Friday, December 31, 2010

The South Coast, Kangaroos, a Koala and a Platypus

12.31.10: It’s the last day of 2010 and Chloe and I are sick.  I have a sore throat and headache and am just darn tired.  Chloe has an ear infection.  We just got back from the walk-in clinic in Belconnen where I was pleasantly surprised by the service.  We waited only an hour to be seen and there was a chemist on-site for us to fill the prescription right away.  I don’t mind too much being indoors today as it is 36⁰C (100⁰F).  I wonder if this weather is going to stick around.  It’s more of what I expected of Australia.  Instead, we have had an unusual amount of rainfall and cool days. 
Since Christmas, we have had two great days of touring Australia.  On Monday, December 27th, we took a road trip to Bateman’s Bay, which is on the Tasman Sea just south of Sydney.  It’s a popular beach destination for Canberrans because it is the closest beach town.  Then, on Tuesday, we drove southwest to Tidbinbilla, a nature reserve.
We left our ‘burb of Franklin about Noon on Monday for Bateman's Bay via the King's Highway. It was 23C, beautiful blue sky, puffy white clouds and sunny.  Ten minutes into the drive along the Bungendore Road I saw several kangaroo hopping through the grasslands.  I still get so excited to see them.  It’s such an amazing site!  The girls missed them because they both had their noses in the DS games.  About 20 minutes or so we came into the small town of Bungendore.  What a cute little town.  We decided to stop to get a snack and poke around in the little shops.  There are a fair number of antique shops on the main street of Bungendore. 
We found delicious croissants and Coca-Cola in the original glass bottles.
When we have more time this is a place we would like to come back to visit. 

As we headed into the next touristy town of Braidwood it was raining hard and the temperature had dropped to 15C.  We’ll hit this place up another time.  Here are some pictures of this town.

Next we entered the Monga National Park where we had to climb over the mountain.  The temperature dropped to 11C as we reached the highest point of the mountain.  What a nail-biting experience this part of the trip was…very steep decline with several switchbacks.  It was foggy and wet.  The smell of burning brakes was in the air, too.   Even in the terrible weather the forest we drove through was quite beautiful. 
We arrived in the south coast of New South Wales around 2 PM.  When we reached the other side of the mountain the temp only climbed up to 16C.  Here is where we hit traffic.  I guess everyone had the same idea as we did.  We spent over an hour in the traffic.
After a quick visit to the Visitor’s Center for our maps of the area, we headed to Batehaven to find lunch.  Luckily, the pizza place we went to find was closed so we stumbled upon a seafood shack which ended up being amazingly delicious.  Squid, prawns, some kind of white fish and calamari for lunch!  Then, we hit the road to see the sights.  It was still raining so at this point we knew this was going to be a driving excursion only. 
Surf Beach – quaint beach town; possible holiday spot

Lilli Pilli Beach – small cove; big waves crashing against the rocks.  We stopped mainly because of the name (for you Aunt Lilly)

McKenzies Beach – south of Malua Bay.  Huge waves; high winds; a few brave surfers

Burrewarra Point, Guerilla Bay.  We want to come back here when we are better prepared.  It’s a 1.6 kilometer cliff walk.  The little we saw of it looked amazing.  We enjoyed the many parrots in the area too.
Burrewarra Point

We headed home about 7 PM.  This was a great road trip despite the weather.  We had heard mixed reviews about Bateman’s Bay, but I’ve got to say I was pleasantly surprised.  I think for a day trip beach day it’s a fine place to visit.  I can’t wait to go back. 
The next day (Tues, Dec 28) we visited Tidbinbilla, a large nature reserve south of Canberra.  The nature reserve is nestled between the Tidbinbilla and Gibraltar ranges, and is part of the Australian Alps.  The reserve features an animal sanctuary where you can see kangaroo, emu, wombats, wallabies, koalas and platypus to name a few.  I have been looking forward to visiting this place since arriving in Canberra. 

Visitor's center at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

It was perfect weather for this trip, 20C (~68F), sunny with a warm breeze.  We discovered that you can drive your car through the reserve which allowed us to see more of the park than we would have on foot especially with a 5 and 7 year old.  We headed straight to the Eucalypt Forest where there was a koala sighting.  Unfortunately, we did not spot any koalas in the forest after an easy 30 minute walk along Peppermint Trail, but, wow, did it smell amazing among all of the eucalypt trees.  We did get to see this male koala in the sanctuary.  Apparently, there was a forest fire that came through in 2003 and a lot of the koala perished.  This male has been brought in to help re-populate the forest. 

Chloe in the Eucalypt Forest

Daddy and Bella on Peppermint Trail in the Eucalypt Forest
Male koala in the sanctuary

From the Eucalypt Forest we drove 9 km to The Lookout.  Here you can see views all the way to Canberra.  We spotted the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain.
The Lookout

We also visited the sanctuary built around 4 ponds.  Here we saw several ducks, cockatoos, pelicans, black swans and the PLATYPUS!!  We were so excited to spot this unusual creature in the water.  I took several pictures of it surfacing in the water which really didn’t come out well, but he was there.
Anabella spotted this lizard

And Chloe found this one

Mommy spotted this turtle

If you look closely you can see the platypus in the water
The Brogla crane

On our way out we stopped at the discovery playground so the girls could play.  Not only were there lots of families out, but also the kangaroo and emu.  It was so fun to see them hanging out in the same area as people.  There had to have been over 30 kangaroo!  I have found that I see kangaroo mostly in the late afternoon/early evening.  We watched one particularly large kangaroo sneak up on a family’s picnic to steal some of their food.  He got pretty darn close, but not close enough.  It was hilarious!  Unfortunately, at this point my camera died so I didn’t get a picture of it. 

Another wonderful Australian experience.  This is definitely a great place to bring any visitors we have from America.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas "Down Under"

12.24.10 Christmas Eve:  After a day spent prepping and baking for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner, we had an early dinner of Tourtiere Pie, a tradition from my childhood, and baked macaroni and cheese (Chloe’s request).  Then, we all headed to O’Malley to celebrate Christmas Eve with many friends and colleagues from the Embassy.  Chloe and Bella bounced on the trampoline the entire time until Chloe was kicked in the face by “one of the big boys”.  She came in with a bloody fat lip.  We had a great time at the party.  When we arrived home, I had the girls open one Christmas present (a tradition I started) -- their Christmas pyjamas.  This year, they got summer weight PJs!  Uri and I were up until after midnight getting the house ready and Uri was putting together a bicycle for Anabella.   I think the assembly took him longer than expected especially after those few drinks he had at the party earlier. 

Christmas Pyjamas
It really doesn’t feel like the holidays “down under”.  There’s no snow (obviously), the weather is warm and there just isn’t much Christmas spirit around.  Only a couple of homes in the neighbourhood have lights hung and the stores have a couple of decorations in the window, but they look more pathetic than festive.  The streets are not decorated, either.   In the short week that we have been in our house I did my best to bring the holiday cheer to it.  Uri was a bit ba-humbug about the whole thing (at first) because we were so overwhelmed with all of the furniture and boxes to unpack and organize.  But, I insisted that while we unpacked and organized we also unpack our Christmas decorations and decorate.  I pleaded for a Christmas tree, and finally conceded to an artificial tree.  It is quite pretty and tall and thin, and it came pre-lit (a bonus).  Decorating the tree put me right into the holiday spirit.  The girls loved looking at all of the ornaments especially those that they made while in day care at Dolphin Days.  Each one had its one story.  It’s times like these that I feel a pang of guilt for bringing them overseas and away from our family and friends and all that they know.  They constantly talk about their friends and teachers from Dolphin Days and John Lyman School—telling me stories, remembering play dates and the dreams from the night before.  Some of their stories sound made up, but their friends are real.  I love that they remember and we talk about it. The memories are wonderful to have, and I know they will make many more memories here, too.  Then, there is another wonderful moment like today when Anabella was talking with her Aunt Lilly on the telephone and Aunt Lilly asked her what her favourite thing was about Australia.  Anabella said, “Getting to be with my family”.

"Oh Christmas Tree"
12.25.10 Christmas Day: We are up early!  The girls are so excited and can’t wait to get downstairs.  I got this great shot of them coming down the stairs. 
Christmas morning
While we waited for Daddy to get up I let them get into their Christmas stockings.  I kept them downstairs (and relatively quiet) as long as I possibly could, but Chloe snuck by me and woke up her Daddy.  Chloe had already chosen the first present she was going to open.  She picked wisely…the DS lite she asked Santa Claus for…and it was pink!  Anabella feigned surprise about her bike even though she had picked it out a few days earlier at the Big W (Australian’s version of Wal-Mart).  She has questioned us ruthlessly about whether Santa Claus is real since she was 3 years old, but as the day gets closer every year she figures she’s better off believing (it’s all about insuring she gets presents).    This year, her sister, Chloe, figured out the whole Santa thing, too.  Regardless of what they believe, I still have fun wrapping presents from the “big guy in the red suit” and “SC” and “SC and his reindeer”.   We had a nice morning together. 
In the afternoon, our guests arrived for Christmas dinner.  We had our friends’ from Connecticut and another person from Uri’s office over for dinner.  We served a delicious lamb dinner with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, cooked carrots and green beans and chicken parmesan and spaghetti.  I baked a yummy black cherry cheesecake and chocolate cake for dessert.   Cooking dinner was quite an experience.  Jodi showed me how to cook the lamb as I had never made one before.  One problem was that the oven here is a tiny apartment sized oven so my roast pan would not fit.  And, a few other baking dishes and sheets don’t fit.  Jodi had brought along a throw-away tin pan for us to use.  I have a nice gas cook top, too, but that it also on the small size so it’s difficult to have more than two pots going at once.  Luckily, I prepared a lot the day before.  We adopted an Australian tradition at dinner which is the bon-bon favors.  Each person is given a bon-bon or cracker to open.  Inside is a paper crown, a toy and a riddle.  The paper crowns are worn during dinner.  These are big here in Australia apparently.  Dinner was delicious and the company was wonderful.  Six hours later our guests left and we crashed!  We were totally exhausted and happy to have spent the holiday with our “Australian family”.  
Anabella, Michael and Chloe

The boys from the office

Master Chef Dave and me

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12.22.10: Australia's National Zoo and Aquarium

Uri took the day off and we headed to the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra.  What a wonderful zoo.  We especially liked the area dedicated to the native animals where you can walk along and pet the kangaroo and other Australian animals. 


One of my favorite animals

"Don't let the Dingo eat your baby!"

Tasmanian Devil

Wallaby with joey in her pouch

Anabella and Chloe petting a kangaroo
Daddy and the girls pet a kangaroo
Fairy Wren - We see these little guys all over Canberra



Daddy's monkeys

Zoo monkeys


Monday, December 27, 2010

12.21.10 Cockington Green Gardens

Cockington Green Gardens

Anabella, Chloe and I went to a beautiful place called Cockington Green Gardens which is about 10 minutes from our house.  It's a miniature village that you walk around.  The buildings are 1/12th of their actual size.  It was so cute!  We took a steam train ride around the village.  The girls had fun.  It was good to get out of the house for the afternoon. 

Cricket game

Ivy House