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Travel Australia with Kids

Wednesday 12th January 2011

Michael Pulo - Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Made a fast run from Derwent Bridge to Hobart as I really wanted to see Salamanca Markets in Hobart (which are on Saturdays) and this would be my only chance.  We drove down the "Rivers Run" area again entered farming country and unfortunately didn't get a chance to stop and see anything - New Norfolk in particular looked gorgeous!  We could tell as soon as we entered the outer suburbs of Hobart as the scenery and traffic conditions changed.  The view of Hobart as we entered (from the north) reminded me very much of Sydney (though quite a bit smaller).  Drove to the Hobart Showgrounds, unhitched and headed into town for the markets.

It was absolute mayhem - so much traffic (or maybe we've become so used to the "quiet life and streets" of the wilderness and the country that it was all too much).  We managed to find parking a bit farther away from the action (and a very lovely older couple gave us the remainder of their parking voucher!).  The markets reminded me of those at The Rocks and they were absolutely packed, even though it was fairly late in the afternoon.  Spent a lovely couple of hours looking around - pity the poor stall holders that were selling anything the kids thought interesting:  they were harangued by their life stories until Mom or Dad could manage to pull them away to the next place!

The kids hadn't been near water (meaning beach or lake they could play in) for about a week and were having severe withdrawal symptoms, so information was gathered about suburban beaches and one was found which was quite close and met all the requirements (had sand and "little waves" for Tiran). Although by now the weather had turned quite windy with rain threatening, the kids spent about 2 hours playing on the beach.

The next morning we awoke to the news that thieves had visited the campgrounds overnight and had made off with quite a stash (though very luckily not ours): a couple of generators (one of which was chained via a security cable under the caravan!), outboard motor, chainsaw, jerry cans and fishing gear.  The police said they felt it was a professional unit who had been watching the comings and goings! After doing some much required grocery shopping (and having unlimited variety of fruit and vegetables to choose from!!!), we headed off to catch the 15-minute ferry ride at Kettering for Bruny Island, which is actually 2 islands (North and South Bruny) joined by isthmus called The Neck. I have to say the weather in Tasmania is schizophrenic - warm, hot, rainy, windy, freezing all in the same day so it's hard to plan ahead with activities and attire!

Headed up to the northern tip of North Island to Dennes Point (as the brochure said it was the area with the most sheltered beaches) - it was a lovely little beach with gentle waves but it was just so cold!!  I chucked a tantrum and stayed in the car with my lunch while the kids (who have obviously developed a whole new skin layer that renders them impervious to all weather) played on happily! After lunch we headed for The Neck where the wind was phenomenally strong - climbed the 80 or so steps to the lookout and was rewarded with gorgeous views of the area.  The Neck is also the location of the penguin rookery and we saw hundreds of little penguin nests on the hill - this would be the most predictable place to view the fairy penguins at dusk.  We then headed for Adventure Bay on South Island and found a very sheltered gorgeous beach - the weather finally rewarded our perseverence and the wind and the clouds dissipated to leave us with 2 glorious hours of sunshine on the beach!  Michael even got into the spirit of beach play with an impromptu construction of a hammerhead shark in the sand - Kia proudly drew attention to it to every passerby with Tiran instructing all not to break it.

We caught the last ferry back (could have easily spent another day exploring the islands!) and had dinner and a walk around Salamanca Place (the sane version without the markets).  It really is so much like The Rocks - just neater and smaller.  We spent the next day mostly in the city getting "life stuff" done - banking, post office, supplies and clothes shopping etc.  Then Michael and I experienced 2 different views of Battery Point which is the old historic (and hugely expensive) suburb of Hobart - me on foot and Michael doing some "suburban 4WDing" as he called it.  Due to the narrow streets, at one point he had to pull both side mirrors against the car to get through unscathed! We both ended our adventure back at Salamanca Place (our regular haunt in Hobart it seems) - this time the shops were actually open.

The next day saw the rains begin in Hobart which would last the remainder of our stay.  After disappointments at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory (all the tours for the day were booked by the time we got there) and Alpenrail Swiss Rail Village (which had 2 signs next to each other proclaiming "Open 7 days a week" and "Now Closed on Tuesdays") we decided to drive up to the top of Mt Wellington.  The fact that the top half was not visible through the cloud layer did not deter us one bit. It was a magnificent drive up!  The mist lent everything such a still and eerie feeling and at times was so thick that when you looked over the edge of the road, you saw nothing but white (not even outlines of shrubs, posts or trees).  The temperature dropped by about 10 degrees from bottom to top, so it was a very brisk and windy 11 degrees when reached The Pinnacle (top of the mountain at 1270 metres).  Too cold for the lightly attired Kia and Tiran, so I went out for a quick walk.  I can imagine the views on a clear day would be fabulous, but I absolutely loved the other-worldly feeling of being up there surrounded by the mist and not knowing exactly what was going to come up 10 metres down the path.

I have to say the most tiring aspect of the trip (so far) has been the itinerary planning - it's been a real juggle to pack everything we want to see with some sit-around-and-get-the-feel-of-the-place time. I'm hoping that once we return to the mainland, we'll be able to spend some time doing boring things, like laying about for 3 days in a row reading books and lazing on a beach!!

The lovely colours of Salamanca Markets - Hobart, Tasmania (08Jan11)The lovely colours of Salamanca Markets - Hobart, Tasmania (08Jan11)These are so cool!!  Salamanca Markets, Hobart, Tasmania (08Jan11)Kia was having serious beach withdrawal - Hobart, Tasmania (08Jan11)
Tiran back to digging - Hobart, Tasmania (08Jan11)Tiran - Dennes Point, North Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)Kiavash - Dennes Point, North Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)Dennes Point, North Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)
Sheep muster - North Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)Fairy penguin viewing platform - The Neck, Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)The Neck, Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)Adventure Bay, South Bruny Island, Tasmania (09Jan11)

Friday 7th January 2011

Michael Pulo - Friday, January 07, 2011

One of my (many and varied) goals for this trip was to learn as much as I could about Australia's history.  To that end I was adamant that some museum visiting had to be incorporated into our mostly nature-based outings.  So off we went to the West Coast Pioneers Museum at Zeehan which is quite extensive and details the history of the entire west coast mining region (which includes Strahan, Queenstown, Rosebery and Waratah) and includes some of the older buildings that have been retained from the past. Michael did me a huge favour and took the boys (to the underground mining simulation room which had a DVD about the workings of an underground mine) so I could actually have a look around and read the details.  Very interesting and very worthwhile - the immense courage of the early pioneers still eludes my understanding!

After all the dirt roads of the past week, it was a pleasant drive to Strahan along sealed roads - and then along another 11km of dirt road to our camping spot at Macquarie Heads (which is the entrance to the Southern Ocean).  The caretaker wasn't around but we were assisted by the Deputy Mayor of the area (!!) to a lovely (but somewhat tight) spot surrounded by trees filled with fluorescent green and blue Christmas beetles (the kids spent hours catching them in their hats!).  In our hurry to get to town to book a cruise for the following day, we neglected to unhitch completely and nearly tore all the electricals right out of the hitch!

The Gordon River cruise the following afternoon was lovely and quite long (nearly 6 hours) - got very close to a fur seal (kids went big ga-ga), visited Hell's Gate (75m width entrance to the Southern Ocean) and Sarah Island where we had a wonderfully poetic and informative tour guide to give us the history of this very harsh penal settlement.  The cruise included a cold buffet dinner and most importantly had a little room down below with DVDs for the kids - so everyone was happy.  They also put on a DVD about the Huon piners of the region that worked this area from the late 1800s to late 1930s - remarkable stories about how things were done in those days.  Kiavash and Tiran even managed a personal audience with the Captain for about 10 minutes!

The next day we did a quick stint of 4WDing on Ocean Beach, which at 33km is Tasmania's longest beach.  Quite unsafe for swimming due to the extreme undertow, but lots of flat packed sand for the kids to play on.  There were even some quite respectable sand dunes - Mike tried to jury rig a sandboard from a foam mat and our tarp, but too much friction and resistance (funny to look at though), so Kia improvised and slid down on his tummy instead (with his swimming goggles on to keep out the sand).  I tried climbing up one of the dunes - I made it halfway, was near a heart attack and my calves ached for days afterwards! Kia climbed up there like a little monkey half a dozen times in 2 hours.

Headed back into town and decided to visit Hogarth Falls - at the start of the 20 minute walk we met a couple with a toddler in a stroller who warned us that they had just seen a tiger snake on the path further up.  So followed a very tense walk to some uninspiring falls and back!  Strahan itself is a really lovely town based around Macquarie Harbour. They still have the Huon pine saw mill and woodworks shop where you can watch the artisans make their pieces - however as the trees are now protected after decades of logging, their haul of wood is restricted to what dies naturally in the surrounding forests and floats down the river.

More fancy maneuvering to get Optimus out of our little spot and off to Queenstown next.  From everything we had heard about the town we were expecting a desolate moonscape and empty town, but it was quite the opposite.  Quite a few tourists (mostly to ride the historic Abt railway) and lots of building and development going on (it was actually quite difficult to find a place to park our BIG RIG).  But just outside of town, there are quite a few lookouts that show the effects of the decades of mining on the surrounding hills. We spent the next night at a somewhat secluded campspot at Derwent Bridge on the banks of Lake King William and were rewarded with sightings of 3 platypus playing up and down the river for a couple of hours. Very hard to capture on film as by the time you sight their tell-tale ripples in the river, you only have 3-5 seconds to focus and click - but it was exciting to see them in the wild.  Tomorrow we head back into the "civilization" of Hobart with mixed feeling!

Very windy ride on deck of the Eagle - Strahan, Tasmania (04Jan11)Even fur seals can be coy! - Strahan, Tasmania (04Jan11)The narrow (75m) entrance of Hell's Gate - Strahan, Tasmania (04Jan11)Kiavash and Daddy on The Eagle - Strahan, Tasmania  (04Jan11)
Ruins of the bakery on Sarah Island - Strahan, Tasmania (04Jan11)Ruins of the Kia getting tips on becoming captain of the boat - Strahan, Tasmania  (04Jan11)Having listened carefully, Kia graduates to post of Captain - Strahan, Tasmania  (04Jan11)
IF you whinge enough, you get to wear the Captain's hat too! - Strahan, Tasmania  (04Jan11)Not the cleverest engineering feat in sandboarding - Ocean Beach, Strahan, Tasmania (05Jan11)Impressive sand dunes at Ocean Beach - Strahan, Tasmania (05Jan11)Kiavash improvising and belly-boarding down the dunes - Ocean Beach, Strahan, Tasmania (05Jan11)

Sunday 2nd January 2011

Michael Pulo - Sunday, January 02, 2011
Happy 2011 everyone! Thank you for all your well wishes and text messages and sorry we weren't able to reciprocate - we have been out of communication range for a few days. We are after all in the Western Wilderness of Tasmania.

We drove to Corinna on New Year's Eve. Although there had been some debate about the suitability of the road from Arthur River to Corinna (the Western Explorer) for our rig, we decided to be adventurous! It's only 100km, however it is a very windy dirt road the whole way, so it took us nearly 3 hours to travel the distance. But so worth it - the scenery was magnificent! Amazing tall forests making a canopy over the road, giving way to huge expanses of scrubland, mountains and rolling hills and some "Dead Marsh" territory as well. I tried to take photos, but there weren't many places to pull over; a couple of times I made Michael stop in the middle of the road for the picture! As luck would have it, we passed only 1 other car going the other way.

Corinna is tiny and completely devoted to the tourist trade. It sits on the southern end of an area called the Tarkine - the largest temperate rainforest in Australia. Plenty of walks to do - we did a 1.5 hour loop in the rainforest around the Pieman River which was lovely - and cruises down the Pieman River itself (which we gave a miss). There was a NYE buffet dinner at the Tarkine Hotel (basically the only establishment on the premises) and DJN were also there! I have to say it was one of the nicest New Year's Eves I have ever had! Tiran announced at 8:30pm that he was tired and wanted to retire for the evening - so off he went to the caravan (which was a 20 second walk away from the Hotel) and put himself to bed. Kiavash and N went hunting for wallabies around the buildings outside with flashlights, which kept them amused most of the night. There were about 40 people in all celebrating together - strangers and friends alike. Mike and I played pictionary with a lovely couple from Melbourne, chatted to the "locals" (who were actually a couple of English backpackers who have been here for about 4 months) and counted down to 2011! Kia had all the girls wrapped around his little finger, making up grand tales (an amalgamation of the DVDs he's watched) and actually stayed awake right up to midnight. It was a wonderful night and one I think we won't forget.

Back onto another windy road towards the town of Waratah. Although the second half of this road was paved, it was so windy that it really didn't make the travelling any faster. The road is apparently frequented by very large logging trucks, but serendipitously we were travelling on New Year's Day (and a Sunday!) so no trucks! Mike's very sharp eyes spotted an echidna waddling his way up an embankment on the side of the road and we managed to stop the rig right next to it - we were all very impressed to see one of those in the wild!

Waratah is another town that used to support the huge mining industry that was prevalent on the west coast of Tasmania during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Small town now, but extremely picturesque. The road signs from Arthur River say that next fuel is at Waratah, but the one and only petrol station has not had fuel for a few weeks as their account with the petrol companies are in arrears! Our camp spot was right in front of the beautiful lake, where we spotted platypus that night. It was absolutely freezing - I don't think it got any warmer than 14 degrees during the day. Judging by the stockpile of firewood we saw at the residences on our walk (and in the summertime no less), I think it's pretty cool most of the time.

Next day it was onwards to Tullah for fuel, then Roseberry for food shopping. We had decide to visit Montezuma Falls that day and spend the night at one of the freecamp spots near Tullah or Roseberry. However again the road was quite windy and uphill and we decided against doubling up on the travel. We reached the turn-off for the Falls, and the sign read "Car Park 6km, Montezuma Falls 3hr return" - so up yet another windy and narrow road to the car park. About 5km in, we reached a tiny little bridge with a "5 tonne weight limit" sign displayed prominently (with Optimus attached we are just under 7 tonne). Much debate followed this discovery - should we? shouldn't we? could we? how desperate are we really? At one point, Michael even stepped out the length of the bridge and rationalised that at any point in time of the crossing, we would only have 3.5 tonnes on the bridge!!

In the end logic won and we turned around (more good maneuvering by Michael) and headed towards Zeehan. We booked into the one and only caravan park, unhitched and returned to Montezuma Falls. This was indeed a 3 hour return walk and the kids did so well as it was 8pm by the time we got back to the truck. The track was quite level and easy (used to be the tramway track to bring the minerals mined on the mountain back down), but quite muddy in places and both boys were pretty dirty by the end of it. Montezuma Falls are the highest falls in Tasmania (104m drop) and very pretty. There is a very narrow suspension bridge at the base of it - Tiran braved it with me to the middle to take some good pictures of the Falls, but Kia didn't like the wobble so returned to base after a few steps. Returned home quite exhausted - mostly from all the back and forth driving!
Tall forest canopy - Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Scrublands and mountains - The Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Donaldson Bridge - The Drive to Corinna (31Dec10)Donaldson Bridge - The Drive to Corinna (31Dec10)
Tiran at Donaldson Bridge - The Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Kiavash at Donaldson Bridge - The Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Dead marshes and windy gravel roads - The Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Rolling hills, scrublands, mountains: this drive had it all! - The Drive to Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)
The Pieman River - Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Lovely restored buildings of the historic settlement of Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)Absolutely gorgeous rainforest of the Whyte River walk - Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)One of only a handful of family photos so far - New Year's Eve at the Tarkine Hotel - Corinna, Tasmania (31Dec10)

Thursday 30th December 2010

Michael Pulo - Thursday, December 30, 2010
Kids woke up VERY early in anticipation of Santa's visit - we managed to coax them back to sleep until the reasonable hour of 8am. Christmas this year was quite the understated affair - we didn't buy any big expensive presents; just a few things we could fit into their stockings. Their favourites: T Rex dinosaurs (pre-ordered by them) and a couple of DVDs.

WARNING: the following paragraph may upset some readers as it contains a rant: I've always loved the IDEA of Christmas, but every year it has been a big anti-climax. I've assumed that this was due to the huge hype we've put around it and the fact that it's so busy for us this time of the year (having the family Christmas party to organise and host at our place, shopping for presents, working etc), but we had none of these things on our plate this year, and still it felt like a big let down. So maybe like Valentine's Day, Christmas is just another huge marketing opportunity for over-spending. Certainly for someone like myself who doesn't celebrate the religious aspects of it, the origins and meanings of the day are lost. I'll have to do some real thinking about what I want this day to be about for our family! Rant over, you can read on without further trepidation.

Decided to take out the "boat" onto the bay today. A bit of background: Michael had brought up the subject of taking a boat along with us from the beginning of the trip planning and I was quite against it. As the kids aren't great swimmers, I didn't want the extra worry of being in deep water with them regularly. Also it was another thing to have to fit into our load, possibly with roof racks etc. And there was also the issue of keeping it secure when we weren't at camp. Everyone else seemed to think it was a complete necessity to have a boat when travelling around the coast of Australia. At the last minute, Michael's brother-in-law, Eddie, offered us his Zodiac, which needed some patch repairs but was otherwise in good shape. And as it folds down quite compact into the back of Ironhide, it solved both the space and security issue. The only motor, just oars (Mike hasn't quite convinced me that the extra cost is justified).

Mike did all the rowing (a good hour's worth) against some persistent wind, and we made it across the litte bay - we ended up being about 1km down the beach from the caravan park. But it had been quite cold on the water, so the kids and I elected to walk back home via the beach and Mike rowed back to the boat ramp. I made some Christmas cookies with the kids (what a mess - I've never really baked with them before) and they wanted to share them with some of the other kids at the park, so I gave them each a plate and let them offer it around as they saw fit. That was probably the loveliest part of the day for me - they felt so grown-up doing it!

The next day, we made our assault on The Nut (which is what the little town of Stanley is famous for). It's a 152m solidified volcanic lake with a flat top. The climb up is quite steep, but there is a track that goes all the way around the circumference with views of the surrounding village and Bass Strait. It was quite windy up there with the exception of a small section of boarded track which went through a small rainforest-like area - we got quite close to a couple of wallabies! Of course my camera's battery went flat as soon as we summitted, but Mike had his handy iPhone and video camera for documenting purposes. Coming down the steep section was pretty hard on the knees, reminding me how glad I am to be doing some of these things while I'm still "young"!

We also met a lovely family - D, J and 8-year old son N - who are also travelling around Australia (were in fact on the same boat trip over here, but unbeknown to us) with roughly the same itinerary as us. We spent a very relaxing afternoon chatting while the boys got to know each other. The next day we went to Dismal Swamp (what a GREAT name!) which is a temperate rainforest situated on a giant sinkhole. Absolutely gorgeous to walk through and the kids and I convinced Michael to come down the 110m enclosed slide - he didn't look too impressed, but he did it and was rewarded with a huge "You did it Dad!" hug from Kiavash (he didn't think Michael would go through with it)! I had a go next - good fun but a bit jarring around the turns (these bones are getting old)!

Next stop: Arthur River. We were now entering the start of the "Western Wilderness" where the towns are small and not all roads paved, so travelling distances are often longer than you would expect. We stayed at the Manuka Campgrounds which are enormous and quite well serviced. We parked next to a family with an enormous converted bus - nice to feel puny for a change!  Just as it was getting dark, Tiran fell off the caravan steps and landed on some sharp rocks which put a nice little hole in his right temple. We stopped the bleeding fairly quickly (and the presentation of a huge lollipop brought a smile to Tiran immediately), but "to be on the safe side" we decided to take him to the nearest hospital.........1 hour away as dusk was falling! The staff at the Smithton Hospital were nice enough, but quite bemused that we would drive 2 hours for the little cut on Tiran's head!! On the plus side, managed to miss all the kamikaze wallabies/pademelons (I can't tell the difference)!

D, J and N were also at Arthur River and invited us to go 4WDriving with them. Mike had done a course before we left Sydney, so felt up to the challenge. All I can say is thank God we had D there guiding us - they were the lead car and communicated quite regularly with us about which fork in the road to take, how deep the water was before we crossed, if there were any hairy spots to watch out for and at one point actually getting out and re-arranging some of the rocks so we wouldn't scrape the bottom of the truck! The truth of it is that although Ironhide is a 4WD, with its long wheel base, it's not ideal for that kind of driving as it bottoms out far quicker than the higher vehicles (not to mention that we dropped Ironhide down about 5cm to level out the hitching point to Optimus!). We made it to the start of Sandy Cape Beach, and DJN wanted to continue on to the sand dunes, but we opted to stay at the little cove and wait for them (it was far too much driving and not enough running around for Kia and Tiran had been promised a fishing opportunity all day). I dreaded the drive back through all the bumps and knocks, but as we knew what to expect and had learned a bit more about vehicle placement, it wasn't too bad! Still, I was so happy to see the tiny town of Temma (a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of town), that I made Mike pull the car over so I can take a picture of the town sign! A great experience that we were very happy to share with our new friends, but not sure would jump to have again too soon!

We also decided to visit both "Edge of the World" locations - Bluff Hill Point and West Point. The maps at our disposal didn't show either as conclusively the western most point of Tasmania, so we visited both just to make sure we did actually breathe "the cleanest air in the world" (claim made based on the fact that the wind from the roaring 40s meets landmass at this point first, so no one else has had a chance to breathe and foul it up!). I was sort of expecting Pirates of the Carribbean level "edge of the world" stuff - but hey can't have everything.

Had a couple of other mis-haps - Tiran burning his fingers touching the steel drum firecan (no major damage, just a couple of blisters) and Kia getting sand in his eyes where he couldn't open them for a couple of hours, but all in all Arthur River was a wonderful place and we loved the campground. They got very close to a large wild wombat grazing near the road. The river was perfect for them as it had a very long shallow bank and gentle waves to splash around in. I think the kids especially liked the fact that we had stayed in one place for 3 consecutive nights! There were plenty of other kids to play with - or not play with as they chose. And Mike actually managed to get a few quiet hours to get some essential work done.
3 nuts at the top of The Nut - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)If you're going to be an adventurer, you have to look the part (who am I kidding?) - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)The lovely views climbing back down The Nut - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)Boat ride on the bay - Stanley, Tasmania (25Dec10)
Kia and Tiran all set for the boat ride - Stanley, Tasmania (25Dec10)Lovely deserted sandy beach after the boat landing - Stanley, Tasmania (25Dec10)Not too reassuring to put the cemetary right at the bottom of The Nut! - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)Steep climb to the top, but the views are so worth it! - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)
Gorgeous views from the top of The Nut - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)The lovely town of Stanley from the top of The Nut - Stanley, Tasmania (26Dec10)Majestic tall trees of The Tarkine - Dismal Swamp, Tasmania (27Dec10)Still cold enough to need beanies! - Dismal Swamp, Tasmania (27Dec10)

Saturday 25th December 2010

Michael Pulo - Sunday, December 26, 2010

A very Merry Christmas to everyone!!  Hope you had a wonderful day with your families and Santa was good to you (and your bank accounts)!

We left Wilson's Promontory and headed for Port Melbourne via Philip Island.  We figured it would be a good way to kill the hours before boarding Spirit of Tasmania I.  We went through quite a heavy rainstorm on the way in and the rain pretty much continued the rest of the day.  We headed for The Nobbies - where you can take tours to see the seals at Seal Rock.  To say it was blustery would be an understatement!  I took refuge in the caravan while Mike braved the elements (God bless him!) and took the kids to look for seals.  He had his mini telescope with him and with must have been immense patience, managed to bring a few of the seals on Seal Rock into focus long enough for the kids to have a look.

Headed off to Port Melbourne - it was quite a "culture shock" travelling through a real city and on busy city roads and freeways.  We then entered the long but organised process to board the ship - basically one queue after another:  to check your number plates against the reservation database, do a quick inspection of the caravan and truck and lead you inside to where you should park.  I was surprised by the number of caravans crossing with us!

We had booked a porthole cabin for the way over and as luck would have it, we got one facing straight forward towards the bow so we had the best view for the departure.  We all sat in the window ledge area and watched the ship maneuvre through the traffic lane out of the Bay - to get completely out of Port Philip Bay takes 2.5 hours!  The Captain warned us of a "bumpy" ride for the first part of Bass Strait - "Uh oh, I might get seasick" says Michael, "Humph!" came my reply as I rolled my eyes.  Even Mother Nature has to teach me a lesson - I was the one queasy most of the night!  Kia had the most comfortable sleep - in the actual window bay area, the waves crashing over the bow lulling him to sleep.

Michael greeted the morning lamenting "Only 51 weeks left.....".  Attitude check required I think!

Still more queuing to get out of the ship and finally in Tasmania!!  It was very early in the morning - around 6:45am - and quite deserted out on the roads, when we got on the road out of Devonport towards Penguin.  Found the quaint little town of Penguin, fuelled up the truck and got some fresh bread from the local bakery then off to our camp spot.  As it was still very early, the caravans from the previous night's stay were still there.  We picked a spot directly in front of the beach and of course off went the kids to explore.

Went into Penguin later that day to do shopping for groceries and also for Tiran's birthday the following day. He had decided that his birthday would be all things Penguin - candles, presents, cake etc.  Not as easy to find penguin stuff in Penguin as I would have thought!  And grocery shopping in a small town - not cheap baby. All good lessons learned.  We were told by the gentleman in the information centre that the spot we were camping at was the best place to actually see the fairy penguins come ashore to their nests at night - we were too tired to stay up and wait for them the first night, but we could hear them very close by as we lay in bed.

Monday 20th December was Tiran's 4th birthday - and his very first one without the usual fanfare.  It was a very cosy affair - he loved his presents (plastic penguin to play with outside, cuddly penguin for bedtime, penguin stickers to put on the wall of his bed and a penguin egg that hatched) and especially the new rule for birthdays.  This year, we decided that the birthday person will be "boss for the day" and can choose what we do, where we go, what's for dinner, what kind of cake etc.  Tiran took it to heart quite literally and drove us all crazy making rules up the whole day.  Kia put up with it for about 15 minutes before he decided he wasn't interested!

It was a fairly quiet day as dictated by "the Ruler", but that night we bundled up against the  extreme cold and sat in wait for the penguins.  Kia was amazing and sat quietly the whole time - Tiran wouldn't stop budging, but to their credit they did well enough so that we were rewarded with sightings of 3 penguins quite close!  Couldn't take any photos due to lack of light, but Mike managed a very quick 5 second video of one of them.  After we had put the kids to bed, we heard the penguins very close again so went out to investigate - one of their nests was under a very large rock directly in front our caravan.  That was very cool!

We camped alone both nights at Penguin - not scary in the least, but a bit unexpected as we had heard it was going to be quite busy.  Apparently it gets quite busy after Christmas - maybe they all know about the sub-arctic temperatures this side of Christmas. Our next destination was Sister's Beach via Burnie.  Burnie was an industrial town from conception dominated by the paper industry - it's not particularly picturesque, but has all the necessities and conveniences of a city.  The information centre at Burnie is called "The Makers Centre" and it is gorgeously organised to display all the past and present industries of the town. There was also a life sized model of a mine excavator that kept the kids busy for a good 20 minutes.

Sister's Beach is another very small town - population 280 - located within the Rocky Cape National Park (Tasmania's smallest NP).  Again we were the only ones at the camp spot when we arrived just past lunchtime so we got to pick our spot - you guessed it, in front of another gorgeous beach (life is very hard these days!!).  There was a lovely, relatively shallow, river flowing into the sea with lots of sand channels and a large sandshore with gentle waves from a turquoise ocean. There are no mail boxes in the town - all the mail gets delivered to the ONE store which also serves as the Post Office and everyone picks up their mail when they feel like it - and very few fences between the properties.  Santa on the firetruck visited us the first night (which was 23rd December) which lay aside any fears felt by the kids that he wouldn't be able to find them for Christmas.

The following day we went for a bushwalk to see some old caves which were used by Aboriginals.  Amazing views everywhere - I can't do them justice through words or pictures, but have a look anyway (those labelled with Lee Archer Cave). That night we were treated to "Carols by the Sea" which were held in the very park where we were camping.  We had to rug up quite heavily - more like Christmas in the northern hemisphere this year!

Off to Boat Harbour the following day - voted as one of top 10 beaches in Australia and boy was it ever!  It's a sheltered cove, so the water is wonderfully calm pretty much all the time, beautiful white sand, rocks that make clever pools for the kids to play in.  It was hard to pull them away from it to move on to our next camp (but never underestimate the power of bribery with ice cream on a warm day - yes it was actually warm enough for shorts and t-shirts today!).  On to Smithton for supplies and then to a caravan park (our first one in Tasmania) at Stanley.  The GPS played funny buggers with us leaving Smithton and sent us down a gravel no through road (which of course was signed as a no through road, but inconveniently ignored by us!) - Mike had to do quite a bit of fancy driving to get us out of the dead end, but it's good experience I reckon (since I'm not doing the driving!).

The lovely caravan park owners gave us 2 sites in front of each other, so instead of having to back Optimus into the spot, we could just drive through - too easy!  It's a lovely spot (no kidding!) right at the base of The Nut (a volcanic plug) and backing onto a calm sandy beach (I'm getting really sick of writing this over and over again..........NOT). The caravan park itself is quite small with great amenities and not a lot of traffic so we feel safer letting the kids play outside. And we had another visit from Santa - this one pulled in a beautiful sleigh pulled by a red tractor. It took the kids a long time to fall asleep tonight in anticipation of Santa's visit - which of course meant we had to stay awake too!  I think by the time the stockings were stuffed and the place tidied up, it was already Christmas Day before we got to bed!


Queuing up to get onto Spirit of Tasmania I, Port Melbourne, Victoria (19Dec10)Big Rig parked on the boat - (19Dec10)Me and the kids in our little porthole awaiting departure - Port Melbourne, Victoria (19Dec10)Tiran watching our arrival into Tasmania (20Dec10)
Santa Claus in his sleigh - Stanley, Tasmania (24Dec10)Arriving in Devonport, Tasmania (20Dec10)Kia and Tiran clowning around - Penguin, Tasmania  (20Dec10)Tiran's 4th Birthday - Penguin, Tasmania (21Dec10)
One of his favourite presents - a penguin that hatches out of its egg!  Penguin, Tasmania (21Dec10)Tiran with his cuddly penguiin (just like him!) - Penguin, Tasmania (21Dec10)Big cuddle from big brother on his birthday - Penguin, Tasmania (21Dec10)Big daddy cuddles!  Penguin, Tasmania (21Dec10)

Sunday 19th December 2010

Michael Pulo - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Finally our first blog! I can't believe we've actually been too busy to blog - that wasn't supposed to happen!?

We left Sydney as planned Sunday 12th December around 11:30am from Edward Bennet Oval with our family and friends waving us off - it was an emotional and amazing gathering and we felt wonderfully blessed to be surrounded by so many people who care about us!

The adrenalin that we felt - from the nearly 1 year's worth of build up and planning and the last 3 weeks of major stress trying to get everything done, to finally actually going! - dissipated after about 40 minutes and the weariness of the last few weeks started to set in. Our first night time stop was at Waldrons Swamp rest stop near Bateman's Bay - with a couple of stops in between. Firstly just before Picton to have lunch and then an afternoon stop for ice poles at Werri Beach. This last stop was our first real introduction into maneuvering Optimus (as the kids have decided to call the 5th wheeler) down narrow and winding suburban roads. Mike did very well and we pulled into a local council car park across from the beach - of course we had to park horizontally across about 6 car spaces to fit!! Mike took the kids down to the beach for about 20 minutes and I did a quick inventory of our food (didn't have time to do this before we left!).

Luckily there were other caravans at the rest stop already - I don't know how we would have felt about free-camping on our own on the first night!! And thanks to my wonderful mommy we had dinner already, so it was an early night for us much to Kia's chagrin as he really wanted to socialise with the other campers - don't know where he gets this trait from???

And sure enough as soon as he was awake, off he was outside checking out the new surroundings and chatting away to everyone. I do hope he never loses this enthusiasm for new adventures and acquaintances! Tiran soon joined him and you could hear the 2 of them off in the distance telling everyone about "their new motorhome and truck" and their trip around Australia! Luckily the people here were quite friendly and accommodating of their exuberance!

Our next heading was in Genoa just across the Victoria border. The countryside scenery through Narooma, Bodalla, Cobarro and Brogo (all around Bega) was just spectacular - rolling green hills, idyllic cottages and homesteads and the Great Dividing Range as the background! Breathtaking even if we did see it all in a bit of a blur. We stopped off at Eden with a view of seeing the Killer Whale Museum, but of course didn't really take the timing into account as we arrived at 4:30 and the museum closes daily at 3:45! Nice round of tantrums followed this piece of news!

I wanted to get a picture of our crossing the Victorian border, but it came upon us without warning on a windy part of the road, so I made Michael turn Optimus around for another go! He wasn't too keen as there were quite a few logging trucks around, but somethings are important!! Unfortunately the resultant pictures weren't great! The rest stop at Genoa was quite large with an amenities block and a small playground. Off went Kia and Tiran to chat to the "neighbours", particularly an elderly couple with a couple of dogs, which are a big magnet for the boys.

We decided to put up our little Christmas tree and some tinsel for decorations tonight - it looks very cute and took all of 10 minutes! What a big change from our usual set up which was a half day event with the huge tree and lights etc. Kia was very particular about visiting Santa (at Macquarie shopping centre) to make sure he knew that we would be in a caravan in Tasmania for Christmas!

Next morning we headed off early and drove to Malacoota for breakfast by the beach. Our first attempt was at Bastion Point, but when we got there, we could smell something even with the car doors all closed and as Michael stepped out to investigate, the smell was so bad that even the kids complained! It was the huge amount of seaweed on the sand giving off the odour and I refused to even step out of the car! We fuelled up the road and the friendly servo man recommended an area near Bottom Lake - it was pretty deserted and there was a bit of sand near the lakeshore, so met all the requirements.

Next stop was Marlo for lunch - this is where the Snowy River empties into the Tasman sea. It was quite wide and strong flowing - it had a very wilderness feel about it, which was fabulous! And it had quite a long shoreline where Kia and Tiran spent an hour drawing in the sand, collecting materials for sandcastles (they were only called sandcastles because they were located on the sand - they were actually made of bits of wood, rocks and plant matter!) and playing silly games that carried their beautiful laughter across to us lounging around on the sand.

We stopped for the night at Paradise Beach on Ninety Mile Beach in Gippsland. We arrived late by caravaner standards (which is anytime after 3pm really!), so we were lucky we found a spot at all. Michael really is very adept at maneuvering Optimus! The colours of the water were amazing - a deep blue, followed by indigo and then the brown/red crashing of the surf (seaweed again but not quite as much). It was very windy and as attested by the number of dead shearwater birds we saw on the beach, had been stormy quite recently. Michael even spotted a seal frolicking around catching fish very close by - the kids went berserk to see one in the wild!

Michael and I were very excited the next day as we were heading to Tidal River at Wilson's Promontory - aside from wanting to see a place I had heard so much about, the great part was that we were going to be there for 4 nights, so no more daily driving!! We made an unscheduled stop at Yarram medical centre - Tiran had been having coughing bouts for about a week (since his 4 year old immunisation shots) which had been getting worse the last 2 nights. I wanted to make sure he didn't have anything serious (like whooping cough) - the very nice nurse saw us fairly quickly and put my mind at ease that it wasn't anything serious as he lookd so well generally. She suggested that it may be mild childhood asthma (as it only occurs at night) and we should keep an eye on it. Thus reassured, we did a bit of food shopping before setting off for Tidal River.

My first impressions of Tidal River weren't great - as we entered Wilsons Promontory (Which is 30km from Tidal River campgrounds) all I could see were acres and acres of dead tree stumps. Reminded me of the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings!! This of course is the remnants of the huge fire that swept through the area in 2005 - the regeneration has started but such a long way to go yet! But I'm happy to say my first impressions were 100% wrong (which I should have known as it happens all the time!). Tidal River is astonishingly beautiful - the scenery is so varied and all of it is amazing! If you haven't been, put it on your MUST SEE list - we could easily have spent 7-10 days there.

The tidal river system itself provides a very safe playground for kids as the water is just deep enough to swim in, but no currents etc (mind you it was very cold when were there!). There are loads of tiny little fish in the river and Tiran actually caught one by hand (!!!) after about 20 minutes of trying. He has this amazing ability of just concentrating and being very patient when he wants something. Kia is way too energetic for such an endeavour so he instructed Tiran to catch one for him also (at this stage Kia was sitting cuddled up in a towel in Michael's lap due to the cold water!). Tiran kept at it (despite shivering!) for another 15 minutes before I put an end to his imminent hypothermia!

Then there is Norman Bay/Beach with a huge sand foreshore area, lots of sand channels and gentle surf. A short walk away is Squeaky Beach (yes we all made sure we witnessed the squeaks first hand) which although completely unsafe for swimming, had great rocky areas interspersed with the sand channels and had the kids occuppied making houses for their animals. It also has a very large compacted sand area (around 1km worth) which provided the kids with unlimited canvas for their dinosaur drawings.

The camping grounds themselves are huge! On our first night, 3 wombats came into the vicinity of our camp area to look for food - very exciting! We also saw some wild emus as we were driving out on our last day. Michael reckons that the animal population hasn't recovered from the bushfires yet as there used to be so many more animals to be spotted around. Still we were sad to say goodbye to Tidal River - and also very excited to be on our way to Port Melbourne for out Tasman crossing!

Berry Lookout - NSW (13Dec10)Tiran picking flowers - Berry Lookout , NSW (13Dec10)Tiran - Berry Lookout, NSW (13Dec10)Crossing the border into Victoria (14Dec10)
Snowy River - Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)Tiran and Kia building Tiran with Daddy - Snowy River, Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)Kiavash - Snowy River, Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)
Found a pre-historic crocodile jaw (!!) - Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)Tiran - Snowy River, Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)The 4 of us - Snowy River, Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)Brothers - Snowy River, Marlo, Victoria (14Dec10)