Govetts Leap

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The Blue Mountains National Park boasts some of the most amazing views in all of Australia, and one of those views is a mere 10 minute walk from our front door.

At Govetts Leap, you are immediately greeted by this 180 meter tall waterfall off in the distance, and breathtaking panoramas of the Grose Valley and the basalt tops of Mt. Tomah, Mt. Banks, and Mt. Hay (old volcanoes).

Legend has it that this amazing lookout was named after Govett, the bushranger, who was escaping troopers and jumped over the cliff on his horse.  But when you dig a little deeper into the story, you soon realize that “leap” is a Scottish word for waterfall, and Govett was a surveyor who discovered the area in 1831.  However, we agree, the jumping horse story is much more intriguing!

The cliff tops at Blackheath have been a public reserve since 1881, and the area has changed very little since that time.  Thankfully they have installed sturdy railings, which we have learned were built and installed by Amber’s dad Colin.

There is a splendid walking track that winds its’ way down to the base of the falls by way of steps and stairs, past damp rock faces, and hanging swamps that are home to some specially adapted plants and “grubbies” (nickname the kids have given to them)!

A less steep walk, but equally picturesque is the ‘Cliff Top Track’ which leads to the top of Govetts Leap waterfall, and continues along to Evans Lookout, through dense heathland, past gum and banksia trees and many wildflowers.

Govetts Leap, or “Gubbutts Leaf” as Cohen refers to it, is an absolute gem of a lookout and we are fortunate to be just a horse jump away from these amazing views and bushwalks!  We look forward to exploring it more with our kids and our visitors!

Blackheath Public School Welcomes 2 New Students!

One of the first buildings you come to on your drive into Blackheath is the quaint little Public School.  Surrounded by lots of trees and green grass, and a large play structure, it is a welcome site and will be Leina and Cohen’s school for the next year.

The 2012 school year officially started on Monday, January 30th, and this was also the first day of school for Leina!  Although a bit emotional getting ready at home, she was able to collect herself, get dressed in her uniform and walk the 20 minute up-hill walk with confidence, alongside her brothers and mom!

We were fortunate to get a peek at the school and meet both Leina and Cohen’s teachers, as well as the principal, Mr. Rudd, in advance of the first day of school.  This helped to calm some nerves before the first big day!

So on arrival on the Monday, we waited patiently in the school courtyard as all of the kids arrived and met up with their friends.  It is customary on the first day of school, for the students to go to their previous years classroom to catch up with their former teacher, and to talk about their summer holiday.  After about half an hour of visiting in the old classroom, then the bell rings, and the students proceed to the hall where they are all seated and wait for the teachers to read out the list of students in the new classes.

So Leina, Cohen and Elijah and I went to the hall and waited in the chairs along the wall for Leina’s teacher to call her name.  Leina stood in line with the others in Year 2 when her name was called, and then they all marched like “honey ants” to their new classroom with their teacher, Ms. Balaam.  Leina is in what they call a “composite” class with 25 students in both Year 1 and Year 2.

At the end of Leina’s first day, the boys and I met Leina in the courtyard and it was readily apparent that Leina was happy to have her first day under her belt!

Tuesday was day 2 for Leina, and the highly anticipated day 1 for Cohen!  Cohen who is much more affable when it comes to new experiences, took the whole morning in stride.  Leina on the other hand was having second day jitters!  She had found the first day a bit overwhelming and was unsure and a bit uncomfortable with all of the attention she had received that first day.  She expressed an interest in being matched with one buddy and so she insisted a note be written to her teacher with this request.

Once the note had been written, and lunches had been packed, and a visit to the park on the way home had been promised, the two kids were dressed and ready to get on with their school day!

Once Leina proceeded to her class on day 2, then it was time to take Cohen around to the Kindergarten courtyard to await the welcome and roll call for his class.  Ms. Drake called Cohen’s name last (this usually happens when your last name starts with a ‘W’!), and he was off!  Parents were welcomed into the kindergarten room to help the kids get settled and Cohen had no problems finding a seat and sitting down to draw on a dry-erase board!  “Been there, done that” kind of attitude – he’s had the advantage of 5 months of Kindergarten back home in Canada under his belt!  The nice thing is this is 5 year old “kindie”, so he doesn’t stick out, height-wise, as much as he did in junior kindergarten back home.

The teacher was amazed that the first thing he did when he sat down at the board was to print his name!  Well done big guy!

At the end of the day both kids were excited to buy freezies at the canteen in the courtyard, and share the details from their school day!

So they have their first week under their belts now, but the week has not been without lots of tears (namely Leina, but some from Mommy as well!).  It’ll take a while to adjust to the new school, new teachers, new classmates, new language, and new routine.  So we are all trying to be patient and optimistic!

We are very impressed with Blackheath Public – the staff and volunteers, and the feeling of inclusion that is demonstrated here.  We are looking forward to a good school year for both kids!

Emotional Reunion

14 years ago, I was here in Australia with two girlfriends, Amanda and Kathleen, and it was an experience of a lifetime.  I worked in Sydney as a nanny for a single mom who at the time, was bravely raising her 3 beautiful children – Miranda, Arabella, and Oliver.  As the nanny, I was mainly responsible for Ollie.  He was 7 years old, and had the most fabulous blond curls I’d ever seen.  Ollie was also autistic and so my main responsibilities included getting him dressed and ready for school in the morning, getting his breakfast, making his lunch, after school lessons, and helping with his evening routine.

The 4 months that I spent with this family changed me forever and I look back on that experience as one of the most valuable and enriching ones to date.  Although non-communicative and aggressive at times, Oliver taught me more than I could have ever taught him in those 4 months.

Oliver’s mom Merril and I have kept in touch over the years and in fact the frequency of our communication has increased over the last few months since we found out we were being matched for this teaching exchange in Australia.

2 days after Matt and I and the kids arrived in Australia, we drove to the town of Katoomba about 10 minutes from here, for some shopping and lunch.

I was standing at the counter at the Fish n’ Chips restaurant on the main street ordering lunch for the family, and the girl at the counter asked if I wanted “chicken salt or regular salt” on the chips.  I was unfamiliar with the chicken salt option presented to me, so I asked “what is chicken salt?”  As the girl was explaining the difference between the two, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and my immediate thought was there is only one other person in this country who knows me – could it be?  I turned around to find Merril standing there behind me!  The chance of her being in Katoomba  – an hour and a half drive from the city – on a Monday – at the same fish n’ chips spot – at the same time, is the most wonderful omen possible!!

It was an emotional reunion to say the least and I am so looking forward to visiting with her again, and to meeting up with her grown children, and to her getting to know Matt and the kids.  Oliver is 21 now and I look forward to seeing him again after all of these years.

Hello Blackheath!

“When you arrive at our cosy village, you have made it to the top of the hill – the highest township on the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains….1065 metres above sea level”. 

Well here we are at the top of the hill! In the Blue Mountains National Park, UNESCO inscribed World Heritage designation, and it is not hard to see why!

The cosy downtown area of Blackheath is lined with lovely little shops – a bakery, a butcher, a small grocery store, shoe store, gift shops to name a few.  There is also a wonderful fish n’ chips shop, an Indian restaurant and a Thai restaurant.  A revamped Art Deco picture theatre on the main street has been converted into a mecca for antique lovers with over 50 dealers inside!  On the outside of the theatre is a colorful mural and out front is a great little cafe.

Not far down Govetts Leap Road, which is lined with massive trees, we found ourselves in the area of town we’d be living in for the next year.  The roads are windy and the hills are steep.  When we arrived up the steep drive at 5 First Street, the sun was shining brilliantly, and the gardens were glowing – pink and mauve hydrangeas surround our house and there is so much greenery, bushes and trees – we felt like we had landed in a jungle!

The house is a bungalow style with a garage under the main part of the house and a large staircase to get up to the front door.  The house itself is open concept and perfectly laid out.  The dining room, kitchen and living room are all open with a wood stove in the middle.  There is one bathroom and 3 bedrooms and a den where the computer and spare bed are located.  The garage underneath the house is also referred to by Damien as the “man cave”, where all the tools, and equipment are, plus the laundry room.

Ambers mom had made a spaghetti sauce for us for our first supper in our new house and it hasn’t taken us too long to navigate our way around our new kitchen.  They have great appliances and some different smaller appliances, and a lot of tupperware!  We’re well set up.

The weather here in Blackheath can change rather quickly within the same day, and our first week here has been very rainy.  The locals are very tired of it and have felt cheated this summer, as it has been unseasonably cool and rainy for Blackheath standards.  We have since found out that some out of towners refer to Blackheath as ‘Bleakheath’!

Amber and Damien’s friends all seem lovely, and we’ve received some invitations to tea, and dinner, and Leina is set to go to her first Australian birthday party this weekend!  Thanks to their friends, we’ve acquired a high chair, jogging stroller, umbrella stroller, and many offers to loan us whatever else we might need this coming year.  We are looking forward to getting to know these friends better this year.

It was nice to have that first week upon arrival to check things out around town, but mostly to drive around and find a used car!  We’ve been grocery shopping in the nearby town of Katoomba, about 10 minutes down the highway, and home to one of the most amazing views in the Blue Mountains – the Three Sisters.  There are some wonderful little towns neaby – Leura, and Wentworth Falls – to name a couple – and we are looking forward to exploring them further and also to showing them off to our visitors throughout the year.

Blackheath truly is a picturesque town, in a great location – some fantastic parks, lots of trees, colorful birds, friendly people – we know we’re going to love it here!

It’s definitely worth the trip to the top of the Blue Mountains!

Stay tuned for details about the other side of the mountain – the town of Lithgow where Matt is teaching!  Also the kids first days at Blackheath Public School, and the amazing views from Govetts Leap!