A long awaited visit.

I’d been counting down the weeks and days, and finally it was the morning: Mum and Dad had arrived from the UK! I set off early (so I thought) but got caught in craaaazy traffic on the way out of Manly … nothing I could do but sit in it and hit the wheel in frustration, I’d been waiting ages to see them but the last hour or so was definitely the longest. Dad texted me and called from the airport, “where are you? Hurry up, been waiting ages!” I know, I’m hurrying as much as I can … finally, finally I made it, and as predicted, both me and my Mum had rather leaky eyes (she was worse, honestly).

Coming in to land ... I was still stuck somewhere between Manly and Sydney!

Dad enjoying Manly Beach

Exploring around to Shelly Beach


The weather was beautiful – after a fairly wet summer, Manly turned on the charm to welcome my family. We found their apartment, and then it was time for me to head off to work, leaving them to explore the beach alone. If only I’d had a few more days holiday – I so wanted to turn around from the ferry terminal and spend the day with them instead.

After work, they met me at the ferry wharf – typically, with cameras. Nothing like getting off the ferry after a long day with somebody snapping away at you! They were doing pretty well considering they’d landed at stupid o’clock that morning, we made it out for dinner at Yok Thai, but by the time we’d finished they were both starting to droop a bit!

Manly Wharf!

Exploring around the Opera House (and Opera bar)

Walking across the harbour bridge


I had to work from Wednesday through to Friday, but Mum and Dad managed to get out and about and see far more than I have of Manly, at least judging by the (hundreds of) photos they did, anyway. They walked across the Harbour Bridge and around the Botanic Gardens – two things that are definitely on my list of things to do while I’m in Sydney. We spent the evenings together – wandering around Darling Harbour (and of course taking endless photos … there’s a theme here), and eating some good old home-cooked meals! Outside their apartment in Manly, a row of trees played home to a growing group of bright green parrots every evening, the noise was insane.

Me and my Mum!

At the weekend, we headed out to Brighton-Le-Sands near Botany Bay, where Mum and Dad used to live some 40 years ago. Armed with a handful of old photographs, we tried to find some of the places they’d been – starting out at the St George Tavern, which used to be known as the Hotel Rockdale. They tried to recreate the old photos, the outside looked so different now! Sadly, the weather wasn’t playing nice either, but they managed to get the photos done before the rain set in. We headed inside for a beer (for me) and coffee (for them), and they showed the bar tenders the old photos – probably taken nearly twenty years before they were even born.

Recreating the old photos

Next stop was to find Banks Street. TomTom got us pretty close, with Dad reminiscing about the roads he used to drive down to go to work, and the nearby beach, and after driving around a bit we found their old house. It was fairly rundown, which was sad, I wish it could have been looking beautiful and looked after, but what do you expect after 40 years? The fence that was there in the old photos was still there, the front porch that Mum was photographed sitting on was extended now, and even the old mailbox was still in place. Dad described the days of checking the mailbox every morning for news from home, making and sending cassette tapes to the family back in the UK. All these years later, when Skype, email and cheap phone calls make keeping in touch so much easier, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be so cut off.

The house where Mum and Dad lived, 40 years on

The same tree where Mum was photographed 40 years ago

The old Rockdale Hotel

We wandered along the beach – it was fairly windy, and Mum wanted me to write a message in the sand for Nan back at home, then take a dozen or so photographs of it. I obliged for a while but there is one shot with some rather rude hand gestures … sorry, Nan, that one was not for you! ;) The kite surfers were out in force, jumping over the waves despite the angry and leaky sky. I usually love the beach but I was kind of glad when we eventually made it back to the car that day!

I got a bit fed up of the photos by this point

Kite surfers leaping in the wind

Hugs with Mum

I’m glad I got to see where Mum and Dad lived all those years ago, it was kind of strange not having the memories that they had of how it was but trying to create a picture in my head from their reminiscing.

On Sunday, we planned to go out to see the Blue Mountains – I was up bright and early, but my lazy parents stayed in bed far too late and it was mid-morning by the time we got going. We started off heading to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters – funnily enough, the same place that I’d visited only a few weeks earlier with my friends. It was cooler but just as beautiful – we didn’t go down the staircase this time (thank god, as I didn’t like it much last time!)

Echo Point

We wandered a little way through the forest, then back to the car to head on to the next sightseeing spot. We stopped at Govett’s Leap, to see the water leaping off the rocks and shimmering in rainbows on its way down, and then at Wentworth falls, where we took a short hike down a lot of stony steps to get a better view of the waterfall. We watched the clouds closing in across the mountains and threatening to soak us before we finally headed back up to the car park.

Rainbow in the waterfall

Watching the rain come in

View from near to the Hydro Majestic

There was a bit of excitement going on with two police officers trying to get a closer look at an unidentified white object a couple of hundred metres down the side of the cliff. They thought it might be a car – I’ve no idea how it could have got there – and lots of tourists were trying to use their cameras and binoculars to get a closer look. We never did find out what it was though.

Police and nosy tourist

We stopped in at Solitude before heading back home, the restaurant with amazing views where Andrea and I enjoyed lunch on our last visit. We made it nearly all the way back home until the niggling set in (after this much time together, it was bound to happen eventually!) Dad took a wrong turn and blamed my TomTom, I took it personally and we argued our way through the busier streets of Sydney city centre until he pulled over and told me to bloody well drive then. I headed back towards the bridge and would have missed the turning myself if I hadn’t been that way a few times … OK, OK, TomTom can be a bit unclear sometimes I guess.

Accidental wrong turn took us over the bridge

Driving across the bridge

View from Andrea's apartment


After a day relaxing on the beach on Monday – them, unfortunately, not me – we headed over to Andrea’s for a barbie. Predictably, the cameras came out when they saw the view, and Dad quickly took over cooking the barbie – we had yummy kangaroo steaks, corn, salad – mmmmm!!

On Tuesday it was time to leave Manly and head out to Brisbane and Port Douglas for a bit of a holiday … I’ll save that for the next post :)

Photo credit: all the photos in this post are Mum’s – with two cameras and at least twice as many lenses, I didn’t bother taking my own out!

Life and stuff.

I haven’t had much to blog about in the last couple of weeks! No big trips or stand out events really … life is just going along nicely. So I thought I’d do a bit of a general update instead …

Last week was a bit crazy. The people who know me well will know that I like to have a plan, and I had my week neatly lined up: Tuesday I was starting my fit2date class, I had a haircut lined up for Thursday and heading to the Space bar afterwards with Andrea, then hoping to be diving over the weekend. At work, we were expecting to start on our next project.

Right from Monday morning everything went awry … the project was delayed, leaving us with barely anything to do but surf the interwebz, the fit2date class in Manly was cancelled and I had a choice of a refund or doing the Sydney CBD class on Thursday. My first reaction was to be cross and want a refund, but I was really looking forward to the class, so did decide to reschedule in the end.

Things at work didn’t really improve much, we switched to look at another project but that didn’t go anywhere either. I headed out to the Ruby on Rails user group on Tuesday, which can be an effort sometimes but is always worthwhile, especially now I know quite a few people there. I managed to avoid mid-week alcohol and made it to the ferry home before nine, but I got mistaken on the way out for the bar maid which didn’t help my ego …

Wednesday turned out better when I got an unexpected date :) so the week was looking up. Thursday, I arrived far too early for fit2date, and when I first joined the group there was a few minutes of wondering what on earth I was doing (kind of like that feeling you get when you turn up to a speed dating event). The night turned out pretty good though, I left after to get the ferry but realised pretty quickly I wasn’t going to make it, so went back to join the group in the pub. I was glad I did, they are all good fun and I ended up getting the ferry back with a girl called Amanda – we chatted all the way home, so I was hopeful that I’d found a new friend.

Friday night finally rolled around – I had intended to go out for a run, but it was cool and windy and I just couldn’t be a***d, in all honesty! So I poured a glass of wine instead :) I sat outside with my housemate Chelsea putting the world to rights for an hour or so, then slowly got ready to head out. I was dressed and doing my hair when Andrea rang, to say she’d locked herself out of her apartment having lost her key while she was out running. Her flatmate was away until the next day, so she needed a place to stay, something to wear, something to eat, well, everything basically. Nothing was too much of a problem, except that she couldn’t sleep on the sofa because it was full of dog hairs and she’s allergic … well, thank goodness I have a big bed, because I also have a tendency to fidget a lot in my sleep! Poor Andrea, when her phone alarm went off unexpectedly, I forgot she was there and as I leaned over she got an elbow in the mouth. Whoops!

Anyway, I was still determined to go out for drinks, and eventually … we made it! We met a guy called Ron in the Space, he seems to be a regular, and he invited us to go out on his boat! There are some interesting people in Manly (I’m not going though). Halfway through our second bottle of wine, we were tired and I’d had enough – for some reason we decided it’d be a good idea to try and leave with it. Turns out, that wasn’t so much of a good plan, at least that’s what the security guard and policeman outside told us! We were relieved they only took away the wine then sent us packing, they were probably laughing at us though as we scurried away. Bad girls.

Saturday, I headed out for a morning run just as it was warming up, I was pretty damn hot by the time I got back. I run 5k along the beach, not on the sand (that’s way too much like hard work) – it’s a really pretty run, just long enough to feel like I’ve done something but not so long I get fed up with it. In the afternoon, I was off to Andrea’s – she’d got back in to the flat by then – for a barbie and a bit of a party with some friends, while we watched the Australian Open of Surfing from her balcony. The view from there is incredible.

The party went on all day and into the evening, until eventually I’d had enough cider and headed home. I carefully gathered up my belongings, still managing to leave behind my camera and iPod … I’m so forgetful.

Sunday was surfing and gardening! I met Andrea and Lucy down on the beach, and later Jess and Phil joined us too. The waves weren’t too bad, we managed to paddle out quite a long way and rest on our surfboards. I tried to sit up on mine – which was pretty easy on the big foam boards we had for our lessons – but on my surfboard, it was like it was trying to buck me off! Andrea laughed at me, especially when I fell off it (three times). I’m useless at surfing!

Towards the end, I managed to get both of my feet on the board – I was still holding on with my hands, but still, this is a first! By then, the waves near the shore seemed to be a bit bigger, and Lucy and I were having trouble getting over them to get out. After being thrown back down on the shore four or five times, I gave up and crossly marched out with my board, promptly getting turned over again before I managed to get myself out.

There's a spider like this in my garden

In the afternoon, I headed up to my herb garden to pull out the weeds that just won’t stop growing. I found an enormous black and yellow spider – it’s just an orb spider, which isn’t dangerous, but it isn’t one that I particularly wanted crawling through my hair, so I tried to avoid his web as much as I could. With my plants fed and watered (the rocket is ready to eat now!) I moved to the lower part of the garden, and just managed to finish weeding the front and side path, before Matt and Chelsea got home. I planted out a few of my pepper and beetroot seedlings which are starting to look really good, but it was clearly getting ready to pelt down with rain, so I decided to stop and start on the wine instead …

I put the barbie on a bit later, Andrea was going to come over for dinner, and I was feeling nice and chilled after the weekend, just writing a facebook status to that extent, when I realised the barbie was smoking a bit. I opened it to discover that the charcoal beneath the gas burner was on fire … that’s not supposed to happen, dammit. It wasn’t too bad though, it went out pretty quickly once it was turned off, and when we did eventually cook our dinner it worked out fine.

Then it was Monday again … back to trying to figure out what we were doing at work. I managed to run again on Monday night, then it was Tuesday, now let’s see … oh yes, Valentine’s Day. I headed out to my boxing class at lunch, which was nearly empty! It was wet outside, and I slipped over in my flip-flops, think I tore something in my right quad as it was a bit painful walking to the class after that. It didn’t bother me too much though, except when I tried to run across the road coming back to work there was a sudden twinge.

Now Valentine’s Day is not my favourite day of the year as a long-term single girl! I had re-booked my haircut deliberately, so after a lunchtime boxing session that was nearly empty, and seeing piles of flowers at the mailroom at work, I headed to Ebony in Manly to get a trim. I don’t want layers, so really my hair looks much the same as it did, except to me!

New haircut, looks completely different, right?

Wednesday, and we moved up to the 22nd floor in our building. It’s a much better view and lots more natural light, which is nice! In the evening I went to SydJS – the JavaScript user group, where I ran in to quite a few people I’d met there before, so it was nice to catch up on what they’d been doing in the month in between. I was tempted to stand up for the Open Mic segment – I’d been preparing and practicing a lightning talk for Web Directions next week, but I decided I wasn’t quite ready, and wanted to save it for next week.

View from the 22nd floor

Thursday night was my second fit2date event. I was a bit worried that my leg would hurt when I was running, it was fine for the warm up jog but when we played a bit of a team soccer game I went to kick the ball and it hurt! I had to run a bit slower during the games, but luckily it didn’t interfere too much with the post-class beer drinking.

So now it’s finally Friday! The milk was off this morning, which was a great excuse to have a naughty ham-and-cheese croissant at the cafe downstairs instead, I thought I’d try and be healthy with a mango smoothie but that tasted way to good to not have naughty stuff in it too.

Tonight I have another date – getting dinner cooked for me too :) Maybe I’ll write more about that sometime.

So … that’s it for now. Life’s good, not very exciting maybe, but pretty good …

Seal Rocks.

When I got back from Fraser Island and went back to work on Tuesday, my first job was to book the following Friday off for the next adventure. Andrea had invited me to go to Seal Rocks with her friend Jamie, visiting from Chicago. Work approved, so the girl’s road trip was on!

Chilling on the balcony with wine

View from the house

When we first arrived

Andrea and I headed out on Friday morning to pick the rental car up from Brookvale, then packed it with all of our cases – I had definitely not packed sensibly, with little time to decide what to bring and less restriction on space, I threw everything I thought I might like to have into the case (then added a few more things) – it was definitely on the large and heavy side for a weekend bag.

We started off at Harris Farms, stocking up on snacks and veggies for dinner. It looked like a lot of food – yum! By the time we set off to find the highway, it was about midday – definitely a nice, relaxed start. Andrea set out to drive the first part of the journey, I was DJ’ing and navigating, and Jamie snoozed in the back seat. We hit the Pacific Highway, and the driving quickly grew dull … after a couple of hours, Andrea was ready for a break.

Swinging in the hammock chair

Now I haven’t driven since arriving in Australia, and the car was an automatic (I’m used to a manual), so I shouldn’t really be too surprised at what happened next. With the car parked up at the services, I tried to reverse it out with my left foot on the brake, pushing it like a clutch … yeah, there was some pretty heavy braking going on until I figured out what I was doing wrong and managed – somehow – to get the car out of the parking space. Andrea was about ready to take over again, but I was determined to recover some of my reputation – we continued up the ramp, and luckily things started to improve.

The last part of the drive was up a narrow road, where the tarmac surface quickly petered out into gravel. It was windy and full of hills, surrounded by beautiful forest. The house itself was set in the middle of a relatively large garden, surrounded by a wooden deck, with a chicken coop and plenty of trees. If the view from the front was pretty, the back was beautiful – the landscape stretched out before us with the sea just visible in the far background.

Inside, the house had two double bedrooms and two lofts … one was small and full of toys, but the other was big enough to sleep in. Jamie was keen to take the loft, until she realised it only had a blow up bed … there was also a massive bathroom with a corner jacuzzi bath.

Jamie wanted to sleep in the loft

Chilling again

Blogging!

We didn’t waste much time in getting down to the serious business of chilling out with wine and nibbles, watching the sky darken across the view from the deck, and swaying on the hammock chair that Andrea hung up. For dinner, Andrea made an amazing beetroot risotto, and the wine continued, until we were all sleepy and headed to bed.

Yummy beetroot risotto

Saturday, Jamie bounced out of bed early, and enjoyed the morning sun on the deck. By the time I emerged, she was excited at having seen a small kangaroo hop across the back garden. We’re not sure if it was actually a wallaby, but either way, this is definitely not a normal occurrance back home! Both Jamie and Andrea went out for runs, but I was feeling too lazy so I curled up with Harry Potter and breakfast. We did all do a little bit of yoga in the back garden, it was such an amazing place to do it … although the odd ant running up my leg did interfere a little bit with my breathing.

In the afternoon, we headed out to find a beach! Yay beach! We took a huge coolbox of snacks and BEER (yay beer!), and drove along the coast until we found a beautiful, white sandy beach just waiting for us to spread our towels out on it. The ocean was warm and fairly calm, no waves to play in, just nice and chilled. Andrea had blue zinc, which she decided to use as lipstick – it was very fetching …

Girls by the beach

Chill-axing on the beach

Beautiful beach

We headed out for a snorkel, the water was pretty clear and not too deep, maybe up to five metres. There were lots of small stripy fish, and then I saw a turtle! On the way back, there was a small puffer fish, but Andrea and Jamie were too far away to shout them over.

After a couple of hours, we were ready to move on and see something else, so we headed a little way up the road to Sugarloaf Point, to see the lighthouse there. It was a short walk through a bit of forest, with a steep hill at the end up to the lighthouse itself. The views were – as expected – pretty incredible, and we could see out to the actual Seal Rocks. We all took loads of photos, then it was back down, and back home for dinner on the barbie!

Light house

A walk in the woods

Rocky view

As we pulled up through the gate, the kangaroo/wallaby was back! He regarded us curiously from the other side of the fence before hopping off to the bushes, where he stayed in view and posed for our cameras. Amazing.

We chopped up heaps of veggies and some meat for kebabs, then speared our own to put on the barbie … couldn’t remember whose was whose though when they came off, except that Jamie’s were all vegetarian. Andrea demonstrated the correct way to eat corn, by cooking it with the leaves on, then peeling them back to hold while you chew. Maybe it’s a Texas thing … either way, there was plenty of food and plenty of wine, and it was just an awesome evening sitting out on the deck with nobody else around. There was a strange, sweet scent somewhere, we all thought it was each other, I still have no idea if it was a plant and which one.

The chef

We decided to try the jacuzzi after dinner, so we all crowded in to enjoy the bubbles! It was just big enough for all three of us, and of course we had to bring our glasses of wine.

Girls night in!

Sunday we were determined to get moving more quickly, since we were heading back in the afternoon. First stop would be the nudist beach – a new experience for me and I think also Jamie, although Andrea had been there before. I felt quite overdressed … we didn’t stay too long, just enough time for a dip in the ocean again. The beach was amazingly steep, so within a few steps we were already up to our necks in water, I didn’t feel very safe going too far out, but there were some fun waves to play in.

Beer on the beach!

Andrea and Jamie having fun in the sea

We moved on to Elizabeth Beach, where we had lunch, finished our last beers, and played some more in the waves … the sea there was the opposite, a long walk out before it even reached over my knees. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm, a few clouds just to take the heat away from time to time. All too soon, it was time for the long drive home again …

The weekend wasn’t quite finished though, despite spending three days in each others’ company we all decided to meet up at The Space bar later in the evening for a Sunday night beverage or three. The weather was beginning to turn though, with rain spattering us on the way home and the promise of a thunderstorm to come. After a quick change I was heading back out, but already there was lightning cracking across the sky and I was glad to reach Andrea’s place before the storm kicked in. It took it’s time, with thunder and lightning battling overhead for an hour or so before the rain hit … but wow, did it hit. We debated going to the bar and nearly didn’t (I was in favour of it, given I had to go out either way anyway!), and eventually decided to take the car, we still got drenched even with umbrellas, and that was just on the few steps from the door to the car. It was more of a paddle to get from the car park to the bar, but at last we were there!

A few glasses of wine later and it was time to call it a night … luckily the rain had calmed down, but I walked home along the beach and got wet in the ocean anyway. If only all weekends were this good …!

The long trip home.

Apparently, we got up at 5:30 on Monday morning to start packing. I didn’t really take much notice of the time anymore, but it seemed to take ages to pack up. I caught sight of Casey’s watch as we left and it was only 9:30 – I had thought it was nearer midday!

I couldn’t believe how full the trailer and car still were – we’d eaten loads of the food we’d brought along, surely there should have been more room? Still, we all fitted in somehow, and finally we were off. Things got off to a bit of a rocky start when we took the road up and around the rocks, and a frustrated bus driver on the other side tried to block Casey from coming out. He’d been waiting a while to get through the single track road, but the rangers were waving everybody through from our side, and he finally got annoyed enough to try and stop people. It wasn’t very helpful, considering we were already through, luckily he let us out …

As we drew closer to the barge pick up point, there was a huge queue of cars. The two barges take around ten at a time, but they’re so efficient, and it’s only a short round trip, maybe fifteen minutes in all. We had long enough to enjoy a morning beer while we were waiting though – might as well stretch the holiday out as long as possible :)

We stopped in Rainbow in another queue, to put air back into the soft tyres before getting back on the roads. I had my first Gaytime ice cream, I’d been looking for them in Eurong and Happy Valley all week but they hadn’t had any. It was amazing, and I shared bits of it with Ivy – she was so cute trying to eat the last bits off of the stick, and so messy too.

The rest of the journey was fairly boring, roads weren’t as much fun as driving on the beach. We tried to play I Spy, and Yolly got us stumped with “Bonnet” – it doesn’t really last very long though.

Finally, we made it home, with just enough time for a quick shower before I had to leave to get my flight home. Boooo! The girls weren’t thrilled at being strapped back into the car, but Yolly distracted them with the Christmas presents they hadn’t been able to fit in to take to the beach. Mya unwrapped a gorgeous little swimsuit and some ink stamps, and amused herself trying on Ivy’s new shoes during the drive.

As we reached the airport, she had been suspiciously quiet. I turned around to see her hands covered in blue ink from the stamps, with a big smudge on her nose – she looked so cute, I couldn’t stop laughing – I wish I’d taken a photo before we cleaned it off, because of all the funny things she does, that one definitely got me the most.

At the check in desk, my suitcase and tent together weighed in at a smidgen over 23kg, and I was delighted that I could take both of them home! The dramas weren’t quite over though – my flight was delayed due to a late arrival, which turned out to have an engineering fault. As they announced the change of gate, they were also looking for six volunteers to take a flight the next day. I was going to do it, they were offering a full refund plus accommodation and flight home, I would get a nice early night and a bit of money in my pocket instead of arriving home at midnight! It turned out they found a bigger plane after all then – I don’t think I was the only disappointed one, I heard other passengers who had been wanting the same.

Finally, finally we were in the air and on our way home. With ten minutes to go, they announced that we were going to try and land before the 11pm curfew at Sydney airport, to avoid being diverted. I crossed my fingers that we weren’t going to be heading BACK to Brisbane … that would have been awful, but happily we were soon landing, and heading through the airport. I collapsed into a taxi, blow the cost, there were no ferries anyway and I couldn’t be bothered to mess about with buses and trains – this holiday deserved to be finished off in style!

A Happy New Year.

New Year’s Eve was another beautiful day, and another good day for a drive. This time we were headed out to Champagne Pools, on the coast further up Fraser Island. The drive was mostly across the beach, but we would have to cross a sand blow, where many people apparently got bogged (stuck in sand) in their cars.

Driving across the sand

Adjusting tyres for soft sand is boys work

Put that thing away!

Tides were smaller and the sand on the beach was drying out, and driving wasn’t as smooth as the nice wet sand at a big low tide, so we were all getting thrown around. The girls didn’t seem bothered at all, they either slept or giggled through the bumps.

As we approached the sand blow, we stopped to let the tyres on the car down a little further, to cope better with the soft sand. I was actually getting a bit apprehensive and excited, but the whole thing turned out to be a big anti climax – the path had been boarded and was far shorter than I’d thought, so we were through with no problems in no time at all!

Champagne Pools turned out to be closer than we’d thought, so much so that everybody kept driving up the track until we realised we should turn around and go back. A short walk through the trees, and there were beautiful views across the water and down, into a rocky pool washed over by the waves, the abundance of white foam giving it its name. The tide was high, and although we all wanted to go and cool off in the water, it was too dangerous for the little ones. We explored for a while, then we were off – this time, heading for the very end of the island.

Champagne pools from above

A little further along the beach, and we had to take a detour around more crazy rocks. It was only a short way up the track that we came to a steep part of the track with a sharp bend at the top – Yolly jumped out to video, as Anthony finally got up on his fifth attempt. Casey and Phil managed it in two – they must have learned from watching him! We carried on for a while, but eventually got to a part of the beach that we just couldn’t get across, so turned around to go back. Going back along the same track, and going back up that hill, at the point where we crested it I couldn’t see anything out of the window except sky. I think I closed my eyes.

4x4 driving

Along the way, we found a great spot to stop, with a big rock pool full of sun-warmed seawater, and plenty of space to park and set up a picnic. I had my first proper try at fishing – Casey had showed me briefly how to swing the rod to cast a line, and now I had a go at baiting the hook with a bit of sandworm. I was proud of the job I did – it was definitely far better than my attempts at fishing! The only thing I caught was Casey’s line … oh well, the others weren’t doing much better, they caught one or two very small fish but nothing worth eating.

I learned to bait a hook

Ivy loves the water

Quackers has a swim too

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Ely Creek for a swim, in water I was promised was “icy cold”!

When we reached the creek, there were loads of people playing in it, and I wondered how they could stand it if it was as cold as all that. There was a pool of murky water alongside it, and I dipped a toe in cautiously, only to find it was like a warm bath! Apparently that wasn’t the cold bit though – the creek is all freshwater, fed by springs from further up in the hills of the island. It flows down to the ocean, and a fun thing to do is to float down it from the furthest point we could go to.

Yolly was too cold to go in, so she and Steph wandered up the path while the rest of us waded up the creek. It wasn’t very deep, mostly up to my knees, and it was definitely colder than the ocean but “icy” would have been a small exaggeration :) That said … getting the top half of my body under that water made me shriek a bit, when it was time to turn around and float back! Once we were in though, it wasn’t bad at all – it was shallow enough to use hands on the bottom to keep ourselves afloat, and move gently with the current.

Floating down the river!

Tyler and Mya get in the water

Walking up the creek

After the creek, the warm pool next to it felt even more like a hot bath! I paddled through it back to the car, and it was off home again. Tonight, we’d all be getting into party mode for New Year’s Eve!

There was plenty of beer and wine flowing, and that wasn’t all – Ploy made up three cups of Jaeger cocktails, with Red Bull and passed them to me and Yolly. “One of them is about half Jaeger …” she said – well, guess who got that one! Luckily Yolly was on form and finished most of it for me – bleurgh! We gave the kids sparklers before they went off to bed – at first, Mya was a bit unsure, but she soon wanted more of them.

As the night progressed, we were getting sillier – I was almost falling asleep, so got a small crab thrown at me (I managed not to get too girly about it). At midnight, our neighbours lit fireworks on the beach – well, three, anyway. I think I prefer that to a long, noisy display though! Steph had woken up in time for midnight, and we all wished each other a happy new year, then I couldn’t stay awake any more – what a lightweight.

New Year’s Day was pretty chilled. We went to Ely Creek again, but I couldn’t bring myself to get into the cold water again. Anthony dug a hole in the sand near the bank, and the kids played in it, then they caught a small fish flopping around in it. I took advantage of the chairs under the shade of the marquee we’d brought to catch up with Harry Potter on my Kindle and top up my tan, while munching on sweets … lovely!

Finally caught one!

All too soon, the last day was over. Phil and Ploy had already left earlier in the morning, and I snuggled into my tent. It was sad that it was almost all over, but it had been such a good two weeks I couldn’t feel too bad. Plus, there was still the long drive home across the beach to look forward to :)

Intrepid Explorers.

We were up bright and early(ish), breakfasted and packing the cars for Lake MacKenzie on Tuesday. I didn’t bother with checking the time to get up, just dozed in bed until I could hear the girls outside – far better than any alarm clock. We packed up the floaty toys, chairs, towels and food and headed out via Eurong.

I had managed to get sunburn on my bum (well, the bit of it near my bikini bottoms … apologies for the detail), so when we stopped in Eurong, I took the opportunity to look for a new pair of board shorts to protect the area from further damage :) Yolly was also shopping for a new bikini, so we finally left for the lake with our bags a little later than planned.

Yolly watches over the water

I didn’t really know where we were going, I guess I’d expected that we’d just drive a bit further up the beach, but it turned out that we were going further inland – over more of the same bumpy tracks that led into Eurong and Happy Valley. Some of them were REALLY bumpy … I wanted to hang on tight, but after a while I got more used to it. I’m not sure that kind of driving is my cup of tea :)

Finally we were there, looking for a place to park. Three cars had taken up enough space for six, and everybody else was complaining about their lack of consideration – even other drivers on their way in commented to us as we walked back across the car park. There were signs everywhere warning us not to take food on to the beach, so as not to encourage the dingoes in the area to get too close to humans.

Yolly, Casey and the girls!

This is my cross face

Playing on the lilo with Mum

Lake MacKenzie is a freshwater lake, fed only by rainfall, which meant it the water was pretty warm! There are turtles, but I didn’t see any – I borrowed Anthony’s snorkel for a nosy underwater, but my ears were still stuffed up from my recent cold, and the water wasn’t clear but there didn’t seem to be much life in it. As I swam further out, there were patches where it grew suddenly cold and warm again, but it didn’t seem very deep – maybe three or four metres at the most.

The surroundings were beautiful – soft white sand, turquoise green lake and warm sunshine beating down on us, while we all splashed around and enjoyed the cool water. I tried to laze on Ploy’s lilo and floaty seat, but Casey and Anthony managed to catch me unaware and push me off … twice. Even when they grow up, boys will still be boys.

Beautiful!

We left the lake in the early afternoon to head back to camp, where the younger kids could sleep for a bit as they were starting to get cranky. Ivy and Mya dozed off in the car, their little heads rocking along the bumps without stirring. Off for another lazy afternoon of reading in the sun, and playing in the sea …

Later in the afternoon, Anthony predicted that we would be hit by a storm, so Steph helped me to dig in some extra pegs for my tent, which had been moved to make room for Phil’s the previous day. The rain took longer than anticipated, but shortly after dark we could see lightning flashing out to sea, and not long after we were being blasted.

Enjoying the play doh as much as the kids

Play Doh!

Squidgy

On Wednesday, other than a trip out to town to get food and water, and dump rubbish bags, we stayed at the camp site. Ploy brought out an amazing Play-Doh Sushi set, and we sat down with the kids to create something appetising … Phoebe found the Play Doh itself quite tasty though, and we had to try and encourage her to create instead of eat. The sushi pieces were complicated for Ploy and I, let alone the younger ones – although Tyler made some pretty good rice-like creations. I made a turtle, which only Zeb correctly identified. They all seemed to enjoy it, but I do think I probably had at least as much, if not more fun than any of the kids …

The weather was damp and grey on Thursday, and together with Steph and Anthony and their family, we headed out to explore more of the island (and more of it’s bumpy tracks …)

Down the slide with mummy!

Not sure if that's a look of enjoyment ...

A huge ladder for a little girl, but she managed it!

We started by heading over to Kingfisher Bay on the other side of the island, where we found a shop, and a park. The girls and Zeb had a lot of fun on the climbing frame and slide, I also tried out the slide and swing! Back in the car, it was off for a drive further around the island – “Exploring”, Casey and Anthony said … or rather, dozing in the front seat for me.

We “explored” some pretty bumpy tracks – Yolly took over the wheel for a while, and I heard vague conversations about quicksand while I was dozing … or was that a dream? There was some beautiful scenery – we visited a small creek and a beach, then headed back – on the bumpy, scenic route again.

Bumpy tracks

Back at the campsite, Phil told us it had been drizzling all day – at least we’d got some dry and half decent weather on the other side of the island. Another day on the beach finished in much the same way as the others – a lazy, chilled out meal, wine, and falling into bed to the sound of the waves …

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear – finally, the beautiful sunny weather we’d been hoping for! We walked up the sandy track to the beach, where the wind was still strong and blowing foam along the shore – it was beautiful.

View across the dunes

Deserted beach

Christmas morning on the beach

After breakfast it was time for presents! I had more than anybody :) As well as a gift from Rachel and Yolly’s mum Claire, my parents had sent me a parcel, and when I unwrapped it, it had a Christmas stocking with four more small things inside! I felt spoilt. It was strange being so far from my family though, and I had a few tears over the card they’d sent, but was glad to have Yolly around – and you can’t stay sad for long around the girls, they usually manage to do something funny.

Yolly and Casey had bought the girls a paddling pool so we set it up and started carrying buckets of water from the sea. Well I say “we” … I managed one, then tried to help carry a bigger box of water, but it was just too heavy! So the others were left carting up the buckets …

We tried to take them into the sea but they were still too scared of it, which probably wasn’t a bad thing given the size of the waves.

It was a lovely day. I can’t say that it felt like any other Christmas Day, because that usually involves far colder weather, mostly staying indoors except for a crisp walk outside, and plenty of bad TV … well, we didn’t have any of that! We did have plenty of chocolate though, which Ivy in particular seemed to love.

Chocolate heaven!

We also had some fun and games with water pistols! Yolly had bought some small ones for the girls, and a huge Nerf water gun for Casey – unfortunately, it turned out to need batteries, and they couldn’t find them in the mountains of stuff they’d packed. Later on, Yolly discovered the batteries, and hunted for a screw driver to fit them – we giggled as she planned to ambush him later on with it. It wasn’t to be though – Casey got the better of us and found the batteries first, so Yolly was the one who got chased across the sand by a stream of icy water. I’m far too lazy, so I just got wet.

Armed and ready

Which way did he go?

Lara Croft!

While the girls played in the sand and the pool, Casey, obviously missing work, began digging sandy holes around the pool. Of course Mya wanted to join in with everything he did, so he buried her sitting in sand, up to her arms. Mya loved it, but looked quite relieved to climb out at the end.

Where did Mya go? (and what is Ivy eating? Sand ... again?)

Then it was Yolly’s turn – this would need a bigger hole … we decided to bury her all the way up to her neck, and hide her face with the hat. Ivy was quite confused as to where the rest of her mum had gone!

About to put the sand back ...

Sharing secrets

I can still see you, mummy

We headed out in the afternoon to fill the water bottles and buy bread in Eurong – when we visited the bakery the day before, they’d said it would be open – but we didn’t get very far, before a fallen tree blocked the beach at the rocky area. We headed in the opposite direction to Happy Valley, where we could at least get water, but no shops were open. Along the way, we had to take a detour at Yidney Rocks to get around the rocky beach, since the water was too high – although the bumpy track up and around was almost as bad.

Christmas dinner was steak – no turkey in the campsite, but we did have wine. The cardboard wine boxes disintegrated pretty quickly inside the ice box, but that wasn’t going to stop us – we just had to squeeze it out of the freezing, dribbling bags instead.

On Boxing Day, the group was to expand: Steph and Anthony would be joining us with their two young kids (plus Steph’s bump), and Phil and his girlfriend Ploy would be coming with her son Tyler, who would be the oldest at 6. Casey was watching the tide in the morning and trying to guess what time they’d arrive, when suddenly two huge 4x4s and a trailer swung over the sandy track and pulled up waving. They’d arrived!

Phoebe and the other kids have arrived

They piled out of the cars, mostly looking for somewhere to cool down – it was already steaming hot. After the excitement died down a bit, we moved the marquee up to the sandy track and took the kids up with buckets and spades. The boys congregated around the tents to erect two huge tarps across the entire area. I decided it was far better to keep out of the way until the job was done, there were more than enough of them to handle it, and judging by how long it took to decide them how and where to put it, there were already too many cooks … :)

When it was done, it was pretty impressive – three huge tents plus my smaller one, with the area in between all covered so that we had a nice area to sit that would be dry or shady, depending on what the weather was doing.

With the hard work over, plans were made for the next day when we would all head out to Lake MacKenzie. I had seen the photos and I was excited, especially when Steph said it was her favourite place to go. Just one more sleep …

Setting up camp.

By 4:30am the car was packed and ready to go: three adults plus two child seats, a car full of camping stuff and a huge trailer behind it. I was curled up between them in the back with my head resting on the pillows stuffed behind the seats, ready to catch a couple more hours kip before we arrived. We didn’t make it more than a hundred yards though before we had to go back for Casey’s sunglasses … lucky it wasn’t mine.

It rained as we drove through Queensland for a couple of hours before stopping off for breakfast at a little cafe, we were so hungry by then. Casey kept saying how late we were (what? It was still not even 7am! How could this be late?) Yolly and I swapped places in the car, and she stretched her feet out between the front seats while we teased her. A little later we stopped off in Rainbow to buy bread and milk … and Yolly and I found a cute little souvenir shop, we were in there for ages looking at hats, headbands, hippie bracelets and gifts … Casey was not very impressed! I was already leading my cousin astray :)

Just a bit further and we were on Rainbow Beach, where Casey’s father was camping out with some of his grandchildren. He had a great setup with an enormous tent, and even canvas shelves for clothes, so we settled in for a nice cuppa. It was still drizzling with rain and the beach didn’t look too inviting … I hoped the weather would clear up … it didn’t seem to bother the kids though, they were soon running around in the sand. The older ones wound Ivy up offering her crisps through the fly screen, she couldn’t understand quite why she couldn’t reach them, but was laughing along with all the others!

Casey dropped the tyre pressure, and then we were off across a more track that grew steadily more sandy and less road-like. “That’s it now, beach all the way!” he said – we must be nearly there then, I thought, hooray! The barge that would take us across to Fraser Island fitted about ten cars with trailers and we were almost last on so there wasn’t even a wait to leave. It was all open, so we could stand outside the car and watch the ocean (and of course, check in on Facebook).

It was all over very quickly, and we were on the Island, driving along the beach! This was pretty thrilling, especially since there were actually speed limit signs on the edge of the dunes (80kph) – I’d never been on a beach highway before. It was kind of bumpy when we hit little streams of water, but still raining and low tide so the sand was fairly hard packed. Still, it wasn’t driving for wusses – or ordinary cars either, all the ones that we passed were large 4x4s.

To my surprise, we had about an hour to drive before we’d reach a campsite – the first part of the beach was wide open to the tide and the sand was washed up and back all the time, so camping wasn’t really advisable … finally after checking out a couple of sites, Casey discovered one that they had used before and enjoyed, and Yolly drove the trailer into position. It was raining buckets, and we were about to start putting up the tent.

The main part of the tent unfolded from the trailer, and once it was up, the kids could get out of the car and sit in it while we put up the rest of it. Poor Yolly was freezing, and had to go for a quick run to try and warm up, but it wasn’t until we could get under the tent and get dry clothes on that she stopped shivering.

Our camp was finally all set up - my tent on the left, Yolly and Casey's on the right and the shower in the middle!

Finally, though, it was all done! I was actually looking forward to sleeping under the sound of the rain. My smaller tent was put up close by, and the shower tent (oh yes, people, this was luxury camping) just around the back. Casey rigged up the generator, and we even had electric lights!

The rain stopped in the evening and we sat outside for a while, but it wasn’t really very warm and we ended up inside the tents. After the early start, and a cheeky glass or two of wine, we were all off to an early bed. Before I headed out to my tent, Casey asked me if I knew about the dingoes. I thought he was kidding … “You probably won’t see one, but if you do, just stand your ground and he’ll run away. They’re more scared of us than we are of them. Just don’t run … ” Yeah right, I thought, I just won’t leave the safety of my tent!

Mya peeking out from behind my tent

The weather wasn’t done with us. There was a cyclone off of the coast whipping up huge waves, with swells up to four metres high, apparently. The wind was furious. Just after I set off to my own tent, I heard the pattering of rain on the roof, and snuggled up in the bed to go to sleep to it …

… but not for long. In the small hours of the morning, I woke up to rain hammering angrily on my tent, the wind howling and soon after, thunder and flashes of lightning. Without quite enough pegs, the fly was sagging on to the inside of the tent and dribbling water down the sides, so that the edges of my bed were starting to get damp. I debated whether to try and get into the bigger tent, but it wasn’t cold and I wasn’t really wet … although as the rain continued to splatter me, and I had to move my pillows to avoid the odd drip, I almost did.

I heard movement and saw lights outside of my tent around two AM, then Casey shouted in to ask if I was dry. “Mostly!” I said, “But I bet you’re not …” I couldn’t work out what he was doing outside, but he seemed to be dragging something, and he was out there for ages, as the thunder cracked and the rain continued to pelt on all of us. Finally it seemed to ease a little, and I fell back to sleep.

The next morning, there was a huge tarp stretched across the big tent that hadn’t been there the night before. So that’s what Casey had been doing during the night … it turned out that the bigger tent had been leaking quite badly, and they’d had a couple of inches of rain on the floor. It was still soaking in there, although at least with the extra protection over the roof, no more had got in. We spent the morning emptying out the water and wet sand, first of all with buckets, then dustpan and brush and finally rags to clean out the last of it. There was no lasting damage, just a damp start to the holiday.

Christmas Eve continued to be grey and windy, with huge waves. It was a spring tide too with no moon, so at high tide the waves were crashing right up to the dunes. We did manage to get a bit of a paddle in the ocean, but both of the girls were scared to go in.

As the day drew to a close, we watched the patches of blue sky that were slowly appearing, and hoped that Santa would bring us sunshine for Christmas Day :)

A birthday with a difference.

As an English girl born in December, one thing I never expected to experience was walking home along a damp, deserted beach on my birthday, with a warm, gentle ocean lapping at my knees.

It’s funny how I never really paid much thought, when I was moving to Australia, to the fact that I would no longer have a winter birthday. It wasn’t until a week or two before that one of my friends remarked that I was now a summer birthday, that I suddenly realised it.

My date of birth is one thing I could never change, and many years ago I stopped bothering to envy my August-born brother for having a birthday in the middle of the summer holidays, guaranteed never to be at school and to be warmer than mine. Thank God school finished a long time ago.

Apparently, though: I can change the seasons in which I live – and in Australia, December 19th falls in the summer.

My birthday was wet and rainy, but not cold. After a night out near the wharf, I walked home, crossing the road at South Steyne, and descended the stone steps. With the storms and heavy rain, the sand was damp and cool, and the tide was low across the shore.

I walked diagonally to the water until I met it, foaming over my feet and ankles, deepening quickly until the back of my silk skirt was salty and wet. Viv gave me a crystal for my birthday with instructions to wash it in salt water, so I leaned forward to dunk it (carefully holding my handbag back).

The waves were crossing each other: towards and from behind me as I walked along the shore through the breaking white water.

I love the ocean. It never stops: it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life or anybody else’s; the waves just keep on coming. Small and foamy, big enough to knock me off my feet, sucking me back into the ocean or gently lapping over my toes, always changing, but never ever stopping. I looked out across the dark sky as it meets the sea, all I can see is the white foam forming regularly to separate them.

Late at night the beach is usually deserted. It’s the most restful place I know, and the most complete I think I feel. Several times, I’ve walked home this way or stopped and locked my bike up just to wander along the beach. If it’s clear, I can watch the stars, while the sound of the ocean drowns out any other noise. I stare at the stars, or out over the water, and let my worries drift away with the wind. Occasionally if I’m feeling sad, I’ve cried on the beach until the ocean calms the tears.

Sometimes I think: this is how I will know my soulmate … he’ll love the beach and the ocean as well. Not just on sunny days, but at night and when it’s stormy and empty too.

The surf club isn’t far along the beach, so when I reached it, I made my way back across the beach and back home in sandy thongs (sorry, flip flops!). It’s not a major birthday (thank god) – but it was a pleasant, quiet one; a nice celebration with my closest friends in Manly, and a very different experience from the last thirty two cold ones :)

Surfer Girls (and dudes).

Rachel and I getting ready to go (just at the moment I screamed "no, don't photograph me in my wetsuit")

Saturday was my first surfing lesson! One thing I’ve found about Manly is that it seems like everybody surfs. If I get up early to go for a run (hahaha) then there are people surfing in the ocean, when I walk home from work they’re out there, and I’ve even seen a guy running home in the rain wearing a wetsuit and carrying a surf board. There are shops on every corner selling surfboards and gear.

North or South Steyne beaches are great for surfing because they tend to get decent waves (unlike Shelly Beach and Little Manly, which are much calmer and better for snorkeling and swimming). Lucky for me, since North Steyne is very close to home!

North Steyne Beach (view from Andrea's apartment)

Rachel and I arranged to meet up for an early, healthy breakfast then relax on the beach for a while before our lesson, but when we arrived on the beach it was cloaked in a weird, thick fog. There were “Beach Closed” signs up, but I was hopeful that the sun would soon burn it off – the weather forecast had been showing 30 degrees for Saturday all week!

At one point it cleared a bit, but not enough, and when we made our way to the surf club they weren’t too sure either if it would go ahead. After a while though, they decided that we’d just have to walk a little way up the beach towards Queenscliff, where it was clearer.

Queenscliff beach

The lesson started with some exercises, by the end of which I was boiling hot in my wetsuit! The instructor then explained the dangers of rips, how to recognize them by looking for calmer areas of water with no waves and what to do if we got caught in one (swim horizontal to the beach).

Then we were given massive, foam surfboards and had to drag them up the beach before learning how to look for the wave, get on, and paddle – we all looked a bit daft trying to do that on the sand! It was a lot to remember, but finally time to get in the water.

I caught my first wave almost perfectly – and so did Rachel! I think it was a bit of a fluke though :) We only got to have a few goes until they made us come back out of the water and learn how to try and stand up. No kneeling, this doesn’t help, we were warned, we had to try and get our feet into the middle of the board and edge them up before standing up straight.

Then we were off back into the water. Instructor Dave gave us plenty of help, pushing us into the waves to get us going and shouting to stand up, stand up! He looked like a proper surfer dude, long blond hair and everything :)

Andrea enjoying the surf

We were soon standing straight on our boards, riding those waves in … well, almost. By that, what I mean is, we both had a few moments of standing up on our boards with some help from Dave, before crashing into the water (which, by the way, is what you’re supposed to do rather than riding the wave all the way to the shore! I admit, I could have done it more gracefully though). Definitely much more practice needed. Everybody has told me that the school boards are far easier to stand up on as well … oh dear, I have a long way to go.

I booked my next lesson for Sunday, then returned to the beach later in the evening with Andrea and my camera, to take some pictures of somebody who is a bit more comfortable in the water than me!