We haven’t quite hit the one month point of our travels which means we’re still finding our feet. Social media is usually filled with the positives: beautiful holiday pics, posts about how wonderful everything is, how wonderful we are, how the sun is shining out of our arses. We tend to only share the good things. We don’t want people to know when we’re struggling. Well, here is my little reality check. Travelling Australia with two kids under four is tough. Really bloody tough.
I’ll qualify this by explaining that I am enjoying myself. I’m pretty sure my husband is enjoying himself. The kids are enjoying themselves. They’re adapting and changing and it’s magical to watch. In less than four weeks, Jarrah has turned from a kid who was shy in new situations to one who will talk to everyone and I mean EVERYONE. He will talk to every single person who walks through our campsite, or visits my market stall, or looks at him walking down the street. Nella is having a great time exploring the world and she is sleeping better than she has in months. I don’t regret our decision and I definitely don’t want to head back home. But, I never realised how tough it would be to live in a caravan with two little people.
Before we left I had plenty of people tell me it would be hard. Some people were jealous of our adventures but most people said they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. I didn’t really pay them much heed. I’d camped before, plenty of times. I see myself as a pretty competent parent. Prior to our departure, I’d just spent six months looking after my children, helping run a community organisation AND running my own business. How hard could living in a caravan with two kids be? Pretty hard apparently.
So we’d camped plenty of times before. In a ute or a tent. This time we’d have a caravan. We’d be living in luxury compared to the kind of camping we were used to. What I hadn’t thought about was that most of our camping experience was pre-children. How many times had we been camping with Jarrah? Maybe four or five. How many times had we been camping with TWO kids? ONCE. Yep, we were really experienced. Ha.
So I suppose you’re wondering what exactly I’m finding tough. Firstly, I’m exhausted. Truly, deeply inside my very being exhausted. For some reason I imagined this trip as a relaxing holiday. What I forgot was that holidays with children aren’t really all that relaxing. They’re fun, but certainly not relaxing. With small children there’s always jobs to be done. Bathing, washing clothes, changing nappies, cooking, packing snacks and so on. These tasks all take longer when camping. You have to walk to the shower block to bathe the kids, or fill a bucket with water and dunk them in it. You have to cook a nutritious and tasty dinner in a small space with less equipment, you have to use buckets to fill your twin tub washing machine and complete three different steps to wash, rinse and spin the clothes. All of this is done on top of packing down camp and setting it back up again once or twice a week alongside finding time to sightsee, drive from place to place, take the kids to playgroups and run a handmade business. No wonder I’m tired!
The second thing I’m finding tough is always being in a state of high alert. You can’t really let your guard down in a new place with a one year old and a three year old. When you have a house, you can childproof it. Of course you still need to supervise your children, but you can duck to the toilet without worrying too much about what will happen. When you’re camping, there’s no way to childproof the great outdoors. From Nella eating rocks, to Jarrah playing on a riverbank, the kids need to be watched 24/7. Sure, we could lock them inside the caravan but a caravan is a pretty small space and even our one year old has worked out how to unlock the caravan door. Every time we lock her in she thinks it’s a game and unlocks it and falls two steps out onto grass. This is accompanied by howling. One year olds come up with the best games, right?
Whilst I type this Dave and Jarrah are at Bunnings looking at gates and pet fences. We’re trying to find a way to create a transportable and safe outdoor play space for the kids so we can spend less time chasing after them and more time relaxing.
Whether we find a solution or not, I’m happy. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. Dave and I are getting along better than we have in months. Every single day we’re meeting new people and seeing new things. This children are growing and learning at an increased rate. Despite the challenges and exhaustion it’s worth it. The most enjoyable things are often the most challenging too.
After a weekend of back to back markets in Northern NSW (both of which didn’t amount to many sales) we crossed the border into Queensland. We decided to avoid the Gold Coast as it’s busy, expensive and there isn’t much there we’re interested in seeing. We entered Queensland slightly inland at Natural Bridge. We would have stopped for a photo as we crossed the border, but both kids were sound asleep in the car and as any parent knows, you don’t stop the car when the kids are sleeping.
After consulting Wikicamps, we decided to camp at Canungra Showground. Dave has wanted to explore Lamington NP since he did a school project on the place when he was a kid. Canungra seemed like a good base for a rainforest expedition. The Showground had great facilities (I’ll go into more detail about camping at Showgrounds in another blog post) and was on Canungra creek, which was great to swim in with shallow spots for the kids and deeper pools for us.
We drove out to the Green Mountain section of Lamington National Park the next morning and boy was it an interesting drive. The road was steep and winding with plenty of one way sections. This is pretty common for mountain roads, but you couldn’t actually see to the end of some of the sections in order to see if a car was coming. We even had to dodge cattle and wallabies too. Thankfully, at 9:30am on a Monday morning, the road was fairly quiet. A drive that looked quite short on the map (I think Google maps quoted 35mins) actually took us an hour.
We stopped at a lookout at the top and the view was well worth the climb. At the end of the road we found O’Reilly’s guesthouse as well as a national parks visitor centre and the beginning of numerous bushwalks. After reading the signs we asked a National Parks officer for some advice on which walks were suitable and which would be too difficult for a three year old to do. We were informed that the signs were indeed being overly cautious and we that we shouldn’t have any trouble completing a Grade 4 walk (rated as difficult). We were told that they had to put up warnings as they get the “Gold Coast Brigade up here with their high heels” with no idea about bushwalking. Ha!
It was suggested that we complete the Rainforest Return (1.4km), have some lunch in the café at O’Reilly’s guesthouse, and then complete either the Moran’s Falls Walk (4.4km) or the Python Rock track (3.1km). We chose the more difficult of the two walks.
The Rainforest Return walk began with a meander on a boardwalk through the rainforest where we saw plenty of birdlife. We then turned off the path and entered the Tree Top Walk; a raised boardwalk above the canopy of the rainforest. Built in 1987, it was the first Tree Top Walk in the world and certainly looked it’s age. Jarrah referred to it as the ‘wobbly bridge’ and was a bit scared until he saw the amazing view. At one point there was a ladder which disappeared 30m up into a tree to a small viewing platform. Dave climbed the ladder to take in the view whilst I remained below with the children.
After the walk we had lunch in the café which, as expected, was very expensive. We just shared some toasted sandwiches and hot chips which fed us for under $30. The view from the cafe was absolutely lovely.
We then drove 1km back down the road to the beginning of the Moran’s Falls walk. The walk wound down through the rainforest until we reached a lookout over Moran’s Falls which were pretty spectacular. We headed a little further and reached another lookout, this time over the valley and mountains. This was the turnaround point so we stopped for a snack. By this point Jarrah was too tired to walk back up. He’d done pretty well, for a three year old, to get that far without complaint. I had worn Nella in my wrap the entire morning so I opted to wear Jarrah on my back in the ergo. Dave wore Nella in the wrap on his front and the backpack and I hauled 17kg of pre-schooler on my back. By the time we had walked the 2.1km back to the carpark we were both hot and sweaty. It was certainly a great work out.
We arrived back at camp exhausted but happy. Lamington National Park was stunning and we managed to complete two bushwalks in one day with a one year old and three year old in tow. Success.