Friday, July 4, 2008

This is working?

Middle of winter in Sydney and end of the working year. It’s time for a divisional planning day and team building after a couple of years of work on some big projects. Time to reward and refocus. A couple of colleagues have done a brilliant job sussing out the options and democratic vote has us heading off to Q-station on north head at Manly. Q Station is the old Quarantine station. A beautiful historic setting with a collection of heritage buildings.
We meet at circular quay on the western side near the Museum of Contemporary Art and the water taxi jetty. The weather is looking cold and it’s raining. We are all loaded up with luggage as though we’re going away for the weekend which causes much laughter and comment. Unavoidable as we voted to go kayaking in Manly for our team activity so will need towels and change of clothes. Mostly we are coming to the conclusion that we must be mad and will likely catch our deaths of cold. None have piked it though.
We pile into a large water taxi and head off to the Q station. This is the way to travel! The conversation is excited and there’s lots of laughter. Our driver cuts across in front of the Narrabeen (Manly Ferry) and is rewarded by a couple of loud blasts on the ferry horn. A colleague takes a few snaps of the ferry from out in front. Great perspective. If you have a group water taxi across to Q station is brilliant. We all loved every minute..We pull up at the Q station jetty and as we approach several great cormorant and little black cormorant are disturbed and fly off into the harbour.
We are met by the Q station shuttle bus and all pile in for a ride up to the conference room where tea and coffee is waiting. I’ve been to the quarantine station before for planning and team building days, but it’s a while and before the lease to a private operator. The new operators are doing a fabulous job with the place and it's apparent immediately upon landing. There's a waterfront restaurant and theatre down here near the beach. All over the site the buildings are being restored and refurbished, the turf and landscaping restored. We settle in and do a bit of a checking out of the refurbished accommodation. 4 star. It looks lovely. From the top of the hill here is a wonderful perspective on the harbour.
We knuckle down to work. Morning tea is provided and we are all blown away with the quality. Everything is made on the premises, they even bring in their own pastry chefs. The pain au chocolate is crisp and still warm from the oven. Outstanding! Skewers of seasonal fruit with yoghurt for dressing – delicious, and vegetable samosas with mango chutney. Nothing is left over and we all decide it’s just as well we’re getting some exercise this afternoon!
We continue our discussion of divisional priorities and projects for the next year and finish up right on time for lunch. This requires a walk down to the dining room where a beautiful buffet of delicious salads and various panini, mini bagels, and bruschetta is laid out. Everything is delicious and just the right amount of food. Delectable mini bread and butter puddings with a velvety custard cream to dress it and lovely fresh squares of gateaux. We linger after lunch chatting with our host about the development plans for the site. The food and beverage manager comes out to take our compliments on the quality of the catering. The plans for the site all sound great and so wonderful to have a competent operator making the most of this fabulous community asset, increasing access but protecting the heritage and natural environment of the site – including the endangered bandicoots. I am very relieved - years ago when the site first stopped operating there was talk of selling the site off for development. That would have been a crime against the community, so you can imagine the outcry at the time.
Lunch over, with much trepidation we change into our clothes that we can get wet and head for the meeting place for the bus down to the beach. They are in the process of putting a stairway down to the beach but for now there's only the roadway as far as we know. We are all anxiously observing the weather which is still threatening rain. I’m dreading taking my shoes off…there is much excited laughter and discussion along the lines of OMG what were we thinking?! We meet the fellow from Manly Kayaks at the jetty and are directed to the gate in the fence that has been erected to protect the penguin habitat. There’s an array of get ups, everything from leggings, jeans, shorts. Some have waterproof shoes most are bare foot. The men in the party are congratulated on their fortitude heading out in bare legs! I’ve got my waterproof jacket over a thick tracky top and an old pair of comfy stretch jeans. We listen intently to our paddling instructions, though everyone is pretty excited and there is also much laughter. We don our lifejackets (surprisingly comfortable) and launch our kayaks. Your bum definitely gets wet! However it’s not cold. We still can’t believe we’re doing this in the rain in the middle of winter. Most are in double kayaks, but I’ve volunteered to go in the single kayak, as I’ve paddled before – and I find it easier on my own anyway. We were supposed to practice skills for a bit, but everyone is feeling pretty comfortable so we paddle off around to Store Beach. In one of our kayaks the team just isn’t working so our guide in the rescue boat suggests they head in to the beach and swap places. This does the trick and they are right from then on. We are given a run down on Store Beach, part of the national park and only accessible by water. Along the shore of the small headlands the rocks are crusted with oysters and the kelp beds are clearly visible through the crystal waters. There’s a bit of rubbish floating in the water. No doubt washed into the harbour by the rain. As I head in towards the beach a tern flies overhead which makes me smile.
Back in from the beach a small waterfall is running onto the sand. This beach has a penguin colony, and so our guide emphasises that if you come to this beach on the weekend you must absolutely not bring pets or the smell they leave on the beach will stop the penguins breeding. We don’t see any penguins at this time of day of course. I’m sure most of us forget to even look for them in the water along the way as we’re having so much fun paddling and trying to perfect our technique.
This water level perspective on the national park and the harbour generally is brilliant. And in this weather we’ve got the place to ourselves. It is AWESOME. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before. I’m in heaven. Along the way from time to time showers of rain pass over, but we hardly notice and it certainly doesn’t bother any of us.
Next we paddle around to Collins beach. I stop to watch a large sea bird fly over, by the shape I’d guess an Australasian Gannet. Congregating in the bay near the beach we have a chat about a proposal by the NSW Police Force to upgrade their training facilities that we can see up on the hill. It’s a controversial proposal. One thing about residents of Manly and the northern beaches, any proposal like that, which could negatively impact the local bushland or parks areas will be met by vigorous scrutiny and very active community comment and lobbying. You won’t find apathy on such matters in this part of Sydney that’s for absolute certain. The local rag, The Manly Daily is read by just about every local and it’s also very active in leading community dissent on such things.
Now confident in our technique we head across towards Manly cove and into the bigger swell. Up to now we’ve been in the calmer more protected areas. It’s a little harder going, but it is a very calm day on the water and it’s great fun. There’s some people fishing from the water’s edge, but mostly it is pretty quiet with few people around. We gather for group photos and proceed down to gather again outside the skiff club where a fur seal has taken up residence for the last few weeks. It looks like a brown blob. One colleague had mistaken it for a bag of rubbish. We laugh, it’s good to see but a bit underwhelming at the same time. We alight at the beach in Manly cove collect our valuables which have been kept safe and dry in the rescue boat. One group manages to catch the only wave around and arrives in great style sort of side on, with much laughter. Lots of excited chatter and mutual teasing and we head off to the skiff club where arrangements have been made for us to have a shower and change. The paddle has only taken us about an hour. If the weather had been better we probably would have stopped on the beach for a bit of a game or something and that would have taken longer naturally. When we're clean and dry we spend a couple of hours having a chat and a drink in the waterfront bar which is warm and cosy with a great casual ambience looking out over the boats to Manly wharf.
As the sun sets we make our way around to the wharf and loiter in the outside bar of the Wharf Hotel. It's quite a mild night and we are all quite comfortable outside. The taxi is a smaller boat this time giving a more bouncy ride over the swell and we have a fun ride with cheers and laughter as we ride the waves. The lights of Sydney are always beautiful, though for some reason none of us understand, the opera house and bridge are not lit up tonight. Safely deposited back at the taxi wharf, it’s a short walk to the old sailor’s mission and dinner at Sailors Thai. As we disembark we all agree that next year we should go to Q station again, but stay the Thursday night and take the ghost tour.
At Sailors Thai the ambience is very nice with the bare convict hewn sandstone a dominating feature. Service was very good and nicely casual. Thai is not really my scene as a whole and the preordering process we undertook internally was a bit odd resulting in a strange way to have a thai meal ( which is no fault at all of the restaurant of course) but the deserts are unusual and delicious. It’s not your average thai – very upmarket. Everyone enjoyed their meal. You’re looking at $40 a main, close to $30 for starters and about $14- 14 for dessert.
It’s been a long but fabulous day. Once a sceptic on corporate team building activities from the first time I actually went on one I've been a total convert. It has such a clear payoff in productivity, motivation and team functionality... and boy we really needed this one!
Q Station is definitely on my agenda for a weekend break sometime soon. I would highly recommend the kayaking and if I were doing it again I’d probably choose to do it in winter. The only thing that would really put me off is if the water is too rough. I wasn’t cold for a single moment the whole time. The coldest part was getting around wet to the skiff club, but even that wasn't bad. It was absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended.

Q Station
Manly Kayaks
Water taxi
Manly wharf hotel
Manly Skiff Club

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