Friday, July 14, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: Newcastle





































Newcastle is a harbour city in the Australian state of New South Wales. Its plentiful beaches are linked by the Bathers Way, a coastal walk stretching between Nobbys Beach and Merewether Beach. The walk provides access to Bogey Hole, a convict-built ocean bath from the colonial period. Also on the path is the 1880s Fort Scratchley, a historic site and a viewpoint for spotting migrating whales. The drive from Sydney takes just over 2 hours.

We decided to stay a few days because there are family connections to this place and with my mother in law house-sitting for family friends, it was a great opportunity for all of us to reminisce the past, for the children to check out the different places their daddy lived as a young child and to have a mini holiday together. 





























Memorial Walk
The Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli in 1915 and the commencement of steel making in Newcastle. This spectacular coastal walk boasts 360 degree views of the city and coast, draws a connection with to Newcastle's Bathers Way. This is a magnificent memorial to the men and women of the Hunter who served their community and country.




























Fort Scratchley 
The large and elaborate state of the fort built at Newcastle during the 1880s reflected the importance of the region's resources and the apprehension felt for their safety.
Sixty years later, Scratchley's massive guns went into action against an attack by a Japanese submarine during World War II, earning it distinction as the only fort on the Australian coast to have fired against enemy attack.
These guns now have pride of place on the Historic Site. The military vacated the site in 1972, but the fortifications remain as a concrete record of the evolution of late 19th and early 20th century coastal defence strategy, until changes in modern warfare technology brought the fort's defensive role to an end.

Today, the Fort's Historical Society preserves the military heritage, providing exhibitions and guided tours of the site and its amazing tunnels.
The Lock Up
This was an interesting experience for us because none of us have ever been to a lock up (hopefully, we never will). We assumed that like Fort Scratchley, we would walk around - explore - learn more about what the prisoners did, etc.
The Lock-Up was built to support the Newcastle Police Station which was housed in the adjacent Court House (now the site of the former 1902 Post Office) and was used from 1861 until its closure in 1982.
In 2007, the Lock-Up was unveiled as the The Lock-Up Cultural Centre. This included the gallery space, museum, and residency program. Since this date, the Lock-Up has had an attendance of over 50,000 people!














Newcastle Museum
The Newcastle Museum was such a fun experience for all of us. In fact, if you unfamiliar with Newcastle, make this your first stop because it will give you a good understanding of the this harbour city and its people - resilient, hardworking, creative and entrepreneurial spirits! Their permanent exhibitions include Super Nova, Fire and Earth, a Newcastle Story and Link Gallery.

















Stockton by Ferry 
If you have 3 hours to spare, check out this quaint suburb - Stockton otherwise known as Tin City is only 5 mins from Newcastle by ferry. It offers sweeping views of Stockton Bright to Port Stephens. Stockton is a peninsula, with thHunter River at the south and south-west and the Pacific Ocean at the east. On the eastern side are sand dunes and surfing beaches, with numerous shipwrecks at its north, while on the western side there are marshes, where many migratory birds can be spotted. There are numerous spots at Stockton suitable for recreational fishing. Take a stroll, bring a picnic, sit on a park benches and take in the serenity and stunning coastline.
Newcastle will always have a special place in all our hearts largely due to family history and existing connections. We are grateful that the children and I got to learn more about this beautiful city.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: Blue Mountains

This was the longest day trip of this holiday. 12 hours to be exact and it included the 4 hour round trip from Sydney to the Blue mountains and back.

The Blue Mountains is a rugged region west of Sydney. Known for dramatic scenery, it encompasses steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and villages dotted with guesthouses, galleries and gardens. Katoomba, a major town in the area, borders Blue Mountains National Park and its bushwalking trails.


Our first stop was to visit the iconic Three Sisters and Charlotte asked where the three brothers were - fair point, child. We have no idea and cannot give you an answer for that!





























It was an incredibly cold and windy day up there. We had our ski jackets on for good reason. After that, we drove to Scenic World to purchase our unlimited rides on the railway, skyway, cable car and walkway.
























From here, we took the first skyway (cable car) to Katoomba Falls.



Thank goodness we had the foresight to wear shoes for walking on different terrains and conditions. 

We navigated through bushes, muddy grounds, wet rocks, holding onto each other and tree branches to get this spot.

It was a mini accomplishment with these two young travellers. They amazed us each day with their sense of adventure, curiosity and zest for life.

It is such a honor watching the surroundings and experiences through their young eyes.




It was such a thrill to ride a 52 degree incline riding the steepest railway in the world! Carrying 84 passengers, the train departs every ten minutes. Disembark at the bottom station to access the Scenic Walkway and stroll through 2.4 kilometers of Jurassic rain forest.

There are a few walking treks to choose from. We chose the 50 minute walk which was just beautiful. The air was cool and the serenity around us was very calming. Be warned - you need to be at least moderately fit to undertake this because there are steep part of the walk which requires the full stretch of your leg muscles.



























As we drove away from Katoomba, we noticed signs for Wentworth Falls and decided to check it out not knowing how long it would take. By this stage, we were all rather exhausted from all the walking so we went to the look out for the falls and were greeted by this magnificence.


Although we did not make it down those stairs and trekked to the falls, we were satisfied and happy knowing that we had such an amazing full day surrounded by nature.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: Taronga Zoo



































Taronga Zoo has to be one of the most beautiful zoos in the world and truth be told, if I were a Sydney resident, I would sigh my family up for the annual pass. It is that beautiful and fantastic. 




There are several ways to get here - drive and park (obviously) or use public transport (my choice would be the ferry). On this occasion, we drove and parked.

Tips

  • Purchase your zoo tickets online and receive 20% discount.
  •  Undercover, secure parking at the zoo is $18 per day as opposed to council parking which is out in the elements and on the street ($19 per day).
  • Grab a map or two from the Information Counter - check out the show times (definitely make time for the Seal and Bird Shows) and plan your day around them.





























Check out their backyard! That spectacular view of Sydney CBD. 




We got up close with the newest addition to Taronga Zoo in its special enclosure for showers. The baby elephant was 4 weeks young when we saw her on this day.

As you can imagine, she kept very close to mummy even when she was napping while standing!

The elephants are in immaculate condition and their keepers conveyed their privilege and pride to be carers for them.

Our experience at the zoo was made more special from witnessing this.











































In addition to the wonderful displays of animals, heartwarming shows we attended and the extensive walk on undulating terrain, there are also two fun parks for the children and adults to take a break or indulge in hilarious fun!



There was so much to do and see. We were there before they opened at 9:30am and stayed until closing time of 4:30pm. Yes, the twins got to choose a plush each to remind them of our fantastic day at Taronga Zoo.

To find out more about Taronga Zoo, click here

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Our First Family Road Trip: The Drive and Northern Beaches

It is quite a common sight during the school holidays to see the back of cars filled to the brim with household stuff such as pillows, suitcases, eskies, etc because they are off on a family vacation, road trip style.

We decided to do just that on the last school holidays - from Brisbane to Sydney. This is how vast the smallest continent of the world is. 

























Driving to Sydney
There are two highways which leads to Sydney - The New England (which is the more scenic, "inland route" and takes 2 hours longer) or The Pacific Highway ( the more direct "coastal route"). No surprises, we chose the direct route.

Preparing for the Road Trip
We had the back of our AWD packed to the brim, worked out an itinerary for each day and filled the snack container between the kids with dried snacks (such as pop corn, rice crackers, dried fruit, apples, etc) and bottles of water. We also had two garbage disposable unit which were essentially two cereal containers lined with plastic bag. Each kid also had activity books, stickers, stationery in their back packs which were secured to the back of the front seats.

On the Road
We decided to make the trip to Sydney in one go and that meant not breaking up the trip by staying anywhere for the night. With that in mind, we also made the choice to share the driving between us and take at least two breaks. 

4am was the time we left our driveway - it was still pitch dark and cold. The husband drove for the first 4 hours while the rest of us slept. 


Our first stop - Grafton

8am We stopped at the local Golden Arches (the most convenient choice) for a quick breakfast and toilet stop.

This place was packed with locals and travelers alike. No wonder, it's Saturday morning and everyone has some place to be. 

We were all relieved to stretch our limbs, get some food into us and on the road again with me at the helm.





(Unexpected) Second stop - Coffs Harbour

The BIG Banana! This is iconic of Coffs Harbour. 

Have I told you that our family loves bananas? Especially Daniel.

There you go. Another reason to stop. 

We walked around the vicinity, bought a few souvenirs (just because), took a photograph in front of the gigantic banana and yes...to the toilet too and back on the road again.





Third Stop - Taree

Nothing of significance to check out here except a purposeful service station with a number of fast food options.

We are now 4 hours drive away from Sydney. Perfect time to stop for a spot of lunch and to reward the kids with their favourite meals for being such fantastic travellers.

You know the drill, eat - toilet - the husband takes over the wheel and off we went.





Arrived into Sydney at 4pm
We did it! 12 hours on the road with a pair of 6 year old twins. We were tired, excited and felt incredibly accomplished that we had made it! We showered, had dinner and went straight to bed.


Day 1  - Northern Beaches and North Head
Given that the previous day saw was on our butts for almost 12 hours in the car, we incorporated a lot of walking into this day, along the coast of the northern beaches. 


















We walked from North Curl Curl all the way down to Manly Beach. It was a most picturesque walk as you can imagine.

It was a busy day on the beaches as the weather was simply sublime. Clear blue skies with cool breezes. Sydney had certainly put on a spectacular show for us.

The waters were amazing clear and cold to touch. The waves breaking against the rocks soothed the soul.
 

The twins gamely went into the rock pool for a swim and loved every minute of it. Such a novel, spectacular and safe way of swimming right next to the ocean. This is such a beautiful part of Sydney.




























We concluded the day atop North Head which boosts stunning panoramic views of Sydney Harbour and its surroundings.  What a spectacular start and conclusion for Day 1.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Project Pause

It's usually towards the end of the year when I feel the familiar tune of busyness at its crescendo. I felt that a fortnight ago and it wasn't even June. Just as well, we have a good home routine with the twins because the alternative is simply unfathomable.  

Our respective careers have kept us incredibly engaged with current and future projects. The husband has been working incredibly long hours which included weekends for 9 weeks at a stretch and a nine day trip overseas - we are very proud of him. When the twins are in bed (usually by 7 pm), I turn into a non-verbal recluse. My brain requires that while I hold a mug of steaming, soothing sleepy tea. Breathing its steam deeply and smiling quietly to myself. I have earned this.

The twins lead pretty full lives too and given that they are only 6 years of age, I applaud them for their high work ethics and tenacity to take on more than what they should be bearing at their age.

One night I found myself unable to asleep so I jumped online and booked us on a mini weekend break. Enough was enough. We needed to regroup as a family and just ditch the mountain of household chores and homework. Stop. Just breathe.


























We checked into a funky hotel on the Gold Coast for just one night. Upon check in, I took a nap and the twins watched a movie in the embrace of their daddy. It was a perfect Saturday afternoon being together. 

Project Pause. Spontaneous and totally necessary.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

There's something about Charlotte

Charlotte has acute hearing when the top of a bottle of sparkling water is removed. She appears out of nowhere with eyes glistening and lips smacking together with the hope that she receives a tall glass of "Happy Bubbles"!

She is an intuitive young girl who always seems to know when she is most needed. Be it next to me at the kitchen island, hanging up and removing laundry or sitting next to me when I need a silent presence to gather my sanity.

Charlotte is an action speaks louder kind of daughter. She hardly utters "I love you", writes letters of appreciation for what I have done, every artwork she creates is dedicated to me and is most demanding of cuddles at bedtime - "100 cuddles please, mama."

This precocious child has the knack of reading people and me in particular. She is able to finish my sentences and has the ability to anticipate & plan. Charlotte has taught herself and her brother to lay their PJs on our bed after they have changed into their school uniforms / going out clothes so that "it is one less thing we need to do later" and she chooses the snacks for our car rides while delegating her brother to fill up their drink bottles. Just to name a few.

Beneath that young face, lies a girl wise beyond her years.

Most things come naturally for Charlotte and therefore she struggles with "failure". As such, one of the questions asked of the children in our car ride home from school is How have you failed today? 

Like her twin brother, Charlotte is a humble young lass who does not draw attention to herself and it is heartening to watch her thrive. She is not complacent and always strives to do her best. 
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SCHOOL AWARD FOR BEING A GREAT LEARNER
PRESENTED AT SCHOOL ASSEMBLY



HER FIRST PIANO RECITAL
She started learning to play the piano 8 months ago and was selected by her teacher to perform at her first recital. She was the youngest pianist at this session

We are very proud of Charlotte and especially the character traits of giving her best consistently, being considerate and kind to all around her.

Our wish is for her to follow her heart and mind in whatever she chooses to undertake and to continue doing it with humility and grace.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

There's something about Daniel

Daniel is the kind of kid who instinctively cuddles you when the chips are down. He is also the kid who says "I love you" without prompting. Loyal, loving and resilient are three character traits that are synonymous with him. 

From a young age, he suffered from countless ear infections which saw him in the years that follow, day surgeries involving grommet insertions in both ears. One of the downsides with those countless ear infections mean fluent language does not come naturally for him and we still read daily to him (and his sister) and used to attend fortnightly speech therapies for 1.5 years prior to schooling.

When he started squinting, we took him to an ophthalmologist who placed him under extensive assessment and prescribed Daniel with spectacles to be worn for the next few years. 

Last year, we noticed that he was challenged in the area of sequencing - he finds it difficult to follow 3 step instructions and above. An appointment was made with the Occupational Therapist (OT) for an assessment and the recommendation is for him to  attend sessions with her every fortnight with the focus on "Working Memory". The OT makes it really fun and he looks forward to each session with Charlotte and I in tow.

Despite his challenges, he is our quiet achiever. Even when the going gets tough, he never lashes out or draws attention to himself. Preferring to work through it on his own or with us by his side. Everyone who comes in contact with Daniel are drawn to him because he is polite, nice and friendly.

This year, his Year One teacher has told us on numerous occasions that he tries his absolute best in his studies and is a most lovely boy in class. She ensures that he sits in the front row and in the centre so that she can check in on him from time to time. Teachers like her are highly appreciated and we are very thankful for her. Recently, he was acknowledged for being just that.


STAR STUDENT OF THE WEEK


READING WITH THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL

He is very proud of his recent achievements and rightfully so. Daniel remains a humble student who does not draw attention to himself. In fact, I only found out about them when I spotted a certificate in his folder and noticed the sticker on his jumper on another day! When I asked him about them, he stated as a matter of fact that he was happy and looked forward to reading more!

We are thrilled that our son is such a sensible boy at a tender age. Our wish is for him to continue embracing the trait of "giving his best" in whatever he sets his heart and mind to.