Over the Harbour Bridge to the north beaches of Sydney, staying in Collaroy Beach at the YHA. We were one of about 4 families there -- three sets on holiday, one set apparently evicted from their home because of parental drug problems (everyone knows your story quickly), and the usual wide ranging crowd of the young partiers to the older travellers. The last time I stayed in Sydney, I was quite disgruntled with the Brit party crowd -- everyone stuck together, everyone went to the same bars, and everyone drank together. Period. No more, no less. Oh, some of them smoked too while they drank, but that was it. There was a crowd like that at this hostel, but generally were respectful of the 10 a.m. curfew on the balcony and then left to hit the pubs. There were enough other real travellers to balance the effects. We met some wonderful and intriguing Aussies, living away from home for a variety of reasons -- jobs, escaping a bad social experience related to drugs, moving on to new opportunities, everyone was open and friendly. This was a new experience for our kids, and they enjoyed it. Our family was all crammed into one room -- a bit cozy -- but it can be done, especially because of the bigger lounge areas, outdoor deck and pool, and the communal kitchen. On the recommendation of Drew, who was working on his application for the Australian navy, we visited the big national park in the region, Ku-ring-gai Chase.
We also spent a day at Collaroy Beach playing in the salt water pool and the waves, took a Sydney Harbour ferry from Manly Beach to Sydney Harbour, and drove out 4 days later. Not enough time, by half. Sydney is a beautiful city, with coves, harbours, hills and mountains, salt marshes, surfing beaches, and yes, Nicole Kidman, who was visiting her big estate in the southern suburbs for the Easter holiday as we were breathlessly informed every day in the newspaper. The Easter Bunny managed to find us at the Collaroy Beach Hostel, of all places, but we didn't see Ms Kidman anywhere.
Our trip north took us to a sweet little beach town called Forster and we had a great 2 days playing in the surf under the watchful eyes of the Forster Lifesaving Club members. Thank god for them, because the waves were huge. They also had a huge saltwater pool, so at times we were in there and at times in the waves. We learned how to dive into the rollers so we wouldn't get pummelled, but I actually got nervous in the afternoon as the tide started coming in and the size of the waves increased. Then, realizing we weren't going to make it up to Brisbane AND get back in time for school to start, we headed back south, to drive around the coast of NSW and into Victoria.
We did make a few stops on the way south -- to visit local highlights, such as the Australia Rock; to go to a pottery and studio in an old church in the town of Mogo. To find out, by chance, about a $4 lunch special at the Tomakin Social Club. Of course we went! That was a great deal, and they also served amazingly great coffee. The meal is a lure for people to come and play the pokies, but we were more interested in the food they had to offer as it was lunch time and we were hungry. (The casinos are privately owned, with no government "interference", other than approval for licenses. This has created some mega personal fortunes for the business people who invest in the casino.) We stayed in Ulladulla and Eden. Eden is home to a Killer Whale Museum, and we spent some time there learning about the whaling industry, the changes in policy related to whale hunting, how local killer whales (orca) worked in pods to herd the larger baleen whales into the harbour so the whalers could have easier access for the kill. The local Aboriginal community told stories dating back to pre-European contact of this practice, and they then taught it to the European whalers who settled in the area. Old Tom, the best known of the killers, lived to 1930, and there were older residents who remember seeing him and seeing him work. As an aside, you can imagine how much fun Nicole, Gabe and Kai had with the name "Old Tom"!
We made it home safely, driving from Eden to the Dandenongs in one day. A pit stop at a road side toilet near Warragul, in the dark, scared the dickens out of us. It seemed a long way off the highway, but we all needed to stop, so we proceeded. No street lights. Very little signage. The actual toilet building had one light, and there was a gravel parking lot with a motor home parked in it beside the "No overnight parking" sign. The building was barren, cold, and everything was scrawled with graffiti. A few cars drove up, turned their lights out. We were creeped out. I'm guessing there was some drug dealing happening, so we highlighted it out of there. On to our home in Ferny Creek. A long drive, but we were glad to unpack, get into our own beds, and change our mindset back toward school and seeing friends.