Friday, October 3, 2014

Australian Road Trip, Day 1 - Dubbo

There are several things we would like to do before we leave Australia to move back to the US - whenever that might happen.  We are aware that there probably isn't heaps of time left, and we want to make the most of our remaining time in this beautiful part of the word.  One of the things at the top of our list was the Great Ocean Road, considered to be one of the best drives in the world, and with good reason.  However, we didn't want to fly in and out, so we decided to make a big loop around the south-eastern portion of the country, a journey that would be 4,363 km (2712 m) long.

One of the stops we wanted to do was Dubbo, NSW, so we could take the kids to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo.  It was such a different experience - the animals aren't in cages, but openly roam with moats in between you and the animals.  Also, you are able to rent bikes, so we did and had a lovely 5km bike around.  The bikes weren't in the best condition, so if you are able to take your own I would recommend that option.  You had to really work to break - harder than pedalling up the hills.  Still, it was a really enjoyable way to visit the animals.

The boys on their pushies

The unfortunate part of the biking was that it is currently Magpie swooping season.  Sounds ridiculous, but it's true.  Bri and I were both swooped.  Brian even made sure that we stayed away from the bird that swooped him, but apparently I wasn't quite far enough away.  I really dislike birds to begin with and I screamed like a girl.  Glad it was us and not the boys!

Each exhibit had bike racks to park at and then you could walk a few steps to get a good view of the animals.  I think the giraffes were my favourites.  They were not a bit shy and came right up to us.

I loved his colours.  I had my long-range lens
on and no time to switch, so it's not all
of him.

The poor giraffe even was swooped by a Magpie as we watched!

I enjoyed the tower overlooking the African plains, it gave you a real sense of how much space the animals had.

We also enjoyed watching the hippo swim.  It wouldn't surface much of it's body, but I've never seen anything quite like it.  You'd watch the bubbles move and would wait for his head to pop out of the water.

Coming up....

There he is!

There was a baby black Rhino that was fairly recently born, but the mother kept shielding it from us.  I got a bit of the baby in this picture.

The mum's head is in the way

And the Meerkats.  Wills loves them.  I'm not sure why so much.  I mean, they are cute, but he often is popping up around us imitating a meerkat. 


See the similarities?

I could put up a million more pictures, but it would probably get boring.  We left early in the afternoon, because we had our longest single drive of the trip coming up - 8 hours to Broken Hill, NSW.  

Off we went into the Outback, where the scenery completely changed.  It was lots of straight road, roos and goats on the side of the road, and not much else.  It is mind-boggling to me how unpopulated the centre of the country truly is.  Almost everyone lives on the coast.  On that drive, I think we went through 3 towns, to put it loosely.  We went for 3 hours without seeing anything.  I can't fathom driving from Northern Kentucky down I-75 to Tennessee and not going through any city at all!

Really, really straight.  But how
stunning are the clouds?

But you know what a flat horizon and no city lights means?  An incredible sunset.

For a really long time.

The sunset happened at 6:30pm.  We made it to Broken Hill around 8:00, and it had only been truly dark for about 15 minutes.  

We checked into our hotel, slept hard, and were ready to explore Broken Hill the next day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


This weekend was a long weekend.  Brian had Monday off for the Queen's birthday, which we found out they don't actually have off in England!  We had a great time together, including the day in Sydney on Saturday.  It's lovely to have a major city so close by, while we are able to enjoy the lifestyle of the beach!

We started off in Chatswood, a suburb of Sydney, for Yum cha.  My friend Emmi introduced me to this on a girl's food weekend in Sydney and my boys were keen to have a go.  Yum cha is also known as dim sum in the US, but I've not seen a restaurant similar to this style.  You are immediately served tea whilst carts come around with different types of food.  You can pick and choose what you eat and each plate has 3 or 4 pieces of the food on it.  The first cart that came out had several types of wontons on it - prawn, veg, and chicken.  The highlight for my boys were the pork buns.  I agree, they are fantastic!  Nath and Will had huge eyes as the carts clattered around the restaurant and we left stuffed for a train ride to the Maritime Museum on Darling Harbour.

Boys "saluting" on top of the Vampire
The boys have been begging us to visit the National Maritime Museum for awhile.  Usually it's when we have somebody visiting and we are trying to hit the Sydney highlights, so we've been putting them off for some time.  Saturday seemed like the perfect day to visit and we happily bought our Big Ticket, which included tours of several ships outside, plus everything in the museum.  The boys were excited to visit a destroyer and a submarine, but Nathan was incredibly happy to explore the replica of the Endeavour, Captain Cook's ship. He is currently studying the first fleet in school and visited Sydney on a school excursion, but didn't get to see the ship.  He was able to supplement his knowledge and impress the tour guides with what he knew.  The replica of the HMB Endeavour will actually be sailing into Port Stephens later in the year, and the guide has encouraged Nathan to sign up to help with some of the demonstrations.

The boys and I steering

Nathan reading about the Endeavour

But the real reason we headed to Sydney was for Vivid.  This is a festival that runs for several weeks, lighting up much of the CBD.  Even the boats in the harbour light up for the evening.  It's really quite a spectacle.  We started out in front of the Opera House, sitting on the steps on the Quay with our dinner from one of the food trucks parked around.  We even bought the boys a bottle of water that lights up with the push of a button.  The show was gorgeous, we were so impressed with it.  We walked all the way around the Quay and down to the rocks, stopping at different buildings to watch for a bit, or exploring the art installations that were around.  Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, here you are-

Water tastes better when it glows

Cruise ship leaving the Harbour before Vivid starts

Space Invaders

My three boys and the light ball

The theme of Vivid 2014 was Lights and Music.  On Customs House they had an installation that you could "conduct."  There were different styles of music and the motions of your hands would control streaks or different shapes across the building.  A massive queue was there, so the boys just watched. Nath found it a bit loud, so we didn't stay too long.

Mainly brass instruments at this point

The boys were also able to become part of the art in several spots.  One of my favourites was the graffiti paintings of their faces.



Lights on the Museum of Contemporary Art

Across the Quay and over the throng

Monday, March 24, 2014

Holi Cow, That Was Fun!

Last weekend we drove to Sydney to go to the Holi Festival.  Holi is a Hindu festival that has a basic concept of good triumphing over evil and the welcoming of spring.  You can read more about it here. So why would our Christian family decide to go to a Hindu festival?  It was actually at the request of our younger son.  This has been an ongoing request over the past 6 months, so I'll give a bit of an explanation.

Last year, one of the overarching topics for a term at school was Celebrations.  During that time, the class learned about many celebrations around the world.  Holi was one that stuck with Wills for one simple reason - the throwing of colours.  A video had been shown to his class of the actual event in Sydney.  Will decided he really wanted to go - I suspect it's because he knew it was one of the rare times he could chuck something at his brother and get away with it!

Now, why throwing colours?  It took me awhile to figure that part out.  I finally found where the colours came in, besides just being fun and representing the blossoming of flowers in spring - which seemed a bit obvious.  Krishna, who is always portrayed as blue, became tired of being the only god that was a different colour, especially after he fell in love with a fair-skinned goddess.  So, he playfully painted her face with colour.  Subsequently, they fell in love, so now it's also considered a playful thing to do with your loved ones!  Also, this is what those 5k colour runs are based.

So Will came home and, with permission, did some research on the computer to find out when Holi would be happening in Sydney for 2014.  He discovered the dates and begged us to go to it.  We responded with a "We'll see," not intending to go to the city for just that.

Luck for Wills, it corresponded to the same weekend Major League Baseball was playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  We had friends that were coming down from Brisbane to watch - Hi, Rita! - and thought it would be nice to catch up with them.  The stars aligned and we headed down for an overnight trip!

Funny to see baseballs floating in Darling Harbour!

I'll finish up with some pictures of our trip.  There aren't any of us throwing the colours, as there was no way I was taking my camera into that mess!  We had a great time.  It's really fun to learn about other cultures, and we find it's also a great tool to explain how and why our beliefs are different to the boys!

Ready to throw.  And, yes, I know the irony of wearing a Christian
shirt to a Hindu festival.  IUMC representing in Sydney!

The aftermath.  And, yew, it did wash out of all our clothes!

This stupid shirt is never going away - it's as white as the driven snow again!

In line for curry!

Lounging in the park after lunch

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Port Villa - The Cascades

Before I get into the Cascade Waterfalls, I wanted to talk about how you get around in Vanuatu.  The easiest way is to catch a bus, which is actually more of a passenger van or a people carrier.  They were everywhere and could be identified by a B at the beginning of the license plate.  All you had to do was glance toward the driver and they would stop to ask if you needed a ride.  It cost us about $12 to get pretty much anywhere on the island.  The drivers were always friendly and often had their children riding around with them.  They were proficient at weaving in and out of traffic and most trips took us no more than 15 minutes to get anywhere.  We were very shocked when traffic was at a standstill heading towards Hideaway Island and were wondering what was going on when the driver wove past people running.  We had just gone by the Olympic Torch and had no idea until we were flying around the contingency of people, so no picture - but a great experience!

Beginning our climb
Everyone who has visited Vanuatu told us to make sure we visited the Cascade Waterfalls, and we were so glad we did!  You start your journey out on a beautiful path through the bush, only catching glimpses of the waterfall.  Eventually you are actually climbing through the waterfall, stopping to swim in the pools and playing in the falls.  The water is crisp and cool, which is very welcome in the humidity of the tropics.  It is crystal clear as well - we had a ball playing around.

We made sure to leave fairly early to visit, under the assumption that it would get fairly crowded because a cruise ship was docking in the morning.  When they docked, it felt like the population of the town doubled!  We didn't see many people while we went up, but quite a few on our way down.

This was one of the boy's favourite experiences, and a reminder of how Brian and I spent much of our honeymoon.  I don't have a lot to say about it - it's pretty self-explanatory.  It's a case of a picture being worth a thousand words, so enjoy!

The path through the falls

In front of one of the larger falls

The boys climbing up and into one of the pools

Look, it's a literal slippery dip! (Aussie slang for a slide)

Mum and her boys!

Brian climbed down on the side of this waterfall.  The boys and
I followed later.

Nath swimming into the waterfall

Another picture, mum?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Port Vila - Part One

We began and ended our holiday in Port Vila.  We weren't so excited to have to fly to another island in the middle, but that's just how it worked.  Brian had already used up quite a few of his vacation days when we visited the US, so we worked around the public holidays of Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day to make the most of what he had left.  That boxed us into specific dates of travel.  Since planes don't fly to Tanna every day, we would've had to travel in the middle of our time there anyway.

The kids are old enough to have opinions on things they want to do, so Brian and I decided they could each choose something within reason - we were allowed veto power.  Nathan opted for horseback riding months ago, so that was one of the first things we did.  Nathan picked the 2 hour rain forest tour, so we saddled up and headed off on the adventure.

Poor Brian's view!
We were paired up and helped onto our horses, given a brief set of instructions, and off we went with our guides.  The kids weren't so sure about the first steep hill we went down, but quickly enjoyed the feeling.  The both ended up being tethered to our guides, as they weren't quite strong - or forceful - enough to keep their horses going the way the boys wanted them to head.  I gave the camera to Brian, since I figured it would be less painful bouncing around on him!

All of our horses had distinct personalities.  Bri and Will's horses just wanted to eat, given any bit of slack on the reins.  Nath's horse was stubborn and had to be fussed at fairly often.  Mine liked to stay on the path and gave me a bit of excitement when he decided to start to rear up on me.  I yanked on the reins hard for him to stop and just clung on for dear life.  Brian swears I'm exaggerating, but it felt scary!

The bush was lovely and the views from the top were stunning - but we don't have any pictures of that because Brian's horse got very fidgety when we stopped.  The boys were exhausted about halfway through the tour and we had to tell them to stop whinging - all of our bums were sore!  They didn't realise that you used different muscles riding.  All in all, they had a good time and are pestering us to go again here!

Nath's sweet face

Looking fantastic in our riding helmets

Will picked riding U-power boats around the harbour.  The boys kept calling them U-boats and not understanding why Bri and I were laughing.  Basically they were two-seater pontoon boats.  The real appeal here is that the boys could drive them as long as we sat behind them.  Off we went behind our guide, with the throttle open and the boys giggling as we wake hopped.  We took a bit of a break in the middle of our hour tour for a swim.  The water was absolutely crystal clear and were surprised to hear that it was 30 feet deep, since we could easily see the bottom.  The boys adored this part of the holiday. Alas, I'm not risking my camera on that ride, so no pictures!

We also saw a fire dancing show at our resort.  When they came out and weren't in traditional dress, I was a bit disappointed.  However, that feeling was quickly lost watching the show.  Here are a few of my favourite pictures.

And now the kids think it would be cool to breathe fire...

Hideaway Island
We also spent time wandering the town and hanging out at the beach.  Our favourite was Hideaway island.  It was about fifteen minutes from Port Vila by taxi bus and then another five minutes by ferry.  Not only was it beautiful, but the snorkeling was amazing!  We saw angel fish, parrot fish (my favourite), puffers, other beautifully coloured fish, and blue sea stars.  The boys were champs with their swimming skills, although we did get Will a life vest so we didn't have to worry too much about him.  At one point we thought we were swimming up to a huge black coral to be surprised when it was a massive school of fish - just like the school in Finding Nemo that form the Opera House.  Speaking of Nemo, we found several of him as well!

Hideaway Island is also home to the world's only underwater post office.  There is a postbox you can dive down and mail postcards in, which we did.  I have no idea when they'll arrive to the people we sent them to, but fun for the kids to do anyway.  Twice a day the postman goes out in scuba gear to man the post office.  The kids thought he was really fun!

The guy with the massive hair?  That's the postman.

My three guys snorkeling

Nath was done

Wills "borrowed" my sunnies for the return ferry!

Back to the mainland - hope to be back to Hideaway Island someday!