Nicky's Journal
"All The World's a Classroom"
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05.19.2006

Mauritius to Australia

Our sixteenth anniversary and we spent it on the plane. It was probably our best travel day yet. There were no lines at the airport to check-in, we had a short wait, the plane was on time... it was great. Then our pilot, Anton, came back and said "Hi" and gave the "OK" to come up to visit the cockpit. Darren and the girls went for about 30 minutes and Darren, of course, had a million questions. Anton's wife and daughter then came back to say "Hi". Everyone was so incredibly friendly. They really made the trip memorable.

We arrived at Perth an hour early at 10:30 pm (despite Darren spending 30 minutes in the cockpit). Thankfully, that was only 6:30 pm Mauritius time, so the girls were a handful for being in a plane for six and a half hours, but no worse because of the time. The Australian customs took a while-they're really diligent about bringing food, plants, soil etc. into Australia. The Thrifty rental car booth wasn't staffed because we arrived early, so we had to take a taxi to the domestic terminal to get the car or wait another 30 minutes. Even with our short-cut, and only a 45 minute drive to our farm-stay, we didn't arrive to our cottage until 12:30 am (still only 8:30 pm Mauritius time, but by this time, the girls are acting tired). The cottage was easy to find and the owners were really gracious because we arrived so late. They left home-made bread, butter, jam, fresh eggs, bacon and home-made wine for us. That was so nice.

05.20.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 1

Darren and I didn't get much sleep last night-we were comfy but it must have been the travel. The girls woke up at 10:00 am, so at least they got nine hours of sleep. Ray, the owner, came by around 9:30 am to welcome us and bring us some home-grown apples. These guys are so friendly. We spent the day doing our errands-mainly just grocery shopping, getting a book on Australia, and finding the local internet café. At 5:00 pm, Ray and his family (The Shentons: Manuela, his wife, and six of their nine kids) showed us around the farm to see how they milk the goat, feed the horses and collect the eggs. They're such a neat family. They grow much of what they eat, all organic. They home-school the kids, and they were all very smart, mature and very close. The kids had such a quest for knowledge that I've not seen in most other kids. I really hope we can learn some things from them. We walked around the property looking for kangaroos around 6:00 pm because they come out at dawn and dusk, but it was too dark to see anything. Apparently morning is better, but since our body clocks are four hours behind, I doubt we'll be up at 6:00 am. Hopefully the early night will help us adjust to the time-zone.

05.21.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 2

The girls woke up at 9:30 am today, so they're getting a little closer to Australian time. We did some laundry this morning and while we were waiting for it, Darren took the kids to play with the other kids, and did some research into where we'll go from here. I think we'll head east to the gold mining towns, then head north to the coast, avoiding most of the tourist areas. Joel, the oldest kid that lives here, took us on a tour of the farm by tractor this afternoon, and then when we got back, the kids milked the goat, fed the horses and collected the eggs. Both our kids and the Shenton kids were disappointed that we'll be leaving tomorrow, although we don't have a good idea of what we'll do next.

The Shentons invited us to their house for dinner. They made pizza and carrot cake from scratch, plus salad from the garden and wine from the vineyard, all organic. They even made the flour from wheat that they ground in the kitchen. What a healthy and delicious dinner. The Shentons are such an amazing family. All the kids are home-schooled in an environment which encourages them to pursue their own interests. The kids are the most mature kids with inquiring minds that I've ever met. It was such a pleasure to be with them. It really was amazing to see how harmonious everything was—you would think that eight kids (six Shenton kids plus ours) would be chaotic, but it wasn't. I'm sure our kids would learn so much from them if we were here longer. It was so interesting talking to Ray and Manuela about home-schooling—they've definitely shared their love of continual learning with their kids.

Ray and Manuela invited us to stay longer at the cottage at a reduced rate. Darren and I were thrilled with the offer because we've really enjoyed our stay here and the kids have really loved it too. We're not in a rush to tour the rest of Australia. Our trip is all about meeting nice, interesting people, and we were lucky to find an amazing family at our first stop (they were actually recommended to us-personal recommendations make such a difference).

05.22.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 3

We decided to stay a few more nights and enjoy the company as well as take some time to determine our next steps. We had a laid-back morning. Dominique asked me to read to her when she woke up. We have such a wonderful selection of children's books in the cottage, which follows the Shenton's philosophy of home-education-to make learning readily accessible for the kids. We had a wonderful time and read several books before breakfast. Darren took Dominique to the store while I stayed at home with Annette and did coloring, as well as planning for our trip once we leave here. In the afternoon, we played around the house, collected eggs, and went searching for kangaroos-we found them this time, but it was getting dark, so they were hard to see. It's such a pleasure to see how Ray and Manuela interact with their kids-they really do have a respectful relationship and you can tell they enjoy each others' company. At the same time, you can tell that they have really encouraged their kids to be independent. The kids are so fortunate to have such engaged parents. I'm really trying to learn a thing or two from them.

05.23.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 4

It rained most of the day today. It's really the first day that we've seen rain on our trip, other than a couple travel days. We stayed in and did jigsaw puzzles and read books for much of the day, which was a lot of fun. In the evening, Darren cooked Chicken and Grits for the Shenton family, engaging some of the kids for assistance. As usual, it was excellent. After dinner, Darren organized campfire songs and a dessert of S'mores to give the family a real American treat. Boy, they're really open to some strange entertainment. The Shenton's then broke out the sparklers and showed us how some indigenous plants thrive on bush fires. Dominique said that this was her best day ever. Everyone had a great time. It's going to be tough to leave here after such wonderful hospitality. We were so lucky to have found them.

05.24.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 5

It was a good lesson day with the kids today. I've seen from the Shentons that good parenting goes a long way in raising good kids. They've got great kids, just by taking the time to explain what they expect of them up-front, so they rarely need to discipline them. I tried to use some of what I've been learning on our kids. Normally, Darren and I have been able to have good kids just by making sure they've had enough sleep, but when they don't, they can be a handful. Today was one of those days -- both of our kids really needed naps today, but I couldn't get them to fall asleep. Dominique was a handful and Darren and I caught her lying to one of the kids and to each of us. Normally I would have told her that was bad and given her some mild punishment, but tonight, we sent her to bed at 6:30 pm, while the rest of the family was getting ready for dinner. Dominique really broke down and seemed remorseful (far more so than any other time that I've tried to intervene and tell her that her actions were wrong), and after a short time, she came back out as a totally new kid-really well-behaved for the rest of the night. I've just learned that the "one more chance" that I've given the kids each time they've misbehaved has just lengthened their poor behavior, and my soft explanations didn't change the behavior. I'm sure that everyone who knows me will roll their eyes when they read this—I've always acknowledged I've been too soft, especially with the kids, but I can really see the long-term implications of it now. It only takes a little extra effort to be firm (for me since I don't like being firm), but it's really necessary. I knew the trip around the world would be educational for all of us, but I would never have guessed that I would have got such a concise lesson in good parenting in one stop along the way.

05.25.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 6

We played around the yard with the kids all day. It was a really relaxing afternoon. The kids all played so well together, in groups as well as independently. I enjoyed playing with the kids and watching them play. It was a typical home-schooling day for the Shentons, where the kids independently went to read or play the piano as they felt like it. We had a very relaxed evening.

horse-visit

05.26.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 7

We had another day of the kids just playing around the house. It's been so great to have some friends for the kids to play with. It's also been great having time to do some reading and having the kids play independently. I had a really wonderful day sitting in the sun, doing some reading, watching the kids and talking to Manuela. Darren has been wonderful with the kids. He organized a scavenger hunt this afternoon and everyone had a really great time. The Shenton kids really seem to enjoy having him around. We've decided to stay for a couple more days, since we're having such a pleasant experience.

05.27.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 8

We decided to try to pull off a Southern pig-pickin' for the Shentons today. Darren did all the work, of course. He grilled a leg of pork all day long, and made home-made baked beans. We also had coleslaw and sweat tea. The Shentons made apple pie for dessert. While the food was cooking, the kids played a variety of games outside. It was a really fun day.

05.28.2006

Western Australia --> Farm Stay: Day 9

It was our last day to take malaria tablets today, thank goodness. I'm so glad we went to Kruger-it has been a real high-light of the trip so far, but I've had the malaria risk on my mind the whole time. At first I was concerned about side effects of the medicine, but it seemed that we could all take it without any problems. Then I was concerned about every single mosquito bite that we got, and Annette had tons of them. Then for the past four weeks, I've been concerned about every ailment that has come up-any possible headaches, body aches etc. that could be signs of malaria. I know I've been totally paranoid, but I would have felt so terrible if anyone had got sick. Anyway, we're out of malaria risk until South America, so now I just need to focus on the local things-I just read today about the deadly salt-water alligators in Australia!

Our last day with the Shenton family was equally as good as the others. We played games during the day and I was able to read some books from their extensive library. In the evening, we were invited to dinner for home-made pizza, which was delicious. They're such a well-informed family—I've learned so much from them. It's funny that we have such similar philosophies in so many areas, although we live on opposite sides of the worlds.

05.29.2006

Western Australia --> Kalgoorlie

It was a travel day for us today. We decided to go six hours east to Kalgoorlie, the largest gold-mining area in Australia. We said goodbye to the Shentons, and set out on our drive. It was a long drive but the kids were great. We went through a couple of cool towns with really cute main streets. We stopped at Merriden, a town of 3,500 residents, for some sandwiches for lunch and to stretch our legs in the park. Amazingly, lunch was $25, which doesn't sound like a lot for four people, but in a farming community town, that seems really expensive. I don't see how a sandwich shop like that can stay in business in a small town. Only about three other customers came in while we were there. I can't see how the revenue will cover the overheads (rent, equipment and three staff). I think Thailand does it right with the street vendors, so people can start up a business with very little overhead.

We arrived in Kalgoorlie around 5:00 pm and very easily found a two-bedroom self-catering apartment. We were able to get settled quickly, and we'll set out early tomorrow for the gold mines.

05.30.2006

Western Australia --> Kalgoorlie

We went to see the Super Pit today, a huge hole (3.2km x 1.4km x 330m deep) that has been dug to excavate gold. The scale of the hole and the excavation equipment were amazing, but I found it to be an incredible eye-sore. The amazing thing is that it's one of the key tourist attractions in town. I imagine that the fact that gold brings $5 billion in export to Australia, and that this region makes up 75% of that, makes the owners and the government proud of this, but it's really ugly. I imagine any comments by environmentalists and nature lovers fall of deaf ears.

Later, we went to the Mining Hall of Fame. We saw liquid gold being poured and becoming a solid bar. That was really amazing. We then did the obligatory tourist thing and panned for gold, finding a fleck that was smaller than a grain of sand. We then took a tour of a mine that is now closed. They used to get their miners from Cornwall, England since they were so experienced-what a small world. The conditions that the miners worked in were incredibly bad. Much of the work was done by hand to make tunnels that weren't much bigger than the miner, and the only light came from candles. When the drills were used, they were only four decibels short of making the miners deaf. Nowadays the conditions are better and much of the gold is removed in this area via the Super Pit. Apparently the pay is good, but the housing around Kalgoorlie is pretty poor, so they haven't put the money into housing. Actually, I was amazed at how expensive the housing was. Little wooden houses that must have been about 30 years old in poor condition (what we would market as a “fixer upper”) were selling as starter homes for A$250,000 (about US$200,000). They would have been less than $100,000 in North Carolina. I guess the miners were paid well but it wasn't the miners that got rich.

Annette-miner
panning for gold
Dominique-gold

We're going to stick around Kalgoorlie for one more day then start making our way towards the coast. Kalgoorlie has about 30,000 residents, where as most of the towns that we'll be going to have 1,000 or fewer residents, so it's a good town for us to complete some errands. I spent the evening looking at the maps and trying to figure out our next route. School holidays begin while we're in Cairns, so I'll need to spend some time looking into what we'll do there, since we'll probably need to make some reservations. We've not had to worry about reservations while school is in session. It's so great having a place with a living room separate from the girls' bedroom so that we can work in the evening.

05.31.2006

Western Australia --> Kalgoorlie

We decided to go to the movie theatre today. We don't normally go since it costs so much and we can see it on DVD very shortly, but Darren got us free tickets. He went to see a movie at 9:00 last night, but since he was the only one there, the manager asked him to come back tomorrow, and gave him a free ticket not only for himself but for the whole family. So we saw X-Men, which the kids enjoyed and said wasn't scary—not my choice but we didn't have a wide selection. The kids enjoyed just going to a movie theatre and having the treats. Again, the prices in town are higher than I would have expected. It would have been A$10 each to get into the movies-similar to the U.S. but it was a really small theatre, not like some of the ones in the U.S. I guess you can do that when you have a monopoly.

The girls and I played around in a local park in the afternoon, while Darren went to tour a working brothel (they really did offer guided tours). The brothel is allowed to remain in existence since it's grandfathered from laws that came into place since its inception. It was actually just one block away from our apartment, right next to Woolworths... I guess they don't have zoning laws here. Anyway, it was interesting to hear Darren's report-I expect he'll cover some of it in his summary of Western Australia. Apparently some of the women got quite rich-another way miners spent their money.

06.01.2006

Western Australia --> The Outback: Day 1

We started our drive through the outback back towards the coast today. It's going to be a long drive, so we're going to break it up into several segments. Today we drove about three hours to Leonora (a town of 500 people), stopping to see the ghost towns of Kookynie and Gwalia along the way. There's really nothing in Leonora, but it was the only real supply town before we go another four hours to the next supply town—it's really desolate around here. The scenery looks very much like what we saw in Kruger-miles and miles of red earth and green shrubs. There was very little choice of accommodation or food in Leonora. The place we stayed in offered rooms in modular trailers, which were actually very nicely decorated inside, and nicely landscaped outside.

Kookynie was pretty cool-mostly just a bunch of dilapidated buildings. We did stop at a craft store which was someone's home-one of only a handful of residents to still live there. The lady lives there with her three dogs, while her husband works in the closest town about an hour away, and comes home on weekends. They both used to work in the government and purchased the old miner's home as a change in lifestyle. What a change. She sees about three people a day. We actually purchased a really neat piece of art, made of relics that she's found around the ghost town. We then took a dirt road from Kookynie to Leonora, which reminded us of Namibia, seeing only one car in one hour. We passed over a number of dried river beds with flood warning signs, with grey skies above us. I really wouldn't want to be driving around here in anything other than a 4x4 in the rain.

Gwalia (Welsh for Wales) was really amazing. It was a mining town with a population of 3,000 in 1911. In 1963, the mine closed, and the population dropped from 1,500 to 40 in three weeks. The people just left the town with what they could carry. The mine was first managed by Herbert Hoover, who was working with a British financing company that was asked to finance the mine. What a small world. Hoover brought young men over from Italy to work in the mines because of their strong work ethic-I guess he wasn't one of the initiators of the Equal Employment Opportunity law in the U.S. The buildings were incredibly in tact, and many of them have been restored by volunteers, so they look like they would have done in the mid-sixties. You could just wander around the buildings and touch anything-all for free (or a requested donation). The residents were so resourceful-they used corrugated metal for walls and metal bed posts for fences. I'm so surprised the artifacts haven't been removed by vandals. It was so much better than I expected, and not at all touristy. It was definitely worth the stop.

ghost-town kitchen
ghost-town car

Everything in Leonora closes at 6:00, except the bars, which are the only places to get dinner, beginning at 6:00. The streets were totally deserted at 6:15. Our lodge manager recommended one of the bars over the other since it had a separate room in the back, which would be "more appropriate for us with the kids". I wasn't sure what that meant but assumed she was just being conservative. When we arrived at the pub, I noticed that they were advertising a "Skimpy" on the billboard outside, which I assumed was a drink. After discovering that the separate eating room was closed, we entered the pub to discover half the town's population, and that the "Skimpy" was actually a scantily clad waitress called Natasha. So, that was our adventure for the evening. We turned around and purchased the last loaf of bread at the petrol station, and ate sandwiches in our room for dinner.

This weekend is a long-weekend, so we decided to make reservations at the Stations that we're going to stay in over the next three days. Since the distances between towns are so far, and since the accommodation is pretty limited, we didn't want to be caught with nowhere to stay. Caravan camping is huge around here, and now I can see why, since there are plenty of places to camp.

06.02.2006

Western Australia --> The Outback: Day 2

We drove another four hours to the next biggest town, Mount Magnet, a town of about 600 residents. There was so much road kill along the way. In North Carolina it's deer. In the Outback, it's kangaroo. We saw dozens of them-about one every three kilometers. The kids were great (again) on the drive. Thank goodness for our DVD player. The kids have been picking up the accents and colloquialisms. Dominique picked up an accent in South Africa and still has it. Annette said "No worries" when I thanked her. It's hilarious.

One of the things I've really wanted to do in Western Australia is to a station stay. We stopped at a 200,000 acre station and stayed in their sheep sheerer accommodations, which were unheated modular trailers with a communal bathroom and a kitchen. The owners have lived there for over fifty years, so they were there even before Gwalia became a ghost town. I find that so amazing. The owners home-schooled their kids during their early years, but now the kids have gone to high-school boarding and university. The owners were so hospitable. They gave us afternoon tea with traditional Australian Damper (bread cooked in a cast iron pot in a hole in the ground with hot coals in the bottom, made only with self-rising flour, powdered milk and water). It was really delicious.

These guys are really remote. They generate their own electricity, pump their own water, and heat the water with fire wood. They were this remote and self-sufficient in Namibia, but that was Africa. This is Australia, so I really wasn't expecting this. It's so cool.

The farm acquired a several hundred sheep while we were there, so we were able to see the sheep being off-loaded from the cattle carriers. It was really cool to see the sheep dogs force their way to the back of the carrier to "encourage" the sheep to get off the truck by nudging and barking.

BUT then we discovered the Outback Flies. I read about the flies in some of the travel brochures but I thought that they would be further north. They weren't. The pesky little flies were everywhere, and it wasn't because of the cattle. They were everywhere. Fortunately they disappeared in the evening, so we enjoyed some home-made pizza by the fire and watched a movie under a brilliant star-filled sky in the evening. What a great night!

06.03.2006

Western Australia --> The Outback: Day 3

We made our way west and north today, our final stop before we reach the coast. I booked another station stay, but this time in a self-contained cottage. Our seven-hour journey (which the locals guessed would be three to four) was pretty uneventful, although some Emus almost became my first road-kill. There was hardly anything between the two farmstays-even the key town of 1600 residents had hardly any supplies. Fortunately, we got petrol, so at least we can make it to the coast.

This station stay is really remote too. We had to drive through a river to get here. BUT, the flies were here too; thousands of them. They're so disgusting. I feel like Karris-I'd like to experience the outdoors, but only at my standards with no inconvenience to me.

06.04.2006

Western Australia --> Wooleen Station to Carnarvon

I couldn't stand the flies, so we left.

We made the four-hour drive to Carnarvon with two close encounters with Emus, which almost became roadkill. We decided to start trying the caravan parks to save more money on accommodation, and hopefully meet some kids. The one we stayed in was a permanent parked caravan with an annex built next to it with bunk beds. It was pretty low-budget, but the kids loved it because it was cool to have a "camp-out", Darren was happy because of the broadband internet connection, and I loved it because there was a kids' playground AND there were no flies!!! It doesn't take much to keep me happy.

06.05.2006

Western Australia --> Carnarvon to Exmouth

We got up thinking that we would only drive 1.5 hours north to Coral Bay (a town of 600), the southern-most point of Ningaloo Reef, but when we checked on our accommodation; we changed our plans to a three-hour drive to Exmouth, the northern-most point of the Reef. Coral Bay takes advantage of the easier access by high prices... the cheapest place we could find was $170 per night, while we've budgeted $100 per night. Exmouth (a town of 2,600) was still higher than our budget at $117 per night, but we really wanted to swim with the whale sharks (its all about location). The place we found was even more "budget" than our last place, although 50% more expensive. We knew it would be off the tourist strip because it was 32km north of town and talked about its "natural wildlife" and offered "plenty of shade" (i.e. nothing else). What I didn't see until we arrived was that it's the accommodation of the "serious fisherman" (i.e. boat access is far more important than the creature comforts of home). It had an outside toilet (I'm not kidding), and no towels. Anyway, it adds to our travel experiences. The kids thought it was great because it had flimsy red metal bunk beds that wobbled when they climbed on them. It did have great birds, and I'm not really that impressed by birds.

06.06.2006

Western Australia --> Exmouth

Darren found out that swimming with whale sharks would cost $350, so we decided to skip that and set up a glass bottom boat ride tomorrow (today the sea was too choppy). We spent the day in town doing some really expensive touristy things -- $10 for the kids to play a pretty lame putt-putt golf course, and $6 for 10 minutes on a trampoline. That probably doesn't seem like much on vacation, but compared to our $100 per day budget on accommodation, that's a lot. After that, we spent a couple of hours at a park, and the kids did an excellent job entertaining themselves. Before the trip, Darren and I were their "entertainers", but now they've really become self-sufficient in finding creative ways to entertain themselves. I also play with them, but it's because it's fun, not because I have to. It's great.

We went to the beach in the afternoon and picked up some really interesting shells, then came back to the cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon doing craft projects. Dominique did an amazing job creating birds, butterflies, whale sharks and mermaids with the shells. Annette did an amazing job using a full bottle of glue on one sheet of paper—her shells won't fall off her sheet even in a hurricane.

craft time
Annette craft time

Our neighbors have been really nice. They currently live in Kalgoorlie, although they've traveled all over Australia, so we had a chance to talk to them about where to go. It was also really interesting talking to him about his job as a road train driver (an "eighteen-wheeler" with three carriages). They also reinforced that driving around in a two-wheel drive is a real joke once the weather gets bad in Australia-roads could be closed for a couple of weeks due to flooding. They've got a heavy-duty 4x4 that has an enclosed engine so that they can go through deep water. We've been some real city slickers that have seen some great country-side because of good weather.

06.07.2006

Western Australia --> Exmouth/ Coral Bay

We toured the Ningaloo Reef today by glass bottom boat. Darren and Dominique went for a snorkel. It was Dominique's first time using a snorkel so she didn't stay in long since she found it difficult to breathe through her mouth, but I was so proud of her for trying it-it's tough to jump of a boat. We saw some great coral, fish and a turtle. After the snorkeling, we went to some deeper water and saw a nurse shark and some cod that were at least three feet long. Even though they are not dangerous, it would have been nerve-wracking to be snorkeling when we saw it.

snorkling

After the reef tour, we drove 1.5 hours south to Coral Bay. I wasn't up for the three hour drive to Carnarvon after being out on the ocean for a couple of hours, and I also wanted to see what it was like. There are only three places of accommodation in Coral Bay (a town of 600 residents), and most of it is low-budget (i.e. poor quality but expensive). Even the supplies were over-priced-we paid $7 for a tiny box of cereal, which would normally have been about half that much. The town was as touristy as I expected, and we found ourselves back in the tourist mainstream, with tourists from England, Germany, Japan and Switzerland. It solidified my desire to travel inland when we get to the east coast to try to get back off the tourist tracks. I'm glad I saw the town to see what we were missing-not much but the sand was surprisingly white and the ocean was surprisingly clear, so a great place for beach lovers.

06.08.2006

Western Australia --> Carnarvon: Day 1

We decided to hang out at Carnarvon over the weekend so that we could go to Monkey Mia on a week day to avoid the tourist crowd. The girls and I took a walk on the Coral Bay beach in the morning and found several small sand dollars, which were really cool. We had an uneventful two-hour drive from Coral Bay, and got a cabin which was so much nicer than the ones we stayed in over the past few days-mainly because it was clean-our standards have dropped pretty low to allow for the budget. We spent the afternoon doing errands (groceries and laundry) and playing around the park.

06.09.2006

Western Australia --> Carnarvon: Day 2

We got our haircut this morning and spent the rest of the day back at the caravan park playing in their play ground and mini golf. We met a family from New Zealand (Nevil, Elaine and Alan -- who have been traveling for three years and will travel for another three years). They've traveled extensively for many years, even to Boone, North Carolina-what a small world! They have purchased a caravan in Australia and will tour around for a year, and then they'll sell the caravan when they leave. We've actually met a number of people who are traveling for extended periods in Australia in the camp grounds, both Australian and foreigners. It's amazing how much more of a travel country Australia is compared to the U.S. It's also amazing to see how much more self-sufficient they are at camping. Camping in the U.S. means finding a camp ground with flat ground, electrical hook-ups, water and bathrooms. While there are camp grounds like this, they also stop at places with none of these amenities. Even some of the campers are built especially for 4x4 Outback driving, with power supplies that can last for days, or even solar-panels to go indefinitely. It makes U.S. camping seem like city slicker camping.

06.10.2006

Western Australia --> Carnarvon: Day 3

We went to the Farmers Market which everyone told us we should go to, and it was pretty unimpressive. I appreciate the Boone one so much more now.

In the afternoon, we went to the Carnarvon horse races, a big semi-annual event in town. All the ladies got dressed up in their fancy dresses and hats. They had a fashion contest during the event with almost every lady in the crowd entering (they had to pre-register). We saw the first 40 entrants, but didn't stick around to see how many they had in total. I can't believe they had so many for such a small town. Dominique and Annette thought it was really fun.

In the evening we met with Nevil and Elaine from New Zealand to plan our route there. We're going to follow their advice and get a rental car, not a camper van, since the self-catering accommodation is readily available.

06.11.2006

Western Australia --> Monkey Mia: Day 1

This morning, Nevil came over to bring us some of his freshly ground coffee. We learned yesterday that they were in the coffee business before starting their trip, and I mentioned that I hadn't had a good cup of coffee since we left the U.S. He brought a coffee bean roaster with them on the trip and he buys green coffee beans as they go-now there are some serious coffee lovers. Nevil and Elaine will be visiting New Zealand while we're there, so we'll plan to meet them.

We made our 3.5 hour drive south to Monkey Mia today with no problem. Luckily the resort is not full because we're here in off-season and during the week, but there are a lot of kids, which has been fun for the girls. Apparently the flies were so bad here this summer, the tourists all had to wear the hats with fly nets all the time-thank goodness we missed the flies. That's not included in their tourism brochures.

06.12.2006

Western Australia --> Monkey Mia: Day 2

We went to the beach at 7:30 this morning to see four dolphins come right up to the shore. I was expecting to see more dolphins, since this place is famous for them. After about 30 minutes of watching the dolphins swim around, the guides brought some fish in buckets and let some of the crowd feed them. Both Dominique and Darren (with Annette on his shoulders) were picked to feed the dolphins, so that was really lucky.

dolphin feeding

We spent the rest of the morning at the communal hot tub playing with some other kids. In the afternoon, we took a ride on a catamaran to find dolphins and dugongs (apparently the mermaid myth comes from sailors mistaking these for mermaids, but since they look like manatees, I can't see how they possibly could have been confused). Unfortunately, the water is getting too cold for the dugongs, so we didn't see any. We did see a few dozen dolphins, but given that this is what Monkey Mia is famous for, I was expecting to see many dozen jumping and playing the wake. It was really disappointing. Anyway, I'm glad we did it. The girls had fun and they played with the other kids on deck without falling over-board.

dolphin boat

Darren took the girls back to the communal hot tub again in the afternoon to play with the other kids. It's great staying in camps with other kids. The girls have so much fun.

06.13.2006

Western Australia --> Monkey Mia: Day 3

We went to the beach at 7:30 am to see the dolphins again. After that, we went to Denham to see if we could go on a pearl farm tour, but that wasn't possible, so we went back to the caravan park and spent the rest of the day playing with the other families there.

06.14.2006

Western Australia --> Monkey Mia to Geraldon

We started our drive back towards Perth, stopping around mid-way (it's about a nine-hour drive). Along the way, we stopped at Shell Beach, which has millions of tiny white shells fifteen feet deep. The shells are used for construction and in poultry farms to make the eggs harder, yet they keep getting deposited, so it's sustainable. It's really quite incredible. We also stopped to see the stromatolites, a living fossil emits oxygen and grows about one centimeter every thirty years. I'd never heard of them, so it was pretty neat to learn about them.

Our credit card wouldn't work at the road house (gas station), so Darren called the credit card company and found out that our credit card number had been stolen and used to purchase $7,000 worth of clothes and home furnishings in Italy. Fortunately the credit card company new we were in Australia, so they stopped the charges and cancelled the card immediately. Now we need to go through all the hassles of getting a new card. I knew it would happen while on the trip, maybe even more than once, so it's more of an inconvenience than anything. We're lucky this time.

The camp ground that we found is really nice. We were going to stay here for one night then drive closer to Perth to catch our flight in two days, but we'll stay here for another night. It's a small camp ground with great views over the ocean, a nice aviary, pet kangaroos, a nice covered barbeque area, a play ground and very friendly people. The cabin is also nice and clean, with separate sleeping quarters. Plus, it's the least expensive place we've stayed in Australia so far. What a deal! Now if it just had internet access, we'd never leave.

06.15.2006

Western Australia --> Geraldon

We had a low-key day today. We went into town and wandered around for a while. After that, we went to the wind mill farm, which was pretty disappointing since there was only a sign with some key facts, and not a tour. Still, it's amazing that 54 windmills can provide enough electricity for 60,000 homes. We spent the afternoon back at the caravan park. The highlight of the afternoon was that the owners invited us to feed their pet kangaroos milk via baby bottles. They raise kangaroos that have been orphaned and often come to them via the area vets. I was even able to hold a baby kangaroo in my arms. That was really neat. The girls managed to pick up some colds from the kids at the last caravan park, so they went to bed early tonight.

dom-kangaroo
annette-kangaroo
baby kangaroo

06.16.2006

Western Australia --> Perth to Cairns

We had to say goodbye to Western Australia today. A month wasn't nearly enough. I think you really need about three months to see everything-we didn't even see the north and the south. We've leaving it with very fond memories. The people have been really wonderful-great Outback hospitality.

It was a long travel day for us today. We left the cabin in Geraldon at 10:00 am and arrived in Perth around 3:00 pm. We tried to find something interesting for the kids to do, but we didn't want to get caught up in the city traffic, so we stopped at a McDonalds playhouse (our first on the trip) near the airport for a couple of hours. After that, we got some real dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and then went to the airport around 7:00 pm for our 10:30 pm flight. I just don't understand the rationale for these late night flights. It's a tough flight for anyone, so I don't get why people sign-up for it (we did because the flights are cheaper in off hours), but the flight was almost full. It was a four hour flight and so with the two-hour time change, we arrived at 4:30 am. Fortunately the girls fell asleep right away, so they got four hours of sleep on the plane (I couldn't sleep). We got to our cabin around 6:30 am so we went to bed and slept until around 9:00 am, so at least everyone got a couple more hours of sleep. It was a tough day, but the girls were really great, as usual.

06.17.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 1

We took it easy around the caravan park today. We were all feeling pretty tired. The park and surrounding areas are beautiful—lots of mountains and tropical plants. The cabin is great. It’s got plenty of room and a nice porch which is nicely landscaped and we can hear the river—very relaxing. The pool is also beautiful, and Dominique swam twelve laps (stopping to hold on to the side every few meters, but that’s great). The kids went to bed around 8:30, which was 6:30 per their body clocks, but they fell right asleep. These over-night flights are killers. Fortunately we have only one more flying from Tahiti to Easter Island.

06.18.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 2

We all woke up around 9:00 am today (7:00 am by our body clocks). I’m so glad that the girls slept in. We all really needed the sleep.

I thought it would be fun to explore Kuranda, one of the small towns outside of Cairns, today. The drive up the curvy roads to the mountains was fun, but I was so disappointed to see how touristy it was. It was like we were in Disney World. We did walk down to see the Barron Falls, which were very pretty, and there were very few crowds. The pathway down to the falls was through the rainforest, so it was really neat to see the tall trees with the think vines and heavy under-growth.

In the afternoon, we went into Cairns to see if we could find a cheap video recorder for Darren to watch the World Cup soccer games. Since the games are in Europe, the viewing times are in the early morning. The Australia vs. Brazil game starts at 1:30 am tomorrow. We couldn’t find anything. I think they’re not made much anymore.

We also went into downtown Cairns to get some information at the tourist information center. Cairns is a really pretty city with a beautiful waterfront and lots of trees. I’m not much of a city lover, but Cairns is one of the prettiest ones I’ve seen yet—the ocean-front looks across the bay to a rainforest. It’s amazing. Darren stayed in a park with the girls where there was live music and a water park for kids, while I tried to get the tourist information. The tourist information is insane here. There are dozens of private tour-booking companies that look like the government-run information centers. It’s wild. I’ve never seen a place so tailored to tour companies. I guess we should have come here twenty years ago. Still, the city is really pretty. I’m just not finding things that we’d like to do around here. Everything is so touristy. For $300-$400, we could go to the Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran with 300 of our closest friends and dock at a permanent mooring site all day—I just can’t do that. If we can find a smaller company that’s less touristy, we may go to the reef, if not, we’ll skip it. I know you can’t come to Cairns or even Australia without seeing the reef, but I can’t see it under those conditions. I also tried to find authentic Aboriginal tours, but everything is so touristy. I can’t do that if it’s not authentic. There are a couple more things that we’ll look into around here. If we can’t find anything authentic, we’ll just hang low for a week and appreciate staying in one spot for a few days. It’s been fun going from place to place, but it’s nice to have a relaxing break with nothing on the agenda.

Darren cooked dinner on the grill at the pool this evening. Dominique loved it because she got the play with all the other kids. This is the beginning of school holidays for Queensland, so there were a lot more kids around.

06.19.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 3

We tried to find a couple more interesting things to do today. First we tried to take a power plant tour, but that was closed. We then called the Flying Postman to see if we could join him on his mail deliveries (that would have been really cool) but it was $300 per person. We then went to one of the parks and it was really beautiful. We walked on a boardwalk through the rainforest and saw the most incredible plants. The kids even enjoyed it—it seems like walking on a boardwalk is more fun than a sidewalk. We spent the afternoon back at the caravan park.

06.20.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 4

We woke up to a beautiful cloudless sky. We’ve had good weather since we’ve been here, but there have been scattered rain clouds with a few sprinkles of rain every once in a while. The sprinkles haven’t lasted long so they haven’t stopped us from doing anything. For being in a rain forest, we’ve been lucky to be here in such good weather. I’ve also been amazed at how few mosquitoes there are. This is definitely the place to live if you want to live in a tropical rainforest area.

We walked to Lake Placid, which is right next to the caravan park. It was very pretty. After that, we came back and played by the pool. Dominique has been doing an amazing job swimming, although she discovered the woes of having too much chlorine in the eyes. She has also been doing a great job with her reading. Both kids have been doing a really good job with their coloring.

06.21.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 5

It was an errand day today. We went to the mall to get some more books since both Darren and I finished our books last night—it’s been so great having a chance to read again—I used to read for five minutes each night then fall asleep, so it would take me months to finish a book. I picked up a yoga book to see if I can do some more strenuous exercise. I also got a Spanish-English dictionary to start preparing for our time in Latin America. We got Dominique some goggles for swimming, and also got the kids some more sandals to replace the flip-flops which have been rapidly falling apart.

We spent the rest of the day back at the caravan park. Dominique had fun trying the yoga moves. It’s funny that kids can have fun doing stuff like that without thinking its exercise. In the evening, Darren and Dominique went to the pool area to see the local talent show, while Annette and I hung out at the cabin.

06.22.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 6

Darren mailed the art that we got in the ghost town back to the U.S. along with some movie film. The art would have held us up at each airport because of all the metal pieces. I hung out at the caravan park with the girls. Dominique had a good time doing some “yogo” at the pool (totally unprompted). I started reading through the Spanish dictionary to try to refresh my Spanish before we get to Chile. I’m surprised at how much I remember. Now if I can just get everyone to write to me instead of talk, we should have no problems.

06.23.2006

Queensland — Cairns—Day 7

We had another low-key day catching up on laundry and doing arts and crafts projects around the caravan park. We’ve discovered that Annette only uses about ¼ of a bottle of glue when it comes with an application brush, versus a full bottle when she squeezes it; not as messy but she had as much fun.

06.24.2006

Queensland — Daintree Village — Day 1

We drove a couple of hours north to Daintree today. The drive along the coast from Cairns to Daintree was really amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. The rain-forest mountains went right to the sea, with no development interrupting the views. I’m sure it was very much as Captain Cook found it when he first arrived hundreds of years ago. It was truly amazing. Anywhere else in the world would have had huge mansions dotting the view. Daintree was also very pretty. We’re staying at a cabin on a cattle farm overlooking the Daintree River. It’s so pretty seeing the cows grazing on the green fields with the river and the rain-forest mountains in the background. There’s nothing much in town, so there’s not much to do around here (it’s a town of 150 people), but thank goodness there’s a pool. The girls are so easy to please—when we arrived they ran around the place to explore and said “Ooh, how pretty”. I asked them what they’d found and they were pointing to the toilet paper with the flower decorations. Apparently we’ve always bought plain white. Funny. We’ll just stay for three nights then start heading south.

I checked into taking a tour of the sugar cane plant. Unfortunately kids under six aren’t allowed. I find it funny that we can take our four year-old on safari to see dangerous animals, but we can’t take her to see how sugar cane is processed. It’s true that Annette is much more challenging on tours than Dominique, but the parents should be responsible for keeping their kids safe.

06.25.2006

Queensland — Daintree Village — Day 2

Wow. This was a tough day. The kids woke up at 6:30 am, they had no nap, and there was nothing to do. I really learned my lesson about staying in such a small town. By 3:00 I was bouncing off the walls with the girls, so Darren decided to take them out. I changed the plans so that we’d only stay for two nights. The girls were disappointed. They pointed out that we had cows to watch, a swimming pool and ice cream—what more could I want? I think we’re so much harder to please as adults (or maybe I was always this difficult). Fortunately, the day ended well. We put the kids to bed at 7:00 and they fell fast asleep.

06.26.2006

Queensland — Daintree to The Tablelands

We decided to start heading south and making our way inland towards Atherton. On our way, we stopped at Mossland to go on an Aboriginal walk. I’ve really been feeling like I’ve wanted to learn more about the Aboriginals, but their communities are closed to tourists, so it’s hard to learn more. The walk we went on was incredible. It was really informative and not at all touristy. Basically, we learned that the plants in the rainforest can be medicinal, but there are many dangerous plants that can cause damage ranging from a rash, blindness, paralysis and death. Of course, I was a nervous wreck because Annette was swinging from the vines as the guide was telling us this. He also advised us to check our feet for leaches after the walk and if we found any, to let them suck our blood until they were full so that we didn’t pull them off and leave their head in our body. It was at that point that I realized I’m such a city slicker. Fortunately, it seems we made it through the rainforest with all four of us in tact, so we live to tell the tale. I’m so happy we went on this walk. I could tell that Darren really wasn’t very interested in going, but afterwards he said it was really good. Up until now, we’ve not seen the Aboriginal community in a favorable light (mostly wandering around town around the unemployment agencies and the liquor establishments). It was incredibly wonderful to meet someone from the Aboriginal community who had his knowledge passed down from his grandparents, and who was so proud of their culture and heritage. That’s what I was hoping to find and I’m so happy we found it.

AB-tour

We stopped at Mareeba, which was the first big inland town (17,000 residents). We figured that we’d have issues getting accommodation over the next two weeks since it’s school holidays, and we were right. Everything was sold out. We finally found a place in a rain forest about 45 minutes south of Mareeba which was available for the next couple of days. It turned out to be such a great find, although very musty. The place is owned by animal/ bird lovers, and there are an amazing number of birds and wild animals around. We saw a wallabie (a red-legged pademelon) come right up to our cabin, many birds feed from the fruit that the owner hung from the deck, and a bush turkey try to come right into the cabin. At night, dozens of wallabies came up to the cabins to eat fruit and the owner also put honey on a couple of trees to see sugar gliders and other nocturnal animals come to feed. This is so much better than Daintree. At Daintree we could have spent $60 to go on a boat ride up the river with 30 of our closest friends to see the crocodiles, and here we’re just sitting outside and seeing incredible wildlife. It’s hard to find these types of places, but when we do, it’s so amazing.

06.27.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 1

We were planning to stay here for just a couple of nights, but it’s comfortable and really unique with the night time animal viewing, so we decided to use this as a base for a week. It rained almost all day today, so we focused on in-door activities. We went to a boutique cheese factory which produces dairy through bio-diversity farming. There were only a few posters on the wall, so it wasn’t as informative as I’d hoped, and the food was expensive ($2 for a small carton of yogurt), but it was dry. We spent the rest of the day back at the rainforest lodge, and saw the wallabies and other animals in the evening.

rainforest

06.28.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 2

It rained again all day today. Apparently the rain is so localized that we’re likely to get rain all week, but 30 minutes north, west, south or east would be dry. Well, we’ve been lucky to have dry weather for the past four months, so a week of rain during our rain forest stay sounds fair. We decided to take a tour of the Malanda Dairy Farm. It was really interesting. They produce most of the milk for all of Queensland, and even make their own plastic milk bottles on site. After that, we had some pizza for lunch and we grimaced about spending $30 for lunch when we normally eat PB&J or cold-cut sandwiches for a fraction of the price.

Dominique got her first loose tooth this evening. I think she asked us to feel it over a dozen times. We were going to skip the wallaby feeding this evening since it was raining, but the girls were really looking forward to is, so we went. It’s great that they’re really enjoying themselves here. They also really enjoy looking at all the birds.

06.29.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 3

We took it easy spending the morning at the lodge. Dominique read the whole Danny and the Dinosaur book—64 pages. She’s doing great once she’s focused. In the afternoon we went into Atherton to get some groceries and we stopped at a strawberry farm for some fresh strawberries and ice cream. The girls wanted to get chocolate but I convinced them to get strawberry (and cherry—Annette liked the darker pink color). You have to have strawberry ice cream at a strawberry farm. We also stopped to see a 500 year-old curtain fig tree, which dropped the strangler vines 15 meters to the ground. That was very impressive. We went back to see the wallabies and sugar gliders again this evening. The girls really look forward to this—probably because it’s another thing to do before they go to bed.

fig tree

06.30.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 4

Finally no rain, so we went to Mareeba to see some of the sites around that town. We just missed the 11:00 am coffee plantation tour, and I didn’t want to wait an hour for the next tour, so we decided to hang out at the local play ground. After lunch, we went to Mount Hypipamee to see the crater (actually a volcanic pipe formed by gas exploding from the ground as the volcano erupted, not the typical crater created by lava). The crater was really impressive in that it really showed how amazing the magnitude of the volcanic eruptions were since the gas pipe was 70 meters across and it was a 60 meter drop down to the water that’s now in it, with no measurement of how deep the water goes (they stopped measuring around 100 meters). Fortunately the railing around the viewing area was Annette-proof, so I didn’t have to worry about her dropping down into the Abyss.

07.01.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 5

We had another dry day so we were able to take a short hike around Lake Eacham, which is right near our lodge. The lake is a volcanic crater formed by super heating of groundwater. It’s truly amazing to see how much volcanic activity took place around here (apparently from three million to less than 20,000 years ago). The lake was really clear and the path around the lake was incredible, with huge rainforest trees and vines around the lake. Dominique did a great job on the hike, acting like the guide and pointing out names of trees (“this is called the spiky tree, and this is called the limbo tree”). Annette was great exercise for me—she rode on my shoulders for most of the walk. It was great to get the exercise, have some education and some fun all at the same time.

It was also amazing to learn more about the rain forest. I was wondering why there were pockets of rain forest in between miles of farm land. The farm land was actually rain forest until the European settlers came and cleared the land for timber and farming, mostly all in the last 150 years. Hundreds and hundreds miles of rain forest have been cleared. I can’t imagine the environment impact of that. It was also shocking to see that the Aboriginals could live from the rain forest land for 40,000 years, and then it was removed in such a short period. Now the land is protected by the government as National Parks—I usually don’t see a lot of value from governments, but this is one where they’ve added some value.

07.02.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands—Day 6

We went to Paronella Park today. The Park was built by a Spanish man (Jose Paronella) who came to Australia in the early 1900’s to work in the cane fields. His vision was to build a castle (actually they were small buildings with turrets) in the rain forest next to a waterfall. He really created a remarkable place making much of the building from the clay and sand on the property. He also installed a hydro-electric powered generator and had electricity and running water decades before anyone else in the region. He died in 1940s (at 60) and the buildings have fallen into disrepair, so the tour around the park was to see the vision of the ruins and the gardens in the rain forest. Unfortunately, the gardens and buildings have faced three cyclones (ironically every 40 years—1926, 1966 and 2006) which brought severe flooding and damage. The damage in 1966 was devastating since timber left by loggers in the river up-stream blocked the river to such an extent that the waterfall stopped for one hour until a 50 foot wall of water broke through and demolished everything in its path. Again, it’s amazing to see the impact of the European settlers on the area. Before the settlers, the floods had been much lower. It was also amazing to see how much the rain forest has reclaimed of the land. Plants are now growing out of the concrete and the strangler vines have wrapped around the buildings. I guess Jose had never been to see the Mayan ruins, some of which were totally reclaimed by the rain forests after a few hundred years. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Aboriginal performance since they’ve stopped performing since the cyclone hit in March, so I’m still trying to find a way for us to see an Aboriginal performance.

Paronella Park

We only had about three hours of driving today, but my back was killing me when we got back (it probably also had something to do with carrying Annette so much). I did some yoga and I instantly felt so much better. I’m really enjoying doing yoga. I had no idea how much flexibility I’d lost over the years. I’ve got a long way to go yet, but it’s great to regain some mobility.

We watched the replay of the Brazil-France World Cup match this evening. The live games are at 1:00 am and 4:00 am, so we generally catch the game of the day at 5:00 pm. It’s been great fun watching some of the games. I’m going to miss watching them when the World Cup is over.

07.03.2006

Queensland — The Tablelands to Undara Lava Tubes

We had a short two-hour drive to Mount Surprise, the closest town to the Undara Lava Tubes, today. As usual, the girls were great on the drive—give them a movie player and they’ll sit still for hours—we know it works for at least 15 hours because of the flight from LA to Hong Kong. The drive was tough—only one paved lane but lots of traffic, so both sides had to go off onto the dirt shoulders to make it a two-lane road. That was fine in Western Australia when we saw one car per hour, but there was a lot more traffic on this drive. Besides the Lava Tubes, there really is nothing at all to do around here, at least if you have young kids—you could go hiking or just hang out. The town beats our previous small town record of 150 residents (Daintree) with only 75 residents. After going out of my mind with Daintree, I really never expected us to be in a small town for a very long time. However, I really wanted to see the lava tubes. It’s funny, Darren has no interest in geology, but since he also has no interest in planning the trips, we get to go where I want to go. I bet he’s going to take an interest in planning trips the next time we travel.

07.04.2006

Queensland — Undara Lava Tubes

We were able to sign up for a two hour tour to the Lava Tubes. The tubes were caused by a volcano slowly emitting lava over time, with the lava running through low-lying areas for up to 160km. It was dark in the tubes, so the guide used a powerful flashlight to show the features. At one point, Annette made shadow puppets in the light while the guide was trying to point out the hardened floor—it was hilarious, at least for us—she wasn’t trying to be funny, she was just being a kid. I did learn that the trees in the area were considered a dry rainforest—who’s ever heard of a dry rain forest before? Anyway, it was pretty interesting but two hours was enough. Thank goodness we didn’t sign up for the four-hour or full-day tours. We did see a number of kangaroos along the road as we drove back, which was cool. Most of the ones we’ve seen so far have been road-kill. When we got back, Annette and I stayed at the cabin while Dominique and Darren went to the camp fire. Dominique was so excited to be going out with just her Dad, and also (most likely) because they had marshmallows at the fire.

07.05.2006

Queensland — Undara Lava Tubes to Charters Towers

We drove 4.5 hours south today and stopped at a town of about 10,000 residents for a couple of nights. The town was a gold mining town with 25,000 residents during its prime, and it had the first stock exchange. We probably wouldn’t have stopped if we’d been in a rush, but since we’ve got time, it’s nice to make a leisurely trip down south. Darren decided to take the girls to a drive-in theatre this evening. I was planning to stay in and watch the World Cup, but since it was the replay, they only showed the end of the game so I actually get an evening in all by myself to read. That wasn’t the initial plan, but it worked out great for me.

07.06.2006

Queensland — Charters Towers

Today we toured the Charters Towers battery, which was the place where gold excavations were brought to crush the boulders and separate the gold ore from the rocks from 1870s to 1970s. It was incredibly interesting to see how advanced the technology was in the 1870s. It was really interesting to hear the personal story of the tour guide—his great grandfather came to Australia in 1875 from Camborne, England, to work in the gold mines, but he died during the journey and so his grandfather was really the first generation to arrive at five years old. It was really amazing to hear a first-hand account of the hardships and ultimate success of the family. It was also amazing to see the liberal use of mercury and cyanide during the battery process— the men worked directly in it, and all the waste went into the rivers. I’m sure they must have a high incidence of cancers and other illnesses down river, but the tour guide jokingly said the subject was taboo and changed the topic. It sounds like there probably are cases, but fortunately class action lawsuits are not big in Australia yet.

07.07.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 1

We made the short 1.5 hour drive to Townsville this morning. Since we arrived so early, we decided to go to the Billabong Sanctuary, a place where you can see and interact with native animals.

Billabong Sanctuary-1

It was really well done. Since we’ve now seen most of the animals in the wild and understand how hard it is to spot them and get very close, it was really neat to have a chance to get really close with the animals.

Billabong Sanctuary-2

We hand-fed kangaroos and pademelons, saw crocodiles jump out of the water to eat, Dominique held lizards and snakes, and we got to hold a koala bear.

Billabong Sanctuary-3

We even got to see a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch—that was really cool. What an incredible experience. We’d definitely get an annual membership if we lived around here.

Billabong Sanctuary-4

After the Sanctuary we checked into our cabin. Fortunately we are staying here only one night because they were booked—the cabin was one of the worst ones we’ve been in so far. It smelt of stale smoke, it was very old, very poor cutlery, and really noisy—right next to the highway. It did have heat, which was a step up from the last two places we were in. The days are warm but the temperature does drop to about 60 degrees at night, so it’s been chilly in the last two cabins with no heat.

07.08.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 2

We moved to the second camp ground in Townsville today. Before we went there, we went to the town’s beach front, called The Strand. What a great place! It’s over 2km of parks, walk ways, play grounds and exercise routines. There’s also an incredible water park, so the girls had great fun for a couple of hours playing at the water park (for free). The waterfront is just amazing with The Strand in the foreground and Magnetic Island in the background. It seems like a great place to live.

WaterPark - 1
WaterPark - 2
WaterPark - 3

We arrived at the second camp ground in early afternoon. The second cabin didn’t smell and wasn’t right off the highway, but all the beds are in one room. I’m so tired of places that are all in one room—they’re so tough at bedtime. We went to the pool for a short while in the afternoon. Dominique is coming along so well with her swimming.

07.09.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 3

We went back to The Strand this morning to let the kids play. That place is so amazing. First Dominique went on a climbing wall (that was the only thing that wasn’t free but it was only $5). Then the kids climbed up this huge rope web pyramid that went up about 60 feet into the air. I was really shocked that Dominique climbed all the way to the top since she was too nervous to climb more than half way up on the climbing wall. Annette was not too interested and was hanging out around the bottom of the web until literally two seconds later she was at the top of the structure hanging on with one hand. I was far more nervous on the web since it was a long drop to the ground—the only safety feature was that the kids would hopefully have got tangled in one of the webs before they hit the ground—it was great fun and great exercise, but there is no way you could have one of these in the U.S. without lawsuits. After that, the kids spent some time at the water park, and then played at the play ground. Even the play ground had really cool toys.

In the afternoon, we were invited to a barbeque at the home of a family that Darren met at Mount Surprise (Annette, Daniel, Laughlin and Chavone). They had a traditional Queenslander home which they’ve been restoring, which was really beautiful and breezy. It was wonderful to have such good cooking. We’ve been eating a pretty limited menu in the cabins since it’s hard to cook in the little kitchenettes and we can’t have many leftovers. They also gave us some great tips on what to do in the region. It was so wonderful that they shared their true Aussie hospitality with us.

We decided to stick around for another couple of days since there’s so much to do around here. There are so many cultural activities and things for the kids to do at such little expense, and it’s only about the same size as Cary (there’s even more to do that the whole of RTP with over one million people). It really is a great place to live.

07.10.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 4

We went back to The Strand again this morning and the kids played on the web, the cool playgrounds and the water park. They had such good fun and great exercise, but I really had my stomach in my mouth as both girls dangled from the top of the web.

In the afternoon, we were able to re-stock our arts and crafts supply so the girls had a great time breaking in to the new supplies. I added a couple of paper punchers to the arsenal, so now we’ve got lots of tiny pieces of paper all over the cabin.

Dominique bit into an apple and suddenly said “Something’s happened to my tooth”. She was right. The bite had loosened the tooth so much we saw the first signs of blood. We rushed back to the cabin to look in the mirror a few times and tell Darren and while she was telling him, her tooth came out. It was so exciting. The rest of the evening we celebrated the tooth with special drinks and stories at dinner about teeth falling out. I remember I was really exciting about teeth falling out, so it was a lot of fun. I made a little box to put her tooth in out of our new craft supplies, and Dominique left a drink, a snack and an artistic princess for the Tooth Fairy when she went to bed. The girls took a little while to fall asleep since Annette always takes a while to settle down, and Dominique was worried that her noises and open eyes would stop the Tooth Fairy from coming.

Dominiue's Tooth

07.11.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 5

Fortunately, the Tooth Fairy found Dominique in Australia, so Dominique woke up to find $1 and a chocolate bar where her tooth had been. She was so excited.

We took the ferry to Magnetic Island (“Maggie” to the Aussies who abbreviate everything) and rented a Mini Moke to drive around the island since it didn’t make economic sense to bring our own car. The Mini Moke was like a mini jeep with a canvas roof and no doors. Dominique picked the Moke for us—pink with Sponge Bob. It was a tough decision—they also had a baby blue Moke with Dorothy the Dinosaur from the Wiggles. She’s not particularly a Wiggles fan, but since we’re going to see them tomorrow, she was really enticed by the car. We had a lot of fun driving around in the Moke. We went to a couple of the beach bays, fed the rock wallabies and took a 2k walk to try to find the koalas (we were unsuccessful, as was everyone we met on the way down—I think it’s a big marketing gimmick to see koalas on the island). Annette tried to play “Monster” on the hike to find koalas, but she fell down and added another cut to her forehead (now she’s got the one from Thailand in the center and the one from Australia on her left). After a day on the island, we were ready to head back to the mainland. It’s a neat little island for beach lovers, but since Darren and I aren’t, a day trip was fine. The sun and salt air (and probably the beer on the return ferry ride) really made us pooped, so we headed back to the cabin and all had an early night.

07.12.2006

Queensland — Townsville — Day 6

We discovered that we’d lost the camera today. We knew that we would lose some things along the journey, so it had to come sooner or later. We know we had it right at the end of our trip to Maggie, and we went to use it the very next morning, so it’s most likely that it fell out of the backpack on the ferry when Darren went to get something from it. We called around but of course, no one had turned it in. Unfortunately, besides the computer, the camera is the most critical and expensive item for us, so we’ll have to buy another. We did get a couple of lessons from the $500 loss: put contact info on the equipment in case someone does truly want to track us down to give it back; put the camera in the deep backpack pocket (not the shallow one on top) so that it’s less likely to fall out. I always scan the areas that we leave for left items, but it must have fallen behind the back of the seat. Fortunately we only lost the pictures that we took on Maggie.

While Darren searched frantically for the camera, I took the kids to see a Wiggles show—we already had tickets, and it was actually good to get the kids out of the way. They had a good time and fortunately for me, it was only 35 minutes, so I had a good time too.

We began our journey south towards Mackay. Since we got a late start after the Wiggles show, we only drove for about three hours and stopped about an hour north of Mackay. We discovered that there’s an art festival going on in Mackay for the next 10 days, so a lot of places are fully booked

07.13.2006

Queensland — Mackay — Day 1

We had a tough time finding a place to stay because a ten-day art festival that’s starting today, but we were finally about to set up a place for tonight (but only tonight) and a place for the next three nights that wasn’t available tonight. At least there will be a lot of things to do around here. I made reservations at one place, but when we arrived, it looked really looked run down so we cancelled the reservations and found somewhere else. The signs out by the road looked run down so it was a good clue once we got there. I thought that I was beginning to be able to read between the lines on the accommodation advertising (e.g. relaxing= boring for kids; best location= poor quality accommodation), but I guess I still need to improve, because I didn’t pick up any clues on this one until we saw the signs.

We also found a great park right near the caravan park, so the girls had fun playing there for a couple of hours.

07.14.2006

Queensland — Mackay — Day 2

We moved to our second accommodation today. It’s a two-bedroom condo with a full-sized kitchen, a living room with a couch (we haven’t seen one for several weeks), a play ground, mini tennis court and pool—it’s great. After living in small places for the past several weeks, it’s wonderful!

We found a store so, after reconfirming that no good Samaritan had returned our lost camera, we got a replacement camera. Someone had a lucky find.

We toured a sugar cane farm in the afternoon. It was incredibly interesting to see how the crop is grown and sent to the mills. We all had a taste of some fresh sugar cane and some pure sugar cane juice—surprisingly, the girls didn’t care for it. It was interesting to learn why some farms burn their crop before cutting, while some farms green-cut. Farms further south of Mackay have clay soil, so they burn their crops to add nutrients to the soil (and also chase away the biggest pests—the rats). In the Mackay area, they can cut the cane without burning it since the soil is so good, and the green-cut leaves easily decompose in the tropical climate. I had no idea what a key role the sugar mills have in coordinating the process with all the local farmers. I had no idea how capital-intensive the business was. I assumed there were a lot of migrant workers, but that’s not how it’s done now-a-days. The farmers need to have knowledge of agriculture, chemicals, weather, engineering and business. It’s such a different world to the white-collar office environment that we’ve come from.

sugar cane

We had fun getting groceries. This is the first place where we’ve been for several weeks with a full oven (normally we’ve had cook-tops and skillets), so we’re going to have pizza tonight and other oven-cooked food while we’re here. The girls are going to make muffins for breakfast. It’s funny to see how excited we are about the little things in life.

07.15.2006

Queensland — Mackay — Day 3

We went to the art festival today. It was less impressive than I expected. I expected a lot since it’s a ten-day festival, but there were a number of errors and last minute changes in the program, so no one was on stage when we expected them. You could say that we should be as laid back as the Aussies to not worry about it. That could be true, but there were so many changes, I think it would have been better just to go without a program. We spent all day going between stages to find out that what we thought would be there wasn’t there. I would expect that from a small-scale festival, but this one seems large enough to be better organized. In any event, the kids had fun.

We kicked off our second night of oven-cooked meals. Tonight we had roasted carrots and potatoes, and roasted chicken stuffed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. We all ate so much since it tasted so good. I really didn’t realize that I missed the taste of good food so much.

07.16.2006

Queensland — Mackay — Day 4

It rained all day today, so we spent the day inside. Darren tried to take the girls to an indoor play space, but it had apparently closed since it was no longer there and the phone was disconnected. The girls had fun with their arts and craft and we watched a movie. Tomorrow we resume our trip south. We’re going to leave the touristy coastal route and head inland to see some of the smaller towns

07.17.2006

Queensland — Mackay to Clermont

We had a really uneventful day. We woke up, exercised, packed the car, drove three hours to Clermont where we’ve arranged a tour of the coal mine tomorrow morning, then we hung out in Clermont for the rest of the day. There’s really not much to do around here, so we did errands and some arts and crafts around the caravan park in the afternoon.

07.18.2006

Queensland — Clermont

We toured a coal mine near Clermont today. I always assumed that coal miners went under-ground and came back with soot-covered faces, but this mine was nothing like that. The mine was an open-cut coal basin covering a huge area, and going down about 200 feet, but because it was so automated and they used such large equipment, it only employed about 200 people. The equipment was huge, although not as large as what is used in the Kalgoorlie gold mines. The wheels on the big pieces cost $25,000 each. We saw them changing a tire while we were there—apparently it takes about a day to do that. They blast the coal to loosen it, but have to do so in small amounts because if they don’t excavate it within a few days of blasting, it can spontaneously combust; I wonder who was the first one to figure that out.

Following the coal mine tour, we toured Clermont. It was surprisingly interesting. The town suffered a major flood in 1916 where much of the town was demolished, so there were a lot of stories around that. There was also an old store that was in use from 1866-1966, and then it closed down. It’s now open as a museum with everything in place as it was in 1996—bottles of marmalade and tins of biscuits on the shelves etc. It was amazing to see it so authentically. It was also amazing to see how similar the store was to the Mennonite store in Belize—the Mennonites were amazing then, but it’s even more amazing now that we’ve been in a store that’s been closed for forty years and still looks like their stores today.

Following the tour, we drove for about an hour south to Emerald. We weren’t up for much of a drive since we got on the road so late, and Emerald is one of the largest towns before Roma, which is another four hours south. We were able to get a cabin at a Farm Stay to take a break from the caravan parks.

07.19.2006

Queensland — Emerald

We had another great experience with laid-back Aussie hospitality today. We went to the School of Distance Education to take a tour, as noted in the tourist brochure. We had heard about the School when we were traveling around Western Australia. For many years, the School has provided over-the-air classrooms for kids as an alternative to local and boarding schools (it used to be called School of the Air). It was set up by the same man who set up the Flying Doctors to provide services to people in the remote parts of Australia. He had seen that the kids in remote areas were often sent to boarding school or they stopped going to school to work on the farms. We heard of the challenges of education through the station-stay family, and also met a family who are traveling around Australia who are following the curriculum.

We pulled up at the School and it looked very much like a normal school, with no signs for tourists. Darren went in and discovered that they don’t actually give tours but in true Aussie style, they laughed and immediately agreed to show us around. The tour was so informative. We saw the packages of materials (including hands-free conference phones) they mail to the kids, talked to a couple of teachers about their experiences, saw pictures taken at their many workshops, and even sat in and participated in one of the on-line lessons.

school of the air

The staff were terrific and really seemed to enjoy what they were doing and the relationships that they have with their kids—besides the workshops, they also visit the kids at there homes once a semester. It really seems like a great program for any kids, but it’s especially great to be available to the kids in remote areas.

07.20.2006

Queensland — Emerald to Roma

It was a travel day today. We got a bit of a late start since the farm’s driveway was covered by about a foot of rushing water as the dam upstream was being released. We waited until the water subsided to about the bottom of our car’s doors, and then started our four-hour drive. The drive was uneventful and the kids were great, as usual.

07.21.2006

Queensland — Roma

We went to the Big Rig today. The Big Rig is a museum showing the oil and gas exploration in Roma. It really was interesting seeing how the gas was discovered by accident in the late 1800’s while searching for water, but since water was more important than gas, they left the gas unused for seven years before they went back to it. It wasn’t until the late 1900 when they had the technology to capture the gas and process it. I had no idea how much work had to go in to converting it from the state that it’s found in to the gas that we use. It was really informative.

In the evening, we went back to the night show, which was a really interesting theatrical presentation of a grandfather telling his grandson about the oil exploration. I think the program was run by one of the local families. It was neat to hear the story under the outback stars, snuggled up under the heaters.

07.22.2006

Queensland — Roma to Goondiwindi

We had about a four hour drive heading further south today. We stopped mid-way in a town called Miles to see a historic village, where they’ve put original and replica buildings together to show an old village. They also had a huge collection of sea shells from all over the world. Everything was really well done. Even Dominique thought that it was more interesting than it sounded. At one point, the kids locked Darren into the old jail house, with the huge dead bolt. They came to me laughing and when I went back, I heard Darren scratching at the door. Fortunately the dead bolt wasn’t rusted so I could let him out. It looks like we’ve got a couple of jokesters on our hands.

We really found a great caravan park for our next stop, so we immediately extended our stay from two to three nights. We arrived to find dozens of brightly colored wild lorikeets in the front yard. The cabin has two bedrooms and lots of space. There was entertainment down by the billabong (pond), where the kids were able to feed the ducks. They offer something fun every day—tomorrow is a free pancake breakfast. They also offer a tour of the town and the cotton farm, which is something we tried to do in Roma. On top of all this, the people are really friendly. What a great find!

07.23.2006

Queensland — Goondiwindi - Day 1

We went to the Tourist Information place to see if there was anything going on today since most stores are closed on Sunday. There was nothing going on, but we did learn of a Horse Camp Draft show that starts on Wednesday for three days. We hung around a park and the camp ground for the rest of the day. In the evening, the camp ground put on a bush stew dinner with plum pudding. The food and music were great, it was great to talking to the other guests, and the music, and we won the door prize of a bottle of wine.

07.24.2006

Queensland — Goondiwindi - Day 2

We toured the town and the cotton farm, saw how the cotton gin worked, then went to the store where the cotton products were cut, assembled and sold.

cotton farm

It was all very interesting. They mentioned that the cotton was so combustible that it often caught fire spontaneously after it was cut. That’s so crazy—I need to learn more about that. We also stopped at a grain loading facility where they gather freshly cut grain and load it into containers for export. That was interesting but it was so quick, we needed a lot more time to really learn about it.

We spent the afternoon around the camp. The camp hosted a happy hour—Darren and Dominique went for a while, but Annette and I hung out at the cabin since it was cold and wet. At least the cabin has heat—it’s one of the first places we’ve stayed in which has it. The places further north didn’t have heat, even though the nights got pretty chilly.

07.25.2006

Queensland — Goondiwindi - Day 3

We decided to stick around for a couple extra days to see the Camp Draft on Wednesday. We hung out at the library for a while in the morning since Darren could do Internet stuff and the kids could play. I had a great time with the kids. We sat on big cushions and read lots of books. I need to start going to the library more when we get home. In the afternoon, we hung around the caravan park and went to the camp fire dinner in the evening. The food, music and company were great and the girls had lots of fun.

07.26.2006

Queensland — Goondiwindi - Day 4

We went to a boutique Aboriginal paper-making company today to see how they make paper from cotton remnants. It was really amazing to see how the cotton became like pulp after being cut into tiny pieces and then “blended” with water. Once they had the pulp, the screening and pressing was similar to how we made paper in Thailand.

paper making

The company was founded six years ago by nine Aboriginal women to provide employment for the community. The store sold the paper as well as local art printed on the paper. The art was $500- $3,000, so we didn’t get any. I’m not sure why the art was so expensive since it didn’t seem too expensive or time-consuming to make. We don’t have any wall space for more art anyway.

In the afternoon, we went to the Camp Draft. There was no marketing for the event so it was hard to find. It was pretty neat to see how the rider used the horse to separate a herd of cows and try to keep an individual cow away from the herd.

camp draft

A lady gave us a brief description of how the riders are judged, which was really helpful, but it was hard to appreciate the skill without understanding the nuances. The only other spectators who were there seemed to be related to the riders. We were the only people there who weren’t wearing jeans, cowboy hats and cowboy boots (with spurs).

07.27.2006

New South Wales — Coonabarabran - Day 1

We had about a four hour drive to Coonabarabran today. Most of the accommodations were budget-level, so we opted to stay in a cottage on a farm, where they also make pottery. The great thing about farm stays is that the accommodations are much more spacious than the caravan parks, but the accommodations are often aged and not well heated. That was also true for this cottage. We spent the afternoon playing outside, but as soon as the sun went down, we had to huddle very closely to the wood stove, which was the only heat in the house. I had a chance to view the pottery—being the pottery lover, I was glad to not find anything I couldn’t live without. There were quite a few articles on the pottery, so I was surprised to find that it was only average quality. I’m even more impressed now with the quality of potters in North Carolina. We put the girls to sleep in the loft since it was the warmest part of the cabin. They thought it was really cool because there was a sky light over the bed so they could see the stars. I thought it was cool too, but I knew that it also meant that they would wake up early in the morning.

07.28.2006

New South Wales — Coonabarabran - Day 2

Dominique and I went for a short horse ride this morning. We just wandered around the property with a lady from Holland who’s staying at the farm through the Woof program (Working on Organic Farms—food and shelter for work

horse-riding

We hung out around the cabin for the rest of the day. I tried to talk Dominique through how to do a cartwheel, but she wasn’t getting it, so I ended up having to show her. After almost pulling a muscle and goodness knows what else, I almost started getting it again after about 25 years.

In the evening, we went to an observatory to view the night sky. It was really amazing to see the stars and planets. The coolest thing was seeing the texture on the moon through the telescope. Visibility was great because there is such little light pollution and cloud cover in this area, which is why it’s known as the Astronomy Capital of Australia. You could also see the atmospheric interference and the light pollution as you looked towards Sydney. It was incredible to see the impact of cities on the night sky. Unfortunately, it was really freezing. That’s the first time we’ve been really cold on the trip. You can tell we’re heading south. I have no regrets about spending most of our time on the east coast in tropical Queensland.

07.29.2006

New South Wales — Coonabarabran to Dubbo

We decided to visit the Siding Spring Observatory to see the really huge telescopes in the area. They picked the site because it had the least amount of light pollution and had a picture showing the light pollution in the region. Besides the example of the milk carton weight on each planet, I just find it so hard to be interested in this stuff. I think I’ve satisfied any desire I’ve had for scientific knowledge for a while.

We took a couple of hours to reach Dubbo. The town has about 38,000 and a number of warnings to lock your doors, hide your valuables etc. Not the same warm fuzzy feeling that we’ve had in all of the smaller outback towns. We did meet a family at the campground who spent the day at the zoo and gave us their two-day ticket since they’re leaving tomorrow. The tickets were $84 for a family, and the park says you can use it for two days. We gave them some money so that we all won on the deal.

07.30.2006

New South Wales — Dubbo Day 1

We went to the park today, using the second part of the two-day pass that we purchased from the family. You can drive around the park, but we decided to rent a couple of bikes to make it more fun. I rode a bike that had a tow bike attached which Dominique rode.

dominique bike

Darren rode a bike which had a caboose attached, which Annette rode.

annette bike

We all had a great time and had some good exercise—we’ll be sore tomorrow. There’s really nothing that can beat going on a safari, but we did get to see some hippos out of the water, which we didn’t see on safari. We also saw some other animals like meerkats and lemurs which we haven’t seen in the wild. We had a great time, but saw everything in about four hours, so we didn’t need a two-day pass—definitely a marketing spin to make you feel better about spending the money.

dominique deer
oh deer

07.31.2006

New South Wales — Dubbo Day 2

It was an errand day for us today. We went shopping to get Dominique a couple extra sets of warm clothes since we’re in cooler weather now. The girls and I took a nap while Darren went to see the Parkes radio telescope about an hour away. When he got back, he took Dominique to lawn bowling, and Annette stayed back at the cabin to help me do the laundry.

08.01.2006

New South Wales — Dubbo to Port Stephens

We decided to take a route which would take us a couple hours north of Sydney rather than going straight to Sydney since neither Darren nor I are big city fans. We picked Port Stephens since it was about 4.5 hours from Dubbo, and it looked like there were a lot of things to do there. The scenery was pretty but you could see the air pollution on the horizon as we approached Sydney. As soon as we checked in, we decided to extend our stay for a week since the park had so many things to do—the beach, tennis, mini-golf, movie night, a spa. Since its off-season, they upgraded us to a really fantastic villa. The couches are cloth, not plastic, there are two bathrooms, it’s a full-size kitchen that even has a dishwasher, and it even has internet connection in the cabin. This only gives us a couple of days in Sydney, but it’s so nice to have so much room and to be so comfortable. It’s great to really appreciate everything so much.

08.02.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 1

We scoped out the town today. We booked a whale watching cruise for tomorrow, found the toboggan place, and took the kids to a kids play space. In the afternoon, we took advance of the full-sized kitchen and made beef stew for dinner. Very yummy.

08.03.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 2

We went on a cruise to see the whales today.

annette whale

I was hoping to see the spectacular site of the whales jumping out of the water, but I knew that that was not likely. However, I was at least hoping to see them swimming up close to the boat to see how massive they are. We did see whales, but the boats aren’t allowed to get closer than 300 meters, so all we really saw was water spouting out of the water, a back arching out of the water and an occasional tail. It’s probably really rare to have the spectacular experience that I was hoping for, so I’m not going to keep searching for the spectacular whale-watching experience, but I do leave with the feeling that the current “whale watching” marketing is over-rated. We hung out at the camp ground for the rest of the day and made really great pizza for dinner.

08.04.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 3

We had a laid-back day since it rained all day. Darren took the girls to the library in the morning. We’ve discovered that libraries are a great place to go for free and there are plenty of things for the kids to do. Now that Dominique is reading, she also gets a chance to read new books, so it’s great all around. I used the kid-free time to do some research on the internet, since we have access from the cabin.

For the rest of the day, we hung out at the cabin. We made cornflake treats (got the recipe from Google using the four baking ingredients that we have), played treasure hunt and pin the tail on the donkey, and ended the day with a movie that we got from the camp ground.

08.05.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 4

It was another rainy day today, so we decided to go to the toboggan park where there were a number of indoor activities.

darren luge

Luckily the rain stopped periodically, so we were able to go on a couple of toboggan rides and play mini golf without getting wet.

annette luge

Both girls had fun on the toboggan ride and Dominique had a really great game of mini golf getting three holes-in-one.

dominique luge

We spent the afternoon back at the caravan park, going to the spa and watching a movie in the evening. After a couple days of rain, I’m really glad we spent most of our time in Australia in the Outback where there is little rain—most of the rain is along the coast.

08.06.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 5

Another day of scattered showers, and a Sunday, which means everything is closed, so we hung out at the caravan park all day. We played in the play ground and at the spa, and then had another movie night. It was a low-key day overall.

08.07.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens Day 6

OK, so now I’m tired of rain. We had yet another day of scattered showers. We played at the play ground and had a couple of games of mini-golf when the rain let up, with the water puddles in the mini-golf course adding some additional hazards to the course

08.08.2006

New South Wales — Port Stephens to Sydney

We finally had a rain-free day today so after we packed up the cabin, we booked a four-wheel drive to the sand dunes to go sand boarding. The sand boarding was lots of fun and both girls really liked it.

sand-boarding

I was so proud of them for trying it without hesitation because it could have seemed a bit scary.

annette-sandboarding

Again, I hurt myself using muscles that hadn’t been used in a few years and bruising my tail bone. The sand apparently come from South Africa (I couldn’t figure that out) and drifts and replenishes itself constantly. They ship container loads of sand up to Hawaii to keep Hawaii’s beaches in tact. I find it funny that nature carries the sand all the way from South Africa to Australia, then Hawaii imports it to look good for something that I assumed was natural—I’ll never be able to look at another Hawaiian beach again in the same way. After snow boarding we searched for pippis (like a clam) on the beach, and the driver showed us how they borrow back under the sand when they’ve confirmed that there is water around. We then made our 2.5 hour drive to Sydney to begin our wrap up of our trip to Australia. I can’t believe it’s been three months. Time has really flown.

08.09.2006

New South Wales — Sydney Day 1

We made our big trip into down town Sydney today. We first tried to take a train in, but there were no parking spaces available in six stories of the parking lot, so we decided to drive in. The drive was quite unpleasant—we passed lots of concrete walls, construction, and graffiti, and ultimately made our way to the Sydney Opera House. The Opera House looked really pretty right on the water-front. We were going to take a tour of the Opera House, but there were hundreds of people there, and it looked like about 50 on each tour, so we decided to skip it. There was nothing else that we wanted to see since we’d seen everything else authentically in the wild. Our dislike of cities came shining through, and we decided after about 30 minutes that we really didn’t want to do anything else. So our entire tour of Sydney took 2 hours. I know we’re not doing it justice since I’m sure it’s a great place for people who like cities. I’m glad that we spent our time in Australia out in the country.

08.10.2006

New South Wales — Sydney Day 2

It was errand day today. The girls and I got our haircut since it’s been a while. The ladies were much more professional than the last haircuts, but it was $20 for each kid—yikes! There’s nothing like the quick cut place in Boone. We took the girls to the park in the afternoon for a while, but it really gets cold as soon as the sun goes down. We spent the evening packing since we have to leave early tomorrow.

08.11.2006

New South Wales — Sydney to New Zealand

Darren and I woke up around 5:00 am. We didn’t need to leave until 6:30 but we couldn’t sleep. Dominique woke up at 5:45 and Annette woke up at 6:00, so it was an early morning for the girls on a no-nap travel day. It took us an hour through Sydney’s rush hour traffic to get to the city. I think I had every muscle in my body tensed. I can’t believe people can endure the stress of bog-city rush-hour traffic every day. We had no problems returning the car or getting through the airport. The flight also went well and a flight attendant invited the girls to hand out “lollies” (candies) to all the passengers at the end of the flight.

flight attendants

We arrived in New Zealand and everyone that we met was very friendly. The immigration officer asked us a lot of questions because we had third-party issued tickets (apparently a terrorist flag), and then she told us about an attempted terrorist attempt in Heathrow. The customs officials were then really nice to us because we accidentally smuggled in an illegal apple (Dominique put it in her backpack), which should have been a $200 fine—they let us go since Dominique did it—phew!

We got to the caravan park around 5:00 pm (actually 3:00 pm Sydney time). Darren and I felt pretty beat and the girls were acting really tired. Unfortunately, a 7:00 pm bedtime won’t work tonight since their body clocks will tell them it’s only 5:00 pm. Fortunately, the caravan park had a heated pool, so I took the girls to that while Darren went to get some groceries and an internet card to let everyone know we’ve landed safely.


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