20 December 2010

Girrakool and Piles Creek Loop Trek

Phil Houghton Bridge over Piles Creek

One of the many smaller bridges on the Piles Creek Loop Trek

Other-worldly in appearance - steps to the Phil Houghton Bridge

Some of the rock-face where shallow caves were along the trail

Zoe and Clara at different points of the "mostly flat" trek - per the trail description chart

It was an amazing bushland trek! Through sun drenched bush scrub. Up and down well built bush steps and hand hewn rock steps. Across a dozen small wooden bridges that spanned the gap over small gores and waterways. We viewed waterfalls from their base and their top. We scrambled over rocks, walked pasted caves, marveled at the size of bull ants we encountered, and admired blooms. The highlight of the trek for the children was the Phil Houghton Swing Bridge over Piles Creek.

Rock face
Concrete stepping stones on the trail

Lookout with railing

Hand carved steps on the rocks

Sign post

The Piles Creek trek we took overlaps some of the Great North Walk, a trek that connects Sydney to Newcastle.

The narrative description on the track notes for the Piles Creek circuit was accurate. I had the feeling of experiencing parts of Riven, however the chart indicating the terrain was predominately flat was exaggerated, to put it nicely.

I was very proud of my children, especially Neo and Zoe, who enthusiastically walked the entire 4.1 km with very little complaint. Neo took a piggy back ride only near the end of the trail. We chose the perfect day for this trek into bushland - sunny, windy, about 70 F. Overall, it was an invigorating, inspirational trek.

Waterfall on the Piles Creek Trail

The children on some nice steps

Another waterfall

12 December 2010

Oprah Fever Hits Australia

Oprah, her 100 plus organizers and 302 ultimate audience members came to Australia on 6 December. Everyone associated with Oprah has received lots of media attention. It's been heaps of fun watching the media follow them around Australia. So far, she's been to: Uluru (Ayres Rock), Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and many sites in Sydney. A noteworthy point was when Oprah plus 300 others climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The bridge displayed a large O in her honor. She'll be taping 2 shows at the Sydney Opera House this week - renamed The Sydney Oprah House. There will be at 3 and possibly 4 shows from the Australia trip. Have fun Oprah and crew.

28 November 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

Pelican getting directions from the local police

27 November is the correct date - but the year ??
I thought it was very economical of the City to reuse the banner.

Thanksgiving in Australia is just another work day. We did not make a special meal on Thursday, but we did express good wishes to many in honor of the day.

On Saturday, Clara, Neo and I went to Gosford to take part in the parade featuring Mr & Mrs. Claus. There were rides and special activities at the park following the parade.

Gosford's celebrated Town Crier.

Neo with Koala from the Marching Band.

There were free bouncy rides and music too. The day was very sunny and hot. We stood in line to have a chance inside the snow globe. The plastic snow was fun to throw.

On Sunday, we met up with a family formerly from Madison, WI. They moved to Melbourne a month before we returned to Australia. They were in the Central Coast for a half-marathon. It was nice chatting with them and comparing notes.

There is snow at Christmas in Australia. :)

Neo and Benjamin had fun together on Sunday

26 November 2010

Celebrating Tristan's Birthday

Z, T & N enjoying the slip n slide a few days before the party

Since most of my children's birthday's are in the late fall or winter in the northern hemisphere, I've always opted for a birthday party away from home. This year, the birthdays land in late spring and summer, and we have a nice yard and pool. Invite a few friends over, have food and drink....easy!

More slip n slide fun

Tristan had a good time, and so did the boys and their siblings. It was a beautiful day, defying the forecast for rain. The rain did arrive - just as we were picking up - perfect timing!

Tristan with friends in the pool, celebrating his 10th birthday

07 November 2010

Our First Halloween in Australia

Neo in his "Fancy Dress"

Neo going down the inflatable slide at the Gosford fest

We were not sure what to expect for Halloween in Australia. But there wasn't much missing, from what we have experienced. The candy is more gory: eyeball rings, gummy body parts, etc. Personally, I prefer the miniature candy bars. Pumpkins were available in some of the stores: $25 each! At that price, we didn't get a pumpkin to carve. But I did buy one after Halloween to turn it into pumpkin pie. Both Tristan and I were missing pumpkin pie.

Clara wanted to go Trick or Treating with her friends in 7th grade. I was rather amused by this, since she has not gone for the last 2 years due to being "too old". We did see some of her friends out in "fancy dress" as they went around the neighborhood to collect their lollies.

Tristan's friend, Raun, riding the mechanical bull

On Saturday, 30 October, I took the kids to the Gosford Business Trick or Treat and Midday Monster Mash. Here are some pictures from the event. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=25949&id=100000835981286 The children went around to the businesses to collect candy and stamps on a map. When we returned to the party, Neo went on the inflatable slide several times. Clara hung with her friends. It was a warm afternoon. Many were wearing costumes ie in fancy dress.

On Sunday, Copacabana public school held a Monster Fete (pronounced Fate) i.e. festival. There were several game stalls: Chocolate, Chupa pops, fire fighters, cakes, fairy floss, snow cones, and rides. I bought arm bands for unlimited rides for Neo and Zoe. Neo used his. Zoe less so. Clara helped out at the face painting table. Several of her friends were there from the high school.
Fairy Floss!

I worked at the Haunted House for an hour. Just prior to my shift, Neo wanted to go into the haunted house, but it was too scary for him. Tristan took Neo around to the stalls and they ate lollies while I was working.

The Fete ended at 4:30. On our way back to the car, we saw the kids in Fancy Dress going around for trick or treat. It was kind of weird seeing them without winter coats, with the sun....

Inflatable obstacle course at the Copa PS Monster Fete

There was talk on our street about having trick or treaters, but none stopped by. We didn't go out. Our kids didn't seem too interested.

23 October 2010

Unaccompanied Personal Effects

3 different views of our pallet while in Madison

Our pallet of boxes arrived at the port in Sydney. What to take and what to leave behind was my job.

First I got estimates from moving companies about shipping all our furniture, and other goods. We did not have enough to fill a container. The cost to move everything was over $5k US dollars - an amount that didn't make sense to me. Much better to buy new then ship the old. We decided to send the things that would make our place in Australia feel more like "home".

In the end, I packed 24 boxes including 2 bikes, 3 boxes of books, pictures, a box of important papers, comforters, 3 boxes of toys, and special Christmas ornaments. It total, it weighed over 500 pounds (238 kilograms) and cost $1700 to ship from our house in Madison to the port in Sydney.
3 different views of our pallet while in Madison

Once the shipment had arrived in Sydney, I had 3 days to collect our stuff - any delay would result in a daily storage fee. We removed the rear seat from the "big" car. I planned my trip. Then I loaded Tristan and Neo into the car, and we drove to Sydney.

The shipment receiving company charged us $500 in fees. We found the company near the Sydney airport. We collected the documents drove to (30 minutes) to Customs.

Customs asked for the documents and a packing list, which I provided them. I was then sent to Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. AQIS wanted to inspect specifically the bikes and the pallet - to be sure it had been properly fumigated. If the pallet did not meet the requirements, the entire shipment would be quarantined. There are specific things AQIS is looking for - and they will quarantine and/or fumigate items and in some cases confiscate things. High on the list of prohibited items: Meat, animal goods, wood, plants and plant material. I knew the list and did not pack anything that would cause a problem.

We paid the fee for the inspection and drove the 40 minutes to another warehouse. Once there, we were told AQIS had not begun their inspection, but that a fee had to be paid to the warehouse for the inspection to proceed in their facilities. I had to go to the ATM (another 10 minute drive each way) to collect cash to pay this fee. When we returned with the cash, we had to wait another 10 minutes for the inspection to be completed. Everything passed - which I knew it would.

A fork lift brought our pallet to the car. Two workers and I moved the boxes into the car - and it all fit! Just barely room for everything. With the car fully loaded, and difficult to see (couldn't use the review mirror - but used the side mirrors a lot), I drove home.

Everyone was so excited to see their possessions again. "It's like Christmas,"Tristan said. Indeed it was.

04 October 2010

Poorly Neo

Neo on a well day making his sand castle

We've been in Australia for 6 weeks now and we've been fighting illness for a lot of days. First Clara was sick - lost her voice and sore throat, that was our first week. Then Zoe and Tristan had 2 days of school followed by 4 days of stomach flu. That was our 2nd week here. Shortly after we moved inout our rental house. Tristan was annoyed that he missed his class excursion.

During the 3rd week, Neo was ill with a stomach flu - he was even more severely ill then the other 2 kids. Finally I was sick with the stomach flu - in bed for 3 days. On Friday of that week, Zoe went on her class excursion to the Power House Museum in Sydney and caught some sort of cold. She was poorly over the weekend.

Zoe and her partner stage left

During the week Zoe had her Musical performance at school, everyone was healthy. Zoe's musical was based on a book called "The Other Ark". Her teacher has dance training. She chose the music and put together the dances. The performers were Kindergarten, First and Second graders. During the last week of school for 3rd term, they performed a matinée for the 3-6 graders on Tuesday. Then an evening performance on Tuesday night and Wednesday night with tickets sold in advance. Clara and Dave went to see her perform on Tuesday and Neo and I went on Wednesday night. Zoe did a great job! She seemed to be a lead dancer - counting out and directing for others on the stage. Also during her performance, she was brought to the forefront with her partner. Unfortunately, I was too far back to get good pictures. The ast day of term was Friday 24 September.

Zoe and Neo jumping the waves

In this last bout of illness, Neo became feverish and complained of pain in the overnight Friday 1 October. It was the Friday night of a "long weekend". Monday 3 October everything was closed. I took Neo into the doctor on Saturday. He was complaining of a sore throat and ears. Doctor said he had mild tonsillitis. He was given a prescription for an antibiotic. He seemed better by Monday evening. During the night, we gave him medicine for pain. However about 2am, he had a fever and complained of more pain. This morning (Tuesday 4 October), we found fluid coming from his ear. We took him back to the same doctor who confirmed that his ear drum had ruptured and gave him a different antibiotic. He explained that he thought Neo had the flu along with the ears and throat. His throat was healed.

Poor Neo. We feel really bad that his ear drum ruptured. What a lot of pain. Poor guy.

01 October 2010

Clara's High School - Kincumber High School, NSW

Clara wearing her Kincumber High School Uniform

Clara is in year 7, which is the first year of high school in Australia. She attends school at Kincumber High School in Kincumber. Every morning, she walks the steep hill, (for those in Madison area, Topping Road has a similar slope), to The Scenic Road where she waits for the bus. Two other girls from our block meet her at the stop - one in year 7, the other in year 8.

Kincumber High School is a large, multi-building facility with a mixture of covered walk ways, open commons areas, and enclosed hallways connecting the buildings. The buildings are set out in "blocks" where an field of study is housed in each block. The area of the school takes up more then an entire city block - with sport fields surrounding the buildings. There are even farm animals on campus.

School terms are divided into fornights - with the first week labeled Week A and the 2nd Week B. Clara's schedule is never the same day twice in the 2 week rotation. Classes like English and Maths receive 9 hours of instruction per 10 day fortnight. Elective type classes will have 3 hours of instruction in the fortnight. Clara takes woodworking and she also has sewing. Other classes include: PE, Health, Literacy, Science, and Geography.

All the girls wear blue plaid skirts and light blue shirts with the school crest as part of the uniform. There is a red jumper with blue piping on the sleeves for cooler days. Leather shoes and white socks round out the uniform.

Australian schools meet 40 weeks in the year (compared to 180 days in Madison). There are 4, 8-10 week terms with 2-3 week breaks between terms. The school year begins in late January and runs until mid-December. Children can begin Kindy at age 4.5.

25 September 2010

Somersby Falls

Dave and Neo at the foot of the Upper Falls

Zoe at the foot of the upper falls....

There are upper falls and lower falls.

Last weekend we went to Somersby Falls.

We love Aussie signs.....

The top of the upper falls are even with the parking lot. You can climb down a steep, narrow path to the bottom of the upper falls.

The path to the lower falls is steep and narrow with scary wooden stairs, but the destination was worth it.

Lower Falls

We enjoy going to these falls. The kids found tadpoles.

More lower falls....

There's also another, smaller, lesser known waterfall near Pearl Beach which I discuss on this older post.

22 September 2010


Rego - pronounced rej-O - is the Aussie way of saying registration.

One of the first things we needed to get done on our arrival to Australia was to rego the cars. Both cars rego had expired. This is not an easy process - and our experience with rego in the past is that we needed a lease for a permanent rental, our passports and US drivers license, and proof of ownership for the car.

To rego a car, it takes multiple steps. 1) Car insurance. This is called the "Green Slip". Many times the green slip can be electronically submitted to Roads and Transit Authority (RTA), but because our cars were expired, we had to pick up the proof of insurance from the insurer. We had to buy 12 months of insurance, cash, on the spot for each vehicle.

2) Blue Slip - or certificate of road worthiness. Cars 5 years old or newer do not usually require a blue slip - but this was necessary for Dave's car since the registration was expired. For my car, we had to replace the taillight we had each bumped and the lens was broken. While the mechanic was replacing this taillight, I saw a house spider bite him! He noticed too because he rubbed his finger for a while after being bitten.

3) Trip to RTA to register the car, turn in the old license plates, and get new plates.

Dave's car had been previously registered in his name, and only one name can be on the rego. When I went to the RTA to register the car, they wanted me to pay stamp duty (for a car sale) or bring in our marriage certificate and a note from Dave stating it was OK to rego the car. I sent Dave in instead.

While Dave went to rego his car, I returned the rental car and stood waiting for him to pick Neo and me up. He called to say the computer system had gone down and they had taken his old plates. He couldn't go anywhere. After about 20 minutes it was up and running.

Never once did they ask for his permanent address. The looked at his old, expired, NSW drivers license and issued the new plates.

When I went to register the Trajet, I had the same experience. No questions about permanent residence or request to see US drivers license. Once the car was regoed, I asked if I could renew my driver's license. Yes, no problem.

We think the difference this time is because we had Australian licenses. The thought of registration for the 2 cars was scary....and the process was daunting. So glad the cars are regoed and legal :)

04 September 2010

Our House for 12 months

Our view from 2nd floor windows.

Here it is, our house for the next 12 months. These pictures are from the Realtor's website.

The house in in MacMasters Beach - the same community we lived in previously. It has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. There is a lot of living space over 2 floors. The lower level has the entrance and the rumpus room. It also has north facing windows overlooking the backyard. North facing is important to collect the sun's heat in winter. The 2nd floor is the main living area....see photo.

Pool, flat yard, and cabana

The back yard is flat - even though the property is on a hill. That was a feature we really wanted so the kids can play in the backyard. There's a cabana (gazebo) with table and chairs. There is also a pool. The Ocean view is wonderful. It's an easy walk down to the beach, but the walk back is 15 minutes uphill - a definite burn on the leg muscles.
Kitchen, living and dining area

Some of the furniture was left for our use - like one of the living room chairs, some TV tables, and 2 beds.

We bought an HD TV for there - the rest of the furniture was included.

We moved in on Monday, 30 August. Our first night we slept in the 2 beds and on cushions from the couch. The 2nd night was more comfortable as the mattresses I had purchased had been delivered. By Wednesday, we had two tables (one upstairs and one in the rumpus room downstairs) I bought 2 TVs - the HD for living area, the tube TV for lower level for video and game play.

2nd floor bathroom.

26 August 2010

Winter on Lake Cochrane

Clara sitting on the rail of the Mac Masters Beach Rock Pool.

The kids and I arrived at Sydney airport on Saturday 21 August at 6am. We had no waiting in the immigration lines. We gathered our luggage but could not find 1 bag. As we were looking, the crowds grew. The bag was recovered and we made our way to the long line to exit. Fortunately, a customs agent took pity on me and reviewed our declaration documents, and sent us through the exit from the back of the line!

Dave met us with a rented mini-van. We were very glad to see him! All the luggage and passengers fit and Dave drove us to MacMasters Beach and our holiday rental just up the street from where we lived previously.

Our Holiday House as seen from the walking path near the Lake. This is how we saw it whenever we would walk by. The house is on small stilts, in the event of flooding.

Lake Cochrane is literally outside the sliding door. Within 4 hours of arriving, I saw our neighbor from last time! It was great to see her and be welcomed back.

This holiday house is great for the kids. They love feeding the birds and ducks. A pair of kookaburra have the tree out back here. It's in close proximity to the beach, and we have been at the beach everyday - several times a day, even though it's winter. The nights have been cold, but the days warm up beautifully. Since we've arrived, there was one wet and rainy day.

Interior of the Holiday House. As you can see, the Lake is right out the door. The full wall of windows is amazing to view wildlife.

Our days have been spent getting the cars registered (rego). The registration process has 3 parts: insurance (called a Green Slip), Proof of Road Worthiness (Blue Slip), and a trip to the Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) for fee payment and licensing.

Livingroom of Holiday House.

Yesterday I went to rego Dave's car, but they would not allow me to do it since his car is registered in his name. Shortly after he arrived, the computer system went down, so he had to wait until that recovered so he could get his car's license plates.

The Trajet is looking worse for the year in the sun. We are going forward to repair it, only because it will hold the entire family. We'll consider looking at a replacement family vehicle in 6 months or so.

We needed to get some electrical work done on the Trajet and the tail light replaced. The rats had chewed the wiring. The rego on that vehicle went smoothly at the RTA.

Kookaburra eating bread. Another kooka stole Clara's sausage roll out of her hand as she was about to take a bite. He just flew past her and grabbed it away from her.

We signed a 12 month lease on our permanent rental. We will take possession and collect the keys on Monday 30 August. Dave is the only one that has seen the inside of the house. Having said that, I have seen the house from the front and the back. I've also walked around the backyard and looked at the pictures from the estate agent.

The red arrow marks our Holiday House location. Our permanent rental is on the left above the trees - which is part of the Bouddi National Forest.

The house is within walking distance of the beach - but it's a steep climb through part of Bouddi National forest. We'll be on the other side of MacMaster's Beach - not close to Copa as we've been in the past. We are excited about moving in on Monday.