Back up the coast to Queensland, Baby

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Sunset kayak on the Macleay River, South West Rocks, NSW

South West Rocks was picturesque, especially kayaking down the Macleay River at sunset alongside herons, pied cormorants, grebes and white-bellied sea eagles.

The girls played endless imaginary games in the shade of the gum trees, pausing only for a swim in the mornings and evenings, when the sun wasn’t too strong. Pre-Christmas camping in Australia is bliss. After Christmas the entire country seems to go camping. We’ll meet most of them in Woodford tomorrow, no doubt. Rain is predicted.

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Camping at South West Rocks–nice and quiet

Yesterday we packed up in South West Rocks, NSW and drove seven hours to Caloundra, QLD, where we got a last minute deal and booked ourselves into an air-conditioned resort so we can leave early Boxing Day—without having to pack up—and (hopefully) get a good camp spot at Woodford.

Now, I’m not big on resorts and I’ve never stayed somewhere like this where you can drink beer while you watch your kids whiz down a waterslide—oh, well, except on Christmas Day and Good Friday, when there’s no alcohol served without food in Queensland. What with the heat and humidity and Christian alcohol restrictions, I almost feel I’m back in Georgia. My friend, Katrina, told me once that Queensland was the Alabama of Australia. (Could we move here??) The kids get a bit manic with all this manufactured fun—waterslides and trampolines.

I miss the bush and I must say the best part of this resort was leaving it this morning, heading off with K on our bikes down the beach promenade, where we went jetty jumping with the locals.

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K jumping off the jetty on Christmas morning, Caloundra, QLD
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And we can go higher . . .

It is nice to have air-con, though, a lovely reprieve from the heat before we hit the Folk Festival. It’s the hottest Christmas in 12 years here in Queensland. Wishing you and yours all the best for your Christmas in whatever climate you may find yourselves.

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Merry Christmas!
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Woody Head Campground, Iluka and Yamba, NSW

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Woody Head, NSW

The only time anyone moves fast in Woody Head is in the shower, where, in an effort to conserve, you get two minutes of water for one dollar. I managed to wash my hair and shave one leg, which is more than enough, I reckon, for Woodford (we’ve decided to go back up the coast to Queensland after Christmas for the Woodford Folk Festival. . . more on that later).

The most strenuous event at Woody Head, a campground located in Bunjalung National Park, where we spent five long lazy days, was a WilderQuest walk around the rock pools. The walk was led by a cruisy ranger, a local high on enthusiasm and a bit low on scientific knowledge. When K asked how shells were made, he said, “I should know this. We did it at uni. The mollusk secrets calcium . . . something . . .?” Then, noticing a sea cucumber he shouted, “Hey, have a look at this! What you gotta know about the sea cucumber is he breathes through his bum hole. Pretty good party trick!!!”

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Woody Head rock pool–so much life beneath the surface

The rock pools were magic. Once you stop and look, you see so much in this rich watery world: Neptune’s necklace, countless zebra snails, carnivorous mollusks and, my personal favorite, a chiton. Chitons are simple creatures who’ve been around for 520 million years and have hardly changed at all (I know a few people like this). But the most unusual creature spotted was the sea hare, a large bulbous green glob, squishing its way from one rock pool to the next.

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The chiton: 520 million years and no need to change (photo from writeopinions.comNote–the chiton we saw was about the size of a small shell, not the size of the giant green glob below.
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Sea hare (anaspidea)–this fabulous creature has an extremely good sense of smell and, when threatened, secrets a toxin that prevents predators from smelling it and keeps them away
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K and Kangaroo

The rock pools weren’t the only places teeming with animals. There were plenty of kangaroos, birds singing all day long and a large carpet python in the gum trees overhead.

If you’re ever in this part of the world, check out the tiny town of Iluka with the best fish around at very cheap prices—we got three fillets of local mullet (delicious) for $6. Iluka is where the mouth of the big beautiful Clarence River meets the sea. Its waters mix with the clean clear ocean and dolphins swim close to shore. The photos I took don’t do it justice.

In an effort to escape the midday heat one day, we also visited the laid-back town of Yamba, where the townsfolk are determined not to work too much. Get to Yamba early because the café kitchens close at 2. The library’s air-conditioned and open Monday, Tuesday and Friday, but closes for lunch. There’s a good used bookstore, The Book Nook.

After Woody Head, we drove down the coast to South West Rocks, where I’d already booked a campsite. Why? We’d planned to head south and cool down in the Snowy Mountains after Christmas. BUT, plans change. Friends in Brisbane suggested the Woodford Folk Festival. (Do check out this link–very cool website.) We’ve always thought of going—many of the concerts are interpreted and there are a zillion kids activities. So, this year we’ll brave the heat of inland Queensland, the mud–if it rains–and the crowds of tens of thousands of festival goers and head off to hang with the hippies for a week in Woodford.

That’s why we’ve driven south before we drive back up north again (and then head south towards home).

On the Road Again (after 11 months in Sydney)

We returned from our trip around Australia last year in January (this year) came back to the rush and rigor of Sydney, back to traffic, school, work, endless texts and emails, hundreds of papers to mark and dozens of tradies to organize. This year, unlike the previous, went by in a flash, as city life does. There were good moments: R aced Kindy and came away with a badge, a medal and so many awards. K starred in an advert and started gymnastics. Dad built a house! I taught the most interesting Memoir class ever and won runner-up in a writing contest (with the help of my beloved writing group). Cities aren’t all bad.

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Bronte Beach–not a bad place to live

We live in a most beautiful part of the world and yet . . . we’re never really here; we’re always thinking about the next hour, day, week. This year in Sydney, Lee and I pined for the quiet of the bush, the long days and that starry night sky. We missed not having to ever look at a watch. We missed having time.

So, two weeks ago, on 25 November, we whisked the kids out of school, rented out our townhouse on Airbnb for six weeks and went back up to Brisbane, to K’s favorite school from last year where, “even the canteen lady signs”. K had a magical two weeks at Toowong State School, where the signing choir is 60+ strong. The Christmas concert was rocking fun, almost entirely signed, and they sold beer to parents and kept the whole show under an hour. Brisbane, a city of just 2 million, is friendly and everyone talks to you. Bush turkeys run down the street, geckos chirp at night. K wants to move.

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Signing Choir at Toowong
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Cooling off at the big pool at South Bank
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R in one of Yayoi Kusama’s exhibits, GOMA

But Brisbane heat is thick as pea soup, and moving through it robs your energy. You have to go slow. Lee worked through the heat while R and I got to cool off in the free giant pool and air-conditioned galleries at Southbank. And now we have that old dilemma again: to leave our beautiful Bronte home for a fabulous deaf-friendly school in QLD?

Well, we’ve got time to think about it. We’re lucky to be off camping for a month in National Parks on the north coast of NSW. Stay tuned . . .

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First Night of camping, Broken Head National Park, near Byron