• Hervey Bay, July 29th

    Yesterday we had a very idyllic day. The weather was great; sunny and 25 degrees, and our trip on the glass bottom boat took us via an encounter with a troop of dolphins to an idyllic little island where we searched for nice shells. In my case for nice shells to look at, in the case of the males of the family for shells to eat. We both succeeded (I even found a complete fish, apparently washed ashore short after dying and drying out in the sun) and the skipper fired up the BBQ for their ‘pipis’ and the steaks and sausages he had brought for the buffet. Salad, melon, glass of wine and a steak sandwich made for a great lunch.

    In the early afternoon we sailed on to see a bit of the Coral Reef. That is so beautiful; all the weird coral plants with their different shapes and colours. Though you cannot see the colours as brightly as when you dive, some of the coral was almost fluorescent.

    The water was pretty cold, so only Tim was brave enough to actually go and snorkel around for a bit. The boys thought they would too, but the cold water scared them off to much.

    Back home we did a necessary bit of laundry and walked a bit along the Esplanade here to see the see. Since Tim nor I felt like cooking we went for fish and chips – the boys didn’t mind at all.

    Today we had to get up early, since we were picked up at 07.55 for our one-day-safari to Fraser Island (or K’Gari as the aboriginals call it). Fraser island is the biggest sand-island in the world and when you are there it is really incredible how lush and green the island is, and how high the trees (especially in the rainforest part) can get. There is an enormous variety in plants and trees; the guide told all but I must admit that I have forgotten a large portion of it already. It didn’t help that most of the tour was done by four-wheel-drive bus. On the island you can only drive four-wheel-drive vehicles and once you’ve been on it you understand why that is; it is all sand-tracks and I actually felt that it might have been a good idea to take our seasick-pills before this bus ride too. I made a small video and I might see if I can upload that, to give everybody an impression of what it feels like. Just imagine that you have that for almost two hours…

    The island is called after James and Eliza Fraser, captain and his wife, who survived a shipwreck and landed on the island where they were found by aboriginals. James died, Elisa was rescued after a few months, returned to England and wrote a best-seller about her adventures. There are many variations on what exactly happened, and quite a few seem to be invented by Eliza, but these are the facts everybody agrees upon.

    Though it is nice to see so much of the island in such a short time, it also reminded us why we don’t like doing organized bus-tours. You live by the schedule; after the designated number of minutes you have to go to the bus again and drive to the next destination. No time to really feel the place and a lot less walking than we anticipated. But it is still worthwhile to do, to get a good impression of what the island is like.

    They also offered flights in little aeroplanes, to get a good overview of the island. I couldn’t resist the temptation and took a flight. It is hard to make pictures, so there aren’t many. But you can see how green the island is, and that there are still some really nice lakes in it. All fresh water lakes by the way, even the ones quite close to the beach. And we managed to spot another whale!

    After a long and tiring day we were dropped of at our caravan park. Tomorrow we begin our descend to the south again; in 11 days we will fly home from Sydney (Thursday the 9th) and I would like to see my relatives before we depart. So we aim to be at Bateau Bay around the 7th and in Sydney around the 9th, but don’t know for sure if we can make that and still have a nice holiday drive. We’ll see. Tomorrow we will probably aim for mount Cougar, just above the NSW/Queensland border.

  • Hervey Bay, july 27th

    Today was a travelling day. We wanted to leave the Goldcoast as soon as we could; we would have loved it 20 years ago and the kids will love it in another ten – but right now it felt like Torremolinos in Oz and that’s not our choice for this trip. Too many buildings and flats, too many tourist attractions and theme parks, too many fast-food restaurants.

    So we decided to do the remaining 300 km to our final destination in one day. Brisbane seemed nice, but busy. We went over a toll bridge that was really really high above the ground/water. The view was great but there were bars along the whole bridge so I couldn’t really photograph it.

    After Brisbane the landscape was much more to our liking. Even the motorway had scenic bits! Because we promised the kids a happy McDonalds meal to make up for the long drive we made a stop at one in Gympie (yes, the name makes me laugh too). It had an Aldi next door, so we could do the basic shopping at the same time and it had a new addition we’ve first seen here in Australia: The McCafee. Intrigued we ordered espresso, sandwiches and doughnuts – and we are now sucked in by the Evil Empire. It all tasted nice and was moderately healthy, whilst we could still provide the kids with their beloved happy meals.

    We drove for approximately 5 hours to our current Holiday Park. We had called them earlier to book and found they only had one ensuite site available, so now we have the luxury of our own little cabine with a shower and a toilet. We can survive a few nights of that 😉

    We also booked the tours we want to do, because it is weekend and nice weather so everything is pretty much booked full. So tomorrow morning we will do a trip with a glass bottom boat to get a glimpse of what you can see under the water, and Sunday we will do a full day trip to Fraser Island. Monday morning we will start our way back to Sydney. We will have 11 days to make the trip, but will try to do it slightly faster because we want to see the relatives before we depart.

  • Goldcoast, July 26th

    Yesterday was a superb day. We checked out early in the morning, after a sturdy “brekky” of baked beans for all males in the household and the usual toast & marmalade for me.

    At nine we met our fellow whale spotters in front of the diving club that organized the trip. A no-nonsense captain told us what to expect and how to behave, we left all valuables behind and put our cameras into a waterproof case, put wet and sloppy wetsuit shoes on (except Falco, he had to go bare foot since they didn’t have anything in his size and complemented the outfits with bright yellow southwester coats. On the kids they were more like dresses than coats; Falco had to be carefull not to trip over the hem and we had to roll up all their sleeves till almost the shoulders. They already had the cameras locked away, so I can’t share the vision with you 😉

    They transported us to the beach, where we had to waddle through the waves and the incoming surfers to hoist ourselves into a big rubber boat. 12 Of us, back to back on small benches in the middle with no room between your knees and the board, the skipper and his mate – and the boat was full. They had told us this was more safari-style, but we hadn’t realized how much more FUN that would be. After an introduction speech about whales and how they were brought near to extinction but are recovering – if climate change doesn’t destroy the plankton they eat in the near future – we raced full speed to Julian’s Rock; a distinctive hump in the middle of the Bay.

    There are no guarantees, but we spotted two big whales and went closer. I had carefully changed my batteries for brand new ones the day before, to make sure I wouldn’t run out on the trip… and discovered that those didn’t seem to contain any juice. So there’s one photo of a waving flipper, and that’s all. But in my head I have the magnificent images of a humpback whale jumping completely out of the water!

    Later we say plenty of dolphins passing by and we even saw a sea-turtle swimming to the EAC (East Australian Current); the golf stream phenomena everybody who saw ‘Finding Nemo’ will recognize. A wonderful experience and a much nicer cruise than the one on the big luxurious boat we had done previously.

    We crowned our stay in Byron Bay with a truly excellent lunch in a place called ‘The Balcony’. Sitting outside on the balcony, looking out over the sunny main streets, eating well prepared fresh food, drinking great espresso and enjoying a marvellous lemon tart; who could ask for more.

    But we still want to see more of Australia, so we moved on to Queensland. Though it is very understandable why Byron Bay is such a favourite holiday destination; We would have gladly stayed a few weeks longer.

    On our way up we had to drive past Coolangatta Airport to pick up to more of our bags. And one of them was the bag with Tims camera, the chargers, my lenses and my toilet bag. Contrary to my expectations it was all still there and the only thing broken was the little box that held Tims tarot cards. So we now have four of the five bags, though one of those four is in Sydney with my cousin.

    We ended the day in Barragata Waters, a few kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. So far we’ve not been impressed by the goldcoast; lots and lots of high buildings and very touristy. But the camp we are now in is very nice; heated pools, jumping pillow, midget golf and a wifi network. Today we are lazing out again, whilst Tim finishes the last Harry Potter book. Tomorrow we will probably do one of the major theme parks in the neighbourhood and than we have to think about our way back. Maybe we still will go to Harvey Bay and Frasier Island, but at the moment the North of NSW seems much more appealing than the south of Queensland.
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  • Byron Bay, July 24th

    We had a long drive up from Arrawarra to Byron Bay, through flat flood-plains of a wide river-valley that reminded Marjolein of home, except for the extensive sugar-cane plantations. It all had a slightly run-down air, so we broke off towards the coast and stopped in Iluka. Iluka is a little town buried in the coastal rainforest of Bundjalung National Park. It was a different side of Oz, tiny and very quiet with one fast-food thai/fish and chip shop and a local supermarket that sold everything from olives to fish-bait. We had horrible coffee in the town, stocked up on groceries and had a very nice walk in the national park.

    Back on the road to Byron Bay the countryside started to look like New England, but with all the pine trees turned upside down: one of the native trees resembles a Christmas tree that has had all it’s needles blown vertical: Marjolein thought it looked as if someone had frightened it. We were all glad to finally find Byron Bay and got our first look at it by stopping at the headland above it and admiring the enormous beach and crashing waves, adorned as always by surfers. Aussies surf like Dutch people ride bikes, but cover less distance… The town itself was immediately attractive – it had a laid-back San Francisco atmosphere with a mixture of expensive surf-shops, crystal healing wellness centres and back-packer everything. They also serve the first decent espresso we have managed to score in Oz, i.e. it is actually as good as, or in one remarkable case better, than what we make at home. We fumbled about a bit finding a camper-park and settled in just in time for the heavens to open and hammer our little home with rain.

    The next day cleared up rapidly and we walked into town, downed mega espressos and then marched almost 3k in brilliant sunshine, up through rainforest (more NP and World Heritage to boot) to the Byron Bay lighthouse and the most easterly point of Australia. The toads complained at various points, but also enjoyed themselves and did the whole long walk up and down the steep headland pretty well. The gods smiled on them and us and conjured up an ice-cream vendor at the top of the climb. Similar gods also produced a pair of whales to observe from the most easterly point. We waddled back to town, scored a late lunch from a gluten-free coffee shop that revived me with “Immune Booster” juice: apple, ginger and carrot, a mixture I am definitely going to try at home. Refreshed and revived, but with the little monsters showing signs of wear we trundled around town, found Marjolein a nice bathing-suit to replace the one lost with our luggage and booked a whale watching trip for the next day. I signed waivers for pretty much anything other than active attempts to murder us and we shall be venturing out into a briny infested with enormous powerful creatures in something that is literally a stretched out Zodiak rubber-boat. It is a far cry from the floating gin-palace that we went in at Nelson Bay, but very appropriate to the way of life here. If there are no further entries after this…

  • Arrawara, July 22d

    Today was mainly a lazy day. The kids spent a lot of time on the jumping pillow and some time in the pools. Unfortunately for them the pools were fun, but not heated, so they had short bursts of swim and long bursts of lying in the sun to warm up. I didn’t mind, because I had to finish the new Harry (mission accomplished!) so I didn’t want to do too many active things anyway.

    In spite of the weather forecast we mostly had a nice, warm and sunny day. Walk on the beach, through the grounds where wild kangaroos (or wallabies, I’m not great at spotting the difference) took a mild interest in our comings and goings. One of them had a little joey (that’s aussie for baby kangaroo), so that was a nice photo opportunity. I’ll upload some in another album on the photo page. The beach is nice; the sand is so hard that people actually bike on it regularly, to walk their dogs or to get to the surrounding places. Fun to see, especially for my Dutch bikeloving heart 😉

    The multicoloured birds (Lorakeets Tim calls them, they’re a kind of parrot, I have to look up their real name) are everywhere and they are cheaky as hell. First you just laugh, but the third time one of them lands on your head to see if he can get a bite of your sandwich it is a lot less charming!

    This camping site also has a licensed restaurant, so we tried out some Australian beers. There are quite a few nice ones. Their lagers are really nice, the darker ales are refreshing (our current toppers are Porter and Toohay Old) and I even tried a new kind of beer, Beez Neez, with Honey additions but NOT sweet. Now that we had a taste, more beers might follow…

    Tomorrow we will travel on, our current aim is Byron Bay.

  • Arrawarra, July 21th

    After our stay in Shoal Bay we felt it was time to search for a place that was as nice but a bit warmer. On our way out we decided to visit Oakdale Farm, jut on the beginning of the side road from the Pacific Highway to Nelson Bay. We didn’t know what to expect exactly, but it turned out to be really really nice.

    The friendly people there combined a normal farm with some of the Australian wildlife, and the kids could feed all of them. It started with some really cheeky goats and sheep, that really went for the animal treats in the kids’ paper bags. The kids were actually already pretty impressed with that. But after walking on we discovered the fields where the kangaroos and wallabies lived, emu and ostrich cages, cockatoos that were not friendly enough to be free, but that were smart and curious enough to follow you around and to reply to greetings and waves with a ‘hello’ or a wave back. There was a dingo to look at, they were allowed to pat the koala’s and even could milk a cow. Or at least attempt to milk her…

    All of this lead to some really nice pictures, that I will put in a separate album on the photo page.

    We got a recommendation for Forster as a pleasant place to stay, so we had booked a place there for two nights. Unfortunately the next day it rained all day – but if we had to have a rainy day anyway Forster was a better place than many others because it had an inside playground at walking distance and a big shopping mall. So the kids still had great time and we had time to buy some necessities.

    And yes, necessities included the latest Harry Potter, which I bought from a wizard in the bookshop there the morning we departed. This will be a short post, because I am only at page 101 and still have at least 400 pages to go 😉

    Other than that today was a driving day. We decided to really make a jump northwards in search for better weather, so we’ve driven more than 300 km today. Since the average rate is more or less 65 km per hour on the roads here, with our big campervan, that means quite a drive. The park we landed in seems really nice though. We were greeted by some wild wallabies next to the driveway, they had a jumping pillow that entertained the kids for the first hour, three heated pools with water slides and border the beach. People wear short sleeved t-shirts here, which is a good sign too; apparently the feeling of warmer weather is not entirely in our hopeful imagination!

    The saga of the missing luggage still continues though. We extended our stay in the last two holiday parks so they could deliver the bag they found, but that seems to be beyond their current capabilities too. They don’t pick up the phone, we already have worked our way through 4 phone numbers and mobile phone numbers so we will have to wait till they call us again. I might try to invent a swimming costume though, since the shops are a few kilometres away and my own swimming gear is in one of the still missing bags.

    First I have to finish Harry though 😉
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  • Shoal Bay, July 18th

    Since the lost luggage people said they’d deliver another bag to us we decided to stay here one day longer. Tomorrow we will head of to Forster, another 150 or so kilometres up north.

    The bag was not delivered; they’ll retry tomorrow at the holiday park we just booked. Appearantly one of the bags of our boys is at my cousins place in Sydney; we will retrieve that one on our way back. Another boys bag will be delivered tomorrow, which means that we still miss the luggage of one boy and the bag with our remaining cloths, my toilet bag and all chargers in it. I do miss my tripod and I was looking forward to trying out my new lenses, but I fear I might have to replace those. Here, if I can find a specialized shop with the right equipment, or at home after I return.

    Today was very cold the locals complained: about 15 degrees and with a still burning sun so for us it merely means we have to zip our coats up. There was a stiff wind though, so we were happy that we took the whale spotting cruise yesterday.

    We spent this day walking and climbing. First to the left hand side of the bay, where we climbed the head. Than we walked back over the beach to the other side of the bay, where we climbed Tomaralee Head; a 550 m high hill so that was quite a steep climb. Falco got tired, but since we walked and climbed for about 4 hours we felt he had a right to complain a bit in the end. Food and drink helped restore the bad mood quite effectively.

    Walking on the beach was nice enough in itself, but at one point we actually had a dolphin swimming past, just a few metres away, which was an unexpected and appreciated event.

    Tim will try the camp BBQ in a few minutes, to make us steak sandwiches. We will make them the Dutch way, which means smaller than the Australian sandwiches and without beetroot (which I like, but the kids don’t). Though big, there sandwiches are often nice and healthy. I ordered a salad today, which was on the menu too, and it turned out to be a salad sandwich too, which tasted nice and felt good. I now know I still fit my own jeans (they were in the delivered bag), so I’ll try to keep it that way 😉

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  • Shoal Bay, July 17th

    Today we were woken up by a group of screeching (Tim did the laughing, not the birds…) birds next to our caravan around 6 in the morning.

    Since that is still the time we wake up anyway we couldn’t really blame them. So Tim and I just went for a nice walk on the beach across the road here. Very idyllic. We than called to see if there was still room on one of the whale cruises from Nelson Bay. We walked there (almost three kilometres, not too hard to do but a steep walk for Falco) and had breakfast in the harbour. Yummy espresso!! Or a double shot of short black as they call it here – yes, you have to learn to speak some Aussie to get by 😉

    After stringent advice from locals we bought anti-seasick pills for everybody and distributed those over breakfast. An unexpected but welcome side-effect was that they made Matthijs slightly drowsy, so we didn’t have to be afraid that he would climb the railing or some similar dangerous thing. The boat trip was really nice. Cold and windy, but sunny and with a clear sky which made the whole atmosphere quite crisp. We put some factor 30 on our face and hands and still caught some sun!

    Because of the kids we chose the biggest motorboat, but the whales kept a bit away from us and we saw them swimming right next to the Sailing Boat we could’ve booked too. A learning experience; when you want to spot whales, go eco!

    During our walk back the kids went hungry and tired, so halfway we stopped at one of the big RSL (Returned Soldier League) Clubs on the road. My family had told me that you could just become a member for the day without any additional costs, and they provide a nice simple meal for a decent price. Right on both counts, so we might do that again in future.

    Back in the Holiday Park the reception finally got the wifi kiosk working, so I will quickly update all photo’s and stories till today. My internet minutes are almost finished, so the next update might be a few days away again!

  • Bateau Bay, July 16th

    Saturday we also had a really nice day in the Blue Mountains. We went to the Leura Falls (or cascades, depends on which local you talk to) which is a very lush and genteel walk. Up and down the stairs again of course, it is still in the mountains. Our leg muscles would be pretty strong if we stayed here all holiday.

    In the afternoon we dropped Tim and the boys near the lake close by, the same one they briefly visited yesterday. It had lots of ducks (and the occasional geese) to feed, a climbing rack, swings and a climbing rack resembling a pirate ship. They had lots of fun there, whilst my aunt and I did some more shopping in the local mall. No, still no word from the luggage people – so we have to buy bits and bobs on the road, when we actually need them.

    The evening was spent with my aunt, her son and his family in a Thai restaurant. The food was quite nice and we remembered to Bring Our Own just in time to get a nice white wine in a bottleshop.

    Sunday we departed to Bateay Bay, near Gosford, where my other aunt lives. Two and a half hours by car, which gives us time to get used to driving the campervan, finding the proper set-up for the kids, making sure we locked everything away properly (colouring pencils are nice to keep the kids entertained, but you will encounter a curve that neatly spreads them all through the campervan…), etc.

    We found a nice holiday park, close to where my aunt lives, and right next to the sea. I had a visit with my aunt and Tim and the boys explored the beach. They found the most amazing shells, and on the rocky bits all sort of weird clams and limpids. The park has a heated pool, which they couldn’t resist either, so they jumped right in. I added swimming gear to my shopping list; since it is winter here that didn’t have a high priority but with heated swimming pools…

    Sleeping in the campervan for the first time took some getting used too – mainly because the boys thought it was such great fun. We have a tv and a dvd player in the caravan, just at the right hight for them to watch it from their beds. We woke up at sunset. Falco squicked “mamma, is it morning or not? On one side of the caravan it is, on the other it isn’t”.

    Since our campervan is parked right next to the beach, we could see the sun rise from the sea while we were still in our beds, which is great. It also rose bit from behind the oil tankers we see cueing up on the horizon, waiting to stock up in New Castle. It’s a weird sight, the beautiful beach, a long stretch of ocean and near the horizon this line of little ships.

    We got up for a morning walk, more appreciated by the parents than by the kids. Strolling over a nice beach at 07.30 in the morning with multicoloured birds flying around your head sure gives me a holiday feeling!

    After a refreshing swim for the kids we departed for the Port Stephens area. Going north via the Pacific Highway led us first over a small land area between the ocean and a few quite beautiful lakes. It was appropriately named “The Entrance” and is supposed to be (next to a great fishing place) known for its pelicans. But feeding the pelicans would only happen at three and we didn’t want to wait that long, so we decided to travel on.

    The journey took is through Newcastle, which looked really nice. Maybe we will visit a bit longer on our way back; we more or less simultaneously declared that if we wanted to emigrate, this would be the place we wanted to live in.
    In the afternoon we arrived in Shoal Bay, right next to Nelson’s bay. The holiday park doesn’t have a swimming pool, but it is half the price and it has wifi, so we are still pleased. And we only have to cross the road to be on a nice little beach in a beautiful little bay. We bought sunglasses and hats, in preparation of the dolphin and whale spotting cruise we want to make from here. The local people also advised seasickness pills (“even if you think you never get seasick you’re better of taking them”) so we bought some of those too. It would be a shame to find ourselves to sick to truly enjoy the trip! Tomorrow we’ll try to book a nice cruise, so hopefully more news and photo’s soon.

    Oh, and they called from the airport this afternoon; they found one of our bags and promised to deliver it tomorrow at the holiday park. Hopefully it is the one with our clothes in it, kiddy garments are more easily found.

  • Woodford, July 13th

    We were so tired that we went to bed early and woke up early on Friday morning. Sitting in flannel striped pyjama’s and big dressing gowns with a cup of espresso next to the fire is not a bad start of the day, especially not if it is Friday the 13th.

    After some basic shopping my aunt took us to see the three sisters. The Blue Mountains are actually stunningly beautiful and very large. We took the “Giant Steps” down, which means going down really steep steps for about a kilometre. Very good leg exercise for all of us, but we all managed; even Falco did most of it by himself. After that we walked 2 km through the forest on a mountain path and ended up at the station of the scenic railway, with a little train that will take you up the hill again. They claim to be the steepest railway in the world and after taking the trip I do believe them. I don’t think I would dare to do it down the hill, it felt like it was a 60 degree angle. Or is that a 120 degrees? (Update: My cousin worked there and told me it actually is 52 degrees).

    On top we saw the statues of the three sisters and their father (I think), so I assume there is a legend about how three nice young sisters got turned into stone. Being without internet also means being without google though, and at times like that I really miss the opportunity to look up what the legend is.

    By that time we had walked for two hours, so we had a little picnic up the mountain. Not for too long though, it is much colder that high up. The kids had a play near a little lake to shake the last bits of cabin fever out and than we headed back to the nice wood fire in my aunts house.

    I’ll put some of the pictures of today up in a Blue Mountain photo album on the photo page, if folks want to admire the three sisters.