Fernvale and Brisvegas.

At the last minute before I was due to fly to Brisbane, I had the crazy but awesome idea of spending the last week of my garden leave in India. However, in order to do that I would need a visa … which meant a rush to the visa office in Sydney city before my flight at noon. For some reason, I don’t seem to like my life to be simple. However, my plans were quickly thwarted when I was told it would take up to two weeks to arrive because of my Australian working visa, so that was the end of that – time to find an alternative.

As a consequence, I was left with plenty of time on my hands at the airport – the domestic terminal doesn’t offer an amazing array of shops, the wireless is pretty rubbish, and it was far too early to even think about visiting the bar that Andrea and I usually end up in before flying … wasn’t it? I behaved myself for once and went for the Boost juice instead.

Finally, I was en route and in no time, touching down in Brisbane. Yolly met me at the gate – I love being met at airports! Far too many times when travelling for work, it’s a lonely, tired arrival, and it’s so good to see a friendly face at the end of a journey.

The girls were at Bush Kids – Yolly said that Mya had told everybody that morning that “Auntie Jo” would be there to pick her up with her mum! Despite the fact that I’m not really her auntie … I like it though :)

We picked the girls up, packed them in the car, and headed home. As we got out of the car, Mya volunteered to take my case in for me – even though it’s almost as big as she is. She wants so much to do everything that big girls can.

"I tan take this for you"

We headed out for a long walk, stopping by the supermarket on the way home. It was fairly warm when we left but as the sun started to go down the temperature dropped really quickly, we were all pretty cold when we got home. The roads are hilly and I was having trouble keeping up with Yolly, even though she was pushing the huge double buggy with the girls in it.

Back home I got to help bath the girls and put them to bed, they look gorgeous all clean and in pyjamas! It doesn’t last very long though :)

With them in bed I had a bit of time to adjust and figure out my holiday plans, India was out, but I could have a few days in Malaysia … no advance visa needed!

Tuesday morning was a bit of a shock to the system: up before 8am and not even a job to go to – what’s that about? Yolly and Casey are incredibly early risers, he leaves for work by 5am. I heard them get up, but just found my ear plugs and went back to sleep :) 7:30 is more than early enough for me!

It was Yolly’s birthday that day, so the phone was going non stop, and she had cards and gifts to open as well. We sat down with the girls, who were more than happy to help with ripping open the parcels.

Opening birthday presents with mum

When the girls went for a sleep at lunchtime, Yolly and I took advantage of the time and made up a little exercise session with circuits. We decided to spend five minutes running up and down her driveway and five minutes on the trampoline – I underestimated how hard it would be trying to run up that hill, it is STEEEEEEEP! Trampolining is pretty hard work as well, although I’m sure I used to do it for an hour at a time when I was a kid …

Ivy on the trampoline

We were almost finished when Ivy decided she’d had enough sleep, but she seemed happy, if slightly bemused, to watch us finish off the last few rounds. Mya was up pretty soon after that, they had a bit of a play on the trampoline, then Yolly showed me the runner beans they were growing. There were a few that were ready, but Mya hasn’t quite got the hang of when to pick them yet, so some of the smaller ones came off the plant too!

Picking runner beans

In the afternoon, the girls made jelly dinosaurs with special moulds – we tried to make two layers with strawberry and lemon jelly, but it took forever to set. Later on, Mya asked for her hair to be put into two plaits – she almost never wants it like this, but it looks so cute! I had to have mine done the same way as well, luckily it’s just long enough now.

Photographer Braban

Just checking how my picture came out


She wanted to try out my digital camera – she got the hang of how to turn it off and on, take photos and look at what she had taken almost immediately, it was amazing. The photos weren’t all that bad either :)

Yolly feeding Ivy (by Mya)

Braids by me, photo by Mya

Hi Mummy! by Mya

Kitchen, by Mya

Me, taken by Mya

Me again, taken by Mya


On Wednesday, we had hoped to do a similar exercise session, but this time we hardly had any time at all before both Mya and Ivy were restless and out of bed. Once again Ivy was pretty easy to amuse – this time with the jelly dinosaurs! They didn’t come out of the moulds very well, sadly, but she didn’t seem to mind – they obviously tasted just as good.

MMMMM JELLY DINOSAURS

Mya desperately wanted to join in with me and her mum, so first of all she followed us as we ran around the house. The boxing circuits we’d hoped to do were harder … she found the spare pair of gloves and put them on her tiny hands the wrong way around, it was very cute though. I think she’s nailed the kicking technique better than me already …

Boxing

Thursday, we headed over to visit Steph, baby Xavier, and her older children Phoebe and Zeb. After spending a week or so together at Christmas on Fraser Island, I last saw them in February and it’s amazing how fast they all grow up. Steph and I had a good catch up (aka gossip!) – she was discovering the delights of online shopping, it must be a godsend if you have three kids. Meanwhile, said children were all looking very civilised as they sat at a child-sized table outside, complete with umbrella, eating chocolate cake.

Playing with Phoebe and Zeb

In the evening, Cory, Claire and Casey’s dad Cran came over for dinner. I heard many stories of Cory and Casey growing up together, and they demonstrated that they still do crazy things sometimes by munching on lemons …

Cory wrapped Yolly’s head in kitchen paper as a joke, and she made a mask of it with eye holes. She looked so funny, I wish I’d taken a photo. Poor Mya was very distressed though, especially when she thought her mummy might never take it off … Yolly finally did remove it, and Mya couldn’t stop touching her ears and nose to make sure they weren’t going anywhere.

It was so amazing to spend the few days with Mya and Ivy, whether they were making a mess with their dinner (Ivy is insistent on feeding herself, but often prefers to spill the food when she’s done), zooming around the house in tiny shoes or ramming the walls with little plastic cars. Ivy is so little that every time I see her there are big changes. This time, she was starting to look like a little girl instead of a baby, walking all over the house and she even says a few words – like “Bai” (that’s how she says it, not “bye”) and something that’s starting to sound like please and thank you. I think it’ll be September at least before I see them again (I’ve got a busy summer with a VERY special event coming up in August!) and no doubt she’ll be chattering away and running about by then.

By Friday though, I was exhausted! I have no idea how Yolly does it, but she seems to have a never ending supply of patience to deal with the girls.

We headed into Brisbane around lunch time and met up with Claudia in the mall for a bite to eat before she went back to work for the afternoon. We wandered over to the Botanic Gardens after that, where the girls could play in the park – Mya got a fright from the huge ugly ibis birds wandering fearlessly around on the grass, they get so close they have to be shooed away.

Finally it was time for Yolly to go, I was going to spend the night with Claudia before heading back to Sydney. I had to make a quick stop to get jabs for my trip to Malaysia, then Clauds and I met outside of her work and walked back to hers – up some bloody steep hills, with my stupidly-heavy-for-five-days suitcase!

Out for the night with Clauds

We headed out for the evening for dinner with her friends. It was my first ever night out in Brisbane! The restaurant was really good, the chef was the boyfriend of one of the girls we were out with. We had more wine than we meant to but it was a really lovely night out with a great group of girls. They had an empty picture frame on the wall for some reason, we decided to take some daft photos with it, until we got told to please put it back … whoops!

We've been framed!

Saturday morning, we actually managed to make it out to Boot Camp for 7am with another friend called Angie. I was so pleased with myself! I’m not sure if I’d have made it if it wasn’t for Clauds though, I was snoozing in bed at ten to six thinking, please oh please say you don’t want to go after all. We all felt so good afterwards! Clauds took us around the corner to a fantastic place for brekkie – it was practically hidden, luckily for us she had found it a few weeks earlier. I can’t remember the name of what I had to eat, but it had sourdough, avocado, poached eggs, lemon and fetta cheese and I hoovered it up in a couple of mouthfuls.

The food was amazing, but it wasn’t very warm and we were all cold in our still sweaty exercise clothes. We headed home, where I managed to use all the hot water in a totally amazing shower (sorry Clauds!).

Afterwards, Clauds did my make up for me in preparation for my night out. I asked for dramatic eyes with green eye make up to match the top I was planning to wear, the only problem was, I had to go all the way home with it on – wearing my jeans and trainers! It looked good though :)

Getting my makeup done by Clauds

The best part of the day was still to come though! Claudia’s flatmate Susie and her friend Monica were heading out to the races for the day, and we were all going for a champagne brunch beforehand! I felt very spoilt having two breakfasts in one day, but why not, I’d earned it … so I decided to have the sweet option this time around, and ordered a mountain of pancakes with berries, maple syrup and ice cream. And champagne and orange juice. It was so naughty, but oh so bloody good … Clauds finished the last few bites that I couldn’t quite manage.

Yummy second breakfast

Susie and Monica were dressed up to the nines and looked amazing, with fascinators and high heels – I did feel a bit of a slob in my jeans and converse drinking champagne before noon but it was amazing fun.

Finally, it was back to the airport, plane-train-ferry-bus home and a quick change before heading out to the next party in Manly … :)

On holiday with the family.

Tuesday morning, we jumped in the car and headed out to the airport. We were off to see the Aussie branch of our family (well, some of them, anyway) – my gorgeous cousins Yolly and Clauds, and Yolly’s kids Mya and Ivy.

View of Sydney on the way up!

Sydney from the sky

Above the clouds and looking down

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for my case being a kilo or so over (happens every time) – we got the train out to Brisbane, taxi to our hotel and then it was just a case of getting organised for dinner. There was a hitch in our plans for the next day though – with the bad weather in north Queensland, the roads from Cairns to Port Douglas were blocked – one by a landslide, and the other by flooding. It wasn’t clear whether or not we’d even make it through to our hotel in the morning … which left us all feeling a little stressed out.

Family shot

We had planned to meet in a restaurant for dinner that evening, but decided in the end to just stay in our hotel instead. It was easy enough for the others to get to and pretty kid-friendly. Yolly stopped by for a coffee in the afternoon and Mum brought out the gifts she had for the kids – Ivy was in a good mood, chilling out on Mum’s lap, Mum looked delighted.

Ivy

Is it Mya ... or Gran? Hahaha.

Ivy and Yolly

Yolly headed off before showing up later for dinner with Clauds too – it was so nice to have everyone together. We took loads of photos as usual – including some particularly cute ones with the kids trying on Mum’s glasses – Mya is a dead ringer for my gran :)

It was all over too quickly … and so was the night’s sleep … at just after 6am the next day, it was time to get up and head to the airport for yet another flight. I think we were all feeling the strain of too much travel already! I rang our hotel at 9am and it was good news – the buses could get through! However, instead of the usual hour along the coast road, we’d be travelling for over two hours along the mountain roads – but at least we’d make it. We were prepared to have to wait for some time at the airport as well, so all in all it wasn’t quite the relaxing trip that we were hoping for!

High rivers on the way to Port Douglas

Some areas were still flooded

Great views from the mountain road

On arriving at Cairns, we found our luggage remarkably quickly, as well as our representative from the coach company. We had a short wait in a coffee shop – far from the chaotic welcome we’d been prepared for – then we were off, in a small coach with a luggage trailer. It struggled up the steep roads through the hills, dropping in to second gear as it screamed along with its heavy cargo. I think Mum and Dad were secretly delighted at the photo opportunities along the way though! I dozed and daydreamed through the journey, gazing out across bright sunshine on semi-flooded plains and wondering whether we’d actually hit any exciting wet patches of road (we didn’t).

Our apartment - upper floor on the left

It was a long way, nearly three hours compared to the hour long trip it would have been had the other road not been blocked, so we were pretty happy to finally arrive. Our apartment was gorgeous – two big adjoining suites, Mum and Dad’s had a living room and both had balconies.

Our apartment in Port Douglas

Sunset across the trees


We headed out in search of the beach and some food, ended up walking slightly further than we’d intended, but eventually found the supermarket … Dad kept asking me, “Is it this way, Jo? How much further along is it?” Now I know how he felt when I was a kid …

We went for a quick dip in the pool before dinner – it was sooooo warm and humid, starting to rain but it didn’t even matter. For a few days at least, life could just slow down.

Pool area at the resort

The next day was bright and sunny – we’d been expecting hot, humid and probably a fair amount of rain, so to have such gorgeous weather was great. We spent the day lounging around the pool, reading, cooling off in the water – Mum and Dad were planning to head out on a boat trip the next day to see some of the Barrier Reef, and I booked to go on a dive boat and see it up close. It was too hot to want to do anything much, so we didn’t :)

No diving ... but we will anyway

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing in the pool


It was an earlier start on Friday, my pick up was around 8am. I was the only person on the bus with a huge back of diving kit … I wondered if I shouldn’t have taken it all along after all, but I’d much rather dive in my own gear. I still haven’t quite figured out my Suunto computer yet, so when they discovered I was an instructor I did take a little teasing for that too … luckily there was another English girl on board who was a bit more clued up and helped me out.

Me diving!

I was a little bit disappointed with the actual diving though. The water was beautiful and warm, but slightly murkier than I’d expected – similar to diving in the Maldives after a spell of bad weather though, so maybe the recent rain had caused that. We saw loads of small, pretty fish and coral, but nothing large – I guess the turtles were all staying home that day :( That said, Mum did see a turtle or two out on her boat! I did see some of the hugest giant clams ever though, patterned in purple, black, white and blue. There were also plenty of Christmas tree worms, which reminded me of diving in Bonaire – I love waving my hand across the top of them and watching them dart away – and some unusual sponges. I found a few Nemo’s lurking in the anemones too, and a giant lobster – I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead, as it was pretty still, but I didn’t want to find out so I snapped a quick shot and swam away!

Diving the barrier reef

The dive boat

Giant clam


A lot of the coral around the reef is bleached and dead, which was pretty sad – a visible effect of the warmer ocean waters. All in all though, it was a really nice day out diving, but not the incredible experience I had hoped for.

Mum's dive buddy

Dad enjoying the boat

More of the reef


By the time I got back, I had a bit of time to myself before Mum and Dad returned from their trip. They had been in some kind of glass-sided pod and Mum insisted that she had photos of her “dive buddy” … she did too, she showed me later a guy who had been swimming along around the edge of them!

Chilling in the pool

We spent our final day and a half on Saturday and Sunday morning once again lazing around the pool, with plenty of wine and beer, eating in together in the evenings and generally just enjoying relaxing and spending time together. I bought some “pool noodles” from the supermarket and had a bit of fun floating around the pool with them … we also headed into town to explore some of the shops and take more (yes more!) photographs!

Shops

Slightly stormier day

Coming back to the harbour

Finally it was time to pack up and head back to the airport for the flight home. The journey back was much, much easier – only an hour along the coast road this time and we were at the airport. One plane, train, ferry and taxi later and we were home … well, home for me anyway!

Mum and Dad had one last day to chill out and hang around Manly before heading back home. I had plans for the afternoon, so we spent a couple of hours together in the morning and then ate out later in Manly. Next morning, we all met up and dragged the cases down to the ferry terminal and on to the peak hour ferry.

I left them at Circular Quay. I was determined not to cry, until Mum hugged me tight and we couldn’t let go, and my eyes leaked just a little. I headed straight into work and then out after work for the evening – it helped to get my mind off of them going, although homesickness did hit me pretty hard later that week. It was fantastic to have them here though … to share “my” Australia, to see a bit more of what theirs had been, and just having family time … amazing, and hopefully worth the journey for them too :)

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!

Fraser Island Reflections

As our last night on Fraser Island draws to a close, I wonder how it’s possible to feel so happy and sad all at once. It’s been amazing – so many new experiences for me – and probably life-changing. I would never have guessed I’d spend nearly two weeks in the company of children under the age of two, and come away feeling so relaxed and chilled out. That’s probably partly because it’s such a change from my normal life, but for whatever reason it’s opened my eyes for the first time properly to the joys of a young family, and it’s the first time I can remember truly wanting one of my own. I’ve even got pretty good at putting nappies on (haven’t had to face the poo though).

As I write this, I haven’t quite finished putting together all of the blog posts I’m hoping to, so it’s strange in a way that I’m writing the end before the middle. Even as I’ve been trying to document the days I’ve spent here, there are so many things that have become almost every day, and escaped the day to day records. So many precious memories that can’t be captured as a single moment, but that I will look back on and long for when I return to life in Sydney. I wanted to take the time to try and capture the spirit of this trip, because while I’ve been here, Fraser Island has certainly captured some of my spirit.

The days here start when I slowly become aware of the roar of the ocean, or occasionally the patter of rain on my tent. I have time to wake up slowly and appreciate nature all around me. Through the thin walls of my tent, I soon hear the noise of the others, until I know that Yolly and the girls are up, then it’s time to stretch and emerge.

Mya usually greets me with a hug around my knees, her hair is a cloud of blond tangles as she looks up and says “Good morning, Jo”, and I wonder if there’s a better way to start the day than this. If the sun is out, I can walk across the dunes and watch it dance across the breaking waves.

I brush my teeth outside in the grass with a cup of water. The kids eat their breakfast and Ivy ends up wearing part of hers, then it’s our turn to eat, we sit outside, with tea and food cooked on the tiny gas stoves inside the tent.

Part of the day is usually spent chilling under the tarp with my kindle, or playing in the waves. Sometimes I get to hold Ivy’s tiny hands – or rather, she wraps her fingers around mine – and walk her around. Sometimes, I go out into the ocean with Yolly and we swing the girls in the waves while they giggle. Mya is a gorgeous little angel, but when baby Ivy smiles and laughs, it’s magical. Sometimes Mya comes over, wraps her little arms around me, and says, “Hello, Jo”.

The sand gets everywhere. It sticks to our feet, it blows into our faces, it invades our food and it sneaks into our beds. It doesn’t matter how much we sweep, every day, it’s always there. I tried not to fight it, that would be a losing battle, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore the crunch. It does have its up side though: it brushes our skin soft as silk, warms (and sometimes burns) our feet as we walk across it. Soft and dry, it’s nearly impossible to walk in, and it’s a miracle to see the life that survives here.

There are no mirrors in the tents. I can’t see how bad my hair looks and I haven’t even thought about make up since I got here. I’ve worn the same thongs (flip flops!) all week – when I bother to wear shoes – and bummed around in my bikini most of the week. It’s liberating to not have to worry about any of that.

Most days involve getting in the car to go somewhere. Driving over the beach is the best part, since anywhere else is spectacularly bumpy. I still hold on and try to hold in the gulps, but over the worst bumps, sometimes I let out a girly shriek. The first drives were terrifying, but somehow now it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Yolly and I try to take turns to sit in the back with the girls. I feed them far too much sugar. Mya has learned to say “Peas, Jo” (she can’t quite master ‘L’ yet) to get pretty much anything she wants. Ivy loves chocolate, she loves to spread it all over her face and laugh about it, and we love to photograph her when she does it.

The days end with the light slowly fading over the tarp, while I swig a glass or three of wine, and Yolly and Casey feed and shower the girls. The shower is still an amazement: a small ensuite tent with a shower hose. When they’re all clean, it’s stories, cuddles and bed. We’re not usually that far behind, and I fall asleep quickly while I’m trying to hold on to the sound of the outside as long as possible. Tonight, that will be especially true as it will be the last one. On the plus side, I now own the tent and am already planning my next camping trip, as well as my next trip back to Fernvale.

I can’t pretend I won’t be happy to get back to some of my home comforts … mainly those in the bathroom! But I will miss Yolly, Casey and the girls terribly, as well as all of the others who shared our holiday here. I’ll miss the chilled out atmosphere of the last ten days or so. I’m so glad that I decided to come, and so grateful to Yolly and Casey for sharing their holiday (and everything else!) with me – because it really has been totally amazing!

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 :)

My family are Quackers.

Heathrow Terminal 3: I’m through security already and wondering why the packed bar looks familiar … probably because it’s not that long since I was last here, and it was too busy to get a seat then as well. It’s barely ten minutes since Mum was nagging reminding me not to drink too much before the flight, so I conclude that it’s probably a good thing, and find a seat in the crowded lounge instead.

I was terrified of the goodbyes in the airport, worried that I’d end up in tears and overwhelmed by it all. What was it James said – “you’ll be fine when you get past the panting stage”? Thanks, dude.

Barry met us outside the terminal with a goodbye gift of a rubber duck with a union jack flag and policeman’s hat, which I immediately named Quackers, and which he demanded I took on all my adventures and photographed around the world. The first photo was already taken at the check in desk.

It wasn’t all fun and games though: they asked me to weigh my hand luggage (which I knew was overweight … bad girl) and I had to move some stuff into my main case, also overweight, luckily got let off with that. I’d already taken a good few kilos out at home to send as freight instead. Will I ever learn to pack light? Sigh. No … well I did once, but it seems I haven’t learned.

Luckily, fighting with my parents to get them out of the way as they tried their best to help me meant I forgot the general embarrassment factor of having to repack my bags in front of the queue. Thank God for Dad reminding me before I left that the weight limit was 20kg and not 23kg, or I would have been in even more trouble. I’d already removed a few bits from the bags before we left!

After this minor palava, we headed for a café, until I pointed out that what I really needed was a nice pint of wine or something to calm down again.
“Are you sure you don’t want a spritzer?” Mum asked.
“What about a Jaeger Bomb?” Barry suggested. He knows me better, I guess! I refused, but agreed to have one if he could convince Mum to join me – although as I suspected, there was no hope of that :)

Drinks drunk, it was time to get the goodbyes over with. We had a big hug and then I was straight through security, amazingly with dry eyes until I heard from Barry that Mum was quite upset … I have to remind myself that she at least has the family to look after her, and no matter where our family are, we’ll always be in each others’ hearts. Sniff sniff. She also has a shorter journey ahead of her. Time to get the laptop out and get my mind off it.

No matter how much travelling I’ve done over the last year, this still seems like a massive deal, but I’m glad that at least the airport bit was easier than I thought.