30 January 2010

Gold Coast

It's Sunday and we're still here. No buffet breakfast though.

Geez it's nice here. There are Kids Club activities twice a day which the kids have been partaking in. Yesterday there was a mini golf tournament and Nate won! This morning was meant to be a go-cart rally which would have been wonderful because they have been asking if we could hire a few, but the weather is very unpredictable - bright sun one minute and torrential rain the next, like an inch in 10 minutes. Instead they are doing craft which they look to be enjoying. Masks and finger puppets so far.

Craft has always been one of those things that I wished we did more of because the kids love it, but I am a bit of a control- and neat-freak so I find it hard. Eli also tends to want to destroy whatever Nate and Maya are doing while they are in the process of creating it which means that I have tried to limit that kind of activities to when he's asleep. Then I find myself feeling disappointed if he wakes up before we're finished, and that sucks for him. Right now though, Eli is happily sitting between Maya and another kid, colouring on a mask with some textas. You wouldn't know that it's Eli sitting there. You know, Eli. The one man whirlwind of terror. He isn't that person at all right now. It's interesting when we decide who our kids are, give them a label, and then don't let them be anyone else in our eyes. Sitting here writing this is really good for me as a parent, and obviously really good for Eli because he will benefit from it.

Speaking of Eli, he is loosening his grip on me a bit. Whenever Nick heads off to do something, Eli wants to go with him rather than sticking with me or trying to make me go. He is willingly going to Nick in the pool instead of insisting on me holding him 100% of the time. It's a big relief for me, and I know it's nice for Nick who doesn't like to feel like he isn't pulling his parenting weight (which anyone who knows him knows he always is). I'm happy to see that Eli seems to finally be feeling comfortable, after a few months of big changes.

The biggest challenge for Nick and I so far has been the lack of alone time - individually and as a pair. For me personally, I have always taken time away from everyone to recharge when I have felt overwhelmed or irritable. I have found that being home, even in a different room, just hasn't been good enough. Taking a book to a coffee shop for an hour (or two) has been my favourite escape. Since we have been travelling though, we have been spending all of our time together. This Kids Club experience has been good because it is a perfect opportunity for us to go do our own thing/s (well, our own thing/s with Eli tagging along, but he's so easy when Nate and Maya aren't around - one kid is SO EASY when you have three kids). It has occurred to me, though, that this travelling experience is the perfect chance for all five of us to develop our own recharging skills. If we can find time and space for ourselves with four other people constantly around, that will serve us well for the rest of our lives. We will be able to channel inner peace no matter what the circumstances. Great life skill.

28 January 2010

Banana bending

And all of the sudden, we were in Queensland!

We are staying at a real resorty type place called Treasure Island. The kind of place that could be anywhere in the world really, because you don't really ever leave. The pool has a waterslide for goodness sake. There is a massive shopping centre within walking distance, a bistro, mini golf, a jumping pillow, etc etc etc. It's kind of wonderful. There is a buffet breakfast on Sunday morning. I'm not sure if we'll be here then - probaby not - but it's worth noting. I love breakfast.

We weren't sure what exactly we were going to get up to on the Gold Coast. There are loads of theme parks and stuff here, all really expensive and mostly too old for our kids with crazy rides and stuff. Nick and I mentioned Seaworld in passing, and Maya said, "Seaworld?? Can we go right now??" Treasure Island offers discounted theme park tickets which was an added bonus. Screw the budget.

Last night Nate and I discovered that our tent leaks. You get what you pay for I guess, and our $30 2 person Big W tent doesn't stand up to subtropical storms. At around midnight I got Nate out so that I could pull it under the awning, but at around 3am the wind was blowing the torrential rain sideways, the thunder was booming, and we were getting very wet. We had to take our wet selves inside the motorhome. Nate was amazed at the colour of the sky - "It's orange!" But the Queensland sun has dried everything up already as if it never happened. Weather can be amazingly strong and intimidating.

27 January 2010

Raise your hand if you climbed a mountain today.

25 January, 2010

We are a family of champions. Maya in particular was really excited about Mt Warning aka Wollumbin, so after our stay at the clean but strangely unfriendly Murwillambah caravan park last night, we headed for the mountain.

Now this is an Australian mountain, which people in my hometown of Portland would call a hill, but in Australia it is fairly sizable: 1150ish metres. The trek to the top is an 8.8 kilometer round trip with a "challenging final rock scramble" and is estimated to take 4-5 hours. Without little kids it would be a nice afternoon hike, and with little kids you would just assume it wasn't going to happen. We brought some Anzac biscuits and a couple of litres of water and set off, planning on turning around whenever the kids had had enough. With Eli on my back in the Ergo, we set off around noon. There were a few initial, unrealistic complaints: "My legs hurt." "Do you mean they are tired? Because we have only walked like 300 meters." That kind of thing. But soon we got into a rhythm and the kids became more eager to get to the top. Wow. So up we went.

Nate said he wanted to be a mountain climber when he gets older, and we talked about that a lot, and just how tall the tallest mountains are. He thought it was amazing. Maya said she wants to be a jungle girl. When asked what that entails, she explained that she would be saving animals. Awww. We read all of the signs about the climb and talked about why it had changed from subtropical rainforest to warm temperate rainforest, and then higher up to something else (I forget what, but I do remember that there were a lot of massive Gymea Lilies up there). Of course there was plenty of spectacular scenery.

Here's me and Maya (and Eli back there) taking a little break. I'm already feeling it.

The last bit is so steep and rocky that there is a chain to hold onto to help get up. If I had read the sign, I might not have attempted it with Eli on my back, and might have tried to persuade the kids to just be happy with how far we had come. Here's the sign:

It says "Only fit and experienced walkers to proceed beyond this point." That doesn't really describe the average 4 year old, 7 year old, and woman with a two year old on her back. Well I guess we're all experienced walkers since we, you know, walk a lot. I don't think that's what they meant.

Here's the steep bit:

And Eli having a go at the bottom:

Anyway, those kids were spectacular. They did it. They did it because they wanted to and they thoroughly enjoyed the whole way up. The views on all four sides were just amazing. It was a little bit hazy, but we could see the sea and we could see where Byron Bay would have been if it had been clear enough to spot it. Interesting looking back there from here after looking here from back there.

So we climbed a mountain today! I am so incredibly proud of them. I'm proud of myself too, to be honest, for carrying a 13ish kilo kid on my back for almost 9 kilometers, half of which were up a mountain. Go me.

Because we underestimated our kids' endurance, we were under-prepared in the food and drink departments. We finished everything at the summit which left us with nothing for the 4.4 ks down the hill. Silly me, I thought the downhill part would be easy. Well, I knew the rocky chain part would be slow going, especially for Maya as her legs just aren't long enough to reach a lot of the crags. Nate was like a rocket though, so fast and so agile and declaring, "I'm not tired at all! I could walk up and down this part all day! In fact, I want to do it again!" Nick helped Maya down though. Then surely the rest would be simple. Geez, I was so wrong. It was completely exhausting. Nick piggy-backed Maya for awhile to give her little legs a rest as her ankles were bothering her. With a couple of ks to go I finally had Nick carry Eli for awhile so that I could just carry my own weight, much to Eli's protests. Nate started slipping a bit and then getting increasingly emotional about it. We knew they were completely exhausted, so we just tried to be as encouraging as we could and remind them that they had climbed a mountain! That is a huge deal. We talked about how good it would feel to turn that last turn and see the carpark, and to have a big drink, and when the time came it did feel so good.

We didn't have long to travel after our almost 6 hours on the mountain - just a short jaunt to the Mt Warning Caravan Park. We had some well earned dinner, scrubbed the dirt off of ourselves in a nice cool shower, and look forward to spending tomorrow hanging out by the pool and relaxing. Like a holiday.


23 January, 2010

On Thursday we made it to the lighthouse, and it was beautiful.

We made it to the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. So there you go. Tick. From the lookout, we spotted another lookout point, much farther below.

It required lots and lots and lots of steps, and the worst part of those steps was going to be the way back up.

But the kids were AWESOME! They wanted to go, regardless of the amount of exertion involved, and they didn't complain at all. Except for Eli, and he didn't even walk any of the uphill part. Huh, go figure. We did cheat a bit though and used the path up rather than the steps. Shhhh.

Here are some of Nate's gems:

It was too bad we chose a hazyish day to go up there, because the views would have been unreal. They were pretty awesome as it was though.

The kids and I had sushi for dinner. Nick isn't a fan, so he went to Abra-kebab-ra (which has to be one of the best names I have ever heard and has given me much joy over the last few days, every time we have driven down the main street in Byron) for a falafel roll. We went to O-Sushi, and they had some really good stuff. Brown rice sushi, which I love (and felt so wholesome and just like what my body needed after the extreme hiking of the day - well, extreme with a big toddler strapped to your back), crispy tofu rolls, yum. And really good spring rolls. The wait staff started the bill in the middle and cleared away plates as we ate. At first this felt very thoughtful and like great service, but at the end I realised it made it harder to keep track of how much we had eaten. It was a big bill. The plates were more expensive than the ones at our local sushi train, but the atmosphere was great and the orders going by looked amazing. It was lucky we got there at 5:30 because by the time we left there was a line to get in.

We had a few things we wanted to do in Byron yesterday morning before we took off. Not that I was eager to leave. I could honestly live in Byron Bay forever. I love it. The beaches are fantastic, especially The Pass. The locals are friendly. I love the scantily clad bodies of all shapes and sizes all over town - boardshorts and bikinis in Woolies is the best. I love the food options available. It is a bit crowded during peak season, and I can imagine how wonderful it would be to have a little bit more space on the beach and in the shops, but it manages to be great anyway.

We aren't looking for a new place to live though, we're just passing through, so off we went. First stop, Byron Bay Cookie Company. I had never had one of their cookies (it does seem a bit silly to pay for a cookie when you bake hundreds at home each week), but I have seen them in countless cafes around Sydney. I figured they must be good to be so widely carried. I was wrong! They must just have great marketing. We tried a chocolate chip cookie first, split four ways for me and the kids. They ate their cookie quarters and didn't say a word, didn't ask for any more even though they knew I had bought more than one which is completely unlike them - usually any cookie is a good cookie. Eli wasn't even interested in finishing his little bit. Later I tried the triple chocolate one, and you really can't go wrong with chunks of chocolate, but this cookie was also dry and crumbly. Bummer.

So we headed for Nightcap National Park to see Minyon Falls. The kids and I were there in October and there was no water falling, so it was definitely nice to see an actual waterfall this time. The river bed was still pretty dry and we were able to walk through the rocks which the kids love. I read that there was a camping area at Rummery Park just a few kilometres up the road, so we thought we would check it out as a possible place to stay for the night. I'm so glad we did, because it is fantastic! We pulled up to see a couple of kids playing cricket in the grass and they immediately asked our kids to play, which they happily did. There are lots of different little areas to set up tents, a nice big grass area where the kids could play games, toilets, fire pits and even firewood provided, and even a little camp kitchen with wood stoves. Nick set up the tent (it's nice to have an extra bed when we can) and made a beautiful stirfry with vegetables, tofu and hokkien noodles on the camp barbeques, and our kids played cricket into the evening with their new friends until it got too dark to see the ball; then they brought out torches for a game of spotlight. Eli retired first, then Maya, and Nate lasted as long as the rest of them, loving the kid company.

At least one of the families with kids are sticking around for another night. We think we will too. It is a beautiful place, the kids are happy, we have plenty of food to eat, and it will help get our budget back on track. We'll go for a nice long bushwalk today. Hopefully it won't be too hot!

20 January 2010

Byron Bay

We started out the day with a trip to our favourite beach - The Pass. It is amazing. Shade to sit in on the beach, or sun if that's your preference, and crystal clear turquoise water galore. It is very shallow for a good way out and the waves roll close to shore rather than breaking, making it an immensely kid-friendly beach. There are good waves as well if you paddle out, and abundant surfers. Loads of kid surfers and beginners closer in which gave us the idea of hiring a surfboard for the kids to have a go one of these days. They'll love it.

I love Byron Bay. I love that even the Woolworths supermarket is loaded with organic and local stuff, not just the specialty shops which are amazing. Yesterday we stopped by Byron Gourmet Pies and have had them for lunch for two days now. We stopped into Santos to buy a little snack of organic dark chocolate covered blueberries and organic dark chocolate spelt licorice. I want to pop into the Byron Bay Cookie Company shop while we're here. You can get anything worth eating in Byron Bay if you know where to look. Raw milk and cream, cane juice lightly flavoured with ginger and lime, raw cacao butter, local bananas. If you know me at all, you know that I love good food. There is LOADS of good food here.

We are lucky to have some friends in Byron, albeit temporarily. My friend Suzy is visiting and we are parked in her holiday house driveway. We're so grateful, because we are waaay overbudget (due largely to our internet dramas) and sleeping here means that we aren't paying to stay at a caravan park; there isn't a lot of free camping in the popular Byron Bay. It's just really easy to spend money here! I know though that as soon as we aren't on the east coast anymore, our expenditures will do right down. Except for fuel.

18 January 2010

Happy Birthday, Eli!

18 January, 2010

My baby is 2.

Two years ago this evening, I was sitting in a blow up pool in my candlelit garage with Nick by my side. Nate was sleeping over at his cousin's place and Maya was sound asleep in bed. It was my third day of labour, just like my other two, and set to be a nighttime birth, just like my other two. Eli made his appearance at 10:15pm, 1:45 shy of his January 19th "due date". He was born peacefully into warm water to his eagerly awaiting parents. We wrapped him up and held him close and he drank milk and slept, and that was his introduction to the world. No harsh lights, no strangers, no drugs, no separation. We appraised him and decided, yep, that's about right, and estimated his birth weight to be 8 pounds and 7 ounces like his brother and sister had been, because he looked and felt the same size. His birth story has been published in Simply Give Birth by Heather Cushman-Dowdee.

Eli is a lucky little boy in the sibling stakes. They both adore him. His sister, 2 1/2 years his senior, is incredibly understanding and nurturing. His brother is old enough now to be able to appreciate Eli's babyness and is more patient with him than he was able to be with Maya when she was the baby 2 years and 8 months his junior. We just love him.

For Eli's birthday, we had lunch at a place we had been given a lunch special flyer for ($5 burgers and $2.50 middies of Byron Bay beer) as we were walking down the street. It is an out of the way but still close to the action place called Buddha Bar, a lunchery by day and happening music venue by night. It was a beautiful place, really nice to be in.

We bought a simple cake as we couldn't find anything wholesome or organic other than by the slice at cafes. Oh well. It was enjoyed.

Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes! It's nice to know that Eli was in your thoughts. He's a special little kid.

17 January 2010

Byron Bay

Let's see, where did I leave off?

Oh yes, Ballina being beautiful. I wrote that before we visited The Big Prawn.

Now for those of you who don't know, Australia, and particularly the east coast of Australia (I don't think the rest of the country partakes), likes to create giant tributes to local produce. In Coffs it is The Big Banana. The Big Banana is exactly what it sounds like - a large replica banana that you can take your picture in front of and an accompanying gift shop that sells all things Big Banana. At that particular Big tourist attraction there is also a banana plantation tour, a cafe where you can get banana splits (as we did) or chocolate covered bananas (as we wished we did), a big waterslide complex, a confectionary maker, and an unlikely ice skating rink. It's huge, and a bit of fun.

Ballina is a prawning town. You can see the big prawn trawlers (I'm not sure if that is the right name but it sounds good so there you go) travelling down Richmond River to the sea. Local prawns are on sale everywhere (and cheap! Another reason to eat locally). So we thought we'd check out The Big Prawn and grab some dinner in the restaurant underneath that advertised its prawns and chips special on a sign out the front.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed for renovations. Or maybe fortunately. This south end isn't the best representation of Ballina, and the whole Big Prawn complex (which also has a truck stop) is fairly dingy and icky. It was also abandoned, and we weren't the only ones to take advantage of a free place to park for the night. When we woke up, we discovered that the little playground was sticky and gross and the whole area was fairly depressing.

So on that unfortunate note, we decided to move on. We didn't even check out the lake or the river, or so many of the beaches. But the best medicine for a yucky place is to move on, so we did.

First stop Lennox Head, just a few kilometres down the road. We decided to check out Lake Ainsworth which I had read is brown because of the tannins from the tea trees on the shores. It was! But not in a dirty, off-putting way at all. It was just like swimming in a cup of tea. And it was almost unsettlingly warm. Usually there is a bit of a chill when you get into any body of water, but none here. Tepid bath territory. Weird. But nice.

We are now in beautiful Byron Bay. We went to The Pass this morning, which is an incredible beach backed by lovely trees which means... shade! Always a plus in Australia in summertime. It was weird though - last time I went to that beach (in October) there was gobs and gobs of sand; the water was so far away from where we sat up near the trees. This morning when we got there, there was only a few metres of sand, so it was like a completely different beach. But still gorgeous. Calm bay waters, and crystal clear. Awesome.

I scouted around a bit for a birthday cake for Eli who turns 2 tomorrow! My baby! We'll have a little celebration, and then celebrate again with a mini party on Wednesday with my friend Suzy and her little fam who are coming to Byron for a few days. That will be a lot of fun. Our kids have a ball together, and I adore Suzy.

14 January 2010


13 January, 2010

Ballina is gorgeous!

On my only trip to Byron Bay, I loved the place so much that I have been looking forward to getting back there. Ballina is so close to Byron that I sort of expected not to enjoy it, anticipating moving on. But it is too beautiful to speed through. The huge, blue Richmond River flows into the ocean, so there is an abundance of water all around. Not to mention the lake which I'm looking forward to getting to with the kids - it is so calm but still sea water so nothing dodgy hiding in there. Of course the weather helps - it is perfect out. Not too hot, but hot enough to really appreciate getting into the ocean. Nick and I did get a bit (!) sunburnt, but we're very good at keeping the kids protected. We actually bought ourselves rashies today for a bit more coverage. Stretch marks really stand out on red skin.

Tonight we are at a lovely caravan park. We have enjoyed the lovely pool, playground and camp kitchen, and plan on staying tomorrow as well so that we can just hang out and relax. We have been surprised at how much there is to do to keep us busy, even when we're just carefree travellers. There's always a meal to prepare or dishes to do, or laundry to hand wash (I'm waaay too much of a perfectionist to hand wash laundry in a decent amount of time, I need to work on that) or now-dry ex-laundry to take off the line and fold up and put away. Caravan parks are nice after a few days of free camping because we can have nice showers and not worry about running down our tank, and we can use the washing machine and get everything clean. Oh, and the toilets flush. I'm sure we'll get better at this as we go.

Of note: Stars are really mesmorising. There are a whole hell of a lot of them, and you can see so many of them when you aren't in a city with all of its light pollution. I love that term by the way - light pollution. Like noise pollution. Meaning: whatever you don't want to see or hear. Anyway, tonight I pulled a chair out to watch the stars in action; a surprising amount of action there is if you watch for awhile and don't have all of that light pollution in the way. Hehe. There are shooting stars, what I assume are satellites, what I swear was some sort of nova but it happened so fast I couldn't be sure of what I saw. And the whole time I had that Hum song in my head, but you can't really count stars. I mean, even if you could keep track of the ones you had already counted so that you didn't double up, and even if you could somehow mark your starting point to keep it all clear, you just can't quite see so many of them. There are the big, bright, obvious ones, and the less bright but still clear as day (as they say) stars. Then there are the ones you can make out but you have to kind of look to the side a little bit. But then there are the milky smears that you know come from the light of stars but for the life of you, your eyes just can't pick them up. Counting stars is maddening business. Don't try it.

13 January 2010

Northern Rivers

12 January, 2010

The markets were spectacular.

The kids played and played in the play area which was mostly shaded for the morning at least. They made a friend Maya's age whose mum had a massage stall so was very familiar with the market environment and, impressively, made her own way around, checking in with her mum occasionally for a bite to eat or to pick up her busking gear. We bought local produce, checked out loads of handmade clothes and candles and a rainbow ceramic mug with tea infuser and lid/coaster that I completely coveted but at $30 couldn't justify - Ecstatic Ceramics makes really awesome, beautiful things. We watched a tall unicycle riding (tall being the unicycle, not the guy, although he was pretty tall too), sword-juggling, wise-cracking busker singing for his supper. The kids each chose a treat, and the treat they chose, bless 'em, was "fruit creme cones" - frozen fruit (banana mango for Maya, and banana strawberry for the boys) pressed through a press so it resembled ice cream in taste and texture, but with no added sugar or dairy. I bought us a bag of macadamias in their shells, grateful that I brought along our handy little macadamia cracker that I bought at Castle Hill markets months ago - it's fun and a good way of not eating a kilo of nuts in one sitting.

We heard that after the markets, loads of people hang around for drumming and smoking and dancing and general merriment, and that was our plan too. But in the afternoon Eli got really tired, the temperature soared, and we were all feeling the need for a nice relaxing break. Nick and I suggested a drive in the motorhome and a movie in the back for the kids while we headed on to Nimbin, and they agreed. Eli was asleep before we even started moving.

For those of you who don't know, until the Aquarius Festival in 1973 Nimbin was a little village that had failed as a dairy farming community. When it was suggested as a site for the Festival, the community voted 100-4 in favour, and Nimbin was changed forever. What was initally going to be a 10 day festival became the promise of a sustainable, conscious, eco-aware community full of like-minded people. The flavour is there still, with the tiny main street populated with shops full of crystals, alternative books, fisherman pants, organic food, and a Hemp Embassy which sells hemp products, marijuana paraphenalia, DVDs on growing your own pot, and this unlikely certificate:

Apparently, through some sort of compromise with the police, it is legal (or at least acceptable) to be in possession of 15g of marijuana in Nimbin. It is clearly acceptable to smoke it around town - all of the cafes had pot smokers openly sitting outside. It was very interesting.

We enquired at the dodgy caravan park about prices, and the arseholes wanted to charge us $24.50 (which would have been a decent price) PLUS $7.70 for each kid, regardless of age. Usually under 5s are free. Just adjacent though was a huge oasis of a free community pool with shade cloths (yay), so we went for a refreshing dip with the plan of finding accommodation later on - we needed to refill our water tank and all of the taps in town were either too far for our hose to reach or without tap turny things. We ended up at Rainbow Retreat, a beautiful place in the bush complete with grazing wallabies, a fig tree and bamboo outdoor fort, a huge teepee (or tipi, depending where in the world you're from), and a lovely proprietor who was happy to not charge us for the kids and accommodating enough to find us a place to park our house on wheels where we could plug in to recharge our battery and refill our tank with the fire hose.

Back through The Channon to Protestors Falls, named after the group of people who stood up against the police and loggers to protect this amazing sub-tropical rainforest in 1979, and won:

This place is completely amazing. You step inside and the temperature drops 10 degrees. You are surrounded by bird sounds and creek sounds, and as the timber walkway disappears to be replaced by a dirt and rock trail, you remember to look up and realise you are surrounded by the most amazing, beautiful flora.

There are a few little waterfalls on the way up, and we wondered, "Is this it?" each time, but kept going until we came to what was quite obviously "it":

We didn't swim at the bottom of the falls (more on that to follow) but got close enough to feel the spray. The kids were amazingly agile and fun to watch as they traversed along the rocks behind the waterfall, down to the water, and up again. If it weren't for the promise of mosquitoes to come, it would have been an irresistable place to sleep, all tucked into one of the rocky caves.

Here are some more pictures (hard to choose which ones to post because they are all so pretty):

The bottom of Protestors Falls is one of the known homes of a highly endangered frog of which there are thought to be only 500-1000 left. Because of this, the National Parks and Wildlife Service ask people not to swim at the base of the falls. I was absolutely fine with this at first. The kids were totally onboard. They were appropriately outraged when we came across people walking down the trail in swimmers and towels - how could they do that to the poor frogs?? But after spending some time at the falls and watching people swimming across in order to sit right at the bottom to have *the best shower ever*, I started to think a bit more about those frogs and, really, about other people's priorities. Yes, I feel sad that more and more species are becoming extinct and will never exist again. Yes, I understand that humans have been horrible for the planet and have caused major, irreversible problems. But are we really solving anything by keeping people from swimming there, or just delaying the inevitable? Last ditch effort much? Swimming at the base of that waterfall would have been so amazing and my kids would have probably carried that memory with them for the rest of their lives. I certainly would have. But we didn't, because the NPWS suggested that we not swim there. I let their priorities be our priorities, and I'm still not sure how I feel about that.

And more along those lines. Sometime in the near future, because we are in close proximity, we will be visiting Wollumbin, aka Mt Warning which is the name that James Cook gave it to warn other mariners of the dangerous reef off the coast. Wollumbin is an ancient volcanic plug and is a very spiritually significant place to the Aboriginal people who called the area home. As traditionally only certain Aboriginal people could climb the mountain, they ask that everyone consider not climbing. Same thing with Uluru. I get it, and I have never had a problem with it at all until recently (see this post). It was their land after all, and the Europeans came and took it away on the basis that it belonged to nobody. The land is still theirs and should be treated accordingly. Right? Well not really, not anymore. Only around 1% of the population are of Aboriginal descent, and the other 99% never made the decision to take anyone else's land, they were just born where they were born. Before you lynch me, let me make it clear that I'm not saying what happened was okay - of course it isn't okay to come to someone else's island and take it by force. What I'm saying is - what do we do about it now? What do we stand to gain by adhering to ancient traditions? At the risk of sounding careless and/or ignorant and/or shallow, why do the other 99% of us have to choose between political incorrectness and missing out on what is surely an awesome view? I'm just saying.

I'm warm, moist and delicious.

11 January, 2010

To mosquitoes.

Last night I wasn't sure if it was just my imagination or if something really was biting me. So on went the flashlight, and sure enough, there were fresh mozzie bites strewn across my lower half. I have particularly tasty ankles and feet. One mozzie sat drunkenly digesting on the low ceiling just above me, and I ruthlessly smashed it in an impressive show of (my) blood.

I'm sure mosquitoes must only need a bite or two at a time to sustain themselves. But when I'm around, all bets are off. They just can't help themselves. They go back for more, and more, and more, until they have drunk themselves to the point of disability, so overstuffed that they can't escape my victim vengeance. I'm mosquito heroin.

I could be the heroine in a Twilight-esque tale, only instead of a sexy vampire, my tragic beau is a mosquito, trying to abstain from sucking the life out of me. He fails. Roll credits.

Life's better when Nick doesn't have a cold.

9 January, 2010

We finally made it to the jetty in Coffs, and it was awesome. The beach is great as it is protected, so the waves are tame. We enjoyed watching the daredevils jumping off of the jetty in spectacular fashion, and discovered that there is loads of shade underneath it on the beach, where we sat and dug a huge pool. I love Jetty Beach.

We decided to leave Coffs Harbour yesterday. There is loads of Australia left to see after all.

First stop: Carobana Confectionary Factory just north of Coffs. Unfortunately there were no orders, so the factory wasn't working, but there were loads of pictures and explanations about how carob grows, and there were tons of samples. What I like about carob is that it is naturally sweet, so it's easy to find caroby treats with no added sugar. We sampled peppermint carob buttons, orange ones, carob coated crystallised ginger (Nick's favourite), and carob coconut clusters (my favourite). Carobana was great. They have free tea and coffee, free colouring in sheets for the kids, and country charm. We bought some carob for the road and headed north.

We drove through Grafton. Nothing really grabbed our attention except for the size of the McDonalds - it was colossal. We headed on to McLean, "Australia's Scottish City" and it was excellent. The telephone poles along the streets are painted with various tartans, and apparently you can go into "The Scottish Shop" to track down your own. The village was picturesque and quaint and vaguely reminiscent of Scotland, including Gaelic translations on the street signs. We stopped at a fruit stand to pick up our lunch (a local watermelon) and took it to a playground, enjoying the impossibly fluffy, cottony clouds meandering past. It was gorgeous.

We headed through Yamba but didn't stop as it was completely chockers with holiday makers - I have never seen so many tents packed side by side in a caravan park. After we ditched, I did a bit more reading about the place in the visitor centre brochures we had picked up in Coffs, and it looked like a really interesting, beautiful place if given half a chance. But we had already left, so on we went towards Lismore.

This whole part of the world is amazingly beautiful. Rolling green hills, neat rows of macadamias and coffee (I stole that verbatim from the guidebook - I have no idea what coffee looks like on the plant), dramatic clouds casting dramatic shadows on the hills, small winding country roads with drivers who don't really mind if you go a bit under the speed limit because you're new to driving a motorhome (me) - in fact they seem to just back off to enjoy the view themselves. Bananas and sugarcane feature prominently. Yum.

We stayed at a caravan park because we didn't spot any obvious free camping spots in our initial drive around Lismore. It was one of the dodgier caravan parks that is populated by like 95% permanent residents, but it was cheap.

This morning we headed to Heritage Park which was very cool, full of interesting play structures and lots of different little areas for the kids to play in. AND a train that actually goes around the park, complete with a little train station and a (grumpy) conductor/ticket seller. I made the kids some sushi for lunch which we enjoyed in the park, and then the kids and I hopped on the train for our two laps around the park before we headed off to Tucki Tucki Reserve to do some koala spotting.

I had read about the koala reserve when I was in Byron Bay in October and was taken by the actual possibility of spotting koalas in the wild. The history is that in the late 1950s, residents were concerned about the diminishing koalas and koala habitat, so they set aside some land and replanted koala food trees. The land ended up in government hands where it was named Tucki Tucki Reserve. There are signs that give clues to finding koalas:

Step one, tick (awww, his very own koala poo):

Step two, tick:

But alas, no koalas. The kids weren't disappointed though, which was good. We had a nice quiet bushwalk surrounded by the sound of wind blowing through the beautiful high trees.

Yesterday Nick and I looked at the map to work out our plan of action from Lismore since there is so much to do and see around here. It would be good to avoid backtracking as much as possible. We gotta go to Nimbin, the "alternative lifestyle capital of Australia". We read that the craft market in The Channon (I love a name that starts with "The") is spectacular, with around 250 stalls and 10,000 people pouring into the little village. And it just happens to be on the 2nd Sunday of the month, which just happens to be tomorrow. As I type, we are sitting in a nice grassy area in beautiful tiny The Channon, the kids playing on the rocks and with the leaves and sticks, having a good ole time. We're going to park near where the markets are going to be held and hope that we aren't in the way of the stallholders.

06 January 2010

Coffs Harbour

7 January, 2010

We are loving Coffs Harbour. It is a really easy place to free camp. Check out our room with a view - it was so nice we stayed there two nights in a row:

What a way to wake up.

There's us up there, our view from our morning swim:

We spent ages digging canals and pools in the sand, frolicking on the rocks, and discovering caves. The tide came in and the boys had a little pool to play in.

And here's us doing the touristy thing at the Big Banana:

Last night we decided to stay at a caravan park so that we could plug in overnight to recharge our new battery (via our new $400 battery charger which our warranty didn't cover *insert big frowny face here*), fill up with water, drain our grey water, and empty the toilet. A few things we have learned:

-We actually need to have some sort of idea how much power we're using so that we can keep track of when we need to recharge our battery. If it runs completely flat, it takes days to recharge at the battery shop.

-The $35 food quality water hose is worth the money. We paid $6 for a hose at Big W, and our Brita-filtered water all tastes like, well, a hose. So we'll be forking over the cash for the better hose.

-Don't think you can just empty your portable toilet every day and that will negate the need for toilet chemicals. The toilet chemicals are completely, absolutely necessary. And yes, you can buy 100% biodegradable, septic-safe, "green" chemicals for only a bit more money.

-Despite their assurances to the contrary before we bought the wireless broadband modem, there is no 3 network coverage in Coffs Harbour. It's a bit ridiculous really. And the people at the other end of the phone haven't even heard of Coffs Harbour because they are in India, so they don't understand just how ridiculous it is that there is no coverage here. Go with the big players - Telstra or Optus.

-Five people fit quite comfortably into two double beds, as long as two of them are very short.

Houston, we have a problem.

4 January, 2010

We noticed that our "house" battery (the one in the back that powers the living area) didn't seem to be holding its charge. The lights and fridge were dimming after having been plugged in at the farm for days. Plugging in is meant to charge the battery. So on our agenda for today was finding a battery/auto electrical place. I saw one on the way into Coffs, so we went there.

Yes, the battery was completely flat. No, it is not charging when plugged into the mains. New battery = $220. Battery charger should be under warranty, but the warranty people have to "get us in the system" before they can process the claim, which for some amazing reason takes 24 hours. We bought the battery so that we can have light and refrigeration (we have a huge new tub of yoghurt!), and hopefully we can get the charger sorted tomorrow.

The real beginning

We left the farm today, so this was really the beginning of our aimless travels. It was very exciting. Even just driving down the road from the farm with nowhere in particular to be was so exhilirating.

We had decided to head to Coffs Harbour to attend to some business, mostly internet related. My poor mother hasn't heard from me in over a week now and is probably going a bit crazy (Hi Mom!) so I would like to be able to get these blog posts, well, posted. Our wireless internet still isn't working though. Tomorrow we'll have to find an internet cafe to sort it all out.

First stop, Bellingen. I went to Bellingen yesterday with Kathryn and I LOVED IT. It is an awesome little town with a real hippy flavour - great clothes shops, organic bakeries, homemade gelato shop (yummm), and a wonderful health food shop that carries everything one could want, including all of the somewhat obscure ingredients I use in my cookbook (rapadura, coconut flour, wholemeal spelt flour, etc). It had a little recipe book put together by local people to raise money for a local cause, and Kath said that I should try my recipe book out there. It was a good idea.

So today we headed down Waterfall Way to Bellingen. We explored a bit, got some aforementioned gelato, and dropped by the health food shop that was unfortunately closed. I left a book and my blurb and contact details, and hopefully they'll be interested in carrying them! Nate found a little shop with pirate excavation sets for sale - they are little treasure chest shaped packed sand with something hidden inside, and you use the mallet, chisel and brush to get the treasure out of the middle. He absolutely loved it. Here's him at work:

And the treasure emerging:

Taking shape:

Maya coming to help:

He loves his new necklace and plans to wear it until he is old so that he can remember how much fun he had as a kid. Awwww.

The kids used all of the leftover yellow glittery sand as "fairy dust" and sprinkled it in tiny quantities all over the place. The fun lasted for ages.

We took the scenic route from Bellingen, heading through spectacular valley scenery towards Gleniffer, along the enchantingly named Never Never Creek towards Valery. The views through this area were amazing. The cloud cover may have even added to the view as it sat low, misty in the surrounding hills. The sometimes paved forest road, carved out of red earth, had occasional nausea inducing drop offs. But soon enough we were back to the Pacific Hwy and heading up to Coffs.

We headed straight for the beach and had a nice, if chilly and misty, play. We took advantage of the warm beach showers - Nate had a shower, but Eli and Maya needed a bit of a soak so we brought over our "bathtub":

Before we left Sydney, Nick just happened to hear a news story about residents of Bondi complaining to the council about people sleeping in their campervans on the street. Apparently there were no grounds for action because there is no law against sleeping in your vehicle. Good to know. So tonight we are parked on a quiet street with no signs posted anywhere about not stopping or staying overnight. We have all of our curtains closed and doors locked, and from the outside you would have no idea there was even anyone in here. There are a few other vans and even a motorhome parked along this long stretch of road, so I don't think we're the first ones to come up with this idea.

03 January 2010

Christmas pictures

We had a treasure hunt for gingerbread houses, and here was the booty:

Eli with his new car:

Me and Nick enjoying the kids enjoying themselves:

New clothes, colourful kids (Nate reeeeally wanted "rainbow shorts"):

The kids were playing with Ariel and plasticine. Maya was doing Ariel's voice and we noticed from the other room that instead of speaking, Ariel had started mumbling "Mmm, mmm mmmm mmmmmm!" So we went to check it out, and this is what we found:

It was too funny.