Friday, June 14, 2013

Thunderbolt's Way

I did forget to talk about the Artesian Baths in Lightning Ridge.  There are two pools built that get their water naturally from the earth - from about 1,000 metres below.  The larger of the two pools stays around 42 C (107 F), while the second pool gets the runoff from the first pool, so it is a bit cooler.  It felt beautiful to relax in the steaming mineral water and look up at the amazing night sky.  We even were able to spot  a shooting star.

Stanley the Emu sculpture on the way out
of Lightning Ridge.
We left Lightning Ridge after lunch and headed mainly east for four hours to Inverell.  This put us a bit out of our way, but served two purposes.  One, Brian wanted to travel Thunderbolt's Way, a beautiful stretch of road that he had driven on one of his visits to Australia before we moved.  Two, we simply had to stop in the village of Kentucky.

Inverell was a lovely little town that I would've liked to have spent more time exploring.  They are known as the Sapphire City and you can do lots of fossicking around town.  It looked like they had many lovely bushwalks and a fair amount of waterfalls.  There wasn't much going on that weekend with the holiday and several restaurants weren't open.  We ended up at one of the local pubs and spent some time talking to a lovely older couple that wanted to know what cities would be the best to find Blues music in, besides Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans.  They were planning to drive down the Mississippi River via small roads, with a pitstop in South Bend to catch a Notre Dame football game.  Fun couple that had travelled all across the US and still wanted to see more.  I hope that's us after retirement - I'd love to travel all over the world!

We spent that night in one of the oldest buildings in Inverell, the Postman's Cottage.  The kids thought it was great to stay in an "olden days" house.  I loved it as well, even though it was fairly cold!  The kids had mattress heaters and Brian and I watched some tv in front of the fireplace, which felt great.  The boys thought slanted floors were great for rolling your trucks down!

Front Porch

Master bedroom - ignore my bag and thongs

Sitting room

Thunderbolt's Way is the stretch of road that the self-named bush ranger Captain Thunderbolt (Frederick Wordsworth Ward) spent most of his time roaming.  He is referred to as the "gentleman" bush ranger - not entirely sure what that means, but he did kick one of his gang members out of the gang after he shot a policeman.  Captain Thunderbolt had previously been on Cockatoo Island for horse thievery, but escaped to roam New South Wales until he was shot and killed at Kentucky Creek, near Uralla, where his grave is, although many claim that it isn't actually him in the grave.

Split Rock was his favourite hideout 

Probably him - he had an old bullet
wound to identify him

After visiting his grave in Uralla, we were off to the village of Kentucky - mostly because we wanted our pictures taken under the sign!  It's a teeny place - I think it was only 4 kilometres to drive through the heart of town - but fun to see nonetheless.  We stopped in the cafe for lunch and had a bit of a chat with the owner.  I promised to send him recipes for Hot Browns and Derby Pie!

I wanted the whole family, but it was raining
so I didn't want to use the tripod and get a
wet camera!

Cute boys

General Store, cafe, servo, and post office

You can't really tell, but the license plate was from Kenton County!

Then we were back off for a lovely drive of winding roads through the great dividing range.  It took us another 4 hours to get back home.  Maybe a bit longer, but we pulled off to look at the view and to have a cheese tasting at a goat farm!  Nathan was thrilled and we brought home some Feta for him to enjoy.

Overcast, but beautiful

It was an absolute whirlwind of a trip - 1,600 km (994 miles) in four days!  We saw a fair amount and the kids were wonderful in the car.  They've always been good travellers, but they outdid themselves on this trip.  We saw wild emus, had to stop for cattle to cross the road, and saw a massive amount of cotton harvested.  It was a great little trip that I'm so glad we took!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lightning Ridge

This past weekend was a three day weekend in Australia - Monday everyone was off for the Queen's (celebrated) birthday.  We thought it would be an excellent time to take a road trip into a completely different part of the country.  As you will see, we were very successful in our endeavour.

We knew it had to be not to long of a trip and we didn't want it to be the beach.  Our beaches are the best I've ever seen, so why go to the beach somewhere else.  I also knew that I wanted to buy an opal at some point during our time here, so we put the two together and chose Lightning Ridge, which is in the Opal Fields of Australia.

We picked the boys up from school a bit early on Friday so we could reach our first destination of Dunnedoo prior to sunset.  Part of the point of this trip was to see a different side of Australia, so we wanted to be able to pay attention to the scenery.  Possibly a greater concern was not knowing what kind of roads we would encounter - we were told they would probably be paved the entire way - and the chance of kangaroos bounding across the road at sunset, kind of like the issue Americans have with deer.

After driving for a bit over 300 kilometres, we reached the Swan Motel in Dunnedoo.  Side note about Dunnedoo - apparently some people wanted to build a giant dunny (Australian for outhouse) as a landmark.  Luckily somebody with intelligence shot that idea down.  The motel was just what we expected - no frills, but clean and with decent beds.  In other words, a great place to stop after 4 hours of driving.  We had dinner at the local cafe and went to sleep, ready to start decently early in the morning.  We later found out that the Swan Motel had previously been owned by one of Brian's coworker's fathers.  Tis truly a small world!

Per usual, the kidlets were up at 6am, so we grabbed some brekky and were off for another 350 kilometre drive to our destination!  We were pleasantly surprised by how nice the roads were.  The speed limit was usually 110 kph - 68 mph.  While it was two-lane the entire way, we hardly saw any other vehicles.  In fact, it was a good hour between towns - and there was nothing in between, except for sheep and cattle.

The boys just adored this picture at the information and had to have mum and dad pose.  And this picture sums up Lightning Ridge fairly well.  Everyone kept telling us how interesting of a place it would be - and that's the best word to describe it.  It is in the middle of nowhere - you have to intend to get there.  Groceries are airlifted in once a month.  There were three restaurants to eat at, and one of them was closed because they had sold out of food.  They have their population listed as a question mark, with good reason.  It's a place to go when you want to disappear.  Every resident we talked to always said how long they had lived in Lightning Ridge and where they had come from - nobody had grown up there.  There were not many houses. Most people lived in caravans parked somewhere on their claim.  We drove past many of those and wondered how many of the claims were actually legal.  That's not to say that the people weren't lovely - you just wouldn't ask them much about their background!  I haven't visited anywhere like it, but I'm assuming it may be like living in the wilds of Alaska, as far as a close community.  The people seemed like they would take care of their own and close ranks if you came looking for someone.  We're assuming that gun ownership is probably very high there!

Our first stop was at the bottle house.  This gentleman found a pile of bottles lying around and decided to build a house out of them, and then fill said house with antiques.  He collected anything he thought might be interesting!  Probably wasn't worth the price of admission, but it's a good example of the quirkiness of the townspeople!

Outside of the house

He actually lived up in this loft

An old time punch clock from Cincy

After we checked into our bed and breakfast - which I use in the loosest sense of the term - we headed off on the Yellow Car Door tour.  Throughout the town, there are four tours taking you off road to see several points of interest.  The track is marked by, you guessed it, painted car doors!  Interesting way to mark your path...

In the middle of this tour was the Chambers of the Black Hand.  This is an opal mine that has been turned into an art gallery.  The man who owns the mine would wind down from his day's work by carving pictures into the walls in the mine.  The walls are made of pink limestone, so the carving wasn't as physically difficult as it sounds.  However, I can't imagine the time he put into some of the carvings.

Will wanted me to share this one - his soccer team is the Marlins.
Also, can you spot Wally?

He's serious about his carvings

We also took a tour to learn about mining for opals.  It is the black opal that is found in Lightning Ridge, which is one of the more rare opals you can find.  The miners would look for black potches to find the opal.  More likely than not, you would find a thin seam running through.  However, every once and awhile you could find something larger.  Our tour guide said he found an opal worth $15,000 on his property, which he gave to his granddaughter.

Checking out a tunnel

The posts behind us mean a lot of opal was found in that spot

Apparently people will watch for the wood posts to be bought, and then you have to worry about thieves getting to your opal.  Someone asked what would happen and our guide replied that you would kill them - then quickly said he was joking, however we're not sure he actually was.  He did say some thieves had recently been arrested and given a slap on the wrist.  They mysteriously had broken arms and legs the next day.  Apparently another set of thieves were down in an opal mine stealing, so dynamite was thrown in after them.  Like I said, it's an interesting place!

We drove on out to one of the open cut mines.  Here we let the boys dig around in a wheelbarrow that had some of the rocks from the mine.  You pour water over the rock and make sure you aren't blocking the sunlight, then look for any glimmers.  The boys filled a small bag full of bits of opals.  Probably wasn't worth more than what we paid to do it, but they had a great time doing it!

Digging with daddy

Look mum, it's an opal!

We drove out on another car door tour to the site of the first mine in Lightning Ridge.  All that's there is a plaque and heaps of piles of debris from old mine shafts.  On our way out, we drove past lots of claims.  Here is a picture of a typical set-up.

Can't even fathom..

And now onto some quirkiness.  Here is a picture of the Astronomer's Monument.  It is built by "Polish Alex" on his mining claim because - well, why not?  You can't actual tour it, lest you are shot at by Polish Alex.  The dome on top does not open and apparently he never owned a telescope...

He used plastic buckets to shape things, just like building a sand castle!

Next up is Amigo's Castle.  Amigo has spent 25 years building his castle.  He has no running water or electricity, but he has 13 cats that we counted.  He drives around finding stone to add on to his building.    The best part - he doesn't actually own the land, he's squatting on it!

Will is watching some cats play

This is a building built out of beer cans - mostly Toohey's Draught, if any Aussies are wondering.  There was a big sign saying not to go inside, as it's someone's home.  Of course it is!

Seriously, someone live here

And here we are going into another mine.  I can't believe how fascinated the boys were with learning about mines and opals.  They can even rattle off how the opals were formed.  Basically, this part of Australia used to be a sea.  Salt water seeped in through cracks in the limestone, catching silica on it's way down.  The water dried up after being under pressure, and an opal was formed.  Red on black opals are the most expensive, as they are the rarest.  I tend to like the blue/green shades of the black opals.  The boys were sure that every splash of red was going to make them rich.  Nothing like explaining to your child that it's simply a red rock, not worth anything!  And never let your child pick your hardhat.  I had a new nickname for the rest of the trip...

They still are calling my Boff and giggling hysterically.
They're lucky I love them.

After some time down in the mine, we let the boys try their hands at fossicking.  Wills had a great time, while Nath quickly became frustrated when he found nothing and decided to quit.  That says all you need to know about my two kiddos!

Digging in the heap

Using the sieve to get rid of the dirt

Anything in there?

Since this has been a massive post, I'll stop with us leaving Lightning Ridge and save our trip back home for tomorrow.  I hope I've given a decent peek into what the town was like.  It was an interesting place to visit and I'm glad we did.  We had a great time there and I am now the owner of two solid opal pendants that my very generous husband bought for our anniversary and my birthday.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Australia Zoo

Brian has been crazy busy since the beginning of the year.  He has had two projects due at the same time - which are both thankfully done as of last week - and several big things pop up that needed to be tended.  As a result, he's been travelling a fair amount, and when he's not travelling he has been working late and/or working at home in the evenings.  Last trip he came home from I hit him up early in the morning with about five different things because it felt like we hadn't talked in forever.  Luckily that doesn't happen often and we decided to do something about the lack of family time we had been having.  Knowing that he had to head back up to Brisbane for work last Monday through Thursday, we decided to surprise the boys by flying up to meet him in Brisbane.  The next question was what to do, which I thought was easily answered - the Australia Zoo.

I have had several Aussies ask me what Americans know about Australia.  I usually answer with things like "g'day mate," the Great Barrier Reef, the Opera House, and Steve Irwin yelling crikey as he wrestles a crocodile.  What many of us don't know is that the Irwin family has owned and operated a zoo since the mid-70's.  What started out as a a reptile farm has been turned into a lovely zoo.

They are holding up Tasmania and the rest of Australia

One of the fun things about the zoo are the encounters you can have with an animal, ranging anywhere from an echidna (kind of like a hedgehog.  Fun fact - they are one of two monotremes, meaning a mammal that lays and egg but carries her babies in a pouch.  The babies are called puggles) all the way to a tiger.  As much as I would've loved the tiger encounter, I just didn't feel like paying the money for it!  So, we booked Nathan in for the Dingo by Jingo encounter and Wills and I chose the Naughty Wombat encounter.  I tried to talk Bri into something, but he chose to just watch Nath with the dingoes.  So, we planned the main part of our day around those two encounters, which unfortunately overlapped.

Upon entry, we were greeted with a zoo worker holding an alligator.  She asked the boys if they would like to help hold it, which they were quite keen to do.  A photographer was there to snap the moment and at the end of the day you can collect any proofs and have them printed out for a small fee.  That said, they were happy for you to take any of the proofs and to use your own camera as well.  We had fun watching the boys interact with the animals.

Love the look on Will's face

Thumbs up for the Cockatoo.  Unless they start squawking at
inappropriate times, like early morning.  Then two thumbs way down!

Both of these were before we had even gotten to the main path.  We headed off to find the Tasmanian Devils, because the kids were looking forward to seeing those.  On the way there we ran into these two oldies:

I wish this picture conveyed how massive they are in life.  We watched the tortoises munching on grass for a bit - it was quite fun.  Then we were off again to find the Devils - until we were distracted by the massive crocodile on which to play - and who could blame the boys?

Will does actually like AC/DC - especially after he
discovered they were Aussies.

After playing on the croc for a few, we were off again for the elusive Devils - until once again we were distracted, this time by a Cassowary.  The boys were so excited.  They've been wanting to see one for awhile, especially in the wild.  Seeing as they are the most deadly bird (big surprise that it's in Oz!) I'm quite happy to visit it at the zoo!

It's actually about the size of an ostrich

I always think they look prehistoric, with that plate on top of their head.  They are able to gut you with their sharp claw, so it's suggested you cover your midsection and face if one charges you.  They are fast, so you can't outrun them.  Like I said, happy to see it behind a fence!

We finally made it to the Tasmanian Devils - and they were active!  I've seen them one other time and they weren't doing much.  This one was running around quite a bit, so we watched it for awhile.

It made it's devil noises while we were watching

I'll try not to bore you to much with every single other animal and just hit a few of the highlights.  As we walked by, one of the elephants had attachments on it's front legs.  At first we thought it was a "saddle" for people to ride it, but on closer inspection it looked more like a camera on it's back.  We watched for awhile and when a bit bigger of a crowd came around, the trainer explained that the elephant had arthritis in it's ankles and was receiving a massage.  It didn't like it very much, as it hadn't been used on it's front legs much.  After a few minutes, they switched the attachments to it's hind legs, which seemed to be well received.

Maybe I should get one for my ankle?

I love tigers - and I may have started to sing the Bengals fight song at this point -

Hear that Bengal growlin', mean and ang-er-ee

Just taking the cheetah for it's walk

Obligatory koala picture

Cute wombat

And with that I'm going to delve into our animal encounters.  Will and I put on our joggers and headed with a zoo keeper to the wombat enclosure.   I always thought they looked very cuddly - they kind of waddle around, looking a bit chunky.  Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong.  There is no fat on them, only solid muscle.  And they have this bony plate from the top of their haunches on down.  They truly do lumber along - unless they are being threatened.  Then they can run up to 40 kph and stop on a dime, so that the predator runs headfirst into that bony plate, either breaking it's facial bones or concussing itself.  Then the wombat is free to waddle away.  It can also thin itself out to 10 cms, mostly in it's burrow.  If a predator digs in there, the wombat thrusts itself up to smash the skull of the predator.  Don't mess with a wombat!  Wills and I loved the time we spent petting them.  Sorry about the quality of picture - it's a picture of a picture.  Brian had the camera taking pictures of Nath with the dingoes.

Sorry, it's a picture of a picture

Nathan had a great time with the dingoes.  By this point in the afternoon, they had to hold this encounter inside, as it had been raining on and off for most of the day.  Two dingoes were brought over  for Nathan and two others to meet.  Brian was allowed inside with Nathan as well.  Nathan loved them - and they loved on Nathan.  He received kisses and was able to get several good cuddles from them.  He said they were friendly and that he would love to meet them in the wild.  We are trying to convince him that is a bad plan.  As very few others were around, Nathan was able to spend almost an hour with the dingoes.  It made for one happy kid!

Very happy kiddo!

His official photo

We also were able to watch one of the main shows that stars Bindi, Steve Irwin's daughter.  She did a great job, but I wonder how difficult it must be to be reminded of your father so often.  I know that the whole family is passionate about conservation and she's a performer, but still.  It was a lovely show - crocodiles leaping at food, snakes slithering around, and birds taking five dollar notes off of people.  The boys were fascinated.

Another side note - I've heard several people refer to Bindi as Prickle.  Bindi is a common weed in the yard that has prickles on it.  Not very nice, as we've all had to pull many of them out of our feet.  I once asked someone why she would've been named after a weed.  Apparently she's named after one of the family dogs.  Not sure that's much better!

My final thoughts on the zoo are that it is incredibly well done.  There aren't as many animals as some of the zoos you visit, however that have done a top notch job with their enclosures.  They are significantly bigger than any I have seen at other zoos and were immaculate to boot.  I couldn't believe how clean the glass was on all of the exhibits!  It's also the most consistently active I have seen animals at a zoo - maybe it has to do with their living quarters?  I would recommend visiting the Australia Zoo - the hands on aspect was wonderful and I'm certain they are memories we will have for the rest of our lives!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Or, as we Americans call it, soccer!

Our next several months of Saturdays are taken up by the boys playing soccer.  It's fun, but there will be no sleeping in since Will has to be at the pitch at 8:30.  And Nathan has to travel every other Saturday - which means for the first time every we've had to split up instead of both parents watching!  I wasn't sure how that was going to go down, but Nath was thrilled to have his dad take him today.  Consequently, I only have pictures of Will's match today.

There's not a lot to say about Will's team - they're an Under 6 team.  That said, I've been very impressed with their coach.  He does an excellent job of keeping their interest at training and they actually pass and spread out on the field during the game.  He's a teacher at the local school, which makes a huge difference.

I think for this post I'll focus on different terms from the US and leave you with some pictures.  Obviously the pitch is what we'd call the field and it's not a game, it's a match.  Also, they're not shin guards, they're shin pads.  And don't you dare think of calling the shoes cleats!  I accidentally said that at sign ups and was jumped on by one of the coordinators.  I tried to assure her that we often refer to all shoes as cleats, however they weren't allowed to wear metal cleats - nor would I want them to, they are plastic "cleats" or turf shoes.  From that point on, I've made a conscious effort to refer to them as boots!

He's serious about the kickoff

Not sure which one of them kicked the ball,
but love the poses!
Did that kid push my baby?

Dribbling down the field

Getting in on the action

He even smiles when playing!

Incidentally, he's chosen the number seven for his jersey because he knows that was my number when I played.  What a sweetie!