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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Winter Hike at Bridal Veil Falls

“Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful.  It is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bridal Veil Falls cascades off the cliff at Govetts Leap, and falls 250 meters onto the boulders of Govett Gorge in the Grose Valley.  We have been admiring this beautiful view of the falls and valley from the moment we arrived in Blackheath, and had always looked forward to following the aptly named falls into the valley below.

We set out on a gorgeous sunny winter day to attempt the descent into the valley beneath. Elijah in the backpack on Matt’s back; Leina and Cohen with their sticks as walking aids; and I with the camera, snacks and water.

We were spoiled with impressive views into the Grose Valley wilderness and the Blue Gum Forest and treated to the sounds of some of Australia’s native bush birds.  There is nothing like the sight of white sulphur-crested cockatoos swooping and soaring above the forest below, and perching on the gum trees along the track.  They may be one of Australia’s nosiest birds, but their attractiveness certainly makes up for it.

The track, at times, is perched right on the edge of the cliff with only tall gum trees and low shrubs between you and the distant valley below.  The track takes you in and out of gullies, down well-worn hand-hewn steps, as well as man-made stairs.  The track is narrow in parts, and sometimes saturated and dripping with water.  Matt would help the kids get over the wet areas by lifting them, and they would squeal when running water would drip down the backs of their sweaters from the plants hanging off the cliff face!

The winter day couldn’t have been more brilliant.  The sunshine was creating the most awesome rainbows in the waterfall and on the side of the cliff where the hanging ferns were trickling with water.  We were slowing peeling off the layers of clothing under the suns warm rays during the hike.

We only made it three-quarters of the way down to the falls before stopping for the snacks and water, and then started our grueling ascent, as we were anticipating a lot of whinging on the hike back up (but nothing that a little spelling and “maths” game can’t distract them from!).

We hope to do this hike again before we leave, namely because it is just 10 minutes from our door, but also since we understand that there are “yabbies’” (small little crayfish) at the base of the waterfall that make great little pets (or a dinner main!).   We also really want to see what the Blue Gum Forest and Bridal Veil Falls looks like from underneath – from a different perspective.

And I have to say, that although I have not been inside a church in the last few months, I see God’s awesome spirit on these breathtaking hikes in Australia.  It is there in the azure sky, and the magical rainbows, and the yellow wattle flower and crest on the cockatoo, and in my children’s smiles.  I am feeling very blessed and grateful for the opportunities afforded to us.

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Narooma on the Nature Coast

Narooma is a quaint, picturesque coastal town 4 hours south of Sydney, and we were invited to visit the area by Karyn and Joe and their two children, who are on a teaching exchange from Toronto.  The scenic drive down through the charming town of Bowral and the awesome Kangaroo Valley, had us immediately at “hello” and pining for a return visit to the area.

It is not hard to see why the south coast is popular as a family holiday destination – proximity to the city of Sydney, and beauty of the “Nature Coast” for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, surfing, and exploring.  There are pristine golden beaches that dot this southern coastline, crystal clear blue lakes, inlets and rivers as well as magnificent mountain scenery.

Karyn and Joe are living in Dalmeny, just 10 minutes from Narooma, where Karyn is teaching high school, and the short drive from their home to the town of Narooma has 8 beaches – some ideal for surfing, others ideal for swimming, and all are ideal for admiring the view to Montague Island, 8 kilometers out from shore where you will find colonies of seals, little penguins, and sea birds, as well as a historic lighthouse.

Matt was fortunate enough to spend a day shadowing Karyn at Narooma High.  He was able to see how things worked at a different Australian high school and gained a perspective on teaching at a school with a high aboriginal population.  He was able to spend some time with the woodshop teacher and learnt about some different projects.

While Matt was being hosted by Karyn, Joe and the kids and I got to explore all of the really great parks and play structures in the Narooma area!  We also spent time watching massive seals laze about in the sunshine at the Narooma bar (rocky inlet that protects the Narooma harbour – not the alcoholic kind of bar)!  The kids thought that was pretty neat!  From the Narooma bar we could admire the view of the Narooma Golf Course which is perched on high cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and is home to “Hogan’s Hole” named after Paul Hogan himself!  Yearly membership at this amazing golf course is only $500 – a steal when you consider the location and view!

After a quintessential photo op at the ‘Australia Rock’, we enjoyed a feast of fresh fish and chips overlooking Forsters Bay and on the way back to Karyn and Joe’s, we picked up some fresh, right off the boat, oysters for dinner that night!

Our day trips with Karyn and Joe saw us explore the historic village of Central Tilba, less than a half hour from Narooma.  This 150 year-old village is nestled in the foothills of Mt. Dromedary which towers 800 meters above the town.  Weather-board cottages in heritage styles and colors line the main street of Central Tilba and are home to local artisans, retail and gift shops, as well as jewellery, lollies, and the well-known Tilba Cheese Shop where sampling is highly encouraged!

After stocking up on a few souvenirs, gifts, and lollies, we picnicked at Mystery Bay, made use of the classic Aussie outdoor free BBQ’s and had our own sausage sizzle, and spent a wonderful afternoon running in and out of the waves, building sandcastles and enjoying the company and sunshine.

Karyn and Joe were gracious hosts and it was great to spend a long weekend with a family in a similar situation as ourselves, and to have the opportunity to talk “Canada”.  The kids played swimmingly together as the boys, Cohen and Tristan were similar in age and Elijah found a playmate in Kira!  Leina was happy to tag along wherever she fit in, especially playing “tip” (Australia’s version of tag), and singing karaoke!

We have been invited back for a visit in October as we understand the whale watching at that time of year is spectacular.  So like the whales and their newborn calves, we’ll head south too, for more fresh seafood, time on the beach, a trip out to Montague Island and another catch-up with new friends!

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Mother’s Day in Newcastle

“Each day of our lives we make deposits into the memory banks of our children.” ~ C. Swindoll

Our exchange year is all about filling up Leina, Cohen and Elijah’s memory banks, and Mother’s Day weekend in Newcastle proved to be another opportunity to make some momentous deposits, for all of us.

Newcastle is only a 3 hour drive from the Blue Mountains, on the coast north of Sydney.  Historically it is Australia’s second oldest city, and in the last few years it has undergone revitalization and coincidentally in 2011 it was named one of the top 10 cities in the world by Lonely Planet guide book.

We had a true Novocastrian experience in Australia’s seventh largest city, known for its’ abundance of beaches, surf breaks, and world class Ocean baths.  We started our day with a swim and play on Nobby’s Beach, made famous by the MV Pasha Bulker carrier ship that ran aground in massive storms in June of 2007.  The kids really enjoyed running in the waves while watching these massive carriers pulling in to port right by the beach.  Thankfully none of them crashed while we were there!  It is obvious that the port in Newcastle is the economic lifeline for the city, as the ships were constantly manoeuvering through the harbor.  Moving 90 million tonnes of coal every year makes Newcastle the world’s largest exporter of coal.  It truly was awesome to see.

We strolled past the historic Customs House en route to meet Damien and Amber’s sister-in-law and her daughters.  We were treated to a swim in their pool and refreshments on the terrace before heading out for an early evening walk before dinner.  We could feel the burn in the quads during the uphill climb to King Edward Park, and the kids enjoyed a play on the outdoor structures and a run around the ornate rotunda. On the walk back to the downtown we walked the ‘Bather’s Way’ which is the coastal walk that links 3 of Newcastle’s white-sandy beaches.

Dinner that night was at Blue Water Pizza overlooking the harbor.  The kids enjoyed taking turns on the ‘Power Wing’ on the boardwalk and pier while they waited for their wood-fired pizzas to arrive.  The ‘Power Wing’ is a radical new three-wheeled device that looks like a scooter, but is propelled by moving your body from side to side.  It requires a lot of hip action, and Cohen seemed to have the hardest time shaking his hips – go figure – he’s a lot like his father!!  Some of the kids even rushed through their ice cream dessert just to get back on the ‘Power Wing’!  A big hit needless to say!

Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, was very special!  I was treated to a sleep in, and then presented with breakfast in bed, complete with some fabulous homemade gifts, a new mug that says “If Mums Were Flowers, I’d Pick You” (apparently I almost ended up with two of these as both Leina and Cohen chose the same gift at the Blackheath Public School Mother’s Day Stall!), a travel manicure set, some Australian soap, and a cooking magazine!  The most priceless thing of all was when Elijah came into the bedroom he started singing “Happy Birthday”!

My husband may not have loose enough hips for the Power Wing, but he does know how to keep me happy, because he was the one to suggest that the remainder of the morning be spent browsing the shops at the local mall!

Our Mother’s day picnic lunch was planned for the Blackbutt Nature Reserve with Damien’s brother and sister-in-law and nieces.  James had coordinated the entire lunch and had poured both Beth and I glasses of red wine, before he had us feasting on fresh chicken sandwiches with avocado and coleslaw on crusty rolls – Matts’ new favourite sandwich!  After lunch and turns on the Power Wing, we walked around the Blackbutt Reserve, which is a natural bushland park that provides habitats for a number of native Australian wildlife, including the kangaroo, wombat, wallaby, emu, and koala, among other animals and birds.  The park occupies over 182 hectares and is entirely run by volunteers.  There is no charge for the park and was the perfect setting for a Mother’s Day picnic!

Our drive back down the coast and up the mountain to Blackheath was memorable as the kids tried to attract the attention of the passengers in the cars parked beside us at the stop lights!  Cohen had one young woman winking and flirting with him – which in turn had us all in stitches!

Mother’s Day weekend will go down in history as being memorable for various reasons including exploring a new city, spending quality time on the beach, walking along the water, partaking of wine and good food with new friends, but most of all because it was spent surrounded by 4 of my favourite people – all of whom have made me one very proud and lucky MUM!

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The Giant Stairway

The Giant Stairway at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains is aptly named, for it is comprised of 911 hand-hewn cliff steps and 32 steel staircases.  The very steep stairway leads you to the floor of the Jamison Valley directly below the world famous Three Sisters at Katoomba.

Most visitors to Katoomba take advantage of the view from Echo Point and admire the rock formation of the Three Sisters, Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, but few take the chance to trek down the stairs to admire the view of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters from a different perspective.

The Giant Stairway was the brainchild of Ranger James McKay back in the early 1900’s, but it wasn’t until 1932, after much politics, fundraising and effort, that the steps were completed and the official opening celebrated.

The kids nicknamed our journey, “Staircase to the Moon” after Bronwyn Houston’s book by the same title, which they have both enjoyed reading at Blackheath Public.  The hike was slow-going as the staircase was very steep in parts.  The kids were given strict instructions to keep a firm hold on the handrails at all times.  And as is customary on any hike we do with the kids there were numerous snack breaks and lots of photo ops!

We enjoyed the opportunity and the hour long round-trip hike, and although we didn’t quite make it to the very bottom of the stairway (for fear of the whinging on the way back up), we know that we’ll be back to try it again soon!  Perhaps some of our Canadian visitors will be brave enough to join us during the next attempt!

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