A Wiggles Wish Come True

Over the past year, Elijah has fallen in love with 4 guys, a pirate, an octopus, a dinosaur and a dog!  The Australian’s know them as ‘The Wiggles’ and Elijah just can’t get enough of Murray, Jeff, Anthony, Greg, Captain Feathersword, Henry, Dorothy, and Wags!

He has watched the entire collection of DVD’s at the Mah house, who just happen to be related to Jeff Wiggles, and Elijah is completely enamoured with the Captain and Dorothy, and repeatedly asks us “You be Wake Up Jeff” which involves pretending to be asleep and him saying “Jeff is always falling aseep.  What are we goin ‘a’ do?  Let’s wake Jeff up.  1-2-3-4-5 – Wake up Jeff!!”

When it was announced that the Wiggles were retiring at the end of the year and were doing their last 4 shows in Sydney at the Entertainment Centre, I proposed to Nana and Poppi (Barb and Gary) that their Christmas gift to Elijah be a ticket to see one of their final shows.  They of course obliged, so on December 22nd, Elijah’s wish came true!

We arrived at the show in time to purchase Murray’s plush guitar with his leftover Christmas money, and took our seats centre stage, in the very last row of the upper section.  Elijah was in awe of the stage and the lights and the jumbo screens that in advance of the show were playing Wiggles DVD footage simply to get the kids geared up for the real deal.

Elijah’s face turned to complete shock and utter amazement when the 4 Wiggles came out onto the stage in the infamous Big Red Car and the Entertainment Centre went wild with children’s screams of excitement!

When the shock wore off, he sang along to most of the songs and thoroughly enjoyed seeing his Australian friends live on stage!  During the show, we got introduced to the new Wiggles who will be replacing Murray, Jeff and Greg, and Elijah even got to hand a bone to Jeff Wiggles to give to Wags the dog!

After the Wiggles final encore, Elijah was more than ready to head outdoors and tell his dad and Leina and Cohen all about the show!

Elijah may not love The Wiggles forever, and he may not remember seeing them live in Sydney, but I will forever remember bringing him to the show, witnessing the look of pure shock and excitement on his face, singing along to the songs, and celebrating the 21 years of ‘Wiggles’ entertainment.  Thanks Nana and Poppi for making Elijah’s wish down under come true!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leina Turns 8 Down Under

Leina was ecstatic to be celebrating her 8th birthday on December 23rd in the summer in Australia, instead of the winter in Canada, and she was fortunate to have 7 of her Australian girlfriends over to help make the celebration memorable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leina and her friends enjoyed making cards and posters with different craft materials and Evie managed to surprise the group by making her own moustache and eyebrows with the supplies!  Once the crafts were cleaned up and the girls (and Cohen) played a quick game of tip (tag in Canada), they all came back inside for a game of ‘Pin the Star on the Christmas Tree’, with Grace being crowned the winner!

A game of ‘Pass the Parcel’ preceded birthday cupcakes and fairy bread – the quintessential Australian birthday delicacy consisting of white bread smothered in butter and topped with ‘100’s and 1000’s’ sprinkles!  A tradition that is sure to make its’ way to Canada!

Leina received some really special gifts from her friends, all of whom kept in mind that she would be leaving for Canada in the very near future.  She was spoiled with a beautiful handmade owl backpack, a cookbook for kids, an ankle bracelet, a small pet dog that walks, a pewter fairy on a rose quartz gem, bracelets, and pencil case and pens.  She was so happy and grateful to have received so many nice things.

It was only 2 hours of fun, but after the loot bags had been handed out, and parents had come to collect their daughters, and Elijah had woken from his afternoon nap, it turned out to be the perfect afternoon to hit the municipal pool to cool off before supper!  It was a birthday party with new friends that Leina will never forget!

However, the festivities and celebrating didn’t end there!  The following day, which was also Matt’s last day of teaching here in Australia, we travelled into Sydney by train and spent the night in North Sydney at an apartment belonging to friends of ours from Blackheath, Rachel and Iain.  We had a big day planned with the kids on Saturday.  Elijah and I were off to celebrate one of the final shows of the Wiggles at the Entertainment Centre in Darling Harbour thanks to Nana and Poppi in Canada, and Matt was taking Leina and Cohen to the Powerhouse Museum for her birthday.  All of the kids had such a good day, exploring the exhibits and just being in the city.  For lunch we dined on Chinese food in Chinatown (Leina’s choice) and rode the train back home to Blackheath in time for a Mexican themed dinner compliments of Damien’s brother James, and his daughters Annelise and Christina who came to visit us from Newcastle.

The Mexican night was complete with Corona’s, sombreros and tacos in both soft and hard shells.  And what’s a Mexican night without a shot of tequila!  We had a great evening catching up with James and the girls, and were well prepared for the next day’s festivities, ‘The Mah Family Christmas Lunch’ coincidentally held on Leina’s actual birthday. She had the pleasure of sharing the birthday celebrations with Damien’s sister Kristy, born on Christmas day, and Damien’s aunt Lynn, born on December 24th.

Leina spent most of December 23rd opening presents, some brought by very generous members of the Mah family, and others sent to Blackheath by thoughtful and loving family members back home in Canada!  She was a very lucky girl!

Leina will remember this birthday for years to come, because of the events, because it was in the summer, but mostly because of the people she had the pleasure of sharing her 8th birthday with!

Blue Mountains with Boszormeny’s and Ben and Aidan

Our return from New Zealand saw the end of the third school holiday break.  But thankfully our time with the Boszormeny family didn’t have to end when we left the South Island!  George, Julie, Amber and Abby were able to spend a week exploring Sydney and the Blue Mountains with us.

Arriving hot on their heels to the land down under were Matt’s brother Ben and his wife Aidan, who had just spent a week in Bali, Indonesia at a friends wedding. Ben arrived with what appeared to be an infection on the top of his foot, and what was originally going to be a brief 3-day visit with us, turned into a trip to the Lithgow Hospital for antibiotics, the cancellation of plans to travel up the coast, and a 6-day stay with us in the Blue Mountains!  And although we felt bad that Ben had to deal with an injury, we were certainly thankful for the extended visit!

The day the Boszormeny family arrived to Blackheath, was also the day that Matt had been invited by his friend Julian to the Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panarama.  The boys arrived home from the race and the celebrations continued while the final laps were watched from the comfort of our lounge room!

During our time together in the Blue Mountains, we explored the Jamison Valley and took both families on a cable car ride down into the rainforest, had lunch at the base, and then rode the steep railway back up to the top.  We enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner, and delighted in a bonfire and children’s talent show, complete with headlamps!

Ben was well enough to travel down the coast to Callala Beach with Caroline and Aidan mid-week, so while they were off skinny dipping in the ocean, the Boszormeny family went on a big hike down to Bridal Veil Falls at Govetts Leap where they were shocked to find a snake coiled up beside the hiking trail and Amber was dive-bombed by a nesting magpie!  They were completely mesmerized by the views.

Amber and Abby were fortunate enough to experience a day in the life of an Aussie student and attended Blackheath Public with Leina and Cohen during their week with us.  Amber was in a year 5 class for the day, while Abby shadowed Leina in her year 1/2 class.  The students were treated to maple sugar candies brought especially to Australia by the Boszormeny girls!  Some of the students at the school still rave about those treats!

While the kids were at school, the adults, and Elijah, hiked at Wentworth Falls and had lunch out at a unique spot, The Garage, in Leura, one of our favourite towns.  Although the service was mediocre, the meal was quite good.  We arrived to pick up the kids at the end of the school day and they had many wonderful stories to share about their time in an Australian school.

Our last night with the Boszormeny’s was a real treat!  We hired a babysitter for the evening, and delighted in dinner out at Thai Silk in Blackheath, and a night-cap at the local pub, the Ivanhoe.  Upon leaving the pub, the temperature outside had dropped considerably, and so it wasn’t surprising that the following morning we awoke to snow!  And it snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed!  Matt and the kids never made it to school that day.  Matt tried to drive to work, but quickly realized that the icy roads, mountainous terrain, rear-wheel drive car, and lack of winter tires, were the wrong combination!   In fact the roads were so bad that they closed them until 4 in the afternoon.  Branches were creaking and breaking off and we lost power from about 9AM.  Needless to say, the Boszormeny family didn’t make it to Sydney until late that night.  Thankfully their flight home to Canada wasn’t until the following day!  By the time the snow had turned to rain at about 1PM, we had received 14 cm in 7 hours and we had played 15 rounds of euchre by the woodstove!  And although Sydney families were flocking to the Blue Mountains to experience the snow, we were one of few families who kept their kids indoors all day!  The reasoning behind this was the combination of branches breaking and improper clothing and footwear!  Poor excuse for Canadians, eh?!  We never imagined having an authentic ‘Snow Day’ while living in Australia!

Once the roads opened, we said farewell to the Boszormeny family and then headed down to Glenbrook to Caroline and Collin’s place for a visit and to leave our kids for a sleepover with them while we partied it up in Sydney for the night with Ben and Aidan, Amy and Alex, and good family friend Chris Walker, who had come from Melbourne by bus for the weekend.

Our night was slightly overshadowed by news of Matt’s dads very serious fall and head trauma and surgery, but we still managed to leave a dent in some of Sydney’s iconic pubs and hotels thanks to our fearless leader Chris.  Our favourite by far was the ‘Hollywood Hotel’ where the beer flowed freely, the music was ace, and the urinals epic!  After experiencing the atmosphere and cocktails on the patio at ‘The Beresford’, we ate the most amazing food at a spot that Aidan found on the internet – a Loation/Burmese restaurant on Oxford Street called the Pink Peppercorn, and we continued the party at a couple more pubs before grabbing another bite and crashing at the hotel at 3AM.  It was a memorable night for many reasons.

So, once again we were fortunate to host some very special visitors from Canada.  Our afternoons were enjoyed sitting on the back deck in the sunshine, and dinners were always lively.  Everyone pitched in.  In fact, I think Julie was in the kitchen more than I was!  And she spoiled Leina by styling her hair every day!  Ben was on bath duty with the kids in the evenings, and Aidan and George were dynamic story tellers at bedtime!  We went for long walks, and we wowed them with the size of the Aussie spiders, the colorful birds, and the awesome views from the lookouts.

George summed it up best by expressing that their visit was an opportunity of a lifetime and we couldn’t agree more!  We are once again blessed with memories made with some wonderful friends and family members – George, Julie, Amber, Abby, and Ben and Aidan – our lives are richer and our year down under made memorable because you came to visit!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Oh Momma!

If you could take 2 things on a trip, what would those things be?

For us, it was a sense of adventure, and another family to share the memories with!

We were so excited to experience the South Island of New Zealand during the third Australian school holiday break and good friends of ours from Canada, the Boszormeny family – George, Julie, Amber and Abby – were willing and able to join us.  Our motto for the trip quickly became “Oh Momma” thanks to the expression being uttered by George early on in the trip and then incessantly repeated by the 5 kids!

We arrived in Christchuch, from opposite sides of the world, and spent two weeks in convoy in our rented campervans, exploring Kaikoura on the east coast, Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region, Picton and the Marlborough Sounds area, Nelson, and Hokitika on the west coast and the Franz Joseph glacier.  Then we moved in land to explore Wanaka and Te Anau, the magic of Milford Sound, and finally Queenstown before returning the campervans to Christchurch.

New Zealand is AMAZING!   If you ever have the opportunity – take it and run!  The scenery and landscapes are absolutely stunning.  Spring was a perfect time to go – the lambs were running in the fields, the flowers were starting to bloom, the campgrounds were virtually empty, the weather was pleasant during the day and cool in the evenings, perfect conditions for exploring and for sleeping in the campervans.

We certainly came away with some wonderful memories that seem extra special because they are shared with the Boszormeny family.  We certainly noted our favourites and would love to share some of those here.

Our favourite campsite had to be our site down at Milford Sound.  It was more about the atmosphere and company, and less about the actual site.  Our experience at campervan parks in New Zealand was such that  you were practically parked on top of one another;  but the campground at Milford Sound is perched right on the edge of the Cleddau River, in Fiordland National Park, and the mountain peaks surround you in this stunning setting, in one of the most peaceful places on earth.  The night was absolutely magical and it involved getting our feet wet in the river, some good ole’ belly laughs, and a few beverages!

Our campsite at Kaikoura was stunning for the view.  Snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance while we were metres away from the ocean.  And the campsite at Hokitika was memorable because we were right on the beach on the west coast and the campground had a little hobby farm in the middle, which made it memorable for the kids.  Unfortunately the campgrounds in New Zealand do not allow campfires, however, the site at Lake Wanaka had an outdoor oven (“the pizza oven”) and plenty of wood, so we warmed ourselves by the fire that night and although the campground itself was a bit tired, the fact that we were able to enjoy an outdoor fire, made it one of our favourite spots!

Our favourite town was perhaps Picton, in the north.  It is a quaint port town with a wonderfully designed waterfront with a spacious playground and park area on the water’s edge with magnificent gardens.  It had a very welcoming feel to it.

Some of our favourite views were from the Marlborough Sounds in the Picton area.  The fiords and waterways in the Marlborough Sounds are absolutely brilliant and breathtaking.  We enjoyed a hike down onto the shores north of Picton and explored the pebbly beach we happened upon, much to the kids delight!

Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, is definitely worth exploring for the memorable drive in through the Homer Tunnel and for the views from the boat cruise.  It is convincingly one of the most photographed places in New Zealand.  Sheer granite cliffs tower into the sky and plunge into the depths of clear water amid vibrant native rainforest.  Iconic Mitre Peak looms silently at the head of the fiord, a massive peak guarding this amazing and peaceful place.  Nowhere is the wild beauty of New Zealand displayed with more effect than in the stunning landscape of Fiordland.  It stuns and enthralls, and leaves lasting memories.

Our favourite meal was enjoyed in the best company at the campground in Nelson.  It was this night that we dined on mussels – greenshell mussels to be exact!  Native to the New Zealand shores.  What a feast.  And the sunset was almost as memorable as the dinner that night.

Some of our favourite memories include the pebbly beach at Kaikoura where the waves crashed with fierce abandon at our feet.  Hiking up the short trail at Ohau Point to see the baby seals frolicking in the waterfall just north of Kaikoura was incredibly memorable, as was the marriage proposal at this location!  Wine tasting in the Marlborough region at the Villa Maria Estate vineyard, where they provide a box of toys to keep your children amused while you sample their fare.  The Hunter Valley wineries should take note!

We will never forget the memories made at the campground at Nelson, as we tried to hire the bikes and ride to the beach, only to be told that the bikes are strictly for inside the park grounds!  We hiked to see the glow worms at Hokitika and will never forget the magic and sight of the iridescent display.  Almost equally memorable was the very graceful display by Abby as she unsuccessfully tried to dodge a large wave at the beach at Hokitika fully clothed and ended up on her bottom in the massive wave!  She handled it like a pro!

We enjoyed the hot pools at Franz Joseph, especially after hiking along the river bed to the base of the glacier.  And we will forever remember the baby lambs that graced the fields around this amazing country – the wagging tails and the playful leaps.

Our most memorable rest stop was our lunch stop at the Blue Lakes between Queenstown and Christchurch.  The lake reminded us of Moraine Lake or Lake Louise in western Canada.  It was that same shade of turquoise and was absolutely stunning with Mt. Cook looming at 3700 metres in the background.

Old Mout, a New Zealand cider, quickly became a favourite night cap on the trip.  And many evenings were often spent sitting around on our camp chairs, contemplating life, and drinking the delicious cider.

If you ask the kids what they enjoyed the most from their trip around New Zealand, they will undoubtedly mention some of the playgrounds in the various campervan parks!  Their favourites included the hamster wheel at the park in Blenheim, the Koktopus swing at the beach in Nelson (would love to know who named that children’s swing), and the old tractor at the campground in Wanaka.  The other thing they will mention are the nicknames for the campervans – Turd and Deuce.  It will be a long time before the 5 kids relinquish the chant “Big Ole’ Rolling Turd (or Deuce) Coming Down – Woo Woo”!

New Zealand’s geography, while providing scenes of unsurpassed beauty, poses some difficulty in terms of time.  The countries rough-hewn nature makes travelling time often longer than you expect.  That being said, the South Island is the absolute perfect setting for a road trip.  We were amazed at the vineyards, the orchards with apples, olives and cherries.  And we found the one lane bridges and culverts, each of them named, endearing.  We will never forget the majestic snowy mountains, the silent fiords and sounds, ancient glacier, wide-open plains, lush green pastures, and sparkling blue lakes.

We took a sense of adventure and another family to share the experience with, and we left this magnificent island with so much more.  We came away with some beautiful photos, some amazing memories that will last a lifetime, and a deeper love and connection to the Boszormeny family.  And for that we are so incredibly grateful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Babes in Bikinis in Bowral

A weekend away with three girlfriends – Robyn, Amelia, and Sam.

Charlie, the only male.  13 month old lucky boy.

Holiday house in the charming town of Bowral, 3 hours from Blackheath.

Retail therapy and a few drinks.

Superb pastries at the Gumnut Patisserie.

Lunch and dinners out.  BYO wine.

New nickname.

More shopping.

More pastries.  Great coffee.

A weekend and 3 girlfriends that will be impossible to forget.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“You Did It!”

Olivia, our 13 year old niece, was greeted by Elijah and I at the airport in Sydney on August 16th with a small home-made sign that read “You Did It”!  Escorted through security and immigration by one of the staff at the airport, Livi and I spotted each other, and proceeded to dissolve into each other’s arms – the sign crumpled between us – both of us relieved that she had made it safely!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Livi was going to be away from her dad Scott (my brother), her mom Julia, her sister Grace, her friends and other family members, and her soccer teammates (during playoffs I might add!) for a total of 2 weeks!  We were so impressed that she wanted to come visit us and that she was willing to come on her own!  It is not a short journey, nor is it uncomplicated.  But with minimal assistance from the airlines, airport staff, and good friend Caralynne in Vancouver, Liv was able to get herself here and home again safe and sound.

Olivia was the absolute perfect visitor.  Our kids literally sparkled the entire time she was here with us.  Leina stuck to her like glue and tried to spend every waking moment with her special cousin.  While she was here, the kids enjoyed playing charades, and card games, and we went for bike rides around town and walks in the evenings, and hiked in the mountains.  Afternoons were often spent jumping on the trampoline in the backyard and evenings were always capped off with story time.  The kids were so proud to show Liv how well they are reading in English.

Olivia got introduced to their school and their teachers and some of their friends.  She went on a tour of their school, got to read in Cohen’s class, attended one of their weekly assemblies, and even rode home on the school bus with them!  Olivia marveled at their accomplishments and was impressed with their awards and certificates.

Olivia was at the perfect age for this visit.  While she enjoyed sitting and playing with the kids as much as possible, she was equally interested in sitting around with adults to talk about current events and life in Glengarry.  She was responsible enough to make the kids dinner one night and to babysit, so that Matt and I could go out on a date!

She managed to charm the pants off everyone she met and everyone was amazed at how mature and polite and gregarious she is for someone her age.  One woman even mistook Liv for being a university student!  Liv thought that was great!

Liv was able to visit Katoomba and rode the cable car and steep railway into and out of the Grose Valley and rainforest below.  She hiked at Pulpit Rock and picnicked on the side of a cliff, and she was blown away by the views at Govetts Leap, and her favourite lookout, Anvil Rock.  She came with us to celebrate Damien and Amber’s little nephew Ollie’s 4th birthday party at an indoor play place and spent the afternoon crawling and sliding right along with the other kids, much to the delight of Leina, Cohen and Elijah!

The kids introduced Liv to some of their favourite Australian animals at Featherdale Wildlife Park, and she loved seeing the kangaroos randomly out in the fields not unlike seeing deer at home!

Matt introduced Liv to an Australian high school for a day, and matched her with Caitlin, a year 8 student at Lithgow.  Liv had many observations from the day, and came away with an appreciation for life at her little rural high school in Glengarry.  She even got published in the school’s monthly newsletter!  Thankfully she didn’t fall in love with any year 8 boy and decide to stay here!

One of the highlights from our time together was our weekend spent exploring Sydney.  We spent time with friends Amelia and Huw and their children Imogen, Annika and Charlie, at Shelley Beach near Manly and rode the ferry back to Circular Quay at night time with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge sparkling with light.  We introduced her to Sydney’s Chinatown and dined on Chinese food.  We spent time on Cockatoo Island exploring the Biennale art exhibit, bought gelato and souvenirs in the Rocks Market, and watched buskers playing their didgeridoo’s.

We’ve discovered that Liv is an impressive shopper and managed to get some wonderful little gifts to bring home to her family, as well as a few new “back-to-school” wardrobe staples.  She enjoyed shopping at the Factory Outlets down in Sydney, as well as the little shops in the Blue Mountains, and succeeded in buying herself a pair of authentic UGG boots!

Regardless of how brief our time together here in Australia was, we are grateful for the quality of her visit.  We are indebted to all of the generous individuals who made her trip possible, and we are grateful to her parents, Scott and Julia, for giving their daughter firm roots as well as wings.

It was not easy to say good-bye to someone as special a visitor as Livi, but I must say, it was touching to witness the compassionate exchange between very fond cousins – both when she arrived and when she had to leave.

There is no greater gift than the gift of love and family and we are all so proud and lucky to have such a beautiful, brave, and fun-loving gem like Livi in our midst!

And Livi – congratulations – you did it!  You are an amazing young lady.  And may this just be the start of some fantastic worldly travels.  You, and the people you will meet, will be richer for it.

Elijah Turns 2 Down Under!

Elijah, our cheeky little boy, has officially entered the “terrible two’s”!  And he is definitely not little anymore!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elijah was fortunate to celebrate his 2nd birthday twice.  We had a combined birthday party while holidaying up in South West Rocks with good friends Hamish and Tricia and their daughters Sadie and Caitlyn, as well as my sister Erin and husband John.  Matt’s birthday was on July 6th; Elijah’s on the 13th, and Tricia’s birthday was the 14th.  So our last night all together at the holiday house turned into one big celebration for all three birthday celebrants, complete with chocolate cake, and presents and Tim Tams!

The night we returned home to Blackheath from the holiday house with Erin and John, was Elijah’s actual birth date, so we celebrated (again) and the celebration turned into one of our classic dance parties!  This time with Auntie Erin and Uncle Johnny Boy grinding to the ‘Dirty Dancing’ soundtrack, and a lip-sync courtesy of Auntie Erin to the “Kellerman’s Anthem”!

The next day Elijah enjoyed opening some special gifts that had been sent from family back home in Canada.

Elijah continues to delight us with his made up songs and stories and doesn’t miss a beat!  Speaking of beat, he is a budding musician and loves to try his hand at any instrument, guitars especially!

He may have entered the “terrible two’s”, and may test his parents on a regular basis with his stubbornness, but he is still one sweet and fun-loving boy to have around!

Happy 2nd Birthday Elijah!

Waves and Sunsets and Smiles

It will be a long time before I forget the delight and emotion that was displayed by my sister Erin earlier this year, when she asked Leina and Cohen and Elijah via Skype if it would be alright if she and Uncle Johnny Boy came to visit us in Australia in July!  She followed the request up with “I don’t know why I’m crying!”  But we all knew exactly why she was crying!  It was Erin!  She pretty much cries at everything!  Well it was a combination of that, and the fact that she was going to be leaving behind her two small children, Jillian and Graham, in order to come and see us!

July 8th couldn’t come soon enough!  I had waited patiently to wrap my arms around my only sister for 6 months, and finally it was going to happen!

The afternoon they were arriving in Sydney, we were situated at the holiday house up in South West Rocks, waiting anxiously for their safe arrival!  The video recording of their arrival into the holiday house is priceless!

Immediately upon their arrival after a 7 hour drive up the coast from Sydney, we headed to the beach to greet the rest of the troops!  Long-awaited hugs and kisses were exchanged and a few “Holy Sh@#!  We’re in Australia!” before consuming a well-deserved pint on the beach!

After an exhausting 21 hours in flights, and 7 hours in the car, it wasn’t surprising the eyelids were closing quickly after dinner was served, which was a good thing, since a full day trip to Port Macquarie had been planned for their second day in the land down under.  There would be no rest for the weary!

Port Macquarie was only an hour drive down the coast, and a whale-watching trip had been planned for noon.  The humpback whales were en route to warmer temperatures and Port Macquarie was suggested as the perfect spot to view their migration.  And we were certainly not disappointed.  For those who have never spent time with these magnificent mammals, please heed my advice and GO!  It is one trip I will never forget!  Two humpback whales decided to spend a solid hour around our boat, surprising us with where they would appear next.  All of us were poised and ready with our cameras and video recorders!  The kids were completely fascinated and the sight of these majestic creatures was so impressive.  We had the boat to ourselves and our captain kept the music playing as the whales swam playfully around us.  After two hours, and when it became clear that our two whales were attracted to something further out, we headed back towards shore only to be personally guided into the harbour by a very playful dolphin who we nicknamed “Winter” after the movie “Dolphin Tale”!  It was such a memorable conclusion to the experience.

That afternoon, the bulk of the group toured the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital where between 200 and 300 koalas are admitted each year after being hit by cars, or attacked by animals (dogs mostly), or found and rescued in areas devastated by forest fires or in new residential developments.  We caught up with the free guided tour in the outdoor enclosures of the facility and met some special koalas who were in the process of being rehabilitated in order to be released back into the wild.  We were able to witness some koalas being treated for various injuries and diseases (some for the third or fourth time – naughty koalas!) and thoroughly enjoyed the brief tour.  The kids were really affected by our visit to this unique facility and will often still “play” koala hospital, or ask about it.  Leina has talked extensively about returning to Australia when she is older and working at the Koala Hospital!

One of our most memorable days spent with Erin and John up at South West Rocks, was the day we climbed to the lookout at the Smoky Cape Lighthouse and spotted whales migrating north, and then walked the Jack Perkins track down to the North Smoky Cape Beach (clothing optional beach, I might add!), and spent a good amount of time running in the waves and sand (with clothes on, I might add!), and snapped many photos!

That afternoon, which also happened to be the warmest day of our holiday together, we brought snacks over to the Trial Bay beach and had a blast with the kids!  It had been a long time since I had witnessed my little sister giggling like a young school-girl, as she and Leina tackled body surfing in the waves!  Who had more fun – Leina or Erin – is still up for debate!  They both had huge grins for most of the afternoon and the memories will live on longer than the rashes they developed from slamming into the ocean’s sandy floor over and over again!

Our drive back down the coast towards the Blue Mountains was broken up with a stop at Manning Point for one night at a holiday spot graciously provided to us by Damien’s brother James.  The weather unfortunately did not cooperate – it poured buckets of rain on us – but we were thankful for a cozy place for all of us to sleep, as well as some Aussie red wine and a deck of cards!

Our experiences together in the Blue Mountains saw us celebrating Elijah’s 2nd birthday together (even though Erin bought ‘Happy 1st Birthday’ balloons!), as well as checking out some favourite lookouts like Govetts Leap in Blackheath, the Three Sisters in Katoomba, and Hargraeves over the Megalong Valley.  We did a brief hike and admired the views at Wentworth Falls.  Leina still talks about 2 things from this hike.  1 – that Auntie Erin was really freaked out by the heights, and 2 – that the way Auntie Erin was going to memorize the name of the lookout was by saying “We WENT, and it was WORTH it!”

But the lookout that really freaked Auntie Erin and Uncle John out had to be Pulpit Rock, just down the road from us here in Blackheath.  The photos don’t do this lookout justice.  But suffice it to say, this lookout can make even the strongest of stomachs, weak beyond belief!  The view is unsurpassed.  Four levels of lookouts provide different aspects of the views into the Grose Valley and Blue Gum forest below.  Personally, we think this lookout is much more impressive than the one at the Three Sisters, but thankfully it is a rare and unexploited lookout, which makes it all the more special.

We took Erin and John into Sydney on the train for a day and had a grand time exploring the city we have fallen in love with.  We took them on a ferry ride over to Manly Beach past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and enjoyed a delicious lunch of takeaway fish and chips while people watching on the boardwalk overlooking the beach.  We browsed the Rocks Market and then were entertained by an oompah band at the German restaurant ‘Lowenbrau’.  Who knew that Fabio is now making a living as an accordion player at the Lowenbrau in the Rocks in Sydney!?!  Erin and John were impressed with the city and were fortunate enough to spend a couple more days there while staying with my friend Merril, before they had to head back home to Canada.

Before their last few nights in Sydney, Erin and John had the opportunity to check out Blackheath Public School, and to meet Leina and Cohen’s teachers and friends.  They visited their classrooms and admired their hard work and were impressed with the ease and comfort that the kids displayed at the school they have become very attached to.

While Erin and John were here in the land down under, we made sure to expose them to some distinct “flavors”, like kangaroo meat and Tim Tams, and made sure to impress Johnny Boy with a bonfire of eucalyptus leaves, appropriately nicknamed “the eucalypt bomb”!

What impressed us the most during the duration of their visit was the quality of the visit.  Erin and John got to truly be aunt and uncle to their niece and nephews for two whole weeks.  It was a rare and beautiful thing to see them interact without having to worry about the demands of their own children.  The memories made during this quality visit will last many years and their relationships are richer for it.  It was fantastic to see them playing Uno together in the evenings, or reading stories together, or helping them with homework or listening to them read.  Or everyone’s favourite – the “Top 3 Highlights of Your Day”.  I hope to remember witnessing these special bonding moments forever.

The goodbyes at the end of the visit were very tough.  We knew it would be months before we would get to hug Erin and John again, which always makes farewells difficult, but we were just so thankful that they made it!  That they were able to leave their two precious children in the capable hands of the grandparents, and make the long journey to see us.  We will all have visions of waves, and sunsets, and smiles to last a lifetime.  And for that we are so incredibly grateful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Memories Made with the Macdonells

We were amazed and touched to think that a family from Glengarry with two small children would want to spend thousands of dollars on flights, and travel thousands of kilometers to the other side of the world, to come see Australia and visit us.

There had been talk of the Macdonell family making the trip to Australia long before we left for this exchange and when it was at last confirmed that tickets had been purchased, we waited anxiously for July 1st and the arrival of Hamish and Tricia and their daughters Sadie and Caitlyn, in the land down under!  They were about to experience the awesomeness that is Australia, and we were about to make some fantastic memories together!

First stop upon arrival, and after 3 hours at the airport organizing the rental car, was Featherdale Wildlife Park!  What better way to welcome our Canadian visitors than with an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s iconic furry and feathered friends!  That first evening, which was Canada Day back home, it snowed in Blackheath!  Tricia started to rethink the whole visiting Australia in winter!  They had just left 32 degree weather back home!

The next few days would see us enjoying a tour of the Lucas Cave at one of Australia’s most highly awarded tourist destinations – Jenolan Caves.  And although it is not always easy to remain patient when touring the underground with two 2 year olds – we all managed to enjoy the experience immensely!

Together we explored Katoomba and the Three Sisters, as well as Govetts Leap in our own backyard.  The plan was to give them a good taste of the Blue Mountains before heading up the coast to South West Rocks, where we had a holiday house booked for a week of sun and fun.  The few days in the mountains flew by and before we knew it, we were heading out of Blackheath.

The Hunter Valley, 2 hours north of Sydney and one of Australia’s oldest and best-known wine regions, seemed like the perfect spot to stop for an overnight en route up the coast, and a must-see on Tricia’s list of things to do in the land down under.  The information center in Lovedale in the heart of the Hunter, recommended a couple of wineries given that we only had half a day to spend touring around, and we had 5 children in an otherwise “adult playground”!  We headed for Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, primarily for the view.  A 360 degree view of the valley was promised, and it did not disappoint.  This 140 year old vineyard is perched in the foothills of the Brokenback Mountain Range and it was breathtaking!  Tricia and I headed inside for a quick taste, and although the wine tasted mighty fine, the service was definitely lacking, so we made our way to the next winery on the list which was McWilliams, Mount Pleasant.

The view may not have been as impressive at McWilliams, but the service and wine were spot on!  Tricia and I enjoyed MANY glasses of wine with our new friend Brian, who by the time we left, had a list of 30 things for us to do while in South West Rocks, as he was a regular vacationer in the Rocks and coincidentally owned a holiday house there!  It was a memorable afternoon….well for Tricia and I anyway!  The boys needed a bar, and fast!

We checked into our three bedroom villa at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley, and had the boys watered, the kids fed and pj’s on, by the time our babysitter Bev, from the Red Zebra Babysitting Agency, arrived just before 7PM.

It was a magical adult-only night out in the Hunter Valley!  A selling feature for the choice in restaurant was the free shuttle to and from the hotel.  Our personable shuttle driver, Doug, picked us up at the door, and brought us to Blaxlands Inn for dinner.  It would best be described as a small, intimate, country-style restaurant in the Hunter, and we all thoroughly enjoyed our meals, the service, the refreshments, but most of all, the company!  Doug got us all safely home again after some aperitifs at the bar, and we arrived to find all of our darlings fast asleep thanks to Bev!  It was a memorable evening in a very beautiful part of Australia.

We drove away from the Hunter the next morning with the words “so much wine, so little time” ringing in our ears, but never mind, there was a stunning drive up the coast, and a holiday house calling our names!

South West Rocks is on the coast about 6 hours north of Sydney.  The area is blessed with golden beaches and rocky headlands and provides ample opportunity for swimming, surfing, sailing, snorkeling, diving, fishing and boating.  The downtown park at Horseshoe Bay is shaded by towering pine trees, and has a wonderful play structure for the kids!  The holiday house we had booked was going to suit us just fine.  It had 5 bedrooms and a very open concept kitchen, dining and living area on both floors with ample seating, and patio decks on both levels.  It was a good half hour walk from town, but only about a 10 minute walk from the nearest beach access, and within driving distance of some pretty neat day trip attractions.

In South West Rocks we enjoyed spending time with the kangaroos at Little Bay, and admired the view from Smokey Cape Lighthouse, and even though the weather was not super warm, the kids still managed to body surf at most of the beaches in the area.

‘Timbertown’ in nearby Wauchope was hosting their annual Steam Festival, so one of our daytrips included time spent wandering the footpaths of this heritage theme park, similar to Upper Canada Village back home.  It is set up as an entire village complete with stores, and a school, working farm with bullocks, sawmill, bakery, and it tries hard to demonstrate the way of life of Australian pioneers.  The kids had a blast riding the mini train, and going on a Clydesdale wagon ride, but the highlight had to have been the ride around the park on the big ole’ steam train!

Just inland from South West Rocks is very lush countryside and the famous ‘Waterfall Way’.  We left the sand on the coast and meandered through the Bellinger Valley and into the deep and impressive Gondwana rainforest.  The scenery changed from rolling farmland to switchback ridges, to plunging rainforested valleys.  We spent some time at the Dorrigo Rainforest Center in Dorrigo National Park, and walked the ‘Skywalk Boardwalk’ to get an amazing view of the rainforest from above.  Our walk down into the rainforest had the kids swinging from massive vines just like Tarzan and Jane!  Our lunch stop that day was in Belligren which is a quaint town full of charm.  We were excited to return to the holiday house after this daytrip, because this was the day that my sister Erin and brother-in-law John were arriving from Canada!  They had just flown in and were making their way up the coast to meet us at the holiday house that very afternoon!

Our next three days all together were highlighted with trips to Port Macquarie for a whale watching trip, and a visit to the Koala Hospital.  But I will save those details for the next blog post.

Our last couple of nights in South West Rocks with Hamish and Tricia were spent consuming delicious meals, including fresh fish that Hamish and John had caught on an early morning deep sea fishing trip, and playing cards, catching up, laughing until our cheeks hurt, and celebrating 3 birthdays – Matt’s on the 6th, Elijah’s on the 13th, and Tricia’s on the 14th!  Hamish and Tricia headed off further north of South West Rocks for an opportunity to get to warmer weather and to explore the Great Barrier Reef.  After they returned from their adventure up the coast, Matt and I and the kids met up with them in Sydney and we all had one last day and night with them before they flew home to Canada.

We spent the day traveling by ferry over to Manly on one of the rockiest/waviest boat rides that we had ever been on!  We spent some time on the beach, and then wandered the markets and streets of the downtown before we left the boys at the “Oldest Pub in Sydney”, and then we all caught dinner and drinks at the Australian Hotel in the Rocks.

So, here was this family about to make the long journey back home to Canada, with a suitcase full of souvenirs and heads and hearts full of memories!  We were so thankful and appreciated the effort, time, money, and planning that went into making the trip to the land down under possible and we are grateful for the time spent together and the memories made.  Good friends, like a fine Australian wine, are delightful and just get better with age!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Dingo Ate My Ibis!

Featherdale Wildlife Park is an award-winning park an hours drive from us, that houses more than 2200 native Australian animals, birds, and reptiles.  It boasts the largest such collection and is renowned for its captive breeding program setting the standard for animal conservation in the zoological industry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our first introduction to Featherdale was through our Aussie friends Cass and Julian and their bubbly and gregarious children Paige, Georgia and Hudson.  From the minute we arrived in Australia and met the Bradshaw family, it was apparent that they wanted to be the ones to take us on this ultimate interactive wildlife experience down under!

At Featherdale you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most recognizable animals, like the koala and kangaroo, as well as get a good look at some of Australia’s more rare and endangered animals like the ghost bat, bilby, and quoll.  The park itself is well laid out on 7 acres and surrounded by lots of trees and great picnic settings which we took full advantage of.

The kids were completely blown away when they got to hand feed the wallabies and kangaroos with ice cream cones full of animal food.  Elijah thought the cone was for him and immediately dumped out the food and went to town on the cone!  And they couldn’t believe their good fortune when they got to pet a real koala bear.

Our first trip to Featherdale was not without some drama!  We found out first-hand, what happens when a big ibis bird flies too close to a pen with 2 hungry dingoes!  Hence the title of this blog!  The ibis’ are not in cages, but rather roam freely throughout the park looking for scraps of food leftover by picnickers.  This particular ibis flew into the dingo pen, and we all got to witness the carnage!  Poor ibis!

We got to see kangaroo joeys climbing into their momma’s pouches, and we got to see koala joeys clinging to their momma’s backs.  We stood for a while watching the adorable dingo puppies frolic at their parents paws and we were amazed at the size of the crocodile, and the length and patterns on the most venomous snakes in Australia.

We enjoyed our close encounters of the furry kind so much that we have been back twice (almost would have been worth it to purchase a yearly membership!), once with the Macdonell family on Canada Day, and we just had to take Livi there to experience the real deal, since next to seeing us, all she wanted to see were the most beloved and iconic Aussie’s, the koala and kangaroo!  To see the absolute delight on our visitors’ faces when they got to see these unique and interesting Australian animals was well worth the price of admission, and we totally understood why it was that the Bradshaw family wanted the initiation rights!

We are indebted to Cass and Julian for introducing us to this very special place and for the wonderful sausage sizzle lunch.  If it wasn’t for our Bradshaw friends, we wouldn’t have met some interesting scaled, feathered and furry friends, and we wouldn’t have passed on this unique experience to our Canadian visitors!