6 Lessons I Learned While Camping in Australia – by Clay

We had a wonderful time in Sydney with my parents (as outlined by Barb, Caleb, and Connor in other parts of this blog) but now it was time for us to head off on our own and do the camping thing as we travelled from Sydney to Cairns, some 2419km to the north in Queensland.

Let me state right now that we are not “backpackers”. We used to be backpackers but Barb informed me that we no longer belong to that sacred designation. We are now “flashpackers” which means we are willing to spend that extra $2 to have hot water in our little A-frame hut. It also means we will dine at a restaurant more often if it’s more convenient and helps with our schedule of activities rather than cooking in a shared kitchen. Having children as part of the equation also means we are much more concerned about personal (family) safety than 20 years ago.

We rented a “campa” from a company called Jucy, which reminded me of the old VW camper vans, and this was in reality a modified Nissan Quest. Because of the camping modifications we learned that our Loss, Damage, and Collision coverage through our MasterCard did not cover us for this type of vehicle. The Jucy rep was sharp enough to draw our attention to this possibility and once I Googled and read through the policy – sure enough, she was correct. So, unfortunately, we ended up paying an extra $30/day for their offered insurance. Lesson #1 learned: always read through those silly, tedious, legalese-filled policy documents to know what you get and what you don’t.

IMG_0465

The top popped up to make a cosy spot for the two boys which was called “The Penthouse”. Once the bed was set up with the provided sheets, pillows, and comforter we could just leave it made, even if we had to close the top to drive around to various activities. Barb, the every practical and organized one in our group, bought 4 small laundry baskets to hold each of our belongings instead of keeping everything in the communal duffel bag for easier access. Inside the van the bench behind the front seats lowered flat to butt up against the back seats to form the inside bed for Barb and I. She found it quite comfortable but I, being 6 feet tall, could not lie down flat and slept with my knees bent. I suppose this is keeping in line with the backpacker spirit of being frugal though. We could have rented a larger van – but at double the cost! It was also painted a bright purple and neon green. Guess we won’t be robbing any banks and using this as a getaway car.

My contribution to the purchase list was getting a 30m power extension cord, a dozen bungee cords, and a butane lighter to start campfires. It turns out that ALL of the campgrounds (at least the ones we stayed at) did not allow campfires at your site, unlike Canadian campsites, so the butane lighter only got used once. And that was to light a propane cooktop in a camp kitchen whose built-in sparker seemed to malfunction. The bungee cords were much better used as we tied down the boys’ boogie boards at night to keep them from blowing away and attached our clothes line to our van and various trees throughout the duration of our trip. The crowning glory was the extension cord which we used every single day to recharge our devices (whoops, back into “flashpacker” territory here). Ultimately useful, the extension cord became like a good and reliable friend. When it came time to leave behind some of the items we couldn’t carry with us to our next country I asked Barb, “Guess what I regret having to leave most?” and she said, “The extension cord” and gave me her “you are SO weird” look. This just shows that Barb knows me. She just doesn’t always understand me. Lesson #2 learned: buy the cords and skip the lighter. To quote Meatloaf, “two out of three ain’t bad”.

As we worked our way northward, staying at various campsites along the way, we discovered that there were two main campsite companies: Top Tourist Parks (which has now been rebranded as “Top Parks”) and Big4 Parks. We stayed at both of their offerings and found the sites and amenities to vary greatly. It seemed to me a little like the Holiday Inn brand of hotels – you could stay at a fabulous property in Atlanta but a less-than-desirable one in Podunkville (my apologies to my friend Mark – I don’t know if HI actually has properties in those cities, it was just an example). Barb found an app called WikiCamps Australia that allowed us to choose filters for the specific things we wanted to have (powered site, laundry facilities, wifi access, and showers) and had user ratings and comments. This was probably the most useful tool in deciding where we would stay. They even had a function to let you look up directions to the campground via Maps.Me or Google Maps. The app cost $7 on the App Store. Lesson #3 learned: get WikiCamps Australia, it’s worth it!

We decided to do a day of hard driving in order to make up for time we spent doing other activities (many of which are outlined in other parts of this blog) and we left Maroochydore for Rockhampton.  I saw our gas tank was just over half full so I, foolishly, did not fill up before we left. This particular stretch of road seemed to be very sparse in terms of civilization. Granted, we did see several signs for various towns 9km to the east or 24km to the west but nothing to speak of directly on the M1 road. That meant gas stations (or “petrol stations” as they are called in Australia) were few and far between. It got to the stage where I thought we were going to run out of gas right there in the middle of nowhere. I asked Barb to Google petrol stations from our current location but we were in such a remote area that our phones couldn’t get a tower signal. So we couldn’t even call for help if we did run out. Eventually, we did pull into a town while running on fumes and filled up. I almost bought a jerry can to carry extra with us but Barb put the kibosh on that idea. Lesson #4 learned: fill up when you can and don’t let the tank get below half, especially in this particular stretch of the M1.

The further north we went the temperature rose from the comfortable 22C/14C highs and lows of Sydney to the more tropical 35C/26C of Cairns. With it came the humidity and we found ourselves sleeping more and more with the windows and doors open (so much for increased safety concerns). The camps we had been staying at all seemed very family-friendly and the culture was everyone looked out for each other and their kids. Keep in mind that we were also in the low season a month before Christmas break so there weren’t very many people in the campgrounds to begin with. We were staying at a Big4 campground in Cannonvale near Airlie Beach and just as I was about to turn in for the night with all the doors and windows of the campa wide open due to the heat I see a faint shadow of what appeared to be a very large cat shuffling towards the van. I shone the flashlight out and saw this creature:

poss1

It seemed even bigger when lit. He stopped and stared at me for a moment and continue to shuffle towards me in the open side door of the campa. So i picked up one of my flip flops and shied it at him at which point he turned and ran for the trees. “That takes care of him,” I thought. As I checked e-mail before going to bed I heard a scuffling noise outside. I shone the flashlight again but didn’t see anything. Suddenly, a head popped out from under the van – it was the creature again!

poss2

“Shoo!” I said, loud enough to scare him away, hopefully, but not loud enough to wake up Barb. He wasn’t scared away. In fact, he started to climb into the van! I growled like a bear and he stopped. Slowly I reached for my other flip flop and threw it at him. Again, he took off in a hurry and I decided to sleep in the sweltering heat with the door closed. So much for increased family security. The next night I kept a mini golf putter handy in case he came back but didn’t need it. My bear growl must have been effective. Lesson #5 learned: know how to growl like a large animal and have a handy supply of flip flops to chuck at the local wildlife.

Overall, our camping experience in Australia with the boys has been an excellent adventure. Would I do it again? Yes, of course! But with a slight modification. Although the Jucy campa was a lot of fun and a great way to see a good chunk of Australia’s East Coast I found the transitioning from driving mode to sleeping/camp mode a bit wearing and tedious. Yes, we had it down to a pretty smooth system after the first week or so but with the campa there is no way to divide the labour/chores/errands as easily. Next time, I’d like to get a car and tow a camp trailer (called “caravans” in Australia) so we could park it at the site.

Expanda-Outback-4328

One of us could set up the trailer (with awning, we really needed an awning) and the other could run to the Woolworths or Coles for groceries and supplies. It would also allow us to leave our gear in a relatively secure place while we take off for the day to do some activities like visiting the Great Barrier Reef or Hartley’s Crocodile Farm and not have to pack everything up first. Barb said that when we retired we’d get a camper van but she has since changed her mind and said a camping trailer would probably be a better option. Yes, we’re showing our flashpacker leanings here but I’m OK with that. Lesson #6 learned: go for the car and caravan option over the campa. You’ll fit more of what you want to do into your day.

East Coast, Australia: Maintaining our Sanity in A Mini Campervan for 26 Days! – by Barb

I’m all about “systems” – finding a system/routine to make things work as smoothly as possible. Now that we saw how tiny our van was I knew that we would need a system to help us manage the space on a day-to-day basis. The “penthouse” had to be raised for the boys to sleep in it and lowered every time we moved. The bench seats had to be converted to a bed, which required the front seats to be shoved all the way forward. Basically every time we moved we would need to convert the van for driving and once we camped we had to prepare it for sleeping.

Our answer: baskets and buckets! I found 4 laundry baskets for $3 each at Kmart, and a couple of plastic pails for $1. We also bought some clothespegs, a dish towel, and extension cord. We were ready!

Each of us now have a laundry basket for our clothes and we put these across the bench seat when driving and put them in the back window when sleeping. We already had a length of rope to use as a clothes line and we can attach it to the van and a tree to hang our wet towels on. The campgrounds have kitchens with BBQs and sinks for our cooking, although we could use the cook stove on the back of the van in a pinch. Our groceries fit in the paindexils. After a few nights everyone knew how to complete the “switch” from driving van to sleeping van and we could get it set up or taken down in about 15-20 minutes.

Several of the campgrounds we visit have sitting areas – some of them indoors, so we can go there if the weather is bad. It has been quite warm as well, so even on rainy days we can usually manage to be outside, with our rain gear on. All in all, it’s been quite manageable.

I used to think I’d want to buy a campervan when I retired but now I have changed my mind! I think it would be better to have something that you could drop at your campsite and leave there while you drive around town. On several occasions Clay and I said that we could have split up – one of us go to get groceries, and another set up the site, but that’s not possible when you have a campervan.

East Coast, Australia: Bumpin’ Up and Down In Our Green & Purple Camper Van – by Barb

The day had arrived! It was time to pick up our Jucy Camper Van! I had booked this several months before our trip  and was very excited to do some camping in Australia. Clay and I love camping. He proposed to me on a camping trip, we camped in both Australia and New Zealand a few years ago, and we have taken the boys camping several times – but always with a tent. It would be fun to have a camper van!

Since the rental place was only 4 km away, I decided we could be very ‘frugal’ and walk there! This, of course, ended up taking forever, and our breakfast of bread and peanut butter (a cheap breakfast we could keep in our hotel room!) had long since worn off, since it was now nearing noon. However, we finally arrived and got through the paper work for our van. The girl at the rental company ran us quickly through how everything worked: button for roof pop-up here; overdrive here; stove here; convert the bed like this….. I am always completely amazed at how, after a 3 minute walk-through they can hand you a set of keys for a vehicle and trust you with it! I just assumed Clay would want to do the driving so I let him get in the driver’s side (Once we remembered which side that was! The steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Australia). I don’t remember either of us hesitating for a moment last time we were in Australia – when we were in our twenties! Now, we were both looking at each other like, “What are we doing?!”

Fortunately, there was a big sign on the dash that kept reminding us to “Keep Left”! Using the GPS on our phone, and our memories of where we’d walked, we started to make our way back to the Holiday Inn. Clay was rather nervous driving, and I was rather nervous “passenger-ing”! Needless to say, by the time we arrived back we were both hungry, cranky, and not the best of company. Clay’s parents were standing there to greet us, along with their friends, with whom they would be visiting for the next week. We made quick introductions and then began transferring our gear into our “new” set of wheels.IMG_0465

I had thought I would be clever and rather than packing everything back into our duffels, I put it in piles in our hotel room, so we could transfer it straight into the drawers and storage cupboards in the camper van. The only problem was, there were no drawers or storage cupboards! Nope, not a one! In fact, aside from the bench which faced the back seats, there wasn’t much space to put anything! This was going to be tricky!

They boys were over the moon excited and offered to help us “load up” the van, as did Clay’s dad. I had to quickly revamp my plan and started shoving things back into the duffel bags. Plan B. I needed a plan B! I squeezed our backpacks under the seats, put our 2 roller duffels on the seats, shoved the 4 campchairs and table they had rented us in the back window, and decided that it was best just to get the stuff in the van, and I’d have to re-organize at our first campground.

Our plan was to stop at a Kmart outside of Sydney to pick up a few supplies and then go to a campground not too far away (80 km). We said farewell to Clay’s parents, thanked them for 2 ½ wonderful weeks together, turned down the offer to go for lunch with their friends (the thought of driving around Sydney lookIMG_0467ing for a restaurant in our green and purple camper van was just not appealing at this point!) and off we went.

Clay decided that between hunger and nerves, it was best that he not drive, so it was my turn! While driving a camper van for the first time and driving in the middle of a big city could have been a recipe for disaster, we managed just fine and in about an hour pulled into a Kmart parking lot. After eating a long overdue lunch and purchasing a few groceries, and camping items, we were on our way again.

Sydney, Australia: Featherdale’s Wildlife & The Blue Mountains – by Barb

The following day we planned to head out early because we hoped to make it all the way out to the Blue Mountains, with a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Sanctuary on the way. The Sydney public transit system is so incredible! We were able to use our same transit passes to get all the way out to Blue Mountain – 2 hours outside of Sydney.

We were hoping that Featherdale would fulfill Clay’s mom’s wish to see “Australian marsupials”! Off we headed to Featherdale and, after a lengthy subway ride, a stop at the mall to get Clay’s mom some new running shoes, and a bus ride, we arrived at the Wildlife Sanctuary.

Featherdale was animal heaven for the boys! There were large areas where the wombats and kangaroos hopped around freely and the boys could pet and feed them. You could pet the koalas and get your photo taken (for free!) beside one. We spent several hours visiting the various Australian animals until our brains were saturated with animal information and we couldn’t cram in any more!

DSCF1303

DSCF1321 DSCF1331 DSCF1333 DSCF1354

DSCF1359 DSCF1363

DSCF1380 DSCF1393

DSCF1423 DSCF1436

IMG_0443

Clay’s parents caught the train back to town while we continued on to the Blue Mountains, hoping we still had enough time to see everything we wanted to. Our train ended up stopping for about ½ hour at one point, apparently waiting for a freight train to pass, and we were worried that we were cutting our visit to the Blue Mountains a little tight! We caught a bus from the train station and arrived at Blue Mountain’s Scenic World at about 3:30 p.m. “You might have time to take the train, the Cable Car and you might just fit in a ride on the Sky Rail if you don’t take too long on the boardwalk,” said the lady at the ticket counter.

 

“Let’s do it!” we said and ran to the train. The Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger railway in the world, with a 52 degree incline. It descends 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel, emerging into the rainforest. Since it was so late in the day there were no lines and only a couple of other people boarding the train with us. What a cool ride it was! You could adjust your seat to have a “cliffhanger” ride and go down the mountain at a steep 64 degrees, or you could choose the “laid back” option of only 44 degrees! We, of course, had to try the “cliffhanger”!

DSCF1447 DSCF1456 DSCF1459

Once at the bottom, we disembarked and headed down the boardwalk. We ran into a large group of Asian tourists and managed to weave our way through them so we could move at a good clip through the rainforest. It was beautiful! We wished we had more time. No time to stop and read the information placards….no time to stop at the mining display……We arrived at the cable car and waited for the next car to pull up for us to board. With a capacity for 84 passengers, the Cableway is the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. Just as the car arrived so did the Asian tour group so we all boarded together. Unfortunately it seemed no one in the group spoke English so when the guide began to explain the legends of the Three Sisters to us, they completely ignored him and continued talking. I looked at him empathetically. Being a teacher, there is nothing I find more irritating than when people talk over the person “in charge”. He seemed to notice my expression and came over and said, “I think I’ll just tell you the commentary!” So for the 545 m ascent I had my own personal guide! (Clay and the boys were huddled in another corner of the cable car taking photos.)

DSCF1452 DSCF1454

Once at the top, we noticed there were still about 5 minutes before the final Scenic Skyway left for the day. We were going to make it! Suspended 270 metres above the ravines, the Skyway provides breathtaking views beneath your feet through the glass cabin floor. The journey provides the best views of Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and Jamison Valley stretching to the horizon. Leaving the Asian tour group behind us, we started our trip across the ravine. Our guide, Eric, was entertaining and informative. One of the things he told us about was how the falls aDSCF1491re lit up at night and you can walk down to see them. “It’s a beautiful walk,” he said. “No, mommy!” came the boys pleas, knowing how much I love hiking…..for hours and hours. But it did get me thinking….. “Well, why don’t we just go for a short hike through the mountains now, then?” I suggested. Off we went! The mountains and the rainforest are truly gorgeous and I could have walked around them all day but by this point it was about 5:30 pm, it was soon going to be dark, and we needed to eat something. So, we made our way up out of the ravine to the bus stop. Hmmm….apparently the last bus left at 5:00 pm. There were no more buses until the next morning! Hiking back to town was our only option and not really too bad (in my opinion!). It was only 4 ½ km but it was totally uphill for the last 3! Since the train only ran every hour at this point we had to make sure we got there on time. We finally pulled into the Holiday Inn at 10:00 p.m. and everyone slept well that night! Clay’s parents were super pleased that they had decided to ‘call it a day’ after Featherdale!

DSCF1495 DSCF1506 DSCF1514 DSCF1515

IMG_0464

Sydney, Australia: Lots of Learning – by Barb

We decided we should learn a little bit about the history of Sydney, and after some research I settled on the Hyde Park Barracks Museum – which I thought might appeal to the boys. This was the location to which convDSCF0958icts were sent from Britain and it had been converted into a museum. There were three floors at the museum and we ended up spending a few hours there. It was very well done, with each visitor receiving his/her own headset system. You would press the number on the exhibit you were standing beside and the commentary would come through on your headset. This allowed each of us to move through at our own pace and to repeat the commentary on anything we didn’t quite understand or wished to hear more about. On the upper floor, they had recreated the dormitory for the men and boys. It was a room filled with hammocks, which you could lie in and listen to the story of some of the people who had resided there. What an interesting way to experience history!

DSCF0960

While on the ferry on Sunday, we had come across some friendly Australian travelers, who gave us their tickets to the Sydney Wildlife Zoo because they were not going to be able to use them. We decided to head here after visiting Hyde Park. Considering this “zoo” is set up in the middle of the city, it housed a rather large collection of animals and a lot of information. It was a great way to be introduced to Australia’s animals.

DSCF0988 DSCF0998 DSCF1013

Sydney is the home of the world’s largest IMAX screen, which was showing “Egyptian Mummies”. Since we are planning to visit Egypt on our world trip we thought it would be informative to see this movie. It did not disappoint. We enjoyed all 45 minutes of it and for once I didn’t find the 3D glasses made me feel ill!

Although the weather was a little cool, on Tuesday we decided to do the famous Bondi shore walk. We ate our picnic lunch, huddled in a picnic shelter on the shore of Bondi beach and the boys spent an hour or so dodging waves, while still wearing sweaters and windbreakers! We then made our way along the shore from Bondi beach to Bronte beach. There were several art sculptures on display beside the shore and numerous benches so Clay’s parents could stop and take breaks along the way.

DSCF1043 DSCF1044 DSCF1045

DSCF1058

DSCF1128IMG_0407 DSCF1137

We had also received 2 for 1 tickets to the Sea Life Aquarium so on Wednesday we thought we’d make a visit. Fortunately I had looked online to find out all of the “keeper” talks, since they had no signage to let you know about them. We were able to hear about the Little Penguins, the Dugongs, and see them feeding the sharks. It was surprising how we just kept winding our way through this large complex. There was a lot to see and learn.

DSCF1182 DSCF1185 DSCF1204 IMGP1023

After lunch we caught a ferry out to Manley. It was a beautiful day but still a little cool. Once we arrived at Manley beach, however, the boys were quite keen to spend time jumping in and out of the waves. Clay and I enjoyed just sitting back and watching them!

DSCF1226 DSCF1278 DSCF1280 DSCF1282

Sydney, Australia: G’Day Mate! – By Barb

While I was very excited to be heading to Australia, I was not thrilled about having to take an overnight flight to get there. Overnight flights can be OK if you’re on them long enough to sleep but this flight was only 6 hours, which meant we would be lucky if we managed to get 3 hours sleep or so, by the time we got settled, had a snack, and then had to get ready for the landing. Clay’s parents were flying at almost the same time as us but on a different airline so we would have to wait for them at the airport in Sydney.

Sure enough, with the exception of Connor, who managed about 5 hours, the rest of us did not get much sleep at all. By the time we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Sydney (about 10 a.m. Australian time) we needed to have a nap or there was no way we would make it through the day. Fortunately, we have spent enough time together that we are all well aware when we are cranky. Even the boys said, “We won’t say much because everyone is in a bad mood!” And they were pretty much silent all the way to the hotel!

A 3½ hour nap definitely helped, although we knew it would take a few days before we really adjusted to the time difference. The next day we were ready to explore the area. We were thrilled to learn that on Sundays you can get a public transit pass for $2.50/person, so we purchased one for each of us and headed off to check out the opera house!

We each kept remarking how easy it was to get around when you could read all of the signs and speak to people in English. It felt like we had come home! The weather was just perfect – about 21 degrees with a breeze so every once in a while you needed to put on a light sweater. Clay kept jumping around, grinning from ear to ear, shouting, “I love this weather!”

With our Sunday pass we could use trains, buses, and ferries, all for free (or for the $2.50 we’d paid) so it was easy to travel around the Sydney harbor. We had a tour of the opera house, had lunch at a local pub, took the ferry to Darling harbor and walked around…..and at this point Clay’s parents started to look a little weary! We are quite accustomed to walking to get from place to place when using public transit in various countries, but his parents, nearing eighty were finding it quite a bit of walking. They decided to head back to the hotel while we ventured off for yet another walk – this time across the Sydney harbor bridge. What a wonderful introduction to Sydney!

DSCF0903 DSCF0905

DSCF0885

DSCF0918

DSCF0989

DSCF1017

DSCF1024

Bali, Indonesia: Delightful Dances & Wonderful Wildlife – by Barb

Since Clay’s parents had heard about how much we’d loved our “rice farming” experience in Laos, they suggested we visit some places in Bali where we could learn about the local products and processes, such as coffee making, Batik making, and silver jewelry making. Clay’s dad chatted with our driver and he assured us that knew exactly where we should go. Off we headed!

Our first stop was at the silver jewelry making facility. In a large warehouse, each worker sat at a station polishing, cutting, or setting jewelry pieces. The gentleman who welcomed us when we entered did not provide us with much commentary about the process, but he was quick to escort us “upstairs” to the two-story shop with thousands of pieces of jewelry for sale. The contrast between the “showiness” and coolness of the shop area, compared to the hot and dusty workplace was quite evident but beyond that I’m not sure the boys learned too much about making jewelry!

DSCF0504 DSCF0510 DSCF0514 DSCF0517 DSCF0519 DSCF0529Next, we zoomed on (as much as you can “zoom” in Balinese traffic!) to the coffee “plantation”. Again, we were greeted warmly as soon as we pulled into the parking lot – as though they were expecting us; even though we’d just driven in off the street! Clearly, this was yet another common tourist stop! A young lady walked us along a pathway that led through a series of cages housing birds, luwacs, and other local animals. She told us a little bit about coffee making on the way but she spoke quickly and softly so only those of us standing close to her were able to pick it up. She explained how the luwak eats the coffee beans and they pass through its system and out the other end. Their digestive tract contains certain enzymes that help to break down the coffee beans and make them usable for human consumption. Luwak coffee is considered a specialty coffee and runs for up to $100/cup in places like New York City. Animal rights activists have waged campaigns against the coffee because they feel that the luwaks are housed in poor conditions, rather than allowed to roam freely through the coffee plantations, as the coffee producers claim.

DSCF0542 DSCF0555 DSCF0556 DSCF0557 DSCF0560 DSCF0567 DSCF0569

Our next stop was at a Batik making shop. This consisted of a large shopping area and outside of it there was a sheltered spot where you could watch some of the locals making the batik fabrics, using the original wax technique. The boys found this quite interesting, and marveled at the detail that went into the designs. I think they would have been interested in giving it a try but that was not an option at this location.

DSCF0533 DSCF0535

The following day we decided to head to Uluwatu. It is a place on the south-western tip of the Bukit Peninsula of Bali, Indonesia. It is home to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple and is the number four surf destination in the world for surfers of all abilities. We were able to walk around the coastline for about a km for so, admiring the absolutely gorgeous views of the ocean and the cliffs. The boys were mesmerized by the waves crashing on the shore and Caleb commented that he could “sit there all day watching the waves come in.” At about 5:15 pm we went to get tickets for the Kecak dance that was to be shown in an amphitheater overlooking the ocean. At about 6:15 pm the dance began, just as the sun slipped below the horizon. What a beautiful sight. Yet another day when we counted our blessings.

DSCF0173 DSCF0177 DSCF0188 DSCF0199 DSCF0203 DSCF0209 DSCF0211 DSCF0260 DSCF0398 DSCF0453 DSCF0455

DSCF0518 DSCF0528 DSCF0529 (1) DSCF0538 DSCF0564On Wednesday, after Clay visited the chiropractor to adjust his ailing back, we all headed back to the Green School for a tour of the campus with the Schools owner, John Hardy as our guide. Since we had arrived late to the Green Camp, we had missed the tour of the school and I really wanted to learn more about it. The rest of the family was quite interested as well so we all decided to take part in one of their daily tours. Touring the Green School has become quite a popular family activity in Bali, so we were part of a large group of about 60, all keen on hearing what John had to say. Fortunately, the school was accustomed to a large group size and we were each given a headset to wear so we could hear the commentary as we walked along. John Hardy, as you might expect, came across as quite an eccentric, out of the box thinker, and incredibly proud his Green School creation. Being an educator I was really hoping he would delve a little more into the running of the school itself: the daily routine, the curriculum, and the goals of the program. Instead the tour was really focused around his anecdotes about the building of the school and the reactions he received when putting forth his innovative ideas. We did walk through the Green Camp area as well, so the boys enjoyed showing Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie and Uncle where we had stayed and where we had completed some of our activities.

DSCF0605 DSCF0626 DSCF0630 DSCF0632 DSCF0646

The Green School is only about a ½ hour drive outside of Ubud, so at the completion of our tour we drove into Ubud for dinner and got tickets for one of the dances at the Ubud palace.

DSCF0650 DSCF0676 DSCF0687 DSCF0696

For our final full day in Bali, we decided to visit the Bali Safari and Marine Park. Originally I had strayed away from the safari, thinking that it seemed unwise to pay money to go and see African animals in Bali, when we would be seeing them in Africa in a few month’s time. After reading more about the park, however, it looked as though there was a major focus on Asian animals, and I was interested in seeing the show that took place at the theatre every day in the centre of the park. The Safari park was expensive, but I was quite impressed with the layout and care that had been put into the park. To get our “money’s worth” I noted down all of the keeper talks that took place throughout the day so that we could visit as many as possible. I find that when I ask the boys about their experience afterward, they can usually remember things that they have heard about far better than the things they just read about on their own.

Our first keeper talk took place at the piranha tank where a hunk of chicken was thrown in for the fish to eat. The boys’ eyes popped out of their heads as they watched the piranhas aggressively attack the meat, water splashing right out of the tank and all over them. I don’t think they’ll be swimming with any piranha any time soon!

Next, we ventured off to see the general animal show which gave an overview of all of the Asian animals featured at the park. The girl did an excellent job of commentating in both Indonesian and English and the show was well choreographed, with birds flying in from various directions, guinea pigs marching across the very front of the stage, snakes appearing in the crowd, and orangutans waving at us. Definitely not the same as seeing these animals in their natural habitat but we did learn a lot.

DSCF0730 DSCF0733 DSCF0741 DSCF0751

Following the animal show, we boarded the Safari bus that took you through 3 different areas: Asian animals, Indian animals, and African animals. The animals were all easily visible from the bus and appeared very active (considering it was the middle of the day). Some great photos were taken by all!

DSCF0764 DSCF0799 DSCF0807 DSCF0854

Unfortunately Connor came own with a fever at this point and we had to slow our pace a little and give him some medicine, but he is a real trooper when he is not well and insisted on continuing on to see the rest of the park.

After lunch we all went to see the “Bali in the Park” show.  I was not sure what to expect but had read some great reviews about this presentation, which was supposed to tell us about the history of Bali. The theatre was incredible. You walked through a cave-like entrance filled with vines and then entered the main seating area. In front of the stage there was a water feature which looked like a small lake. A live band played off to the side of the stage where we could see them.

DSCF0898The show began with a lively overture during which all of the performers and animals (elephants, monkeys, snakes…) in the show paraded in front of us. I was absolutely amazed at how the show flowed and the incredible sets that they used. The lake in the front served as a place for boats and ducks at one point. Shadow puppets told part of the story on the big screen. It was a real cultural production and all of us came away very impressed.

The next day we had to say farewell to Clay’s sister and brother-in-law. We were all sad to see them go. It was fun sharing our travels with family. But we were also excited about our next stop: Australia.