Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Back to the Beach

After seeing out 2013 in the Snowy Mountains, we decided to start 2014 off right with another trip to the beach. This time we thought we'd head to the mid north coast instead of our usual south coast destinations and for the first week in January we found ourselves on Black Head beach in the Great Lakes region near Forster and Tuncurry for five nights.

Not surprisingly, the beaches were gorgeous and the weather was amazing.

Love love love frangipani!

What's a summer holiday without LOTS of splashing in the pool and making new friends!

Below I find a minute to sneak off to attempt to catch a wave. I hadn't been boogie boarding in years and might have been more successful if the boys weren't so upset by my being out in the waves. Good fun anyway.

One of our excursions away from the beach was to a sustainable demonstration farm on five acres called Honeycomb Valley Farm. We were pretty sure it would be a hit for everyone as it had solar ovens, bees and lots of animals to pat.  We were right! Anna showed us around her vast gardens bursting with medicinal and edible herbs, vegetables, flowers, vines and trees all planted to provide native bees with nectar, pollen and habitat.. Below, Ari sniffs the leaves of a curry plant.

They'd come up with this really terrific idea to re-purpose old caravans as chook sheds. They cut out the floor and replace it with wire grating so that all the poo falls to the ground below. They never have to clean it out, it provides shade for the birds and when the site is well fertilized, they move the chicken caravan to a new location. Genius!

We got to hear about their bee keeping operation and the native bee sanctuary including this bee hotel which offers nesting sites for a number of different species of bees.

Perhaps most exciting of all was that we got to sample native bee honey. Native Australian honey bees are very small and make very little honey every year and we'd never heard of anyone who kept them or sold their honey. Part of our tour was a tasting of all their available varieties of honey along with various jams and mustards made with the honey. The native bee honey was like nothing we'd ever tasted before (and we've tasted lots of honey!). It was tart and lemony and tangy as if it were ever so slightly fermented. Anna keeps this liquid gold in these beautiful small hand-blown glass jars. We couldn't resist taking home a little bottle of the world's rarest (and most expensive!) honey.

The kids were entertained while we sampled honey with these great toy tractors.

After our tour of the grounds, the kids got a chance to meet the animals including sheep, alpacas, several varieties of chickens, a miniature Galloway cow and this adorable goat with personality to match Rikers!

Of course, we mentioned to Anna that the McMillin family had been making mead for years and so began a long conversation about the subject as she was hoping to get a batch started and add mead to her many honey products for sale! It's so much fun to find people with similar interests scattered throughout our travels.

Another day, Brian got the opportunity to hire a kayak and have a morning out on the water.

Where he met this adorable and interesting little crab in the mangroves.

I arranged for a morning to myself as well where I was to go out on a cruise and swim with dolphins. After a half hour drive to get there at 6:45 am, I was notified that the wind had come up and conditions weren't suitable to go out. The tour was cancelled and I was immensely disappointed! So, I grabbed my camera and wandered along a path till I came to the breakwall where I was treated to the sight of half a dozen or so dolphins frolicking in the waves. They were really far away but it was delightful nonetheless.

When  I finally dragged myself away from my dolphin spotting adventure, I was treated to this stunning display of morning clouds and sunshine.

When I returned to the villa where we were staying, the boys were out and didn't reappear until well after lunch time. I had a coffee, sat by the pool, had a walk on the beach and went for a short hike. Turns out they'd gone for a long walk, had breakfast out and went to the local markets. When they finally returned, it was with this New Zealand Paua shell necklace for me!

Our trip to the mid north coast was another terrific holiday and despite lots of travel, we (for once!) actually felt rested and relaxed when we arrived back home. Can't ask for much more than that.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alpine New Year

In a last minute spur of the moment burst of spontaneity, we decided to head to the mountains to bring in the new year in style.

Brian got online to look for a place to stay and found us a lovely chalet at Lake Crackenback in the Snowy Mountains. A bustling mecca for skiers in the winter, the resort in summer was full of families and couples looking to explore the many walking trails of the high country.

 A family friendly kind of place, the resort offered trampolines, archery and bicycle rentals.

Canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards were left on the banks of the lake for guests to enjoy. We took the boys out for a very short paddle which would have been more enjoyable had Riker not been so wiggly and eager to peer over the side of the canoe (and then the other side and then the other side again).

The boys share a cuddle while watching a content mob of kangaroos.

 The boys and I with Lake Crackenback in the background.

 Riker flashes a cheeky grin. 

 The boys head off on a walk.

 And check one of many wombat holes for any residents.

 A loving moment by the river

 A mama emu...

 ...and her two babies wander freely just outside the entrance to the resort.

 The view from Charlotte Pass

 Looking down on three tributaries to the Snowy River

 The boys come to find me after waking up from a nap in the car.

We're not ones to make big plans for ringing in the new year (or even stay up till midnight for that matter) but Brian wanted to do something special while we were in the mountains.  So, on January 1st he got up at 4am to drive back to Charlotte Pass and make the 18 kilometer journey to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko and back.

Those of you who know Brian won't be at all surprised by his decision to take on a hike to the tallest peak in Australia in the wee hours of the morning, but even I was surprised that he ran the whole trail and completed what is usually a six hour return hike in only three hours and was back in time for breakfast and checkout.

  Sunrise over a mountain stream.

Stunning - wish I could have been there!

 The rewarding view from the top of Mt Kosciuszko

 Seaman's Hut

 Snow gum

On our way back to Canberra we made a detour to go to a place that we'd been wanting to visit for a long time, the Yarrangobilly Caves. We stopped at the visitor center to get tickets and have a picnic before heading into the caves.

Riker flashes a charming smile.

 This delightful tunnel of trees leads us to the entrance of the caves.

 Rounding a corner the boys spot the giant mouth of the cave. The path to the cave was covered in small pebbles and we warned the boys to be careful after Ari fell down. To which Riker replied, "My muscles won't slip. My bones have brakes." Good to know.

Yarrangobilly consists of several caves, some of which have guided tours but South Cave was recommended for our family as we could go at our own pace. Inside, we followed the path as it wound through some spectacular formations which were conveniently lit as motion sensors detected our presence. Here, a few of the best photos from inside the cave.

I was worried that the boys might not like the cave, get really bored or worse, really scared once inside. My fears were unfounded though as they tolerated the cave tour really well. Riker didn't especially like all the water dripping from the stalactites and Ari needed to be carried part of the way, but other than that we had a great time.

After our cave tour, we decided to visit the park's thermal pools thinking that a quick dip would tire the boys out enough to ensure they would both sleep all the way back to Canberra. This was an excellent plan except that the path to the pools was nearly a kilometer long and involved a long steep descent. The pools were not particularly warm (though they would be in winter) and Ari cried the whole way up the steep ascent back to the car. At another time of day, this might have been fun but we wish we'd been warmed about the steep hill at the visitor center!

As much as we've loved our many recent trips to the beach, this trip reminded both of us how much we love the mountains and crisp alpine air!