From the Tropics to the Outback in Two Days

  • Time: Saturday, 28 May 2016 00:00

Before I founded Tree & Pixie Creations I was a high school teacher. I still am a high school teacher, just one who has been on unpaid maternity leave for almost three years. When I was at university I was awarded the fantastic opportunity of completing one of my practicum placements in the Northern Territory. The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation sent six of us to Tennant Creek for a month to teach. It was an amazing experience I will never forget. Since I have such fond memories of learning to teach in the territory, it made sense for me to register to teach in the NT so I could pick up some casual work during our travels.

Last week whilst we were in the wet tropics, near the Daintree, and it was pouring with rain and I was going insane inside the caravan with the kids, I received a call from a little school in Central Australia asking if I could teach for a few weeks. We did the maths and worked out a date I could arrive and suddenly we were off! After over two months of travelling the East coast of Australia, it was time to head West.

 Since our kids are so young, we tend not to travel more than around three hours in one day. We find that’s the maximum they last before they start losing the plot and screaming the car down. It’s the reason why we are unsure if we will get an entire lap of Australia done in a single year. But, suddenly we found ourselves with two weeks and 2200km to travel. Unless we want to spend every night in different place, we are in for some longer travel days.

We woke up yesterday morning in the Atherton Tablelands (near Cairns) and began our biggest day of driving yet. We drove for what felt like forever with screaming and arguing children. We had bought new toys for them the day prior, but realised that instead of keeping them entertained, it just gave them something to fight about. We had purchased Jarrah an etch-a-sketch, but Nella was incredibly jealous, so we had to make a stop and purchase her one too. The sibling rivalry has begun! For the first time ever, we resorted to bringing out the tablet and putting on a movie for the kids.

After 5 hours we passed through Townsville and turned onto the Flinders Highway. We had our first night’s free camping at a roadside rest area where we could watch the road trains and listen to the freight trains. Jarrah loved it.

This morning we set off for another big day of driving. We stopped in Charters Towers first thing in the morning, before heading further west.

At lunchtime we stopped in a tiny town called Balfes Creek, where we found a tiny playground, some toilets and a closed pub. We had a picnic lunch and came across a lady named Tracey who is walking her way around Australia to raise money for the Black Dog Institute and raise awareness for depression and mental illness. She’s a mother, a grandmother and is literally walking around Australia pushing all her belongings (and her little white dog) in a cart. Talk about inspirational! She left from Byron Bay 6 months ago and is averaging 25km a day. Check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/onewomanwandering. I think travelling alone and on foot around this country takes bravery. I asked her what made her decide to walk and she told me that she’s never really liked people (or walking) but is now seeing the good side of the human race through her travels and is loving it.

After waving goodbye to Tracey, we kept heading west. The kids once again started whinging and fighting, so we stopped and set up camp at the back of the Prairie Pub. The pub was closed and whilst we were setting up we saw a man ride into town on a bicycle and sit out the front of the pub. I went to have a chat to him and found out he was from Japan and was riding his bicycle from Brisbane to the Northern Territory to look for farm work. His English wasn’t that strong and I tried to explain he could just set up camp and talk to the pub owners later, but I’m not sure he understood. Instead, he sat out the front of the pub until 5.30pm when the family who owned the pub returned and opened up. He then came to the camping area and pitched his tent. By this stage Dave had cooked us Bolognaise for dinner, so we invited the Japanese tourist to our campsite for a meal. He was very grateful. I told him I thought he was brave. Imagine coming to Australia with very little English and riding a bike thousands of kilometres to the desert to look for a job. Just amazing! These people make what we are doing seem like a walk in the park.

After dinner we went inside the pub for a drink and got talking to the lovely owners who were very friendly and hospitable. The pub was filled with interesting memorabilia and antiques, including mannequins having a drink at the bar and a room with a trampoline and toys for the kids. I even felt comfortable enough to breastfeed Nella whilst sitting at the bar. The owner joked that I couldn’t breastfeed in the pub and I laughed too and joked that I would post online and he’d get some lovely publicity from outraged mothers. We all had a good laugh and I realised I’ve never received a negative comment for breastfeeding in public. Hopefully I never will.

The past two days have brought us from the rainforest to the outback and what a difference that’s made. I’m sad that we won’t see the ocean for a few months, but excited about returning the desert and the characters we’ll meet along the way.

Days like today

  • Time: Monday, 25 April 2016 00:00

We’re having an awesome time. We’ve been camping at interesting places on the coast of Queensland. We’ve visited places we’ve never been before. We’ve been walking, swimming and exploring. I’ve had stalls at different markets and we’ve met lots of locals as well as other families travelling. We’ve had amazing days, and then we’ve had days like today.

We’ve spent this week camped at Yeppoon Showground. We intended on staying two nights which has quickly turned into five. Today began with Dave and I debating whether we should go to Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo, or whether we should spend the day exploring Byfield National Park. We eventually decided on the national park, but we’d spent so long debating where to go that by the time we were in the car it was almost lunchtime.

Byfield national park has two separate sections. Being that the kids were hungry, we decided to explore the Sandy Creek section which was the smallest but was the closest to us. On the map it looked as though we could drive out to one point via a 2WD accessible road, and then we could drive back on the beach. We figured we could have a picnic on the beach somewhere and driving on the sand would be fun.

I enlisted the help of Google maps and we headed out of town. The road turned to dirt and started to get potholed. The kids started to whinge that they were hungry. I offered them some fruit. We spotted our first crocodile warning sign. The road started to get bumpy and then it got even more bumpy. Suddenly we reached the end and in front of us was a few metres of sand and a choppy, menacing ocean. Dave stopped the car and suddenly Nella started crying. We both turned around to see her vomit banana all over herself and the car seat. Today we discovered that our one year old gets car sick on bumpy roads. Perhaps we won’t do as many four-wheel-driving adventures as we thought.

Dave jumped out of the car and looked at the beach before coming back to report that whilst there was one car down on the beach, it didn’t look like we could safely drive around the point and back along the beach. Neither of us thought to look at the tides before we headed off. With those plans thwarted, we cleaned Nella up with some baby wipes and turned around. Five minutes later and we realise that Nella had fallen asleep.

We drove until we found what looked like a beach access we could use to walk onto the beach. Once again Dave jumped out of the car and had a look. He returned to report that he could see cars on the beach that must’ve entered from the other end, but that there was no shade and it was very windy. I Googled how long it would take to drive to Byfield and the other end of the national park and since Nella was asleep, we decided to drive the 50 minutes there for a picnic and bushwalk. After about twenty minutes of driving, Dave pulled over because I was still feeling car sick. Of course, since the car had stopped, Nella woke up.

I sat in the passenger seat and breastfed her. Jarrah jumped out of the car to ‘look for treasure’, which on the side of the road usually means rubbish. Dave asked him to put his shoes on. It was then we realised that in our rush to leave camp we both had forgotten to put shoes on Jarrah. Whoops.

We certainly weren’t going to take a three year old bushwalking barefoot. So we all got back in the car, turned around and headed back to Yeppoon to have our picnic at a park beside the beach. We found somewhere to sit, got out the esky and Dave realised he had forgotten to pack plates. He made us sandwiches on the top of the esky and we ate our lunch. Jarrah had a play in the park then we showered Nella using the outdoor shower and put some clean clothes on her as by this stage she was covered in both vomit and lunch.

We then walked down onto the beach to look for some more interesting treasures. We explored the rock pools and found lots of cool shells. Jarrah found a crab claw and nothing major went wrong. We then stopped by the information centre and Shell museum before heading back to camp to chill out for a while.

I think tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo.

One Week in and we're still alive

  • Time: Monday, 29 February 2016 00:00

We’ve been on the road for just over a week and this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down at the computer and write. Our first week as a family of four, living on the road in a caravan, has been a bit of a whirlwind. We never got a chance to take the caravan for a test trip before we packed up our lives, so we’ve learnt how to use the caravan whilst travelling.

Our first four nights were spent in caravan parks in Western Sydney and on the Central Coast, saying goodbye to our families. We ate a lot of food, the kids had late nights and we celebrated Dianella’s first birthday not once but twice; once with Dave’s family and then again with mine. After leaving the Central Coast we drove to Mudgee, a country town in NSW where we used to live. We parked our caravan in a friend’s yard and then celebrated Dianella’s birthday again, with more cake. This time it was her actual birthday though. She must think that eating cake every day is the norm for a one year old.

Tree & Pixie debuted at the markets in Mudgee on Easter Saturday and boy was it busy! My new compact market set up worked out well, but I hadn’t made enough stock. I sold out of quite a few items and learnt that I need my set up to be compact, but not so compact that I run out of items and miss out on sales.

After Mudgee, we stayed a night at a friend’s place on their farm. We ate a lot of food, drank wine, played scrabble and the kids spent most of the time there running around naked and being totally feral. It was lovely.

Finally on Easter Monday we were on our own and headed bush. We camped out at Washpool Camping area in Towarri NP (near Scone, NSW). It felt so good to finally camp out in the bush instead of caravan parks and friend’s yards. As a family, we’ve done plenty of camping over the years but have never owned a caravan. Sleeping in the bush in a caravan felt like absolute luxury. We have a fridge, running water, hot water and electricity. I am so glad we chose a caravan and not a camper trailer.

As I write this, we are in a caravan park in Armidale NSW. It’s raining, the kids are asleep. We’re warm, and dry and incredibly happy with our new lives.

 

5 Challenges Planning Our Trip

  • Time: Wednesday, 16 March 2016 00:00

As our date of departure draws near, I have begun to reflect on the planning process that has occurred over the past two months. Everyone always wants to know how to plan such a big trip. They ask questions like: where do I begin? What needs to be done? How can we do it too? Whilst I am not going to answer those questions in this post, I will list 5 parts of the planning process I have found the most difficult.

 

  1. Caring for Children

Our children are young. Our eldest is 3 and our youngest is not quite 1. There is only so much self-directed play that can be expected of children so young. Planning such a big trip has taken a lot of work. One thing I found incredibly frustrating was the fact that I never got a chance to complete a job in one sitting. Every time I started to pack something, or organise something I would get interrupted. Nella would wake from her nap or Jarrah would ask me to play with him. I think it took me three days to pack 3 boxes in the kitchen! To add to my frustration, less than two weeks before our departure date both kids contracted a tummy bug and required extra attention and care. Everything takes longer with kids, and not just in the planning stage either. It’s good to remember that once we’re on the road, everything will still take longer with such young children. If Google maps says a drive will take 3 hours, I think I’m going to expect it to take 5 hours with kids!

 

  1. Paperwork & Phone Calls

When we decided to travel around Australia and I envisaged planning our trip, I always imagined purchasing the vehicle and caravan and packing everything. These are the exciting and tangible jobs. What I never really thought about was the stuff behind the scenes. I have spent hours and hours on the phone and internet over the past two months doing boring paperwork. I have spent my time organising car insurance, caravan insurance, contents insurance, transferring registration on vehicles, organising storage, Centrelink payments, applying to teach in different states (so I can work as a casual teacher on the road), disconnecting our internet and electricity, cancelling our lease etc. These jobs had to be done and I didn’t enjoy a single one.

 

  1. Deciding What to Pack

Whilst this part has been exciting, it has been difficult too. Our caravan only has so much space, and trying to decide what we should take with us and what can be left behind has been very challenging indeed. I’ve packed my own clothes 3 times and I still think I might have packed too many. We’ve never been caravanning before and have only been camping a handful of times since having children, so working out what we need is definitely going to be trial and error.

 

  1. Budget

We haven’t even left yet and we are way over budget. I am talking at least $10 000 over budget, which for low income earners like us is HUGE. I am the money manager of the family and I run a tight ship. My husband loves telling everyone how much more money we have, now that I manage our finances and I happen to agree with him. I pride myself on writing a bloody good budget. We sat down and wrote a budget when we first made the decision to travel and have revised it numerous times since, but expenses have kept popping up that we never even thought about and boy have they added up. Some of these include: vehicle and caravan modifications, car servicing, transfer of registration, mobile business overheads, roadside assistance and the list goes on. I am hoping that our on road budget will be more accurate than our planning budget.

 

  1. Time Constraints

Most people take a year to plan a trip like this. We took less than three months! We spent a few weeks looking for a caravan and as soon as we’d bought our van, we set a date to leave 2 months later. This has meant that much of our planning has been rushed and has meant that it has been more expensive. We haven’t always had the time to shop around for the best deal, and have even had to ask mechanics, caravan repairers and auto electricians to bump us up in the queue so that work can be done before we leave. We also ran out of time to do a test run in our caravan which means the day we leave our house for a year will be our first day travelling in a caravan. I think our first few weeks on the road will be a steep learning curve.