Thursday, March 24, 2011


Gone for that long, there was a list of items to get back to where we left off.  Cell phones to reconnect, cable tv off stand-by, where is the silverwear drawer again?  Our vehicles needed to be retrieved from the farm, but first the driveway needed to be plowed to get them out.  And food, yes, I think Chris (our wonderful house-sitter, college boarder) was happy for the inevidable re-stocking of the shelves.  Poor guy, he had more than he bargained for when he was left with the "shovel the driveway" request this year.  I think one of the worst snowfall years on record.  Man, it is still waist deep, and still snowing.

On the way to dance class last night I asked the girls their impressions of Edmonton, our fair city, now that they have other places in the world to compare.  Jaclyn said:  Clean.  Wealthy.  Katie said:  Good bathrooms.  We all  laughed.

The boys?  Derek has vanished - in his room with friends, over at the neighbors, on his cell texting away.  He had hockey at school yesterday, and proudly held a shutout.  Said it was like he never left at all, and shocked his classmates, as they thought they might be able to score on the rusty goalie.  Not a chance.  Travis and I had an appointment with the guidance counsellor at the high school on Tuesday and he will start school again after Spring Break.  His rugby coach has asked him to help with the team, since he can't play this year - his knee surgery is booked for April.  He is looking into summer school to catch up on missed classes, but in likelihood will graduate at 18, rather than 17.  We are all good with that.  He's enrolled in a course to learn how to edit his video clips into a movie, so is excited to start that.

We have lots of stories to share, and it is great to listen to the kid's versions.  They have gained a lot of maturity in the past weeks.... and we are very proud of them.  They have grown, in many ways.  The world has been their classroom, and they all passed with flying colors.

It has been, undoubtably, the greatest field trip ever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jet Lag

Flight Day:  Mokolele Kauai to Honolulu 35 minutes
                  Air Canada Honolulu to Calgary 6 hours (overnight flight, 4 hours time change)
                  Air Canada Calgary to Edmonton 1 hr (prop plane, in a blizzard, landed at 7:30 am)

Bags packed, we headed to Mike and Deb's for a farewell breakfast.  We gave them the last of our food stocks, except for the mac chocolates, which we had for dessert - everyone should have chocolate for breakfast I think.  We hope to catch up with them again in the summer, as we have been promising a trip to visit them for 12 years, and still haven't followed that one through.  Jaclyn has qualified to dance at Nationals in Nashville so maybe we can do a loop of that part of the States in July... been around the world but not sure how far it is from Michigan to Tennessee, will have to look that one up...

We returned our last rental car, and went through our airline procedures.  One bag per person, one carryon no liquids, laptops out through security, shoes off, pat down (lucky Rick) and board another plane.  Quick up, quick down, shuttle, another line, another security (lucky Rick again), and hey!  Canada eh!  When we landed in Calgary, the first thing we saw was Tim Horton's..... and yes, it tasted awesome.  And, we had to walk outside to board our plane to Edmonton.  Boy, do we live in the bush. Calgary airport (which I hope is under renovation) had a plywood walkway, not heated and the wind was whipping the snow right inside.  We were still in shorts and flip flops.  Frozen toes!  Static charge! Welcome home!

Janice, Paege and Chris, and mom, and Anita were all waiting at the gate when we walked into Edmonton International.  We stand out, being very brown in this white world.  The snow drifts are still 8 feet high in places, and there were a lot of cars in the ditch... freezing rain makes for slick highways.  It was wonderful to see everyone, and even exhausted, we were charged with energy.  Derek was the funniest.  We had only walked in the door and moved in the bags, and he was already in and out of the shower and dressed for school.  He must have ran there, because he arrived only 20 minutes late for class, and apparently caused quite the stir in the hallway.  He was the most anxious of us to resume his social life.  Travis has a weeks worth of dates lined up.  Jaclyn is dancing non-stop, trying to gear up  in a hurry for Nationals, and Katie is in doll heaven.  Rick and I just needed a nap.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We're Going Home

Last day.  Wow.  As we packed our bags for the last time, I was overwhelmed by the reality of our trip.  It has been such an adventure, and I know the kids are excited to get home, see friends and family, but myself, I feel sad.

I can truly say that I have loved the family time we have had together.  That for me is as great, or even greater than seeing the world.  Five months with my children and my husband, not distracted by school, friends, sports, work, any commitments that takes us in different directions in our normal life.  For five months, I have got to play, too.  We have learned together, experienced common events, laughed at the same jokes, and now have these memories that will bond the kids together, and to us, forever.  We have learned about the world, and we have learned about each other.  It has been amazing, and I am sad it is coming to an end.  A part of me doesn't want to give them back to their "real" lives.

We have been working on our slide shows so that we can share pictures and video once home, so that has given us time to reflect.  Hawaii was a great "in between" - culturally similar yet not quite engaged.  There will be "heaps" to do, I am trying not to think about all that yet!  I am looking forward to family, friends, my own bed!   And I am so incredibly grateful that Rick enabled this trip to happen for us, and that we took the leap.  It was so worth it.  And off we go.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pigs.... and Pig Hunting

When most people visit Hawaii, they don't have a hunting expedition in mind.  But, when you come from a farm in Western Canada, and have an interest in the more traditional arts of tracking, archery and skeet, well, a good pig hunt is what you might call fun.

There are many feral animals on the Hawaiian islands.  With no native predators, introduced species like mongoose, cats, turkey, goats, donkey and pigs have gone wild.  They have multiplied in the lush jungle environment, and have no natural controls so are truly destroying the natural environment.  The pigs, in particular, are an extreme nuisance as they root up the soil killing vegetation in swaths of destruction, and they are vicious when approached.  They are no longer the cute little piggy with the curly tails, they are instead big and black with large tusks and think nothing of killing dogs and would attack children or even small adults if cornered.  They need to be controlled.  The pig hunt is on.

By special invite, our Hawaiian friend Stan invited Rick and our boys as well as Mike and a few of the Michigan mates to join them Saturday to their ranch.  With the dogs wearing kevlar vests, they headed on foot up Ma'kai (mountain side) to track their prey.  I know they sighted at least five, and had some good "fishing stories", but no luau for dinner.... still, a very unique experience and they saw some country that is normally inaccessible to tourists.  Maholo Stan, what a great day!

Reading Lists.... "world schooling" for us all

I love to read, and on this trip it was great to choose titles that were set in our places of adventure.  Here are a few of the novels and children's/youth books, as well as movies, we tackled along the road...

The Voyages of Captain Cook
The Chronicles of the Inca by Garcilasco de la Vega
Eat, Pray, Love
The Murder of King Tut, James Patterson
The Social Network, the story of Facebook
The Beach
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCoullough
The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
Only Two Seats Left, The Incredible Contiki Story by John Anderson
The Touch, Colleen McCoullough

Katie's (age 6)
Magic Treehouse Chapter books - Afternoon on the Amazon, Vacation under the Volcano,  Mummies in the Morning, Dingoes at Dinnertime
Bindi's Wildlife Adventures, Trouble at the Zoo - featuring Bindy, Steve Irwin's daughter
Dr. Suess - Oh! The Places We'll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop

The Diary of Charlotte Doyle
The Murder of King Tut (she loved it too)
The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Lost City of Z
The Hunger Games series
Tomorrow, When the War Began, John Marsden (also a movie now, just released)
The Dead of the Night, John Marsden

Guinness Book of World Records 2011
PADI Scuba Dive Course manual
Lonely Planet guidebooks:  Peru, Egypt, Thailand

Also enjoyed these classic films:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (set in Peru)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (set in Petra, Jordan)
Crocodile Dundee I and II
The Castle - great Australia film, and I'm not dreamin'!
Emperor's New Groove
Finding Nemo

We've Been Here and There, Man

An alphabet poem, composed in the car by the Anderson family, driving to the next place down the road....

A - Aguas Calientas
B - Boggabilla
C - Cairo
D - Denmark (a town in West Australia, home of Uncle Rob)
E - Edmonton
F - Fiji
G- Geelong
H - Hilo
I - Ica
J - Jordan
K- Koloa, Kauai, Koh Samui
L - Lima
M - Melbourne
N- Noosa Heads
O - Olympia
P - Poipu
Q- Queensland
R - Rome
S- Spain
T- Thebes
U - Urubamba Valley
V- Volcano National Park
W- Warnambool
X - Exmouth
Y - Yarra
Z - Zoo... Australia Zoo, that is.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Body Surfing with Sea Turtles

We got moving early this morning, and met up with Mike, Deb and Marsha over at Kapa'a for breakfast at the iconic seaside buffet at Scotty's.  The berry pancakes and crispy bacon were consumed by the plateful, and again I had to notice how much the kids have grown over the past four months.  Sunshine and sleep, I'm guessing that was the ticket.  From Kapa'a, we made our way through the snarl of traffic over to Poipu on the sunny side of the island of Kauai.

Across from Brenekke's there is a beach with the smooth, high waves perfect for body surfing.  Though it rained en route, we had a cloud-free day of sun and enough wind to keep us from over-heating.  We were met by the entire Michigan contingent, Mike and Deb's friends who have met here for holidays, all great people who love to laugh and have fun- can you guess that Rick fits right in?  And the best part:  turtles, within feet of the shore, playing in the water with the people-fish.  From spot above the rocky shore near our picnic table, where I laid my towel to watch the surf beneath, we spent the whole day delighted by the antics of at least ten turtles (including some BIG turtles, the up to 300 pound variety) as they too rode the waves and then popped up for a breath, only to ride again.

Rick and the kids had a great time in the surf, and had a few close encounters of the reptilian kind.  They were all wearing masks and more than once came face-to-face with a turtle smile as they both caught the same ride.  Derek had a large one bump him a couple times, and at one point landed with his foot on a rock on the bottom, only to have the "rock" swim away and surface further out a ways.  Katie was thrilled to watch  the turtles "wave" with their front flippers then glide across the surface of the wave.  Her last experience with turtles was in a quiet bay andor laying sleeping on the shore, so this playful variety was very appreciated.  It was hard for all of us not to laugh at the antics of ten turtles on a play date.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hanalei Bay

We are lazy.  Well, maybe travel weary is a better description.  With only a few days left on this journey, it is very difficult to motivate our group to leave their spots on the couch to go for another swim at either another beach or another pool.  They are craving the company of their friends and extended family, and they are ready to come home.

Truly they have done incredibly well, and I am very proud of them.  Three teenagers in the constant company of their parents for twenty straight WEEKS, plus a percocious 7 year old, it could have been a recipe for disaster. But instead, everyone is still laughing, playing cards and word games, sharing their often confined space and very few "toys", and building strong relationships that we know will last a lifetime.

This adventure has been as much about getting to discover our selves and each other as it has been about discovering the world.  And it has been a huge success.

I did manage to get the kids to accompany me into Hanalei Bay, the place where they learned to surf a couple of years ago.  We said a prayer for Andy Irons, our famous surfer friend who owned the condo where we stayed last trip, and who lost his life a couple of months ago to some mystery water-bourne illness.  A young man newly married and with a baby on the way, his tragic loss is felt here in Kauai, where he grew up and made proud with his World Surfer Championship awards.  When we met him in 2009, he was really friendly and offered to take the boys to the big waves with his friends, and is fondly remembered.  Another reminder to live your life, because you just never know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Garden Isle

Flight:  Hawaiian Airlines Kona-Honolulu-Lahui  35 min flight - 45 min wait- 30 min flight, same plane
Rental car:  Chev Tahoe (nice!)
Accomodation:  Princeville, The Cliffs condo

We arrived just shy of midnight at our condo on the north shore of Kauai, after a detour past Micky D's.  That was a mistake, as Rick suffered a couple of hours later from a burger that had definitely been under the lights way too long. Ugh.  The flight from Kona was a pleasant surprise.  The codes on the flights were two separate ones, so we had been expecting to do a 500 yard dash between gates to make our short connection, but after we touched down we were informed it was the same plane so we were able to stay aboard while the new passengers joined us.  The pilots were excellent, and invited the kids up to the cockpit with the camera, letting Katie "steer" from the pilot's seat and earn her Hawaiian Airlines wings... didn't think that was possible on any flights since 9/11, so a very pleasant surprise.  That was her 22nd flight in 120 or so days, so she has earned them!

The next morning we appreciated our condo all the more... the kitchen has a floor to ceiling view of the ocean and while making coffee I watched whales breaching and blowing offshore.  Very distracting, and I think I will be burning breakfast!   The unit itself was a great internet find, only $125/night to sleep six, and all the amenities we could want:  newly renovated pool, yoga classes, bbq's and walking trails, plus around-the-corner to Mike and Deb.

We were very happy to connect with our great friends from Michigan, and felt "full circle", since it was Mike that drove us to the airport on the day we started this adventure.  The kids have been working on their journals, coin collections, and slide show presentations, and were able to share their stories of the past four months.  It's been quite an adventure, but they are itching now to get home.

Ocean Technology and Science Park

Last day on the Big Island, so we packed up and then headed up to Kona to check out the area just south of the airport.  Unfortunately, the visitors center closed at noon, so we missed the overview lecture of how the Hawaii State Science Park is incubating businesses in alternative energy and aquaculture development, but we were still able to go on our own explore.  Here, solar panels harness power for large turbines which draw cold ocean water up from 3000' below.  They use the cold water to farm: abalone, lobster, algae, pet seahorses, all kinds of fish farms that are contained in ocean-side tanks.  There is a desalination water bottling and salt production facility planned, as well as other business ideas which may not be commercially viable but are still worth developing from a technology perspective.  A thought-provoking side-trip for sure.  Wish we would have had more time to visit the beach here, too, as the volcanic pools were protected from the surf beyond, and it was busy with local families enjoying Spring Break with their kids.

A quick trip to Macy's while Trav and Rick saw a movie balanced the rest of the afternoon.  We have all done well with our "one bag" per person, but the clothes in them are now very worn and tired.  Jaclyn and Derek have also grown several inches in height and width, going up several sizes and I know nothing much will fit them in their "home" wardrobe now either.  Levi's at Macy's for $18.  Minus the 10% visitors coupon.   And, bonus, winter boots on 75% clearance for me... who buys these in Hawaii?  No wonder there are several choices here in March - can't imagine stomping around on the top of Mauna Kea, the only place it snows here, in these knee-high stiletto heels, even if they do look amazingly fabulous... but hey, in Edmonton!  As I have given up on the idea of no snow at home once we are back, I might as well pick up a pair.  Out with the flip flops, don't think I need to drag those around much longer, unfortunately.

Supper - happy hour! Bud Light $2, Margarita's for $4 - at Poncho and Lefty's, overlooking the reminants of the tsunami damage.  ABC store on Ali'i Road was still closed, but most places look recovered.  The news is still horrible over in Japan, now with nuclear reactors melting down.  Definitely worse there, poor souls.  Off to the airport tonight, for the last destination of the trip:  Kauai.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hiking at Hawi

Up to Weimei today to check out the best breakfast place on the island, according to visitors and locals alike.  We had to stant in line a bit, but with pancakes and bacon piled high, and kahlua pork and spam as sides, it was worth the wait.... all the teenage bellies were happy.

We drove the mountain road over to the north side again after breakfast, with views of Maui off shore.  The village of Ha'wi is very artsy, and home to many galleries and quiet shops.  There is a lookout at the end of the road, with a view of the north coastline, rugged and inaccessible.  The trail at the end of the road leads to a black sand beach in a river valley, the Pololu Valley in the Kohala Mountains.  We felt the need to explore.  The trail was pretty steep, and rather hard to negotiate in flip flops, but we made it down in under a half hour. This black sand was the coarse variety, more sharp and rocky like the black sands we remember.  The river wasn't flowing, but I can imagine it would be rather fierce when it rains. The way back up was actually easier to pick footing, but I could feel the burn by the top.  We certainly earned our ice cream!

It has been nice to prepare our own meals in the last half of this trip.  A trip to the market for dinner is less expensive as well as more relaxed as compared to eating out all the time.  Tonight the choice was lamb chops, a carry-over favorite from Australia.  Roasted on the BBQ with mint jelly, I think it will be on the menu when we get home too.  We all like meat pies now too, and Travis promised me that his friend Declan's mom Gay can teach me how to make great ones, she is an excellent cook.  The ones from Costco just won't be the same.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Black Sand Beaches

We found a great beach around the corner from our Mauna Lani condo complex, gated but in true Hawaii fashion, public access cannot be denied.  In a sheltered bay of lava rocks, the sand was soft and sparkling black and golden.  The waves created a shelf about 20 feet into the water, with large lava boulders settling down, and a treasury of shells mixed in relatively shallow water.  Katie spent hours looking through her mask and then diving down to collect her favorites.  The boys competed in Hawaiian rock carrying, lifting the underwater boulders and transporting them by running up the slope to then lift them in shallow waters and toss them back down the bank.... great workout training that kept them busy trying to out-toss their dad.

The snorkeling in Hawaii is fabulous. The combination of the stable lava sands and hard corals make for the best visibility in shallow waters we have seen anywhere in the world.  Jaclyn loves swimming out to the rock outcroppings and spotting trigger fish, angelfish, needlefish, and hoards of others, all swimming in schools right around her.  No one feeds the fish at this beach, so they leave swimmers alone rather than swarming you begging for food.  She and I both hate that.  It is amazing to see the confidence in the water that all of the kids now have, and their swimming skills have grown by leaps after spending the last three months in the water.  I think they will all be able to challenge a few levels in Red Cross when we return, and be on their way to lifeguard status if they choose.

While sitting on the beach I got a beautiful picture of a whale breaching in the played there long enough for me to get the camera out and I got lucky on the timing with Travis' camera.  It seems if you stare at the horizon long enough you will spot a tail, or a blowhole spouting, or a big splash as they jump up to the surface.  The Humpbacks are in Hawaii January to April, and are a true delight to watch.  I think we are going to find a place in Kauai up at Princeville where we can watch the whales right from the lanai.  Can't beat that.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Whales and Shrimp Tales

Friday was a recovery day.  One of the only true days when we feel every month of our "40-something" is an all-nighter, especially if partying was not involved.  Hats off to our friends who work night shifts, because it takes us two days to recover properly from a night with no sleep.  Of course, we can't whine too much, since a beach chair at the pool certainly helps things along.

Rick and the boys were curious about the effects of the storm, so headed over this afternoon to the Mauna Lani resort, our closest beachside development for lunch.  They strolled down to the shore to survey the damages, and of course the boys headed out onto the lava rocks, as boys do.  It didnt take long to see the tsunami effects.... it was still happening! There is really not a huge tide in Hawaii, maybe only a foot or so in elevation, translating to 5 or10 feet on the beach of movement.  But the boys, climbing out and standing on the rocks, where soon cut off from shore.  The waves were atypical, more a level of water that rose for a few minutes like a tide, then retreated.  They watched as the beach path they had followed disappeared, but luckily reappeared after a few minutes later.  Not the usual "wave in, wave out" pattern at all.  The reminents of the tsumani. 

They did see a whale while at the beach, only 50-75 feet or so from shore, spouting and then presenting its tail with a splash.  Makes you wonder how the creatures respond to such a change in their environment. In New Zealand, earthquakes are often preceded by a spontaneous beaching of whale and dolphin species.... like their sonar can sense a subsurface tension, and perhaps interferes with their depth perception.  Before the big earthquake in February, several hundred dolphins and small whales swam onto the beaches just 50 miles south of the quake epicenter, to die on the shores only a few days before the earthquake hit.  The mammals in the sea are victims of the event as well.

We had an update of the damage on our side of the Big Island.  Ali'i Roadin Kona was flooded, including the host hotel of the Hawaii state Brewers convention - had to be moved to a different location for the weekend.  Bubba Gump's managed to clean up and recover much of their missing furnature, and though their electronics were fried and glass smashed, the kitchen was relatively untouch... they were able to open a couple days later so will survive to serve another day. Around the pool, everyone swapped stories of the night in the car, or at the Weimea theater where they opened with a live news feed, or (honestly) in their seaside house or condo hiding from the police and the evacuation orders....risking their lives and the lives of those who may  have had to rescue them had there been a larger problem.   Some people don't get it, or perhaps are niave and innocent (dense) enough to not understand what the potential of the situation could be. Stupid is as Stupid does.  Truly, life is back to normal in most of Hawaii.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Evacuated: Tsunami Warning in the Pacific

The world is a crazy place, predictably unpredictable on our entire journey.  That continued last night, when across the sea Japan was rocked by an incredible seabed earthquake measuring 9 or so on the scale, and setting off a tsunami towards not only the shores of Japan but outward across the ocean, with Hawaii in the middle of the path.  The warnings came across the television at 9pm, and within an hour a full evacuation order was called with the waves forecast for 3am.  The sirens were sounding. "Please leave this area immediately. You must leave the Tsunami Evacuation Zone.  Go to high ground.  Do not return to your homes.  This is not a test."

Well, with all the close calls we have had, we certainly we not taking any chances with our family.  Yes, we are inland, probably 50ft in elevation in the middle of the ancient lava flows, and cannot see the ocean from our condo.  We are also occupying the second and third floors of the complex, so highly unlikely this unit would be flooded.  But truly, if the roads were closed, would we really wish to become an island in a stream of broken sewage with no access to fresh water in the heat?  Short answer, no.  Not imminent danger, but not a place to be stranded for long either.  I have no wish to be rescued from a rooftop because we were too stubborn to follow the evacuation order.  So we started to pack.

A quick trip past the grocery, open til 11, to stock up on bottled water (lots of action there) and we headed up the only road out of our complex and up the hill to Waikaloa Village.  Hundreds of cars loaded with tourists and locals, and busses of people from the resorts, converged on the inland towns to sleep uncomfortably and anxiously in the dark, while the radio broadcast the warnings and updates from Midway Island, as well as the effects on the first islands to be affected: Kauai and Oahu are west of here, so would be hit first.

The tsunami was not a false alarm.  The waves did come at around 4 am to the Big Island, and there was limited damage south of our resort in Kona (okay, specifically, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory where we had lunch was one of the worst ones hit).  Hilo had a few houses flooded and one floated away, but no one was killed or injured, so we escaped far better off than those souls in Japan across the sea.  Like Christchurch, crushed by earthquake, and then hit by tsunami, hundreds are feared killed. The Pacific Ring of Fire has been cruel this year.

The evacuation remained in place even after the real risk of the sea was passed.  Our resort was baracaded by police officers, and we could not return at least until dawn.  Not much sleep happened in the minivan, well, I suppose the kids fared alright, by the parents were still pretty tired.  We made our way up to Waimea and the Paniola restaurant, which opened for the crowd of "refugees" at 5:30a with welcome cups of coffee and warm breakfasts.  Fellow patrons joked we needed t-shirts to claim our survival of the Hawaii Tsunami 2011, but it was with true relief that we heard the damage was pretty minimal.  Memories of Phuket, the images of the cyclones and floods in Queensland and Victoria, and the scenes from Christchurch ran through my mind, and I thanked God we were not in a midst of such a scene.  It was only when we returned to our condo that we realized the severity of Japan's situation.  Our hearts are glad we had only a close call, but are heavy with the loss experienced by those who were closer to where the wave began.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kona, land of great coffee

Today's adventure was south to the area of Kailua-Kona, the city nearest the airport and the area known for Kona's fabulous coffee.  We had lunch at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory (disappointing food, but unique atmosphere) we headed up the mountain (well, Mauna Loa volcano truly) through the VOG and into the moist cool climate at 3500'.  Home of the Mountain Thunder organic coffee plantation and roasting mill.  The smell of roasting coffee was the first thing we noticed, and we joined a tour with a sample of their Premium blend in hand.    Can't beat that for freshness, just roasted today!

The coffee trees were very interesting, blooming after every rain and producing "cherries" for three years.  Certified organic means this farm cannot use Round-up or any other chemical weed control, so they have NeNes (native Hawaiian geese) running around munching on the invasive vines that take over the crops.  Everything is hand picked making it very labor intensive, which explains the 4-7 acres that keeps them busy full time.  To supplement, they roast and package coffee for other growers, and charge premium pricing for the Kona organic label.  Well worth it, as the coffee was not at all bitter, nor were the chocolate covered coffee beans...mmmm. They win awards for their medium roast (which is apparently more indicative of good quality production as the flavor of the bean is not altered by the longer dark roasting procedure).  So, my dear potential coffee-snobs, the best  coffee you could drink would be Extra Fancy 19 size screen organic with less than .2% dark or mishaped beans, full green color prior to roasting, and Estate blend, meaning the Peabody beans are mixed in to allow for extra taste.... all this for a mere $56/lb at the door, shipping extra.  We poor coffee schleps from Safeway probably drink the beans that missed the bag on the way to the bin... but hey, as long as it has caffeine, at 6 am I don't think I would notice any difference at all.

Jupiter setting behind Mauna Kea, 11 000 feet alt.

Great trip up to the top of Mauna Kea, or at least to the Observatory visitors center.... altitude still affecting some of our crew in a real way.  The Observatory is above the clouds on the top of the dormant volcano, and across the valley you can see Mauna Loa, almost as high, and then hiding beyond it is where the active volcano is busy churning out lava and gases.  Mauna Kea is the worlds largest mountain, measured from its base on the sea floor to its snow-capped summit over 13,000 feet above sea level.  It has evidence of melted glaciers left from the Ice Age, and has not erupted in over 4500 years, so we felt safe climbing up to the tip of a cinder cone to watch a fabulous sunset over Hawaii.

The International Observatory has telescopes set up for the public, so we were able to see the sun through one (a big orange glow, surprise) before the hike.  It was several degrees cooler up there than you would expect in Hawaii, but we planned ahead with pants and sweaters.  The girls had cold toes, as they are certainly out of the habit of wearing socks, but overall we were warm enough for a couple hours of stargazing.    We saw Jupiter, with its 4 moons, setting in the west after about an hour of darkness, and we spotted the Hubble telescope in orbit above us.  The Orion nebula was also a hit, as was the powerful laser the star guide used to point out the constellations in the sky... the boys are still wishing they would have purchased those in Thailand...only 200 baht!  So the science lessons with the accompanying hot chocolate were a hit, and I can't help but feel like our Greatest Fieldtrip Ever has been a success. We have all learned an incredible amount on this journey, in a first-hand experience that school books could never match.  Home schooling, where the world has been our "home".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Green Turtles in the Bay

Today's plan was a trip over to the Fairmont Resort, where the Green Sea Turtles nest and swim along the shore.  We were hoping to have a chance to swim with the turtles, as well as hang out at the beautiful resort in Mauna Loa, the same area where our condo is located.  A short drive across the black lava flow, past the Foodland grocery and on to be greeted by a huge Canadian flag, and the Canadian Construction Association annual meeting.  Sponsors included PCL and Richie Bros, but Rick didnt see anyone we knew.

The beach chairs were lined up on the white sand, and we did find a friendly turtle to swim with.  Unfortunately it was too far out in the bay for Katie, but we managed to build a great sand sea turtle on the shore that she seemed just as happy with.  And after an hour or two in the sun, we had all had enough beach for the day.... funny, but after Thailand and Australia, and then Fiji, we have had our fill of beach, and none of us wants to either tan or certainly not sunburn anymore.  So back to the condo for a homecooked meal and some time in the shade.  The countdown is on.... 13 days til the trip winds up, and I think we are all looking forward to coming home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Madame Pele puts on a show

The main reason for the visit to the Big Island was the lure of the volcano.  Kileuai has been erupting since 1983, sometimes with flowing lava and other times only with puffs of steam.  We have visited here before only once, six years ago with all the Brocke clan.  Both Katie and our nephew Kayden were infants at the time, so my memories of the tour are reduced to crying babies (mostly ours) in the back of a hot crowded van over windy roads to the drone of a biologist who clearly had no idea how to adapt the tour to the multi-age group in his charge.   The volcano deserved a re-visit.

We set off in the morning through Weimea, the Parker Ranch town, en route to Hilo on the other side of the island. We stopped at a couple of picturesque waterfalls, and the rainy weather was adding to their roaring flow.... no one would be swimming in them today!  Hilo was a really nice town.  Rick got directions from the gas station to B.J.Penn's gym, one of our favorite UFC fighters who is Hawaiian.  The gym was great, welcoming the boys inside for a full tour, and they met B.J.'s brothers who train there as well.  B.J. just got back from a fight in Australia (wish we would have known that when we were there!), so the guys all picked up some great shirts from his Australia tour.  A great stop.

On to see the volcano.  Only twenty minutes up the road from Hilo is Volcanos National Park.  On Crater Rim Road, we stopped at the visitors center for an interpretive movie and an update from the Ranger, and guess what?  Since we arrived on the island, Madame Pele had been putting one quite a show! A new fissure has opened up and lava is spurting up to 100 feet in the air, the crater itself has started a new steam vent, and there have been earthquakes (of course) that normally accompany the active state of the lava eruption.  We were able to tour the crater (on the upwind side) but couldn't go down to the active area as the danger risk was too high. But we may be able to take a boat to where the lava enters the sea, and got to see the live footage and watch the seisographs record the action. Very cool indeed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Big Island

flight:  Molulele Airlines Honolulu to Kona-Kaluai   3pm 40 minutes
accomodation: Mauna Lani Golf Villas, 2 bdrm with loft
rental car: Thrifty 7 seater Caravan - on points

Yes, I know, I haven't been writing for a while and need to catch up.  We now are settled into a lovely condo in the shadow of a volcano on the sunny side of the big island of Hawaii.  Time to adjust to the time zones, North American culture, and to reflect upon the incredible journey of the last four months.... so check back and I will be filling in the days missed as well as adding new details and impressions of the trip with it still fresh in our minds..... and yes, after all the other places we have been, we still love Hawaii.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pearl Harbour, Honolulu

Flight: Air Pacific(Qantas)  Nadi, Fiji - Apia, Samoa - Honolulu, Hawaii  8.5 hours
Accomodation: Best Western The Plaza Airport, Honolulu

We flew all night, and crossed the International Date Line at precisely 11:58pm on Friday March 4.  So the time changed to 1:00am on the exact same day.  Poor Derek, within 2 minutes of turning 15, and has to wait an extra 24 hours for his birthday.  A quick stop in Apia in the middle of the night, then continued another 5 hours to the US of A.  We were the most tan Canadians arriving in Honolulu the next morning.

Impressions of being surrounded by familiar accents and idioms were instant.  Driving on the "right" side of the road, we had to stop and think which way to look for traffic again.   No one tried to run us over even though we weren't in the cross walk. We were really tired after the night flight, so were lucky to check in at 9am into a hotel close to the airport, for showers and a place to drop our bags.  And off we go again.

We have visited Hawaii many times in our lives - probably 10 to 15 at least.  We have never spent any time in Oahu preferring Maui or Kauai, so have never taken our kids to Pearl Harbour.  Rick has never been there, and my only visit was in 1979 when I was like 3 years old (or so, lol).  In the spirit of our educational adventrue, we grabbed a van and headed to the Arizona Memorial for our day's History lesson.

The exhibits at the site are very well done.  There are interactive and video displays, as well as photos and maps and working equipment that you can manipulate, like decoding and periscopes.  The boys liked the displays of torpedoes, and the short documentary was very explanitory.  It managed to keep our attention, even in the dark, quiet theatre when we were all so tired.  There was a short trip across the bay to the site of the sunken ship, but in the murky waters it was hard to imagine what was below.  Our hope is that the kids understood the significance of this attack on the outcome of WW2, both in the Pacific and European fronts.  They can compare the American perspective to what they have learned in school regarding the Canadian point of view.  And gain a new look at the same history.  First hand.

Nadi, the Capital of Fiji

We shared our "farewell" Fruit Punch at the Sunset bar, and departed our wonderful resort on the Coral Coast of Fiji by 11am.  Our van transport was right on time, and escorted us up the road to one of the first hotels on the strip for a poolside lunch.  Fresh fish was served in coconut husks, marinated in lime with mild sweet onion - delicious!  The prices in Fiji are quite reasonable, half of the costs we paid in Australia, but probably more than Bali or Thailand.  Still good value.

We found the Polynesian Fijians wonderfully friendly, but there is obvious tensions between them and the East Indian Fijians who have emigrated here in the past 200 years. Land leases were granted in 99 year blocks, and in the 1970s many of these leases expired.  At the same time, Fiji became independant from Britian and placed their own democratic government in parliament.  The chief clan system combined with the British legal isn't working well, especially after the East Indians started to outnumber the native Fijians in the late 80's...  over14 coups have occurred between 1994 and 2006, and it sounds like there maybe another one in the making - I hope our visit doesn't spark one off!!!

So on to the shops of Nadi.  The city was similar to Lima traffic and Bali shops with Thai salesmen.  We went to a "secret shop" to pick up a few items at a fraction of the price... bargaining in full force.  Seriously, Lacoste shirts for $10.  Are they real?  I can't tell the difference.  Outside, the school busses full of young students in uniform waved at Katie in her blonde braids, with one boy blowing kisses when she made shy.  So sweet.  From the shops of the city to the cruise port, where the same shirt was offered at $140 Fiji  ($85 CAN) and the Hard RockCafe offered drinks for $36 - are you kidding?  We left and  took our chances with the airport food... good choice, as the pizza was excellent and though we were at the airport early, we wern't worried about rush hour on those Nadi streets.

We boarded our flight to Honolulu with a quick stop in Apia, Samoa.  The flight was delayed taking off, so we ate again (much better airline, Air Pacific, with food and drinks included, and movies too!)  And that was our first Friday March 4.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Polynesian drums at sunset

The resort had something for everyone in our family, and I would highly recommend it as a top vacation spot for families or couples.  We'd go back in a flash!  There was two pools,and a swim-up bar.  All inclusive option, but not mandatory so you could opt out of the cost on the kids.  Activities, like bingo, tennis lessons, archery, egg tossing contests, ice cream eating contests, and a disco - playing real disco from the 70's and 80's,  perfect for us "old foggies"to dance the night away.

The friendly staff greeted us with a warm "BULA" at every opportunity, and the dancing in the evenings added to the feel of Polynesia.  Fiji is like Hawaii in many ways, but without the American influence it has developed in a very different way, and is not anything like the commercial giant Honolulu has come.  There is much poverty evident, in both the native and the Indian immigrant communities that share this island as home. The British settled this colony in a different way to Canada, or maybe the same way but with a different land ownership system for the farmers they encouraged to relocate.  It is interesting to contrast the two - Western Canada and Fiji, and see how an ownership compared to a native leasehold system of land management influenced the future political stabilility and wealth of the community.

Fiji did not get its sovereignty until 1970, when the government was left on its own to deal with a 99 year lease system that was set to expire, leaving the tenant farmers at the mercy of a landholding system that was bias, since the majority population was no longer clear - the groups were split ethnically and religiously in a battle to gain power and hold control of the resources: water, land and tourism, where the base of their economy was moving.   Now, after a native-dominated, military government has been in power since 2006, they have been removed from the Commonwealth, and are in the process of taking the image of the Queen off their money.  And there is mistrust and even hatred between the groups obvious to tourists, even after only three days.... what is the future of this country?  And what should it be, to be fair toboth its Indigineous and its immigrant populations?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Coral Coast, Vitu Levu, Fiji

This stop was one of the "should we?" places on our trip.  Originally we wanted to do the whole "Survivor" beach hut experience on a relatively deserted island, but they were closed in the month of March for renos (? who reno's a beach hut?) Anyway, Virgin gave us two options:  Samoa or Fiji.  Samoa honestly was our first choice, though looked more expensive for accomodation.  Infortunately, though the price of the flight was almost identical, the flight times were horrible, landing us in Samoa at 1am which is not great when you don't know where you are going or how to get there.  Fiji also had better options for the length of our stay - we would have had to be in Samoa for a full week, and in Fiji we could do 3-4 days which is what we preferred.  Fiji is it.

Best choice for a place to stay?  Well, asking around I kept hearing to avoid the city area, and the port was overpriced, but the Coral coast was nice.  Trip Advisor gave us a short list of 3 properties, and I managed a great internet rate for a place called The Warwick.  Apparently it was a Hyatt, until Hyatt pulled out of the island.  You see, Fiji has had a lot of political instability in the last 20 years that we really didn't want to get involved with, especially with the track record we have been having.  Honestly, if there is another coup attempt or riots or natural disaster in Fiji in the next month or so, we refuse to be held responsible (lol).

So, landing in Nadi, we chose a private taxi over the tour bus option, and got a pretty good tour on the 2.5 hour drive to the Coral coast. Our East Indian driver was very candid about the quality of life here for the Indians... basically they are not well liked and are, in his words, at the mercy of the Polynesian Fijians who own the land and have the "good" jobs at the resorts and in government.  Our driver was particularly upset about the lack of opportunity for his son, a 17 year old who is a wonderful tennis player but unable to get a scholorship, in his opinion because of political favoritism. I am sure if his sentiments are true, there is much more political unrest to come.

That aside, our resort was INCREDIBLE.  The Warwick Hotel was friendly (well, apart to our driver) and welcoming and clean and a pure refuge.  The food was excellent, and we had our fill of sushi and Japanese table cooking, like, 3 nights in a row.  Swimming in front of our resort was like being in a giant fish tank.  Warm, shallow, teaming with scores of fish and Katie was especially happy to find Nemo and his friend Dory in abundance.  Sea cucumbers, over 5 feet long and with tentacled mouths, munched slowly on the sea bottom, making us startle at first thinking it was covered in sea snakes, but quickly realizing they can only inch along the bottom and have no snake-like head, only the body was similar.  Very strange creature indeed.  And beautiful.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Last night in Oz, in the Brisbane airport

Flight:  Virgin Blue Brisbane to Nadi, Fiji, 3.5 hours, horrible airline not even a glass of water with the flight.

We checked out of our great condo at Sunshine Beach, Noosa by 11am, and headed south towards the city and the area beyond.  We have been in Queensland for a week, but other than Rick and Travis' venture to Goondi and our day trip to Australia Zoo, we hadn't done much exploring.  We thought we should at least see the Gold Coast area before we left Australia so the kids would know what that was about when they decide to come back to Australia on their own.

Two hours to the city, across the beautiful bridge on the Brisbane River (no longer in flood) then another hour and a half  to the Gold Coast.  The drive had the passengers dozy, so we didn't have to deal with the "ask" when we passed all the theme parks - Dreamworld, Waterworld, Movieworld, Drop-your-dollars-here-world, and the like.  We did the scenic drive over to Surfers Paradise, and yes, there are even more skyscrapers and fancy buildings that on our 1993 trip, and even fewer places to park.  We did eventually find a stall (next to a "gentlemens club", closed thankfully) and headed to find a cafe that would still be open for a "late lunch".  Very few places in Australia are open between 2 and 6 pm and if you miss lunch hour, you are stuck with a meat pie from a petrol station.

Derek voted Italian, so we sat on the sidewalk patio and were greeted by a Canadian girl from Manitoba. Nice, as we are all starting to yearn for home.  Pizza was good, prices were more reasonable than we had seen for a while, and the beer was cold... what more could we want for our last day in Australia?  We headed over to the tourist shops for a few "prezzies" and then back in the direction of the airport.  Flight  the next morning was an early one, with us needing to be at the airport for 5:30 am and still needed to return the rental van, so we were looking for a cheap comfortable option, which apparently does not exist in this part of the world.  Our first 4 hotels quoted us $500, $450, $375 and $425, and truly, the last three looked like any small town motel so "comfortable" and "clean" were probably debatable.  What to do?

Well, all this travel, but this was a first.  We went to the airport at 8 pm, took back the vehicle, and found a few comfy couches in the departure lounge.  Not comfy, but yes, clean, and the price? FREE.  Wifi not included at this airport though.  I hope the resort in Fiji makes up for the crappy night in Brisbane, but judging by my trusted "Trip Advisor", I think it will.                        

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Changing Plans, again

Good news on Facebook, the Barnes family is all safe and sound, and though they were without power and water, and are still shaking, they are staying strong. I wish we could pick them up and fly them out of there for a bit - come join us in Brisbane for a week? - but for them, I guess, earthquakes are a part of daily life, and that is home.  We are very disappointed that New Zealand is not going to happen for us, but honestly, the airlines are being asked to fly in vicitims families, aid workers and auxiliary police officers, so we would not feel right taking our family of six on holidays there, not now.  I guess it leaves a "top of the list" place for our kids to come on their own in the future.

So, back to Virgin for yet another credit.  Don't even like that airline, but since they won't do refunds I guess we have to fly part of our trip home with their carrier.  Unfortunately, they don't go straight to Hawaii, and wont transfer to their V partner that goes to LA, so that gives us only a few options:  somewhere else in Australia (Darwin, Sydney, Cairns, Whitsundays maybe?), or an island en route that we can get a one-way onward flight to Honolulu... Cook Islands and Tonga don't give us any forward options, so that leaves Fiji and  Samoa.

Best value for dollar, we think Oz is out.  Australia is very expensive for all items:  food, gas, hotel, everything.  With our dollar par with the US, we are better waiting in Hawaii for the snow to melt, though by the weather reports from home, we might have to wait til June!  After several hours of Expedia, Trip Advisor, Vayama, and all of our other favorite websites, plans were set.

Wow, I marvel again how much technology has changed the world.  We have not set foot in a travel agency apart for initial inquiries with Maria in Lamont, and I know we have paid way less for our fares, as well as had much better flexibility by "flying by the seat of our pants".  Maybe not everyone's comfort zone, but it has worked for us.  And with everything that has happened along the way (you know, riots, floods, cyclones, earthquakes), I am very glad that flexibility was within our budget.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake Disaster

It is in horror that I watched the television the last couple of days.  Right after Rick and Travis left, and only hours after we booked our tickets for Christchurch next week, the news report of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch interrupted Katie's show. At 6.3, it is not the strongest earthquake they have had, but due to the proximity to the downtown of the city of the epicenter, as well as the shallow nature of the fracture, the destruction has been massive.  And many lives have been lost.

Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Christchurch. We hope that our friends are safe, and that their friends are safe as well.  Many people have been trapped in buildings, crushed by walls and rocks and glass, it is truly horrifying.  Especially heartbreaking are the stories of those trapped, lost in the piles of rubble, able to phone or text to family and loved ones, but unable to be found before it was too late.  Australia has rushed to their aid, as have rescue workers from many parts of the world.   There is no running water, no power, most of the downtown has been cordoned off, and the airport has been closed.  The aftershocks continue, measuring up to 5 and adding to the difficulty of the rescues, and schools are closed.  They are expecting over 200 lives lost, and many, many more injured.  It is beyond sad.  And this type of disaster will take a long recovery.  The Red Cross is trying to set up temporary housing and food and water, sanitation.  This is not a place for tourists.  I think our trip to New Zealand is off.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Boys Trip to Goondi

The storm followed us home from the Zoo, where we had a super-hot day under the sun with little wind to cool off.  We could see the dark clouds as we neared the coast, and the wind whipped up as we entered the underground parking.  From our third floor balcony we had a great view of the surf at the bottom of the seacliffs, where the experienced surfers played in the 20' wake.

We got on the internet and connected with Vicki and Craig, to make sure our plans to head to New Zealand would be okay dates for them.  It will be really nice to visit with them again, as it has been since before Katie arrived at Stuart and Chantel's wedding in Vancouver that we last saw them.  Craig is Stu's brother, and they spent several months with us in Lamont at the farm when the kids were little.  We first met when we were in New Zealand in 1992, when they were managing the Blue Duck Valley ranch in Kaikoura, but they have now relocated to Lincoln in the Christchurch area on the way to Banks Peninsula.  We are very excited to spend some time there with them next week.

Rick and Travis also made arrangements to spend a couple days out in Boggabilla, just over the Queensland border in NSW by Goondiwindi.  That is the area where big floods went through when we first arrived in January, but the water has now receded and the cleanup is mostly complete.  Graham and Kylie run the Turkey Lagoon station there, growing cotton and raising cattle.  This storm means the temperature will be cooler, not the staggering 40's they had on our last attempt to visit the beginning of Feb.  So in the morning, Rick and Travis will head out to the plains, back to farming country.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crikey! Is that Steve Irwin's Crocodile?

A trip to the Sunshine Coast would not have been complete without taking in the Australia Zoo.  Apparently Steve had started it on our previous visit, but remained in relative obscurity until the reality TV show took off, and it is now quite centered around the crazy Aussie wildlife icon.  An hour drive from Noosa, the Zoo is really in the middle of nowhere on the Glass Mountain tourist road, and is a testament to the Field of Dreams saying, "If you build it they will come".  It is located on the Steve Irwin Highway, of course.

The best part of the zoo:  Derek says the crocodiles; Jaclyn voted for the koalas. Katie said both, and especially the Show when the croc snapped his jaw shut on his offered morsel of sacrificial chicken.  Travis loved the snakes, which included the Top 10 most venomous in the world, most of which are found right here " in a veggie garden near you!"  I think I liked the birds - can't help but be amazed at the beautiful birdlife in this country, from the cockatoos and budgerees to the incredible heron-like prey birds who fly into the "crocoseum" with a 12 foot wingspan.  The birdsong is so LOUD!  And the Parrots are trained to speak with an Aussie accent!

We got some great photos and after enduring the hot humid day as long as we could (like, I don't want to complain about the heat, but we were seriously melting) we retired to the Etamogah Pub for lunch and a couple of cold ones.  The day broke the budget (Steve's estate certainly works hard to lighten the visitors pockets) but was a highlight of the trip... Crikey, would you look at that? Six Canadians looking for a bit of entertainment.... they's a beaut.  Must be good for at least a hundred a head.... yeah, check this out....slowly, yes! GOT EM!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Surfy Dudes

Our condo has the best location, overlooking Sunshine Beach with full ocean view of the surf beach and within walking distance to the Surf Lifesaving Club as well as the coffee shops and restaurants and pubs.  The sun has been shining since we arrived, and the boys are excited to practice their skills in the waves, especially since the weather is "beaut" and the water is "warm as".

We headed into town and found a second hand shop with some great boards, which they have pledged to "buy back" before we leave, a cheaper alternative to the 10 day rental contracts we were offered at the surf shops.  Armed with their boards and wax, we headed first to Witches Cauldron - sounds scary, but really had the nicest small-ish regular waves and is only waist deep off the point so great for building confidence... too shallow for Great Whites!

We have been visiting and traveling and moving non-stop on this trip.  It is nice to put in for a ten day stretch, unpack the bags and not drive anywhere for a bit.  The kids are catching up with their friends (facebook and skype have truly changed the world!) and I have been able to have wifi long enough to update the blog - as well as sit still and just read a book before making dinner and in between loads of laundry.  Rick will no doubt be bored of playing hearts on the computer soon enough and want to GO SOMEWHERE, but for now, time to relax.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Squeeky Beaches

Yes, the beaches in Noosa still squeak when you walk.  Gotta love that; and they are also so hot and white you need shoes, sunblock, and really, a good umbrella.  Even after all our time in Thailand, Coral Bay, Busselton and around the beaches near Melbourne, we are still getting a burn in the hot Queensland sun if not lathered right up and out of the sun in mid-day.  It's that hot.

The best place to eat for our crew on this trip is certainly the Surf Clubs.  They are great pub atmosphere, beachside with a verandah, always friendly, good simple (and sometimes gourmet!) menu, tv's with the sports on, often live music for happy hour and even Sunday brunch.  We have met many nice families and couples on holidays, as well as locals that will sit to hear our tale of life on the road.  Our accents still give us away as North Americans, with most people guessing Canada first.  Many have stories of their trip to Canada, and know exactly where we live, and all compliment us on the great Winter Olympics in Whistler, and tell us of dreams to return to the Great White North.  Though when we share the photos we have of the snow right now, most opt for a summer trip instead!

The beaches are patrolled by the members of the Surf Clubs, both from towers and on ground, as well as in the water on surf boards and boats.  Even the helicopters fly by a few times a day checking the water for rip currents, and I suspect anything with sharp teeth.  They encourage swimmers to stay between the flags (which we happily do!) and shout out advise on side currents, the rip and any incoming storms.... a great system of volunteers that is very impressive.  We have seen the young kids participate in their trainings, the teens helping each other with new surf rescue techniques as well as challenge other clubs in competition, the adults organizing the beach quads and equipment and the grandparents patrolling under the shade of umbrellas or large hats.  A big family and community, working together, for the serious business of safe play.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Three Times a Charm, Queensland

Flight: Virgin Blue (credit) Melbourne to Brisbane, 1:30pm, 2 hours
Accomodation:  Costa Nova vacation condos, Sunshine Beach on the Sunshine Coast, 11 nights
Car:  Avis 7 seater Kia van

I remember why we fell in love with this place some twenty years ago.  The Queensland air is tropical, moist and warm.  There are palm trees and flowers, thick vines and sugar cane.  The breeze is warm, and the water is warm, with surf beaches and squeaky sand, or calm quiet bays for a pleasant dip rather than body surfing.  Brightly colored parrots and other songbirds fill the air with sound.  What a great place to stay for a while.

We flew Thursday afternoon from Melbourne up to Brisbane after relinquishing our home-on-wheels and our life as gypsies.  The flight was 1h50, pleasantly uneventful other than the boy with the harmonica (who gives their kid a harmonica on an airplane????)  Virgin Air won't even give you a glass of water for free, but as air tickets go, they are cheap and on time.  We still have our credit from our Bali-Sydney flight to use, so we need to book at least one or even two more flights with them.... hopefully also short-hauls.  Kids are all lobbying for a side trip for a day in Sydney to see the Opera House and the port, so we may be headed there on our way to Chirstchurch, NZ, in a couple of weeks or so.

Picking up a mini-van at the airport was easy and less money than the pre-booked on the internet.... glad we picked that option.  The two hour drive north out of the city was fun, since Rick appreciated the extra pickup and maneoverability compared to our last 24' caravan - whooo the power.  Zoom Zoom, and Zoom.  Now time to stay put in a little seaside home, with a couple of bedrooms, kitchen, wifi, pool and considerably more than 200 square feet of living space.... we are certainly a close family, but after 35 days we need to stretch out a bit!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The seaside suburb of Williamstown is absolutely lovely.  With sandy beaches, cafes and boutique shops, it is still within an easy commute to the heart of downtown Melbourne as well as being a very up-scale place to live.  Our friend Peter has a great spot on a quiet street, so in true "National Lampoon Christmas Vacation" style, we slung an electric cord over his fence and parked right up on the sidewalk.... gotta love those redneck friends from CANADA!

Derek, Jaclyn and Travis hit it off great with Paris, Peter's lovely 14 year old daughter, and Katie loved playing with the border collie, Tess.  Lynda extended an invitation to us to join them for a gourmet meal - wow can that lady cook!  After a few glasses of wine and a lovely meal with Peter's family, we realize again why we love Australia and the people who live here - and hope they will allow us to return the hospitality on their open invitation back to Alberta.

Lunch with Aunt Rachel

John lives in Spotswood, not far from Williamstown in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria.  The trip into the city with the RV was a little hairy, toll roads and multi-lane bridges, and loads of traffic.  Melbourne is now a city of over 3 million, and growing, and there are tram tracks in the middle of traffic lanes that you are somehow meant to yield too.... and pedestrians everywhere too.  A tad of a stressful drive.

We tracked down John on Skype once we were at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, and pointed the RV over the West Gate Bridge (beautiful that) to park next to his spot, across from a primary school.  Katie eyed the playground instantly, but school was in, so she played there until all the children were sent for recess.  The kids are all dressed in uniform, and hats are a must due to the high level of "sun awareness" - they have a "no hat, no play" rule.  Gone are the days of sunbathing in baby oil!  Tans, apparently, are very OUT.  (Opposite of the Vitamin D deficiencies we have!)

John's sister Frances brought her children by after school to meet us - Rachel and Will ages 14 and 9.  Her husband Tim was away on a business trip to the US, so we were able to compare weather in Denver - Rachel was quite concerned Dad only packed a light "jumper", but luckily it was 11 degrees there today.  We shared the incredible snow pictures that Travis' hockey coach sent us - snowmobiles parked ON the houses! wow, we are missing quite the winter.....timing or what!

Wednesday we arranged for a lunch date with John and Frances and Aunt Rachel (their mom) at the Boatyard, down in Williamstown near the ferry port.  It was wonderful to see Aunty Rachel again, and we were sad to mark the passing of Uncle Billy (my grandma's brother, 15 years ago on Valentines Day).  He was so wonderful to us on our first visit here over Christmas 1992.  They had made us so welcome at a time of year that could have been lonely, and we were thrilled to share that time with them.  Aunt Rachel is still lovely, hasn't aged a day, and Jaclyn and Katie were honored to gift her with an Irish jig at the end of the Pier (until the skies opened up and we were all drenched!)  That Scottish humor, watching over us for sure!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Torquay, Surf City

Monday morning, so the Neely's had to return to the routine of school and work - my, our children are getting it so easy these days! Such a shock it will be to everyone's system it will surely be upon our return.  Ocean Grove was quiet, which  allowed us to get some laundry done, do some homework and take a side trip over to the surf area of Bell's Beach and Torquay.  A bit of shopping to replace some well-worn clothing? Outlet stores it is.

The headquarters of Rip Curl, Oakley, Billabong and Roxy are all lined up in Torquay, which calls itself "Surf City".  Many warehouses have clearance stores, so we were able to find a couple items as souvenirs/wardrobe additions.... flip flops for $10 is a great deal here, and after wearing sandals for the last 2 months straight, we have all worn out the gear.

The day was sunny but windy, so a great opportunity to watch the wind surfers jumping off the cliffs and soaring over the beaches below.  The water is rough here, world class surfing is not really happy swimmer territory, as we dont like the idea of rip tides and Great Whites.... let's leave that to the pro's shall we?  Plus, we are pretty sure the water will be way warmer when we hit Queensland in a few days time.  (What a bunch of wusses).

Valentine's was a lovely Mom and Dad night out - the kids prepared their own meal at the caravan park, and Rick and I walked across to Dune's, a seaside restaurant with ocean view and delicious food, not to mention to-die-for desserts.  We have been spending most of every waking minute (as well as sleeping ones) within 5 feet of all four kids, so it was nice to have a blip of adult time.... can anyone not relate to that?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ocean Grove with our Neely cousins

From Ballarat, we headed back to the coast for a couple of nights with my cousins, the Neely family.  My mom's mom, Mary Neely, immigrated to Canada as a war bride in 1946 from Glascow, Scotland.  Her youngest brother Billy headed to warmer climes and the shores of Australia with his wife Rachel and her family, the MacDonald's.  So my mom has an aunt and a raft of first cousins in Melbourne, and they are the best people imagined!

John and his wife Rachel (sorry, this is where the story might get confusing) met us at the beach, along with their boys Scott and Matt, ages with Travis and Derek.  John's sister, Leslie and her son Dion (also 15) were there to meet us as well. The five boys instantly bonded as they were off to catch the waves - it is so great to see our kids connect with our extended family, as the generations reconnect.  I am sure my grandma as well as Uncle Billy would have had huge grins on their faces watching their children's children (and in our case, add another " 's children") play and laugh over the same video games and movies.  On the Racine side, Donna and Mark spent time here in the early 80's, then Rick and I, then Donna's Tyler, and now Mom and our second trip have made the connection.  I would encourage the Neely side to pay us all a visit back - we would love to have the chance to introduce you to more of your Canadian family, anytime.

John cooked up a feast on the barbeque, which the pack of teenage boys managed to wipe out almost completely.  And yes, there were shrimps on the barby, too.  We had a great time catching up since our original meeting at Christmas 92, and my Mom had just been visiting in January so John was able to fill us in on some of their trip stories too.

We spent the night at Ocean Grove, a little deja vu there.  John's caravan site is at the same park as our friend  Peter's, so Rick and I recognized the place as we pulled in.  We had spent New Years there with Craig and Kirsty, Peter and Kirsty's sister Fiona, once upon a time.  It is across from a great surf beach, with the river flowing on the other side creating a sandspit several miles long, excellent sunrise and sunset over the water, too.    We found Peter's caravan, but no one was there for the weekend, but it reminded us again we need to find a number for Peter before we leave the area, to see if we can connect.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ballarat for the weekend

A trip to Victoria would not have been complete without a visit to Bill and Raylee Stoddart's beautiful mountain-top home near Ballarat.  Craig's mom and dad were very gracious to shelter us on our last two visits, when Rick and I first met Craig in New Zealand in 1992, and again when Rick and Anita joined them for Craig and Kirsty's wedding in 1997.  They also got over to visit us in 1994, and have always treated us like extended family, and it was a joy to see them again.

Bill is a master craftsman wood-worker.  He has built beautiful cabinetry and worked for years at the Ballarat historical village known as Soveirgn Hill, where the original gold-mining town is celebrated.  There he built the solid bar in the pub, restored several old buildings and furnishings, and even built a bowling alley complete with the lanes, queues and wooden balls, too.  He and Travis spent the morning in his workshed with his full line of lathes and saws, as well as antique toolery that he still uses on his craft today.  And the quality seen in his work is truly becoming a lost art, replaced as it is by cheap imports and woods in the name of price.

Raylee prepared a lovely meal of homemade savories - the boys are loving the meat pies! and a beautiful pavlova for dessert, true Aussie meal that was.  Her gardens are full of veggies, and with the extra rain this summer, delightfully green and lush.  At dusk we watched the wallabies bound on the other side of the fence, and Katie, Declan and Niahm were off chasing skanks (lizards) and bunnies.  Hard not to appreciate a lovely night in the Victoria countryside.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cream on top of the Cake

Jaclyn turned 13, and to celebrate her big day we booked a trip to the hair salon followed by a shopping trip in Warnambool.  Nothing like a couple new outfits to rejuvenate a very tired wardrobe, and end of season summer sales offered good value in an otherwise expensive country.  Craig also treated us to a trip to his bookstore, which meant a pick of books from the shelves including a Science text for both Jaclyn and Derek, a Guiness World Records 2011 for Trav, and some great Australian picture books for Katie to share with her grade one class once we are home.

After a birthday luncheon, we headed out to the dairylands east of the town, at the invite of Craig's neighbor in time for milking.  He and his brothers have a herd of over 700 cows, with a rotary system and calves on the way.  We were lucky enough with our timing, as Rick noticed a heifer in labor as we arrived, and we got the added pleasure of watching Dad help with the assisted delivery of the new calf.  Same birthday as J!  The kids all got a lesson on the dairy process, marvelled at the complacency of the milk cows, and found exactly where milk comes from... and not just the chocolate kind.  And after spending the afternoon in the c-c-c-cow shed, we hope the cows are making plenty more!

Rick and Craig took Travis off to the golf course for the evening, so JC, Derek and I headed on a side trip to Mickey Dee's for dinner - her pick.  Kirsty made a lovely birthday cake, complete with Fairy Floss on top.  Katie and Niahm play so well together that Jaclyn found a little free time of her own.  After a rousing game of cricket followed by several sets of netball 21, we settled into a new, good book.  Great day to turn 13!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Great weekend with great friends

We had a wonderful weekend catching up with Craig and Kirsty, who we have last visited with in Y2K.  Since then they have added two lovely children to their family, and are doing well in the coast city of Warnambool.  We spent the afternoon at Logan's Beach watching the Australian National Kitesurfing Competition, quite entertaining even in the cool wind and weather. 

News Sunday morning showed that our cool day was "good weather" as Melbourne, 4 hours up the Great Ocean Road, experienced record downpours, as a tail of the Cyclone dropped up to 190mm rain in some areas causing flooding of homes and roadways right across the region.  More "inundation" and rescues as children are swept away in the streets.  Truly, we have been dodging clouds.  I hope our cousins in Melbourne are all okay, hopefully also escaping the damages that seem very widespread.

A quick trip to the shopping center let me replace a couple of items in Katie's wardrobe, both due to boredom and damage - red boxer shorts purchased in Thailand seem to have colored many of Katies clothes a horrible shade of off-brown.  I am sure by the end of this trip, we will be throwing out many of all our clothes.

Now there are fires reported in Perth, in the area we visited a couple of times as we passed through on our travels.  High winds, high temps, another "natural disaster zone".... poor prime minister Anna, she has had a very hard month.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Harsh weather, harsh news

It was 860k between Clare Valley and our destination of Warnambool, home of Craig and Kirsty our dear friends from Victoria.  We arrived a little weary, but still ready to share a glass of wine and a lot of laughs.  Katie hit it off instantly with Niahm and Declan, and was very happy to play with TOYS.  It was nice to see her be a little girl for a while rather than needing to act the mini-teen with her siblings.  Craig and Kirsty's home is beautiful, on a hill-top with a river view, and the ocean only a 10 minute drive away - far enough to be sheltered from the winds yet perfect to spend an afternoon at the shore.

As the cyclone Yasi ripped through Northern Queensland, we were again struck by the harsh nature of this climate.  Much of the coast has been devastated, and the rain is again flooding the state.  Now as much as 3/4 of Queensland has been declared a Disaster Zone in the last month or so.  And more flooding to come, as the cyclone causes flooding downstream on all the rivers as they  flow to Victoria and South Australia.   If we do get to Queensland, what will be left to see?

Add to the disasters, we now have news of the violence in Cairo, Egypt and are concerned for the safety of our friends we have met only six weeks ago.  We hope that they and their loved ones are all safe, and we are concerned for their future.  I'm afraid there will not be many tourists to support their economy for quite some time.  Hopefully their troubles will be righted quickly.  There are many good people in Egypt who deserve a better life.

Crossing the Mighty Murray

Dawn the next morning marked the start of another big day of driving.  Passing kangaroos in wheat fields, we crossed to the Goyder highway, which is the mark of arable land in South Australia over to the Murray River basin, near theVictoria state border.  The River is in Flood, but has not peaked yet at Redmark, where we crossed the bridge and floodplain. We left the Clare Valley, one of the key wine-making regions, and passed through ag towns to another wine region, the Murraylands.  More meat pies, and more roads to cover.

We debated which way was the best choice of direction - follow the Murray to Mildura and then south through the Grampian mountains, or south through more farms and vineyards.  Luckily we went south, as we found out later Mildura had 155mm of rain that afternoon and several homes were "inundated" (they use that word often here it seems).  The roads in the Grampians were closed and the area evacuated  - good split-second decision on our part, dodging clouds again. 

The drive was scenic, through rolling hills and crops, with many herds of cattle and sheep dotting the landscape.  Then into the wine area of Lockier, where a lunch stop at The Poplars winery and restaurant .  We learned alot about the Australian wine industry over a glass of Cabernet and Chardonnay.  Fosters, the export beer company, has in the last 5 years or so bought up much of the South Australian vineyards, including Wolf Blass, Lindemans, Pennmans, and many of the other brands we would see in Canada.  Then they get an export subsidy allowing them to pass all production costs off to the grape producers they buy from, and avoiding all the sales taxes of the Australian local markets.  They are not well liked, nor respected as vintiers in these parts.  Ummm, with the volumes produced in ideal conditions and relatively low-cost land, it certainly makes us rethink our Okanagan production options.  There would be no possible way to compete with Fosters Beer Conglomerate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Clare Publlic Library

A barbeque breakfast of bacon and pancakes (we are becoming pro-griller's), and we were ready for a a 4k hike along the trail into the town.  The old railway line has been developed into a great bicycle and walking path, with shady fruit trees and vineyards along the way.  It was a hot afternoon, so made us think of Penticton and the Kettle Valley Rail... without the lake to cool off in though. 

We found a great store called "Cheap as Chips", a type of Liquidation World with housewares, toys, some food items and "lollies".  Derek and the girls were happy to find brand name Gatorade for cheaper than home, and we picked up some hair clips and a snack or two.  Next stop was the library, a stone heritage building with the best librarian passing out coffee and treats as well as unlimited internet access - with the air conditioning, and refreshments, it was a great place to spend a few hours reviewing the Periodic Table (jr high science) and some new books for Katie (she is reciting her own by rote now rather than reading the actual words on the page).  Travis was very happy to chat with his friends at home for a couple of hours.  Even the kids agree, a library is a wonderful place.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Clare Valley, S.A.

We crossed the Eire peninsula to Port Augusta, and the temperature raised to 46 degrees, with a hot wind blowing.  A quick stop for groceries for lunch and the ice cream melted in our hands faster than we could lick... man, a country of extremes (happy to report the grocery stores in South Aust are much better priced than in the Western State).  Word from Graham and Kylie in Goondiwindi dashed our plans to head straight to Queensland as they told us it was "hot as" all the way across the Outback to Bourke and on to them, plus many roads are in flood as the floodwaters from three weeks ago had created lakes of rivers, one 90 k wide and 500 k far, an inland sea of a floodplain really, with the highways mapped somewhere beneath.  As we didnt want to chance a hot drive to nowhere, we instead pointed the caravan south.

Down the highway past pink salt lakes and lightning skies, we directed our troop to the country town of Clare.  The origin of vines in the valley dates to the Jesuit priests in the 1840s who barreled the sacramental drink for the alter of the churches of South Australia.  As a town, Clare was on the wealthy transport line of copper mines and slate production, and had wealthy agricultural lands with stations shearing up to 200,000 sheep in the late 1800's.  Beautiful stone buildings with leaded glass windows and great gumtrees are the legacy of the towns early days.

The caravan park with a swimming pool was the perfect place to stop for the night. We dodged the heat and cooled off under the trees, with the flocks of carellas and parrots filling the sky at night.  We ended up staying for two nights, as a day of not driving anywhere was in order for the entire group of 6.  And what a better place to stay than the pretty town of Clare.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cocklebiddy, who came up with this name? lol

Day 2 - shady spot along the road near Cocklebiddy, WA to Cedona, SA.

Up at the crack of dawn, we went through two time zones, 45 minutes ahead each time… weird.  I though only Newfoundland did the “partial hour” thing, but Adelaide SA is 1.5 hours ahead of Perth, and it is managed by two 45 minute increments.  Not sure where we make up the next 1.5 hours to Melbourne Victoria?

Coffee at a beautiful plateau of Madura, where the tablelands begin.  Still nice scenery and decent cloudy cool weather, we are so lucky.  Cross over the border to South Australia (ditch all fruits and veggies, sadly), quick lunch since the kids are finally awake at the Nallabor Roadhouse (ummm, pumpkin soup and more meat pies) and by 5 pm (really 1.5 hours earlier with time change) we are happily at the head of the storm, the sunny side, in the seaside town of Cedona, South Australia.  We have crossed the Nullibor in 26 hours (take off hour for tire rotation in Albany), only 24 degrees heat and with the top diesel fuel price of $1.97/l.… not so bad at all.  Next stop?  Well, the Outback perhaps...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Across the Nullibor

Null + abour  = without trees.  A giant plain in the middle of Australia that acts as a natural barricade to easy travel between West Australia, where we have just been, and the Eastern areas of Australia that most people visit.  2400 km of usually extreme heat, and a journey worthy of bumper stickers and “I crossed the Nullibor” t-shirts…. And where we were headed next.

The ex-cyclone, tropical depression that brought us the cool weather also gave us a rare opportunity to cross the Nullibor in moderate temperatures.  We left Denmark with a fond farewell to Stu and Chantal, baby Eva, Uncle Rob and cousin Deano, and Gary too, and set out with a new tire on the RV for the trek across to the more populated area on the Eastern half of the continent of Oz.  Rick was excited for the challenge…. All the talk is “you are going to cross the Nullibor?” so the gauntlet was thrown.  How fast can you make the journey?  Well. Away we go.

From Denmark to Albany, over to Esperance, no need to visit the Top Beach in Australia as it was raining.  Then up to Norseman, the start of the “Big Journey”.  We toyed with the idea of a side trip to Kalgoorie to pan for gold, but they had a huge windstorm yesterday, like 130k winds ripping the roofs off buildings… what is with this wacky weather here????  So at 7pm, bellies full of Road Trip Tucker (meat pies and fish and chips) we started out by tailing a Road Train, making miles across the Nullibor.  We can only get 400k with one tank of fuel, so Rick’s strategy was to stop every 200 or so to make sure we are never close to empty, and average out the price of diesel.  We drove 1100k the first day, off to a good start.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Waltzing at Matilda's

A relaxing morning at Rob’s in Denmark, with the girls playing with Eva (Stu and Chantal’s sweet girl) and the boys catching the waves at Ocean Beach with Stu’s brother Gary.  The weather is cool and rainy but not unpleasant after our stint in the hot North.  We tucked our RV into Rob’s trailer in preparation for the storm, but according to the satellite weather, the storm has beaten itself out and been downgraded to a Tropical Low, meaning some showers and cooler temps but not the wind and downpours we might have expected.  All is Good.

Rob returned in the afternoon from Albany to lead us to the local Sunday afternoon hot spot, Matilda’s Vineyards. All summer long, Matilda’s celebrates the season with a local band, today it was Beat-roots, and with a picnic blanket and a glass of vino, we spent a wonderful afternoon enjoying good company in laid-back Denmark style.  Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet, all full bodied and delightful, and soon we were joining the locals on the dance floor, moving to the cool jives of the band….. Denmark is like the Hornby Island of West Coast Canada.

Returning to share a meal at Rob’s we were treated to some wonderful poetry, as Rob is a bush balladeer extraordinaire.  He recites from memory the classics including Man from Snowy River, and also has at least 75 poems of his own repetoire, most the length of the ballads of Robert Service.  We were all entertained by his talents, and certainly would encourage him to publish his collection so they can be shared even beyond his personal performances.  His work is certainly worth publication.   Travis managed to catch a couple of his poems including his own comical ending to The Man From Snowy River on video, and we will enjoy sharing it with Canucks in our homeland once we are home.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Elephant Rocks

After a night of rain, the sun was shining again this morning, and we headed down to the beach for a dip.  The water is much cooler here than in Coral Bay, and a refreshing dip after the hot sun.  The boys managed the swim across the lagoon to the large rock formations, where the rough surf breaks to create this safe little swimming area.  The strong current and knowledge of the Great Whites on the other side was enough to encourage the boys to stay on the quite side of the rocks.

Stu and Chantelle are doing well, and it is great to catch up with them again.  We have been able to share our travel stories, and looking back it is rewarding to see how much our kids have learned and witnessed during the past three months.  They have a huge appreciation for different cultures and landscapes and histories than cannot be gained by simply reading or seeing something on television.  We are very glad we have been able to share this experience with them, as we have learned much through their eyes as well.  And boy, do they have stories to tell.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hooking Up with Old Friends

An email from Stuart Barnes, our dear Kiwi “son”, made our choice of Western Australia complete.  We first met Stu in 1992 when he came as an IAEA international exchange farm worker to live with us soon after Rick and I were married.  As his “parents” we were close in age, and we became very close friends more like family, really.  We have seen him several times over the past years, met all his wonderful family in New Zealand, celebrated his wedding to a Canadian girl in Vancouver, and Rick has visited them in England, where he and his wife call home for at least half the year.  They are an inspiration, traveling the world for the other half of every year.

Stu and Chantelle and their beautiful daughter Eva arrived in Perth on Jan 27, so we arranged to meet them at the airport and drive together to Stu’s uncle’s farm near the seaside town of Denmark in the South-West area near Albany.  Rob and his son Deano, as well as Stu’s oldest brother Gary, have extended their warm welcome to us as well, so we are happily parked in a farmyard on a beautiful hilltop, surrounded by paddocks with kangaroos and a few beef cattle.  We have brought the rain with us, a welcome relief after so many days of unbearable heat.  And the grass is turning green before our eyes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australia Day

Up early this am for a big breakfast of bacon and pancakes.  When we first arrived, we suited up our home on wheels with 6 chairs, a folding table and a great little barbeque, and it has been wonderful to prepare our own meals rather than struggle with constant restaurant food.  Then into the town of Geraldton to join the Australia Day festivities.

Loads of events on the “Foreshore” (seaside park), with “jumpy castles” for the 10 and under crowd, sand castle building competitions, pirate activities, water fun for the teen crowd, and cake for the kids.  Katie had an Aussie flag and a kangaroo painted on her cheeks, and we enjoyed the costumes of the crowd, with flag bikinis, capes and boxers everywhere.  I think my favorite costume was a “blue man” suit with a flag for a skirt, though she was no doubt really hot under there.  It was mid thirties but the wind kept the heat bearable (unfortunately they had to cancel the parachuting and fireworks for safety sake).

We all bought a sausage from the fundraising stand, and were surprised when one of the boys behind the counter said “hi Derek”…. it was the family our kids had played with up in Shark Bay at the swimming pool for a few hours, and his t-ball team was raising dollars for their trip to the State Finals…. In a city of 30,000 it was great to see a familiar face (as well as quite the co-incidence!)

Our next overnight was a few hours south to Jurien Bay, and the caravan park had the “biggest jumping pillow in Western Australia” so the kids enjoyed the extended fair.  We prepared our Aussie meal of lamb chops and mint sauce, and relaxed  in the shade with the birdsong.  As a bonus in the evening there was a Bushman Balladeer, Buzzer, who shared his guitar and song including Waltzing Matilda, the classic Aussie hymn.  Two young boys on didgeridoos joined in, making the evening truly authentic.  It was a wonderful way to share Australia Day in our home-away-from-home

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


In the distance the ocean waves looked like a great place to play, and the sand dunes didnt really seem that far. Funny how really large things can appear way closer than they actually are. The kids headed off this morning with hats, sunscreen and water to play on the dunes, and boy they were gone long enough that we went off in search of them.... There in the distance, those dots on the top of the really high dune yes, that's them, wow did they ever walk far, and it is heating up out here, yet again.

Rick and I were glad when they finally heard us calling them, and they were pretty tired by the time we met up.... Rick was batting away at any critters in the tall grass, and I was concerned about them getting lost on the wrong bushtrail but Travis knew exactly where he was heading, it just was taking longer than anticipated. They still had water left,but Katie was starting to power out - I guess, I think they went about 5 miles all in.... crazy kids on a walk-about.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dawn on the Road, and Off-Road

We packed up the night before, and hit the highway at first light. Diesel up north hit a high of $1.55/L, and three drinks (like, a gatorade and two chocolate milks) at the roadhouse were $15.... not cheap here. We had 750km under the belt by lunch, and headed to Kalbarri National Park for a look around the canyons of the Murchison River. An innocent request for a picture meant a short side trip offroad, where no RV likely ever went before... ooooh, redneck farm boys. Yes, just like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

We thought we might stay at a Station overnight rather than a caravan park but the two options were closed due to forecasted floodwaters heading their way... geez, Aussies must be a hardy lot with natural disasters a seamingly regular occurance. We kept on the road another hour (total day, almost 1000 km) and made it back to the spot we liked north of Geraldton, with a nice pool, nice breeze, no flies and good wifi.... what more could a family want?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snorkling Trip out on the Ningaloo Reef

We signed up for a snorkeling adventure, a day on a catamaran to get closer to the Ningaloo Reef just off our bath-tub Coral Coast beach. Though it was not quite as expected (a dual-hulled fishing boat, not a cat sailing ship) we still enjoyed a nice day on the water. The day was slightly overcast (thankfully) and it was just our family of six, plus two relief- teachers from Melbourne, Canadians girls (one from Saskatchewan, one from Niagara Peninsula area of Ontario).

First stop was to Asher's Gap (named after our boat captain) and was a guided snorkle to a cabbage coral area frequented by sharks.... ummmm. After our (my) initial hesitation, we jumped overboard and were immediately surrounded by friendly fish of every color, and beautiful corals beneath. A short swim to the "Gap" and the corals opened to a deeper basin, and yes, ShaRKS! Not the shovel-nose variety from yesterday, but Lemons and Black-Tips, and White-tips too, at least ten of them in sight at once, busy "cleaning" below us. After the initial "ahhhhhh", it was really an incredible experience.

Back aboard the boat, and over to the "Northwest Point" area where the Manta Rays were sighted, we then had the chance to chase after these gentle giants floating across the sea with mouths open, scooping up whatever was in the path. Jaclyn particularly enjoyed that, as it was difficult to catch up with the current and the speed of those fish - they can swim up to 24 km/hr and if you are on the wrong side of their turns you are left in the dust, so to speak. She had a great experience and would count the rays as her highlight.

Next stop was another snorkle spot, and the boys again found a shark to follow, with their confidence increasing with each experience. Katie liked the freedom here ofbeing closer to the boat and at her own speed, and she loves seeing all the fish around her - just like being in an aquarium. It is awesome to see her become more confident with each time she goes out.... and she is loving the water even more.