New Zealand Christmas

New Zealand has always been a place I thought I would go one day, but after seeing Claudia’s amazing photos of her trip early last year, it moved pretty high up on my list!

Beautiful views

Beautiful views

We had booked the flights and organised a camper van while Silvio was away in Bangalore, thinking we’d have loads of time once he got back to research where we wanted to go … well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. With less than a week to go, we ended up spending more time arguing over whether I really needed three pairs of jeans than we did planning places to visit. We ended up with a rough plan to start by heading north, with a few places to stay in mind; to hit a few wineries and spend a couple of days in Queenstown.

After a pretty awesome (and fairly large) meal at Ribs and Rumps on Saturday it was an early start on Sunday, we had to catch the first ferry to make our flight.

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

We got to Christchurch, bought a NZ sim card since we can’t possibly live without the interwebz for a week, and jumped in a shuttle to our motel. The weather was gorgeous – glorious sunshine and almost as hot as Sydney – and it seemed like every other building was a small motel, this place is certainly set up for driving holidays.

We had a moment of panic as the shuttle drove off when I suddenly wondered if we’d remembered the name of the motel right, having booked a different one for the final night of our stay. We hovered outside reception waiting for Silvio’s laptop to start up, where the owner eventually found us and reassured us that yes, we were booked in – thank god!

Driving through the mountains

Driving through the mountains

Armed with leaflets and maps, we meandered down to the local Countdown supermarket for snacks (the logo looked suspiciously like Woolworths) They sell salt and vinegar Pringles here – wow!! Good thing junk food is allowed on holiday :)

Later in the evening we headed out to eat and then watch The Hobbit in 3D – although we could have seen it at home, it was pretty special to watch the scenery knowing that we were in the country it was filmed in, with a week of driving around that same scenery ahead of us. Compared to Australia, the evening stayed light really late, even by 8pm it still felt like 5 or 6.

Monday morning, yawning because with the time difference 9am felt like 7am, we headed off to the Wicked depot to collect our camper van. On the way, our taxi driver told us not to bother with the far south of the island, which knocked a few hundred kilometres off the journey very quickly.

Our camper van at the first campsite

Our camper van at the first campsite

At Wicked, we were bombarded with information. Firstly, I discovered that insurance works differently in New Zealand: although we had paid to avoid any liability for damage to the camper van itself, they didn’t cover us for damage to any third parties. Oh well, better drive carefully then.

She asked where we were heading, and was very concerned when we told her we hadn’t booked a campsite.

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Brains buzzing and feeling a bit worried already, we trailed after her as she showed us where to check the oil and water, pointed out our small gas canister for cooking and how the sink worked, and informed us where to take it to clean it before returning it. This wasn’t like anything I’ve ever rented before! It was kind of cute though – smaller than we’d thought, just a converted people carrier with enough space for a bed and small shelves at the back, with curtains strung up across the windows for privacy, well almost, since they didn’t quite stretch all the way!

Our van was called Alien Life Forms, painted black and blue with various weird creatures on it. Across the back, it read “Artificial intelligence usually beats real stupidity” … at least it wasn’t rude!

Food store in the van

Food store in the van

At last we were off! We headed north towards Kaikoura, but it wasn’t long before we were feeling a bit hungry and seeing signs for wineries … mmmm! I wanted to stop at one that the taxi driver had mentioned but after taking a wrong turn and ending up in the middle of a vineyard, we finally arrived to find it was closed :( We headed back to the Mud House instead, which turned out to be an amazing place with beautifully cooked food. I tasted most of their wines afterwards, Silvio stuck to the pinot noir, and we left with three bottles including a lovely oaky chardonnay (mmm my favourite) and feeling pretty full and a bit sleepy.

Outside The Mud House winery

Outside The Mud House winery

Despite the warnings, we found a spot at a campsite in Kaikoura fairly easily. They were busy and everybody was fairly packed in – our closest neighbours had a large caravan and seemed to have already consumed rather a lot of wine, they were enjoying a good old sing song most of the evening.

Low cloud across the hills

Low cloud across the hills

More low hanging clouds

More low hanging clouds

Clouds hanging low over the beach

Clouds hanging low over the beach

The clouds were low over the hills, and it was pretty cool out, but we headed out for a walk along the rocky beach. I saw a single seal on the rocks, but it slithered away before I could get Silvio’s attention … meanwhile he found a rock that he could climb and headed up. Despite the grey sky the views were pretty cool, huge hills rising almost out of the sea and draped in clouds.

I'm the king of the castle

I’m the king of the castle

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Me at the beach

Me at the beach

On Christmas Day, we woke up in a hot tin can! The campsite had a pretty good kitchen – in fact, one family were using it to roast a large hunk of meat for their Christmas dinner. As we sat eating breakfast, they carted bags and bags of presents out to their table and started handing them around.

Christmas Quackers!

Christmas Quackers!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

Quackers, and our site marker

Quackers, and our site marker

We left the campsite and headed into the town of Kaikoura. The sky was still grey and the town was pretty dead, with only one small cafe and a tiny supermarket open. We wandered along the pebbly beaches watching the seagulls and the scenery, debating where to spend the day and night. The original plan was to explore Kaikoura then head to the wineries in the north, but it didn’t seem likely that they’d be open and there wasn’t much to do in Kaikoura on Christmas Day.

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Where'd the beach go?

Where’d the beach go?

I'm ready, where to?

I’m ready, where to?

In the end we decided to skip the north and head straight across to the West Coast, in the hope that we could get to Greymouth that day (an estimated 7 hour drive, although we later found out that was very conservative). By the time we left, the weather was brightening up, and even as we drove out of the town everything was looking very pretty in the sunshine.

Lord of the Rings country!

Lord of the Rings country!

The road was empty. Occasionally we would pass another camper van, but for most of the journey the world was ours alone. We followed a mix of winding mountain roads and single lane highways through the middle of the country, luckily the GPS on the iPhone worked so we could see where we were on the map, but there was no phone signal for most of the way.

We stopped in Waiau to get petrol from an unmanned roadside pump. The town was completely deserted, we didn’t see another soul – it was as though the Mayan predictions had really come true! In contrast to the heavy morning mists in Kaikoura, the sun was beating down by that time and it was lovely and warm.

Quackers in Waiau

Quackers in Waiau

We continued along to Hanmer Springs, where there is a fantastic looking indoor water park with slides and spa pools, unfortunately the one day of the year that they close is Christmas Day :( We stretched our legs and wandered around, but there wasn’t much to see – at least here though, there were a few people milling around so we weren’t totally alone!

Throughout the journey, there were loads of single lane bridges, some fairly long, luckily we seemed to have priority on our side most of the time. One in particular did scare me though: around 200m or more driving along a railway track. In fact, there were a lot of railway tracks, but we never did see a single train :)

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Along the way, I tried to listen to some of my Italian recordings, but I struggled with too many words I couldn’t fathom and eventually got too cross with it, deciding to dig out one of the books for another day instead.

We eventually made it to Greymouth and headed to the Top 10 Holiday Park there, it was absolutely lovely, the best place out of all the campsites we stayed at. They were busy but not full, and our camper van site was pretty spacious with walls each side and nobody directly overlooking us.

Campsite in Greymouth

Campsite in Greymouth

The holiday park had a jacuzzi that we could book for a half hour, which was exactly what we needed after the long drive – a huge, hot bath!

The weather was threatening rain, but we were just over the back of the beach and the sun was starting to set so it would have been a waste not to go and watch it for a little while. Afterwards, we made use of the kitchen to cook a Christmas dinner of pasta :) eating outside under a shelter while the rain spattered a bit.

So that was Christmas over for another year!

Byron Bay Bluesfest!

A few days before we were due to jet off to Byron Bay for the Bluesfest, Andrea looked mournfully at me across the desk at work.

“I forgot to cancel the camper van I booked for Byron Bay,” she said. ” I think it might be too late now to get my money back.” She tried calling and sweet talking the rental company, but to no avail: there was a camper van out there somewhere that was determined to spend this weekend with us. Andrea wanted to try and rent it out to anybody who was looking for accommodation, I wasn’t so sure that was a great plan, but we decided we’d figure it out later and just make the most of it. We wouldn’t be able to collect it until Thursday, so we still had to take the tent for the first night anyway.

The next problem was mud. As in, there’s usually lots of it at BluesFest. Oh dear, does that mean we have to go shopping for new footwear? One advantage of being “on the beach” at work … time for online shopping … we found some wellies online and pretty soon they were on their way via express delivery. Woohoo! We’re all set!

Happy campers

Wednesday arrived and we had a pile of cases by our desks in the ThoughtWorks office. Everybody stopped by to ask where we were going (and why the hell do we always take so much STUFF?) The reaction was always the same when they found out we were headed to Byron Bay: “You’re going to have an awesome time!” It’s a pretty good way to start a trip – by the time we left, we were pretty excited! We took a taxi to the airport that afternoon – wearing the new wellies, very sexy we looked in those :) – and settled down in our usual spot in the bar for a pre-flight drink and a gossip. Except that somebody seemed to be finding her email more fun than wine and gossip … I was a little disappointed, but luckily she found her way out of that laptop pretty quickly and we were back on track!

As we boarded the plane, the stewardess glanced down at our feet. “You must be going to Bluesfest!” she said, “Make sure to check out Tijuana Cartel!” She seemed nice and kinda cool, so we decided to try and take her advice. We landed at the Gold Coast airport and found our bus, and some beer, which made the rest of the journey swing by quickly. The Byron Bay Tourist Village was nice, but dark … nothing like rocking up somewhere and staring at a pile of your suitcases on the grass in the dark when you really just want a nice cosy bed all ready for you. We are getting good at pitching tents so it was up pretty fast, although I got eaten alive by little bugs attracted to my headlamp and my apparently tasty blood.

Empty campsite before everybody arrived

Bluesfest graffiti

Rainbow Shop!

Tent up, beds inflated, suitcases tossed inside, now can we please go and hit the town? For food, obviously … and maybe more wine or beer :) Town was a twenty minute walk away, along a fairly dark, busy road with quite a few drunk sounding but generally friendly people coming the other way. It was still quite busy, and we found a place to eat then wandered down to the beach briefly before heading home. I was out like a light, but the noisy birds woke us both up pretty early the next morning.

The beach ...

The festival didn’t kick off until Thursday afternoon, and we had a camper van to collect. After breakfast – it turned out that the kiosk at the entrance to the tourist village made a yummy bacon brekkie roll – we walked into town again to get a bus to the airport. It was a glorious day, and the town is full of brightly coloured shops and hippy signs, which looked fantastic in the bright sunshine. There were no buses until mid-afternoon, so we headed out first for a bit of a shop – I wanted to wander through the Rainbow Shop, and then we found a few dress shops and spent time trying on a variety of clothes. We hit the Beach Hotel for lunch and met up with Korny, who was still a bit dazed having travelled very early that morning.

After lunch, Andrea and I headed to the beach. It was gorgeous – a long, long stretch of pale sand, shallow turquoise water for paddling in, crashing waves and a few surfers for eye candy. Andrea jumped in for a swim, I stuck with paddling and sunbathing, until it was time to head back for the bus to the airport and collect the camper van.

View out of camper van window

Turns out we got upgraded from a Backpacker van to a Britz van – this thing was MASSIVE! It took forever to sort all the paperwork out, but we got a bottle of wine and some free chairs which would be great for the festival! The lady processing our paperwork walked us through the facilities on the van and how everything worked, I started to feel a bit brain-fried quite quickly though – glad Andrea had done this before and knew her way around it a bit better! She got behind the wheel and was pretty cool driving it back to the campsite, especially considering the size of the thing, not sure I’d have been quite as comfortable driving it. The sun was dipping down to the hills on the way home, and I managed to take a few shots out of the window that turned out pretty well.

Back at the campsite, we got ready and headed out to the festival. Disappointingly, the shuttle bus wasn’t free but cost $4 (each person, each way!) – this weekend was turning out to be pretty expensive! But there was no way Andrea was driving – this was NOT going to be a dry night for either of us.

Neighbour Jason

Where's Wally? There ... there ... there ... and there.

Waffles. They're wicked.

The first act we both wanted to see was Eilen Jewell, who was playing on the Jambalaya stage (one of the smaller ones) at 7pm. We had a bit of time to wander through the grounds, explore the food offerings, and grab some drinks tickets and wine. It was pretty quiet, so when we made our way back to the stage there were only a couple of people between us and the stage – it was pretty awesome. She sounded amazing, although I was disappointed she didn’t sing the one song I knew well enough to sing along to (maybe somebody had warned her …) When she was finished, we ended up in the CD tent, where Andrea bought a CD and had all of the band members sign it. They all seemed pretty ordinary off of the stage, which was somehow surprising … the guitarist and drummers were pretty cute though :)

We watched a bit of My Morning Jacket, which was a bit more rocky and more up my street than blues or country. I was getting kind of tired and antsy after that, so when Andrea wanted to try and socialise a bit more I left her to it! Very bad of me … luckily we found each other again pretty quickly and ended up hanging out at the Apra stage and watching a reggae-style band called Kooii, who turned out to be pretty good and worth a bit of a dance to. We finished off the night with crepes in the food tent – mmmmm, nutella crepes. All in all, it wasn’t a bad start to the festival.

That night, Andrea had decided to sleep in the camper van, so I had the tent to myself. I was wise to the noisy birds this time, and slept in lovely and late with the aid of earplugs :) When we finally emerged from our “bedrooms” and got dressed, our neighbour Jason had also surfaced. We hadn’t seen him at all the previous day, which often happens camping but is kind of weird – you just see the tent but never the person. I was pretty sure it wasn’t empty though, I had seen the number of beer bottles rising over the last day or so (it turned out he was using them to mark his tent ropes, so that he didn’t trip over them).

Britz. No boundaries. Apparently.

We all got chatting, he took some photos of me and Andrea with our wellies and camper van, and then offered us a beer. There’s something wonderful about sitting outside in hot sunshine before midday with a cold beer and no worries!

Eventually, we all headed out together to get the bus up to the festival again, for what would be our longest day there! We started off at the Crossroads stage (one of the two largest) and watched Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and then some of Steve Earle, while just across the fence we could hear G3 blasting out of the Mojo tent. We settled down with our chairs, got some beers, and enjoyed the show for a while. Eventually Jason decided to head off for some beers before we moved on, but he took for-EVER … we checked the two bars nearest to us and couldn’t find him, although they were pretty empty, we couldn’t wait forever so we headed off on our own. Turns out he had gone to get food, turned up where we’d been with three beers and food to find us gone. I felt kind of bad when he told us that later … I don’t think the beers went to waste though.

Beer tickets!

Watching some music

Something was funny ...

We watched some of G3, then saw Candi Staton, who was pretty good, and one of the few artists there that I actually knew :) After that we caught some of Seth Lakeman and Buddy Guy – who is 76 and still playing! – then planted our chairs in the wrong area to listen to Keb Mo for an hour. He had an amazingly smooth voice … Andrea was totally into the music and getting up to dance, but I was getting pretty tired. The last act we caught that night was Earth, Wind and Fire, who blasted on stage with Boogie Wonderland and got me up out of my seat for a few tracks.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, another lovely late morning, and another early beer. I could definitely get used to this kind of life! We had decided to take a trip out to hippy town Nimbin for something to do before the festival, so we piled into Jason’s car while Andrea tried to navigate from the back seat with Google maps. Nimbin was a quieter version of Byron but without a beach – we stopped in a pub for beers and I was amazed at how cheap they were! We wandered around a few shops before heading back, where we hung out at the campsite for a while, drinking beers, eating pizza and Tim Tams and generally enjoying chilling out.

Fancy a bit of hemping?

We got to the festival in time to catch Seasick Steve, but something was wrong with the sound system and we could barely hear him – we had just packed up our chairs and started to walk away when guess what? Yep, it’s back on – and dammit, we’ve lost our good spot! We stayed and listened to him for a bit before heading out, and lost Jason again when he wandered off in a different direction. Never mind, he seemed pretty capable of amusing himself! We watched Bettye LaVette for a while but she was kind of depressing … we found the stewardess’s favourite band Tijuana Cartel, who turned out to be pretty upbeat and dancy, so we bopped along to them for a while.

Some kind of reptile!

More Keb Mo

Candi Staton

At some point we headed back to the Mojo tent and set up camp … I was feeling pretty festival’d out so was happy to sit and watch from the side while Andrea still wanted to get in the thick of the crowd and dance. It actually worked out pretty well … we watched Ziggy Marley, who was awesome, Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot and John Fogerty for the rest of the evening, leaving only after he sang Heard It Through The Grapevine, as Andrea insisted …

Sunday was our last day … Jason was also leaving, he had a long drive back to Newcastle and headed out long before we finished clearing up. With the camper van full of our stuff, we headed out to the beach and parked up – I couldn’t be bothered to change into my swimsuit, but after paddling in the water I couldn’t resist getting in either, so ended up jumping in with my t-shirt on!

We headed into town to get some food, but didn’t get very far before the traffic was thick and slow, and we turned around to go back to the festival instead! We ate and listened to Yann Tiersen for a bit before leaving to go to Ballina Airport, which is one of the smallest I’ve ever been to.

It was all over … :( the one nice thing being that we still had Monday off before heading back to work! We made the most of that too … I had grand plans to go on a long walk around North Head, until I stopped by Andrea’s to help her put up the tent to air it. She invited me up for a wine … and, well, there’s something pretty wonderful about sitting outside on a balcony, looking across Manly beach, with cold wine and no worries …

Peace out

Camping in the Blue Mountains.

When I was working in Edinburgh and planning my trip to Oz, my colleague Rachel (not the same one who also moved to Sydney) recommended a few places to visit, among them the Blue Mountains. She told me about waking up in a tent above the clouds, which sounded amazing, so camping there was definitely in my Things To Do list.

View across the valley

When I heard that another work friend Sarah was organising a trip, I jumped at the chance! The others on the trip were not really into camping, but Andrea decided to come along and was happy to camp with me, despite the mickey taking that started even before we arrived … I guess not everybody likes to sleep in a tent when you could have solid walls and an ensuite bathroom but I’m weird like that :)

We set off on Friday night in the little GoGet car that lives around the corner from me, packed to the gills with tent, blow-up beds, blankets, camping stove, and whatever else we could squeeze in. It was slow going getting out of Sydney, and the route we chose had loads of roadworks, so it was ten thirty at night by the time we arrived at Katoomba Falls. Having driven through bucketing rain and then fog, it was quite a relief that it was only spitting lightly when we had to set up, and we did a pretty damn good job in the dark. Finally, exhausted and hot (hammering tent pegs is sweaty work) we collapsed in the tent with two bottles of wine and talked about anything and everything, but mostly boys (as girls do). We forgot that the tent walls were so thin, until somebody from a neighbouring tent shouted at us to keep it down … whoops.

Our tent (the first go!)

The Campsite

All set up for breakfast

Although the night was chilly, by the morning the tent was warming up pretty well. The air in the mountains was beautiful, it seemed fresher than in the city or by the ocean. I think maybe it was just less humid, but it had a pleasant coolness without being cold.

The facilities at the campsite were pretty good, it was mostly taken up by cabins and camper vans, we were the only tent without a trailer. Andrea was tempted to go into town to find food, but I was determined to use my camping stove, so we cooked the eggs we’d brought and made tea and coffee … note to self, must bring salt and some kind of seasoning next time though. After breakfast, we decided to reposition our tent slightly to avoid the heavy drips from the tree above us – and I have to say, this time we did a pretty marvellous job of pegging it in properly, so that the fly was well and truly secured away from the inside of the tent to avoid drips inside. It looked great :)

Ta da!

We were expecting the others to leave the city early in the morning, so hung around the campsite chilling while we waited for them. Pam and Michael turned up around eleven and opened their cabin, it was small but kind of cute with bunk beds in one room and it’s own bathroom (luxury!).

Chilling at the campsite

Enjoying a beer

Enjoying the sun

Turns out Sarah, Shaun and Rachel had been detained in Sydney by a faulty alarm clock, so Pam and Andrea headed out on a “bee double ee double are you en”* and we settled in to wait for them. We eventually met them in town for pizza and beer, and debated whether and when to head to the Ukelele festival up the road …

… we never did make it though. By the time we’d eaten, picked up more beer and wine and snacks, and got comfy back in the cabin, it just didn’t happen. We ended up in a raucous game of Uno, followed by charades, followed by bed …

Don't let me see those cards!

Got a red or a seven?

Fun playing Uno

Sunday, we headed out to hike in the area around the Three Sisters after packing up the cars and eating a hearty breakfast in Katoomba. The views from Echo Point across the three jutting rocks were awesome – the vast valley between the cliffs, with hazy blue peaks in the distance. I took loads of photographs, but they don’t quite capture the beauty of the place.

The Three Sisters

Sarah, Rachel and Shaun were ahead of the rest of us and had headed down the giant staircase, which apparently has 900 stairs. We finally met them on the way back up, looking slightly broken … after 900 stairs, I’m not surprised. Andrea, Pam, Michael and I headed down but the steps were steep and I lost my head for heights (actually, I was just too much of a wuss to climb all the way back up) so I only made it to the first platform before heading back. Pam and Michael went on down the entire staircase though, while Andrea and I headed out on a short hike towards Leura Cascades.

Look out point

Hiking through the woods

Another great view

It was a lovely walk along the cliff, with loads of lookout points across the valley. Despite being warm and sunny, the recent rain had left loads of mud – my legs were filthy by the time we got to the end. The original plan was to hike to the cascades, then hike back through the woods, but when we were nearly there we cut out of the wood to grab some water and discovered a restaurant with views across the mountains and a yummy looking menu …

We didn’t have enough time on the parking ticket to stop, and they would only be serving food for another hour. We walked on for ten minutes or so to see Leura Cascades from up above, then decided to cut back along the road and hope to make it back to the restaurant in time to eat … we couldn’t believe how close it was along the road, how on earth had it taken us so long to walk all that way through the woods?! It didn’t look so far on the map … but we made it for the food! Yay! It was great, and we spoiled ourselves with dessert too … but then it was time to head home and return the car.

Lunch with a view!

We finished the weekend with a surf in giant waves on North Steyne beach. I had such a great time, so glad I got to see the Blue Mountains, although I still want to go back and stay longer, explore more. My weekends are filling up but I guess there’s always next summer :)

* beer run

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 :)