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It’s a Wrap

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The McGraths are back in town. It is a surreal feeling.  Have we really been away for 9.5 months?  It is difficult to describe in words the feeling of reversing into our driveway. I know there is a deep sense of happiness, it just has risen to the surface yet.

We have travelled 43,000 klms over the past 9.5 months and the Prado has guzzled around 7,000 litres of diesel.  Pressing the “Go Home” button on the GPS was done with mixed feelings.  Only 898 klms to home.  We did a lot of reminiscing of our travels, recalling all the spots we have camped along the way (some memories were better than others). We counted down our last kilometres listening to our top travelling tunes. Lachie calling out Paradise by Coldplay, Hamish Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller Band, Courtney Stay the Night by James Blunt. . Turning into Military Rd caused a lot of excitement from the back seat.  Cries of I remember this place, I used to do ballet there etc, etc.  Stew and I looked at each other with a sense of despair.  It’s busy, the roads feel narrow and there are lots of neatly groomed people everywhere.  Feel like doing another lap kids??

Walking into our house felt very strange.  I thought I would have been a little more excited about seeing it but it just didn’t feel like home.  Living under canvas has definitely been cosy.  Our garden looks like it has been on steroids over the past 9 months.  Oh, there is a lot of work ahead of us.  Where do we start?  Honolulu Grill for pancakes and coffee.

It is hard to believe that this is our last blog.  How do we sum up our last 9.5 months?  In a few words, remarkable, outstanding, unforgettable, awesome, surreal, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!!!

A major highlight for me has been hanging out with my family.  Not just as an authority figure, aka mum, but as a friend.  I didn’t realise how crazy, stressful and hectic our lives were until we started travelling.  Are all those extra-curricular activities really necessary?  We soon discovered that the answer is no.  It’s amazing how little you learn to live with and enjoy. It’s definitely a back to basics lifestyle.  We have all lived under canvas and in one room.  We have had no TV, have had one small box each for our clothing, a few board games and a soccer ball.  We have rediscovered the art of communicating as a family again.  Everyone is willing to chat and offer different stories. There is constant laughter.  Everyone is at ease.  It is MAGIC!!!  I am going to find it hard sharing my family again.  A very selfish thought I know but when you have something good you don’t want it to end.

It is difficult to choose a favourite place.  It is a question that we have spent a long time pondering over. It is a tough one to answer as it depends on many factors: the experience, the weather, the place itself.  How can we possibly narrow it down to one particular place.  Our country offers some spectacular landscapes both natural and manmade. The remoteness of the outback is hard to beat.  Standing on the northern most point of Australia is a proud moment. The stunning red rocks and crystal clear waters of the WA coastline.  The Kimberleys with its stunning gorges & falls.  Camping on pristine beaches waking to turtles bobbing their head up to say hello.  The quiet sleepy towns and rolling hills of Tasmania.  Our list could go on. It is too hard to pick a favourite spot so we have come up with the following:

  • Best camping spot – Kooljaman resort, Cape Leveque WA.  We had our own private hut extension with shower overlooking the crystal clear waters.  Added bonus were the whales spouting in the distance.
  • Worst camping spot – Mareeba, Qld. Nothing more to be said here.
  • Best swimming spot – Surprise Falls Litchfield NP.  Nothing like the feeling of jumping off a 4m cliff. It was exhilarating.
  • Smallest swimming spot- Coward Springs along the Oodnadatta Track.
  • Most needed swimming spot – Moolarina Station near Lake Eyre. Who cares what was lurking under the waters, it was 46 degrees. A definite teaspoon of cement moment.
  • Most extraordinary experiences – Enjoying a birds eye view of the Bungle Bungles in a helicopter.  Walking through the dark freshwater crocodile infested waters of Tunnel Creek with head torches on.  Witnessing the first of the dramatic storms in the Kimberleys.  Hang on, Lachie has just called out “dropping a shark in the back of the kayak has to be up there Mum”.
  • Funniest moment – It has to be watching our wheel roll past us on the Pacific Highway on day 1 of our big adventure.  Nothing has come close to beating that moment although the kids do reckon me having a complete freak out with holding a bag of cane toads comes close.  I am never going to live that one down.
  • Best river crossing – Pentecost River along the Gibb River Rd (it’s an avid 4WD’ers dream crossing) and the Reynolds River crossing in Litchfield NP (a sandy bottom and we managed to pop a tyre on exit). Also worth a mention is the Yardie Creek crossing in Cape Range NP, WA.  Both Stew and Adrian had Sue and I worried. They had us believing that it was a going to be a very technical, deep crossing in extremely tough conditions. They were even talking through recovery scenarios.  It was so tough I could have cycled across on a unicycle with a cup of tea and not spilled a drop.
  • Best wildlife experiences – A wild koala running up the road in broad daylight on Kangaroo Island; following our emu (jiggly buts) guard of honour down a dirt track and swimming with sea lions.  Not every day do you get to swim up close with these inquisitive creatures.
  • Best Burger – Archer River Roadhouse, Cape York Peninsula. It was huge, juicy and oh so delicious.  We still talk about it.
  • Best pie – now this has caused a ruckus amongst the troops – Lachie reckons it’s the Undarra lava tubes open pie; Courtney says it’s definitely the chunky beef pie at Salamanca Markets Hobart but Hamish says the sausage roll trumps the pies on every occasion.
  • Best chicken parmi – Lachie’s appetite has definitely grown on tour! It’s all about the size (of course it is he’s a male after all). I reckon Lachie has eaten one or two parmis in every state and territory.  He is a connoisseur. And the winner is?  The Stanley Hotel in Stanley, Tasmania.
  • Best beer – Stew reckons Little Creatures (couldn’t quite make it to the brewery on his birthday though).  I reckon it’s the Moo Brew in Tassie, great taste, great bottle and great label. It’s hard to beat.
  • Place not to be visited again – Coober Pedy.  It wins hands down. Now this is a town that has nothing to offer except an underground pub to escape from the heat.  And the Pub doesn’t even do beer on tap.
  • Most useful tool on tour – the long handled shovel.  This has proved to be an essential item with multi-purpose functions.  It has been used to get us out of many sticky situations – de-bogging and bush poos and for general recreation activities – making huge sand holes and digging for earthworms to help us catch all those fish (okay maybe not so useful here!)
  • Least useful tool on tour: the yabbie pump (the deluxe model thanks to Ben).  This was only used at Blackies after carting it around for 7 months.  It broke after 2 uses.  I also have a confession.  The measuring cups.  These were posted home early in the tour. What was I thinking?  As if I was ever going to bake.
  • Most used sayings:  How good is life?  Keep your hands to yourself.  Where to next?  Been there done that, tick.  Time to move on, it’s a wrap.  Can I play iPod.  There’s nothing to do.  Mmmuuuuuum I’m hungry.  Is it beer and chips time?  Surprisingly there were not too many Are we there yets?

I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to travel around our incredible country. It has been an extraordinary experience and I thoroughly recommend it to those who get the chance.  I can see myself completing another lap one day…maybe when I can be classified as a grey nomad and own a velour dressing gown.

To our friends and family, a big thank you for following our journey.  I hope we have given you some insight to the natural wonders of Australia whilst keeping you entertained along the way.  We have enjoyed reading your comments and now look forward to catching up with you all in person. Yay!!!!

Now to the unpacking…Aaarghh!!!


Deb’s Delayed “Did You Know”

I’m back.  Better late than never…the Deb’s Did you now that has been coming since the “End of the Top End” blog.

We have been travelling in WA now for the past 6.5 weeks. Seeing the coast again has been refreshing but I do miss the remoteness of places we visited in the Northern Territory.   I have to say, I loved travelling through the Northern Territory.  It surpassed all of my expectations.  Stew had me camping at times in deep deep whoop whoop and it was great (with the exception of cane toads). The natural beauties, the history, the landscape and the people were amazing and unforgettable.  We were lucky to spend a couple of hours with an aboriginal guy from the Dalabon Tribe(north of Katherine) called Manuel.  This was a highlight for me and I felt very privileged(even though we did pay for it). We heard about Manuel’s childhood, he taught us how to paint, how to light a fire Aboriginal style (no matches, flint or Mapp Gas) and how to throw a spear.  I no longer see the words Black fella as a derogatory term.   Manuel used this term as well as White fella quite often.  Here are a few things we learnt about Manuel and the Dalabon Tribe:

  •  In the Dalabon Tribe they do not greet people.  There are no aboriginal words for hello, goodbye, goodnight, please or thank you.  “White fella think black fella is rude but this is our way”.
  • They go walkabout (hunting for food) everyday.  If unsuccessful they go hungry and try again the next day.  “Nowadays black fella go visit Coles or Woolies if they hungry”.  Manuel still goes hunting today.
  • Black fellas not educated like white fellas but are educated in other ways…black fella taught from a very young age to hunt, paint and learn the rules.  “Black fella can’t speak like white fella but still very smart”.
  • Dalabon tribe like other tribes have huge celebrations where food, dance and dreamtime stories are a main feature.  “Bit similar to white fella parties”.

I would have loved to spend more time with Manuel.  He had a very infectious laugh and a huge smile.  He took Hamish under his wing when he taught us how to paint; a real father figure type.  I came away from that experience with a much greater appreciation and awareness of the Aboriginal community, culture and lifestyle.  As with any culture, it only takes a small group to bring disrespect.  It is a shame but that is life I guess.

Will leave you with a poem we collected on the way.  A brief background…We visited a local Didj Hut in Darwin and the owner here had a very colourful history.  He sold us a copy of the poem for $1, said a mate wrote it but didn’t want to disclose his name. Mmmm…a good little scam!!  Later found it using google. I’m hoping our $1 went to a good cause.

Dear White Fella, Coupla things you should know….

“When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still black…….

And you White fella,
When you born, you Pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you Blue,
When you scared, you Yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray……………..
And you calling me Colored ???????????”

Palm Cove – A two week luxury pit-stop

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Well the big fella is back and survived the Kokoda Trail. Didn’t return with any tacky wood carvings though…just a more outta control beard which the kids have had fun with over the past 2 weeks scheming up ways to hold dad down to shave it off…from of a bucket of razors tied to the top of the door so when dad opens it they fall on him (one guess who thought of that one), using the razor in the middle of the night whilst dad is fast asleep or more simply in Hamish’s  words “buy him a razor as a present. He has to like it and use it” Mmmm let’s see how long the beard lasts.

Needless to say it is great to have Stew back.  The kids and I survived but it was lonely and kinda weird without him, especially since he has been hanging around since the end of March.

Palm Cove is a tropical haven, the spa capital of Oz, a place for us McGraths to: 1) unwind, relax and enjoy the luxuries of a 3 bedroom apartment (no courtesy curtains required); 2) soak up the sunshine- can’t believe it is winter here, 26 degrees and swimming everyday; 3)  catch up on 2 weeks of well needed washing -this kids have mastered the art of wearing the same clothes for 2,3,4 days in a row…why is it when back in Sydney they insisted on changing 1,2 or 3 times a day; and of course 4) to enjoy the touristy attractions Cairns and its surrounds have to offer.

I have to say with Stew away and school holidays back in NSW, I had a tough job to try and keep the kids well entertained to ensure that they  wouldn’t miss home and friends too much (and for my ego…to have a fun time with just mum).  I hope I succeeded in showing my kids a good time.…the kids were desperately missing their friends which was even more pronounced after speaking with them on the phone…I too was a little flat with Stew away and no friends close by.  Very much out of character for me the kids got spoilt with lots of sugary treats…ice-creams, Fanta, LCMs, chocolate, 2nd breakfasts at our local cafe…I was definitely on the way to super mum status!

After a few chill out days by the pool, and fuelled with lots of sugar, we decided to tackle the touristy attractions.  First stop was the Kuranda Skyrail, a 7.5km journey in a gondola over the tops of the rainforest.  Spectacular scenery followed by a few hours at Kuranda where the kids were desperate to spend, spend, spend their hard earned pocket money on cheap touristy nick naks at the local markets (made in China of course). I was having lots of flashbacks from my childhood…now I understand what I put my parents through…the voices were coming back… put that back, you don’t really need that, how will we fit it in the car etc etc.  However, still trying to win cool mum status we settled for some handmade local candy.

We were then lured (or conned) into the wildlife experiences not to be missed.  This included 3 mini stops: 1) the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which I have to say was one of my highlights of the day.  The kids were absolutely mesmerized by all the butterflies and were thrilled to finally have a butterfly or two land on them. It was truly magical. Did you know that butterflies can distinguish colours that we humans cannot see…they see things via ultra violet light.; 2) Birdworld – bit hit and miss for me but the kids loved having a black cockatoo rest upon their shoulder. Lachlan was desperate for the blue macaw or at least a yellow parrot to land on him. Secretly I was a little freaked out…didn’t want a Macaw landing on me with those big claws and lastly 3) the Koala Gardens – a little disappointing but our first sighting of crocodiles. Courtney was thrilled though as she got to cuddle a Koala and Lachlan equally with an opportunity for a black headed python to be wrapped around his neck.  Hamish & I were not getting close to that one.  The day was finished by a super long scenic train ride, not to mention the only train to turn a 180 degree corner. Have to say though we were chugging along at a snail pace.  Too much fun for Hamish, he was fast asleep on my lap.

Feeling happy with my ability to show the kids a good time we decided that we McGraths needed to show the Irwin kids a thing or too.  Off to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure Park we went. Watch out Bindy….the McGrath kids are in town…unfortunately not resplendent in their khakis but nevertheless keen as mustard to take on the ferocious croc….well at least from a distance.  This was definitely a highlight of our 2 week stint in paradise. The croc shows, including a boat ride, had us all feeling a little anxious…Big Ted & Bart stole the show. My first encounter with huge crocs and I have to say I still felt uncomfortable even though they were behind bars. I definitely wouldn’t want to be a croc keeper.  Hamish was feeling quite tough and brave and decided to get his photo taken with a croc.  Of course his big brother and sister couldn’t let Hamish have one up on them so they mustered up the courage. Luckily for them it was a baby croc and for extra safety his mouth was taped shut. Mmmm maybe us McGraths will leave this neck of the woods to Bindi after all.

School work has now recommenced much to the disappointment of the kids.  I think they are settling into the routine and enjoying their new teachers….just waiting for the  comment that we are the best teachers they have had.

The McGraths are back on the road tomorrow.…Cape Tribulation here we come. At least it is a short trip and we shouldn’t have too many “Are we there Yet?” calls.   Stay tuned for our next blog.

In the words of Lachlan, Courtney and Hamish, Palm Cove was: Awesome, Sick (translated as really cool), Amazing, Fantastic, Exciting and on the Blackies scale a 9/10.

My last words…absolute bliss after spending a relaxing and “spiritual” 2 hr spa treatment (preso from my wonderful hubby).