Joined October 2016 Message
  • Day255

    Home safely

    May 19, 2017 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    After a marathon journey of 9,180 miles, from Perth via Dubai, we arrived home safely yesterday afternoon. Although it wasn't really the journey we wanted to be making, given that it marked the end of our Big Adventure, it was happily both safe and uneventful. After travelling over 9,000 miles without asking, thankfully Solana only started asking "are we nearly there yet" in the last 30 or so miles, whilst we were in the taxi home from Manchester airport! We arrived home around 2pm, to some lovely surprises - including "welcome home" balloons & banners, flowers, cards, presents, groceries, homemade biscuits and a home-cooked meal awaiting us in the fridge (our first meal home was veggie sausage and bean stew and it was delicious). Thank you so much to Jayne, Anne, Nicola & boys, Gemma & Joe for being so thoughtful and for making our homecoming less disheartening - much appreciated. We arrived home with more luggage than we left with (and will confess that a proportion of this was made from Aussie grapes!). Solana was delighted to be reunited with her toys, especially her Annabel doll, barking dog toy, penguin soft toys and Playmobil. Laura and I were equally delighted to be reunited with our Yorkshire tea bags and enjoyed our first cuppa whilst reading some of our mail. We then all went out for a walk to Shibden Park, to get some fresh air and sunlight in the hope of reducing the jet lag. We were happy to see that the bluebells are still out and there are tadpoles in the pond - Spring is a good season to come home to. We also couldn't resist photographing some of the wildlife - not as exotic as our wildlife posts over the past 4 months but lovely to see familiar animals all the same.

    We now have a few days to recover from the jet lag and get our house and our brains in order before returning to work next week. Solana got up at 3:20am this morning, wide awake and desperate to play with her toys, so we fear that 3 days may not be enough time for jet lag recovery! We want to thank everyone who has helped to make our Big Adventure possible - especially Marcus, Lucianne, Rachel and our other friends and colleagues at work who have permitted our absence, held the forts and ensured we have jobs to come back to; Solana's nursery who have kept in touch and are welcoming her back with open arms; Nic & Paul, Gemma & Joe, Jayne and our neighbours Yvonne and Paul who have looked after our house; Anne who travelled with us through Costa Rica; our families who have all kept us regularly updated with life at home in our absence; June & Dave, Gary & Belle and Sandy & Mo who shared their beautiful homes and hospitality with us during our trip; James & Lou who it was great to travel with again for a few days; and a big thank you to all of you who have read our blog and kept in touch via your comments and messages whilst we were so far from home. We look forward to seeing you all over the coming weeks and months and catching up (and maybe even boring some of you with more of our photos!), starting with some of my family over the next few days. We're particularly looking forward to visiting Laura's family up in Troon next weekend, given everything that has happened up there whilst we've been away, but sadly it will not be the same without her Dad, Barrie, being there...

    All good things must come to an end and we are very lucky and grateful to have had such an amazing 4 months and created many memories (and thousands of photos!) to last a lifetime.... Solana has been a little star and has actually enjoyed sleeping in around 80 different rooms/beds over the past 4 months and seeing all the different things we've seen; hopefully there will be plenty more (albeit mostly shorter!) family trips to come. Now to start thinking about a new adventure to look forward to!...
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  • Day253

    Our last day....

    May 17, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    We spent our last day wandering around Fremantle, enjoying the sunshine, visiting the Shipwreck Galleries museum and enjoying a seafood platter lunch. Sadly they did let us out of the prison, so we do have to come home after all....

    As we come to the end of our Big Adventure, our thoughts inevitably turn to home... Whilst we could all happily continue travelling, there are some things we are looking forward to about coming home and others we aren't. Of course, we are looking forward to seeing our family and friends again and to having the space and relative luxury of our own home, own beds and own shower (Solana is looking forward to a bath!) and having clean feet (why can you never seem to have truly clean feet whilst you're travelling?). We're looking forward to not having to pack/unpack every day and to having more than just a few sets of clothes to choose to wear, to clean clothes & ready access to a washing machine. We're not looking forward to having to set an alarm every morning, returning to work and being separated from one another (especially Solana). It will be good not to have to budget for everything or to search for cash machines with no charges but the credit card bills we're returning to will be less welcome! It will be good to have our wide selection of kitchen implements to choose from and to be reunited with our electric toothbrushes but not to not having our cleaner anymore or having to complete my dental treatment..... I'm looking forward to cooler weather but Laura will miss the heat; the lighter evenings will be very welcome (the sun has been setting around 5.45pm here). We're all looking forward to having a variety of food and own home-cooked food; I'm also looking forward to a good Bradford curry. I'm looking forward to listening to the radio and going to the pub quiz again but not to the awful British traffic. It will be nice not having to spend nearly every evening looking for a place to sleep the next night but I actually think Solana will miss the excitment of seeing our new cabin/room every couple of days! It will be good having reliable plug sockets and Solana is looking forward to being reunited with her toys. Most of all we're looking forward to making the most of our last Summer (as cheaply as we can!) before Solana starts achool....
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  • Day252

    In Fremantle Prison!

    May 16, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    We had a sleepless night when we awoke around 3am to a funny noise in our room and discovered that a mouse had found its way into our food bag; a mouse, not even an interesting scavenging little Australuan marsupial - we felt cheated from some more exciting wildlife encounter! On the plus side, at least we're at the end of our trip now, so we won't miss the stock cubes and soup sachets it nibbled... We stayed around Dryandra woodland this morning and did a walk where we saw kangaroos, Australian robins and another 2 echidna. We have now seen almost all of the Australian animals we wanted or hoped to see in the wild - one exception being wild budgerigars (we' ve seen plenty of budgie smugglers but no budgies!). We also saw this sign "The Dream" (2nd photo), written by an early Australian conservationist and still so very true today - wise words... We then drove back to Fremantle and returned our hire car. In the 18 days we had the car we have driven 3,372km (most of it within the speed limit!) exploring Western Australia. Sadly, tonight is our last night in Asutralia and we are spending it staying in the Fremantle Prison Youth Hostel (no sniggering - we understand very well that only one of us is anything like "youthful"). It used to be a womens' prison (from the late 1800s until 1991) and the rooms are all converted cells; the interior of the hostel still looks very prison-like and there are stories up on many of the walls of the prison days, attempted escapes, etc. It is a pretty cool place to stay. In fact, we are kind of hoping that they will not let us out to go for our flight home tomorrow night...Read more

  • Day251

    Dryandra woodland

    May 15, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Today we drove inland to Dryandra woodland. We're staying tonight in a cute (and cheap) little woodcutters cottage in the middle of the woodland, The caretakers of the cottages are an Australian woman and her husband, who is originally from Darlington in County Durham, about 10 miles from where I grew up - small world! On our way into the woodland we saw an echidna, a marsupial similar to a porcupine; we'd wanted to see one since we arrived in Australia but this was the first one we've seen, so we were all very excited. When it heard us, it buried its head in the fallen branches - like a 2-year-old child covering his face with his hands and thinking that nobody else can see him if he can't see them (though to be fair, with a spiny bum like that I wouldn't be too worried about predators attacking my rear end either)! This evening we visited Barna Mia, a protected reserve in the woodland where they've reintroduced some rare marsupials. We did a guided walk here and managed to see some of the endangered animals, including the bilby (4th photo, animal with the big ears), boodie, mara and woylie. Some of them were so funny - like giant cute hamsters who jump around everywhere like kangaroos, they were great to see. We also got to see some possoms (last photo) - not endangered at all (in fact pretty common) but it was the first time we'd seen one and Solana decided that they were her favourite animal of the evening. The stars were amazing tonight too - it is so quiet and dark here, we're enjoying the peace and quiet before we head back to the city for our final night in Australia....Read more

  • Day250

    Beautiful South

    May 14, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    We spent another enjoyable day around the Margaret River region. We started with a visit to our nearest little town, Cowaramup - it is known locally as "Cowtown" and has dozens of fibreglass cow statues dotted around the town; our favorite was the one outside the pharmacy. The pharmacy also sold all-in-one cow suits - something that, of course, every good pharmacy should stock! It is Mothers Day here in Australia today and they seem to celebrate it at least as much as we do in Britain, if not more. We went out to the coast and stopped at a couple of the scenic surf spots along the way, although the weather was a bit wild and there was nobody surfing today. We also went to Canal Rocks (4th photo) where, sadly we saw a young whale that had been trapped between the rocks and the open sea and lost its life... This afternoon we indulged in some more wine tastings and a cheese platter to help soak it up, before visiting some of the local cheese and chocolate makers and enjoying tasting their wares too. As the weather got worse we retired to our campsite for a warm cuppa and Solana enjoyed feeding the animals on the neighbouring farm this evening too.Read more

  • Day249

    Margaret River region

    May 13, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    This morning, after Solana fed the ducks the remains of her toast from our balcony (ordering them to "sit and stay" before throwing it to them!), we set off to explore the Margaret River wine region. The weather was nicer than forecast (20C, sunny and still) but is expected to become wet & windy from tomorrow, so we tried to make the most of the nice day. We started off at Hamelin Bay, where we walked along the long sandy beach and watched people fishing. We saw some rays swimming in the clear sea there - they were quite big and came in very close to the shore, so we all waded in to get a closer encounter; they were amazing, great to see so close. We couldn't be in this area without visiting a winery (or several!) each day, so we called into one (Hamelin Bay wines) for a cheeky tasting before lunch; they had a nice food menu so we ended up staying for lunch, sat outside with great views across the vineyard - lovely. They even let us open the bottle of wine we bought, to drink a glass with lunch - a big thank you to Laura for being the "skipper" (designated driver) today. Afterwards we went down to Cape Leeuwin, in the South-West corner of Australia, and saw the lighthouse and old water wheel there. Later we visited olive oil and chocolate shops (more tastings there!), then another winery (where we learned that the rubbish GBP exchange rates at the moment mean that wine exports to the UK have taken a nosedive, hitting the Australian wine industry quite hard).... We like this area so much that we plan to spend another day and night here tomorrow.Read more

  • Day248

    Geographe Bay

    May 12, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    This morning we said adios to James & Louisa, as they headed North and we headed South. We wish them safe, fun and memorable onward travels and will continue to follow their blog (no doubt with green eyes from time to time!) once we get home. We then headed Southwest to Geographe Bay. We stopped at Busselton for a picnic lunch and we saw the impressively long pier there - at 1.8km long, it proclaims itself the "longest jetty in the Southern hemisphere". Eagle-eyed Solana spotted a kids play park here too! We then drove on to Cape Naturaliste, where we did a short coastal walk, before entering the Margaret River wine area where we plan to spend the next couple of days. Naturally, we visited a couple of wineries on the way to our accomodation and availed ourselves of the free wine tastings on offer! We're staying at another campsite, in a particularly spacious, though more expensive, cabin. The weather is cooler here, now we're both further South and further into Autumn - temperatures now under 20C and not as sunny (I'm happy with the cooler climate but it's not Laura & Solana's ideal!). We're looking forward to more wine tasting and coastal scenery over the next couple of days.Read more

  • Day247

    Buddies in Bunbury

    May 11, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    We met up with our friends James & Lou again and spent a lovely couple of days with them in Bunbury, in SW Aus. On the way down to meet them, we spent some time at Yallingup National Park; there we saw thrombolites (2nd photo) - one of the earliest life forms on Earth and similar to the strombolites we've seen elsewhere in Western Aus. We went for a walk in the National Park but there were lots of spider webs across the path and we kept walking into them; Australia, with all its venomous creatures, is really not the place you want to be walking into spider webs, so we ended the walk early! We headed to Bunbury, where we stayed on the same campsite as James & Lou - we had a cabin next door to their camper van pitch. As you can see we all enjoyed a game of crazy golf and playing with Solana on the jumping pillow. We followed that with a barbie and sharing plenty of travel stories and tips about where to head next (they've been South where we're now heading, and we've been North where they're heading). Today we went to Bunbury Wildlife Park, where we got to see plenty of birds (including the "Major Mitchell cockatoo - thought of you Jayne & Dom!), wallabies, a wombat and some rarer Australian marsupials. The highlight of the park for all of us though was being able to feed and stroke the kangaroos; after seeing them lots in the wild it was lovely to be able to see them so close up and they were surprisingly gentle for such a big, strong, animal. After a picnic lunch there, we went for a walk around the nearby "Big Swamp" wildlife area (last photo), where we saw black swans, shelducks and long-necked turtle. In the evening we enjoyed another meal together, washed down with local wine and good conversation. James & Lou still have 4.5 months left of their travels and we only have 6 days left - we'd be lying if we said we weren't a bit jealous but we look forward to see them at some point after they return from their travels and hear about the rest of their amazing trip....Read more

  • Day245

    Reflections on Australia

    May 9, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    As we approach our final week, both in Australia and of our Big Adventure, here are a few reflections on Australia. Although Laura had visited Australia twice before this trip, I never had. Honestly, I have to say that I am enjoying it here more than I expected to. The country is vast, and very varied - even in the relatively small proportion of the country that we are managing to explore on this trip. There are some similarities to its nearest neighbour, New Zealand, but also many differences. Overall I would say that whilst NZ has more similarities with UK, Australia seems to have more similarities with USA. The landscapes and wildlife in the 2 countries are very different. There are very few animals that live in both Aus and NZ - the only ones we've come across are possums (which were introduced to NZ from Aus, with subsequent regret!), pukeko (which are called swamp hens in Aus) and some of the seabirds (including little blue penguins). Australia has a lot of parrots - both many different types and high numbers of them - I wasn't expecting that and it is lovely to see such colourful birds almost everywhere you go. There are also an awful lot more mammals in Australia than those that are commonly associated with the country - i.e. not just kangaroos and koalas (although we haven't yet seen any of the less obvious ones) Both Auz and NZ have great animal road signs, warning you of the menagerie that you might encounter as you drive around! Aus has the same "space invader" sounding road crossing as in NZ; petrol is much cheaper in Australia. In fact, Australia seems to be cheaper in general than NZ was (although it helps that the exchange rates are getting better - trust that to happen now, as we near the end of our time away - I think we picked the most expensive time of the past 10+ years to travel, exchange rate wise!). Beer is more expensive in Aus than you might expect though (especially given the volume consumed!). The houses here are mostly single-storey - I guess because there is plenty of space. Traffic jams are more common here than in NZ but still much less common than in Britain. There seems to be less recycling done in Aus compared to NZ or UK and they don't appear to make the most of their natural resources; particularly sunshine and wind - we haven't seen many solar panels or wind farms and there is certainly no lack of either sun or wind here... However, toilets with a "half-flush" option (to save water) are the norm here (they were common in NZ too). NZ had a lot of beaches, as does UK, but Australia has thousands - many coastal towns have several beaches just in the one town. There are also water fountains (known here as "bubblers") everywhere except the most remote places - which is handy because you need them in a country as hot as this. There are also public BBQs aplenty, including at many beaches, on campsites and in some National Parks - it is a cliché but the Aussies really do love a barbie! Both Aus and NZ still use the plastic bread clips that we had in Britain in the 70s - remember those?, a real blast from the past! Sunscreen is also everywhere (necessarily so), including often free in cafes, outside bars, etc.

    Before we arrived, I thought this would be my first and last visit to Australia - but now I'm not so sure...
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  • Day245

    Penguin Island

    May 9, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Today we drove up to Rockingham and got the ferry across to Penguin Island - a small, uninhabited nature reserve island. We visited the Discovery Centre, where they have a few rescued penguins - this meant that we finally got to see the Little Blue penguins that eluded us in New Zealand, although they are called Fairy penguins here (same species). They are the smallest species of penguin in the world and they're very cute. Some of the penguins here are able to be treated, rehabilitated and released into the wild but some are not. There were some great stories of penguin life too - like the old female whose partner of 11 years died recently and they expected her to be heartbroken but within 24 hours she had a new mate! There are also a pair of penguins who are both male - they've also been together for 11 years and make a nest every year (which obviously stays empty), but last year the centre had an abandoned egg so they gave it to the male couple and they hatched and successfully raised a chick that has since been released into the wild (very similar to the lovely kids "Tango Makes Three" story of Chinstrap penguins in Central Park Zoo if any of you know that). One of the penguins, Kevin, was particularly vocal and Solana loved talking to him - for such little animals they can be surprisingly loud. Afterwards we went on a walk around the island and tried to see the wild penguins but they are nesting at the moment and we didn't manage to find any... We did see lots of nesting gulls though - who demonstrated their parental protectiveness by flying very low and squawking at us loudly and later by trying to steal our picnic! We also went on a boat trip where we saw Australian Sealions (apparently the rarest species of sealion in the world), pelicans (including some with chicks), osprey and a group of bachelor bottle-nosed dolphins - a great trip.

    This afternoon we went to a nature reserve at Mandurah estuary for a walk. We didn't see as many birds there as we'd hoped but we did unexpectedly see a few kangaroos! We also unexpectedly drove past a few wineries and thought it only polite to call in and do a tasting at one of them - the wines were great and our budget took another hit with a couple of purchases. We think maybe Solana now knows a bit too much about wine for a 4 year old - the other day she asked us for a drink of "cloudy bay apple juice" (she meant cloudy apple juice)!
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