Monday, March 29, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Gold Coast

Coffs to Gold Coast - 6 hours was certainly a long haul with flying visits to the BIG banana at Coffs and teh BIG prawn in Ballina. We followed that with a trip 30 min inland to Cunugra to visit friends. The irony was that we were worried about how late we were running, yet when we got there we weren't so late afterall, as Queensland is 1 hour behind NSW. I dont' know what they do in the border cities... It was quite late by the time we found Treasure Island Holiday Park on the coast and several U-turns later we pulled onto our site. Popcorn, tea and biscuits were the order for dinner.

The next morning we went off to Dreamworld on the bus. We had a good time there, but with kids our age (4-5-7) and 2 of the kids rides not working, it was difficult to feel we got AU$265 worth of value! Still, Sienna was delighted to meet Dora the Explorer, the Nickelodean rides a good workout, and if I never hear the screaching from the rides on the Tower of Terror again it will be too soon. So all in all the overall impression of Dreamworld was loud, and don't expect a value proposition if you have under 10's. And then you have to keep them out of the gift shops!

We eventually got back to the campervan with three exhausted kids (and two exhausted parents) only to be surprised by a knock on the door by Jen's parents. The kids in particular were delighted. We bailed on our plan to visit SeaWorld the following day and did a bit of shopping and swimming in the excellent pool at the holiday park.

We celebrated Sienna's 4th birthday that night with a buffet at the park bistro (!) and the worst bottle of wine ever created. We would name and shame, but it was so bad our memory has blanked out the details. We had a prolonged packing session the following morning (utilising 3 more bags than we arrived with) and rolled out of the park on the way to Brisbane and our final night in Oz. We checked into the Quest River View and into a nice 2bed apartment. Jenni fell asleep, feeling more shattered than ill. Unfortunately the afternoon nap was cut short by the party that cranked up in the next door apartment, which lasted until they went out clubbing at 1am. Several calls to reception for action went un-actioned, so Quest River View are on our filthy list.

We resisted the urge to bang on our neighbours door when our alarm went off at 4.30am to catch the shuttle to the airport. The kids made friends with the Senior Constable standing outside the building restricting access to the building (due to an accidental death due to a fall several hours earlier, we have just discovered), who gave them stickers and talked about what Police do. Watch out for us on Police 10-7 (of the Australian equivalent) as they filmed us from across the road).

We had two good flights with Air NZ that day, and while Jen ran the length of Auckland Airport to search for the boys who had slipped off the plane ahead of us, Michael found them being escorted out of the cockpit of the plane where they had been invited for a look-see. Kudos to the ground staff at Auckland Airport who grabbed our bags off the baggage line for us so we could go through international transit and not through arrivals and check-in again. Seasoned travellers would be well aware of the convenience of checking bags through to their final destinations. What can we say other than things were tired and foggy that morning, and we missed giving that instruction at Brisbane check-in. Not to worry, everything arrived intact in Rarotonga (all 17 pieces!!!) and we stepped into that lovely, thick, warm, scented tropical air knowing we were only a short step to home.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Forster, Port Macquarie & Coffs Harbour

Australia - closed on Mondays.

The last few days have been a mix of excellent, disappointing and tiring. We had a lovely short drive inland from Port Stephens to Gloucester, a small country town not unlike Warkworth (!). Where we continued on the trail of Michael's grandfather, Gholam. We hit the jackpot in meeting a local historian who has already compiled information on Gloucster's well known 'British Indian' which we look forward to seeing in more detail soon. But we were able to visit great grandpa Shah's store - the second only brick building in the town built around 1917 - originally a haberdashery store where he traded for several years. A roadside picnic was great and the day finished in Forster (yes, Dr Foster went to Gloucester...) at an expansive caravan park called Smugglers Cove, which came complete with theme pools and playgrounds and excellent clean facilities. We liked Forster.

Not so great was the following day and another short journey to Port Macquarie. Campervan beds are pretty good considering, but aren't exactly sleepyhead material. Add that to prolonged close quaters and everyone was a little ratty. The Wingham Brush Bush Walk was a good start to the day (very similar to Harry Parry Kauri Park in Warkworth) and we saw lots of bats and very groovy trees. Plus the BIG OYSTER...

Then we hit some roadworks and we couldn't go to the Bird Tree (largest by volume in NSW) as it was off-road. Another roadside picnic spot was nice but everything just took a bit too long and we flagged away the wildlife park visit. Port Macqurie hadn't impressed during the research stage, and quite frankly the communications with Sundowner Breakwall Holiday Park on the waterfront should have tipped us off. The park was very average with rundown facilities, a tiny pool, a crappy playground and all spread out over 4 hectares! We tried the beach - but the Surf Lifesavers had closed that...The day may have been redeemed by dinner at the highly recommended Pancake Place, but, after convincing the kids that pancakes for dinner falls into the Really Good Idea category, the damn place was shut too! Blah Blah Blah Port Macquarie - we didn't linger in the morning.

Roll on Coffs Harbour. AM and we hit the road for Wauchope (pronounced war-hope!!) and Timbertown. Excellent value really and it was nice to wander through an attraction without the need to get 'value for money'. With a working steam sawmill and a clydesdale driving the chaff cutting machine it was all quite layed-back. Unfortunately the other two attractions, the steam train and the bullocks, were not operating - Monday don't you know. Onto the highway and a stop at Fredo's Famous Pies in Fredrickton for a picnic at Nambucca heads. Incidentally we are getting quite good at spotting the best spots for campervan U-turns...

Last stop for the day, the butterfly house at Sawtell. was Monday don't you know. Turns out that it was lucky for us because we then went to the Clog Barn, walked around the miniature Duch village complete with dykes, dams, canals, trains and odd looking little people. And special mention for the disturbingly large lizard eating cake crumbs which gave us a wierd Godzilla moment... The highlight of the day and what must be THE number one souviner of the trip was the handmade wooden clog, made before our very eyes, and won by the Shahs by virtue of having travelled the farthest. They had no idea!

On that note, we rolled into Coffs, and into the Park Beach Caravan Park which is a stand out so far. Great, clean facilities, awesome pool with waterslide, all set in lovely tree lined 'streets' complete with nesting pair of (yellow faced-noisy bugger) plovers who have taken over the site beside us and act as an excellent security system warning us whenever anyone comes near, even us...though we have reached an accommodation with mummy plover and things have calmed down... until daddy plover comes home that is.

A day off the road today - hurray! We flagged our planned trip inland in favour of the camp facilities and what a good decision that was. We took in the Pet Porpoise Pool in the morning which was anazing and a real highlight. Kisses from the dolphins and seals for all, patting the dolphins, plus a dolphin and seal show featuring the only real Kiwi in the audience - Jenni - being hugged by a lovely NZ fur seal, which was very cuddly and quite damp. The segment finished with a hongi and a wet bum. We had fun feeding the cute little Blue Penguins but didn't fork out $200pp to actually swim with the dolphins. But it looked pretty cool. Excellent cake and coffe in the village and then Jen took off for a hour to have a message to work out some kinks and all in all it was a lovely relaxing day. Coffs Harbour we like.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Campervans R Us & The Hunter Valley

Sydney had one last farewell for the Shah's as they navigated Sydney Airport and the inner suburbs in their newly minted campervan on a busy mid-week morning (is there any other kind in Sydney?) Jenni drove the campervan around and around the Sydney Domestical terminal in an attempt to pick up Michael who had dropped the rental car off. Then we returned to the depot to check-out a strange beeping that turned out to be the cell-phone. Having mastered that, we took to the roads and made a strangely misguided decision to take the bridge (for scenic reasons and to avoid the toll) and followed the Britz directions which involved driving through the very congested and narrow inner suburbs, making two wrong turns, and then finally farewelling Syders by travelling over that Big coathanger. At this point, it would be fair to say that there was an amount of (exhausted) confidence in the driving abilities.

The campervan pickup & pack and care drop-off thing took an absolute age so we abandoned our original plan to go to the Blue Mountains and instead headed north until we found an easy spot, which we did near The Entrance at a beach called Bateau Bay. The camp ground there also had a great pool so we had a play around and set up house for our first night. It felt like setting out on a second holiday. We figured out all the cupboards, storage, awnings, gas, power, get the picture. Actually it was quite straight forward and not unlike being on the boat - a wee little home with small versions of everything which all need to be stowed before weighing anchor in the morning.

The next morning saw 24hrs in the campervan without a single dent. Cool. 90 min later we were in the Hunter Valley where we flew through dinky little Cessnock (reminded me of Taumaranui) and stopped at the Hunter Valley Gardens. What a great spot, with a shopping village full of local produce (including Hunter Valley Chocolates), a playground (very important), and then the gardens themselves which were beautiful. The kids loved the Story Book Garden in particular.

The camp ground in Cessnock was not too bad, and the pool had a spa which was great! The birds were something else though, and were so loud we had to move inside and raise our voices just to hear each other. The morning was louder, if that was possible, with the gallah's and a million budgies all going off at once (a little like a train of supermarket trolleys going by for a very long time).

Another 90 minutes down the road and we side-swiped (not literally) Newcastle on the way out to Port Stephens. First stop was Fighter World who share a fence with the Air Force base there. We got an upclose and very loud display of the afterburners on the training jets as they came and went, and the jets in the hangers (off all shapes and sizes) were quite interesting. Half an hour later and we were in Nelson Bay, another playground, Red Ned's Pies (Wagu beef, onion and cheese) and then a quick trip to the next bay (Shoal) where we swam and camped for the night.

All is quite groovy really, and I like that the 5-star-Shah's are quite content in their wee little bus.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Sydney

Ahh Sydney....

Sydney...Yay! Taronga Zoo - What an amazing place! The seal show was a highlight, not to mention the bus, ferry and sky car to get there (Michael was quite disappointed we got a new, quick, white ferry instead of an old, slow green ferry). We got up close with a koala, patted an echidna and a wombat, saw the new baby elephant and only got sucked into spending $25 at the gift shop. The kids were agog at the animal displays and it was lovely to see them so engaged they forgot about the time.

Friends - Dinner with the Taits at Coogee Bay Hotel, and the Mullers at their house on the Shore, was awesome. The kids are all so big now, and it was lovely to chat like we hadn't been away (whereas it has actually been years!).

Holiday Inn Sydney Airport - What an excellent, professional and friendly hotel, and an awesome, top floor suite with a perfect view of such a busy airport. While Michael went running in the gym, Jen watched the sunrise and the planes landing every 2 minutes. And then the big airbus came in....who would have thought we were a family of plane spotters?

Seacliff Bridge - south of Sydney on the coast road, what a cool piece of road construction, and you can walk along it to have a look-see too. There were engraved padlocks on the railings of the bridge, some commemorating weddings (with little padlocks added as children came along), anniversaries and bereavements. It was quite cool.

Sydney...Nay! Traffic - horrific, horrible, intense, crowded...and that was a Sunday afternoon. Navigating Sydney roads and Sydney traffic is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure by massive amounts.

Medina Executive Coogee Bay - Wont say too much but an unnecessarily difficult check-in, with 3 kids who hadn't eaten at 8pm, after and hour of cross-city driving, having to pack them back into a car to search for internet access (because the hotel wouldn't give us access there) - thank goodness for McD's - and we made out stay there as short as humanly possible. Nuf said - not on the recommended list.

Tolls - We have no problem with paying tolls. Spending 20 minutes on the phone to try and pay a $4 toll (plus a $3 admin fee) is just quite ridiculous.

Ahh Sydney... glad to see that back of ya!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Goulburn, Kiama

Two nights in a lovely property (Sebel) in a lovely sea side town (Kiama) is just the thing to recharge a few batteries. Being on holiday is tiring! We did a huge trip from Rutherglen (VIC border) to Goulburn (NSW highlands). On the way we stopped to see the dog with his tucker box in Gundergai, and full size submarine in Holbrook. The Otway (above water portion) sits beside the highway in a town named for a WW1 Royal Submariner. The little museum with a fantastic hologram presentation was great. The sub is definately a big thing, but as it is a real creation, not an Ozzie exageration, it doesn't quite qualify for the Big Thing list. The same goes for the very large wind turbines beside the freeway.

Goulburn was....nice. The cathedrals were lovely, and once again there was no shortage of heritage buildings. The rail heritage museum was more 'train spotter' territory rather than young family fare and the BIG merino was indeed a giant sheep (though why Jamie was so fascinated with its bum it hard to explain).

On the way to Jamberoo we came across the BIG potato in a tiny place called Robertson, which we have renamed the BIG Poo-tater, as the picture illustrates. On to the Illawara Fly Top Walk wich is a very nice bush walk (mind the snakes) culminating in an elevated walk way 25 metres above ground level right on the edge of the escarpment. Add on some wobbling (but quite safe) canterlever sections that let you look down untold metres into the valley below and you could definately feel it in the knees. In fact, we opted out of the second section as it really was quite a freaky sensation.

Jamberoo was a beautiful little hamlet 10 min inland from Kiama, which was a gorgeous seaside town with a seawall harbour, surf beaches (of the cold variety) and a blow hole. We swam in the sea pools and in the surf, strolled about and made ourselves home in the bakery. Great playgrounds topped off a lovely few days off the road.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Bendigo, Echuca, Rutherglen

Having left Sovereign Hill Lodge in Ballarat in 11 degrees, mist and rain, we took a tour through the Eureka Centre, on the site where the Eureka Rebellion took place. What a great museum and interpretive centre, with excellent staff who made a point of engaging with the kids, giving them Eureka flags and activity packs for the car. It would have been nice to take a close look at the new sculpture installation depicting the rebellion in steel panels, but the weather was far too bitter and dismal.

Next stop on our way north was Castlemaine. There may have been more to Castlemaine that we didn't see, but aside from a nice hot chocolate and a pair of wolly socks for Jen (the car heater wasn't working) there wasn't much too it. In the next stretch of highway we had our first native wildlife encounter with a kangaroo. Unfortunately it was dead on the side of the road. We did see huge stretches of plains and farm land, sparsly dotted with sheep and horses, and beige as far as the eye could see.

Bendigo was a beautiful town, full of heritage buildings from the gold rush era. We swapped cars at Hertz and traded a working CD player for a working heater (you can't have everything it seems, even if you are paying), then took the talking tram ride and learned a little more about the town. We went through the Chinese Dragon Museum and saw Soo Loong, the 100m imperial dragon which was very cool. The kids were more interested in the playground in the park...

Next stop Echuca, an historic river port, with more people in period costume and a to visit the Echuca-Moama Bowling Club, which is not like a bowling club at all, but more a bowling and pokie club with restaurants, bars and a kids club and was really was quite flash (in a $3.50 wine glass kind of way)! The steamboat ride the next morning was quite lovely onboard the Alexander Arbothnot. The sun was finally out and gorgeously warm but there was a definate bite in the breeze. The wharf is split down the middle - half in Victoria and half in NSW. The kids seemed to enjoy it, but for some unfathomable reason found the crappy minigolf better.

Leaving Echuca for the Rutherglen wine region we clocked up 3 BIG THING photos, with the Golden Cow Milkshake Cups, the Big Strawberry and the Big Murray Cod in Tucumwal. Nice work.
Rutherglen was very pretty and we had an awesome tasting at Cofield Wines. Cofield make a gorgeous sparkeling Shiraz plus many other varietals including a muscat, which the area is famous for (motto: Sydney might have a great Harbour, but Rutherglen has a great Port). While we sampled and chatted with winemaker Damien the kids played in the barrel room with son Mitchell and his scooter. We had a great time with the Cofield crew and left with a decent selection of wines for the car-boot cellar.

We spent the night on a houseboat on a billabong (Yes really!) at Brimin Lodge. The setting was just amazing, surrounded by gum trees, at least 3 different kids of frogs sounding all evening, and a dawn chorus of cockatoos, gallahs, cormorants and kookaburras. Jamie thought that the trees were full of monkeys, an easy mistake to make... We took a walk through the farm and around the billabong to the Murray river and then said goodbye to Simon and his sheep and baby cod fish and headed for the famous Dog on the Tuckerbox, somewhere around Gundagai!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Ballarat

Melbourne - Ballarat. After stuffing the boot with the things we had accumated in Melbourne we hit the road! Yahoo! The rental car is very nice to drive and the motorway was empty thanks to the public holiday.

Once we were on our way, we thought of all the things that we wanted but had packed in the boot. One thing we hadn't packed was ski gear, which was definately required once we got to Ballarat and it's 17 degree, rain filled chilliness. So the trip took an hour, and driving around town trying to find somewhere to buy warm raincoats took another hour.

Sovereign Hill was great, if a little steep at $100 plus extra for the coach ride and candle dipping. But we watched a gold bar being poured (Bailey and Jamie got to hold it with great excitement), walked down into a mine (Sienna, not so keen), watch the confectionist make toffee drops, dipped our own candles, did old fashioned bowling, watched the red coats firing their muskets (very loud), and went on the Cob & Co coach ride. Sovereign Hill Lodge is a nice enough place and now it's time for bed!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Shah Road Trip - Melbourne

We have left Auckland and have finished our four days in Melbourne with a whirlwind of visits to family and friends. We have been on trams (" this our stop?"), to the Queen Vic Market (OMG the food!!!!!!!!), to playgrounds, the Museum, and dinner out with friends at Siglo, a groovy rooftop bar in the city.
The flight was a good one, but the travelling day was a long one - 10 hours from Warkworth to St Kilda!
We had some excitement on Saturday with a weatherbomb over Melbourne city and suburbs. There were cars floating down St Kilda Rd and 10cm hailstones through windscreens,

houses, train stations and the lobby of our hotel! De ja vu anyone?
Melbourne City has been intense and there are just SO many people here and the kids can't understand why we don't know everyone's names. Jen might need medical assistance as it looks like her shopping instinct seems to be quite lacking. We hit the road to Ballarat in an hour or so and hope the kids wont kill each other in the back seat...