Saturday, 31 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 34: Melbourne -> Bimbi Park

We all slept pretty well and were up in the morning to play with the kids and chat to my sister before getting ready to move on. I thought about unhitching and going to Aldi, then decided we'd just shop on the way. We left around 10.30 and headed through Melbourne, aiming for Colac. I noticed petrol was quite cheap but the service stations I saw were small and were going to be tricky to navigate with the trailer, so I decided to get top up after getting out of Melbourne.

We listened to Percy Jackson again and had a good run through Melbourne and out past Geelong. On the road to Colac we encountered roadworks and it became a very long trip along what is usually an easy, straight road. Eventually we arrived in Colac and stocked up on the groceries we would need for homeschool camp. While I was in the carpark I received a few phone calls and messages about Luna - she had been wandering overnight and had ended up with our neighbour, and another friend was looking for her to take her back to her place for a couple of days. I sorted that out as best I could, then went to get petrol, which was not cheap at all.

Heading out of Colac I was feeling a bit flustered as it was much later than I had hoped at this stage, and I followed a sign to The Great Ocean Road rather than following my GPS. I had planned to drive through Lavers Hill as this was the least windy road. We had been driving for a while, along a road that was pretty good, when I realised I had cut back across to the Skeynes Creek Road, which is the one I most wanted to avoid because of several hairpin bends and a steep descent to the ocean. By this stage it was too late to go back the other way so I decided to keep going and just take it easy. The wind was also quite strong and there were lots of small branches on the roads, which made driving a little more taxing.

The descent took a while (I took it slow) but it was manageable, and the tight turns were ok. I felt pretty good once I'd got to the bottom. There were great ocean views from time to time as we came down, and then we drove alongside the ocean for a while as we approached and left Apollo Bay. I was pretty tired by now and found the last little bit of the drive up to Cape Otway quite difficult. I drove fairly slow which was occasionally stressful when there were people behind me. As we drove down the Cape Otway road we came to more roadworks. While we were stopped, the lady with the Stop sign came along and pointed out some koalas to everybody, so most people got out of their cars to have a look. Back in the car we finally made it to Bimbi Park around 4pm.

I went to check in, and helped a friend negotiate the correct rate for her site (it defaulted to the base rate being for 2 adults, then added both children on to that price, rather than including the first child in the base rate). Caitlin wandered straight down to find her friends, and as I drove past the camp kitchen, Liam and Amelie jumped out to see friends as well. I drove down the back and found where I was camping with another friend, and he helped me get set up. Other friends were around as well and it was great to finally be there and get ready to relax for several days.

Once set up we wandered back to the kitchen for a quick meeting about the camp (mainly just asking us to be respectful of a visiting school group when they were praying), and saw a few more friends, then back to camp to finish getting organised - cook some dinner, have a cup of tea, chat with people as they wandered by. The kids were back and forth, playing with their friends and coming back to check in or eat every now and then. It was still very very windy which made things slightly less peaceful. I decided not to put my annex up until the wind died down, I did not want to spend all night worrying about it flying away. I chatted to my campsite friend until Amelie was ready for bed and then we went inside the tent, I read for a little while and then we tried to sleep and not get blown away.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 33: Wodonga -> Melbourne

I woke a bit after 7 and went down the street to get milk and a few other supplies, and to fill up our gas bottle before we go bush. When I got back Amelie was just waking up. The others were up soon afterwards and we had breakfast and started to get organised. Pack up went fairly quickly and well, until I tried to get the pegs out of the hard ground - some were tricky, and some were so stuck that I didn't know if I'd be able to do it at all. Eventually I managed to wriggle them free and could finish putting the tent away. We paid for our site when the caretaker came around, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was only $10, not $20, because we hadn't used any power. Racehorses were training on the track and on the grass near us, so the kids went and watched them for a while.

We set off a bit before 11 and listened to Percy Jackson again. The trip down the Hume Freeway was easy and fairly quick at first. I stopped for petrol and to check the air in my tyres, then we continued on. As the Freeway came down past Broadford and got closer to Melbourne, the wind was blowing sideways across the road and the driving became a bit more difficult and a bit slower.

We made it to my sister's place a bit after 2.30, and there was room in front of her house and driveway and a bit of next door's driveway for me to pull up with the trailer. We had to wait for a few minutes while the construction workers had a forklift on the road, then we were able to pull in. Amelie's best friend and her family met us at my sister's, and she went to the Museum with them. The rest of us spent the afternoon inside at my sister's, playing with the baby and the 4yo and catching up on each other's news. Liam is a big hit with his cousin so he was very busy playing cars and doing puzzles. Caitlin was more than happy to play with the baby.

Amelie came back in the evening, very happy to have spent time with her friend. We had pasta for dinner and then the little kids went to bed, my kids watched some videos and played on their iPads. I chatted more with my sister - I was so incredibly tired, any plans I'd had of getting things more organised for camp just didn't happen. We had a fairly early night, Caitlin slept on the couch, Amelie and I in the bed in the spare room and Liam on our foam mattress on the spare room floor.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 32: Bathurst -> Wodonga

Caitlin brought Amelie in to me in the middle of the night, Amelie had been a bit bothered by the dark I think. Sleeping with her in a single bed was a little bit uncomfortable.

I was up around 7 and saw the beautiful sunrise over the hills and trees, looking through the gorgeous big window they have in their dining area. I had a bit more of a chat to my friend as she got ready for work, then got the kids up and gave them breakfast, said goodbye to her kids, put our stuff in the car and hitched up the trailer. My friend had given Caitlin some horse blankets that she no longer needed, so I also reorganised the trailer a little to fit them in.

We set off sometime after 9 and drove through Bathurst and on towards Cowra. The countryside on our drive today was beautiful - very dry and dusty, lots of hills, some rocks, trees scattered around. It was all interesting. We stopped at a rest stop between Cowra and Young so that I could get a cup of tea, we all used the toilet and had an early lunch, and I adjusted some straps on the trailer (the bikes were wiggling loose a bit). A friend from home rang while we were stopped so it was a good chance to have a chat to her.

As we drove we listened to Percy Jackson and Greek Gods - which was a entertaining and amusing telling of Greek mythology - we all learnt lots and it's sparked many discussions already. Driving through Young I remembered stopping there once for a coffee with Tony - lots of memories on this road as well. We stopped in Junee (at a park that I remember stopping at before, but it was in a different place than I recalled - I thought it was near the railway station, but it was before we crossed the railway line) because a friend wanted to talk to me about homeschool camp - he was concerned about the bush fires around Camperdown and wanted to work out a plan for whether we would still go or not. We decided we'd keep an eye on weather and fire conditions and if the fire danger was low then we would go to camp as planned. The kids played in the playground while I talked and it was a lovely relaxing stop. There were a few freight trains going past which also added some interest.

We continued on to Wodonga and stopped at the Showground. I rang the number on the sign and the guy said to set up and he'd come and collect payment in the morning. They only allow 8 campers per night and I think we were the 8th. The spot that was left had a bus parked very close to the side where I would need to put my trailer, and I didn't want to encroach on the leisure space of the motorhome on the other side. So I reversed in very close to the bus, I don't think I could have been that accurate at the start of the trip. I also went a bit further back than the bus was, so we could both still walk around our vehicles.

I set up the tent, Caitlin helped with the tricky bits then went to sit on the grass to talk to her friends on the phone. The others played on their iPods for a while. Once we were all set up, Liam, Amelie and I went to Bunnings to get some lanolin spray to use on the tent zip (I wanted it before we got to camp in case it was cold and wet, because the zip sticks even more then, and I wouldn't be able to go shopping once I was at camp) and some other things (contact spray, WD40, and oil for the bike chains). We found these all in the one place which made it easy. There was a KFC in the Bunnings carpark, and I was very tired after a 6 hour drive and not much sleep the night before, so I bought a family pack for dinner, and Amelie bought all the kids frozen drinks.

Back at the tent we sat on the picnic rug (on the slope because I hadn't left us much flat space behind the tent - I figured for a quick stop without the stove we could manage) and ate our KFC which was delicious and just about the right amount of food for us. Afterwards Caitlin sat in the car for a little while and talked to friends again, the rest of us went to bed - I was ready for sleep by 9,30, the first time I'd been in bed before 11.30 in almost a week!

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 31: Blue Mountains -> Bathurst

It was a bit of a windy night, and the noise from the trains slowly heaving up the mountain could be loud - they didn't ever wake me up, but a couple of times I was already awake and heard them go past. The morning was beautiful and fresh, with the sun rising and lighting up the trees across the grass from us.

There wasn't a lot to do to pack up and it went pretty smoothly (although the wind made it slightly difficult at times and I also had trouble with the zip on the trailer cover). My friend from the night before came past at one point, she was walking to Springwood and it was cool to see her one more time.

We continued to drive through the Blue Mountains, and saw the new Hydro Majestic Hotel and it's majestic view. We stopped for petrol in Medlow Bath, and then approached Victoria Pass, which I had been anxious about for almost a week. The grade here is 14% in some parts, and I knew it was a tricky, steep road. My friend's husband had given me some tips the night before, so I put the car in 2nd gear and just took it very slow. The speed limit for trucks was 40, and I went slower than that - it was fine, I didn't feel the trailer pushing me at all at that speed. There were a few tight bends in between the 2 steep parts, and I managed them fine and got to the bottom feeling very relieved and a great sense of achievement!

I would have liked to stop in Hartley and have a look around but we already had enough stops planned for these last few days of driving. Tony rang us when we were near Lithgow so I pulled over and we all had a chat to him on his birthday. We kept going and turned off to find my friend's place - a friend from my BHP days. We parked the trailer in front of her shed, and then drove in to Bathurst to meet her at her daughter's school, which was having a Highland Gathering.

We found her watching the bagpipe display (her daughter was competing) and sat on the grass and watched that and the strong man competition. We were all hot and exhausted and I sent the kids to get themselves an ice block. Amelie accidentally got the wrong one so I sent her to get a 2nd one - it was hot and windy and it was much more bearable if we all felt happy. After their ice blocks the kids went for a walk to look at the games and rides. I stayed and talked with my friend for a while, it was so good to see her. She and her youngest son decided to go home for a while, so I went and found the kids and saw Caitlin and Liam competing by running attached to a bungee cord and trying to put blocks as far away from their starting point as they could. Caitlin's long arms and legs and speed made this a lot easier for her. Amelie got her face painted (a cat on one side of her face, it was really well done) and the others played some skill games (throwing or shooting balls at things). We had a bit more of a wander around and then discovered that the meat pies were half price as it was nearly the end of the day, so we had one each.

We headed back to my friend's place. I hadn't been to her house before, it was huge and spacious - she and her husband had designed and built it 15 years ago and I loved it. We had a bit of a look around, and went down to feed bread to the sheep and the very old (30 years) horse. Her boys were riding their motorbikes, and the 15 year old took Liam then Caitlin on a ride - they loved it. The kids played on the trampoline and the swing, and Caitlin helped feed the horse, then we went inside while my friend cooked dinner. We chatted and the kids played and we had a delicious lamb roast with her and her kids. We had ice cream and blueberries for dessert and then sat in the lounge for a cup of tea. It was relaxing and easy to be there and I'm so glad we detoured inland to see her.

The girls slept in the bunk beds in the youngest son's room (he slept in my friend's room) and Liam and I slept in single beds in the spare room. It was really dark once all the lights went out - no street lights this far out of town and they turned all the lights off before they went to bed.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 30: Sydney -> Blue Mountains

This was the most urban place we'd stayed in for a while - I was woken up by people on their morning walk going past the front of the house and talking loudly. It wasn't early though, probably around 7.30. We had a relaxed morning, hanging out in the kitchen/family room, eating breakfast and chatting and playing games. The kids spent some time on iPads and all the boys and Amelie played Minecraft for a while (although Amelie's world wasn't working properly) and we played Love Letters again, with people swapping in and out of the game as other things were happening. Our friend's daughter had dancing so she went off to that, and the boys all went with her mum to pick her up, bringing back a big box of delicious donuts from Grumpy Donuts. I was in the shower when they got back out, and returned to the kitchen to a very yummy treat.

Our hosts were going out around 11.30, so we organised to leave at the same time. I got everything in the car and locked the front door and just as I drove off remembered that I'd left my water bottle in the bed - I figured it wasn't worth the hassle of organising to go back inside to get it, so we gifted it to our friends.

We drove around and over the Harbour Bridge which was quite exciting, then I chose the wrong lane as I exited the bridge but still easily found my way to my brother's house in Greenwich. We parked on Greenwich Rd, finding a lengthy parking space fairly easily, and walked around the block to my brother's. His son was a little unsure about all these people coming in to his house, although he eventually played with Caitlin for a little while. When he wanted his Maman and Caitlin offered to go with him to find her though, he wasn't interested, he wanted Papa to take him. He went down for a nap before lunch.

My brother cooked the most magnificent steaks and sausages on the bbq, as well as some awesome chips and his wife made a salad, and we sat on the balcony to eat lunch. They had a friend over as well and she was fun and interesting to talk to. I had a great time catching up with all their day to day news and the kids joined in at times, and looked at the view or retreated with their iPods for a while. Their cousin woke up after a while and still wasn't keen on playing or talking with the kids, but did give them all a high-5 when we were saying goodbye.

We left a bit before 4 and the drive up to the Blue Mountains was quite easy. We pulled into a free camp at Woodford and discovered that all the vehicle camping is on the road, only tents can go on the grassed area (there are large rocks around the edge of the grass). At first I wasn't sure where we'd be able to set up, and we were thinking of getting out our little tents, then I decided I could probably manage to get the tent up in the one bay that was available (everywhere else I felt like the tent would be in the way of through traffic).

The bay was definitely big enough and I had no trouble backing in. I wanted to set up quickly so we could go to my friend's house (I'd said I'd be there around 6 and it was 5.30 when I unhitched). I had a moment of worry when I unhitched and the trailer rolled backwards - I caught it and managed to unlock the toolbox with one hand and get around to the wheels to chock them before it rolled any further. We did a very quick (38 minutes, including the beds) setup in hot, late afternoon sun. I was covered in sweat and very red in the face. The set up was a bit tricky too because half of the bay was asphalt so we couldn't peg all the corners down, so I used ropes on a couple of the corners. The slope was a bit inconvenient too so the tent looks a bit wonky - but for a short overnight stop it was fine. The zip decided to play up just as we were about to leave - I zipped up the fly door instead and we went to my friends.

We were greeted at my friend's house by her 3 legged dog who wasn't sure about these strangers in her house - she settled down after a while and spent a lot of the night licking Amelie and Liam's legs. We sat out the back and had nibbles and drinks and then a BBQ with sausages and chicken skewers. Great food and fantastic conversation. Both my friend's adult daughters were home and I loved catching up with them (I've known them both since they were born). It was a very relaxing and funny night. The kids spent some time looking at the birds and talking to one of the girls about them, and Amelie watched Beauty and the Beast (the new one). I remember watching the original Disney version with my friend in this same house, about 25 years ago! They had recently renovated their kitchen and changed some other things in the house so I was happy to see all the changes and we reminisced about what the house originally looked like.

We didn't leave until after 11 - Amelie was already asleep and everyone was pretty tired. It had been a very enjoyable evening. We drove back to camp and pretty much went straight to bed, all three kids were asleep within minutes.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 29: Newcastle -> Sydney

I wanted to make sure that I saw the girls and their Dad before they left for school and work so that I could say goodbye, so when I woke quite early I didn’t try to go back to sleep. I had enough time to go for a walk and this time went straight to the granny pool for a swim. The sky was grey and there was a light breeze blowing in from the ocean – the feel and smell of the air reminded me so much of swimming at Merewether Baths on a cloudy morning. The water was cool and refreshing and got to about chest deep near the gap in the wall, where the water flows in from the channel. I swam around for about 10 minutes then went back to the house to say goodbye and thanks for letting us stay.

After I’d had some breakfast I chatted to Tony for a while, then Caitlin said that the oldest cousin had missed her bus. I drove her to school (which also gave the girls a bit more time together) and then stopped at Woolworths on the way back to get some more bread and milk. The bridge was up again as we left Swansea. At home I was just about to start packing when Tony rang again, it was great to have a chat of more than a few minutes with him.

I didn’t start packing until 9.40, then had everything done, ready to go by 11.40 which I was very happy with.  I was hot and sweaty so had a cold shower and got changed, we checked that we had all our stuff and were on our way by just after 12.

We stopped for petrol at Doyalson – last year I’d bought a Pokemon DVD at this petrol station so Amelie wanted to see if they had more. There weren’t any DVDs that interested her, she and Liam bought some chocolate. The drive down to Sydney was fairly easy, there was a lot of traffic but it mainly kept moving. Getting through to Leichhardt had a few moments of tricky traffic with the trailer on, but we made it fine. As I approached our friends’ house I saw a parking spot about 2 ½ cars long, in front of a boat. It was long enough for me to drive into it, then reverse back at bit and wiggle back and forth to get the trailer fairly straight (and mainly off the cycle lane). It was only a few houses away from where we were staying so I was very pleased with the spot.

Our friends weren’t home until after work, so we had some lunch at the car, then walked down to the Light Rail station at Lilyfield. We stopped on the way to buy Opal cards, and I bought a scratchie as well which we did at the station – we didn’t win anything but the kids enjoyed scratching it. The train was very crowded and took a long time to get to Central. Once there we caught a regular train to Circular Quay – we sat upstairs which was exciting for kids used to Melbourne, single level, trains (and I always love catching Sydney trains). Getting off the train at Circular Quay we had a great view over the Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. We stood at the edge of the platform and looked at the view, and noticed a street artist down on the path below – he was completely dressed and painted in gold, and appeared to be hovering in mid air – he had one hand resting on top of a pole, and was sitting cross legged about a metre off the ground. We headed downstairs to see if we could see how he was doing it, but he was packing up by the time we got there. From what we could see, the pole was firmly anchored in a base plate, but there was no other support – so we think he was balancing just on the strength of his arm on the pole.

We wandered around to the Opera House, looking at the markers showing the 1788 waterline. We admired a street artist’s painting of the harbour and gave him some money. At the Opera House we sat on the ledge around the edge of the point and looked at the Bridge, the boats and ferries going past, and the sails of the Opera House. We walked across the base of the steps and went down to the pontoon at Man-of-war steps, Amelie didn’t like being on the moving pontoon, so she played with some soft, sparkly sand on the path back on dry land. Caitlin and Liam had a look around, then we walked back up the Opera Houses steps and sat on one of the sloping parts in front of a window. It was tempting to run up to the top of the slope but there was a sign saying not to, so we sat at the bottom and looked at all the different aspects of the sails that we could see from there. We went over and touched some of the tiles and looked at the different patterns and how different they looked from a distance compared to up close.

Amelie wanted to see the Botanic Gardens so we wandered over there and the kids played around a sculpture of mother earth, Caitlin climbed a fig tree, and we went to look at gazebo that was installed recently, which had lots of symbolism about the colonial impact of Governor Macquarie and his wife. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon so the backdrop was incredible, with the harbour and boats and bridge always in sight.

We wandered back towards the station, stopping briefly to share a cup of delicious lemon sorbet. We got to the platform just in time to jump on a train – one of the newer ones that I don’t think I’ve been on before. We admired the old fashioned style of Museum station as we went through, then got off the train at Central. The light rail train was just pulling in as we arrived at the platform, we were able to get on and get seats this time. The trip back seemed much quicker, and we wandered up the hill in much cooler temperatures, just before sunset.

Our friends were sitting on the front steps waiting for us when we arrived. We had a drink of water then sat out the back for a while and the kids played tennis with small plastic rackets, until the mozzies got too bad. We had delicious pizza for dinner and all the kids got on well. (Our friends’ 2 kids and another friend of theirs who was sleeping over). The younger kids played with loom bands for a while and did some puzzles, Caitlin sat with the adults and we played a game called Love Letters. The boys played Uno then started to watch our game, and we switched out players so that everyone had a turn. My host and I had a cocktail and it was a fun night, full of laughter and catching up.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 28: Newcastle

Once again I was up first and went for a walk to the beach. The water was clearer today, less seaweed and no muck. It was sunny and beautiful in a different way to yesterday. There was one surfer in the water and I decided to go in - the undertow was strong and the waves were breaking fairly close to shore. I thought about going past the break but didn't feel confident given that I was there on my own. I stood in waist deep water for a while and it was lovely, then hopped out and kept walking. I walked to the end of the beach and all the way out to the end of the break wall. There was a big swell coming into the channel - it was really cool to see the waves from behind as they rolled past me. There were some good splashes on the edge of the break wall but nothing really breaking over onto the path.

I chatted for a while with a couple and their dog (the dog didn't want me to come too close to it's humans, until we started talking and then it came over to me for a pat and was quite happy), then wandered back home. I had a shower and some breakfast and chatted to the kids as they woke up.

At 10 an old friend from BHP came to visit, we sat out the back and talked for a couple of hours, it was fantastic to spend some time with him. After he left I tidied up a bit, talked to a friend from home on the phone, then we had lunch and got ready to go out to see another friend (Caitlin's godfather).

We drove down to his house in Wyee and had a lovely afternoon chatting, looking at his garden and the work he's done in the yard, talking politics and lots of other topics. The kids played with his girls and came in and out of our conversation. They played Uno and hide and seek and read books and played with stuffed toys, then Amelie and his girls watched TV until we left. Just as we were getting ready to go his wife came home from work, I'm so glad we got to see her as well.

Back home and the cousins were out at the beach so we relaxed for a while, when they came home the kids played on the trampoline and chatted. The youngest cousin was here and she and Amelie danced to Moana again. My BIL set up a fire in the backyard and the kids sat around that and ate their dinner, some went inside afterwards to watch tv together, some stayed outside. I chatted to the other adults and it was a lovely quiet evening. After the little one and her mum and brother had left, the kids all stayed inside and my BIL sat outside near the fire until quite late, talking about lots of deep topics. I had thought about packing some of our stuff tonight, then decided the conversation was more important.