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Travel Australia with Kids

Wednesday, 25th May 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Thursday, May 26, 2011

We had spent our last night in Coffs Harbour at the southern breakwall, which is an unofficial free camping spot.  There were only 2 other caravaners there for the night and we awoke to find that our poor truck had been "ice-creamed" during the night - at least they didn't throw a rock!

One last activity before we bid farewell to Coffs Habour - the Pet Porpoise Pool.  Mike and I really aren't keen on doing too many commercial outings - it would be phenomenally expensive and we would rather teach the kids to find other ways to be amused and thrilled.  We are, after all, travelling around this magnificent country where there is so much to see and experience naturally. The major impetus for this particular outing was the promise of actually touching the dolphins. And I have to say it was well worth it - we got dolphin and seal kisses, I got the chance to feed a jumping dolphin and at the end of the show everyone gathered at the pool edge to pat the dolphins on their tummy as they swam by on their backs.  The seal and dolphin shows were both entertaining and informative and there were little penguins too!!

Made our way further north, stopping quickly at the small-ish town of Woolgoolga (just outside Coffs) in the vain hope of seeing the whale migration (yes, still in denial about the reality that we are in fact still a month or so too early). We continued through Grafton (just another big town really) and through the very cute town of Maclean (with their tartan-designed power poles) where we saw our first sugar cane fields.  The Clarence River is the life blood of this area, and empties into the Pacific Ocean between Yamba and Iluka.  We had a quick stop and look around at Yamba (mainly because it was voted best town in Australia to live in) - nice enough area and quite a bit larger than I had expected, but we really didn't have the time to explore properly.

We spent a night at the New Italy rest area next to the museum and pavilion complex, which are quite extensive and impressive and tell the story of the settlement of New Italy - which goes like this:  about 350 Italians boarded an expedition organised by Marquis de Ray aboard the "India" headed for a new life in New Guinea.  Conditions there were so horrible that they all then sailed onto New Caledonia which wouldn't allow them to settle, so they set final sail for NSW where Sir Henry Parkes accepted them, but separated them and forced them to integrate into society.  This didn't work out too well either, so they petitioned to settle elsewhere together and were given some rejected land (deemed by settlers as too hard to cultivate) and so New Italy was born.  The pavilion is actually a tribute to their origins in Italy and beautifully depicts the 20 regions of Italy with lovely murals (all painted by the same successful Italian immigrant in his retirement years) and tonnes of information.

Had one cold and rainy day and night in Ballina (fishing plans thwarted yet again), where we spotted our first cane toad (yuk!!) then headed up to Byron Bay.  We visited the Steiner school - very impressive set up and one of the few in Australia that goes all the way to Year 12.  Unfortunately neither of us were too impressed with the "principal" who had joined not long ago after many years teaching at a mainstream school - we both felt that he absolutely did not embody the Steiner principles.  Byron Bay lighthouse and the surrounding national park are beautiful (and still in denial we scouted around for some whales - no luck, but we did see a pod of 4 dolphins) and is also where the "most easterly point on the mainland" is located.  The town itself has a very trendy and "happening" vibe to it, but it was ridiculously busy with tourists, even this late in the season. And we really don't do busy and crowded too well. We also visited nearby Mullumbimby to see their Steiner School - which was our favourite one so far.  But the town itself was way too alternative for us and the real estate is actually more expensive than Sydney.

We were quite exhausted from the last few weeks of travel, so we decided to pick a place to hole up for a few days, get some rest and plan out a very general itinerary for Queensland.  We decided to head inland again and chose Toonumbar Dam near the small town of Kyogle (about 80km west of Byron and 60km south of the Queensland border). We stayed there for 5 nights and although the weather was wet and cold, it was a beautiful spot with plenty of boating and fishing opportunities. The boys adapted well to the poor weather by playing Lego, play-dough and drawing with the occasional DVD thrown in for some much needed sanity for us.  They also caught plenty of catfish - we kept the first 3 and threw the rest back (there's only so much catfish one can eat).  Michael also caught his first bass ever when he took the boat out for a spin on the dam on our last morning.

Tiran livened things up by getting a tick stuck in his back - not a huge deal by most standards, but with our boys, anything which signifies a medical intervention is usually enough for a melodrama of gigantic proportions.  After about 30 minutes of pleading, cajoling, threatening and at one point trying to hold him down while Mike tried to extricate the tick, we gave up and Mike and Tiran headed into the hospital in Kyogle.  They returned 3 hours later, minus tick, a much happier Tiran as he had scored a "special hospital grade band-aid" out of the ordeal.

Next stop............Queensland!

Just look at that gorgeous face! - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Lining up for our kiss - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Big Kiss! - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Kia shaking fins - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)
Wet whiskery seal kiss - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Seal show - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Dolphin show - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Parmiss feeding jumping dolphins - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)
Tiran feeding the little peguins - Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW (17May11)Some of the murals of the Italian Pavilion - New Italy, NSW (18May11)Italian Pavilion sign - New Italy, NSW (18May11)Beautiful Byron Bay lighthouse - Byron Bay, NSW (19May11)
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Tuesday, 16th May 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Headed into the beautiful, green and mountainous countryside of NSW, towards Bellingen and Thora. Our free camp site at Thora was at the foot of the nearby mountains, ringed by huge trees in autumn-coloured leaves, next to a very busy road (thankfully quiet at night) and very popular as witnessed by the constant flow of campers.  Of course being this high up and getting close to winter meant very cold nights indeed!  Thank goodness we travel in luxury with a gas heater on board - and I still used my hot water bottle to get to sleep at night.

We checked out the Steiner School at Thora which is set in the most magical location possible - on the plateau overlooking  the mountains and the streams.  It's a wonderful school (as all Steiner schools we have seen thus far are) and a dream landscape of a location, but I'm not sure we would handle the cold weather too well (Tiran's classroom had a built-in stone fireplace and they had lit the first fire of the year that day).

There was a good supply of kids at this camp spot as well - Kia and Tiran wormed their way into a "friendship" of sorts with a brother and sister set (13 and 10 years old respectively) who taught them to play badmington (they were starting to get the hang of it by the second day) and got into all sorts of tarzan play (swinging from tree vines and climbing rocks) with a set of 5 siblings.

The road between Thora and Armidale is the Waterfall Way (for the obvious reason) and we set out on our last day to exploresome of it.  We headed to the Rainforest Centre in Dorrigo National Park which was an absolute fountain of information about all things rainforest, and like all good places of education, it had DVDs to keep the boys entertained. We did the Crystal Showers Falls walk through the lovely rainforest where you get to walk behind the waterfall - quite a novel experience.  And beautiful Dangar Falls were flowing strongly after recent rains. We had a communal fire at camp on our last night and were joined by a young travelling Danish couple (which seems to be the predominant nationality of international travellers so far) and a few other campers. It wasa  very cold at night, so as soon as the fire had died down we all rushed back to our respective accommodation.

We set of for Coffs Harbour very excitedly - Mom and Dad had hurriedly made arrangements for a long weekend visit with us. We had spent quite a few hours trying to organise some accommodation for ourselves in Coffs Harbour - from ridiculously expensive caravan parks to some suggestions of possible free camp spots from fellow caravaners and CMCA Fellowship Directory members - but luckily the resort Mom and Dad had booked into (Aqualuna Resort at Sapphire Beach) were more than helpful in finding us a spot (albeit a very tight one!) to park the caravan and unhitch.  Although we LOVE travelling in the smaller and uncrowded towns, the larger towns are certainly handy for attending to "home" maintenance and doing some proper shopping a la Woolworths.  We also visited the Steiner School in town - again absolutely wonderful.

The 3 all-too-short days we spent with Mom and Dad were amazing as always. Even 6 hours from home, they hosted us at their place, cooking lunch and dinner every night (Mom had made excellent use of the car boot and loaded it up with all our favourite meals), looking after the kids constantly (having jacuzzi baths and slumber parties with Mamani and Baba every night so Mike and I got to wake up nice and slow each morning) and basically spoiling us rotten (specially having access to a lovely clean shower for 3 whole days)!

The top balcony of Mom and Dad's unit overlooked Sapphire Beach and on our first day we were treated to a brief dolphin sighting.  We were all so excited that when Tiran piped up about 2 hours later to say there was a huge pod of them, Mom, Kia and I rushed right out to have a look. Mom and I could see them straight away - about 10 or so of them jumping out over the crashing waves, but Kia kept saying he couldnt' see them.  After about 5 minutes of Mom and I giving him pinpoint directions about where to look, Kia said "well I can see some rocks, but not any dolphins" - yes, well, so our eyes aren't as sharp as a 6 year old's!!!  But it really should have clicked for us when we had been pointing to the same exact spot for over 10 minutes that those shapes weren't moving at all!!

The weather was wonderful every day, so we made good use of it.  We attended the Coffs Harbour Show (similar to Easter Show except not at Easter and about 1/10th of the size) where the boys had their first ride on a ferris wheel, witnessed the hilarious racing pigs (which also dived into a small swimming pool), the reptile show (only tolerated for the certain prospect of seeing and touching the juvenille crocodile) and did sand art which they gave as souvenirs for Maman  Robi back in Sydney.  The show had all the "usual" show stuff, just on a much smaller scale and not crazy busy, so it was truly enjoyable.  The next day was spent at the very quaint Coffs Markets near Park Beach, then a lovely picnic and hanging around the huge beach until high tide finally forced us out of our chairs and back to the car. We kept our goodbyes as short as possible and stayed in denial about how long it would be before we saw each other again - but in fact we missed them as soon as their car was out of sight.

We stopped by the Big Banana for the obligatory photo (it is now a big theme park) and the boys spent a few hours fishing off the jetty where they caught about 2 dozen pilchards to use as bait for the "real fish". Coffs Harbour has made quite a good impression on us - great school, lovely weather, local beaches and friendly people (so far anyway) so we actually visited a couple of real estate agents to get a feel of what was available and prices etc.  It's definitely on the "we can possibly move here after the end of our trip" list.

 

Beautiful camp spot at Thora - NSW (10May11)Learning badmington from patient new friends - Thora, NSW (11May11)View of countryside from Dorrigo National Park - Dorrigo, NSW (12May11)Blossoming fungi! - Dorrigo National Park, NSW (12May11)
Crystal Showers Falls - Dorrigo National Park, NSW (12May11)A more novel view of Crystal Showers Falls - Dorrigo National Park, NSW (12May11)The boys at Dungar Falls lookout - Dorrigo, NSW (12May11)Beautiful Dangar Falls - Dorrigo, NSW (12May11)
Beautiful Dangar Falls - Dorrigo, NSW (12May11)The Racing Pigs at Coffs Harbour Show - Coffs Harbour, NSW (14May11)They dive too!! - Coffs Harbour, NSW (14May11)First ever Ferris Wheel ride - Coffs Harbour Show, Coffs Harbour, NSW (14May11)
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Tuesday, 10th May 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Friday, May 13, 2011

Heading back to the coast to Port Macquarie, we stopped off at Timberland, a re-creation of a late 1800s timber-industry village.  It's quite extensive, with a working steam train (complete with its own old-style train station), mini saw mill, saddlery, blacksmith, leatherworks, wood workshops, farm animal pen and a bullock-team demonstration (which unfortunately happened to be on a break that day - that's what you get for visiting out of peak season!).  The favourite experiences of the day were the hilarious blacksmith - who gave a running commentary with plenty of comical interludes as he shaped his iron pieces; the authentic horse and wagon ride through the little village (I wonder if they had chiropractors back then - they would need them after the bumpy rides); and the whip cracking lesson from the leatherwork master (Mike actually made it crack after 15 minutes of practice!).

We are fairly timid when it comes to the "legality" of our camping spots.  I know lots of other travellers just pull over in parks, parking lots of surf or sailing clubs etc, but they are usually in small motorhomes or combivans - it's much harder to be inconspicuous in Optimus!  So when we see a blatant "No Camping" sign, we move on. We got very lucky finding a spot in North Haven: a small parking lot overlooking the channel into the ocean, where the locals come fishing most nights.  There were no blatant signs and we made sure we took up as few spaces as possible (which still meant 6 car spaces) - and it was completely fine.  Although we were certainly noticed, as attested to by the many conversations with passersby, no one hassled us (maybe because we only stayed 2 nights).

North Haven is the place to retire to - not too big, not too small, close enough to Port Macquarie for all the services you need, beautiful weather, fantastic beaches for swimming and surfing and waterways for fishing.  And we saw dolphins swimming out the channel towards the ocean every day - it was stunning!  The pace of life is quite slow too, as witnessed by the extreme laid-back approach of the check-out ladies at the shops - I'm sure that's a good thing, but there's only so much of my personality that I can change!

Next stop was at a caravan park in Port Macquarie - not really needed as we had been to one not long ago, but hey you use the vouchers when you can.  So we booked in for 2 nights (1 night free and after a bit of expert haggling by Mike the second night charged only for the 2 adults - could you believe they charge $11 per child????) and we set about doing the necessary chores of laundry and charging of electrical gadgets and of course retail therapy, especially as Mother's Day was around the corner! In addition to the regular chain retail stores, the main city streets have quite a few chic and unusual stores. I managed a visit to the Historical Museum (gotta get my fix when I can) which was quite extensive and varied, and we all visited the Koala Hospital, full of very adorable recuperating koalas.

There is a huge rock wall around the bay (and the caravan park sits along it for a good portion of it) and nearly every rock on the path has been painted by travellers.  We had to hunt around for a good 30 minutes to find one that was suitable (it had to be devoid of previous art as Michael couldn't stomach covering up someone else's artistic expression, large enough for our art with a smooth surface, and with safe areas for the kids to be able to paint without falling in the water). We then set about creating our memento - had quite a few walkers-by stop for a look and of course Kia struck up a conversation with each and every one!  We were very happy with the result given our lack of training (artwork by Michael, background painting by Kia and Tiran and printing by Parmiss).  All in all, I would have to put Port Macquarie on my top 10 list so far - just an absolutely gorgeous place (but that's out of tourist season of course!).

Heading out we stopped in at Ricardoe's Tomato & Strawberry Farm, where they have their famous "wall of strawberries" - row after row of strawberries grown in vertical herb pots. And because they're grown indoors, they are available for picking all year around.  The kids had a great time spotting the "ruby red" ones and then being lifted to cut them off with their scissors.  Apparently their strawberries and tomatoes won first prize at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney just a few weeks ago, and I have to say they were the sweetest ones I had tasted in a long time.

On our way to our next camp spot, we passed throught the tiny town of Frederickton, and stopped off at famous Fredo's Pies where Michael tried the crocodile pie (much to Kia's disapproval) and confirmed that it did in fact taste like chicken. The small rural towns (Smithtown, Summer Island, Jerseyville) bordering the branches of the Macleay River were lovely, until you realised that they were all built on stilts for a reason!  We set up camp at Smoky Cape campgrounds in Hat Head National Park near South West Rocks.  It was a gorgeous spot amongst the trees, with lots of resident kookaburras and kangaroos and the beach access not too far away, not that it was beach weather at this point.

We had our delayed Mother's Day celebration here (Mike refused to let me celebrate it on the actual day as we were driving most of it!) and then headed off to Smoky Cape Lighthouse which is the highest in NSW.  Kept our eyes pealed for any signs of early whale arrivals, but no luck (we're about a month too early but I'm in denial!).  The views were magnificent though - made me consider a life as a lighthouse keeper, for about 5 minutes or so - I couldn't go up and down that hill a few times a day.

Then on our way to visit Trial Bay Gaol, we encountered a blockade created by a fallen tree.  Interviews with the gentleman closest to the tree revealed that it had fallen within the last 15 minutes and council had been summoned to open the road, but noone looked particularly confident that this would be happening anytime soon. Further enquiry from the garbage truck behind us revealed that the only other route to our destination would take about an hour.  Thus motivated, Michael took matters into his own hand, revved up the generator, plugged in the hacksaw and cut great chunks from the tree, and removed the lower part off the road with the help of the handy snatch strap.  All done within 15 minutes - good deed for the day done!

So we made our way to Trial Bay Gaol - what a fantastically magnificent place!  Who came up with these gorgeous locations for gaols anyway?  Port Arthur, Port Macquarie, Trial Bay Gaol?  Well I guess it made sense as the prisoners were put to work making boats, but I reckon the gaolers had their own agenda.  The boys took off for..........you guessed it, more fishing, while I had a look around.  Interesting facts:  this gaol was purpose built to house the prisoners transported here for the sole purpose of building a rock wall and the creation of a port; 7 years after they started they had only managed to build 20% or so of the structure as the seas continually destroyed the parts they built.  So it was declared a total failure and later used to intern German nationals living in Australia during World War II (another thing I did not realise had occurred in Australia).  The boys' fishing expedition did not proceed too well - most of their sinkers lost and both fishing rods broken!  I had the rest of the day "off" (as is our custom for birthdays and Mother's/Father's Day) to relax and read my book - doesn't get much better than that.

 

Timbertown streets - Wauchope, NSW (04May11)Saddlery at Timbertown - Wauchope, NSW (04May11)Sooo close to taking them up on their offer! - Wauchope, NSW (04May11)Fun but pretty bumpy! - Timbertown, Wauchope, NSW (04May11)
Whip cracking lesson from leathermaker - Timbertown, Wauchope, NSW (04May11)Kia gave it a pretty good go! - Timbertown, Wauchope, NSW (04May11)The whip was way too long for him, but he gave it a good go as well! - Timbertown, Wauchope, NSW (04May11)Steam train station - Timbertown, Wauchope, NSW (04May11)
Magnificent views of North Haven from Big Brother Mountain lookout - North Haven, NSW (04May11)North Haven channel and rock wall walk - North Haven, NSW (05May11)Watching the surfers - North Haven, NSW (05May11)EVERY chance he gets!! - North Haven, NSW (05May11)
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Tuesday, 3rd May 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Thursday, May 05, 2011

Our first foray back on the coast was to a caravan park in Forster - nowadays we only stay in caravan parks if we have a discount voucher, but it is nice to have access to unlimited water and power.  The caravan park was right on the banks of the Manning River and quite the watersports destination during the holidays - thankfully by the time we arrived it was all but empty! It rained the 2 days we were there (more excuses for watching DVDs!) but we managed to go into town a couple of times for essentials shopping, not to mention a nice  bit of retail therapy.  It's a lovely seaside town, not particularly touristy, but very friendly locals wherever we went.

Next stop was Taree where we had an appointment to visit the local Steiner school (a pre-requisite for any possible future living destination) - it's quite a small one, only up to Year 6 and composite classes for 2/3 and 4/5, but Kiavash and Tiran  went absolutely crazy to see "their school" (we kept telling them we were only looking!) and have a little play in the playgrounds.  The school left a lovely impression, the town itself...not so much. Nothing glaringly evil to pinpoint, just not a great feeling around it all.

We made a last minute decision to "check out" Crowdy Bay National Park's camping area - the road in was so pot-holed from the recent rains, that it took us the better part of 45 minutes to get to the campspot, so we decided to stay the night.  No sooner had we set up camp (in the pouring rain) than a ranger showed up and served us with an infringement notice for not paying before we had entered the camp area.  Michael explained that we had phoned first and had been told that it would be ok to pay the morning after (since the "pay office" was at a different camping area another 15 minutes away). The "infringement notice" was just their way of tracking all the campers to ensure everyone paid, but not a nice way to do if you ask me.  And on top of it all, it cost $25 a night! So Mike, determined to get the most for our dollar, decided we would stay as long as possible the following day! At least the rain had settled down to drizzle interspersed with breaks in the weather so we had a little walk around the park grounds and the beach.

Our next stop was beautiful Coopernook State Forest (a FREE camp spot) just outside of Taree.  Accessed by dirt roads from the nearby towns and surrounded by nothing but trees (and a few mosquitos!), it was a lovely and quiet refuge. And as there were a handful of other campers (which Michael had chatted to within 3 minutes of us arriving!) we felt quite safe unhitching and exploring the nearby areas.  We headed into the little town of Wingham and the conservation reserve of Wingham Brush which is home to some huge Moreton Bay Figs (which I call Fairy Tale trees as they remind me of the illustrations in the old books, with their huge exposed buttress roots) and a very large red-headed flying fox nursery. Walking along the boardwalk, you had to be careful at times not slip around on any bat poo!  And you could hear them screeching away long before you saw them and we saw hundreds (unfortunately I inexplicably lost most of the photos from this day!!!)

At an afternoon stop in Old Bar (very small seaside town 20 minutes from Taree), the boys befriended 2 sisters on an afternoon beach outing with their father.  Next thing we knew we had been invited to dinner by this lovely family and we found out when we arrived at their house that they had only moved from Castle Hill (really small world sometimes) to Old Bar a week ago!  Talk about hospitality!  The kids played outside in the backyard until dark and we had to literally drag them back home (the poor kids had to go to school the next day - not that Kia and Tiran remember what that was like!!).

The next day was spent looking around for some free camp areas around Laurieton, North Haven and Lake Cathie - no luck with lots of prominent "No Camping" sites around so we headed inland again to Ellenborough Falls (about 50km west of Port Macquarie). Windy roads are a bit of a pain for the driver, but magnificent viewing for the passenger.  Everything was so green!  The Ellenborough River was a short walk from our campsite and of course the boys had to try their luck (which has been non-existent lately).  The drive to see Ellenborough Falls was through more magical farmlands, with parts of the road cut into the side of the ever-climbing hills and pretty narrow.  At one point the road we were following (which the memory app on the iPhone assured us would end at our desired destination) resulted in a dead end, so we had to backtrack and follow the "main" road (slightly wider dirt track!).  Never mind - made it in the end and proceeded to climb down the 641 steps to the bottom of the falls.  The falls are a 200m drop and emit a huge spray at the bottom, so it was quite wet and slippery at the end - beautiful views though.  And with me dragging the chain, took us about 30 minutes to climb back up, where we were met by a couple of hungry and slightly aggressive brush turkeys.  The kids and I took refuge behind Michael as he shooed them away - what a true hero!

 

Kia and Tiran lakeside - Forster, NSW (28Apr11)View from caravan - Forster, NSW (28Apr11)Kia with his newest masterpiece, the bigger the better - Forster, NSW (28Apr11)Tiran collecting essential raw materials for his masterpiece - Forster, NSW (28Apr11)
It was cold and unheated, but hey it's a swimming pool after all! - Forster, NSW (28Apr11)Creek coming from the beach - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)Not the most inviting beach we've encountered so far! - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)Checking out the waterways for fishing opportunities - they are all obsessed! - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)
Resident mum and joey - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)Resident kookaburra - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)Not daunted by the weather! - Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW (30Apr11)Overflow channels among the rural properties - Coopernook, NSW (01May11)
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Tuesday, 26th April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Friday, April 29, 2011

With the Easter and Anzac Day long weekend coming up, we were a bit nervous about being able to find places to stay amongst the holiday crowds, so we reasoned we would have more luck inland than the coast.  Drove through the quiet (Good Friday after all) town of Gunnedah to reach Lake Keepit State Park, where we encountered a very long line of holidaymakers in all sorts of travel combinations (tents, camper trailers, caravans, motorhomes) most of which included a boat.  We actually had to line up to check in and see if there were any spots left.  We needn't have worried - Lake Keepit is enormous!  Altough the caravan park and the lakeside sites closest to it were already full, there was plenty of bush camping space left on the other side of the lake.

Lake Keepit is a watersport destination - fishing, water-skiing, jet skiing, even tying tubes behind the boats for the kids to have a ride in.  We tried to convince the boys to have a go riding on their body boards tied behind our Zodiac, but they're way too chicken for that.  They'd much rather go fishing in the lake, which they certainly did.  I had set aside an entire day to catch up on blogging (5 weeks worth - quite a mammoth task), so the 3 boys spent most of their time fishing on the lake. The views of the lake from our caravan in the morning were so calming and relaxing.  Unfortunately the night times weren't as serene - we had a group of about 15 people camped behind us, with music blaring, loud carrying on and even floodlights (which needed very loud generators to run) well into the night.  Why would you bother going camping and bring floodlights?  I just don't get it.

We headed off on Easter Sunday and drove through more quiet towns (they take their public holidays quite seriously in the smaller towns).  We did stop off in Tamworth for fuel and a spontaneous decision to have pizza for lunch - which we had at a lovely park in town. Even Tamworth was empty of activity and traffic.  The drive along the countryside towards Walcha was gorgeous - beautiful farmland valleys, rolling hills and all the time getting ever closer to the backdrop of the Great Dividing Range.  And seeing it all in autumn with the dozen hues of coloured leaves was an absolute gift.  We got very lucky to score the last lot of Easter Eggs at the only store open in Walcha before heading off to our next camping spot along Thunderbolt's Way.  We stopped at tiny Nowendoc (where the shelves in the general store were quite bare and would not be re-stocked until Tuesday - told you they take their holidays seriously!) to fill up our water tanks and continued on.

The drive along Thunderbolt's Way is a MUST DO! Only a poet (or a real writer) could do it justice in words. Just one magnificent view after another; some quite steep climbs and descents on the road, but that made it even more spectacular. Bretti Reserve - a magnificently beautiful and free camp spot along the Manning River - was absolutely packed!  We had a great view of the camping area from the top of the road and identified a couple of possible spots and headed down.  With the help of some friendly campers we managed to find a spot just vacated that morning and set up camp. The grass around the camps  was very long and an industrious camper had set up a tidy little business of hiring out his lawn mower for $20 a pop to anyone who wanted some peace of mind about snakes around their campsite.  Our site had a good sized clearing already (thanks for the previous campers), but to walk out we had to constantly trudge through the long grass, so Mike cleared us a path for us with a hacksaw (he's such a good boy)!

The lovely neighbours who had helped us find our campsite also had similar aged kids, and more importantly, 4 dogs!  Kia was in heaven and the boys spent as much time at their camp as possible (we had to keep dragging them away!).  The majority of the campers left the following day (Anzac Day) to beat the long weekend traffic home, so it was lovely and quiet.  We had a little splash in the freezing river, not as keen as others who were floating along the current (which was way too strong for the kids anyway). And the scenery was magic - fog surrounding the hills and mountains in the morning only to lift by mid-morning to full sun. It rained our last day, so a great excuse to bum around and watch DVDs.  Heading back to the coast tomorrow and although all 4 of us are enamoured by water, I must say our travels inland so far have been wonderful.

 

Camp spot at Lake Keepit - NSW (22Apr11)Kia and Tiran creating a messy masterpiece of some type - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)Ready for another round of fishing - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)Kiavash - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)
Tiran - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)Beautiful sunsets over the lake - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)Mike doing all the hard work! - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)Magical colours of the sky after sundown - Lake Keepit, NSW (22Apr11)
Even when it's not their catch, they insist on a trophy picture! - Lake Keepit, NSW (23Apr11)Kia with yellowbelly caught by Michael - Lake Keepit, NSW (23Apr11)Lovely Cross Park at Tamworth - NSW (24Apr11)Autumn colours inland NSW - Walcha, NSW (24Apr11)
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Friday 22nd April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Saturday, April 23, 2011

From Orange we headed to the lovely, and VERY tidy town of Forbes and camped in front of Lake Forbes - great views but also located in front of a few businesses that employ guard dogs whose job it is to bark at every passing car during the night!  Although we arrived at the camp spot with just 1 hour of daylight left, the kids insisted on dipping their line in this new body of water - of course they caught a carp!

The next day dawned grey and rainy - to continue all day long.  We headed to Parkes and the Henry Parkes Centre which incorporates 4 different museums adjacent to the information centre. First was the Elvis Museum - I didn't know that Parkes was the Elvis capital of Australia, but it is!  This museum was quite comprehensive, with quite a few of his performance costumes, memorabilia and great summary information about his career and life in general.  Got me very nostalgiac indeed!  Next door was the vintage car museum, starting with Elvis' cadillac. I loved the old 1920s cars.  There was also a Pioneer & History Museum which was somewhat haphazardly organised and hard to follow - but by that stage the boys had finished their viewings and wanted to show me the barn owl they found in one of the many outside sheds housing the old machinery museum - apparently he's been a resident of the shed for over 5 years!  A very good way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy day!

The highlight of Parkes is of course The Dish (one of my all time favourite movies EVER!) - the Parkes Radio Telescope.  We could see it from the highway even before we turned into the road leading down to it - very impressive and pointing straight up.  The centre has quite a bit of information about how radio telescopes work and the replica of the control panel they used in the movie.  There was also a movie theatre showing 3 short films about the centre and space - my favourite one was called "Bigger than Big" where they showed the relative size of the planets and the sun in relation to the other stars in the universe!  Mind boggling and way more than my meager cranium can handle!  Mike asked one of the staff if they had a picture showing the relative sizes of the planets and the very kind gentleman printed one off the web and laminated it for us!  Now that's service!

Our next stop was the Peak Hill open cut mines - yes, yet more open cut mines.  I could do without seeing anymore, but the boys just get so excited by the size of it all, it's hard to resist taking them.  These 5 mines had been closed down, but they had put safety fencing around all of them with self-guide tracks. And at least the rain eased up long enough to allow us to walk around without getting completely drenched.

Finally reached Dubbo and our camp spot at Terramungamine Reserve (about 10km north of Dubbo) - it was absolutely packed!  We managed to squeeze in on the road next to some very friendly Tasmanian travellers for the night.  Amazingly the next day everyone except us and another family (who are travelling around Australia with 3 children) cleared out.  So we moved into a spot much closer to the arm of the Macquarie River flowing past. We spent the first day doing chores (laundry, fixing up bits and pieces) and thinking what a lovely quiet spot we had found....spoke too soon as usual.  Around noon, caravans started arriving and by the afternoon it was a full house again. This was to be the pattern for our 3 day stay!

Of course the thing to do in Dubbo is Western Plains Zoo - the tickets are good for 2 consecutive days and you need them!  Not necessarily because of the size of the zoo (the 6km round circuit is fairly do-able in one day) but it is quite exhausting getting in and out of the car every few hundred metres.  Quite a good range of animals, and the best time to see them is during feeding time as you are guaranteed a close view - we got great views of the giraffes, elephants and the Sumatran tiger this way.  Some of the animals were very disappointing - specially the big cats:  cheetahs and lions. They just lay there having a snooze (on both days!!) - but then again what is there really to do when all your meals are supplied?  Our family favourite by far were the cute and energetic otters - the kids squealed with delight as they ran around and jumped in and out of their pool.

The other interesting thing to see in Duboo - right at our camp spot - were the Terramungamine Grooves. These are a type of Aboriginal site formed as a result of sharpening axe and hatchet edges or spears using very large abrasive stones. Truly amazing! There was also plenty of fishing on hand, being next to a river and all, but nothing to keep and eat! And.......more mice in the roof! Michael had bought some foam strips in Orange and when I heard the tell-tale noise, I refused to sleep in our bed again until he had plugged up the gaps in the hidden lighting strips above our bed.  Even with our defenses thus re-inforced it was a bit difficult to sleep that night. Checking the traps and baits in the boot of the caravan is now part of Mike's morning ritual and the next morning there was one grey mouse caught in a trap by his hind leg doing his damnest to escape!  After debating his fate for a few minutes, we decided to throw him in the river. I did NOT know that mice can swim!  He made it to the other side of the river and I hope he finds peace and happiness somewhere other than our caravan.

We left Dubbo in the afternoon and headed toward Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles National Park.  Coona is the "Astronomy Capital of Australia" and the site of the Siding Spring Observatory (the largest optical astronomy research centre in Australia - I'm not really sure what they're laying claim to here, but it's a very large telescope!). A very interesting and educational thing they've done is the "World's Largest Virtual Solar System Drive" - the planets of our solar system are scaled (1:38 million from the real thing) in both size and distance and attached to billboards in rest areas and information centres along the 5 different roads that lead into Coonabarabran.  We passed Pluto, Neptune and Uranus and then took a detour via Tooraweenah to get to the Warrumbungles.  Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury were located on the road from Coona into the National Park and up to the Siding Spring Observatory whose dome represents the Sun (in relative size and distance).  We had to wait until we left the park to spot Saturn at a rest stop!

The Warrumbungles Range are the remnant peaks and spires of an extinct volcano and formed 14 million years ago. There are a few different campgrounds within the park and we chose the less populated one and found a gorgeous spot again in front a little creek. The kids played down there every chance they got, and as it was quite shallow, we could supervise them from above.  There were plenty of walks to do around the park, but we chose the lazy way of things and relaxed as much as we could (finally getting the hang of it - only took 4 months, not too bad!).

The capture of another mouse in our trap the next morning (this one dead) finally drove Michael to set his sights on the discovery and eradication of their point of entry.  He emptied out the caravan boot and it wasn't until he unscrewed the 2 batteries that he finally found their secret path - a very large hole near one of the caravan legs that hadn't been covered up (more messy workmanship from Travelhome).  So Mick jerry-rigged a cover from one of the plastic pot holders we use under the legs of the caravan and stuck it down with some silica. Fingers crossed that we have managed to stem the tide of unwanted rodents!

We did sign the boys up for an Aboriginal boomerang painting class being held at the park.  It was led by a very patient Aboriginal (Gamilaraay) ranger who explained to the 17 kids assembled all about how the different colours of ochre are found and used and the various symbols depicting natural structures and animals.  The kids had an absolute ball and couldn't wait to throw their decorated boomerangs around - no matter how many times we told them that they wouldn't actually come back! It was good exercise anyway until they go tired of running to pick them up again.  When we returned to camp, the kids took off for the creek as usual - as they were being uncharacteristically quiet, Mike went to investigate to find that Kia had managed to somehow find pure ochre near the water and was painting rocks with it!

We met more fellow travellers (N and D) - a young couple from Portland going in the same basic direction as us.  They kindly shared their fire with us one night where we spontaneously decided to make damper - never having had it before, I took their word for it when they said it was the perfect recipe. So now we can add bush tucker to our list of achievements!

 

Camp spot at Lake Forbes - Forbes, NSW (16Apr11)Lovely old buildings - Forbes, NSW (16Apr11)Elvis Museum - Parkes, NSW (16Apr11)Classic Elvis outfit! - Parkes, NSW (16Apr11)
He even makes those nerdy 3D glasses look cool! - Parkes, NSW (16Apr11)Kiavash and Daddy all ready for the 3D movies - Parkes, NSW (16Apr11)And another open cut mine (maybe I should keep count as we go?) - Peak Hill, NSW (16Apr11)
The stunning Terramungamine Grooves - Dubbo, NSW (17Apr11)Giraffe feeding time - Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW (18Apr11)I thought he was a bit small myself - Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW (18Apr11)Driving around the zoo - Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW (18Apr11)
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Thursday 14th April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Saturday, April 16, 2011

The detour to Sydney had also led to our decision to change the direction for the rest of our travels.  Neither one of us could face driving all the way back to pick up where we started from near the WA border, so we decided that we would spend a couple of weeks visiting inland NSW and then head to the NSW coast and move up to Queensland and continue around in an anti-clockwise direction.  This would keep the seasonal timings pretty much as we had planned.

So after we picked up the 5th wheeler near Newcastle, we stopped off at Maitland for lunch, supplies and to re-organise a few things after a week without the caravan.  It wasn't until we had left the suburbs of Maitland and the country-side opened up and the population density decreased that both Mike and I breathed a sigh of relief!  We like it quiet!  Drove through Singleton and the magnificent upper Hunter Valley - with its rolling hills of wineries and the backdrop of the Great Dividing Range. We then followed the Golden Highway through lots of small towns, Merriwa and stopped for the night at the very small town (population 110) of Cassilis.  The camp area was next to the Bowling Club, which, as in so many little towns, is everything else too!  On this particular Friday night, there was a social do with a darts competition. We joined the town (the majority of whom were in attendance with their children) for dinner and got a little taste of small town life. Friendly people for sure, but I don't think I would be too happy with the lack of choice, including people to associate with!

And to really mark our return to travelling, we heard the telltale "flutter of wings" sound that signalled the presence of mice in the roof space!!  Kiavash was awake at this point and he was all for trying to catch him as before. So we made up the dining area bed and with Michael promising to keep watch, Kia and I fell asleep.  It wasn't the most restful night's sleep, but we didn't find any mouse droppings on or near the bed the next morning.  Michael reckoned that this was because of the poison baits (which were nearly all eaten by morning) and the peanut butter on the mouse traps keeping them well fed enough not to come looking for food.  But apparently it takes a couple of days for the poison to finish them off.

Our first destination was the town of Canowindra (about 60km southwest of Orange) and the 17th National Balloon Championships. We drove through the back roads until we reached the highway at Wellington where we pulled over at the sculptures for lunch.  Quite an impressive use of recycled materials - rafters from the old bridge, broken tiles etc. We reached Canowindra around 3pm and camped at the showgrounds, which had been set up for the expected influx of tourists for the Balloon regatta, launching tonight with a balloon light show and food stalls in the Sports Oval.  It was a great night! Everyone's favourite was the huge kookaburra balloon and the food was fantastic. The stalls ranged from Indian, to wood-fired pizza, gourmet sausage rolls and beef pies - and all plates were $5 (what a great idea!).  And luckily a very clear night, as the next day the rain started!

The drive to Orange was beautiful - high altitude wineries, still great views of the Great Dividing Range and magnificent horse stud properties with their tree-lined driveways.  And the changing colours of autumn just gave the whole thing another world feel!  Halfway between Orange and Bathurst is the gorgeous capming grounds of Macquarie Woods State Forest, which is also a pine plantation area.  It is undoubtedly one of the loveliest areas we've seen yet, with enormous grounds, a dam with carp and yabbies, several toilets, a bin at each camp area and regular provision of free firewood! It was a very rainy day when we arrived, so we decided to allow ourselves a complete bludge day - lots of DVD watching, lego playing and eating whatever we wanted! It was a much needed re-charge and slow down from the past couple of weeks.

Our planned 2 day stopover extended to 5 days as "Ironhide" broke down again - wouldn't start the morning after arrived. Luckily we had updated our NRMA membership for the truck to "Premier" just before we left Sydney so they were called and declared that it was far more serious than a flat battery, so another tow for the truck and a hunt through Orange for a mechanic that had time to have a look at it (apparently since the mines opened up not far from orange, all the mechanics have left town to work for the better pay at the mines and there is a huge shortage of qualified mechanics and a long waiting list at the garages!).  The NRMA also arranged a hire car for us so we could get around.  It turned out to be a faulty fuel filter head allowing the fuel to drain back into the tank - so a replacement was ordered from Melbourne and we had to wait it out.

Aside from the fact that it was VERY cold (2-3 degrees overnight and only 12-16 degrees during the days), if there was a place you'd want to be forced to stay at, it was Macquarie Woods.  Although there was a steady stream of campers coming and going, the grounds are so extensive that you never heard anyone else.  The kids fished in the dam every day and didn't care at all that it was only carp that had to be killed and thrown away.  We had roaring fires going every afternoon and clear night skies full of stars every night (even though we never stayed out past 7pm due to the cold).  We visited Mount Canobolas and Lake Canobolas, and the kids had a great time playing with some kids their ages at the enormous Adventure Playground near the Botanical Gardens.  We also had access to every shop we needed in Orange and Michael actually enjoyed driving around in a zippy little sedan, being able to park in small spaces again!

So 2 weeks in a row now with events forcing us to stay put and slow down.........the universe telling us something perhaps?  We should listen, because the last 2 weeks have also been the most expensive with repairs!!

Kiavash and Tiran - Cassilis, NSW (09Apr11)One of the sculptures of
The artwork within was done by the school and community groups and tells the history of the area.  Tile mosaic flower - Wellington, NSW (09Apr11)Flame jet from balloon parade - Canowindra, NSW (09Apr11)
Kookaburra Balloon - Canowindra, NSW (09Apr11)Balloons light show - Canowindra, NSW (09Apr11)A beautiful spot for a breakdown! - Macquarie Woods, Orange, NSW (11Apr11)Doing their best to miss those puddles - Macquarie Woods, Orange, NSW (11Apr11)
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Friday 8th April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Sunday, April 10, 2011

We spent a lovely morning for breakfast with the Pulo Family - it was nice to see them all again. Then the short drive (funny I used to think it was such a long drive before!) to Cherrybrook to surprise the Keyhani Family.  As we pulled into Curtis Close, our bulk taking up much of the street, we saw a car pulling out of Mom and Dad's driveway.  We stopped just short and waited for them to see us as they pulled out - it took a full 20 seconds of Dad staring out of the car window directly at us to register that something that shouldn't be there, was in fact there!  The look on his face as reality dawned was absolutely priceless!!

We had luckily just caught them as they were heading down to the local park down the road to celebrate Seezdeh-bedar (a Persian New Year event) with a few close friends.  As it happened, grandma was already at the park, so we all headed down together.  The boys' niece (3 year old Phoenix) and nephew (8 month old Xavier) were also in the car - Phoenix was beside herself at seeing her cousin "Tinny" - kept hugging him and telling him "I missed you Tinny"!  So Michael grabbed Phoenix under one arm and Tiran in the other and headed down to where grandma and close family friends Mr & Mrs K and H were sitting at the picnic table.  Well the happiness in grandma's eyes and face at seeing us all really did make the last 5 days of constant driving worthwhile!  We were lucky we didn't cause any medical damage at the shock received!

We spent nearly a week at Mom and Dad's house and turned their life upside down for the duration.  All plans were cancelled and the family gathered most nights for dinner - it put Mom and Dad through a lot of trouble!  I had requested that as much as possible our visit be kept under wraps - we so wanted to visit with all our friends, but we knew that once we started, we'd be in Sydney for a month!  So we kept all the festivities limited to the close family.  The kids got spoilt rotten by Mamani and Baba with trips to Sydney Aquarium, the Wildlife Park and the Reptile Park.  They got lots of playtime with cousin Phoenix (even a sleepover!) and cousin Ali and lots of cuddles with baby Xavier! It took a few days after we left to bring them back to the reality of not getting what they want at the drop of a hat! We got spoilt rotten too - free laundry service and showers, amazing dinners every night and lots of breaks from the kids!  And most importantly, grandma saw the kids everyday - it was hard to see her unwell but Mike and I were glad that she got the chance to be around all her great-grandchildren all together again.

Not all was good with our Sydney visit however.  We had called ahead and booked a service of the 5th wheeler with the manufacturer (Travelhome).  There were 2 major problems that needed addressing:  one was the placement of the solar toilet fan (which needed to be relocated from the side of the van to the top) and the other was replacing the entire awning as the rotor wheel installed in the door to keep the awning from tearing as the door opened and closed had actually torn the awning.  We had already had several discussions with Travelhome about the awning during our travels (as it had torn nearly 2 months ago).  On their request, we had taken the 5th wheeler to a Dometic dealer (manufacturers of the awning) while we were in Adelaide who had assessed the problem and declared that it was an installation issue (fault of Travelhome) and not a user fault.  The Dometic dealer had relayed this information to Travelhome and the contact that we had with Travelhome since that time was geared towards them finding a way to install the awning so that it doesn't happen again.  However, once we took the 5th wheeler to Newcastle and they had looked at the awning, they declared that it was in fact our fault that it had torn and that it wouldn't be covered by warranty!

Several very tense days of negotiations and finally threats by us to take them to the Office of Fair Trading for failure to honour a warranty finally saw it move in our favour with a full free replacement of the awning.  But their treatment of us throughout the process left us enraged at their lack of professionalism and even dirty tactics to get out of fixing something that was broken through no fault of ours.  We were even informed when we went to pick up the caravan (finally!!) that the gates had been locked at the owner's request so that we would not "take" the 5th wheeler without paying the bill! Needless to say we will not be dealing with Travelhome again!!

And just when we thought that all was in place for us to resume our trip, the Silverado broke down in Mom and Dad's driveway!  The entire day was spent attending to it (from Mike driving down to Smithfield to get a fuel filter and change that, to calling the insurance people who organised for it to be towed to the garage in Smithfield that specialises in the US-made cars).  The garage deemed that the batteries were ok and needed to be re-charged and we finally left the garage around 7pm with what we hoped was a fixed truck.

But who is to say why these things happen? Maybe we were meant to be delayed in Sydney longer than we anticipated. As Mom said, maybe the delay led to us not being in an accident or in bad weather. It was certainly worthwhile to us to be around our lovely family again. We made the goodbyes short and sweet - just the way goodbyes should be!

Mamani with a very serious Xavier - Cherrybrook, NSW (03Apr11)A yummy Xavier sandwich - Cherrybrook, NSW (03Apr11)Kia and Body - Cherrybrook, NSW (03Apr11)Body and the great-grandchildren: Phoenix, Tiran, Kiavash, Xavier - Cherrybrook, NSW (03Apr11)
Boys doing their best not to smother Xavier (a bit hard!) - Cherrybrook, NSW (05Apr11)Great to see our cousins too! Tara, Ali, Sara, Nima, Tiran - Cherrybrook, NSW (05Apr11)Loads of fun playing with cousin Ali! Cherrybrook, NSW (05Apr11)A picture I'll treasure: Tiran, Kiavash, Body, Xavier, Phoenix - Cherrybrook, NSW (06Apr11)

Friday 1st April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Monday, April 04, 2011

Leaving Streaky Bay was quite exciting as it signalled the start of our trip across the Nullarbor (we were taking a bit of liberty at the extent of the actual Nullarbor!) and heading into a new state!  The day we had decided to leave was the first warm and calm sea day we've at Perlubie Beach so Mike HAD to take the boat out!  All well and good but it did mean that we left quite late and arrived at our destination in the dark.
 
We passed through Ceduna, which although nearly 500km from the WA border, is the location of the quarantine checkpoint for those crossing from WA to SA.  We reached the tiny town of Penong around 6pm and decided to have dinner at the Penong Hotel - the Penong Races were on that weekend so it was quite a social affair at the pub that night. By the time we reached our intended camp area at Cactus Beach (20km of dirt road, but at least tempered in some spots by smooth salt lake roads) it was completely dark (nearly 8pm).  The camp area is located on private property and as we opened the gate and drove in, we were extremely lucky to meet the owner who was doing his evening rounds of the camp area.  We would never have found our way around in the dark, but he led us to a lovely large camp spot.  It was so still and quiet, with only the distant sound of the ocean over the dunes.

It was one of the cleanest and well looked after camp spots I have ever seen!  The owner does 2 runs a day to clean out the rudimentary toilets (just rubbish bags and lime provided), stock up the firewood for the fire cooker and empty the rubbish bins.  Cactus Beach is a surfer's haven and not at all suitable for swimming and even less so for fishing due to all the seaweed around.  We had a little look around the area (so very secluded - I always wonder how those that live there deal with it) - lovely pink lake (due to the algae) and a bit of 4WDing on the sand to another beach which was just as bad. It has been such a cool summer (for us anyway) that we are all having a bit of trouble accepting that it's over and it's nearly autumn.  But we had beautiful clear nights with spectacular views of the stars sitting around the campfire - magical indeed.

We continued our westward journey towards Western Australia - and as the imminent border crossing loomed, so did again our increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.  Lots of small towns now:  Nundroo, Yalata (which is all prohibited aboriginal land) and Nullarbor (basically consisting of a motel, "caravan park" which was basically a stretch of concrete with caravan power stations, service station (fuel over $2/Litre) and roadhouse).  The landscape changed slowly - the distances here are so great that the changes are gradual.  From flat grassy pastoral lands all the way to the horizon, to scrub-lands with small trees and as we came ever closer to Nullarbor, low scrublands.

There are quite a few rest stops along the road from Nullarbor westwards, but only a few are away from the highway and close to the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. On recommendation from earlier travellers (a lot of note taking occurs at the Happy Hour and campfire gatherings, with the Camps 5 books being studied and recommended camp spots marked), we travelled to the rest area called "133k Peg" (which means 133km from the SA/WA border).  It provided lovely views of the cliffs, which we negotiated very gingerly!  The cliffs are so undercut by the action of the Southern Ocean that they can give way without warning - or so said the numerous signs around the rest area!  The evening's entertainment was watching the hundreds of mice running around outside - the kids had a good hour's worth of giggles!  Michael had not put the legs of the caravan down and even put the stairs up to make sure we had no uninvited visitors!

And therein ended our westward journey - after speaking with family members, we had learned that my dear grandmother's health was deteriorating.  We then made the emotionally easy, but logistically cringe-worthy, decision to travel back to Sydney the quickest possible way: back across the section of the Nullarbor we had just crossed and inland through outback NSW.  It would be a 2500km journey, done in as little time as we could manage.  Weird to get so close to the WA border and turn back!  The drive back to Ceduna was uninspiring to say the least - the barren landscape is interesting when you see it for the first time, but not 3 days in a row!  There's not a lot to keep you interested or even awake!

At the quarantine checkpoint at Ceduna we explained our detour to the inspector, who believed us and let us keep our last 4 pieces of fruit.  Once past Ceduna however the journey became somewhat more interesting as it was previously uncovered territory.  We stopped at the towns along the way to break up the journey - first Wirrulla, the "town with a secret" which unamusingly is just a way to get you there, as no one would share the secret!  We then headed for the town of Minnipa and to a camp spot at Pildappa Rock, about 15km north of it along dirt roads.  It was a gorgeous spot - the kids thought we had reached Ayres Rock!  We climbed to the top of the Rock for magnificent views of the valleys and farmlands below.  There were quite a few rock pools formed in the craters on top of the rock, one of which was ringed with algae and full of black tadpoles - very exciting for the boys.

Next day was an enormous day of driving - over 700km!  We stopped off at Wudinna for breakfast and fuel (which had become a twice daily requirement). As we were driving such long distances, we were sharing the driving (I had done a negligible amount until now) - with me driving in the mornings and Michael in the afternoon.  Another quick stop at Kimba, where we kept missing the badly sign-posted road to the Big Galah!  Finally found it and the Halfway Across Australia Sign - a bit of a cheat since we hadn't driven all the way across to WA yet. There was a very talkative cockatoo in a cage near the Big Galah who kept saying "hello" and then screeching really loudly - kids thought he was the bee's knees!  Lunch was at Port Augusta, along with some food shopping and yet more fuel, then through Wilmington and a quick stop at Orroroo, mostly for a leg stretch but we may as well see the Giant Red Gum Tree while we're here.

Then through the lovely town of Peterborough (just straight through unfortunately) and the tiny townships of Yunta, Mannahill and Olary.  Drive, drive, drive.  As it got dark, we pulled over to a couple of rest stops, but Mike's gut kept pulling us away and forward, until finally around 8:30pm, totally exhausted we pulled into Thackaringa rest stop 10km past the NSW border!  Not the nicest place we've stayed (and I would highly recommend not staying there!) but desperation leads to necessary decisions (our main reason for finally stopping, besides exhaustion, was the presence of lots of other caravans).

The next day we drove the 30km to Broken Hill and I declared that we needed a day of rest - I was getting motion sickness, not to mention the poor kids travelling for 6-8 hours a day in the car.  A quick stop at the well stocked information centre provided me with lots of options of what to see and visit. We pulled over and unhitched in a park across from the information centre and headed out to see the Living Desert Sculptures - a collection of 12 sandstone sculptures on Sundown Hill overlooking Broken Hill.  Such a different vista of endless open space with only the surprisingly large town of Broken Hill visible for endless kilometres.  We also visited the Miners' Memorial and had the yummiest milkshake ever in the 1950s inspired Belle's Milk Bar. 

There are so many other areas in Outback NSW to visit, but we have earmarked them for another time.  Drive, drive, drive. Quite a few of the dirt roads leading to even smaller towns and private properties had "Road Closed" signs displayed due to recent flood damage. Stopping for lunch and fuel at tiny little Emmdale (just a roadhouse really) until we reached the next sizable town of Cobar.  I forced another stop here and sent the boys to a lovely reservoir in town called "Newey" (as it was the new town reservoir) to try their hand at a bit of fishing while I had a look through the Great Cobar Heritage Centre which is located within the information building. It had quite a few different displays capturing the essence and history of the town's aboriginal, pastoral and mining history. As always I get lost in the stories of the everyday people living their lives in such harsh conditions - amazing and inspiring. We then all drove a few km out of town to see the open cut mine of Peak Gold Mine - enormous!  There were even loaders going up from the tunnel at the bottom of the open cut, along the narrow roads, all the way to the top - gave a great size reference as to how deep the open cut was!

We drove all the way to Trangie before we finally stopped for the night - as it was just a sleep stop, we pulled into what we thought was a quiet side street off the main road.  However the morning revealed high school kids being dropped off at the adjacent bus stop for a school excursion.  Deciding we had better get a move on, Mike went outside to start the truck and drive us the 300m down the road to the fuel station (another reason we had to pull over as we were nearly empty). And......the truck wouldn't start!  Thinking we maybe had less fuel than we thought, Mike put the jerry can fuel into the tank, and after pumping the fuel pump, the truck finally started - got our fuel, pulled over behind the fuel station to get the kids dressed and headed towards Dubbo for breakfast.  We had not realised that there had been flooding in that region back in December - it had been severe enough to cover the information centre (itself on a bit of a hill) halfway up to its window sills!  The towns were much closer now and we drove through Orange and then Bathurst where we stopped for lunch.

We had kept our reunion trip a secret from everyone back home - as we were planning on spending that first night at Michael's mother's farm near Penrith, Michael had given her the heads up the day before to expect us.  I still had not let my family know - and we decided maybe a surprise would be more impactful.  So I called Mom from Bathurst to get a run-down of their schedule over the weekend, and once reassured that they would be home most of the time, promised to contact her again tomorrow to set up a Skype catch up session.  The last leg of the journey from Katoomba into Penrith was worse than the previous 2400km!  The traffic was unbelievable, with roadworks every 10km or so!  We finally reached the Pulo Farm around 5pm, eager for long hot showers and a great dinner.

 

The multi-direction sign at Ceduna (nearly make it to the WA border) - Ceduna, SA (25Mar11)Shelley Beach jetty - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)Pink Lake - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)Pink Lake - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)
Our open camp spot at Cactus Beach (27Mar11)On the road to the Nullarbor Plain - Yalata, SA (27Mar11)Massive cliffs of the Great Australian Bight (as far as we made it on the western leg!) - 133k Peg, SA (27Mar11)
The sunset colours of the Nullarbor - 133k Peg, SA (27Mar11)Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)Tadpole waterhole atop Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)View of the surrounding farmlands from Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)
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Thursday 24th March 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reluctantly bid farewell to beautiful Surfleet Cove - the rest of the Eyre Peninsula (not to mention the country) beckons after all - and off in search of our next camp spot.  We first stopped off at Coffin Bay (around the point of the Eyre Peninsula on the western side) - Michael's "research" had led him to declare that once we set eyes on this location, we wouldn't want to leave.  Lesson learnt - don't believe everything you read:  one person's paradise is another's "what's the big deal?". We were quite underwhelmed with Yangie Bay Campgrounds, which really are built for smaller camper trailers and tents.  There is an area for the Big Rigs further away from the water, but it is quite unsheltered and completely unscenic.  And in all honesty we are getting rather spoilt by the choices of magnificent camp areas, so we decided not to compromise our ideals and headed off (I think it took Michael a couple of days to fully accept the reality of his disappointment).

The next 2 potential campsites also proved unworthy:  heading further north along the western coast of the Eyre Peninsula we tried Mount Dutton Bay and Farm Beach campgrounds.  The first was tiny (more a rest area than a camp spot), next to the local boat ramp with no easy or safe access to the lake.  The latter was much larger but extremely packed.  There were a couple of potential spots we could have maneuvered into, but there was a 400m walk to the beach and more than a few flies around as well. So although it was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to try one last stop - Sheringa Beach (a bit further north).  Sheringa boasts only a roadhouse which is basically a jack-of-all-trades establishment, including where we pay for the campspots near the beach.  This was the first place so far that I had seen a shark warning on the beach notice board, so I wasn't too keen for the kids to make full use of the beach!

Sheringa Beach is also where our mouse saga took place....the kids and Mike were already asleep when around 11:30 I heard what I thought sounded like bird wings flapping over the roof.  I made a mental note to tell Mike to check the roof in the morning to make sure they hadn't damaged the solar panels and was just packing up for bed when I heard "Honey, we have a mouse in here!".  That had me sitting on the dining table looking around frantically - apparently the cheeky little bugger had run down Michael's arm while he was asleep! There then followed a complete emptying out of the bed area (which contains a lot of boxes, pillows, blankets etc) while I kept watch from my perch to make sure it didn't escape.  No luck and Mike confidently declared that he had scared him off for good - but where had he gone????

I reluctantly believed him and was getting ready for bed when the mystery was solved as the mouse peeked out and looked at Mike from the hidden lighting edging along the nose cone directly above our beds!  So we set up the dining area bed, but I was too freaked out to sleep and Mike was now wide awake from his hunting, so we sat up to observe and plan our next attack.  That's when we heard the bird flapping noise again which was actually the mouse running up from the boot, up the vertical inside compartment and into the roof space of the caravan! A few kill and capture ideas were discarded before Mike finally set a well devised trap using one of the boys' toolboxes (emptied out of course), a stick, some rope and some cheese.  It took until 3am but we finally trapped the monster in the box!  After ensuring that there were no further telltale "bird flapping" noises we went to sleep - on the dining room bed!  The kids had of course slept through the whole thing - but the next day we drove the box to the enormous sand dunes about 2km from camp and opened it to let the mouse go (we hoped that was far enough away to keep him out of our house).

We had a quick look around Elliston and the Sculptures by the Sea - a very nice way to dress up the cliffs and coastline. The next day we were up very early (before 8am!!) to head down to Locks Well Beach to catch the salmon run at low tide.  It's a very isolated beach, accessed via 273 beautifully built stairs down (which you have to of course scale to get back up).  But true to its tagline ("most consistent catch of Salmon in SA") Michael did indeed catch a decent sized Australian Salmon with Tiran helping out with the net!  Kia and I were warmly sheltered from the rainy day in the caravan.  Then on to Talia Caves which are limestone caves with a granite formations hollowed out by the action of the sea.  Quite lovely colours!

Heading towards Streaky Bay, we stopped off at Murphy's Haystacks, huge outcrops of pink granite boulders, which look so out of place in the middle of a farm. The kids had a great time climbing on them.  We then headed off into very remote country - the peninsula off Baird Bay.  All 41km of the road to Point Labatt (where the road ends) is dirt road and extremely corrugated in spots (the old bones were hurting).  But Baird Bay is fabulously beautiful and the fur seal colony at Point Labatt didn't disappoint - although the platform was 50m above the colony, the views were great with plenty of action (it was freezing though so Mike and I only lasted about 10 minutes).

We then drove along even more dirt roads in search of our next camp spot - but the ones we saw were fairly inhospitable as they looked out over the Southern Ocean and it was still very cold and windy.  We ended up at Perlubie Beach about 20km north of Streaky Bay.  It was very crowded when we arrived but we squeezed in next to some lovely people who didn't mind close neighbours.  The camp area is much reduced in size since it was listed in Camps 5 - mainly because a local landowner, whose application to turn the area into a caravan park had been denied by council, had closed off a lot of the access points that were on his land.  The area emptied out the next day and stayed fairly quiet over the 4 days we spent there.  Streaky Bay was quite a nice little town with all the necessary amenities - the kids were duly impressed with the replica model of the 5 metre great white shark that was caught off the jetty (I was less impressed with what could be lurking under the water as we walked along the jetty)!  This was also the first place I saw where you were charged for filling up your water tanks (only 1 cent per litre mind you, but still).

The kids had some playmates at last - family with 3 children (J, K, M) who were camped next to us - which was good for them and for us as it allowed us to get a lot of work done, like blogging (yes it has been that long since the last blog, stop hassling me people, I'm on a holiday!!) and Michael even got all the taxes done). And the fishing proved successful for Kiavash who landed a huge flathead for our dinner! It was quite a social camp area as well, with people gathered around campfires most nights.  The variety of people you meet along the way is quite remarkable - we even met an octagenerian couple (85 and 83 year old) still caravaning around (gave me some hope for the rest of us!).

 

Sheringa Beach noticeboard - first mention of shark warning we've seen (bottom line) - Sheringa Beach, SA (18Mar11)Massive sand dunes behind the beach - Sheringa Beach, SA (19Mar11)Sand boarding was a bit difficult on the very hard sand, but they gave it a try anyway - Sheringa Beach, SA (19Mar11)Tiran giving sand boarding a try - Sheringa Beach, SA (19Mar11)
Lovely Sheringa Beach (19Mar11)The release portion of operation Fishing off the jetty at Elliston, SA (19Mar11)Sculptures by the Sea - Elliston, WA (19Mar11)
Sculptures by the Sea - Elliston, WA (19Mar11)The most appropriate one and my favourite! - Elliston, SA (19Mar11)Beautiful night around the campfire - Sheringa Beach, SA (19Mar11)Successful fishing expedition! - Locks Well Beach, SA (20Mar11)
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