In a sunburned country

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – This is the book we read before heading to Australia the first time and I can say with my absolute whole heart that Bill Bryson is by far my favourite Author.  I mean, if you like to laugh until you cry, which I happen to;).  He is clever and witty and writes from a place of love, humour and thorough research – A great combination, in my opinion.  

Here are a few quotes from his book that Nick and I feel describe Australia perfectly;

The People are immensely likable – cheerful, extrovert, quick witted, and unfailingly obliging.  Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water.  They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian.  The food is excellent.  The beer is cold.  The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Australians are very unfair in this way.  They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.

We are enjoying the last few days of our trip and I can confirm that all the things Bill Bryson wrote about 22 years ago still stands true today and for Nick and I, it’s been a pleasure reminiscing while seeking out our favourite spots and reconnecting with our legendary friends.  

Our kids are super sad that we are leaving, and I already know that they won’t forget this trip and all the friends they’ve made.  It’s such a joy to watch our kids fall in love with the place we love and become huge fans of exploring and traveling.  It’s always a crap shoot when you put your kids in new situations – Are they going to thrive or will we be picking them up off the sidewalk while they’re in melt down mode and asking to go home?  Lucky for us, this hasn’t been the case.

Nick ran a half marathon while at the beginning of the trip!  It was called the Bouddi Coastal Run and seemed chill enough (for him;), 21 kms with costal views.  What an opportunity to see some great sights all while doing something he loves.  I started to get a little concerned on the shuttle bus to the run when the people behind me were talking strategy on how to get through the elevation change and, did you know we have to run on the beach and what are you packing for nourishment?  Ummm, I didn’t know this and I’m sure Nick didn’t either.  We totally thought it was a straight up regular run and not a full on adventure race. Talk about feeling slightly unprepared as I’m looking at Nick, who’s drinking a coffee and hasn’t eaten breakfast (which is normal for him, even on race day) and I’m thinking…….good god, I’m glad It’s not me;).

The race starts and it is a FULL ON beach run for 2 km’s at the beginning and it’s not on lovely hard packed sand close to the water, nooooooooo it’s in the fluffy deep, it’s going to swallow me whole, kind of sand.  Bye Nick….see you soon??  

Jake and Lily were signed up for the kids 1km beach run so after Nick left, we prepared for their very competitive and ultra-intense race;)  Poor Lily had suffered a foot injury before we left, and she wasn’t feeling 100% plus she was just getting over the sniffles, but she was still game!  They lined up and away they went.  I was the cheer squad……until I wasn’t.  Lily made it about 300 meters, and I could tell she was hating her life and I couldn’t blame her, so I dropped my bag down and started running – Jeeze, had I only run 300m’s?  I was sweaty and my lungs were on fire and my feet were burning, haha.  Lil and I got through it, and I let her finish the last of the race by herself and everyone cheered so hard for her and Lil’s smile lit up the beach!!  It was worth all the sweat in the world!!  Jake thrives with anything physical and asked if he could run it again;)

The kiddies and I found a popsicle (side note, it’s called an icy pole here…. I’m still trying to dissect that;) and waited for dad.  Around the 2-hour mark, I got a text from Nick  – It’s slow going. No Prob!!  The kids and I made our selves useful and volunteered at the finish line.  The kids handed out medals to the finishers and I unpacked them all and reloaded the kids.  It turned out to be a great time. 

ALL the runners coming through the finish line looked like they were about to die, no joke, they were so sweaty, dehydrated and there was  a ton of cramping happening.  The last 2 kms of the race was back on the beach and the elevation gain was almost 800 meters.  I was starting to get worried as the time was slipping away and then suddenly, there he was!!  Jake handed him his medal and Nick was done!  Great Job babes!!!  Nick had a goal in mind, he wanted to finish in an hour and fifty minutes and was really struggling in the first 5 kms because he was frustrated with how slow he was moving but once he was able to drop the goal, he got out of his head and got to work.  Lot’s of stairs, lots of bounding up and down rooty trails and sand… much sand!!!  This wasn’t your typical run, that’s for sure!

No one could prepare me for the smell of the shuttle bus on the way back to town. The bus ride was also super sketchy, our driver was around 105 years old and had to maneuver our giant bus up the craziest, tightest switch back roads I’ve ever come across.  One time he missed a gear going up the hill and we started going backwards – eek!!  Poor Jake had to pee, like really really bad and we still had 20 minutes to go…. what do we do?  Jake peeded in his first bottle and I carried it home in my backpack.  Yep!!  We did that.  I’m sure the people around us were grateful that we didn’t add a nice fresh urine smell on top of the abundant sweat we were all sitting in.  He seemed proud of himself, and I was just jealous!!  How much time could we save on the road without all my bathroom breaks if I had a bottle as an option! 

The next week we spent exploring between Sydney and Brisbane with plenty of beach days and camping with kangaroos!!!!  There has been no shortage of wild cockatoos, bush turkeys and bilbi’s a.k.a. Bin dividers or my personal favourite, bin chickens.  I should clarify that the name is my fave, not the bird or any other bird for that matter!!  Birds are scary, there, I said it!!  I’m a total weenie when it comes to our feathered friends.  Right now it’s ‘swooping’ season!!  That’s right, magpies cannot wait until you turn your back on them and they use that opportunity to remove a chunk of your face!! 

Our first little hiccup of the trip came by way of a tire blowout on the highway!!  It was actually decently scary. We were traveling at 100kms an hour and this rig is as tippy as they come.  We only have a single wheel axel on the back (Nick’s words;).  The rear drivers tire blew and he handled the whole episode like a champ – remained calm and held this train steady and then limped us to a safe place on the highway.  The pop of the tire was SO loud and of course the kids were closest to the tire site and I just felt helpless but also had total confidence that Nick had it all under control.  

This is our second time experiencing a tire blow out and it’s incredible how much damage they can cause.  This time it ripped the door off one of the storage compartments, there was nothing left of the fender skirt, bent the rim and the tire was annihilated.  

Okay, game on, let’s get this tire changed and dealt with!  You can only really do this if the rental company supplies you with the right tools – Lesson of the day, double check the spare tire situation before you leave the rental place!  We called the road side assistance number that was provided and the call doesn’t go through.  We tried with our Aussie, US and Canadian Numbers and the call won’t connect:(. Next up, we call the rental company and the manager tries his to mitigate the situation But he’s working at a snails pace.  Apparently the road side number is down all across Australia but thankfully while we’re waiting an amazing man, who happens to be a mechanic, stops to help us and he has all the right tools!!  He lives close by and gets his daughter to deliver us 3 bags of fresh blackberries to help make our day better!!!  The kindness of strangers knows no limits.  To him, it was 30 mins out of his day but to us, he saved us hours and hours of sitting vulnerable with kids on the side of the highway.  We will always do our best to pay it forward! Next Stop, Byron Bay!

We had the best time meeting up with our friend Craig and his absolutely delightful wife Ashley in Runaway Bay (We love all the Bays but especially the ones with friends;).  We classed up their beautiful home by parking our obnoxious RV in their front driveway;). The time was spent catching up, ferrying, eating, more chatting, dolphin spotting, holding kitty’s against their will, witnessing schoolies and toolies in their natural habitat, pancakes and maple syrup, humbling origami, birthday sparklers, scotch tasting, didgeridoo(ing), took a trip down memory lane looking at old Coniki tour photos and of course, laughing!  A lot!

The time came where we had to move on and head toward Australia Zoo!!!  To say our day there was great would be the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.  Not many days are perfect but this one was, honestly! We splurged and booked a 5 hour tour and it was worth every dollar.  It was 33C and the Zoo is HUGE, no really, you have to take a shuttle bus to get to some of the sections.  Our tour included a covered golf cart, cold water, endless knowledge, a cuddle with a Koala (I almost cried), Roo Food and VIP seats to the Croc Show.  Everything at the Zoo is well done and very organized.  It’s the only Zoo we’ve been to where you know the animals are in the right place and are treated so very well.  Our guide was amazing with us but especially with the kids.  Jake and Lil are animal obsessed and had a couple hundred questions and she handled it all with patience and humour.  We finished the day with ice cream and coffee at the Zoo spray park.  It was a true highlight for us!

After we left the zoo, we were headed to our camper van park and we happened to pass the sign for Bli Bli, which is the town our friend Cory grew up in.  I sent him a message saying that we were passing his old stomping grounds and he immediately called me because he was in the area staying at a friends house and they insisted we come for a quick visit.  A quick visit turned into us parking at our new friends, Cyndi and Ben’s, house for the night;). It had been over 12 years since we had seen Cory and his partner Jess which was 12 years too long!!!  The house was packed with kids and commotion and it was perfect!  

When you’re travelling for a month, not everything can be great, no matter what our pictures look like.  This time the Universe lined it up all in one day for us – Here’s a breakdown.

We may or may not have woken up having only 5 hours sleep thanks to our old and new friends;)  We say goodbye and head off to hit up a suggested fruit stand, which turned out to be great by the way!!  While we were driving up the steep hill into the store, a case of coke zero toppled over and a can just happened to explode and spray ALL over the entire motorhome.  The kids were covered, the roof was covered, the floor was covered, the cupboards were covered, well you get the point – what a mess!!  It’s cool, be cool (I don’t know if you’re aware but I’m naturally NOT cool;)!!  Let’s use this as an opportunity to give the house a good cleaning – and the kids.  Everyone and everything got a wipe down! 

We go in and get Allllll the fruit and veggies.  It was awesome and worth the impromptu deep cleaning of the RV.

The open road is calling so we get on the main highway and end up missing our turn off twice because of construction so we decided to just take a breath and break and fill up with fuel.  Nick does his thing, while I get snacks ready for the kids.  Suddenly, Nick looks the MOST freaked out yet weirdly calm as he realizes that he is filling up the RV with Gas and not Diesel.  Big BIG BIIIIIGGGGGG Problem apparently.  I’m not an expert (and its obvious by my next statement) but can’t we just top it off with some diesel and call it done?  I didn’t suggest this at the time though, I was reading the room and it was apparent that it was best for Nick to handle this on his own;)

Lucky for us, apparently over 500 people in Brisbane alone, do this every month and they have dedicated businesses that can rescue you!!  Unlike in Canada, the diesel hand pump is directly located next to the gas pumps.  3 hours later and an unmentioned amount of money, we are ready to go.  It was a hot day and we couldn’t turn on the RV while we waited so we did our best not to melt into puddles! Bring on the air conditioning.

On the road again!  We had a rough plan of where we wanted to end up but so many RV parks on the coast were booked up so we decided to head inland a bit and used a great camping app called Wikicamps and found a campground with excellent reviews and was apparently by a mountain so we headed in that direction.  Little did we know that the road we were driving down was 45 km’s of on and off gravel!  Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but this rig of ours is loud enough on the highway but on gravel, your brain rattles and good luck keeping your fillings in…..or specifically, the microwave from coming loose and crushing one of the kids.  It was dusk and I spent most of the ride, in the back holding on to said microwave and making sure the whole place didn’t fall apart.  Not to worry, we were moving as slow as possible which also timed things perfectly so that we showed up to our RV Park in the dark.

Turns out a name might not describe a place perfectly!!  The town was Mount Perry.  Now I know that we have quite a skewed idea of what a mountain should look like but after the day we had, we were able to have a good laugh at the spot we ended up in.  It was a little cutie mountain in the middle of absolute no where.  Great news though, when we woke up and discovered our FLAT tire, we were across the street from a tire shop.  Lucky!!!  Yes, another tire bit the dust but thankfully the rim was totally fine and we were able to borrow a portable air compressor and pump the tire up and drive to the shop.  The man who lent us the pump told us that his Laziness knows no bounds and that we should always try to remember the same when trying to solve a problem!  Great advice if you ask me!

We ended up spending a couple nights out there, caught up on laundry, played at the park and drank expensive café coffee and dodged swooping magpies.  Honestly,  coffee here is amazing BUT they don’t have regular drip coffee so if you want a black coffee, you have to order a Long Black which is like an Americano which is basically the same price as a Latte.  

Interesting Fact, Starbucks has tried to infiltrate Australia but as a country they were like, get outta here!!  There are really only 2 locations on the east coast but there’s a café on almost every corner.  Its actually overwhelming how many coffee shops there are but they all have great drinks and have all the milk options this family requires……which is saying something.

This just grazes the surface of the first part of our trip.  I can’t tell you how much I personally needed this holiday and how much its all meant to me.  I think when you become a mom, a part of yourself gets put on hold.  Not that we mind but it takes a bit to find your way back.  Travel was a big part of my identity even before Nick and experiencing it again after the kids and after Covid lockdowns has revived and inspired me.   

I look forward to filling you in on the rest of this lovely holiday!  Big Hugs from The Willards

2 thoughts on “In a sunburned country

  1. So happy for you guys, your kids will never forget the real life experiences that can never be taught in school, but neither will you folks. We always look forward and enjoy reading your posts.
    Thanks for sharing .


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