One to Grow On

February 13, 2010

New Zealand: 3 weeks of photos

Filed under: animals, children, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 11:12 am

I’d given up posting about our last three weeks in New Zealand, but I hated to miss it.  We had a blast.  Christmas with Rachel’s family (board games galore- I love those people), whale watching in Kaikoura with Louisa and Sean, museums and botanical gardens and art galleries and kids playing and camping with Bodie and Dylan and Rachel and New Year’s Day with Michaela and Nils and other people’s tents that made us think of the Quidditch World Cup.   Too much to leave out; too much to write about.  The photo of the plane and the mountains:  that was leaving from Queenstown.   How did we ever go?

Real quick:  I’d love to recommend some other blogs:

Louisa and Sean take the photos I wish I took- dreamy, ethereal, tactile…  plus they say nice things about my kids.      www.louisaandsean.blogspot.com

Our last morning in New Zealand I walked downstairs in the hostel, and there stood a family whose blog I’ve been reading since September.   They had come across ours, too, the world of RTW families being small, and it was a funny and delightful meeting.  They update daily (ah, the luxury of two adults) and are currently in Australia.  www.globalprices.wordpress.com

February 11, 2010

Advance, Australia Fair

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, travel — midway2go @ 10:04 pm

Walking around the giant tingle trees and the karris I had lots of time to think .   Thoughts like, What kind of a name is tingle?  And, How far can I get Nora to hike without a popsicle or chocolate as a bribe?  But then I saw the sign about burls, and that got me thinking along different lines.  So, these trees suffer some kind of trauma, maybe minor like a bug infestation or something more major, like an axe hacking partially through it.  Then, it makes this special coating around the injury, healing itself and making this big knob.  And (this is the really good part), that scar tissue, when see from the inside, is beautiful. 

Maybe people are that way.   Except, hopefully we’re not singled out and hacked down in our prime for our distinctive personalities.

So we kept on going (even without chocolate), and these tingle trees got better and better.  They’re huge.  THey can live 400 years, grow to be almost 300 feet tall and (get this) 85 feet in diameter.  That’s a big tree.  But that’s not the best part.  They have very fragile root systems, which sounds really weak, right?  But it makes them perfectly suited for this little corner of Australia.  They can survive forest fires, pests, and almost anything except humans walking around their roots.  They can be eaten by bugs from the inside out, torched in a bushfire, and as long as there is a continuous living link between root and bark and leaves, they will live on.  Isn’t that incredibly hopeful?  I’ll tell you, to a woman missing her husband and family and friends and wondering if she had the resources to keep nurturing two kids, these trees were a Godsend. 

So these Tingle trees grow only in one swath of land within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park.   In order to make these trees accessible to the public while sparing the root systems (and providing a great tourist attraction in one fell swoop) the park built a tree top walk.  It was stunning.  And nauseating.   THe walkway is like (gulp) a suspension bridge through the tree tops, running from one platform to another over what they call “spans.”  Ugh.  At its highest point it’s 131 feet above the forest floor (that’s high) and the whole thing sways with the wind.  Rory and Nora, charming and inquisitive children that they are, quickly figured out that by working as a team they could rock the “spans” from side to side, enough to make me freeze up and scuttle quickly at the same time.  Cute kids.

Thanks for listening to the Sermon on the Tingles.  I’ll try to finish up with some photos of Walpole’s Australia Day celebration and some beach photos.  Yet another beautiful, dangerous beach.   And that’s Australia as we knew it.

February 9, 2010

Southwest Corner of a Big Ol’ Continent

Filed under: Australia, children, homeschooling, travel — midway2go @ 12:32 am

I have to admit, Perth has always intrigued me. It’s a city of over a million people, the capital of the largest state in Australia (Western Australia, probably one of the largest states in the world) but it’s so far from anywhere. I don’t know by what measure, but it’s said to be the most remote big city in the world.  

Well, aside from waiting more than an hour for the airport shuttle and then being overcharged, I liked Perth right away. It’s big, but really bright, with a huge park in the middle and blue water everywhere you look. The Swan River, which is massive, runs right through it, emptying into the Indian Ocean.  We spent a dreamy afternoon in Cottesloe, a little town with beautiful cottages and great cafes and an almost perfect stretch of beach.  Remote or not, it’s no mystery why people want to live here.   

 We took the commuter train from Perth to Fremantle, a cool town twenty minutes south, packed with bookshops and cafes and neat old buildings lined up in the vibrant center. We stayed in a hostel which was run by very friendly people and had great facilities but was also something like a half-way house. Lots of folks were living there while they worked; still others seemed to be living there while they considered maybe working at some point in the future. At any time of day they could be seen smoking and drinking in the tiny courtyard. I felt a little like my kids and I were crashing an ongoing dorm party. We stayed only 3 days, and split.  

We had been looking forward to Perth for AQWA, the Aquarium of Western Australia. Rory and Nora list it as one of their top 5 things we’ve done on this whole trip, but they are awfully partial to aquariums to start with. The place is set up to cover the coastline of Western Australia, from the tropical waters and estuaries of the north near Darwin to the coral reefs of Ningaloo National Park to the rough, cold waters of the southwestern corner where the Great Southern seas meet the Indian Ocean. There were crocodiles, a huge open tank with sting rays, and a whole wing called “Deadly Encounters,” where we spooked ourselves looking at stonefish, ringed octopi, and the super-venomous sea snakes. Did you know that there is a shell that can kill you? Yikes. We loved that part and had to go through it twice.  

No doubt the highlight of the aquarium was the Tunnel of Doom. That’s just what I call it. I can’t remember what they called it, but Rory and Nora squealed and bounced and oohed and writhed in delight BOTH trips through. We stood (well, I stood- they raced back and forth) on a moving sidewalk and passed through a tube inside an enormous tank. All around us swam sea turtles, giant rays, sharks, any number of fish. I can say that’s as close as I ever want to be to any shark, I don’t care how harmless it’s supposed to be. Rory and Nora thought it was heaven. A big, toothy, predatory heaven. Hmmmmm…  

We rented a car (bigger than the tiny red thing) and headed south. I had my heart set on four weeks languidly exploring the shore north up to Broome, but time schedules and the vicious unfairness of airline ticket change fees kept us closer to Perth. We cruised down to the Margaret River area, driving south on a road that paralleled the ocean but never revealed it. Why would anyone plan a road that way? I think we got spoiled for sweeping ocean views and stunning cliff-side driving in New Zealand. This road passed through a few towns and some scrubby looking farm land. Around Margaret River we turned off, heading across the peninsula. We drove past vineyard after vineyard, and then suddenly I spied a sign for Flinder’s Bay Vineyard, a label Brandon and I used to buy as a treat at Earthfare in Greensboro. We loved it, but they stopped carrying it, and it was one we always looked for in wine shops back home. And here it was! Here I was! At the source! I slammed on brakes and turned right around. We went in, hoping to have our photo taken in front of the sign for Brandon, and the lady there couldn’t have been nicer. I told her our story, and she gave me a poster of wine labels from the region to send to Brandon in lieu of a bottle of wine, which is on the no-no list for deployments. I’m sure he’ll love the poster just as much. I’m sure. Really. And it was very kind of her.  

We were determined to see kangaroosthe wild, and we did! They have the good sense to stay tucked away quietly under trees for the heat of the day, but as dusk came on we spied them nibbling on the edges of fields and lazing in groups under the gum trees. We watched this mom and joey for a long time, until we finally scared them off. The next day an emu crosssed the road in front of us. An emu! I nearly wrecked out of sheer delight. Let me tell you, that is one big bird.  

We spent the night on the coast on the tip of Australia. The next day we visited the lighthouse there, where the two oceans, Indian and the southern reaches of the Pacific, meet. It was breathtaking and very, very windy.  

Stay tuned: Musings on trees! Lots of pictures! Not as dull as it sounds!  

February 6, 2010

Uluru

Filed under: Australia, children, travel — midway2go @ 11:30 am

Talk about hot.  I stepped off the plane and felt the dry heat suck deep down into my lungs.  Hot mama.   Surprisingly it turned out to be great weather for tent camping.  The days were blistering, and we hid in our air conditioned rental car or floated in the pool, but the nights were crisp and clear and perfect for sleeping without a rain cover, open to the stars.  We found, again, that our tent site was a bit modest compared to our neighbors.  Some of the families we met had driven 2,000 miles, mostly on dirt roads, to get to Uluru.  I guess I take some extra gas and a spare trash can, too.

Did we climb Uluru?  Heck, no.  Not only was it too hot, but the original owners ask visitors to respect their sacred sites and not go wiping their feet all over it.  We cruised around it a couple of times and admired it endlessly at all times of day.   We did try a walk at the other famous rocks, formerly known as the Olgas.  It didn’t really go that well. 

 See, we had gotten up hours before dawn to leave Cairns, and the kids were so tired they both fell asleep in the rental car.  I drove around, deeply impressed with the redness and the fierceness and the permanent feeling that the landscape had and the impermanent feeling I had there as a person.  I mean, the land all around feels so old, and you really fell that people here are just a blip.  Anyway, I killed two hours waiting for these kiddos to wake up so we could get out there and be a part of it.  Of course, when they woke up they wanted a few minutes to get themselves together.   We ended up hiking the gorge trail at the Olgas at 4pm.  Basically, I force marched two drowsy kids a half mile back into a bakingly hot canyon to see a dried up trickle of water.  The upshot was that we met two other moms travelling with their kids.   Naturally, they were cool with terrific kids.  The people always turn out to be the best part.

 We ended up hanging out with Simone and her daughter Laura and Jenny and her son Jack for most of our stay.  We scored some time at their hotel’s gorgeous swimming pool and kept bumping into Simone and Laura on the dunes, watching the sun set, then rise, over the outback.  They even introduced me to the concept of a grill-it-yourself BBQ buffet dinner.  I love Australians, but I’m still a little confused about why anyone wold pay to go out to dinner only to cook their own food.  Simone and Jenny were similarly baffled, but we had a great time together.

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