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 :)

Sliding down a sand blow.

Friday was boiling hot and sunny, and we were heading out for a walk. This didn’t quite fit in with my “lazy trip to the beach” theme, but I thought I’d better go, especially given all the yummy junk food I was eating …

We drove a few K’s along the beach and parked up (not on the dunes, since apparently, there is a $25,000 fine for driving on them – ouch!) Yolly strapped Ivy on in the baby carrier, and she was off like a rocket, stomping up the path through the woods. I couldn’t keep up, and neither could Steph with her 7-month baby bump, or Mya in her tiny bare feet!

It wasn’t very long before we came out facing a sandy, pebbly hill, and from the top of it we could see across to another hill, larger, steep and sandy. Like fresh snow on a ski slope, it was almost pristine, smooth soft sand except for one track of footprints. Casey told me this was a sand blow.

Casey and Anthony had brought along a wooden board that looked like a small body board, and they were off already up the hill, dragging it with them. One by one, we followed. The soft sand tried its hardest to make life difficult, slipping beneath our feet – I tried to follow in other people’s footsteps, like stairs, which was a bit less slippy. I didn’t want to go back down once I got up, in case I had to come up again!

Anthony was first to try sliding down the hill. He tried a few times standing up – at first it looked terrifying, but the sand was actually quite wet and the board slid fairly slowly.

Phil was next, and he opted for the head first position, which was a lot more successful, and he had probably one of the best slides of the day, right over Ploy’s towel where she was watching from the bottom. Then the fun bit, he had to drag the board back up for the next person …

I was persuaded to have a go too, but I was fairly hopeless. I didn’t quite have the guts to have a running start like the guys, so I had to use my hands to paddle my way down the slower bits, although I did get a half-decent slide towards the end. The track grew more and more cut up from people climbing back up, kids running across it, and some of the more hopeless sliders among us. The sand underneath, still wet from yesterday’s rain, wasn’t really much good for sliding on, and after a while we had to give up. The guys had one last run on a fresh part of the hill, Anthony cut an impressive path through a bush, and Yolly and Mya climbed up and slid down on their bums.

As we headed off, the hill was covered in holes, footprints and flattened tracks! I’m pretty sure though that after a few hours of the sun drying the sand out and the wind rearranging it, it would have looked like we were never there.

We headed home for some lunch, and a sleep for the kids. Quite enough exercise for one day, I decided, and collapsed on the chair with my Kindle.

(No photos for today … the camera stayed in the car, sadly!)

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 :)

Jetting off to Brisbane!

“School” is out, my birthday’s over, that must mean it’s nearly Christmas …

I’d been warned that having Christmas in the middle of summer would be weird, but I couldn’t quite understand why until I started seeing decorations around in Sydney. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas – usually, cold rainy weather and early darkness lit by lights twinkling in the streets would trigger thoughts of Christmas. In the (albeit relatively cool) early summer weather I kept forgetting about Christmas, until I saw a decorated tree or something looking strangely out of place in the sunshine.

On Tuesday, I headed out to the airport to catch a flight to Brisbane, where I was planning to spend Christmas with my Aussie cousins, Yolande and Claudia. I haven’t caught a flight since I arrived here over six weeks ago, which is quite a long time considering I’d flown so many times to Berlin and Edinburgh earlier this year for work. I wasn’t really looking forward to the flight, just relieved that it was such a short one, and I couldn’t wait to just get there.

I arrived at Brisbane airport to find Yolly looking cool and summery, and waiting with a huge double pram right outside the gate – she’d left her phone behind so it was lucky we found each other. Her girls looked at me shyly and Mya (aged 2 and a half) chewed her fingers and stared as I dragged my case off of the belt. She soon found her tongue when we got in the car – Yolly and I had loads to talk about, so she kept butting in with “Coos me mummy” (she can’t quite get the hang of “excuse me”!)

Bouncy bouncy!

It took a while to get back to Fernvale, where the girls had a huge new trampoline that Mya wanted to show me. Of course, I had to get on and have a go – well, they seemed to enjoy it far more when somebody else was jiggling them around instead of jumping on it themselves.

Mya announced that I was sleeping in her room (on a cute pink bed!) and she was excited to be sleeping on a mattress on the floor in her sister Ivy’s room. I got to help bath them, then Yolly and I cracked open the wine …

I met her husband-to-be Casey, who – when he found out I was living in Manly – declared “that’s not a real beach!” He’s never seen the UK beaches though :) The family were heading out to Fraser Island to camp on the beach after dropping me in Brisbane early Friday morning – “That’s a real beach!” – and we got Mya to say in a silly voice “we’re going to Fraser Island beach, yeah!”


Mya makes short work of unwrapping her gift

Ooooh, shiny ...

Enjoying some lunch

The next morning, we had a grand opening of Christmas presents – since I wouldn’t be with the family for Christmas day, and I desperately wanted to see the girls ripping open their gifts. It was so much fun, and I was delighted that they seemed to like all the presents!

Later we were planning to head out to Queens Park in Ipswich – Yolly promised me native Australian animals – then ice cream afterwards at Cold Rock. I don’t know who was more excited, me or Mya … actually I do, it was me.

As we were preparing to go out, Casey decided to show me photos of this “real beach”. He ran through fifty or sixty shots from previous years’ holidays of beautiful white sand, sun blazing across huge dunes and clear blue water – including photos from the beach on Fraser Island, camp site and days out at Lake MacKenzie. It was gorgeous, and somewhere deep in my subconscious, the wheels started to spin.

Ivy having a stroll

The weather was a bit unpredictable, so we headed to the park first before it rained. We sat down to eat – one minute Mya was sitting on the grass happily eating, then she suddenly said, “itchy, mummy …” – the next thing we knew, the poor little thing had ant bites on her bum! She was so upset, but after a few cuddles she cheered up and we wandered around the animal enclosures – there were wallabies, emus, kangaroos and some more familiar animals like pigs and ducks (I said they should have called the pigs Ham and Bacon).

Baby Ivy wanted to walk, which she can do pretty well while holding on to somebody – I was desperately hoping she might take a couple of steps alone, but she’s still a bit too young.

Cold Rock - Yum!

We got the massive pram out to go to Cold Rock, where we all ate far too much sugary ice cream (including Quackers who had come along for the trip)! We then fought our way through the Christmas shoppers to find shoes for Ivy, and I began to see why Yolly doesn’t really like shopping with the kids in tow! On the way in, we ran into their friends Anthony and Steph and their kids, who were also going on the Fraser Island trip. “We’re dropping Jo back to Brisbane before we go,” Yolly said, “but we wish she could come!”

I bet you can guess what’s coming … on our way out of the mall I turned to Yolly. “I bet it wouldn’t be too expensive to just change my flight home so I could come with you to Fraser Island …” Those photos were still flashing through my mind like a slideshow. “I actually brought the right kind of clothes – I even have two bikinis …”

Yolly didn’t need any convincing, and on the drive home we were already checking flights and making plans. We had one more stop to make though … there were some hungry chickens at Casey’s dad’s house, needing feeding while he was away. It was quite an adventure getting them all fed, and finally getting them back into their coop – Yolly had to entice them back with a bucket of food.

Back home, we still had a couple of people to check with before I could confirm the trip to Fraser Island, since I was supposed to be spending Christmas with Claudia … she told me to take the chance to go, and hopefully we’ll see each other in Sydney sometime soon :)

Flights sorted, I was getting excited, and then Casey decided to enlighten me about the toilet arrangements on the beach … or rather, the lack thereof. Yep, we would be taking a shovel and toilet roll into the sand dunes … enough said! Other than that though, this would be luxury camping :)

Meeting the family!

The next day we headed into Brisbane to meet Yolly’s mum Claire, and the rest of her brothers and sisters, who I’d never met as they all live in Oz. It was fantastic to meet a whole part of the family I never knew before, although a little bit intimidating – especially as I was not exactly dressed to impress, with casual shorts and no make up! They were all lovely (of course) but all too soon we had to go and finish getting ready for the big trip!

Yolly and I headed off for more shopping and found some cool floaty toys and a body board in K-Mart, then it was home then off out again for the big food shop.

I love shopping, any kind of shopping, but pushing two trollies around Woolies with two small children was definitely a different kind of shopping experience. Having never planned for a ten day camping trip for five people before, I was next to no help (except perhaps in the chocolate aisle, where I may have been a little too MUCH help). We left with two massive trollies of food, and then I got boxes of wine from the liquour store!

Back home, Yolly and Casey were rushing around trying to sort out the packing, running out for ice boxes and making arrangements for the dog, and we managed to squeeze some dinner in somehow. I lazily headed off to bed while Yolly finished off the rest of her packing, and she and Casey packed the trailer. Just time for a few hours’ sleep before getting up to head off for the big adventure …