Week 9- Cairns to Agnes Water

After our loop north of Cairns, the plan for week 9 was to head down south away from the crocs and jellyfish as far as a safe swimming beach for everyone to learn how to surf. I managed to persuade everyone to detour via the Atherton Tablelands for a few final walks, before embarking on 3 days of driving 5 hours a day as far as Agnes Water, the most northerly surfing beach in Queensland. On Monday we left Ellis beach and headed to Yungaburra, driving through the Atherton Tablelands- green rolling hills with plentiful farms growing coffee, mango, macademia nut, lychees and bananas. We spent the afternoon at Lake Eacham, a croc-free lake surrounded by rainforest with a 3km walking track around it. We had a lovely walk, again failing to spot any mammals but enjoying seeing the turtles swimming in the water, our first sight of a water dragon, and lots of bird-spotting. I experienced my first leech encounter, finding one on my big toe at the end of the walk that luckily hadn’t attached itself yet, and vowed to wear closed shoes in the future- good preparation for Borneo! It poured with rain when we were about half way round but we hardly felt a drop, sheltered by the trees, and when we emerged at the other end the clouds had passed and everyone went for a refreshing swim. It was a lovely afternoon. We stopped at the platypus viewing platform in Yungaburra on our way back to the campsite, but once again the Australian mammals proved elusive. We haven’t seen so much as a possum yet- not even dead on the road! Yungaburra itself was a lovely small village with lots of old buildings and flowers everywhere- it had a really nice feel. We camped up on the shores of Lake Maraboon where we experienced our first tropical rain storm, stuck in the kitchen area whilst the water pounded down and lightening lit up the sky- we were reminded of barbeques in England! Eventually we had to brave the short run back to Goufi and everyone was soaked through after our 100m dash. Our first taste of monsoon rain!

The next morning we continued exploring the Atherton Tablelands, starting with a visit to the Curtain Fig Tree, an enormous tree at a 45 degree angle with roots hanging down from the main trunk, giving the effect of a curtain. It was certainly impressive, and I felt a great sense of peace in this part of the rainforest, very connected to nature. We carried on to Malanda, where there is a short but wide waterfall with a swimming area underneath it, and another walking track through the rainforest where we first heard a laughing kookaburra, initially sounding very like a monkey in the trees. Of course we couldn’t resist finishing off with a swim in the cooling water, before heading on to Millaa Millaa for lunch and another waterfall. Millaa Millaa waterfall was a good contrast to Malanda, being very high and narrow- an impressive sight. There were crowds of tourists there when we arrived, but they soon departed and we were able to enjoy swimming in the very cold water in peace. We were joined by turtles, a cormorant and a beautiful kingfisher, and we all made it over to the foot of the waterfall where we could fully appreciate its power. There are a further 3 waterfalls within 15 km of here which we didn’t explore, but I thought this was a beautiful part of the country where I could easily have spent many more days. I would love to return to Cairns again in the cooler months and get to know this part of the world better.

 

 

In the afternoon we headed back to the coast where we stopped for the night at Mission Beach. There I definitely found paradise. We stayed in a cheap, council-run campsite right on the edge of the quiet, wide, sandy beach. Here we enjoyed our 3rd swim of the day- this time in the sea, taking advantage of the stinger net and the gloriously warm water. As Ben put the kids to bed, I had a fantastic hour enjoying a beer and reading my book on the beach, by myself, while the sun went down- pure bliss.

Mission Beach is the most densely populated area of cassowaries in Australia, so Cara and I got up early on Wednesday morning and headed out for a walk at 6.00, to take advantage of our final chance to see one in the wild. We had a lovely walk together in the cool of the day, but alas we didn’t even manage to find the entrance to the rainforest track (due to it not being where it was marked on my app), let alone a cassowary! We arrived back at the campervan and found the boys had woken up and managed a game of football on the beach, and we finished with a final swim in the completely clear, still, warm sea before we left. Absolutely, without a doubt, the most fabulous water I have ever swum in. Mission Beach, I love you!

From Mission Beach we headed down to Townsville where we spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Tropical Queensland. There was a Horrible Histories exhibition about pirates which kept the kids entertained, and we also managed to learn more about the Great Barrier reef, the rainforest and the wildlife in Queensland (Cara and me), and about the search for the crew of the Bounty which ended in a shipwreck on the Great Barrier reef (the boys). Townsville looked like a great town to hang out with lots to do and another free swimming and play area on the seafront, but we were bound for the Outback, so we headed on to Charters Towers for the evening. Known as “the world” at the time of the Gold Rush this was once an enormous town with fabulous wild west architecture and a large stock exchange and a friendly place to stop for the night.

On Thursday we continued our mammoth drive down to Agnes Water with a further 5 hours driving, this time venturing further in to the Outback. The landscape started to look much more dry and barren with thin trees lacking foliage growing on dry red ground, and large swathes of scrubland, perfect for spotting emus. The land felt very unfertile and the cows grazing here had huge areas to roam but were all skin and bones. The wide empty roads stretched completely straight for miles without us seeing any signs of civilisation. We stopped in Clermont for lunch, and were surprised to find such an unexpected gem! In the midst of all this, was a beautifully kept town with a large lake and wildlife area teaming with cockatoos, lorikeets, moorhens, a pelican and lots of turtles, a huge colony of flying foxes in the trees and the nicest playground we have seen in Australia, perfectly clean and undercover so it wasn’t too hot to use the equipment. An added bonus was the use of sprinklers on the surrounding grass which provided a good hour of entertainment and cooled us down brilliantly in the heat of the day as we ran through them- the kids were absolutely soaked by the time we made it back to Goufi. We continued on to Emerald, the start of cattle country, but decided not to stop there after reading some of the campsite reviews including ‘my mate’s fridge was stolen from his ute here’! We drove on the short distance to Lake Maraboon where we found a lovely campsite with resident cockatoos and kookaburras galore, good facilities, and more importantly a bar overlooking the swimming pool which had a small waterslide, keeping both adults and kids happy in the evening sun.

Lake Maraboon was a lovely place to relax and after 2 long days of driving it was very tempting to stay put for a while, but staying focussed on the surfing we agreed to plough on with our final long drive on Friday. Making the most of our time whilst we were still there, the kids spent the morning in the pool again before setting off whilst I went for a walk by the lake. This was much shorter than planned as I started being divebombed by a magpie as I ventured in to the picnic area- it flew so close to my head that I could feel it’s wings brushing past me, but luckily it didn’t actually hurt me. After it had had 3 goes at me, I decided to change my plans and started to loop back to the campsite waving a stick over my head. Once I was out of the area I dropped the stick, only to find it had followed me as it came in for another swoop. Most people will know that I really don’t like being close to birds and find their wings flapping quite frightening, so needless to say I was pretty freaked out by this time and running as fast as I could away from the area. Maybe not the walk I had planned, but I still managed to get some pretty good exercise for the day! After leaving the campsite we headed on to Agnes Water, stopping only briefly for lunch near Rockhampton, the heart of cowboy country, and after 3 long days of travel we finally reached our destination. We were rewarded by our first sighting of wild kangaroos as we neared our campsite, and everyone was thrilled to find 2 kangaroos sitting in our parking spot. We thought it was very clever of the owners to employ kangaroos to show people where to go! We were able to go quite close to them, a mother and her baby, and watch them feeding, walking and jumping. A lovely welcoming committee. We were also treated to a display by the resident frilled lizard which runs about upright on its back legs- absolutely hysterical to watch!

On Saturday morning it was wonderful to wake up in the knowledge that we had made it to safe surfing and swimming territory and didn’t have to do any more long drives for as long as we were happy in Agnes Water. We headed straight to the beach and hired some boards from the most laid-back surfer dude you could imagine, Huggy from Lazy Lizard surf school. The beach was long and wide with 6km of golden sand, a swimming area with lifeguards on duty and a relaxed beach cafe with wifi access- everything we could want. More importantly it had waves that were big enough to play about in and surf on, but not so enormous as to be frightening or dangerous. Ben and the kids had a happy day on the surf boards remembering what they had learned in Currumbin, and I enjoyed playing ‘Duck, swim, bob, jump’ with them in the swimming area. I had a couple of goes on the board but I don’t think surfing is for me- I am clearly not a natural and I don’t really enjoy being dunked under the waves so am not very motivated to keep practising. I did, however enjoy relaxing and reading my book- it felt like we were on holiday at last. After a long day, we headed up the headland to the town of 1770 for dinner at the sunset lookout point, making use of the free electric bbqs that are all over the place. We were rewarded with beautiful colours reflected in the water, as the sun set over the harbour with pelicans coming in to land. Truly lovely.

Agnes Water had everything we wanted- a beautiful but quiet surfing beach, a relaxed, laid-back feel, plenty of wildlife, and the picturesque spot of the town of 1770 with calm waters for swimming just around the corner. On Sunday we relocated to Workman’s Beach, further in to town, where there are spacious unpowered sites on a council run camping ground in the forest overlooking the beach. The rangers were extremely friendly and the price was amazing at just $25 per night. The only glitch was the enormous Huntsman’s spiders resident on the toilet block but luckily they were only visible at night so the kids were blissfully unaware, and I opted to use Goufi’s facilities after dark. Our site was big enough to put up the hammock and the kids’ mosquito net tents, initially just so we could mark our spot as ‘taken’ when we went out for the day, but this was quickly overtaken by the desire to sleep out for the night and before long all 3 tents were up with plans afoot for some proper camping on Sunday night. After a morning of schoolwork, we headed to the beach at lunchtime and had another relaxing afternoon at the seaside, before returning for the great camping adventure. Jago had a little wobble just before bedtime, but managed to overcome his fears and all 3 children quickly fell asleep enclosed in their thin tents with just net walls between them and the elements. Luckily there was no rain that night, and they all managed to sleep through until the early hours with no disturbances from snakes or spiders. Very happy at Agnes Water, we ended the week with plans to stay on here for the foreseeable future , keen to make this our home for the next week or so.

Week 8- Cairns to Cape Tribulation

On Monday morning we packed up our rucksacks and headed back to Brisbane airport, luckily still able to carry everything at this stage despite gradually accumulating more stuff, bound for Cairns. After all the busyness, traffic and people in Brisbane we were hoping for a quieter pace of life again in the North East and looking forward to exploring the rainforest and the Great Barrier reef. We could see great expanses of green sea surrounding coral cays as we flew up the coast, stretching for miles, whetting our appetites for snorkelling in a few days time, as well as the rainforest-covered hills extending right down to the golden beaches. Beautiful. We spent our first night in a central youth hostel which scored very highly with the kids due to the showing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone in the evening on a big screen that they could watch in the swimming pool. They were very wrinkly by the end of the film! Cairns was certainly much calmer and more relaxed than Brisbane had been, and had much more of a small town feel, albeit crammed to the gills with backpackers. The heat and humidity hit us as soon as we arrived, with temperatures in the mid 30s and we were very grateful for the air conditioning in our room. We also had our first experience of Australia’s flying foxes, with hundreds of them flying overhead at dusk- extremely big bats which I initially mistook for birds given their large size.

On Tuesday morning I took advantage of a quiet day to try out the local medical facilities. I had been unable to hear out of my left ear since we had left New Zealand and was surprised how isolating it felt not to be able to hear and join in with conversations. I have definitely gained a new-found sympathy for my patients with hearing loss. I showed up at a local medical centre and had to wait about an hour before seeing a very competent GP who sent me straight through to the nurse to syringe my ear there and then. 5 minutes later I could hear again! Amazing! It cost me $60- money very well spent and sadly a much better experience than I would have had in the UK.

With my hearing restored we headed to the campervan rental to collect our home for the rest of our time in Australia. There was enormous excitement to find that we had been upgraded from a ‘Mighty’ (oldest, cheapest models) to a Maui (top of the range), with a proper bathroom, soft fabric cushions to sleep on, and most importantly air conditioning. Relative luxury. ‘Goufi’ (an anagram of his numberplate) is certainly more comfortable than Fritz was, and the seating arrangement means that we can actually have conversations whilst driving in this van. On the flip side, we have lost a lot of living and sleeping space and are having to be much more friendly with each other with so little room to move around! Having booked a trip to the outer reef for Wednesday, we headed to Cairns holiday park to camp for a couple of nights, then leaving Ben behind to work in an air conditioned room the kids and I headed to the lagoon, another free saltwater pool and artificial beach on the seafront. Pools like this are especially important up here as the sea is so warm from November to May that it fills with deadly jellyfish and isn’t safe for swimming, but luckily there seem to be pools like this in many of the coastal towns. This is a really nice feature, as it ensures plenty of free fun for the kids wherever you are. We also noticed that all the parks have free electric bbqs alongside picnic tables so you can rock up pretty much anywhere and still have your barbie. We had a lovely relaxing afternoon mucking about in the water and playing under the fountains before heading for an early night, excited about our trip in the morning.

We awoke early on Wednesday morning and headed down to the marina for our day of snorkelling the Great Barrier reef. We had opted for a small eco-friendly catamaran, with capacity for 20 people, and found we had an incredibly friendly team comprising a Belgian captain and crew from Scotland, New Zealand and South Korea, who went out of their way to chat to everybody and make sure we had a good day. Our journey to the outer reef was 2 and a half hours and started off well, with the kids enjoying lying down on the nets at the front and getting splashed and sprayed by the waves. Unfortunately I hadn’t factored in the possibility of sea sickness at all, and both Jago and I started feeling very green with about an hour still to go. We sat on the side of the boat and watched the horizon which helped somewhat but I was still extremely nauseous when we arrived. We were given stinger suits, flippers, snorkels and noodles and set off. Cara, Ben and Piran were given a real treat as almost immediately a turtle swam past them- an excellent start! We saw lots of fabulous fish, starfish and coral, the guides managed to find some ‘Nemos’, and we even found a large white tipped reef shark which obligingly lay around long enough for us all to get a good look. The kids all used their snorkelling equipment without any difficulties, although the flippers did rub our feet a bit. Having snorkelled in the Red Sea, I didn’t think the fish were as plentiful here, but I haven’t seen such lovely coral before and I found it fascinating to watch it move and breathe, and to see all the beautiful colours. As we were nearing lunch time, the nausea finally caught up with me and I was very grateful to our guide who took Cara and Piran back to the boat for me, leaving me to sort myself out whilst Ben was snorkelling with Jago some distance from us. We had a fantastic morning, although my experience was again rather dampened by the sickness- the combination of this and whale watching has reminded me that I am definitely not a natural sea-goer! Restored by lunch we set off again for more snorkelling in the afternoon. A large barracuda had been sitting by our boat throughout lunchtime, and I don’t know if it was the thought of this, the realisation that he had been swimming with sharks, or the very strong current when we set off this time, but unfortunately something distressed Jago and he decided that he didn’t want to carry on. He could see jellyfish in the water, but we were wearing stinger suits to keep us safe from them. Having talked about nothing else before we came travelling, it was difficult to know whether to take him back to the boat or to encourage him on, in the hope that he would overcome his fears and enjoy the experience. I opted to keep him in the sea, but sadly it didn’t seem to help, and after spending more time arguing than actually snorkelling, we eventually retreated back to the boat. The others had a much more successful day and enjoyed seeing so many wonderful sea creatures as well as the fun of the sailing trip. There are clearly pros and cons to travelling with children, and I have had to accept that we will inevitably miss out on some experiences that we would have enjoyed; however this is more than made up for by my delight in seeing their happy and excited reactions to the things they find wonderful and sharing this adventure with them. The journey back to Cairns was much calmer; we all remained well and were able to enjoy the enormous splashes at the front of the catamaran. On return we headed to the lagoon again for an ice cream and a swim, and I was delighted to find a free Aqua Zumba class just about to start- great fun with an enormous crowd. The day finished on a high, and we all slept very well that night.

The following morning we headed north, where we had booked 2 nights at Noah Beach campground near Cape Tribulation. Going in to the Daintree rainforest, we had high hopes of seeing cassowaries and some of the other birds and animals that make it their home. It was a really beautiful drive with fabulous stretches of palm-tree lined golden beaches and clear blue water, as we left the traffic behind in Cairns. We stopped off at Mossman Gorge on the way and a short 10 minute walk quickly turned into 3 hours when we realised our map wasn’t drawn to scale and what looked like a 10minute stroll from the car park to the start of the forest walking track was actually 4km. Although it was still incredibly hot, the shade in the rainforest provided some relief and we managed a good stomp, not seeing any animals except the prolific brush turkeys, the magnificent Ulysses butterfly and lots of stunning rainbow-coloured lorikeets, but we had a lovely walk nonetheless finishing with an impromptu swim (in our clothes as we hadn’t brought swimming stuff with us) in the river. We got back to the van at tea time and continued our drive north, enjoying the old ferry crossing across the Daintree river, and made it to Noah Beach in the early evening. This is a campground run by the Queensland National Parks service with no facilities except for a toilet, and is set in rainforest just back from a beautiful beach. After Brisbane and Cairns it certainly felt very isolated, with only a handful of other people around, and it was lovely to be back in nature again. Whilst everyone else was complaining about the temperature, I was just delighted to be somewhere new and beautiful again. Unfortunately we hadn’t factored for the incredibly hot weather and soon realised that we had become quite dependent on air conditioning for survival. We slept with all the windows and doors open, safe in our little box with the mosquito screens shut, but there wasn’t any breeze to ease the sticky humidity, and on the first night Jago managed to freak himself out with the thought of spiders and snakes nearby, resulting in me having to climb into bed with him in the early hours. On top of this, we had a pond full of frogs just near our camping pitch and it sounded like a loud train passing by all night. It certainly isn’t quiet in the rainforest and not much sleep was had by anyone! Luckily Jago quickly became desensitised and I am pleased to say that he has not had any more wobbles since then. We were very grateful for our on-board toilet saving us from trips to the camping loos in the night- I think we might all have been freaked out if we had seen what hangs out there in the dark.

On Friday morning we headed up to Cape Tribulation which easily rivalled Anchorage for beauty. We were amongst only a handful of other people visiting and had we been able to swim in the sea it would have been perfect. We managed another rainforest walk, where we managed to find hundreds of mud crabs amongst the mangroves, and a peppermint stick insect, but still no birds or mammals- absolutely impossible to spot amongst all the vegetation. Jago certainly has eagle eyes and is fantastic at noticing small details which the rest of us cannot spot- he is a great asset on wildlife walks. Following on from ‘shuffle Mummy’, we now had the ‘shuffle crabby’ song to add to the family repertoire consisting of high five with both hands, fist pump (bombadash), whiskers followed by a shuffling sideways dance (ask Cara for more details). Do other families have crazy routines like this? After a morning of activity, we headed to a local ‘swimming hole’, a croc-free stream full of fish in the back garden of a local shop and restaurant, vital for cooling down. We stayed on for lunch afterwards where we sampled emu, kangaroo and crocodile burgers with chips made from a kind of squash called taro. We concluded that emu tasted very similar to beef and was delicious, the kangaroo was ok but nothing special and the crocodile was bland and not worth having again. Piran tried everything, Cara was willing to eat everything except the kangaroo (too cute) and Jago turned his nose up at all of It! We headed to the Daintree Ice cream company from there, where the ice cream is freshly made from local exotic fruits. You are given a mixed bowl of whatever is in season and can wander round the trees and see the fruits. They were serving coconut (nice), passion fruit (fabulous), Jak fruit (I didn’t like it and the enormous fruit smelt disgusting) and wattleseed (like coffee and delicious). They also had Soursop which tasted like lemonade and Black Sapoti which tasted like chocolate. Amazing natural flavours and much healthier than normal ice cream, we would eat a lot of this if we lived here! It is amazing how the rainforest provides so much of we need- delicious food, medicine, shelter, as well as providing a home for so many fabulous animals and birds- I think the Aborigines may well have had it right, living in harmony with their surroundings, using the abundant natural resources available to them, and it has saddened me to see how we have destroyed so much of this gift and their indigenous way of life. Our second night at Noah beach was much more successful, with everybody now used to their surroundings, but with the ongoing humidity we vowed to make that our last night of freedom camping and stick to powered sites where we could use our air conditioning thereafter.

On Saturday morning we started heading back south, and spent the morning at the Daintree Rainforest visitor centre. This was a great place to learn about the rainforest with aerial walkways and a tower right up to the canopy- where we could finally see the birds that we had heard so many of over the last few days. The children had audio guides that they activated themselves at relevant points- by keeping it interactive in this way I am sure they listened to far more information than they would have done if I had tried to teach them, and it is clear they took a lot in as they have since written a piece about rainforests with a particular emphasis on conservation. We haven’t managed a lot of school work in Australia but they are definitely getting a better idea of the need to protect and look after our natural world. We all managed the morning in the rainforest without worrying too much about the heat- maybe we are acclimatising at last! We headed back to Daintree village for lunch and joined a local boat trip to look for crocodiles on the river. This was one animal that we were relieved not to have encountered on our walks so far! We managed to find 3 saltwater crocodiles lazing on the shore underneath the mangrove and manoeuvre right up next to them- absolutely magnificent but truly terrifying creatures. The village itself was very small and didn’t have a lot to offer day-trippers, especially given that it was 37C and we just wanted to either be in a swimming pool or an air conditioned room, but we managed one more round of Daintree ice cream before heading back to Cairns. We stopped for the night at Ellis Beach, about half an hour north of the city, a beautiful beach with a large stinger net allowing us to swim in the sea. Our jaunt to the rainforest had been fabulous, but we really appreciated having power, a swimming net and swimming pool, and hot showers again after a couple of nights in the wild!

We hung out at Ellis Beach for the day on Sunday, not venturing any further than the beach, where we jumped over the waves in the incredibly warm sea, with a water temperature around 28C. A lovely relaxing end to the week. I have certainly been impressed with the beauty of tropical Queensland and at times the isolation here (at least in the hot summer months) has certainly rivalled much of New Zealand. Coupled with the excitement of such different birds and wildlife, I could have stayed here for weeks!

Great Barrier Reef

One day at Cairns we got up early and went down to the harbour. Our boat had nets to lie on at the front. We went out to the Great Barrier Reef whilst laying on the nets. When we got there we got our gear on and started to edge near the water. Once we had jumped in and started looking down we saw a big turtle swimming with his big shell. We saw lots of fish, loads of different kinds, big ones, small ones, colourful ones, one with just one colour.

 

Once we started to go a little bit further we started to see clams. You could see them opening and closing. We also saw sea cucumbers (you can’t eat them even though they are called cucumbers). This time we went a lot further and saw a reef shark. He was hiding on the sand. When we got out, we had lunch and spotted Barry the barracuda. With lunch, Mum and Dad bought us a can of coke each. After lunch we did more snorkeling than they normally do because a medical emergency happened on another boat and we had to move.

 

On the way back, we lay on the nets and got drenched by the big waves. I enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef because there was lots to see and I didn’t think that I was about to drown because we each had a woggle.

 

Surfing at Currumbin

Currumbin was are first  place we surfed in our lives except Dad who had surfed when he was young, but even he didn’t have a lot of experience. We found our surfing class and we learnt how to surf. Then we went into the water  to catch some waves. Our teacher told us to do chicken wing arms, happy seal, plank, back foot forward, front foot forward and surfers stance.

Mum and Dad had the biggest boards then Jago then Cara then me. He said the lighter you are the easier it is so it was easiest for me. All of us stood up on some waves, I stood up most. When I got up on my board I felt like I was standing on water. On one of my waves I went right back to the shore. We all got dunked a lot, I didn’t like that much. I thought I was brilliant and I enjoyed it!

The Outback

We drove a little way to a campsite where we parked and Dad went to make dinner. While Dad was making dinner we decided that we needed to come up with a name for the campervan. Its number plate was 1FO 9UG and we thought about the names Pug and Ifo but not everyone could agree on those so I came up with the name Goufi which everyone agreed was a good name. We then had dinner and went to bed in Goufi.

The next day we woke up early and started driving. We were going to drive for 2 hours though the outback. I started reading but now and then I would poke my head up to see what was outside the van. When I first thought of the outback I thought of just desert but when I actually saw it, it was just lots and lots of trees and flat for miles around. Later in the drive I went up to the front of Goufi and listened to England losing the Ashes (on this radio) with Dad. When we got to the end of our drive we found ourselves in the middle of the outback in a campsite. Then we all had lots of energy so we all had a swim.

The next day we woke up early again and started driving for the second time. Again I started reading and I then listened to the cricket (from the back,) but then Dad came to the back and read Lord Of The Rings  because this time it was a 5 hour drive not a 2 hour one. It was very hot and I got through 4 bottles of water. When we arrived at the next campsite I had another swim while Dad made a BBQ for dinner. We had sausage, pepper, potato, steak, beans and courgette. It was delicious and it made me full and so I fell asleep very quickly.

I woke up on the last day of driving feeling very tired even though all we did the day before was sit in Goufi. For the last time I woke up in the outback and started driving. I slept a bit and read and then again Dad came and read Lord Of The Rings to us for two hours. Again this drive was 5 hours like the last one so I had time to look for kangaroos and emus on the side of the road. I saw lots of them and at the end of the drive I saw the campsite first.

Week 7 continued- Brisbane

Our first day in Australia started very early with a taxi to Christchurch airport at 4.30am. With a 3 hour time difference between New Zealand and Queensland, this made for a very long day on the back of relatively little sleep, but we all managed well. We arrived at Brisbane airport at 7.00am, ready for the day ahead and successfully mastered the public transport system making it to our accommodation in Fairfield by train. This wasn’t very difficult, as you only have to stand around looking lost for about 30 seconds before an Aussie stops and offers to help you, seemingly delighted to be of assistance. We have certainly found them to be a friendly bunch on first impressions. We were staying at the Airbnb home of Carol, an elderly widow who lives upstairs and lets out the downstairs of her house. It was a very welcome surprise to find a swimming pool in the garden which she said the children were free to use, as we found Brisbane hot, hot, hot after New Zealand. It was 28-32C for our first few days and we really weren’t used to the warm weather yet; there were lots of complaints about how we would never survive this temperature for the next few months although luckily that passed quickly! Walking across the park to her house, it was exciting to find some really different birds already, with ibis and masked lapwings wandering around, a taster of the completely new wildlife here.

After settling in and having a swim, we decided to make the most of the day and got back on the train to find lunch and explore the South Bank. This is the cultural centre of Brisbane, and is certainly not dissimilar to London’s South Bank with a few museums, theatres reminiscent of the National, some lovely parkland running alongside the river full of restaurants, cafes and bars, and even its own ‘wheel of Brisbane’, a miniature London Eye. Noticeable were the banners everywhere advertising the Ashes, with #Beat England on them, and the open-air artificial beach and lagoon, free to use. After lunch we chose to visit the Gallery of Modern Art and enjoyed an hour or so looking at a wide variety of paintings, films and installations before heading to the lagoon to cool down. By 3.00 we were all starting to flag so headed back for an early dinner and bed, so tired that we were hardly able to appreciate the novelty of sleeping in separate bedrooms and not having to make our beds at night before we could get in to them.

On Saturday morning we all woke up early, still on New Zealand time. This seems to be the best way in Queensland as they don’t adopt daylight saving here, meaning it gets light at about 4.30am but dark at 7.00pm. The only way to enjoy the best, quietest and coolest part of the day is to get up much earlier than we had been used to in NZ. Apart from Cara hoping to see some of the native wildlife, the boys wanting to watch the Ashes, and all of us wanting to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, the main agenda for Australia is to learn how to surf, so to check it’s as much fun as it looks we decided to hire a car and head south of the Gold Coast to Currumbin for the day. According to Lonely Planet this is the best place to learn how to surf in the world, with the waves breaking quite a long way out over a shallow bay, giving plenty of time to get up on the board, and with lovely soft sand that is gentle to land on when it all goes wrong. We had a great hour and a half catching waves, and by the end of our lesson we were all managing to stand on our boards with some modicum of success, the kids finding it much easier than the adults- presumably due to having a lower centre of gravity and nothing to do with their natural prowess….

We followed our lesson with a long lunch overlooking the beach where we could admire the beautiful shore line and people having fun in the waves, but also see the enormous sky rise buildings at Gold Coast City in the distance. It had been an enormous shock having come from the quiet and simplicity of New Zealand to get stuck in four lanes of stationary traffic on our way here, with loads of people, lots of enormous cars and utes, shops, billboards, fastfood outlets, tower blocks and apartments, and theme parks everywhere we looked. First impressions of Australia driving down the Gold Coast are that it is big, brash, busy and very like my image of much of the USA. We were longing for isolation again after only 24 hours! Having said that, Currumbin itself had a very nice, relaxed feel, the surfing was absolutely excellent and after lunch Ben and the kids swam and jumped in the waves for hours whilst I enjoyed a rare treat of reading a book on the sand before heading back to Brisbane, all keen to dedicate more time to surfing later on in our trip.

Sunday morning found some very excited boys as we had tickets for the 4th day of the Ashes, the first thing Ben had booked once we had made the decision to go travelling, and the whole reason for visiting the East, rather than West, coast of Australia. The game started at 10.00 so we had a few hours to kill before then, but luckily Carol’s grandsons, aged 10 and 8, had been staying the night before, so the kids had some playmates for a few hours first thing. It was a relief to see that they haven’t completely forgotten how to interact with other children just yet! We had seats in the second row and had been surprised at how affordable they were; it quickly became clear that these seats didn’t have any shade, so the trade-off for a fabulous view was being swelteringly hot in the 32C sunshine. The boys were quickly absorbed in the game, but Cara and I didn’t really know what was going on and lost interest quite quickly with our thoughts turning longingly to shade, a breeze, and cold drinks. We tried our very best, but after an hour it was clear that this was not going to be our idea of a fun day out, so we left the boys at the Gabba and decided to head out of town to the Lone Pine koala sanctuary where we could be cool in the shade of the trees and meet all the local wildlife up close. In the end both boys and girls had a fantastic day, despite England losing the cricket. Cara and I had a wonderful time seeing the sleepy koalas and stroking them- they were very soft to touch and seriously cute. We were able to feed kangaroos out of our hands and we could even see a few joeys sticking out of their mother’s pouches. There were some enormous emus, a shy cassowary, a few kookaburras and plenty of lorikeets, as well as other mammals such as flying foxes, platypus, wombats and Tasmanian devils. We had not seen most of these animals anywhere except on TV and in books before, so it was great to meet the Australian wildlife and learn what we should look out for as we travel around. The koalas were firm favourites. We met the boys back at the house for dinner and enjoyed sharing tales of our respective days before hitting the sack again, ready to fly up to Cairns on Monday to start the next phase of our travelling adventure and return to life in a campervan once again.

Surfing and cricket in Brisbane

 On the 25th November we woke up early and told Dad to go and hire a car so we could drive to a beach where we could surf. While Dad was away, we swam in the pool for quite a long time and then when we got out Mum told us that Dad had got lost trying to find the car hire. Mum then called Dad and told him where to go. She then said we would go to the supermarket while Dad was getting back to the car hire. We went to the supermarket and bought some food and then we waited outside on the steps for Dad. When Dad got to the supermarket we all jumped in and had an hour and a half drive to the beach where we would learn to surf.

When we got there, we got some rash shirts and our surf boards and we were taught how to use them. You have to do a move called ‘chicken wings’, then ‘happy seal’, then ‘plank’, then ‘back foot forward’ and then ‘front foot forward’ and then you are standing up and all you have to do is not fall off. We then went to the water and started paddling out to where the waves broke. I waited for a bit until a wave came and eventualy a good one came. I managed to catch the wave and then stand up and I surfed all the way back to the begining of the beach. Then I paddled out again and caught a few more waves and standing up on most of them but not all of them. By the end of the lesson my arms were hurting and so were my legs but I had really enjoyed it and I said I wanted to do it again later in the holiday. We then went and had lunch and came back to the beach and had a swim. We jumped over the waves and swam over them aswell. Then we went back to the car and drove back to the B’n’B where we were staying. We had dinner and went to bed early so we could then wake up early and have a swim before we went to the cricket.

The next day we woke up early and swam in the pool and then we got ready to go to the cricket. Next, we got a bus to the Gabba where we bought an England flag and then found our seats. Our seats were right at the front and we had a really good view but we did have the sun on us all day and it was very hot. We only had to wait for a few minutes before the cricket began because we had got there quite late because it was so busy. We started by seeing Joe Root and Stoneman batting and the Australians fielding. It was really exciting but neither of them stayed in very long and they didn’t get very many runs. We sat there till lunch watching the cricket, by the time it was lunch break Cara and Mum had already got bored and had gone off to a koala sanctuary. Just after lunch the Australians got the last of our players out and they started batting. We then watched Bancroft and Warner bat for the rest of the day against the English team. We didn’t get either of them out and they got 82 and 87 runs. In the stadium it was very loud and the Australians kept shouting while all the England fans clapped and sang. Some of the Australians started a mexican wave that went round the stadium five or six times before some people stopped it. The game was very exciting but it would have been better if we had won.

Mount cook national park

We  woke up on the 18th November 2017 and had a big breakfast before going to Mount Cook national park. We had a short drive to the village. We reached our destination but when we got out Cara couldn’t come with us as she was to ill to go on the big, hot walk. Mum, Jago and I set off towards the glacial lake with a good view of Mount Cook. We thought it looked like the mountain called Monkey because it had shapes of eyes, a nose and a mouth. We saw lots of speargrass on the way, it was pointy like a spear and sharp and I know this because I cut my finger on some. We also saw Mount Cook buttercups and flax. We went over 3 rickety bridges over a fast river flowing through the valley. It felt like a long walk and it was very hot.

We went to a glacial lake that was cold and had lots of floating icebergs in. One of the rocks in the lake looked like a shark’s fin. The lake was very green and we could see the glacier and where it had pushed up the rocks. This mound is called a terminal moraine. There we lots of little stones on the shore and I skimmed my first stone. It felt good.

We started walking back and we found a small, slippery pool that was really for relaxing in, not swimming because it was shallow. Jago and I went in but Mum didn’t. To dry us, Mum used her T-shirt. It was a refreshing paddle.

When we got back we had an ice cream and a slice of chocolate brownie and watched a video about Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Cook. One day I would like to get a helicopter up to the top of Mount Cook, then ski down. I will go up there with my friend who can fly me up and drop me off to ski, then meet me at the bottom and we can swap over.

I enjoyed the walk in Mount Cook national park and Mum said it was the best walk because there was no arguing or complaining all day.

Brisbane and Currumbin

We got an aeroplane from Christchurch to Brisbane. We arrived in Australia at about 7 o’clock in the morning, we were all very tired because we woke up at 1 o’clock Australian time! We went to the B&B and left our rucksacks there, to cool down we had a swim in the pool. We went and had Nachos for lunch, Jago was greedy and ate loads!

We walked into the city, Mum and Dad took us to a modern art gallery with massive painted balls hanging from the roof and a big eye that looked real. My favourite piece of art was where someone had put spoons, forks, knives and chillis spiraling around the floor getting smaller and smaller! Next we went to an artificial beach in the center of Brisbane, Dad kept chucking us in the water.

We went back to the B&B, the B&B  was someone’s house. It had a swimming pool outside and small porch, there were two bedrooms a kitchen and a bathroom. We had dinner then went to bed. The next day we played in the pool while Dad went to get a car. A hour later Mum told us Dad was lost so we had to get the car ourselves, we packed the bags and were about to go when Dad told us he was fifteen minutes away, so we went shopping and Dad picked us up.

We drove to Currumbin and booked a surfing lesson. Our teacher was called Greg. He told us we had to do ‘chicken wing  arms’, ‘happy seal’, ‘plank’, ‘back foot forward’, ‘front foot forward’ and ‘surfers arms’. I found it hard at first but after a couple of waves I got it! I enjoyed surfing.

The next day we went to the Ashes. Dad and Jago were really excited. About a hour in I got bored so Mum and I went to Lone Pine Koala sanctuary. We got a bus to the koala sanctuary and showed them our tickets. We looked around, first we saw koalas. They were as small as Petroc and very furry and they smelled of eucalyptus leaves. Next we saw some cockatoos, there were white cockatoos and red-tailed black cockatoos. I liked the white ones best.

We also saw a fresh water crocodile and a platypus. The platypus swam around in circles and had a duck-bill. Then we went to a koala talk and learnt that koalas can swim! After the talk, we went and queued up for koala cuddling. Mummy tried to get a ticket but they had all sold out so we just stroked a koala instead. Mum also came back with some kangaroo food, so after I had stroked a koala we headed to the kangaroos. In the kangaroo field there were emus and we got chased by one and so we had to run away from them. One of the emus had a lorikeet on its back and was giving it a ride!

 

When we got passed the emus, I put some kangaroo food on my hand and held it out flat and low for a kangaroo. It licked the food off my hand and munched it. Then it came back for a second mouthful. The kangaroos were very slobbery so I had kangaroo spit all over my hand when I finished. The kangaroos felt soft and smooth to stroke. When they jumped they were quite funny.  The babies looked cute.

After that, we went to the dingos. They were quite hard to spot and looked very like dogs. Some of the people who worked at the sanctuary went in and gave them tyres with food in to chew. We stood up on a platform above their cage but one of them jumped on a dingo bridge and ran round to one of the people with a tyre. After the dingos, we went to see the cassowary.

The cassowary was quite hard to spot but Mum spotted it because of its bright colours and horn. We didn’t see him for very long because he was very quick. After the cassowary, we went for a wander and looked for fish in a river. We didn’t find any so we went to the lorikeets because it was time for their feeding. The lorikeets were wild, but they knew what time the food would come. There were little poles with bowls on the end which had some food in. The lorikeets just flew up and landed on the edge of the bowl and ate the food. We had to be quite still otherwise they would fly away. The lorikeets were very noisy and Mum got pooed on by one.

When we had had enough of the lorikeets, we got the bus back, went shopping and then went to the B&B. Mum started cooking dinner whilst I had a bath but when our dinner was ready the boys got back so we had to cook theirs as well. They came back with bad news, that we had lost the cricket unless something amazing happened.

Week 7- Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs

After 6 fabulous weeks in New Zealand, we decided to spend our final few days on the East coast, north of Christchurch, in an area that we had been unable to reach earlier in our travels due to road damage from last year’s earthquake cutting Kaikoura off from Picton. Ben longed to see whales in the wild, so we headed there to find a whale watching trip for his birthday present from his parents. We had a long winding drive across the hills, reaching Kaikoura at lunch time, where we booked our trip for the following morning and then settled in to our campsite. The campsite had a nice swimming pool and a couple of hot tubs, so after catching up with some blog post writing we relaxed by the pool for a couple of hours before heading to the peninsula to see the resident seal colony. After our experience in Southland of standing on the top of a cliff pointing out black lumps, it was fabulous to be able to get so close to the seals here and really see them properly lazing around and swimming. We could really appreciate the contrast between their speed and grace in the water, compared to their cumbersome movement on dry land. We finished off the night with fish and chips on the stony beach, a real treat! We were absolutely surrounded by red-billed gulls eyeing up our leftovers expectantly; there appeared to be one gull who was in charge and saw off any other gulls who approached closer than him- clearly the alpha bird in the flock. He had several rings around his legs, so was presumably old, wise and used to humans, and we named him ‘King Gull’.

On Tuesday morning we headed in to town for our whale watching tour. We had 3 hours on the boat, and had been warned that it would be a rough ride so I had taken a travel-sickness tablet in preparation. This kept the worst at bay, but I still managed to feel quite queasy by the time we arrived back- a feeling which somewhat marred my enjoyment of this trip. We had been sailing for roughly an hour when we first spotted a humpback whale, visible due to the jets of water spurting into the air. We pulled alongside it and were treated to a good 10 minutes of the whale floating on the surface of the water, where we could really appreciate its rough skin and easily hear the sound of the spurts. Ben was in awe of the magnificence of this creature and its huge size, but I confess that I found it very difficult to appreciate the scale of it when only the very top of it was out of the water, up to the dorsal fin, with the vast majority of it hidden under the water out of sight. It was lovely just sitting next to it for so long, observing and listening to it so closely, but I didn’t find it the moving experience that I had expected, particularly compared to our dolphin encounter in Milford Sound. After the whale had dived underwater, bringing its enormous tale up into view momentarily, we found 2 other whales in turn, all with slightly different markings on their backs, which we were able to observe for a similar length of time. I believe we were very lucky to have found 3 whales in the course of one trip. Luckily Ben found it to be everything he had hoped it would be, and he found himself unexpectedly emotional as a result of the experience.

Following our trip we headed out of Kaikoura again, as far as Hanmer Springs, for our final 2 days of New Zealand. There was freedom camping available in the forest just a kilometre out of the town, with lovely walks available on our doorstep, perfect for Ben and the boys to play football in the evening before dinner.

On Wednesday morning I took Piran and Cara for a lovely walk through the forest where we climbed our obligatory hill for a view- this has now become the expectation of a walk for the kids. It didn’t take long and we headed down to Hanmer Springs pools for the day as a reward. Jago had been up late reading (he has not been able to put down the ‘Percy Jackson’ series for the past few weeks, and has now got the others into it too), so he had a long sleep and joined us after lunch. Hanmer Springs is another geothermal area, and the pools are magnificent- a whole water park with naturally heated swimming pool, waterslides, children’s pool, and progressively warmer hot pools from 34 to 40C that easily provided the kids with a happy final day’s activities. They spent many hours on the lazy river, doing handstands and dives in the pool, plunging in to the ‘superbowl’ waterslide- where they whizzed around the edge of a bowl in inflatable rings, down to an opening below, much like water draining down a plughole, and sitting in the hot pools. It was a very happy end to our time in New Zealand and we finally had to drag them away at 7.00 after more than 8 hours in the water, for our final night in Fritz.

 

 

Thursday was spent driving back to Christchurch where we checked in to our motel near the airport, ready for our flight to Brisbane at 6.00 the following morning. It was so exciting having a bed that we didn’t have to make before sleeping in it, and the thing that was most wonderful was having a comfortable sofa in a separate sitting room. One night of relative luxury after living in Fritz for so many weeks! We were sad to drop him back to the van rental, but after I had got lost driving around Christchurch by myself trying to find the depot, I was much happier to see the back of him than I had expected. It was showers and early nights all round, in preparation for the next phase of our adventure the following day- off to Australia!