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!