After more than two years – a trip away

The foreshore in Ulladulla

Our trip to Australia has been, done and gone. In pre-Covid times, a trip across the ditch was not a major one. For us it is just two flights with a total of about 4 hours in the air. Four hours can get you a long way in Europe but for New Zealanders, it gets us to our closest neighbour. We fly longer and further than anybody else to get to most places so it is not long haul until it is a 12 hour flight and that only gets us into Asia or Los Angeles.

But times have changed with Covid and this trip to Australia to reunite with our children felt like a major event. It was between two and three years since we had seen them in person and that was our focus. We met up in Ulladulla first, a beach town three hours’ drive south of Sydney. What a pretty coastline that is, full of attractive bays, golden sand and an unthreatening ocean – though it was too autumnal for any of us but the five year old grandson to go swimming.

Look at that range of fish species! The quality of fresh fish on the eastern coast of Australia is exceptionally good, even down to beachside fish and chips.

Where we live in Taranaki, our beaches and coastline are grand and wild west coastline with unpredictable seas, big surf and vast expanses of dramatic black sand. That Australian coastline seemed benign and user-friendly in comparison. Ulladulla had a vibe that was vaguely reminiscent of Cornwall fishing villages to us.

We stopped on a walk to see what this man was doing beside a fish-cleaning station on the breakwater
He was attracting the ginormous stingrays in closer. It looks like a shadow in the water, a rocky area maybe, but I can assure you it was one of three excessively large stingrays attracted in close to shore by an easy feed.

The sight of the most enormous stingrays we have ever seen was a reminder that it is not as benign as it appears. I was not at all sure I would want to swim amongst monsters like that. The Australian Museum site tells me that ‘The Smooth Stingray is the largest of all Australian stingrays (Family Dasyatidae). It grows to 4.3 m in length, 2 m disc width and a weight of 350 kg.’ I have no idea if we were looking at smooth stingrays but it does confirm that my memory is not playing tricks on the astonishing size of the ones we saw.

Cordyline fruticosa – easy to propagate, easy to grow and right at home in areas with hot summers and mild winters

While the temperatures felt very similar to those we had been experiencing at home, the common garden plants told us that the climate is warmer than ours. We have seen Cordyline fruticosa (formerly C. terminalis) growing wild on the roadsides of Bali but unless you have a very favoured spot in NZ, preferably in the more sub-tropical north, it is a house plant here. It was in every second garden in that area of coastal New South Wales. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with its exotic tropical vibe.

Those are NZ cordylines but I have never seen them looking that good in NZ

Australia has its own native cordylines but gardeners there embrace all manner of different species and cultivars and, galling though it is to admit it, our native NZ cordylines look better as garden plants there than here. That is because our plants get attacked by a native caterpillar – Epiphryne verriculata – which gives our plants a perpetually motheaten, chewed appearance.

Tibouchina – another indicator of a warmer climate than home

The splendid tibouchinas in full bloom also featured strongly. Commonly known as lasiandra in Australia, these are tropical plants originating from Central America – mostly Mexico, Brazil and the Caribbean. Again, these are conditions that can only be replicated in the warmest areas of northern NZ so we don’t see them like this in Taranaki. Some may think they are garish but there aren’t too many plants that are a blaze of glory in mid to late autumn.

There did seem to be a choice limited to either purple or candy pink in the tibouchina range

While this pink one was highly visible from the road, I stopped to ask the garden owner if I could photograph it because I thought it may worry her to see a random stranger photographing the front of her place. I did take more arty photos of close-ups of the flowers, but I quite like it in the context of the whole front garden, which had its own flavour. The owner was so thrilled by my request, she took me round the back to show me the purple one above.

Australians love their sasanqua camellias and they were looking very pretty everywhere but I came home with not a single photo featuring them, so you will just have to take my word for it.

Another cordyline derived from NZ species but with the clean foliage they keep in Australia as compared to here. And lo, there is a sasanqua camellia – albeit a pretty ordinary variety.

After Ulladulla, we relocated a little further south to Bateman’s Bay. This was entering bushfire territory from the summer of 2019-2020, now referred to as the Black Summer. That was haunting but the story of 37 000 hand-knitted wattle flowers commemorating the event will have to wait for my next post.

13 thoughts on “After more than two years – a trip away

  1. Kim Woods Rabbidge

    Abbie you maybe interested to know there are several types of tibouchina in Australia including the Alstonville one growing prolifically in the Northern Rivers Region of NSW and another Australian native which is white. There are several hybrids which are perfect as low growing, pretty white shrubs. 💚

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I may be wrong on this, but my understanding is that all tibouchina originate from Central America and your native one is a melastoma – which is related but a different genus. I must check whether the white one we have in our garden is in fact an Australian melastoma and not, as I thought, a tibouchina.

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        What I like about gardening is that I am constantly learning. I had to look up Alstonville. Not an area we have been to yet but our trips to Australia now are largely determined by family get-togethers – our children live in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra which is jolly inconvenient of them but at least none of them are in Perth!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well they had pink and purple ones in abundance in Ulladulla but we didn’t see other variations – no bi-colours or even different shades. Whether this is related to what local garden centres sell or whether those two cultivars are very stable, I have no idea.

      1. tonytomeo

        It is more popular in Southern California, where it is unlikely to be damaged by mild frost. It is surprisingly sensitive to frost. It really does not get very cold here.

  2. Paddy Tobin

    Good to meet family again and to see some interesting garden plants. Those Tibochinas are enormous. Here in Ireland, they are small house plants or tender plants put out for summer and taken in for winter.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am sure they don’t! At least, not Europeans. I remember my first big trip to the UK as part of a multinational group and our London host was saying to the African members (I think from Nigeria?) “You have travelled a long way”, and they replied, “Yes, 7 hours flying”. What about my 26 hours, I thought, as I realised we travel further than pretty much anybody else.

  3. Lisa P

    Love those tibouchinas Abbie, I have a deep purple which is almost always in flower with deep green leaves. and a smaller white one which only flowers in Autumn. I pair my purple with a shocking yellow hibiscus for a vulgar display of colour. My neighbour also has a beautiful lighter purple tibouchina but the foliage is not as nice as my one although it does have more flower but smaller. The Auckland Botanic Gardens has a large flowered purple and white one with hibiscus sized flowers, divine. What a pity they don’t grow in Taranaki, I couldn’t be without mine and the petal carpets they create and of course the petals in the wind. Love the pink haven’t seen one in that shade before. Hope you’re not too cold being back in Taranaki now.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You are in good company. The other flowering plant we saw often was the very – very – bright yellow of Tecoma stans and that looked pretty startling near the tibouchina.

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