Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

NYE 2006 Update

Monday, January 1st, 2007

The day didn’t start off all that well. It was cloudy and dismal all afternoon and we packed a bunch of rain gear to take down to the zoo with us. I drove down to the grounds – took a wrong turn – and got us completely and utterly lost amidst the NYE downtown Sydney traffic. NO map of that area, either! Panic!! It was with great relief that we finally pulled into the parking lot of the zoo.

We piled out of the campervan and realised that the line to get in was hundreds and hundreds of people long already. Even though we’d bought gold tickets, I was worried that we wouldn’t get a decent spot as seating wasn’t assigned.

I shouldn’t have worried! We got FANTASTIC seats in the bleachers…and even remembered to bring a blanket to sit on. From our seats, we could see the harbour and had a clear view of both the bridge and the opera house. Amazing!

They had a few of the animal exhibits open so Jessica got to see about 1/4 of the zoo before it closed up. Then they had entertainment for the kiddies – some (really bad) clown/magician. But the kids loved him. Then the 9pm “kid” fireworks went off and they were better than anything I’ve seen in Calgary!

At that point, the clouds had all but blown over, and the sky was looking a lot more promising in terms of decent weather for the big event at midnight. The same guy who was the clown came back as the front man for a “junk” band. They were…..interesting…. some of the music was really good and everyone was really talented. But they had a few skits that weren’t really in keeping with the whole mood, or the fact that there were still loads of little kids in the audience.

Overall, it was fun though. Jessica danced her little heart out, much to the amusement of the crowd.  She had a couple of falls on the cement stairs so today she’s sporting a skinned chin and roadrash on her back. Didn’t stop the dancing though!

The big show at midnight was absolutely the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen! We had a perfect view, and the sky cleared up completely. We could see all the boats in the harbour lit up and I must say, it was worth every single penny we paid for the seats! Poor Jessica, though, that’s the first fireworks she’s ever seen! Everything else will pale in comparison!

The drive back to the caravan park was a nightmare too. TWO hours to drive what should have taken 30 minutes in normal traffic…and I didn’t even get lost on the way home! Jess and Grant were both able to crash out, though, and when I looked at the poor people crushed into the busses going by, I was really glad we drove down even though it was a long drive back.

All in all, I must say we had a fantastic NYE. Anyone thinking of coming to Sydney with kids at New Year’s should really think about spending the cash to go to the zoo.




Hello again from Sydney!

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Well, I seem to be getting lazier and lazier about updating this blog…and I’m sure most of you who know me are completely unsurprised! Anyway, I’ve got a bit of catching up to do, so here goes:

I believe I left off in Bundaberg. The Big 4 we stayed in wasn’t as nice as most of the others we’d seen, but the people running it were fantastic. We visited the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and I now know all I ever needed to about making rum. Jessica cried and repeatedly licked my shirt when we gave her some molasses to try out. I had much the same reaction during the rum tasting section of the tour. The barman laughed at my sour face and offered me a lollipop.

The highlight of Bundaberg, though, was the sea turtle “experience.” We headed out to the turtle sanctuary just before dark. On the way the guy was telling us that the previous night’s visitors had to wait until 1am before a turtle finally stuck around long enough to lay her eggs. We were reconciling ourselves to a long, boring evening of waiting around with a cranky three year old. However, about five minutes after we arrived – before the conservatory (or whatever you call the beach shack selling turtle stuff) even opened it’s doors – we were informed there was a leatherhead turtle on the beach. Because we had (unknowingly) chosen the more expensive tour, we were the first group up.

A group of about fifty or so people trooped down the beach in the dark and arranged themselves in a rough circle around the turtle. All we could see at that point was a big hump in the sand. (With Jessica in the background: “WHAT turtle Mommy? I don’t SEE any turtle! Let’s build a sandcastle!) She was massive! I hadn’t really known what to expect and had never seen a big sea turtle before; her shell was about four feet long. Of course, we didn’t bother to buy the printout of all the stats on ‘our’ turtle so I don’t remember the details!!

Until she started laying her eggs we weren’t allowed to disturb her with lots of movement or lights. Apparently, though, we could talk because turtles don’t hear the same frequencies we do. The lady with us gave us all sorts of information about turtles and their nesting habits that I won’t bore you with. The one interesting fact that I do remember is that if the temperature of the nest is relatively cool during incubation, most of the babies will be male. Conversely, if the nest is warmer, the babies will be female. Too hot, and the eggs won’t be viable…climate change being part of the reason leatherhead population is at risk.

Eventually, the turtle finished digging her nest and began to lay her eggs. The ranger gave us a little more light so we could see a bit better. Here’s where the numbers of people started to get really annoying. People were pushing and shoving and refusing to get down in front so people could see. Rude tourists. But, eventually, we all got a chance to watch some of the eggs drop into the nest up close and personal. Once the turtle begins to lay her eggs, you could drop a bomb and she wouldn’t notice! She laid over 150 eggs, and covered the nest. Unfortunately, they allow people to take flash photos during the time where she’s covering her nest. So 50 people (not including me) decide to take a hundred photos each; causing us all to go completely flash-blind. I really wish they didn’t allow photography! Once she finished covering the nest, we followed her down the beach and watched her disappear into the ocean.

It turned out that the turtle had built her nest too close to the high tide line so the ranger needed to relocate it. Traditionally, they would leave it to nature, but with the declining populations they move the nests that are threatened by tide or temperature. So, he dug up the nest and we all got to help carry the eggs to the new nest. They are almost exactly the same size and consistency of a ping pong ball. Very cool!! Even Jessica got to carry an egg (with Mommy helping, of course).

From Bundaberg, we headed to Brisbane. Grant was driving when we arrived in the city and didn’t bother to ask me for directions, or even figure out which caravan park I had in mind. He just merrily headed into the city figuring he’d “eventually” see a sign for a caravan park. Then, when he DID see a sign, he ignored it and decided that one wasn’t good enough. (Although how he could determine this by a small blue sign that looks EXACTLY like every other road sign for caravan parks, is beyond me) Through all this, I was napping in the back. Finally, I caught wind of the muttering up front and the stop and go of the traffic and I went up front to offer assistance as a navigator.

We were downtown, in rush hour, and he had no idea what road we were on or which direction he needed to go to find a caravan park. (Mom, if you’re reading this: remember in LA when Dad headed straight out of the rental place onto the freeway with no idea what direction he should be going when you hadn’t even OPENED the map yet? Then yelled at you for not knowing what exit he should take?) At that point, Grant decided that we didn’t really need to see Brisbane at all and we’d just keep going south until we left the city! I managed to figure out where we were and help him find a caravan park – after several unsuccessful tries with the stupid little maps that come in the travel brochures, we finally found one at the outskirts of the city. Not the nicest place in the world, so we vowed to relocate in the morning.

Exhausted and grouchy, we headed over to a nearby mall to try to find somewhere for dinner. Unfortunately for Grant, I spotted the sale of the century at a surf shop near where he’d parked. After ages in that store (where I got some VERY good deals, thank you very much) poor Grant was about at the end of his tether and desperately needed to eat! Thankfully, we stumbled upon a Sizzler which turns out to be a massive buffet-style restaurant that’s perfect for kids and reasonably priced. Hooray!

The following morning, we headed into Brisbane with the intention of going to the museum. It was my turn for a frustrating day driving. We found the museum easily, but couldn’t for the life of us find any parking. Everything was underground parking and we couldn’t fit our vehicle in. After about half an hour of driving back and forth, we called it quits and drove to the caravan park we had decided to relocate to. Thankfully, we found it with no problems at all and it was a really nice place with good wireless connectivity – a rarity, believe me!!

We took the bus downtown the following afternoon and saw the museum. Jessica LOVED it. She was so excited by all the exhibits and didn’t want to leave at all. They had the smallest boat to circumnavigate the globe there. It was maybe 10-15 feet long and I couldn’t imagine being cooped up in such a small place all by myself in the middle of the ocean!

After the museum, we headed to the local market where I bought a pretty pearl necklace. I’m amassing quite the jewelry collection, which is kind of funny, since I never wear it! I have vowed to actually wear the stuff when I get home. We stumbled upon another Sizzler so we ate there again. Jessica LOVES the fact she can have ice cream with baby marshmallows on it – kid heaven! On the walk home (made longer by the fact that I got the bus stops muddled up) we rode a Ferris wheel at night time, and checked out a wonderful Christmas window display with Aussie animals standing in for the traditional nativity figures. This was accompanied by people walking by in shorts, and a guy playing a steel drum just down the block. What a far cry from a typical Christmas in Calgary!

Next on the agenda was the Gold Coast; the tourist Mecca of Australia. We planned to spend about ten days there taking in some beaches, and some of the local theme parks. So, we bought a 14 day pass to three of the parks, and settled in to a caravan park adjacent to two of the parks.

What a horrible caravan park!! They had a card system to access the washrooms. One card per family. One poor family had FOUR kids and they only got one card! Apparently Dad lost the card one night after a long day at the theme parks and the office was closed. Four little kids – no bathroom access. They spent ages tearing apart their caravan until they found the stupid thing. Once, somebody’s kid stuck a coin in the card slot for the ladies bathroom…effectively locking everyone out of the washroom for hours. No phone number to call for maintenance after hours, either. Thankfully, some enterprising guy got the coin out with a pocket knife – amidst much applause from the ladies in attendance!

The card system also worked for the laundry, too – or, rather DIDN’T work for the laundry. Every time I wanted to do laundry, the card system was broken. Every time I wanted to access the internet, the internet was down. The nearest phone was a 15 minute walk away, too. The showers in the bathroom had this awful mat in them that was essentially a hair catcher. Thankfully I have shoes to shower in! They’d advertised a game room that they’d since demolished to put up a motel unit, and the much touted jumping pillow for kids had no cover over the top so it scalded little feet when there was any amount of sun. Toddlers who were not potty trained were not allowed in the pool – even with swim diapers on. (A rule we cheerfully broke) We finally asked for a refund on the ninth day when a sewer line broke directly across from our camper. I’m sure it’s going to be a very nice place when they get the renovations finished, but it ended up being a nightmare for us!

We arrived on a Sunday morning, and Grant was SO excited to see a theme park that we headed off to Movie World that same afternoon. We got SOAKED coming back from the theme park. It’s a 20 minute walk and it was absolutely pouring. I’ve never been so wet in my life. We got home and had this huge pile of soaking clothing…and, of course, the laundry was broken for days so they were lovely and mildewed by the time I got them properly washed!

I think we ended up at Movie World five separate times over the two weeks we had tickets. Jessica loved it there. She had a blast hugging all the characters and is completely fearless when it comes to rides. Well, except for the log ride. She was definitely NOT impressed with getting so wet on the log ride! By the second trip there, she was going on all the little kid rides by herself. It was SO cute to watch her little serious face as she got on the ride. She wouldn’t even crack a smile while she was on the ride because she had to be very grown up to go on the ride all by herself.  The bumper cars were really funny. She couldn’t manage to steer properly and invariably ended up in a corner with little kid road rage!

Movie World had the best grown-up ride out of the three theme parks we went to. The Superman Escape was a roller coaster sort of ride that – well – went REALLY fast. I lost count of how many times Grant rode the thing. Luckily, the lines were never very long, and we had 14 day tickets, so we could leave when we got tired of being there without missing anything.

Sea World was pretty much like any other Sea World. It had some aquariums, with some massive sharks and even had some Canadian polar bears. At first, I was not impressed that they had polar bears given the issues they had with the poor polar bear in Calgary. But, I must say, they have done a fantastic job with the enclosure there and the bears seem happy and well adjusted. Jessica LOVED the dolphin and seal shows. The big kid rides were pretty lame, but the kids section was fantastic. Jessica rode the carousel five times in a row once. We didn’t go to the water park there, but it looked really good.  They had a temporary Ferris wheel that was massive and you could see for miles. I’m not sure why it’s only temporary, but I think it was what was causing some of the confusing navigation, because the park was laid out really weird and we kept getting turned around.

The first week we were there, the weather was cloudy and it rained off and on. Not enough to stop us from going to Movie World or Sea World, but the water park Wet n’ Wild was not very appealing. (Not to mention the still-leaking camper roof was starting to be a pain in the butt) We finally ended up at Wet n’ Wild on a Saturday; a Saturday after it had rained for a week. NOT the brightest move. It was packed and really oppressive. We ended up leaving after about two hours, but Jess had a lot of fun shooting water guns at people in the park. The lines were so long for any of the slides that we didn’t bother trying.

We went back to Wet n’ Wild the following week on a cloudy weekday and it was still pretty busy, if not a complete mad-house. At that point, we discovered that you need to have two or more people to ride most of the cool slides. Since someone had to watch Jessica, we couldn’t go on most of them. Neither of us had the patience to find strangers to ride with, and then stand in line for an hour to try out the rides. So, we floated around in some tubes for a while and Jessica swam in the kiddie section and shot the water guns for a bit, and we left it at that! It looks like a wonderful place to take older kids, and it has a really good section for the littlies to play in.

Due to unforeseen issues with our Vietnamese visa applications, we had way too much time to kill on the Gold Coast. (Story to come..) We had NOT anticipated being there for three weeks! Thankfully, we had tickets to the theme parks that were good for unlimited use for 14 days. But, one does get tired of theme parks! After the first nine days, we packed it in at the horrible caravan park, and headed down the coast a bit to another Big 4. It was a really nice place had some more amenities, but it was still a bit rainy so we didn’t do as much mini-golfing, etc that we would have liked.

We headed to the local outlet mall and did some shopping. I found a new bathing suit and Grant bought some Ray Bans. We saw movies two nights in a row. This was mostly in self-defense, because nights had been so rainy and we’d been cooped up in the camper. Plus, for some reason, Jessica’s sleeping schedule has gotten all out of whack and she’s now going to sleep around midnight and getting up around ten or so. (We’ll sort this out after New Year’s Eve, but it’s going to come in handy then!) This meant we were cooped up in a small space with little or nothing to do after 6pm. So we saw Charlotte’s Web – which was fantastic – and Open Season – which was average.

Once we got tired of that area, we changed caravan parks again to one right in Surfer’s Paradise. It was an average sort of place, but it was right across from the beach! We were finally blessed with some really good weather so we hit the beach, and made good use of the pool. The beach was wonderful (and topless, which Grant loved and Jessica didn’t seem to notice – thankfully) Jessica had an absolute blast playing in the waves and making friends with a little Dutch girl that we met there. She was playing in the surf with her little friend who was about a foot taller than her. I had repeatedly told her not to go in past her ankles, but her taller friend kept going in deeper so she followed. Sure enough, she’s in up to her thighs and a bigger wave knocks her over and tumbles her along the sand about six times before I can get to her – and I was standing only a few feet away! I thought that would be the end of the ocean for her, but after a few sobs and a slug of lemon squash to rinse out the saltwater, she was right back at it!

That weekend, we went to the local market. What an awesome place! Hundreds of stalls all selling cool stuff. The best market we’ve been to so far. I bought some really pretty silver bangles. As I was deciding which of the bracelets to buy, Grant and Jessica were hanging out waiting for me just outside the stall. It started raining and we hear this little voice come out of the stroller: “F*CK it’s raining!” Mommy turns scarlet, Daddy’s jaw drops…we’re trying not to kill ourselves laughing and at the same time strike the proper tone in telling her not to use that word again. Thankfully, she learned it at Sea World from some girls in the bathroom and not from Mommy!!

Later that day, I had been browsing in a book stall and caught up with Grant outside a tattoo place. We’d seen temporary tattoo places everywhere along the Gold Coast and Grant had wanted one for ages and couldn’t decide what to get. Jessica got a gecko on her leg at Movie World, but Grant couldn’t ever decide so never got one. He’d obviously been looking at them for awhile when I came up. I asked him if he was getting a tattoo and he said: “yep – I’m just trying to decide which one.” Well, after waiting around for ten minutes or so, and having seen THIS before, I’m impatiently telling him: “look, just bloody pick something and let’s get moving, the market’s closing in an hour.” He got all huffy about not having enough time to decide and we moved on to some other stalls. I didn’t think anything of it, until he told me later on that the tattoo place did REAL tattoos and he had been seriously thinking about getting a tattoo from some random guy at a market stall!! Here I am saying just hurry up and pick whatever!!

The one memorable thing from the caravan park at Surfer’s Paradise was undoubtedly the family that we dubbed the “loser family.” I think they had about six kids – all under the age of ten. They couldn’t be bothered watching the kids so they pretty much ran wild and annoyed everyone. Several times, I saw the littlest kid – who was about two years old – running along in nothing but a diaper trying to ride one of his older siblings’ scooters on the road. He had no shoes, no helmet, and no parents anywhere in sight. These people were a nightmare. You couldn’t go into the games room because loser Dad was always swearing at the pinball machine (with his butt crack hanging out of his pants and bad tattoos everywhere) whilst his two year old and four year old sat atop the air hockey game and whacked it with the paddles as loud as they could. Mom would come by every now and then and jerk the kids to the floor and scream at them to stop – then wander away. Loser Dad’s idea of supervising his two year old at the pool was to put armbands on him and then promptly fall asleep in the sun. We were not really surprised when the police visited the loser family tent one evening…but we’re DYING to know why!!

We did some more shopping in Surfer’s Paradise…when bored, go shopping….and Grant FINALLY found some board shorts that he loves, after much looking. Grant took Jessica to this weird light show/maze thing and, after she got over her initial fear, she really liked it. She visited Santa about six times but never got up the nerve to actually talk to him. She would tell us all the things she was going to say, and then clam up at the crucial moment! At this point, we were pretty much killing time until we got our passports back, which leads us to the visa story:The first Friday, we decided to head into town and send off our visa applications for Vietnam. Grant had spoken to a travel agent in Cairns about getting them and she told him it was a piece of cake to do it yourself. So, I’d emailed the embassy and got an email back saying we should send in the applications early and then drop by when we hit Sydney and get our passports stamped. This seemed the logical way to do it, as we had no address to send the passports to us when they were finished, and we planned to be in Sydney over Christmas so there wouldn’t be time to just apply in person. However, when I called the embassy, the guy didn’t seem to think that would work. GRRR. Had we known we were going to end up using a travel agency anyway, we’d have done it the instant we arrived on the Gold Coast – instead of waiting five days!

So, we went off to a travel agency and after a couple hours of fooling around with forms and stuff, we sent off our applications using them. At that point it was Friday, December 8th and we were told 6 business days maximum to get the visas back to us. It was a bit longer than we wanted to stay but not too bad. The following Monday (Dec 11), I get an email saying we’d sent in the wrong forms. So, Tuesday we head into town and get new forms, etc and essentially waste another day at the mall. The applications should have arrived at the embassy on the 13th, so we expected to have our passports back by the Wednesday the 20th at the latest. We had to be in Sydney by the 23rd because we had a caravan park booked over Christmas and didn’t want to lose the booking. We kissed our chance to see much of the coastline between Surfer’s Paradise and Sydney goodbye. However, when we dropped in on the Wednesday, they said that our visas weren’t due to be finished until Friday the 22nd. Since the passports first went to their Brisbane office and then got sent down to the Gold Coast, if they got in too late for the Friday courier, we wouldn’t get them until AFTER Boxing Day!! The travel agent seemed unconcerned because we had January 3rd as our departure date, so what was the big deal if it took twice as long as expected to get our visas back? (Although we had told her we were headed on to Sydney) Much frustration later, our passports arrived in the LAST courier before Christmas and we jumped in the truck and set of for Sydney.

Also during this visa mess, we discovered that Canada had issued a travel advisory for our next destination; Fiji. There has been a military coup and the situation was somewhat unstable. So, I promptly cancelled all of our bookings and resigned myself to losing $1500 in non-refundable flights, and having to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves for a month. After much discussion with travel agents, and some emails from the places we’d booked with in Fiji, we decided to re-book everything and just wait and monitor the situation. At the moment, it looks as though it’s reasonably safe to go to the areas we’re planning to travel. Some countries have lifted their travel advisories, although Canada’s is still in effect. We’re crossing our fingers that the situation only improves from here on in!! Otherwise, as Grant puts it: our time in Fiji will either be a lot shorter or a LOT longer than we anticipated!

The drive to Sydney was pretty uneventful and LONG. We got in the campervan at 4pm and drove until about 9pm – stopping at a rest stop for the evening. We’d bought a REALLY bad kid’s cd of Aussie Christmas music that we were pretty tired of by the time we got to Sydney the following afternoon. Because of the visa delay, we ended up missing out on a lot of stuff between Surfer’s Paradise and Sydney.

Upon arrival in Sydney, Grant promptly backed into a tree with the campervan because the site they gave us was too small. Thank God for insurance!  They gave us another site which is right by the amenities block. Unfortunately, it’s Christmas and there’s a bunch of drunken backpackers using the TV room as a bar – and it’s within earshot of our site. We had one guy still awake at 6am on the 27th singing “Hello – I love you” at the top of his lungs to his girlfriend via cell phone. Amazingly, this is the first time that we’ve had any real problems with noise in any place. We chalked it up to the Christmas holiday.

My birthday on the 24th was pretty uneventful. All this talk of aging and birthdays has prompted Jessica to give a dramatic sigh on occasion and say: “Whew…I’m getting OLD!” It rained on my birthday so we couldn’t really do anything outside. We went to a movie and say Flushed Away, which was pretty cute. They have fantastic theatres here! The seats are super comfortable, and they assign seating so when it’s busy you don’t have to search for your seat – and you can reserve what you want in advance. That evening we strung up some Christmas lights inside the camper so it was all festive.

Christmas was fun – we slept in, as usual, and then Jessica opened her presents.  It was a lovely sunny day so we went for a hike along the river. The caravan park is in a national park and it’s really pretty area. You can hardly believe we’re anywhere near a city. Tons of families were having Christmas picnics along the river. That evening, we went to another movie – Happy Feet. VERY cute. We figured we’d have a hard time finding a restaurant that was a) open b) good c) inexpensive d) didn’t require us to dress up. So we ate pasta instead of Christmas dinner and went to a movie.

Aside from the partying backpackers, this caravan park is wonderful. We get nightly visits from adorable possums – one of whom has been named Freddy. Freddy ate out of Grant’s hand, but the little devil bit my finger. Thankfully he didn’t draw any blood or I’d be off for some rabies shots! There’s a flock of wild rainbow lorikeets that will eat right out of your hand. They are so sweet! I had three of them on my hand at once eating out of the palm. It’s fantastic until they start squabbling and dig their claws into your cuticles for a better grip! Along all the walkways, there are cool lizards of all shapes and sizes sunning themselves. We must’ve seen fifty lizards on our walk down by the river. Kookaburras laugh from the trees, too. It’s so nice to be in a more natural setting after the more touristy places on the Gold Coast. 

On the 27th, we took a day trip into the Blue Mountains. What a fantastic day! We lucked out and got absolutely perfect weather and a wonderfully funny tour guide. We went with the cheapest company (Oz Experience) and I had been worried about the quality of the tour. But what a great day! We met up with the tour downtown Sydney at 8am (after a $40 cab ride because they’ve shut down the northern trains this week and the busses take ages) We did some hiking in the mountains to see the three sisters, and rode the world’s steepest railway back up the mountain. Grant had given Jessica’s child carrier away the day before, so we were missing that pretty sorely as we schlepped her up and down some really steep steps trying to keep up with the tour!

Michael, our guide, took us to some take-away places for lunch instead of paying too much at the touristy place for crappy food. Then we went to a park to eat where Jessica had a playground to keep her occupied while we ate yummy fish & chips. We did some more stairs in the afternoon (about an hour’s worth) and saw some waterfalls that weren’t very impressive due to the recent drought. The scenery was stunning even without the waterfalls though. On the way back we stopped of at a local fruit market for ice cream and drinks. Michael wouldn’t let us go to the ice-cream man by the waterfalls because apparently he “adjusts himself” and then serves up ice-cream. We saw some kangaroos in a local park, and then stopped off briefly at the 2000 Olympics site.

We were dropped off back in Chinatown and had some mediocre Vietnamese food. Then we had to work out how to get back home without a map (which we’d forgotten) and no idea which bus to take. The bus driver was laughing at us: “how did you get down here then?” We finally sorted it out – thanks to Grant – and boarded the correct bus with Jessica already asleep on Daddy’s shoulder. Because the trains aren’t running, the bus we ended up taking dropped us a 20 minute DARK walk away from the caravan park – and, incidentally, past a graveyard and crematorium for added creepiness! I carried Jessica like a sack of potatoes all the way back….BOY do we miss that child carrier!!

Yesterday, Jessica and I gave Daddy the day off and we went to visit the woman (Angela) who gave us all those books when we arrived. We hadn’t managed to meet up with her on arrival as she was off sailing and had had a friend drop them at our hotel. We went over for the afternoon and ended up staying for dinner. What a lovely lady! She read Jessica stories and even made her a dress. Probably the only handmade thing she’ll ever wear, given that I can barely sew a button on! It was wonderful to meet up with her, and hopefully we’ll manage to see her again before we go.

There was a minor embarrassing moment on the train on the way over to Angela’s. Jessica pointed at a large-ish man and said really loudly: “Mommy, that man has a BIG FAT tummy!!” On the way back, Jessica was flirting with three (really cute) Italian boys in their early twenties. If I’d known what a boy magnet she could be – I’d have had a kid before I was old and married!

Today, I sorted out the campervan to gather up all the stuff we don’t need anymore. It’s amazing all the STUFF we’ve accumulated in four months. We put together five big bags full of stuff for a local charity, and we still have a few things that we’ll get rid of last-minute. We’re all looking forward to getting out of this campervan. It’s been a good way to travel but, especially with all the rain recently, it’s getting a wee bit confining. Mind you, now that we’ve sent to big parcels off home, and given away so much stuff – we have a lot more room!

Coming to the end of our time in Australia, we’re really looking forward to the next few legs of our journey. I’ve managed to sort out bookings for the next few months, and we’re getting Jessica prepared for the Fiji portion of our trip. Her one concern: “is there peanut butter in Fiji, Mommy?” She’s almost fully potty trained now, so hopefully by the time we leave Fiji we’ve worked out both potty training and a change in the peanut butter sandwich diet! (No, she doesn’t exclusively eat peanut butter, but she’s VERY picky about what she will eat)

Tonight, Jessica was practicing her headstands on the top bunk. Obviously, she’s been told at least a thousand times to STOP trying to stand on her head up there. Well, tonight she almost fell off and I had to rescue her from an extremely awkward position. Then she scolds me: “you have to be WATCHING me, Mommy, what if I fall?”

The next few days we don’t have much planned. It’s supposed to rain all week, and we have a few things to wrap up before we head off to Fiji, so we’ll likely be just hanging out in Sydney. We’re planning to head to Taronga zoo for New Year’s Eve. We paid $444 dollars (and Jess is free) for just a seat in the bleachers. It doesn’t include zoo entry fee for the day and we don’t even get to see the animals!! No dinner, either! I had thought that it would allow us to visit the zoo during the day and then see the fireworks at night, but no such luck. Oh well, at least we won’t have to stake out a place in a crowded park all day. Rain is forecast, so hopefully the weatherman is wrong. Cross your fingers for us!!


Hello from Bundaberg!

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Hi again everyone. My apologies for how long it’s been since I’ve managed to write anything. Strange…there always seems to be something more interesting to do!

I think I last wrote in Alice Springs, so I’ll start there. We left Alice and drove north to Tennant Creek.  I’m not sure if I’ve told you anything about the condition of the roads in the centre of Australia. Not great! The main highway is paved (thankfully) but it’s only JUST wide enough for two trucks to pass each other with roughly four to six inches in between. Often, the edges of the roads have absolutely NO shoulder – to the point where there isn’t even a white line painted down the outside. At one point, the sand had drifted across the road, completely obscuring the outer edges for miles. Stock roams free and there are kangaroos, lizards, wallabies, and camels to consider. The sides of the roads are littered with dead animals being scavenged by MASSIVE birds (4-5 ft wingspan?)  that could pretty much take out your windshield if you hit one.

To add to the fun, heavy winds gust along the road and our vehicle was designed to catch every single breath of wind. Passing any slow moving vehicle is next to impossible, and oncoming traffic of any size is nerve-wracking. Both drivers are trying to control vehicles being buffeted by both the natural wind, and the cross-wind created when passing a large vehicle. At one point, I was driving along a section of road with sand piled up along the edges. My top speed was about 90km/h given the amount of wind. Coming towards me was a road-train. For those of you unfamiliar with a road train, it is a semi truck with three or four trailers behind it. The truck must not have been heavily loaded because, due to the wind, the last trailer in line was swinging into my lane at random intervals. Both Grant and I had many tense moments like this driving and each of us have had two wheels in the ditch at least once. NOT a nice feeling with your child sitting next to you and your spouse in the back wondering if you’re drunk up there!

The one thing that did crack me up was constantly crossing bridges names such and such a creek or river and there wouldn’t be a drop of water for miles. It’s hard to believe that those roads often flood completely during any major rainfall. They had floodways marked along the way with markers showing the depth. Presumably every good Outback driver knows precisely how much water his or her particular vehicle can handle!

Halfway to Tennant Creek I realized that I’d forgotten my USB memory stick at the last internet café. Great. Now what? I hit the yellow pages and after about ten phone calls to all the wrong places, I managed to find someone in the mall who actually knew the name of the place from the vague description I was able to give. Rang them up and, luckily, the manager had found my device and had it behind the counter. He agreed to forward it to Cairns for me!! Hurrah!!

Onward to Tennant Creek, encountering MORE rain along the way. It’s not advisable to drive at night due to the amount of wildlife on the roads, and we were running late. We decided to push through anyway, as it looked like the rain was stopping. We stopped at Devil’s Marbles along the way which was really cool. Massive boulders spread out over an otherwise flat field. It really looks as though they were dropped from the sky! Luckily, it stopped raining just long enough for us to snap a few quick photos and we were on our way. The rain got worse from there and we had a pretty awful drive into Tennant Creek. It was dusk and rainy and hard to see.  By the time we got to town, we were exhausted, and Jess was getting pretty cranky.

Given the long drive the day before, we decided to spend a full day in Tennant Creek before continuing our drive east. Wow. Tennant Creek is BOOOOORING. We did manage to find a good internet café with a TV for Jessica to watch. We killed some time in there, did some grocery shopping, and went to the tourist information centre where the man running the place glared at us in a most unfriendly manner and didn’t say a word the entire time we were in there. Lovely place Tennant Creek – we won’t be back!

The next few days after that were a blur. We were sick of the interior and wanted to get to the coast ASAP. Plus, we had to make it to Cairns in time for my dive trip. From Alice Springs to Cairns, we drove about 2500 km in total. Considering our top speed was 100km/h and usually we were doing 80 or 90, it was a LONG few days. The countryside was beautiful and the sunsets were amazing. Jessica was a trooper during the drives with not too much whining involved – but she napped for hours during the day. This meant that she would fall asleep around midnight; LONG day for Mommy and Daddy who were tired from stressful driving.

At one point it looked as though I was driving straight into a bushfire. There was a massive amount of smoke on the horizon and the road kept turning so I wasn’t too sure if we were heading into the fire or not. Vehicles kept coming towards me so I figured it must be ok to drive through, but I was getting pretty worried as we got closer to the smoke. Just then, two massive road trains passed me – both of them carrying explosives. So, I figured hey – if they’re not worried about the fire, guess I’m not. We eventually passed through some areas that the fire had burned, and in a few places small fired continued but nothing that threatened the road.

We finally made it to the coast and spend a day in Townsville before heading up to Cairns. Found a yummy Thai restaurant and had an Asian food fix. We seem to be having horrible luck with food here so a nice lunch was most appreciated! Top that off with some ice-cream from down the block and happy family!

Two days before my dive trip left, we arrived in Cairns. We spent the first day just getting laundry done and shopping, etc. We picked up a package full of goodies from Grandma and Grandpa. Lots of snacks for Jessica, which is good because she’s still on the peanut butter sandwich diet. Anything else we feed her is loudly denounced as: “disgusting.” Or, better yet: “TOT-ally dis-GUS-ting!!” There was another package from Uncle Mark with some chewable Dramamine that we haven’t been able to get here – thank you Uncle Mark! The package with my USB device finally arrived almost a week later, but thankfully I now have it back!

The second day we did the tourist thing and headed off to this small town in the rainforest called Kuranda (sp?). They have set it up so that you can take a gondola called the Skyrail up to the village and an old train home. Jessica loved the gondola ride and it stopped off at a few places so we could have a look at a waterfall, do a brief guided tour through the rainforest, and check out the local dam. The town was the usual tourist trap, but it did have a cool market and some nice artwork to browse. Had lunch at an Irish pub in the heat and humidity of the rainforest, which was a unique experience. The train ride home was HOT. The train was not air-conditioned and didn’t actually go fast enough to get any air moving through the windows. To top it off, Jessica was not assigned a seat (she was considered an infant) and fell asleep sprawled hot and sweaty across our laps. We got home all hot and sticky and most thankful that the air-con in our camper was still working!

Hot and sticky pretty much sums up Cairns. The weather was unusually hot for that time of year and the temperature was mid-thirties for the entire time we were there. The humidity made it feel much worse. The caravan park we stayed in was pretty run down with a lot of long-term trailer-trash residents, but the pool was really good. It was saltwater and there were never very many people swimming. A bit of a bummer because we had hoped to find some little friends for Jessica while we were staying in one place for so long. I bought Jessica a little swim suit that has a floatation device into it. It lets her use her arms more effectively than the arm bands she was swimming with and she’s learning really fast. She’s even learning to float on her back!

The caravan park was home to thousands of frogs, bats, and cane toads. The bats are the massive fruit-eating kind and they are noisy. The frogs came out at night as well and hid in the leaves that covered most of the pathways. They would jump out right before we stepped on them and scare the heck out of us! Jessica loved the frogs, although we wouldn’t let her pick them up because we don’t know the difference between a harmless frog and a baby cane toad. Cane toads, along with everything else in Australia, are poisonous. All the caravan parks we’ve been in have geckos. I love geckos. They hang out by the lights in the bathroom hunting for bugs and chirp at each other. They must have just had babies too, because lately I’ve been seeing these little wee inch-long guys cruising up and down the bathroom walls. SO cute.

While I was off diving Jessica and Grant went to Green Island on a day trip. We wanted to make sure Jessica saw at least part of the Great Barrier Reef, and this day trip offered a 30 minute semi-sub tour that is better than a glass bottom boat for viewing the reef. Of course, Jessica promptly fell asleep in the semi-sub and missed the entire point of the trip. They did have a lovely swim in the resort pool on Green Island, though!

My dive trip was quite an experience. We both dove with Taka Dive and I wasn’t really impressed with the crew. They were all really young and, aside from Chris who was fantastic, nobody seemed to go the extra mile to make sure everyone was comfortable. They were generally nice enough guys, but seemed to be annoyed with novice divers. To be completely fair to the crew, I did overhear a conversation which leads me to believe that these guys are pretty overworked by Taka.

I had questioned Taka extensively before booking because I had never been on a live-aboard and wasn’t sure if I would be experienced enough to handle the diving. I didn’t want to hold anyone back – especially since I was traveling without my own dive buddy. The lady repeatedly assured me that I would be able to have a guide on every dive and that they often had very inexperienced divers and it was no problem. Unfortunately this wasn’t entirely true, and for the first day I was pretty out of my element.

The first day I was buddied up with Diana who was also a fairly novice diver. Neither of us was comfortable navigating underwater on our own and both of us had been assured we could have a guide, and we’d had one on the first dive. So, we weren’t entirely paying attention on the second dive brief. Then they sent us into the water with no guide and a: “don’t worry, it’s easy – you can’t get lost!” Au contraire! We had missed the instruction to snorkel out to the Bommie and descended straight away. We got caught in the current and ended up down at 24 meters in the middle of the blue with no idea where we were. We surfaced (slowly) right away, but ended up a fairly decent surface swim from the wrong side of the boat. Oops. Ah well, we felt a bit sheepish and the crew was annoyed with us, but off we went and did the dive properly, with an extra long safety stop for good measure. After that I paid a lot better attention during dive briefings and was able to safely navigate those dives that weren’t guided.

If the crew wasn’t perfect, the spectacular diving more than made up for it. WOW. I’m still novice enough to still be excited about just breathing underwater and here I am diving some of the most wonderful sites in the world. Diana and I parted ways as buddies after the first day because it turns out that I am very much an air pig. Poetic justice that I was the worst one on the boat for air-consumption because I had teased Grant SO much about being an air pig during our advanced course! Although it was frustrating to get a different buddy for each dive, it generally worked in my favor because I’d often end up going down with an instructor who knew where to look for all the cool stuff.

The famous Cod Hole dive was a little bit disappointing because we only got one smaller (smaller meaning almost as big as me) Potato Cod at the feed. Still amazing to see him interact with the people so easily though. The shark feed was really cool. We all sat down on the reef (where the coral was dead) and they sent down a chain threaded though with fish. There were tons of sharks (maybe 50?) and a brave potato cod or two sneaking in there trying to get the fish. The biggest of the sharks were the blue whalers – maybe 6 feet or so in length. I’m hopeless at estimating size underwater. Everything goes into the smaller than me/bigger than me category. These were most definitely BIGGER than me. There were a bunch of different types of reef sharks, which were smaller and really cute.

I was a bit upset by the use of a chain instead of ropes in the shark feed. On our previous shark experience, the Fox team explained that they use ropes and try not to let the sharks slam into the cages because they didn’t want to hurt the animals or have them break any teeth. On Taka, however, the crew explained to me that: “sharks are just mindless eating machines” and the chain doesn’t hurt them even though they pick up broken shark teeth as souvenirs after every dive. I saw several sharks get entirely wrapped up in the chain and it really bothered me. Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, but we did see sharks on other dives in the area without the feeding activity. So, while I was glad to get a chance to see the sharks up close, I’m still undecided about the whole shark-feeding phenomenon. I’m not sure if I’ll go on another shark feed again or not. Depends how it’s done, I guess.

We did two night dives on this trip – my first time. VERY cool! The little flashlight I bought is pretty crappy, so I’m really glad that they provided torches for us. Chris was my guide for both of the night dives as well as a few of the day one – he was awesome! We saw some moray eels and a cuttlefish…all sorts of cool stuff that I would’ve missed had I been bungling around on my own.

Over the course of four days, I logged 13 dives and developed a severe diving addiction. As I said before the diving was spectacular and I saw so much cool stuff I can’t begin to remember what it all was. I didn’t get to see a turtle yet, though, and I missed out on the manta rays because I didn’t have enough air to go that deep. Next time. By the end of the trip, I was able to dive for 50 minutes, and I’m feeling pretty confident that I can hold my own on any dive boat. It was also a nice break from being Mommy 24/7 – all I had to do was eat, sleep and dive.

Grant had much the same experience with his crew as I did with mine. We’ve both agreed that we need to buy our own computers rather than rely on crew to teach us how to use the rental computers. Nobody on board knew how to use the computers we were diving with properly. It’s well worth the $1000 to make sure we’re diving safely.

Grant is also addicted to diving after his trip. He went on the shorter trip that didn’t include the shark feed, but he saw a couple of big blue whalers on his first dive. He had a much better Cod Hole experience than I did with two larger fish coming in for the feed and he got to pat one. In total, he saw six of the big guys, along with a massive napoleon wrasse.  He chased a big trigger fish (half as big as Grant) without realizing how dangerous they are during breeding season…oops! Unfortunately, he ended up with a buddy who used air really fast and his dives were pretty short….and his surface swims back REALLY long!

All told, both of us had a fantastic time diving and we’ve decided to change our live aboard in Thailand and not bring Jessica with us after all. I think she’s have fun on board, but now neither of us wants to miss out on any dives we’ve paid for, and we’ve also enjoyed the little holiday from the family!

Our last day in Cairns was pretty uneventful. We didn’t manage to meet up with our friends Toby and Stephen from the shark tour who were there at the same time. Bummer, they were really fun and Jessica keeps asking to see them. Hopefully we’ll be able to connect with them sometime in the future.

From Cairns, we headed back down the coast to Townsville. We had decided to dive the Yongala wreck, but the weather wasn’t good, and we ended up booking Grant onboard for Wednesday on the trip out of Ayr. The next available booking wasn’t until Saturday and I didn’t feel like the three hour boat ride out of Townsville to get to the wreck so I decided not to book. This gave us a couple of days to kill in Townsville before heading out, so we spent a day at the Billabong Sanctuary.

What a fantastic place! Jessica had an absolute blast. I got to hold a little koala…soooooo cute! We got a family photo with me holding the koala. We also got to hold a little three year old crocodile, some snakes, and a young kookaburra. Jessica loves snakes. At one point she had a huge python wrapped around her and she just spent the whole time baby-talking to it. That’s my girl! We got to pat a wombat and spent some time petting the other koalas and feeding some kangaroos. Once again, we were beset by evil geese who raided people’s handbags and strollers for the paper bags of food. The ducks were really sweet, though, and everywhere we went there was a full contingent of ducks waddling after us.

The highlight of the day was the croc feeding. The had a few massive male saltwater crocs about 5 meters long and a guy would stand right beside the water with meat on a stick. The croc would get up to 2/3 of its body out of the water going for the meat. Amazing! Jessica has been explaining how to get a crocodile to jump for the past few days. She is now an expert, apparently.

Unfortunately, the cold that had been threatening Grant was now on in full force, and I wasn’t feeling so hot either. So, we had to cancel our Yongala dive, and forfeit the entire $200 fee. It’s frustrating, but better than damaging ourselves trying to dive with a cold. The entire family is sick now, and it seems to be hanging in. I had hoped to dive in Bundaberg, but it looks as though that’s not going to happen either!

Instead of diving in Ayr, we spent to days at a lovely little caravan park feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves and swimming in the nice new swimming pool there. From there, we headed down the coast to Airlie beach.

We stayed at the Big 4 caravan park a short distance from Airlie beach and it was amazing. For $30 a night we had a massive pool with two waterslides, a mini-golf, huge playground for the kids, outdoor movies, and a jumping pillow. Jumping pillows are cool. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s sort of a combination bouncy-castle and trampoline. Very fun! Fantastic caravan park and we stayed there for three nights.

During our stay at Airlie Beach, we took a day trip around the Whitsunday islands. The boat was really fast, and there were lots of kids on board, so Jessica didn’t get too bored. We snorkeled on a lovely reef just off one of the islands – amazing what you can see just while snorkeling! I had hoped Jessica would try the snorkeling – or at least come swim out there with us, but she was fast asleep….again! We had a terrible lunch, and then hiked to a lookout where we could overlook Whitehaven beach. Beautiful!

We spent an hour or so on Whitehaven beach which is definitely the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The water was a perfect turquoise and the sand was a pure white silica and silky smooth beyond compare. The only bad thing was the stinger suits we had to wear into the water because it’s jellyfish season here. Jessica had a blast on the beach building sandcastles with all the kids. We brought a ton of sand toys and the kids all shared nicely. When we got back on the boat, Jessica announced to the crew: “That was TOTALLY AWESOME!!”

The funniest part of the trip was Jessica’s complete insistence that the Swedish child she was playing with – Hugo – was a girl. He had hair down to about his chin, and Jess decided that made him a girl. No matter how many times we corrected her, she would not believe us. She even gave Hugo a hug and said: “You are a girl, you know” very seriously. The crowning moment came when Hugo was changing out of his wet clothes after the swimming. Jessica looks at him, then looks at me and says: “LOOK Mommy SHE has a penis!” Both moms laughed themselves silly and then gave up trying to convince Jessica that Hugo was a boy.

All of us were still sick and not feeling much like doing anything, so the following day we spent hanging out at the caravan park.  I spent most of the day trying to fix my computer and convince my firewall that the internet isn’t entirely dangerous and wouldn’t it please please pretty please let me log on?  In the evening, we watched Brother Bear Two outside and it was nice to be able to watch a movie outside the campervan! Not to mention a new movie!

The next day, we drove south to Rockhampton. Along the way, I bought Jessica her first MP3 player. McDonald’s here is giving out little plastic ones that only play one annoying song and don’t have headphones. I broke the first one she got (accidentally, of course) and when she got another one, I bought her a real one in self defense. It’s really cute to watch her bopping along to her favorite songs with too-big headphones on. AND Mommy doesn’t have to listen to the same 10 songs over and over whilst driving!

When we got to Rockhampton, we stayed at another Big 4. This wasn’t quite as nice as the other one, but we saw two new movies, and the wireless was really cheap. I bought 24 hours of access and didn’t come out of the camper for an entire day! I had been counting on having lots of wireless access to book hotels and talk to friends, etc. But my computer has been acting up and wireless is expensive and not easy to come by. So, I made the most of it. Jessica got to talk to Grandma and Grandpa online in a video conversation which made everyone’s day.

At the moment, we’re in Bundaberg. As I mentioned, I had hoped to dive here, but we’re all still sick. So, today we’ll visit the rum distillery and then see the turtles come ashore to lay eggs this evening. Tomorrow, we’ll head to the Australian Zoo and then onwards to Brisbane.

Hi from Townsville!

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Sorry for the long silence folks -I’ll write a proper entry soon. For now, I’m uploading some more pics.

Hello from Alice Springs!

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Coober Pedy was Boooring. We shopped for some Opals and met up with some guys from the shark tour who happened to be headed the same direction as us. That was about it.

After Coober Pedy, we headed off to Uluru (Ayers Rock) with a stopover at some town or another along the way. The place we had planned to stop – Kulgera – was a little creepy so we drove on. I swear I heard banjos strumming as I stepped out of the vehicle. This town consisted of a caravan park, a bar, and a petrol station. The people there were really weird and unfriendly. Totally out of character with anything else we’ve witnessed in Australia so far. Very bizarre!

We spent two nights at the resort just outside the national park where Ayers Rock and the Olgas are located. The resort area has accomodations of all types, restaurants, supermarkets, bars – all out in the middle of nowhere. It’s really well designed and the campground was good. We watched the sun set on Ayers Rock the first night, and luckily for us the rain stopped long enough to get a fantastic sunset – complete with three rainbows. Trust us to find rain in the bloody desert! It’s rained on us four or five times in the past week! We also met up with our sharker friends Toby and Steven again and witnessed some TRULY awful local entertainment. I almost bought a CD just so I could prove how bad this guy was!

The next day, we each took 30 minute helicopter flights over Ayers and the Olgas. We lucked into some cheaper tickets because there were only single seats left on two seperate flights. Fine for us. Got some great photos, and flying in a helicopter is something you can never get enough of! Then we headed out and did a short walk up to Ayers and then a three hour hike through the Valley of the Winds in the Olgas. Stupendous scenery. The landscape is truly awe-inspiring. I can see why these formations are sacred to the Aboriginal people here. It really upsets me that people insist on climbing the rock, even though they have been told that it’s a sacred object. I don’t understand how people can be so insensitive – especially when they’re Australian themselves. I ran into several Aussies personally who had climbed it, and recommended that I do so as well. I was polite – mostly. But it really disgusts me how little respect people have for the indigenous culture here. I suppose it’s the same as in Canada. (But hanging out with Giselle taught me a few things I guess!)

Much to Jessica’s dismay, we went BACK to the rock a third time to do another smaller walk around the base the following day. By this point, she was totally sick of looking at a giant rock. Although we did get to see a butcher bird up close and personal on that walk – he sang us a little song and hung out with us for awhile. Very cute. After our morning walk, we headed off to King’s Canyon.

We spent two nights just outside King’s Canyon at a resort that paled in comparison to the previous one. The people were really nice, but the facilities weren’t great. The first thing we did there was put Jessica onto a camel named Stan. She LOVED it. Had to ride Stan again the next day for a longer ride, too. It’s a bit odd that the first animal she’s ridden is a camel and not a horse, but oh well! Then we took her on a five minute helicopter ride. The rides at Ayers were too expensive, and too long in case she freaked out. But Grant sweet-talked the guy at King’s Canyon into taking the three of us up for a few minutes for only $80. Jessica chattered to me the whole way. She loved it, and has been telling everyone about the camel named Stan and the helicopter ever since. I’m really glad she’s so adventuresome or we’d be in for some trouble in Asia!

The following morning we headed out (much later than we should have) to King’s Canyon for the four hour hike up the rim. WOW. Amazing scenery. Even better than the Olgas and Ayers, I would have to say. It was a long, hot walk for everyone, but totally worth it. I’m sure my pictures won’t begin to do it justice. Jessica hiked up the hardest part (nicknamed heart-attack hill) all by herself – talking the whole way up!

That evening we hit the pool at the campground to cool off. Jessica is now swimming all by herself with only her armbands to hold her up. She paddled around the pool asking everyone their names. Of course, it rained again that night – which was when we discovered we now had a leaky roof vent in addition to the back windows. Time for another trip to Britz.

We decided to splurge and get a hotel room for three nights here in Alice. We took the campervan back to Britz AGAIN for a fix-it job. They’ve managed to change out the windows and reseal them, and hopefully that fixes the problem. They can’t seem to do anything about how loud the a/c is. We’ve been getting complaints about it from our neighbours while camping. One lady packed up her tent and moved away from us it’s so loud. Grr. Hopefully they give us some sort of compensation for all this crap when we return the vehicle. I wanted a different unit until we looked into the one in the parking lot while we were handing ours over. Yikes. It was WAY worse than ours! We’ve got ours back now, and it’s all homey again. Amazingly, we’re getting used to living in this stupid thing. It has been nice to have some room for Jessica to run around in at the hotel, though.

Because of all the hassle with Britz, we haven’t done all that much here in Alice. We’ve mostly been catching up on laundry and doing a tour of the local galleries and souveneir shops. Grant FINALLY bought a Digeridoo and took a lesson on how to play it. We went to a concert last night and Jessica was dancing up a storm much to the amusement of everyone. I got to bang on an African drum, so I was a happy camper, too. Before the concert, we tried to order some food for dinner to our room. Wow. That’s more difficult than it should be here in Alice. The first pizza place only made specific pizzas and they were pretty expensive. So, we called for chinese. They said they were closed, although they answered the phone and the menu we had specifically said they should be open. Then we called good old Pizza hut. They don’t deliver. Interesting. Then we finally called the first pizza place back and got an overpriced crappy pizza with BBQ sauce on it. Yuck. Of course, each phone call cost us $1 as well.

Well, time’s almost out here. I’ve uploaded (hopefully) some of the shark photos. Send me email people!! I’m all out-of touch!!

Hello from Coober Pedy!

Monday, October 23rd, 2006


Once again, it’s been an eventful few days. We based ourselves in Port Lincoln for ten days while Grant and I took turns going on the Rodney Fox Shark Diving Expedition. Grant’s trip was two diving days and mine was four. I had originally booked three days, but for some reason the trip got changed to four and they never charged me any extra. Very cool! Both of us had an amazing time, even if Grant’s trip was a bit on the short side. Here’s an account of my trip: 

I joined the ‘sharkers’ at the Marina Hotel for dinner before boarding the Princess  II for the evening. Jessica and Grant joined us, and Grant was able to catch up with some of the crew he met on his trip earlier in the week. The crew and passengers all seemed really nice, so it looked as though the trip was going to be a lot of fun. Funnily enough, there were two guys from Calgary! Also, Rodney Fox had unexpectedly joined our expedition so Grant and I both got the chance to meet the man who survived a great white shark attack.

Grant and Jessica came back to the boat for a few moments, and then I was on my own. Amazingly, I was the only single woman on the boat, and there had been some cancellations. So, I ended up with my own cabin – complete with a window and a bathroom! WOW! I haven’t had that much privacy for YEARS! I had had a bit of a tummy bug for the past few days and definitely wasn’t looking forward to the trip out to the islands on the forwarding day. Grant had warned me that I was likely in for a pretty rough ride. So, armed with my seasickness tablets, off I went.

The night was pretty uneventful, as we spent it in the marina and the slight movement of the boat was lovely. I had a decent sleep and was feeling ok, so I got up and had breakfast as we got underway. But when we hit the open water there was a side swell for a couple of hours. Side swell: now my two least favorite words in the English language. I had taken the largest possible dose of Dramamine before we even left the marina, but it didn’t seem to matter. I have never in my life been that miserable. I puked more in those two hours than I did during my entire pregnancy. Between my tummy bug and the seasickness…..I was eternally grateful for my private bathroom!

Ah well…we arrived and I stopped feeling sick fairly quickly. I was still pretty drained, but was starting to get very excited about the whole idea of getting in the water with a great white! So, I chatted with the passengers and explored the boat…and waited…and waited…and had a few bites of lunch….and waited……Grant had told me that when the sharks come everything happens really fast so have your camera and gear ready to go when it does. I had put my bathing suit under my clothes at 7am, expecting to be fitted into a wetsuit on the ride out there. I had failed to account for the “no worries” Aussie attitude. It was 3:30pm when I finally said: “Um…..Andrew…..can I PLEASE have a wetsuit…you know, just in case a shark comes by or something?” (Typical pushy Tammy, but several other passengers were silently cheering me on!)

That got things moving a bit and we all tried on some wetsuits. Sure enough, the first person into the cage for a ‘test dive’ spots a 16ft shark – about ten seconds after he’s closed the front doors of the cage! Luckily for us, the shark was fairly interested in the boat and stuck around for quite a while. Everyone got a chance to get down in the cage to see him up close and personal.

I’ve thought about how to describe this for days. There are honestly no words that are really adequate. It’s kind of like trying to describe how I felt the first time I held my daughter. It was absolutely the most incredible experience. Great white sharks are such beautiful, powerful creatures and I feel completely honored to be one of the lucky few to have seen them in their natural environment.

The thing that amazed me the most was that I felt no fear whatsoever in the water. Once I had a few moments to observe the first shark at close range, it was obvious that he wasn’t acting in an aggressive manner. Aside from a few looks into the cage, he wasn’t really interested in us at all. Even when I was standing out on the back platform in all my unwieldy scuba gear and weights (a slippery metal platform covered in fish guts and heaving with the swell of the ocean) with a massive shark swimming REALLY close by, I wasn’t worried in the least. I wasn’t about to voluntarily jump into the water, but it felt like if I did happen to fall in, the shark would most likely ignore me. The thing I WAS worried about is that I would fall in like an idiot and my weights would drag me to the bottom and I’d have no air because we weren’t using tanks. Luckily, trusty Andrew or Johnsy were always nearby to help haul my clumsy butt out of the cage!

Over the four days we saw four or five different sharks. I think they were all male, and the largest was around 16ft. That’s fairly small for the area – in September they apparently get sharks around 20ft fairly often. I was able to dive in the bottom cage and see stingrays and other cool fish swimming around. There were two sharks circling the cage on the safety stop, and they stuck around long enough for me to view them later on from the surface cage. Amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring…..again…no words…

Even just viewing them on the surface was (as Crystal would say) ‘AWESOME!’ The crew would throw out bait lines and when the shark came in for the bait, they would pull it towards the boat so we’d get a better view of the shark. Ideally, the crew member could pull the bait all the way back to the boat without losing it, and we would all get a really up-close and personal view of the shark as it leapt for the bait. This is also the technique they used to tag one of the sharks we spotted. These guys were amazing. They’d stand on this slippery platform that is actually resting in the water and this huge shark comes slamming in at full speed two inches from their toes chasing bait that they’re now basically standing on. Well, they don’t want to let the shark eat too much bait, because full sharks get bored and leave!  In all the years they’ve been doing this, nobody has been hurt. Andrew has a few nicks on his fingers from getting too close to shark teeth when he’s photographing them. Unbelievable!

I will have to say the highlight for me was the one time the shark chased the bait right into the cage I was standing in. It rammed the cage with it’s mouth open and I was essentially looking down the throat of a great white shark from only a couple feet away. Very, very cool. That is one big mouth!

Although I really missed Jessica and Grant (and felt guilty about every second I DIDN’T spend missing them….) the trip was wonderful. The crew spoiled us rotten and all of us gained weight as a testament to Pato’s phenomenal skills in the kitchen. It was fantastic having Rodney aboard as he’s an amazing photographer and had about a million stories to tell, including, of course, the infamous shark attack story. The rest of the people on board were good fun – and the Canadian boys amused us greatly with their antics.

On the final day, we took a trip to one of the local islands (in an inflatable boat roughly the size of the sharks swimming round in the water) and hung out with the seal pups for awhile. One came right up and sniffed my hand…awwwww! We got back to the boat just in time for one last shark before heading back to shore. We watched the sunset from out in the open water and had the last of a wonderful succession of meals together. That evening, most of us headed out to party for the evening in Port Lincoln. Interestingly enough, the booming metropolis of Port Lincoln does not have much in the way of a club scene! But, we had a fun night laughing at the world’s worst DJ, and SOME of us didn’t make it back to the boat until morning!

Grant picked me up the following morning from the marina (it was REALLY good to see him and Jessica again) and we drove north for about five hours. Thankfully, he was driving because I’d have absolutely zero sleep the night before. I spent most of the day sleeping in the back of the campervan. We spent the night in a really bleak caravan park in Woomera getting caught up on laundry. Lucky for me (but unlucky for Grant) toilet training was not progressing very well and he was pretty caught up on his and Jessica’s laundry before they picked me up!

Today I drove from Woomera to Coober Pedy. The best word to describe the outback is VAST. It certainly has it’s own type of beauty, though. Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world….otherwise known as the middle of nowhere. I’m sure there are more isolated places than this in the outback, but it’s a pretty desolate town. It’s consists mostly of opal mines and, interestingly enough, opal shops! Likely, we’ll spend tomorrow shopping for opals and maybe taking a tour out to the moon landscape that’s been used in several movies. ‘Red Planet’ was filmed here. The landscape is almost identical to that on Mars. Like I said…bleak.

Before I forget – funny Jessica story: Grant was lamenting the other day about how old he is getting – gray hair, etc. He’s really bothered about the whole turning-40 thing. Anyway, in the middle of this conversation with me about getting old, Jessica did something cute and Grant laughed and went over to kiss her forehead. Her response: “Ewwwww…Daddy DON’T….you’re getting OLD all over me!” Didn’t do much to improve his mood…

Well, that’s about all the news for now. I’m not sure when I’ll have some shark pictures ready to post. Internet access isn’t readily available in this part of the country – and it’s really expensive when we can find it. Got some great shots though, stay tuned!!

Hello from Port Lincoln!

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I’ve just uploaded a few more photos for those of you who are interested….

Just a short note today – we’ve arrived in Port Lincoln after several very hot & windy days on the road. 39 degrees is NOT lovely spring weather IMHO!! The towns we passed through were actually listing annual rainfall as well as population on the signs!The windcatcher lived up to its nickname and it took just about every ounce of my attention to keep it on the road. My arms were aching just from holding the wheel for about an hour. Whew! Unfortunately, we have to drive the same road once we leave here. Hopefully there’s not as much wind next week!

There are lots of fires in Australia at the moment and it’s very dry in this part of the country. Water restrictions everywhere, too.

Grant heads off on his shark dive tonight – after some mix up with the bookings. They actually completely lost our booking. To fix it, they kicked Rodney Fox – founder of the company and the famous shark bite survivor that everyone hopes to meet on the tours – off the trip and gave Grant Andrew Fox’s (the son who runs most of the tours)  private cabin. Lucky!! Hopefully he gets to see some sharks over the next few days and I will try and upload any decent photos we get ASAP.





Hello from Adelaide!

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

 Once again it’s been an eventful week or so. I think I last wrote from Warranambool where we stayed for a few days. The weather was wonderful there – and has been since – and we spent a lot of time in the most amazing playground and hanging out on the beach with Jessica. It was nice to just hang out without an itinerary.

After much shopping, we finally managed to find a pair of jeans for Jessica, which are SO huge on her that they’ll fit for ages. I have to cinch up the adjustable waistband and roll them up by about two inches. She’s very fashionable! We also FINALLY managed to find a small heater for the campervan. It was just shy of $200 and – hopefully – Britz will reimburse us for it. 

We left Warranambool and headed up the coast and across the border into South Australia. We spent the night at a free rest top beside Mt Schank. These free stops are amazing – I wish we had the time to stay at more of them. Often they have full picnic facilities, toilets, fire-pits, etc….and they’re totally free!!

We had a nice campfire and climbed the volcano in the morning. Jessica is hilarious when we go walking. She loves steps. She will climb the side of a mountain without stopping if there are steps. But, ask her to walk across a parking lot and the whining begins: “CARRY me Daddy!!” Go figure.

From Mt. Schank we drove on to spend the night in Wellington; just a stopover on our way to Kangaroo Island, but a really nice little caravan park there. This was the evening of the football finals so there was a bit of a party atmosphere in the park when we arrived. People were doing victory dances and shouting all over the place. Unfortunately, there was also a car accident just out side the park and some guy on a motorcycle was rushed off by ambulance. Thankfully he was wearing a helmet, but that certainly dampened the party atmosphere considerably. Hopefully he’s ok – we never learned what happened.

The following morning, we headed off to the Kangaroo Island Ferry. We caught the last ferry for the day at 6pm. Grant had to back the campervan into an impossibly small space and almost squashed the guy who was guiding him into the spot. The guy was less than impressed and had a few words to say when Grant got out of the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t have to drive! Apparently on the return trip one girl got so flustered she got out of her campervan and handed the keys to the guy guiding her in and said – YOU do it!! It’s amazing how many vehicles they can pack onto those ferries.

Jessica made fast friends on the ferry with a little girl named Tess who was one day older than her. They had a blast playing together on the ferry and terrorized the place. Jess & Tess – cheeky girls!

Our first night on the island was spent in Kingscote. We spent the night in a caravan park just outside the town and shopped at a few local art galleries in the morning. So far, I haven’t found anything I love – which is probably a good thing. One gallery we went to on Philip Island was SO pretentious. The art was all a bunch of ambiguous blobs selling for tens of thousands of dollars. One hunk of granite that was supposed to be a bench (I think) went for something like $70,000. It hadn’t been carved or shaped or anything it was just a big block of granite named something stupid like: “simplicity.” Then there was a big iron statue of a fat cartoon-like man. It was $90,000. But, I digress…

Monday afternoon on our way through to Finders Chase, we visited the Pardana Wildlife Centre. It was really good, and this time the kangaroos were smaller and less aggressive (a different breed of kangaroo lives on the island – named, surprisingly, Kangaroo Island Kangaroo) so Jessica had a great time feeding them and patting them. A goose chased Grant which was pretty funny. They had a whole bunch of different kinds of birds, which the park is famous for. Australia sure has some beautiful birds…although I sure don’t think so when we have a kookaburra outside our window at 6am.

We spent four nights in the Flinders Chase National Park. What a wonderful campground! Curious kangaroos popped their heads into our campervan, and raided the tent next door. There were wallabies and possums everywhere at night. At just about any given time you could look out our window and see some sort of critter. Of course, for our budding scatologist, this meant a million kinds of POOP to inspect and talk about incessantly. Jessica’s getting pretty good at identifying animals by their poo.

The campground had no power but had hot showers, which is all you can ask for, really! They’re really environmentally friendly on the island. Everything was powered by solar energy and the lights in the bathrooms were run on motion detectors at night. The only bad thing about that was if you happened to need more than about a minute in the shower or the stall, the lights would go out on you and it was DARK. I overheard a guy and his son arguing in dark shower stalls about who had to go and turn the lights on every time they went out. Very funny.

We drove out to the Remarkable Rocks and Admiral’s Arch on the Tuesday. We did a bit of hiking in the area and checked out a lighthouse. We saw our first (and only live) goanna on the walk to the rocks. There was a seal colony in the Admiral’s Arch area so we spent some time watching them.

Wednesday, we took a tour of Kelly Caves and ran into Tess and her family again. Jess and Tess had a blast playing together in the caves and out in the parking lot. The caves were pretty typical limestone caves, with the usual lot of stalagmites and stalactites – which I can now differentiate between! After the caves we went to the island’s koala sanctuary and stared at a few koala bums way up in trees. I’ve come to the conclusion that, unless you can actually pat them, koalas are pretty boring creatures!

Thursday, we didn’t have anything planned and we had run the batteries down in the campervan so we went for a drive to the closest grocery store and hour away. Oh – we also had lunch at the Flinders Chase Visitor’s Centre, which has been by far my best meal in Australia so far. I honestly think the guy caught the fish after I ordered it. Yummy! Anyway, I was driving to the store and I think it is my fate to find the worst roads in Australia. I saw a sign pointing to the local public toilets and a campground. So, I turned off the highway thinking that the grocery store was probably down the same road. OH MY GOD. I have never in my life been on such a washboard road. Things were flying off shelves in the back and Grant and Jessica were both yelling at me. Horrible. After about three minutes, I turned around. It has to be some sort of sick Aussie sense of humor that the only public toilets for 30km are 8km down the bumpiest road in the universe!

That evening we went for another night-time hike around the park. The trails are well marked, the moon was full on a clear night, and we had our flashlights. So, secure in the knowledge that there are no predators on the island, we set off about an hour before dark on a 9km hike. We figured we had enough daylight left to go and look for the platypus and then hike back in the dark looking for all the nocturnal animals on the island. We had done shorter night time hikes in the same are previously and had seen tons of cool critters.

So, off we go with Jessica on my back in the kiddie backpack so we can actually walk at a normal pace. We make it to the platypus ponds with light to spare and have absolutely no luck spotting a platypus. Of course, it could have had something to do with the fact that to spot a platypus you have to be completely silent and still. Not something easily accomplished with a three year old on your back. So, no platypus watching for us!

We headed off down a more wooded part of the trail, and by this time it was getting dark. The trees were blocking out the moon and the previously well marked, wide, gravel trail had diminished into something a rabbit might follow through the forest. Hm. Ah well – we’ll just follow the river and what we think is the trail and we were occasionally coming across a man made bridge or a place where someone had cut away brush so we figured we were on track – mostly. Plus there’s nothing in the forest that’s dangerous, right?? Then what the HELL was that noise? Something trotting through the forest, not hopping like a kangaroo or wallaby or scurrying like a possum. Interesting. There are lots of them, too. Finally caught sight of one or two and figure they’re small pigs. Well, there’s not supposed to be any wild pigs on the island. Let’s just hope we don’t run into mommy pig in the dark.

We continue hiking, a little more wary this time – speculating on what might happen if we run across a big angry wild boar in the forest…and the trail is seriously dwindling. I’m leading, and I THINK I’m on track, but it’s been ten minutes or so since we’ve seen anything man-made and it’s DARK now, and I’m not entirely sure we’re following the right path. Then we hear something much bigger than the ‘pigs.’ It’s walking through the forest – again not hopping like a kangaroo would do. It seems to be moving away from us, which is good…but the trail is going that way, too…and I’m not leaving what little bit of trail I have left here! Besides – nothing dangerous in the forest, right? Not even any pets allowed, right? Right.

Several minutes later, our trail and the thing’s path converge and I catch it in my flashlight beam. It looks pretty canine to me – dog, wolf – something like that….and it’s BIG.  It stands like a dog, it’s shape is dog-like and then it growls at us. That pretty much convinces me it isn’t a kangaroo. Thankfully, it took of in the other direction, and we picked up the pace considerably from that point on. It was another half hour or so before we were back in the campsite. We spooked at every bloody wallaby and possum on the way back. Whew. No more night-time hikes for us!

Friday was our final day on the island and we spent it driving back across towards the ferry. We arrived in Penneshaw early enough to do lunch and play in the local playground with Tess and her family (Mom Trish, Dad Gus, and Brother Tyler – hi guys!!) before boarding the ferry. By fluke both families had booked the same ferry crossing, so Jess & Tess, the cheeky duo got to terrorize another lot of ferry passengers. We ran into a lady who had a baby wallaby in her handbag. How adorable! Jessica is still talking about Tess – even in her sleep last night – and misses her a lot. It’s hard to explain to her that we’re not likely going to run into her again.

We arrived in Adelaide late Friday night after discovering that Daddy is getting old and can no longer read maps in the dark! The caravan park is right in the centre of the city, so we don’t have to drive anywhere. We spent yesterday stocking up on groceries, walking through the local botanic gardens, and doing some shopping.

I bought a couple of opal bracelets and had the shop send them home for me. Of course, now I’m second guessing did I buy them in the right shop? Did I get ripped off? I don’t even get to see them for another year and a half! I also spent a small fortune on some salon shampoo that is eucalyptus and cinnamon, thinking it’s some sort of exclusive Aussie stuff….read the label in the shower this morning and – hey – it’s imported from Canada. No wonder it’s expensive here! Typical.

We saw them shooting a movie for Bollywood on the streets of Adelaide yesterday. Cheeeeeesy and very low-budget. Don’t think that’s a movie I’ll be interested in seeing anytime soon.

Today we’re going to see a few galleries and wander around the city. Tomorrow we’re heading – once again – to Britz to see if they can fix the air-conditioner that the last guy swore was working. They can’t switch this unit out because they don’t have one in town, so if they can’t fix the air-con, we’re headed into the centre of Australia with no bloody air-con! This whole heater/air-conditioner saga does not impress me and I think someone is going to get an earful tomorrow at the Britz place. I don’t think we’ll rent from them again.

After this, we’re heading into the Barossa region so Daddy can sample some wines. Then it’s on to Port Lincoln and the shark diving!!

Hello from Warrnambool!

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Sorry ’bout the no-show on the photos guys. Don’t know WHAT is going on with this upload. I’m trying AGAIN…

The past few days have been spend driving the Great Ocean Road. Wow. Amazing!! Unfortunately, we drove a lot of it in very RAINY weather! Grant celebrated his 40th birthday on the 24th in Lorne and driving to Apollo Bay…in miserable, wet weather! We did manage to find a nice place to eat dinner, so the day wasn’t a total loss. Of course, it was also the day that we discovered the leaky windows in the campervan…..

Lorne was nice – we spent a couple of nights in a fantastic caravan park just outside town in a National Park:

The scenery was amazing and we did a couple of short hikes to see local waterfalls and such. We spent an afternoon walking round the town where Jessica dicovered a trampoline park. Good fun!

From there it was on to Apollo Bay where we only spent one night due to the rain, and lack of dry activities to do around town. Grant’s b-day dinner was the highlight of our stay there! Then on to Port Campbell – stopping off to see the 12 Apostles first, of course. WOW again. We went back out there to watch the sun set – which was truly magical.

We haven’t done much over the past few days but gawk at the scenery. It is a truly amazing drive – with or without rain. Yesterday, we drove the shipwreck coast and has a lovely clear day to do it. So we spent the day stopping at every viewpoint and just watching the ocean.  We also saw some whales in the whale nursery just outside Warrnambool. There were several moms and babies near enough to shore to be seen from the viewing platform.

We’ll spend a few more days here and then on towards Adelaide. I’m off to see about those photos now….




Hello from Phillip Island!

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Whew. Life has been pretty eventful the past few days. Hard to get to a computer, but I finally found a relatively cheap internet cafe – so I’m attempting to upload some photos. I don’t think all of them will upload as I’ve been at it 20 minutes and only two have finished. So, if they seem all out of sequence when you look, I apologize. I think maybe it’s time to stop uploading them at full quality!

After Lakes Entrance, we made our way to Melbourne on Friday where we stopped in at Britz to get the campervan heater looked at – along with the brakes and a list of a bunch of little things. They couldn’t fix the heater, and supposedly looked at the brakes and said they were fine, just a bit squeaky. They offered to trade our vehicle for another one on the tuesday, and gave us a little portable heater in the meantime. We decided not to trade the vechicle for another of similar age and disrepair (the devil you know, and all that) and left Melbourne on Monday afternoon….only to discover the damn heater they GAVE us is busted. Grrr. So, once again we’re on the prowl for a heater, and a bit worried that when we really need it – the air-con won’t work! Ah well, we can always change it out in Adelaide if we really need to.

Otherwise, life in the campervan is working out fairly well as everyone learns to live atop one another. It is making for some interesting conversations in the morning when everyone is getting dressed. Grant was standing in his underwear putting on a shirt yesterday when Jessica reaches over and says: “LOOK DADDY!! You have a POCKET in your knickers!!” After extracting her hand, he had some red-faced explaining to do about what exactly he keeps in that very interesting pocket. Mommy was in hysterics on the floor.

Apparently Jessica’s word of the week is “Otherwise.” It’s totally cracking me up. Anytime you ask/tell her to do something, she makes up a reason – some more bizarre than others – about why she should do what you’ve asked. Example: Mommy: “Please sit very still while the penguins are going by Jessica”. Jessica: “Otherwise that man in the red jacket will hit me?” (man in the red jacket being the warden)

Potty training is still not working out. The only time she wants to go potty is at midnight in the pouring rain, when the potty in question is a three minute dash across a poorly lit campground! But, we’re planning to pick up a portable one. It’s high time we got this sorted out. The eating is going a bit better. We’ve found one or two snack foods that she will eat, and we even managed to find something to stand in for “circle sausage” once. Although, it’s doubtful we’ll ever find the stuff again!

Melbourne was fun. We stayed with friends we’d met years ago in New Zealand – Kerry and Leigh. A BIG thanks to them for letting the bean have the run of their house for three days, and for putting up with all the cartoons. It was nice to be able to spread out a bit and be able to sleep in a real bed…not to mention get all the laundry finished! We didn’t get up to much in Melbourne, just wandered around downtown, went to Williamstown (sp?) for lunch, and saw the painted beach houses. All in all a great weekend, apart from very bizarre service in a small cafe in Williamstown. One waitress running off in tears and another older woman slamming things (including chairs) about! Very odd!

After leaving Melbourne we drove to nearby Phillip Island, and are staying in a small town called Cowes. The caravan park that we’re staying in is right on the beach and we can eat breakfast looking out over the ocean towards Melbourne. It’s beautiful! We sayed here for three nights, so we didn’t feel we had to rush around to see everything.

The two highlights so far have been the wildlife park and the  penguin parade. We did the wildlife park on the afternoon of our first day here (after fruitless searching for a heater…) and it was AMAZING! We were each given a bag of food and told to go and feed the animals. After the brief warning about sticking our hands into the Dingo, Tazmanian Devil, and Cockatiel (sp?) enclosures, we were off!

There were wide open fields full of kangaroos, emus and wallabies that we were allowed to walk through. Of course, they all knew we were packing food, so as soon as they saw the telltale paper bags, the critters came running. Especially the Emus. I’m not generally afraid of any animals, but – let me tell you – an Emu intent on robbing you of your paper bag is somewhat frightening! I certainly didn’t want to feed it by hand, because I didn’t know how gentle they would be with those big beaks….not to mention the fact that she had babies with her and I had no idea if she was going to be protective. So, I scattered a handful of food over my shoulder as I ran away….with Grant laughing his ass off at me. Then one chased him and I got my own back. Eventually we worked out a toss-some-food-and-run-away routine that kept them at a distance whilst we fed [that one’s for you new guy] the kangaroos and wallabies.

Feeding a kangaroo!! How COOL is that?? They are very cute and very soft and kind of grab onto your hand with their claws to eat the food. They absolutely mobbed us and we loved every minute of it. We had to go back and buy a lot more food because we were having so much fun. It was hilarious to watch the toddler-sized joeys rummaging around in Mom’s pouch. They didn’t quite fit anymore and you’d see odd bits of them sticking out here and there. Adorable.

We also lucked out in that the Dingoes had puppies, and we managed to get a good look at the Tazmanian Devil. The pictures I took came out with red-eye, which I thought quite appropriate so I left it in! The Koalas were their usual fuzzy adorable selves, but we didn’t get to touch those. Bummer.  Hopefully we’ll find a place we can do that sometime along the way.

Yesterday we visited the Nobbies – a pretty part of the seashore where seagulls nest. There were thousands of them, and they all had baby seagulls. A bit depressing seeing some of the babies attacked, but it was pretty cool to see such a massive nesting grounds. Then we visited a local winery that had actually erected a MASSIVE tent to keep the grapes covered against the wind and the birds. Bought some wine for Daddy, too.

Last night we saw THE most amazing thing. Every night, hundreds of fairy penguins (world’s smallest penguin) waddle up the beaches at dusk to their burrows for the night. They are just slightly taller than a seagull and very very cute. Of course, being mating season, we were treated to some additional “activities” which had the parents in the audience doing some explaining. Luckily for us, the bean was bored of penguins after about six minutes so was happily building a sandcastle by that time. One of the little guys waddled across the sand about two feet in front of us! As we walked up the boardwalk towards the parking lot, we could see them all through the brush and under the boardwalk, and the air was filled with the calls and sounds of miniature mating penguins and laughing people! It was a wonderful, magical experience to see all the little guys marching across the beach together. Jessica was walking like a penguin all last night, so she must have managed to see at least one penguin amidst her sandcastle building!

Link to Phillip Island Penguin Parade: 

Today’s plan is to get caught up on email, and hopefully upload some photos. Then we’re off to the start of the Great Ocean Road. The place we’re staying tonight is called Queenscliffe.  

For Grant’s birthday, we’re planning a helicopter ride:

It’ll be a couple days after the big 40, but it looks like THE place to do a helicopter ride…now all we have to do is convince Jessica that we’re not in Mexico once we get off the thing!