contact with Corrinne’s daughter and her friends. On our current schedule, we were due to catch up with them around Brisbane. So we arranged to meet them at the Steve Irwin zoo just outside of the city and spend the day with them there. There faces were a picture when we parked our luxurious motor home next to their little camper. We were shocked to, how four people could be crammed into such a small space was way beyond us.

An amazing day at the zoo, doing all the tourist things. Feeding the kangaroos, holding the koalas along with watching the crocodiles. We decided that the girls needed a little treat so we booked them with us at a site for the night and took them into town for a meal and drinks. Then back to our van where all six of us could comfortably sit and relax. The next day we all decided to go into Brisbane, do a river cruise, visit a museum and enjoy the city together. In the evening the girls insisted on cooking us a “travellers dinner” as a thank you before we both set off on our different routes.

For us it was the end of the road trip. It hadn’t been without its challenges. Corrinne was totally disorientated within the van, was unable to remember where anything was and needed constant guidance and help, but we managed, made the best of it all and enjoyed a memorable experience. We were giving our motor home back. Our next part of our sightseeing trip was a flight to Sydney and three nights in a City hotel.

Sydney was everything you imagine it would be. We had a great few days there, visiting the sites, The Sydney Opera House was magnificent. Bondi Beach is definitely for the tourists, there are much nicer beaches along the coast and a lot quieter too. Sitting in the harbour restaurants in the evenings enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city life. On a Saturday there is always a spectacular firework display to enjoy as well..

Another activity that we managed to do, was to walk over the top of Sydney Harbour bridge. We were the last tour of the day, and were right at the highest point in the centre of the bridge at midnight. Wow, what an amazing view of the city.

Tired and with some fantastic memories, undoubtedly the journey of a lifetime. Quite literally nearly 2,000 miles down the A1 (The Bruce Highway) and for the majority of the time no other vehicles. The only real danger was making sure you didn’t hit any Roos…… We headed back to Perth for the last ten days. Family time for Corrinne, something that she has always held so dear to her heart.

Our Trip to Australia …….. The last leg

And so after an amazing trip, exploring the Gold Coast we were heading back to Perth. I have to admit that it was really nice to enjoy that little extra bit of luxury staying in the hotel, whilst in Sydney. It gave us time to enjoy the city to its fullest as well as freshen up and relax before returning back to Corrinne’s brother.

The flights and transfer were routine and non eventful. Although, I do look back now and realise just how little Corrinne did, she just went along with everything. I guess my old fashioned, chivalrous nature, where I would organise everything, pack everything, carry all the bags and lead the way, masked a lot of the developing condition. At the time I was just “stepping up” to relieve the stress and anxieties of it all, now I question if this was just another of the early phases that this remarkably strong, determined lady was trying to keep from us all, me included.

After being collected from the airport, the next few days were really quite lazy. This was the middle of the summer, the temperature was in the 40’s so laying by the pool during the daytime was always number one choice. This was Corrinne’s type of holiday! Evening time we would find a different style of cuisine and enjoy different areas of the city, to continue our exploring.

We did reassure Corrinne’s brother that we were ok in the day times, and that he should continue to work. Mind you, i use the term work, very loosely! He was always home around lunchtime! The more I saw of the Australian way, the more I knew it was for me. I honestly could of “sold up” and gone, but Corrinne would of struggled to do it. So I guess it was just never meant to be.

We did manage a few more local excursions around the Perth area in our last few days. One of the most memorable was our trip to Rottness Island, which means Rat’s nest! which is an extremely harsh description, as it really doesn’t do justice to the beautiful island.

We took a ferry across and decided that the best way to see the island would be to hire bicycles and explore. This in itself presented us with a challenge. Although Corrinne’s favourite gym class was spinning (controlled routines to music on specially designed exercise bikes), riding on two wheels was not something she was used to. She always told everyone that she and her sister had never owned a bicycle, even as a child. Within a short distance after setting off, on the first occasion that we had to stop, Corrinne ended up on the floor. Thankfully this was the only time this happened and with her determined spirit she got up and set off.

The island was amazing. We found some beautiful sandy coves that we could stop at and enjoy a swim to cool down. The day was amazing and seemed to pass so quickly. We even managed to see the real inhabitants of the island, the Quokkas. These little creatures appear so cute, yet the residents see them as pests. They can only be described as a cross between a miniature kangaroo and a rat. They are about the size of domestic cat. A member of the marsupial family that is mainly on the ground, but are able to climb trees as well.

Whilst sitting have a snack and drink in a cafe they were all around us. They certainly have adapted to the tourists, even to the point of looking in bags and trying to take food. All the shops have little barriers to stop them entering, which was quite amusing.

There was so much more that I could write about our trip to Australia, but that I guess will just stay with us as our memories of our amazing time.

It was really hard to say goodbye, especially for Corrinne. She missed her brother, and although pleased that he had found the lifestyle that he craved, really wished it was closer to her. This trip showed us that we could do anything we wanted, together. More importantly, that we shouldn’t put things off, we should do them whilst we could. Even whilst writing this the tears are uncontrollably, rolling down my cheeks knowing that this opportunity was never going to happen again for Corrinne. This breaks my heart.

The flights were long and really tiring. I guess its just the thought of getting back to normal. No real dramas on our way home. For me I knew that there were questions to be answered, appointments to be made and the rest of the family to face. I really don’t know what Corrinne was thinking, or even how much she was trying to block out. Although it was something we both knew was there it wasn’t something we wanted to talk about. That could wait for another day.

My reason for sharing such a detailed memory of our trip to Australia is to show how even though the condition was there and developing, we were able to enjoy such a full and exciting time together. Yes, we did have to adapt how we did things, and we did that so naturally and without thought.

We thought at the time that we were dealing with Anxiety and Depression and that the medication was causing the side effects of drowsiness. When she improved, the medication would be reduced and we would return to normal. But, certainly as we spent the time so closely together there were signs that were becoming extremely worrying.

This was the start of my learning. Never just accept the first thing you are told. Pay particular attention to small details and no matter how insignificant you think something might be, it needs to be told for a proper diagnosis to be made.

More importantly. Treasure every moment and build memories together. Don’t put off the things that you want to do because you might not get another chance. When others look at you and think the things that you are doing are strange…just smile! There is no limit to what you can do, we are the only ones who put the restrictions on ourselves.

Later in the year, at the end of the summer I did manage to take Corrinne away to Lanzarote for some late summer sunshine and to try and cheer her up. I was so grateful that my sister, Carol came with us to help us, as this would be extremely challenging. It was a lovely, relaxing break with a change of scenery.

Sadly, I still look back to our trip to Australia as it was our last holiday together. We were not to know that at the time. I am so glad that the memories that we made together on that trip, will stay with me forever.