Where do you all sleep? There is one BIG bed and we all cosy up together and it’s actually comfy. I often remind myself that this time I will not get again, nor will the girls. There are so many magic, funny, grumpy moments and everything between.
How fuel efficient is Frankie? Frankie runs on diesel and uses about 10.8 litres per 100km. So thats around $16.50 per 100km.
Is it easy/annoying to be setting up and then having to pack up to drive off somewhere? We have perfected this over the months. We fill up the water tank, not have the hose attached and we travel light. We leave our outdoor table and chairs and some tubs of gear at ‘base camp’ as we call it. So when we need to head off it’s a simple unplug the power and lock the drawers and swivel the chairs around and turn off the gas..a bit i know but it literally takes a few minutes and with our handy dash checklist we have a smooth pack up.
Is Frankie easy to drive? Now I say SO easy, but initially i was a tad overwhelmed with reversing and driving in traffic etc, but like most things..practice and it all becomes easier. Now Frankie feels better than normal to drive, I love driving the big van that is Frankie.
Please pop a question about Frankie if you have one in the comments and I will endeavour to answer it.
This blog has taken me a while to write, as each time I went to approach it, I was still too excited! The Zoofari stay at Western Plains Zoo was ‘simply the best’ … yep, singing here … ‘better than all the rest’ …
Firstly, it was Gem that this experience was most aimed at, as she is such an animal lover and always wants to visit farms, zoos and roadside paddocks, and pat dogs at cafes … any animal she can get to! I didn’t realise that the experience would be so amazing for us all …
Amazing African-inspired dinner and breakfast, as well as local wine tasting and cheese platter
Stunning safari-inspired luxurious tent-style accommodation (think 5 star tent)
Behind-the-scenes night safari (I have fallen in love with rhinos) and morning animal feeding and behind-the-scenes visit (we all love giraffes) .
The build-up: I had told Harps that we were doing a safari, but kept it a surprise from Gemmy ’til we were mostly through our first day’s zoo visit. It was such a great surprise!
Once we got to the Safari lodge, we became ‘Team Rhino’ (you get referred to by your room name, you see), which the girls loved. I really did feel like the luckiest mumma in the world to share this experience with them!
Dubbo is totally worthy of a family holiday and if you’re up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience (or twice, as I already want to go back), check out the Animal Lodges Zoofari Packages.
Some photos are my own but I must give some photo credit to Dubbo Zoofari stays … and some of the guests too. Sharing is caring!
Here’s some tips:
I suggest taking a ‘ride’ on the wild side, as in get on your bike and pedal past some predators.
I am so glad we took the bike option (you can drive, walk, buggy or bike). It’s just so much fun and a chance to get some good exercise!
The Western Plains Zoo is our new favourite! Going for two days is a must in my opinion, and the girls could have gone again, but we had to hit the road as we had people to see 🙂
The zookeeper talks are great – we listened to the one on cheetahs and watched them get fed. They made the cutest noises and Gem was very keen to help!
But my favourite thing of all was the baby elephant drinking from its mumma – the most adorable thing I have seen ❤️
The girls, especially Harper have learnt a lot about the poaching and protection of animals and the breeding programs at Taronga Zoo, and this has made for interesting conversations. 😆
Taronga Western Plains Zoo – we love you!
White rhinos 🦏 are now my favourite animal for a few reasons (strong females and daughters), but the fact that we learned that they actually shape their horns individually to express their identity etc just won me over! The mumma that we met on our night safari had the funkiest horn you have ever seen! I love 🦏 🦏 🦏
This experience has also got me thinking about visiting Africa … we’ll start by rewatching Out of Africa today 🦒
Arriving in Broken Hill we were greeted by a super friendly fella at the Broken Hill Tourist Park and an ensuite site! These are the BeSt! Even though we have a little bathroom on board Frankie the ensuite sites just feel so special with all the space! The check in process was great! Tips for where to go, what to see etc
Even though I’m not a ‘ tour’ kinda girl I decided to book onto the sunset sculptures tour for the following night.
The Broken Hill Tourist Park is up there with the friendliest we have been to. Maybe it’s because lots of people are travelling through and have driven a long way or maybe it’s the great little bbq area where people gather. I love that this park has a paper towel dispenser near the bbq and the bbqs are FREE. The other travellers gave me road advice and tips for where to stop on our next big driving day etc as well as shared stories.
This is our Broken Hill must visit list
First things first.. coffee!! The Silly Goat for breakfast and coffee. The Cafe is super funky and as we sat down I was planning how we could visit again before we left. Coffee was amazing and the brekky too. Loads of yummy raw treats available … need to go back !
Then as we were off to Silverton I noticed a building atop an old big mine site, the Miner’s Memorial so up we went, the view is great.
Silverton has something for everyone. The old Jail has been turned into a museum and the girls and I loved this, especially the cell that’s set up with a ball and chain in it, we played guards and prisoners for ages ! There is so much history here and a lovely friendly fella on the desk who answered all the girls questions. Then there’s the Donkeys and the Mad Max Museum and the Pub and Mundi Mundi lookout! That’s amazing! I will let the photos tell you more !
Bells Milk bar was next for a spider and to check out the feeling of stepping back in time to the REtRo era! I loved it and there is a kids area which Gem loved, the spider was super sweet and brought back memories of my Nanna and Pa serving these at their bar to the grandkids when I was young. As Harps drank her spider I shared this story with her.
Broken Hill sculptures at sunset were the best way to end a fabulous day ! We booked a tour though our caravan park and it was the highlight for me ! A really special place. The moon was gorgeous and we watch the sunset, the changing light on the sculptures was magic. Our tour guide Irving was full of stories and treats ( wine n dip etc ) and was great with Gem and Harps. Highly recommend.
I am loving seeing so much of Australia with my girls ! Feeling very lucky 🍀
After Sydney, this was just what we needed. The Forster Big 4 is the perfect combination of nature at your doorstep and resort style. BLISS!
We went straight to Forster Great Lakes caravan park, where we had the most informative welcome and discovered that we had arrived a day early, so we were given a grass site with en-suite for night one, and then moved to our booked site for the rest. En-suite sites … who knew! The luxury. Harper especially loved it.
Forster and Tuncurry are joined by a bridge, and both are as alluring as each other. Pulling into Forster and Tuncurry was like driving into a movie; the water was such a gorgeous blue I kept going on about it. Harper was sure it must look better through my glasses and took them and tried them on, and yep, my polarised sunnies did make a difference. But the waterways are magic – filled with pelicans, boats, oyster leases – it’s just so picturesque.
Aqua aerobics is offered twice a week and it’s gold! Old-school tunes are cranked and a pool full of happy holidaymakers move to the music. Gem, Harper and I may have brought the average age down by a fair chunk, but we loved it as much as any of the grey nomads. Harper especially – she stayed focused and rocking out perfectly in sync with the pool waves.
The management-hosted BBQ is super fun. On a Tuesday, there is the 4 pm pool party with games, inflatable pool toys and music and then the bbq dinner for all the guests. This creates an opportunity to connect with other campers and share stories.
I love what this park is creating. And although maybe I didn’t totally fit the demographic, there were enough families with kids around to keep the children happy. As for me, I just love people and their stories, and there were plenty to be heard.
We met an awesome Spanish family and had a super fun night chatting and sharing stories with them.
The Big 4 Great Lakes is something special. Each day you get a text message with details of the evening meal you can purchase from the cafe. Harper loved this option, while Gem and I kept it simple and cooked in the van and super well-equipped camp kitchen.
It’s a dream.
I felt like I could have just relaxed into a state of parent-retirement-village lifestyle with the kids, lol 😂
I’m sitting on the couch at my aunt’s place, one child asleep next to me on a fold-out bed, the other in said aunt’s bed, while aunt is in the spare bed. Musical beds, I like to call it. Frankie is parked in the driveway, and we are enjoying this time back in familiar surrounds, knowing that soon it will be time to hit the road again. We had to pop back to home base for a few reasons, and it’s been a good time to regroup, declutter the van, and fill up on hugs and share some stories (I have loved this bit).
I have decided to share some tips from the road. The first five are things I have learned, and advice (if you want it) and then I have included the ‘holiday parks’ – as Gem likes to call them – we have stayed at so far (so when people ask I can refer them here, lol). I haven’t included any free camps (just use Wikicamps App) or family addresses as that would be weird, lol again.
Talk to strangers … they know stuff. Local stuff, travelling stuff, weather stuff, fishing stuff, life stuff. There are so many great stories to be heard on the road. I could list as many examples as days we have been away, but here’s just a simple one that pops to mind. A man at the servo told us the BEST playground in Wodonga to stretch our legs at, and he wasn’t wrong. A gorgeous playground welcomed us after his first left, second right, then last left, follow-to-the-right kinda directions. We happened to stumble across a women’s group who were painting, they invited us to join them and share lunch … and there was a coffee van too … WIN!
Go deeper … revisit places – so much learning happens when you do, and not just for the kids. Read the sign a few times, really look at the patterns on the leaves, the flowers. Read the story, then retell it, draw it. I’m amazed at the learning that’s happening for us all. From Gem’s vocabulary to Harper’s general knowledge, especially in the areas of history and geography, and to expand my curiosity. Having time to really delve is such a gift.
Meet everyone’s needs … I hear you laugh? I mean this in the simplest way. Each day we have a chat about what we each ‘feel’ like doing, then we incorporate each person’s ‘thing’ into the day, and we chat about being a ‘family’, a ‘team’, and how we each want to enjoy our trip etc. This often looks like a bike ride for Mum, hobby horse game or fishing for Gem, swimming or looking around the local town’s shops for Harps, and there we have it … happiness!!
Keep track of spending (or get your child to). We got a cute little budget book from Kmart, and each day Harper fills in what we have spent. At the end of the week, she adds it up and we have a chat about where our $$ are going. This has been a great exercise for us as a family, and I can proudly say I am contributing to the cafe culture everywhere we go.
Gratitude. Practice it. This is such an amazing opportunity, the time, the experiences, the funny family memories, the stories to tell, the friendships made. Don’t fall into the trap of the grass is greener … I remember a dear friend used to say, the grass may be greener but it still needs mowing. So true. This trip has been the biggest lesson in appreciating what you have got and being in the moment.
Parked at these Parks … AND LOVED THEM! All the parks listed here, I would highly recommend. I have just popped in a favourite thing about each, but lots of the parks are mentioned in more details in blogs about the area they are in. This is really an accommodation list as such …
Hahndorf for views and an on-site restaurant and one of the BEST bouncy pillows we have found in two months. The Hahndorf Resort set the bar high.
Bendigo Big 4 Parklane is forever in our memories for two reasons: for the amazing indoor playground and disco, and for Harper nearly losing a finger trying to get an avocado seed out. I recommend the park BIG time … but not the nearly-losing-a-finger bit …
Traralgon Big 4 … no words … apart from … AMAZING! OK, a few. Like a holiday destination itself: high ropes course, putt putt, laser tag, go carts and more, and Grants coffee ! The best.
Tathra Big 4 with the pool where Gem learnt to swim. I felt like I was in Bali in this pool and played the best games here with the girls.
Situated on a gorgeous bay is Kiama Big 4. A big, gorgeous park with a stunning bay in the centre of it. This beach is the best!
Forster Big 4 was such a treat! I wanted to retire early and enjoy the onsite meals and exercise classes along with the fishing and bike tracks.
That’s all for now … more to come!
Please do leave a comment if you have a read and find something interesting or helpful as it does keep me writing 🙂
At the end of the day… I get tears in my eyes watching these two girls of mine! This space and time is priceless and I am beyond grateful. So a massive thank you to all who have supported us in all the different ways ❤️
Yes, there is still laundry to do, meals to make, arguments to police 👮♀️ and parenting to navigate, but the joy and the calm and the time together is the BEST!! So very happy to have the chance to do this trip.
We are finding that now the school holidays are over we are meeting more ‘travellers’ and ‘full-time van-lifers’ on the road, whereas in the holiday season we met lots of people on holidays … makes sense right?
What this ‘non-school holiday’ time is bringing is lots more people who are up for a chat and have lots of time. Junee has been a real town of connection in this way, a welcome surprise.
After a slow morning at camp where we met a fellow traveller with a hobby horse called Crazy Maisey (I never thought this would happen!), which Gem rode around for a good hour, we then hit the chocolate and licorice factory where the girls made their own ‘choccy road’ as Gem likes to call it and we discovered new loves. Gem loves raspberry licorice and I love ‘choccy road’ made by Gem, while Harper loves the gigantic full brekky served at the chocolate factory. Then we went over to the shed across the road to see a great display of antique cars. Two lovely old men had all the time in the world for us; they happily shared their knowledge about old cars and lawnmowers, and took so much time to show us around. I fell in love with a 1958 Ford Zepher and a vintage lawn mower! Love that I can get excited about anything.
I am loving the conversations, and I am loving the experience of my girls talking with a variety of people and sharing the learning that is happening.
In Junee we camped next to a retired 73-year-old man living full time in his camper, and he not only cooked us some delicious Dutch croquettes, but he sat with us and shared his life stories of travel and love and loss. Then Gem wanted to play horses again, so Harper continued chatting while we played. An hour later Harper and the ‘neighbour’ had covered many topics – aspirations, safety, herbs. Then later in the evening Harper chatted to a grandma for a good while and returned to me to tell me all about the best-paying jobs for juniors in the takeaway employment arena and about her family.
I cannot believe how many kind and open people we met in Junee. Another woman who stands out in my mind is the lovely woman who, while we were at the lake fishing, was riding her rodeo horse. Spotting her ended the fishing quickly, as Gem’s love for horses is HUGE, and we got chatting and later went to her horseriding and agistment place and the girls got to ride a horse! What a day!
People are so kind ❤️and people sharing stories really is a beautiful thing ❤️ Yay for great little inland towns and their people ❤️
After a good bit of R and R on the pool lounges at Kiama Big 4, I was ready to show the girls the city life. After debating whether we should stay at Lane Cove National Park or with family, we opted to stay with my cousin. You may think it would be a no-brainer – that of course, we should stay with family – but the reason I had to really think about it is,because van life is so sweet and easy for us three in Frankie Dean, I like to keep in the rhythm of it. But my cousin’s sense of humour and hospitality won us over, and we all got super cosy there and maybe overstayed our welcome ? =) .
Sydney with kids. On a budget. Hmmm … First things first:
1) Get an Opal card, top it up and get to know the public transport routes.
2) Visit the Zoo – make a whole day of it! See the shows (especially the seal show) and pack snacks and lunch etc. There is something special about Sydney Zoo – maybe it’s the chairlift thingy (what are they called?) that takes you to the top, or maybe it’s the view of the harbour, but its just special.
3) Ferry fun for everyone. Just catch one and cruise around. So much fun. One of our fave days was meeting some family in Circular Quay, catching the ferry to North Sydney and having a picnic in the playground. We watched boats, marvelled at the cruise ships in dock at the harbour and wandered around enjoying the art installations at Circular Quay for the Chinese New Year.
4) Stay local. Enjoy the area you’re staying in … walk the streets, check out the houses and the little township if it has one, visit the local pool. We were staying in Beecroft and loved the area: so different than home and the Epping pool is inexpensive and really picturesque. Again – pack snacks.
5) Homemade Home and Away Summer Bay Tour – looks like this …
1. Wake Home and Away fan with Home and Away theme song. 2. Head to the carpark near the Barrenjoey Lighthouse – pay $10 an hour for car parking (totally worth it). 3. Go to the Pier Diner and Alf’s Bait Shop. Be filled with joy! 4. Have massive muffin at the diner (really called the Boatshed). 5. Take a photo with a photo of Alf that is in the Bait Shop. 6. Pat the dog that Alf has patted. 7. Swim swim swim and walk the beach. 8. Soak it all in – the view is amazing!! 9. Discuss all the scenes that have happened on the pier. 10. Head to the Summer Bay Surf Club (Palm Beach Surf Club) and do a photo shoot. 11. Talk about all the scenes filmed there. 12. Swim between the flags and dream of seeing H and A fans favourite people. 13. Drive around the Palm Beach neighbourhood and check out real estate online and know where you will move if you win 5 million dollars. Harper, 11, the Home and Away fan (like her mum) had the BEST day! Sun kissed and dreaming of joining the cast 🔅
6) Opera House and Museum of Contemporary Art. We just wandered and took it all in. There is the BEST cafe on the top floor of the museum, with really great views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House – unless there is a massive cruise ship in, then you will get to look at that instead, but that’s cool too!
7) Glebe Markets hold a special place in my heart. These, along with Darwin Mindil Markets, are the markets that I dream of …. my fave Australian markets. All the vintage clothing at Glebe is great to rummage through, and although I didn’t find any treasures this trip, we did catch up with some dear old neighbours from many moons ago in Darwin. The girls hit it off and they are going to come and see us in SA. Happy days.
Sydney, there was so much more we could have explored, but better leave some things for next time. I’m learning less can be more and to love every step of this journey … and not to get caught up in ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’ … etc …
Making a commitment to blogging is certainly seeing me stick to it … even if I am once again very behind.
The great thing about travelling is being in the moment, and us girls seem to be all about the fun. Which means the laundry and computer time seems to get put off till I decide a ‘catch up’ day is needed or we run out of clean undies. Another reminder that you take ‘yourself’ wherever you go – I didn’t start van life and become the organised launderer I had dreamed I might!
So … winding the mind and the odometer back again to the gorgeous town of Lakes Entrance (thank goodness I do take notes):
Lakes Entrance: We loved this town so much; we got to stay in a stunning, well-equipped holiday house called the Lakes Beach House with a friend I made whilst walking the KIWT (Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in 2017). It was nice to be in a great big space again, and we parked Frankie and explored the house and got excited about all the rooms – especially the kitchen. It’s a cook’s dream, so we ate extra well whilst we were there, as I just love having a big kitchen to cook for everyone in.
Now Lakes Entrance has some major draw cards, one of them being mini golf. It’s everywhere!! We played and laughed our way around the course on the main street. I never knew Harper had some many little cheating tendencies – like getting down low and blowing the golf ball towards the hole. There are about six mini-golf places to choose from (well, ok, maybe just four, but it seemed like lots!).
My other top tip is to do the hike out to ‘The Entrance’ that Lakes Entrance is named after. Our friend ‘guaranteed’ that we would see dolphins and seals – and we did! The walk is great, even with a four-year-old on your back most of the way. There is stunning scenery and an array of bird life, including the lovely whip bird that you get to hear but not see. Once at the Entrance, it’s easy to spend an hour or two watching the seals play and chase fish etc, or if you’re lucky like we were, a police boat pulling a little dingy over. The girls loved this.
There is a family fun fair that runs over the holiday period right on the Esplanade. These fairs are always fun, but they are also money pits, and as we are on a tight budget and I am consciously trying to ensure the girls have some delayed gratification, the first night we were there we just walked around the fair. While we were doing that, we each decided on three things we would do the next day. This was actually a really fun way to get excited about going to the fair and having a good look around without actually doing anything (ie, spending money).
The local fish ‘n’ chips are great, and we had a lovely picnic in the park. Cycling along the shared cycle/walking path is beautiful too. When we left, it was lovely to be back in our van, and it was then that I realised Frankie has become our home, and travelling with the girls is more compact and ‘easier’ in a sense in the van than staying in a house.
Eden Some friends we made in Traralgon who are doing their lap of Oz this year recommended Eden as a good place to spend some time, and I’m so glad they did.
Eden is not only my daughter Harper’s middle name, but she is named after Hacienda Eden in Mexico – a very special place where I spent many months in my mid-20s. Being on the road and visiting Eden, NSW has taken my mind back to my travels in Mexico and the people I met there, and how the experience shaped me.
Eden, NSW has a stunning Art Deco whale museum with stories galore. Our favourites are the stories of ‘old Tom’ the killer whale and how he worked with fishermen. And also the story about the whale that swallowed a man who was later retrieved alive, but had lost his hair, his skin was bleached and he’d lost his eyesight. The girls really engaged in lots of learning at this small museum. I love having as long as we fancy to explore these little treasures along the way. The learning for the girls goes deep, and I love watching them take it all in, ask questions, and then later tell people we meet the stories they have learned along the way.
In Eden, the walk along the coast and along the river system is lovely and popular with locals and their dogs, which Gem loved. There’s lots of fish to be seen and of course Bob the Blobs, as my girls call jellyfish.
Tathra… Wow! I spent most evenings having a look at realestate.com for houses here. Tathra exceeded our expectations. What a dreamy little spot; there’s something about the hills, cliffs, bay and quaint little town that makes me want to return every year, buy a holiday house (let me dream) and have friends join me for holidays. The kids can play at the fair and surf the break by the surf club. It’s got a sweet holiday vibe, and the bush alongside the sea is dreamy. During our days we rode along the bike path down to the Bega River, walked the tracks up to Tathra town, counted lizards and played for hours on the beach. Harps took a surf lesson and learned lots about getting out past nasty shore dumpers with @coastlifeadventures. We explored the local shops, including the op shop for the vintage find of the year – a times-tables monkey, see photo – and fell in love with a variety of puppies all here on holidays. We also spent an afternoon at the Tathra hotel listening to live local music and enjoying the new park! We also went to the fun fair, a great cafe @wildorchidcafe and the wharf, and spent ages in the sweet, informative museum. When we weren’t doing those things we were in the most divine pool at the caravan park, and Gem found her inner mermaid. It’s great to be able to set the van up for a few days and not drive anywhere. Beyond glad the we got the bike rack and brought bikes with us. Tired, Happy, Sun Kissed Days.
Bega. I must admit, I didn’t know much about Bega or have much expectation, but Harper has some family there as she does at Tathra. They welcomed us all, and we could have just stayed and stayed. Whilst visiting Bega, we stayed just outside on a gorgeous little farm, got to pick veggies and had the most stunning view to wake to. We spent a whole day on a gorgeous little beach called Arraganu just out of Bega, a truly magical place ♥️. We played, swam, talked, walked and immersed ourselves in just being there with each other and my heart felt full!
Begas Heritage Centre is also a must visit if you like cheese taste tests and fancy slipping into a cheese coma from too much cheese … lol. There’s loads of vintage machinery and history of the farming in the local area there. We went twice. Candelo is a little town out of Bega that won my heart. Check it out if you’re near there.
Bermagui was our next location and the weather gave us a stormy welcome, our first bit of wild weather. The next morning the clouds had cleared and we walked to the Bermagui Blue pools and spent the most splendid day exploring, Snorkelling and swimming and mermaiding on rocks (Gem). We introduced Gem to kayaking on the river and loved riding along the bike track here too. We did have to say goodbye to two pairs of thongs here – one pair lost, one pair broken =(.
I have found synchronicity with timing when one is travelling is a very real thing and unveils all sorts of treasures – and this is certainly happening on this trip. A phonecall to my aunt when we were on the farm in Bega resulted in us finding out a friend from home has a dad who has a protea farm out of Cobargo a – another town you must visit if you are ever in the area. So we phoned our friend’s dad and had a night on the protea farm – there was so much magic there. The kindness, the roast dinner, the storm that rolled in, the amazing view. We got a protea farm tour, explored the creek, and left with a fridge full of homegrown produce, our lungs filled with county air and our hearts brimming with joy. This experience reminded me of a saying I once read ‘strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet’ (obviously not always the case) .
The drive to Kiama felt long for some reason, so we had to stop in Batemans Bay for a game of mini golf, and I’m happy to say, Harps didn’t cheat and was well and truly improved. When we arrived in Kiama, we found our park was super exciting. The Big4 is right on a gorgeous little bay, and we were lucky enough to be camped next to a lovely family with whom we shared lots of time over the next three days. The park was once again a family dream with something for everyone. In pool sunbeds (me), waterslides (Harper), creek to fish in (Gem), beach to play on each day (all of us). It also has a jumping pillow, and an indoor and outdoor playground. I can see why this park is popular, the coastline, attractions and facilities are amazing! We also caught up with the travelling friends we made at Traralgon. It was fab to see Harper reconnect with their kids and the ease at which relationships are made on the road. The blowholes are really powerful and the girls were interested to watch them for a long time. Kiama will forever have a special place in our hearts, days filled with facepainting, swimming, fishing, beach play, hoola hooping and more …
Frankie is going so great and gets lots of interest at caravan parks and when we are out and about. People love looking at the layout and how we live. We even saw another Jayco FD19 on the road the other day and mashed to connect via instagram. Loving this van life and all the adVANtures it brings.
Next stop Sydney... please leave a comment if you read something that resonates with you. Or leave a question if you have one. I hope the blog is helpful and I’m happy to be recording it for myself and the girls too.
Naughty me … behind in blogging! We have been far too busy being in the moment, and soaking up Victoria and NSW for me to get my laptop out and get typing away. But here I sit in Bermagui, NSW, and the time has come. The girls are lying in the van having a rest after a big snorkel and explore at the Blue Pool Bermagui, and I am sitting outside listening to the birds and enjoying the sea breeze.
So where were we?
Take your mind back and mine … lol. After we left Bendigo, we went to Torquay to visit our dear friend Nat @secondloves.
We spent a couple of nights at Torquay attending the festival and feeling topped up with beach vibes. Then, via the Great Ocean Road Chocolatier, we drove to Healsville – where we popped into another chocolatier! The girls thought it was a dream – starting the day at one chocolatier and finishing at the next!
Checking into Healesville Big 4 was like a dream. Our site was on the bank of the creek with a clear view to the playground, jumping pad and pillow, and there was bird life galore. Badger Creek runs along the edge of the park and it is just simply stunning; park guests take their chairs into the creek to cool off. It feels like you’re bush camping, but with all the benefits of a Big 4 park.
The night we checked in happened to be the night that the neighbouring property was hosting a birthday party, and we were treated to live music across the creek. Nat and I enjoyed pasta and wine by the creek listening to the sweet tunes. Although I’m sure some people weren’t happy with the volume or perhaps the music selection, we felt like it was a treat you couldn’t have organised if you tried. This park was definitely to become a favourite.
The days here found a rhythm – up early to play and swim, and then arvo naps to avoid the heat and a session at the waterpark on the lake. Must note here the amazing kindness of the Big 4 staff who watched Gem for the hour so I could take Harps on the water – solo parenting win here! This waterpark is part of the Yarra Valley Big 4 which makes up one of 4 Parklane parks, this is the second one we have visited and they are awesome! Check them out here Parklane Parks .
We took a morning trip to Healesville Sanctuary, which is super close to the park (short drive) where we saw the elusive platypus and also had a run in with a cranky (as his space was disturbed) tiger snake. This snake scare has become one of Gem’s favourite stories – she insists on telling everyone we meet. She also loves the eel story (will tell you when I see you, lol). We happened to be there while the Healesville Sanctuary festival was on, which meant live music and a bush dance. I can’t resist the heel and toe – took me right back to childhood and memories of attending the bush dances at the local hall.
Next stop was Traralgon Big 4 where the focus was some reconnecting with far away friends, and this was the best place to do it. The park is like a child-parent combo planned it! The best coffee is available from reception, and there’s so much for children of all ages to do! I’m talking mini-golf, laser tag, a high ropes course, a pool, jumping pillow and go-carts, along with a playground, gym and indoor play centre! Once again, happy kids, happy mum! Harper loved the high ropes course (I was a little scared) and we really could have stayed a week and just ‘holidayed’ at the park. There’s also great BBQ facilities and a camp kitchen, and the park had a lovely friendly vibe to it. Happy days and fun nights were spent here . Check out Traralgon Big 4.
I am marvelling at the stories the girls choose to tell people we meet along the way, and the highlights that stand out and get shared. From bugs we have seen to the police boat, snake and eel, and not forgetting the funny noises the lifeguard made! Memories are being made!!
Having driven from Nhill to Bendigo, it really felt like we were far, far away from home now. It was the narrowing of the outback roads to one lane that got the “ You’re not in Kansas anymore” feeling happening, and I had a moment of feeling a little out of my depth, a little like I should have studied the map better. But then I came across a truck which pulled over for us, so Frankie could have the whole single road to himself, and I asked the driver about the way I was going. He was super helpful and explained the roads ahead to me and calm returned!
Arriving in Bendigo we were all full of ooohhhs and ahhhss at the stunning buildings and gardens in the city centre and the massive Bendigo Bank (must research how Bendigo bank started … assuming once they found gold there!)
The play centre and holiday program really were a highlight for us, along with the camp kitchen that looks out to the bouncy pillow (win win) and the super friendly staff. Must mention here we were so lucky with our site; on either side of where we parked Frankie, there were children of the same age as the girls, so instant friends were made, adding to the experience.
So here are my top 3 things to do when visiting Bendigo:
We arrived at 10.10 am and didn’t leave ’til just after 3 pm! This says it all! It wasn’t the plan to stay the whole day but the girls were just so engaged with all the activities and little shows and talks that we just stayed and stayed! For me, the highlight was the planetarium; for Harper, the science show, which she watched twice and the vertical slide which she went down about 15 times. And Gem just loved the toddler area, with its pulley system designed like a mine where she spent ages playing with other kids who came and went.
It was during our visit here, while I was going back to the robot room with Gem to experiment with programming the little beetle, that it occurred to me that vanlife is giving the girls and I a very big gift – time. It was so special to be able to stay at the centre all day; to go back to the activities that were favourites; to have time to see the girls master a new concept, a new skill; to watch a show twice and see the deep learning that occurred – to go deeper with learning and playing and not have to rush off to something else.
Bendigo Art Gallery
My love of Frida Kahlo took us here and although Gem wasn’t interested until she saw pictures of dogs, Harper and I got a lot out of it. Although the Frida exhibition isn’t there all the time, the gallery is impressive and has a variety of changing exhibitions. If you have a big love for Frida, go and check it out. I have always been drawn to Frida Kahlo from the moment I heard her story, which was right before moving to Mexico in my mid-20s, where I continued to learn about her life. Her life story is moving; she lived a short but passionate life (Harper was quite shocked after reading the timeline at the exhibition about how many affairs Frida and Diego had). And her expression through art is captivating. Last year, I went to a Frida Kahlo exhibition in Sydney which was amazing, so when I saw this was going to be on when we were in Bendigo, I knew I had to see it and I loved it. It’s photographs and organised into themes like Casa Azul, Politics, Family etc and added further to her story for me.
Deborah gold mines was GOLD… literally. We took the tour underground and it was guided by a passionate and engaging woman who brought the history of the mine to life. We learnt about blasting, rock support (it has a better name but that has escaped me) tools and advances in mining. Aside from the tour there is lots to do on the ground level including panning for gold, which I discovered is quite addictive. Harper loved the tour … the whole experience of wearing the hard hat, the head torch and being the volunteer to operate the drill. Gem on the other hand was a little scared and insisted on being carried the whole time, hence the lack of photos and my back feeling like I had been shovelling rock for the length of the tour. So great learning about the past and so great finding a tiny (don’t sneeze) piece of gold.
When it was time to leave I found myself wishing we had another day or two … but as a wise woman once told me … always leave something you want to go back and do … and for me its Bendigo Pottery … that will have to wait ‘til next time!