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Travel Australia with Kids

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 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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