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.