Back to the Land of Reality

So we arrived back home over a month ago. I started work straight away, Mike is job hunting, and the kids have started school and Kindy.

Coby 1st school dayIt doesn’t take long for reality to set in, but it will take a while to settle. For one thing, we are still living in the caravan as there is not much available for us to rent in our small town. Of course we are used to it, but I’m starting to dream of privacy and indoor plumbing. A few old favourites from my packed up wardrobe wouldn’t go astray, as would some extra shelf space as the kids bring home books and artwork.

We always expected the end to be difficult. But Mike and I both agree, it was WORTH IT.

So to all you families out there planning your own little jaunt around the country, this post will be full of advice.

Accommodation

My accommodation summary excludes nights we stayed with friends or relatives, as that was kind of a treat and like being at home.

We set up and packed up the caravan approximately 165 times (this also includes tent set ups when the van was in storage). We spent 298 nights on the road and spent just under $6000 on accommodation.

  • 25% of the time we bush camped at free rest areas. This includes camps that requested a gold coin donation or a small charge for having a hot shower.
  • 23% of the time we stayed in National Parks or cheap camping grounds, usually with limited facilities and often without power (average cost $14.62 per night)
  • 52% of the time we stayed in caravan parks, which almost always had hot showers, power, flushing toilets and other facilities (average cost $31.54 per night)

When travelling with kids in non-peak times, it worth trying to negotiate a better deal. Some caravan parks may be willing to waiver the charge for kids, or give you a discount, especially if you are staying for more than a night or two. It is certainly worth shopping around in towns with more than one option.

Also, beware that a charge for kids doesn’t necessarily mean a park is kid friendly. One of my biggest gripes on this trip was being charged more than a token fee for both kids, only to find that they can’t even reach the sinks in the bathroom to wash their hands. No playground, no family bathrooms, no nothing. They don’t use extra electricity, as they are always with us, and the extra water and paper they use is minimal. I don’t mind paying extra, if the park is kiddie friendly. But some charges were ridiculous.Van Dancin'

Food

We spent just over $7500 on food and groceries in the 10 months. This doesn’t include eating out or alcohol. Food can get really expensive in the outback and isolated towns, so stock up when you have the opportunity.

Going to isolated areas, such as a couple of weeks in the Kimberly, requires some forward planning. Although we had two fridges, space was still limited, and few items remain fresh after two weeks. We often got some meat vacuum packed, so it can last. Crisper bags do keep cabbage, carrots and other vegies fresh for the long haul.

It’s worth learning a few recipes using canned goods, jar sauces and pasta/rice. For example, I created a great pasta dish using tinned butter mushrooms, UHT cream, a few slithers of frozen bacon (which doesn’t take up much room), onion, garlic, cheese and pasta. The kids loved it so much, they still asked for it when we reached civilization.

When a camp kitchen was available, we used it. Your final afternoon in a park with a decent kitchen is best spent cooking up some pasta and rice based salads for the onward journey. We did this as much as possible, especially when we knew we were going bush for a few days. Dinner then becomes BBQ’ing some meat, take the salads out of the fridge, and your done.

Other costs

Throughout the ten months, we spent $2750 on treats (ice creams, dinners out, a drink in a nice pub with a view, coffee and cake etc). This we tried to avoid, but sometimes when you have travelled up a couple of hundred kilometres to an isolated beach, you just want to mark the occasion with a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. It also gets very difficult constantly saying no to the kid’s requests for ice creams when it is hot, or when everyone else is having one. We usually went into supermarkets to buy a box of four to save costs.

Bits and pieces include things like clothes and shoes, camping items, laundry, phone cards, gas, fishing equipment, birthday presents etc. Stuff you need, and can’t really avoid buying. In total we spent around $4600. Just a word on laundry, we brought with us a camping washing machine (bought on Ebay for $28, second hand). Although it was a bit of a pain having to wring out clothes by hand, it was worth the cost saving. Most parks charge $3-$6 per load. Besides, it was so hot most of the time; we had no trouble drying the laundry. Sometimes I caved and paid to use the camp laundry for sheets and towels etc.

Finally, the bill for activities was $5500. Of course, this is a variable cost, depending on what you want to do. We didn’t hold back so much, as this was kind of the point of going around Australia. But if you are really on a tight budget, get everyone in the family to choose one or two things they REALLY want to do on the trip, and make them a priority.

To check out costs for diesel and rig maintenance, check out Mikes Page.

Australia daySet up changes

If we were going to plan this trip a second time, we would have installed bigger water tanks on the caravan. Water did become a limiting factor in some areas. Also, we wished we had installed solar panels to charge our batteries. I believe we would have done a lot more bush camping if we had done this. It just gives you more flexibility in places you can stay, if you want to hang around somewhere for a while.

Otherwise, we were very happy with our rig. Having a good off-road caravan meant we could go more places. Sometimes we wished we had more space, and wanted a camper trailer. But some of those late night pull-ins I was happy for the 5 minute set-up time. It was a matter of take some things (washing machine, kids bikes, shoe bucket) out of the van, pop the top, wind down the legs and you were right to go.

I’m also glad we were set up for camping too. Several times, such as Cape York, we were able to leave the van behind and do some serious off-roading to get to some magnificent places.

Some random tips

To finish off, I have a few words of wisdom.Beach Day

Bikes – taking them seems like a great idea, but most families we met regretted it in the end. They are a pain to constantly unload and reload, and they will get damaged sometime in the trip. My bike was new, with smooth gears when we started off. We finished the trip with large dents in the frame, rust all over, and gears that stick and will never be the same. I did use my bike, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. It probably is worth taking kids bikes, but ours used their scooters so much more, and they were easier to store.

Kids Toys – bring a few favourites for the van and car. Keep one small toy box hidden away, brought out only at big stops. Otherwise, don’t bring too much. Our kids hardly ever played with their toys anyway. They were too busy meeting other kids and running around. But definitely bring balls and outside games, buckets and spades and washable comfort toys.

Clothes – just bring the minimal. You can buy more along the way when you need too. You will appreciate not having cupboards full to the brim when you are searching for something. It is no fun having to totally unpack and repack a cupboard every single day.

Appliances – Kettle and toaster are essential, but have a big think about what others you bring. We brought a steamer, and used it twice. However, we brought an electric wok and used it frequently. I guess it depends on the families eating habits, and how accessible the appliances are. We also brought our coffee machine, which was used daily, when we had power.

Cast Iron pot – Camp ovens are great for cooking over the open fire. One of our regrets was that we weren’t set up well for open fire cooking. We did buy some stuff towards the end, and I was really getting into it when we entered bushfire season and couldn’t have fires anymore.

Plan, but don’t over plan – at the start of our trip, we only had a rough idea of where we wanted to go. We all loved the freedom of only planning a few days ahead. If you got somewhere you liked, stay a bit longer. If a place wasn’t up to your expectations, just move on. You get hints and tips from fellow travellers along the way, so be prepared to change your plan. It may be a once in a lifetime trip, so make the most of it.

Mulloka Cruise Capt'n RhysAnd Finally…

I would like to say a big thank you to Lois Jewell from Playgroup Australia for her continuing enthusiasm and support. Visiting Playgroups was such a big highlight of our trip, especially for the kids. Also thanks to Big4 for their help in promoting our blog via the Big4 blog website and for providing such great Caravan parks at which to stay.

Thanks to all the companies who helped us with tours and days out. A special thanks to Silvano, who made our Margaret River Bushtucker Wine Tour so memorable. Also thanks to Louise Marshall for her passion for the rainforest, and Skyrails involvement in educating people about it. You have really inspired us. Thanks also to Patsy, Rachael and Sean from ‘Animal Tracks Safari’. Your Aboriginal Bushtucker safari was one of the most unique and memorable experiences we have ever had. A special mention to Ningaloo Reef Dreaming. You can’t help the weather, or predict wild marine animals. But the crew’s enthusiasm never faltered, and we had a blast. Last but not least, thanks to Paronella Park, for keeping the dream alive. We simply loved it.

To all the families we met whilst travelling. You truly made a good experience great. Sonia, Kevin, Jazzy and Jack from the start of our trip, Geoff, Nicky and kids as well as Richard, Cathy and family. Our sunset on Cable beach will be remembered forever, and it was great to meet some other ‘Gongers’. To Justina, Tim, Sienna, Hugo and Teya, we loved our Kimberly Convoy and will always remember the fun times we had. Extra special thanks to Tex, Julie, Maddie, Brooke and Tilly. It was great to meet you and thanks so much for your hospitality.Cudgee Ck Day

Yet again we have a special mention. We met the O’Callaghan’s right at the beginning of the trip. Our paths crossed a few times after that, and we all quickly became friends. I reckon by the end of our trip, we must have spent about three months travelling together. What a blast it was. I will never forget our adventures, nights boiling the billy and toasting marshmallows with the kids. Long walks dragging the littlies along, and seeing their joy as we swam in beautiful places. It was great getting to know you all, and sharing some of our adventures. Thank you all, Chris, Jayne, Daniel, Emma and Louise for being a highlight for our trip. It was a pleasure.

So this trip was a once in a lifetime adventure. But in ten months, we feel like we have only scratched the surface. I know one result is we will make more of an effort to go away for the weekend and school holidays and just enjoy the time we have together. But I am thinking I would like to do something like this again, even if it is only for a few months. It would be fun to do some more adventurous stuff with the kids when they are older and more able.

Whatever the future holds, we have done our Big Road Trip now. The experience has enriched us all, and the photos and memories will last forever. Hopefully we have laid a foundation for Coby and Rhys for a lifetime of adventure and confidence. It was an experience we will never forget…

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Turtle Tracks

Its turtle time in Queensland. We have seen then swimming everywhere along the coast, and November marks the start of turtle nesting season.

In case you haven’t guessed already, we are all rather fond of turtles. We purposely stayed in Bundaberg for two nights so both Mike and I could experience watching turtles nesting at Mon Repos, which boast the highest concentration of Loggerhead turtles regularly nesting on one beach in Australia.

Years ago, people power pushed for a development ban along this stretch of coast, to give the turtles a range of beach to continuously visit. It is important that they are undisturbed by the light from urban glow. As a result of the ban, the Environment Department have built a turtle centre, and treat tourists to watching both the laying, and the hatching of baby turtles. It has been used as a centre for turtle research for nearly 40 years.

The nights Mike and I visited; there was a research team there, with the aim of putting GPS tracking devices on nesting turtles, to track where they go and what they do between laying their several clutches in the season.Pitting & Laying

As we had booked a few weeks before, we both were allocated to group one, which meant we got to go first, and with the research team. It was fascinating watching the turtles lay and bury her eggs. The turtles are not disturbed by researches until she has finished laying. She was then measured and weighed. They used ultrasound to ensure she was going to lay at least one more clutch this season, and then they attached the GPS unit to her shell. As turtles usually revisit the same beach all season to lay their clutches, they were confident of seeing her again. The GPS will be removed once she has laid her final clutch for the season.

I got to help rescue and relocate her eggs. The turtle had laid her clutch below the summer king tide mark, so the eggs were doomed to drown. In cases such as this, the ranges and volunteers dig up the eggs, and move them a few meters up into the dunes. This is the only intervention they do to help increase the odds of survival for the turtles. These beautiful creatures are fast becoming an endangered species.

It was, however, a wonderful experience and we want to come back in a few years time with the kids, hopefully to see the babies hatch.

We then travelled down to Burrum Heads, to stay with our fellow travelling friends, Tex, Julie, Maddie, Brooke and Tilly. We first met the Kiel’s while hiking in Karijini National Park many months ago. Our paths crossed again several times along the Gibb River Road, and again in Darwin. Their adventure finished two months ago, but they had invited us to stay with them on our way through. We were spoilt with our own private bathroom; lovely BBQ’s and the kids had a ball playing together in the house.

Central RainforestChampagne poolsWith our caravan safe and well at Tex and Julies place, we headed over to Fraser Island for a couple of days of camping, hiking and sand driving. Unfortunately, it was bombing it down the entire first day. By three in the afternoon, the idea of camping in torrential downpours and flooded campsites was no so appealing, so I insisted we get a cabin for the night.

Day two, the sun came out and we had a fun two days exploring Fraser’s major attractions and 4WD tracks. We did camp for the second and third night at Central Station in the rainforest, and loved the green surroundings.

Laker McKenzieSS Maheno wreckI could not get over the many and varied landscapes that are on Fraser Island. It was so interesting, and picturesque. The kids loved swimming at Champagne Pools and the clean and clear Lake McKenzie. We even spotted a couple of dingos. The heavy rains were both a blessing and a curse. The sand was compact and easier to drive on, but in some places it had washed away some of the tracks. We saw a tour 4WD that had come off the road on a hill and was perched in some trees. I have no idea how they will get it out.Truck on 75 mile beach

On the third morning we woke up to more rain. The heavens well and truly opened when Mike and I were halfway through packing up the tent, so we got drenched. We decided to cut our losses and head back to the mainland on an earlier ferry. I was pretty grateful we were staying with friends, who helped us get everything clean and dry the following day. A big thank you to the Kiel’s for their wonderful hospitality.

Rhys feed patchRainbow cliffsTin Can Bay is a lovely, quiet little holiday spot. The kids got to feed the dolphins that visit the bay every morning. We took a day trip over to Rainbow Beach to see the famous coloured sand cliffs and walk along the Carlo Sandblow. Unfortunately, the weather continued to be unkind, so we bailed early and treated the kids to an afternoon DVD.

Oma and Opa met up with us in Noosa. They would have joined us earlier, but my Uncle Bill had finally lost his long battle with cancer, and mum and dad stayed home until after the funeral. We mostly spent our time talking and catching up, but also managed to find the time to have a drive around. Oma and Opa had their honeymoon there in 1969, but remarked that it had changed a bit over the years,

So now we are in Brisvegas for Christmas. The caravan is parked up, and we are getting ready for the big day. After Christmas, we will commence the final chapter in our long adventure.

Forest Flying and Sweet Treats

After our week of chilling in the Whitsundays, we were back to some more modest camping at Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Cape Hillsborough is most famous for its multitude of different eco systems in a small area, and for its friendly kangaroos. You can usually spot them in the day use area, but they always appear on the beach early in the morning to say hello to visitors. We spent two days in peace, going for walks and enjoying the scenery.Cape Hillsborough BeachPioneer Valley

From there we had a small inland trip to Finch Hatton, and Eungella National Park. This was a big recommendation from lots of fellow travellers, and we were not disappointed. The area was beautiful, with gorges, cool misty mountains, rainforest and some platypus viewing (although we only managed to see turtles). We enjoyed some great hiking in the morning, and spent some of the afternoon relaxing at the Pioneer Hotel, famous for its Sunday afternoon live music, and its pies. They were so good.

While we were there, Mike and Coby decided to have a go at some Forest Flying. Basically, this involves getting harnessed onto a cable so you can travel through the rainforest canopy safely and easily. From that vantage point you have a unique way to experience the rainforest.

Forest Flying CobyOne of the owners, Dave, took Mike and Coby on their Forest flying experience. Coby was harnessed first, and then hung up in the room to check she was comfortable with it all. When it came to the real thing, Dave took care of Coby, pushing her along the cable at her own pace. She and Mike just loved it, and were happy to just enjoy the experience, forgetting that they were actually 30 metres up in the air. She came back after it all, full of stories and talking ten to the dozen about it. They both had such a great time. Check out the Forest Flying website here.

I wanted to go Forest Flying myself, but unfortunately I had come down with a pretty nasty gastro bug. Rhys stayed back with me to ‘take care of mummy’, and was happy to sit quietly watching movies and playing with toys while I napped.

My tummy was back to normal by the time we reached Mackay. Here we did some errands, and visited the new Bluewater Lagoon and water play park. I also managed to sneak off one night to go to the cinema to watch Breaking Dawn Part 1. I have coped so well this year with a lack of TV, movies and news etc, but I was not going to wait until next year to see this one. I have to confess I am a big Twilight fan.

So we have been in North Queensland for the better part of three months, and we are still seeing endless fields of sugar cane, cane trains and rail networks. This has left me wondering, what happens to all the sugar cane once it is harvested? Well, we were able to find out everything we wanted to know when we visited the Sarina Sugar Shed.

At the Sugar Shed, they have a miniature mill that mimics the entire process from cane to raw sugar, and you get to see all the machines in action. The tour includes an opportunity to smell, see and taste various products of the process. At the end of the tour, you can taste sauces and beverages made with the produced sugar and by-products of the process. Coby and Rhys also got to try some fairy floss for the first time. It was a terrific morning, informative and interactive, and a lot more fun than we were expecting. To read more about our visit at the Sarina Sugar Shed, click here.

Fishermans Beach - Great Keppel IslandFurther down the coast from Yeppoon, we travelled out to Great Keppel Island for the day. The main resort at Great Keppel was closed down over three years ago, but you can still camp and stay on the island. Despite it all being a bit run down, the main beach is absolutely beautiful. Its biggest attraction is the great snorkelling, kayaking, hiking, and peace and quiet. There are still some businesses running on the island, so you can get a feed, drinks, and all the essentials. We spent our day playing with the kids on the beach, and walking up to the lookout for the views.

On our way to Agnes Water and 1770, we passed through Rockhampton, and crossed back over the Tropic of Capricorn ending over six months spent going tropo. This part of Australia is known as the Capricorn Coast, and is home to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. As a special anniversary treat (nine years and counting), we all spent a day on Lady Musgrave Island and in the Lagoon. This was probably our last opportunity to see coral and tropical fish. Mike and I took full advantage of our time there. Every time we go snorkelling on a reef we spot something new.

1770 from boatLady Musgrave IslandThe boat was anchored at a pontoon, where the children got to experience the reef in a semi-submersible boat. Rhys was the first person on a packed trip to spot a turtle swimming next to the boat, and he was pretty proud of himself. On the pontoon, they also had a visy board, so Mike took Coby out over the reef so she could spot the marine life. Rhys was just happy jumping off the pontoon with his new found water confidence. There were plenty of fish hanging around to keep him happy.

Captain Kids on return journeyWith four weeks left, reality is starting to kick in. We have to start thinking about serious things, like renting a house and Mike finding a job. But we still have a few last adventures ahead before the big finish. It ain’t over yet…

Deserted Islands and Daydreams

From Paronella Park, we headed back to the coast to one of our favourite places from our trip ten years ago, Mission Beach.

Our memories of Mission Beach were of a quiet, sleepy coastal town surrounded by thick, lush rainforest. Well, the place certainly has changed. The entire area really copped it from all angles, cyclone Larry from the south, and cyclone Yasi a few years later from the north. Hardly any of the old, big trees were left standing, and you can see the devastation as you walk through the coastal lowland rainforest (or what is left of it). The rainforest will recover, but the process will take decades to get it back to its former glory. This is assuming it is left alone to grow.Wongaling Beach

Alas, Mission Beach has grown in popularity over the past decade. Despite the never ending fight to conserve rainforest corridors for the critically endangered southern cassowary, money hungry developers and councils continue to push development. They estimate numbers of birds to be as little as 1000 in the wild now. Mission Beach used to boast the highest concentration within the wet tropics, but with all the environmental pressure, numbers are falling. Yet the close knit locals continue to fight for the birds, collecting seeds from poo, germinating saplings and assisting regenerating the rainforest. As it comes from the poo, the grown trees are native fruit trees providing food for the cassowaries and other native species. The process can take years, but the locals have not lost their passion.

So if you want to visit the area, and can spare a few days, arrange to do some volunteering at the environment centre to help save the cassowary. I wish we could have, but it is a bit difficult with young kids in tow.

While at Mission Beach, we took a water taxi to check out Dunk Island, and to explore Bedarra. Cyclone Yasi had pretty much totalled the resorts on these two islands, and they have been left closed to overnight visitors ever since. Dunk Island is on the market, but needs some work to get up and running again. Bedarra was famous for its rich and famous visitors, and also its celebrity price tag at $1600-$3200 per night. It has been abandoned now, with only two staff to keep an eye on things. A second resort at the other side of the island was abandoned in 1991. We were let off there for a few hours to explore the remains, and to swim off a deserted beach. It was actually loads of fun.Bedarra Island

From Mission Beach we had a bit of a meander down the coast, taking advantage of some excellent free camping spots, right beside the beach. Unfortunately swimming was out of the question, due to crocodiles and the start of the stinger season. But we enjoyed our long walks and the lovely views.

We managed a flyby stop in Townsville, where we visited our first Multicultural Playgroup. To read about our visit, click here.

We also spent a couple of pleasant days in Bowen, now on the Aussie map due to its Big Mango, and its massive role as the Darwin Backdrop in the film ‘Australia’. Boy, are they milking it.Murray bay

Our next big stop was Airlie Beach, and our stay coincided with the annual ‘Come Camp with BIG4’. Every year in November, BIG4 nationwide put aside one night for charity. Basically, anyone can camp for $20 per site, and all the money goes to a local charity nominated by the individual parks. It is a great way to put something back into the community, and give visitors a great excuse to get away and have some fun.

To read about our fabulous stay at the BIG4 Adventure Whitsundays Resort at Airlie Beach, click here.

Illusions CruiseLagoon @ DaydreamNow the thing to do from Airlie beach is to go on trips around the Whitsunday Islands. There are plenty of island resorts to visit and nice beaches with snorkeling. We couldn’t decide what to do, so we ended up doing two day trips. The first trip was on a sailing catamaran and have a go at snorkeling with the kids. The second we visited Daydream Island to check out the resort and its manmade ‘Living Reef’, and then spend an hour on the famous Whitehaven Beach. We tried to teach the kids how to play beach cricket, but after a while they just wanted to dig holes and build sandcastles in the perfect while sand. We all had a great time, but now we want to add overnight sailing trip to our to-do list for the future.

Whitehaven BeachKids at play on Whitehaven beachAll this swimming and water activity has finally resulted in Rhys losing his long-term fear of water. The BIG4 had waterslides into the pools, and he was constantly up and down. He is also learning how to jump into the pool, but the word ‘jump’ is lost on him, and he always looks like he is falling. Forever amusing.Slide time

We will soon be leaving the tropics, after spending more than six months above the Tropic of Capricorn. But that’s OK as the southern Summer is upon us.

Music and Fun for Everyone

After our second unexpected stay in Cairns we headed inland back up the mountain pass, towards the Atherton Tablelands…..again.

Doyle Family ShowDress upsOur destination was the Yungaburra Folk Festival for a weekend of music, markets and kid friendly activities. The Saturday morning had a massive market, selling local produce (tropical fruit is coming into season – Yay), crafts and novelties. We headed over to the children’s festival, where they had storytelling, crafts, hula hoops, and a dress-up box to ensure Coby was happy for hours. We sat in on some musical entertainment, and the kids got to try out some instruments. During the Doyle Family Fun Show, both Rhys and Coby got up on stage to sing with the band. Since this initial stage performance, Rhys has developed visions of grandeur, and practices his singing all the time.Dress ups - Nice hair

We set up camp at Lake Eacham Caravan Park, right next to the Crater Lakes National Park and in the middle of more rainforest. There was an abundant amount of wildlife just wandering around the park, including chickens, ducks, a turkey (of the Christmas dinner kind), bush turkeys and a gaggle of interesting birds I couldn’t identify. Feeding the birds scraps of our food was great fun for the kids, as was feeding the resident goats and enormous pig.

The sun finally came out, so we borrowed some swimming noodles from the Caravan Park, and headed to the lake for a swim. It was cool, but very refreshing.

The next morning we made our way north to Port Douglas for my special Birthday treat. The sun was holding out, so we were looking forward to a relaxing couple of days. We decided to stay at the beautiful BIG4 Port Douglas Glengarry Holiday Park. To read more about this lovely caravan park, click here.

As we have spent a lot of our time recently in isolated places, it has been a long time between Playgroup visits. Our family was welcomed to Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre Playgroup. We managed to time our visit really well, because it coincided with National Children’s Week. This group got together with Mossman Playgroup and other groups in the area for a special Children’s Week Playgroup. We were all invited to this session as well, and it was one of the best mornings the kids have had during the entire trip. To read more about our wonderful North Queensland Playgroup experiences, click here.

Special thanks to Deb, Alex and Emma for your hospitality and kindness.

Ellis BeachEllis Beach SunriseMy birthday afternoon was spent strolling along four mile beach, and having a relaxing lunch at the local Surf Club. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Caravan Park for another swim and more relaxing by the pool. The kids insisted my birthday wouldn’t be complete without cake, so we put some candles on a chocolate muffin. I felt very special.

Now the children’s choice of birthday cards gives great insight into their subconscious. Coby chose a card with butterflies and flowers, no surprises there. Rhys chose a card with two chimps, which he thought was rather hilarious. It was of a mum chimp hugging her little chimp, and very cute. I wonder what was going through Rhys’ mind when he chose it.

Mike had a dream this trip to camp right on the beach. I think we got as close as we could to fulfilling it when we camped at Ellis Beach. At high tide, we were literally three to five metres away from breaking waves, quite a soothing sound at night. We also managed to sneak out together to watch the sunrise, while the kids slept peacefully.Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walk

The next big highlight was the enchanting Paronella Park. In the early 1930’s a Spanish migrant, José Paronella realised a childhood dream of Catalonian castles by building his own castle in the rainforests… He acquired 13 acres of virgin forest next to Mena Creek Falls to build his inspiration, complete with refreshment rooms, banquet halls, tennis courts, gardens and Queensland’s first Hydro Electric Generator. Despite several floods and cyclones over the years, periods of abandonment and a bad case of concrete cancer, the park is still a vibrant, unique and captivating attraction definitely worth a visit.Paronella Park Waterfall

Paronella Park also has a caravan park attached to it, which is free for a night if you have paid for entry into the park. I highly recommend staying for the evening, as it is worth doing both the day and night tour. The caravan park boasts all the usual facilities provided by other parks.

All of us enjoyed our visit, but for Coby it really was an extra special highlight. She got to indulge her love of all things princess and fairy, got dressed up and ran around the park pretending she was in a fairytale. I loved watching her have so much fun.

To read more about our fabulous stay at Paronella Park, click here.

We have been exploring Far North Queensland for just over 6 weeks, a bit longer than we anticipated. It’s dawning on us that we have only two months to go, so we have to make the most of it…

It’s all south from here.

You can’t have a Rainforest without the Rain

After our wonderful adventure of Cape York, we headed back to Cairns, so I could catch a flight to Melbourne.

Knowing they were going to be held up in Cairns for a few days, the kids asked if they could go back to BIG4 Coconut Holiday Resort. They just loved it so much, and great memories from our last visit. They wanted to do some of the activities they missed out on last time, such as the big screen movie night, and fire engines rides. As I was getting my treat, I just couldn’t say no.

Coconut Big Red fire EngineI know you have all been wondering why I went to Melbourne, so I won’t keep you is suspense any longer. A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from Playgroup Australia. Their National Conference was coming up, and they were launching two new media awards. The Playgroup Profile awards would be ‘awarded to a journalist(s) or communicator(s) whose work is assessed as having most effectively communicated the value of Playgroup to the Australian public through traditional or online media’. There is a second category for a photographer whose pictures capture the essence of Playgroup.

Anyway, I was the winner for the 2011 Profile award, for my blogging of ‘Playgroups around Australia’. The prize included a trip to Melbourne to the National Conference. Of course I gave a little speech about our trip, and how much we enjoy the experience of visiting Playgroups. I am absolutely thrilled to win this award. For me, its acknowledgement that people really are reading, and getting something out of our experiences and my writing.

During my stay, I also was able to sit in on a few other presentations from some childhood and play experts. To read more about my trip to Melbourne for the National Playgroup Conference, click HERE.

While in Melbourne, I took the opportunity to do some shopping. Also, a mate of mine from Port Fairy drove up especially to see me, so we had a fun night out catching up. All in all it was a fabulous, if not somewhat busy trip.

Mike and the kids picked me up at the airport and we moved onwards to Mareeba. Mike had spent his days in Cairns getting the truck fixed. We had coolant leaking from a gasket, and needed this changing. A relatively simple job, but the mechanic managed to break the radiator spout in the process, so we had to cough up for a new radiator as well. Grrrrrr.

As the Bloomfield Track is another fun 4WD adventure, we decided to leave the caravan behind again, and camp it up to Cooktown and back. There are so many more options for sleeping in the rainforest when you have a tent.

Our first major stop was the southern side of the Daintree River, where we decided to go on a river cruise with Solar Whisper Cruises. Their vessel is a solar and electric powered boat, which made the journey quiet and without the diesel fumes. Our guide and skipper, Matt, had spent the greater part of his life in Northern Queensland, and was incredibly knowledgeable about the rainforest, plants, birds and animals. He took great care in pointing out plants to avoid touching while visiting the rainforest. I never knew some plants could cause you so much pain.

Solar Whisper CruiseWhite Lipped green tree frogOne of the great features of Solar Whispers is their croc cam. The camera can zoom in on crocs (or other wildlife) so you can see it on the onboard screen. You won’t miss anything. Unfortunately, we were at that time of the year that crocs rarely crawled onto the banks to bask in the sun. We only caught a brief glimpse of a submerged croc, who took off as we approached.

We found the entire cruise to be a lovely, peaceful way to experience the rainforest and river system of the Daintree. The quietness of the boat made it easy to do some bird watching. We were also lucky enough to see a white-lipped green tree frog. Rarely, this species of native frog is able to camouflage itself to its surroundings. This one was grey, like the bark of the tree he was sitting on.

They have cruises around 6 times per day, for between 1 – 1½ hours. Long enough to get a great feel for the place, and short enough to avoid the kids getting too fidgety. To learn more about Solar Whisper click HERE.

Noah BeachFungi in the Rainforest nr Emengen CkWe used the car ferry to cross the Daintree River, to the northern section of the National Park. We camped at Noah’s Beach campground in the Daintree National Park. Noah’s is located next to a beautiful and pristine white, sandy beach. We spent the next day walking all the rainforest boardwalks and making seashell mermaids on the beach with the kids. I could never get over the beauty, sights and scents of the lush green forest.Cape Tribulation

Both nights, it rained. Not too hard, but enough. Packing up that second morning in the drizzle was not fun.

We made it just over the halfway point of the Bloomfield track, when the truck temperature skyrocketed. Michael stopped the truck, and coolant was pouring out the bottom onto the ground. A lull in the weather ended and it started bucketing down. To top it all off, we didn’t have mobile reception. Luckily a local took pity on us, and offered use of her phone to call the RACV. Two hours, and a flatbed ride later, we made it to a mechanic in Cooktown.Whoops

Of course the upside to this was we got to spend the night in a Cooktown guesthouse, courtesy of the RACV. I was pretty happy about this as the rain poured and the wind howled overnight. The next day we were not so lucky. The truck was fixed, so we moved to a local campground, braving the elements. We spent the day trying to hide from the rain by visiting the library, the tourist shops, and the camp kitchen (it wasn’t very weather-proof) and eventually the RSL (for several hours). I had one of the most sleepless nights of my life as the wind threatened to launch our tent into space.

Grassy Hill lookoutBloomfield causewayBy the next morning, we were well and truly over camping. We managed to pack up the tent in a rare spate of dryness, and started the journey back down the Bloomfield Track. The morning was spent travelling the 40 km down the road to the Bloomfield River, only to discover the causeway was impassable due to the high flow of water. Our inexperience strikes again, and I was cursing the fact we didn’t check road conditions at the Lion’s Den Hotel, where we had coffee that morning. We had to backtrack and go the long way round.

We made it back to Mareeba and our caravan by mid-afternoon, without breaking down or getting even more wet. I think I am happier dealing with the rain in a more weather-proof caravan. It could have been worse, Cairns received a particularly high level of rainfall, and there were stories circulating that going south were proving difficult.

But southward we will go (just not quite yet) there is still more things to do and rainforest to see. Find out why were headed back to the Atherton Tablelands in our next post. Despite the weather, the adventure continues…

Cape York – an Adventure to Top them All

The caravan has gone into storage, and we spent a day packing and repacking the truck for two weeks of camping. It was with great excitement we started heading northwards up the Cape York Peninsular to the top of Australia.

Our friends, the O’Callaghan’s, had also caught up with us after their diversion trip to the red centre, something we are leaving for another trip. Apart from the wonderful company, we thought that teaming up again for this trip would be a great idea. Safety in numbers, and Chris had a winch to pull us out should either vehicle get into trouble.

We spent our first night at Lakefield National Park. As Chris and Jayne had been living in a tent for a few days already, they set up camp in record time. Mike and I needed a few days practice. We caught the tail end of the Queensland school holidays, so the campsite was busy with families. The boys all had a spot of fishing, but came back empty. We looked with envy at some fellow campers, who managed to pull in a respectably sized barra for their family feast. This lack of fishing success was becoming a too common theme.

A couple of long driving days through some small, aboriginal communities, and we made it to Weipa. It’s another mining town, mostly driven by the largest bauxite mine in the world. There were plans in place to expand in the near future. There are plenty of jobs and opportunity around here, but nowhere to live. It’s becoming a common theme in mining town.

Weipa RioTinto Mine TourWe spent a morning on a mining tour, learning about the practice of surface strip mining, and processing the ore to get aluminium. It was all very impressive, and different to the open cut mining we had seen in other areas of Australia.

Our stay in Weipa was also well timed (arguably) to coincide with the AFL Grand Final. As our travel companions are fans, we all sat in air-conditioned comfort at the Bowls club to watch the game.

Old Telegraph Track startIt was after Weipa we started to traverse the Old Telegraph Track. This was our most challenging road of the trip, with difficult creek crossings and washed out sections. Mike couldn’t wait. Daniel and Emma had been studying photos of some of the precarious crossings in a Cape York 4WD magazine, gearing us all up for the trip. But since 4WD is Mike’s domain, I’ll let you read all about our Old Telegraph Track adventure in Mike’s Page. Our journey makes a good story and there is a link to the video of Mikes deepest creek crossing yet.

Loads of people we have met on the road recommended Loyalty Beach to us, so we decided to camp there for a couple of nights. From there, Mike, I and the kids took a ferry to Thursday Island for a day. This is the central administration base for all the Torres Strait islands. We had a great tour around the island, learning about the history, and some of the culture of the Islanders. They consider themselves very different to Australian Aborigines, as they were not nomadic hunter gatherers.

Last night Sunset Loyalty BeachAustralias Top Pub. Thursday IslandThursday Island is also home to Australia’s most northerly pub. We stopped there for a nice lunch, and a relaxing drink. It was a hot and windy day, much like the normal climate for seven months of the year.

Back at Loyalty Beach, the guys treated Jayne and I to a cocktail, as the kids played together and the sun went down for another spectacular sunset.

At the TipSunset off the tip of AustraliaThe next day we made it all the way to the tip of Australia. Unbelievably, we had the place to ourselves. It was a lovely afternoon, with a gentle cool breeze. We had been saving the sparkling wine and posh cheese for this occasion, and had a feast and a toast. The boys all threw in a line, so they could say they have fished at the top. The sunset was one of the most beautiful of the trip, and one of the most satisfying, as it had taken so much effort to get there.

A day later, we said our goodbyes to the O’Callaghan’s again. The difficult parts of the trip were over, and we wanted to do different things on the way back down.

 Sunrise over Chilli BeachChilli BeachWe ventured off to Chilli Beach in Iron Range National Park, and enjoyed two days on a pristine and virtually deserted beach. Rainforest came all the way up to the coast, and our camping spot had shade all day long. Coconut palms lined the shores, and we ate the fallen and ripe fruit. Definitely could have stayed here longer.

Having experienced the highlights of Cape York, we travelled back to Cairns so I could catch a plane to Melbourne. Find out why in my next post.

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