Ningaloo Reef

We departed Denham headed  for the famous Ningaloo Reef via the town of Exmouth – not that we had actually booked anywhere to stay, after perusing Camps Australia and determining that were five or six camping areas within the National Park area itself we decided that surely we would be able to find a site even during school holidays?  There had been mutterings from some of the grey nomads we had chit chatted with about having to get there first thing in the morning to wait for a site but I think we had forgotten that in between having the conversation and arriving (or completely forgotten which area they were talking about, after four months it was all starting to blend into one!)

So it was a bit of a rude shock driving into Exmouth to find a big board up on the outskirts stating the national park was full!  Mind you – so were all the caravan parks.  We were beginning to think parking on the side of the road might have to be an option (you aren’t supposed to but driving hours back or forward from Exmouth didn’t really appeal). So began the big caravan park ring around to find that two at least had overflow areas – now this is a new concept for us, not sure if it’s just a WA thing but we have discovered that the parks in these high traffic tourist areas reserve areas for folk like us that turn up in town without a clue that it’s school holidays and wonder why we can’t get a site.  I think it must be bad for tourism turning people away because they keep the overflow areas and the Lighthouse Caravan Park we checked into was only just finishing grading the new overflow area that afternoon and were even still waiting on council approval!

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Beachcombing

Anyway – crisis averted and a dirt pad is better than driving on – although it was really annoying to drive into the national park the next day and find that sites had become free! We even extended our stay here for another day, this is close to one of the most beautiful spots we had stayed so far with the clear green water, snorkelling, beach combing, massive clam shells to be collected and perfect weather.  The beach was a short walk across the road and over the dune and we spent a lot of time there while the husband attempted to catch fish – or I should say attempted to catch legal size fish as there were some throw backs!

 

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Treasure

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Beautiful Coral Bay

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Finding a Spot

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Coral Bay

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Beach Bums

 

We failed miserably at our attempts to teach our kids to snorkel however – they found the water too cold to wade in and try it at Coral Bay, where you can literally snorkel off the beach (but perhaps with a wet suit at this time of year?) We took a glass bottom boat tour out to the reef itself (after discovering the exorbitant cost of swimming with the whale sharks – unbelievable!) Where it was attempted to put the girls in the water with a pool noodle to snorkel – but this too ended miserably!  Admittedly there was quite a strong current so it wasn’t like we could just float along side them and teach some technique, it was all I could do to stay in one place while they got their snorkel and mask on – and the first mouthful of water pretty much stopped their snorkel escapade dead in tracks.  Oh well – two wet cold short people returned to the boat while the grown ups took turns snorkeling at least!  The fish and coral were beautiful, perhaps not as amazing as the Great Barrier Reef but the whole stop over in Ningaloo was a relaxing, sunny beach retreat.

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Snorkelling

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Great Southern Forests of WA

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I’m finally catching up on blog posts after a very lazy month (that included two weeks in Bali so that one is yet to come as well!) In the interest of catching up I’m lumping all of our time in the forest areas into one, as it was really just a case of wandering from one patch of really tall, old and beautiful trees to the other in this lush and ancient area 300 kms South of Perth. We started camping in the Shannon National Park and despite being a long weekend (maybe because it was a particularly freezing long weekend!) there was only a scattering of campers here. We loved it – there were fabulous hot showers, clean toilets and pre-cut fire wood (the ranger here needs a medal).  Nights were pitch black other than the one of those amazingly thick star fields above (which fascinated our city living kids) and so peaceful and quiet we all slept like the dead.

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From here we explored all the old growth Marri, Karri and Jarrah tree forests of Walpole, Pemberton and surrounds, finding what felt like secret circles of giant trees (the Karri grows up to 90 metres high!), buying local honey harvested from the aforementioned trees – which tasted like nothing you’ve ever bought in a store and generally  just wandering around feeling awe-struck. It’s not like I haven’t been in forests before, but to be surrounded by these absolute behemoths of trees in the complete silence of the wilderness was almost (almost!) a spiritual experience…until the five year olds emerged from the Prado and completely shattered the peace of course and then it became much more of a guided nature walk again.  As a quick aside, I think silence is the thing I miss the most since becoming a parent!

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Goodness

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Big Tree Grove

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Big Tree Grove

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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There were a couple of highlights from our forest sojourn… in particular the massive “fire tower” trees of the area that have previously been used as look out points to check for forest fires – complete with cabins built at the top of these 60+ metre high trees! Even more astounding is the fact tourists can climb three of these trees just for fun – using metal stakes driven into the trunks…yikes.  Despite being employed in safety I often think that public safety regulation has become a little ridiculous but it does seem brave of the WA government to encourage thousands of tourists to precariously climb a massive tree using nothing but footholds and with the odd bit of fencing wire for protection!  We watched with fascination as groups of tourists went up – and down – the same rungs and negotiated their way past each other  A sign advised there were a maximum number of climbers allowed at any one time but there didn’t appear to be any actual control on that.  Funnily enough one of our shorter family members was keen to get  climbing herself, despite the fact I had to ‘rescue’ her from the 2 metre high playground equipment the day before….that bright idea was quickly vetoed by the taller members of the family. We did let them climb a short distance for a photo opportunity – and of course to make all our friends on Facebook think we are totally irresponsible parents for letting our children climb ridiculously tall trees. I also had to exercise all of my social restraint after witnessing the groups of tourists blatantly feeding the wild birds (from a bag of bird seed – who carries bird seed around?) right in front of the “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign.  I’m sure the birdies were happy about it…but still….

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Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!

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Local Visitors

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Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it

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Putting it in Perspective

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Forest Moment!

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Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot

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Although not the hubby’s cup of tea, one of my favourite activities here was the “Understory” walk in Northcliffe, a winding walk through bushy forest populated by large outdoor artworks including sculptures, music and writing.  It was also one of the most peaceful – husband remained behind so there was no grumbling about the ridiculousness of art, the girls were given an iPod each so they could listen to children’s stories about the forest and its animals and plants and I was able to wander through reading the brochure about the artworks as I went and soaking up the atmosphere.  All three of us returned relaxed – although there was much giggling from the short ones about the little ‘people’ statues they discovered in the undergrowth!

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Understory Trail

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My Favourite

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Forest People!

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Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!

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Listening to the bush stories

 

As peaceful and beautiful as this area is pretty soon we had all had enough of tree watching and driving through forests – particularly as the next port of call was Margaret River and the red wine was already calling to us!

Bremer Bay and Millers Point – Serenity…

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After Hopetoun we decided to continue with the free camping theme, braving further bathing in our sink and use of the little foldup toilet seat that has become invaluable (especially for those short people only learning the art of the “bush wee”!) We found a little spot in the Camps Australia book called Millers Point, half an hour out of Bremer Bay and both of these places turned out to be absolutely stunning (I’m going to run out of descriptors if this beautiful scenery continues!)

Millers Point is actually a finger of land that juts out into the Beaufort Inlet West of Bremer Bay and is also a popular fishing spot based on the shacks setup there and the fisherman putting their boats in each night.  We arrived late in the afternoon on a dead calm day without a ripple on the glassy surface of the inlet in front of us or behind us.  We setup in record time and parked ourselves in the camp chairs to watch the inlet turn to orange, pink and finally royal blue as the sun set behind us.

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View from our campsite over Beaufort Inlet from Millers Point

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…and our view as the sun set….

 

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Sun setting behind us – you get the idea!

This was possibly the most perfect spot we had found to date in terms of camp setup – we were the sole occupiers of the camp ground, it was so quiet you could hear the surf breaking in the distance, the girls entertained themselves on the shores of the inlet, splashing and fossicking, we had a superb fire pit already established, wood was plentiful and the view – well, that was amazing.  In the morning we were entertained by these tiny little blue tailed birds that were fascinated by their own reflection in our car windows – although Craig was less than impressed with the bird poop on his 4WD!  I don’t think we had felt this relaxed since Coles Bay in Tasmania, not even the lack of a shower detracted from the absolute serenity of this camping spot.

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Chateau d’ InnsPlayground

 

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Foreground and background – beautiful 🙂

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My husband is a pyromaniac

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Marshmallows anyone?!

 

From this little hideaway we explored the nearby Bremer Bay, where once again we were gob-smacked by the gorgeous beaches. We could drive onto the main beach in town, a sweeping vista of white sand and green water (yet again!) and even the ‘fisherman’s beach’ where boats set out and local’s tried their luck at the jetty was a little gem of a blue green cove. Speaking of locals – this place was incredibly friendly, everyone went out of their way to help or advise travelers, especially the two gentleman in their boat who picked up our daughters ‘croc’ shoe that was sedately floating out into the harbor as we watched helplessly from the rocks!

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Jetty at Fisherman’s Beach Bremer Bay

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Fisherman’s Beach – apparently we aren’t fisherman!

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Main Beach in Bremer Bay – no words

 

Although Craig tried his hand with the fishing rod alas we were still fish-less by the end our stay, think the lack of boat may be seriously hampering his style – although it’s always fun trying (I guess). The up side of his fishing expeditions was the discovery of a beach just out of Bremer Bay only accessible by 4WD and with the deepest, softest most extensive dune system I’ve ever come across, it was like the Sahara.  Yet again we had the entire stretch of white sand to ourselves for the day and surprisingly for this far South in late May the day was warm and sunny – so all the girls (somewhat daringly) stripped down to underwear to romp around the sand dunes and soak up some Vitamin D. Needless to say clothes were within quick reach just in case some other intrepid fishermen decided to turn up in our little piece of heaven!

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Home away from the Chateau

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Hot enough for this!

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Beaches of WA – Sigh…

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..but no fish!!

 

 

We reluctantly headed off after three days in this glorious location, headed to Albany and probably yet more overwhelmingly incredible scenery – Western Australia I think I may be in love with you….

 

 

 

Hopetoun

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Hopetoun was a little footnote on our journey across the bottom of WA, where we free-camped for a couple of nights just of the town at 12 mile beach and built fires each night and played on what was almost our own private beach. We did venture into the sleepy little town of Hopetoun for coffee and phone/internet connection however the weather was behaving for us so we mostly played in our own front yard.

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Dancing Queens

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Just us for miles – 12 miles actually as this is 12 mile beach!

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Other direction – still nothing – random child though, who does she belong to?!

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No more fishing – time for a beer

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Layla decided to take a nap in Hopetoun itself (or at least pretend)

 

Hello Western Australia! Esperance

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After the Nullabor we were looking forward to a few days of ‘civilised’ camping and arriving in Esperance was our first taste of the Western Australian coast – and what a feast!  Living in Queensland you tend to think we have a monopoly on  beautiful beaches and incredibly colored waters –  Tasmania gave us pause with the beautiful beaches of Bay of Fires, however WA has now completely put paid to that misconception!  We had heard a lot about how beautiful the Southern end of this State is but seeing is believing.  From the beachfront where we watched an entire pod of dolphins (and a seal) play and catch fish to the nearby deserted beaches with four wheel drive access, white sand and blue-green water this place was devine.  On a personal note this is also the place our two little blossoms finally got their bike riding technique perfected and no longer need mum or dad to push start them of pick them up off the ground when they stop – huge relief!

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Esperance Beach Front

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Miles of Beach

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One of many little coves

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Heaven!

Esperance is also home to the famous ‘Pink Lake’ which I have read so much about, all the pictures I have seen feature this candy pink water which is apparently a combination of salinity and a particular algal growth (it took many years to actually discover this apparently).  However what I hadn’t read is the lake isn’t always pink! Unfortunately for us this is one of those times when it isn’t – there was a very very slight salmon tinge if you caught in the right light but alas that was all.

Venturing further out of town we also visited Cape Le Grand National Park, an area that seems to specialise in an array of stunning little coves, bays and beaches with the customary green water and white sand of the Whitsundays (but at this time of year, just a little colder!) We completed a little bushwalk through to a sheltered cover and admired all the local wildflowers and flora along the way – Sophia in particular has no desire to hike for exercise, she stops and examines every inch of the ground along the way.  Delightful from a naturist point of view but a tiny bit frustrating when you are actually trying to get somewhere the same day!

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Hellfire Bay – apparently they get “St Elmo’s” fire around here!

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Nature Girl

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Wattle in Bloom – love winter here!

The highlight of the day however was Lucky Bay – an incredible bite of white beach that we were able to drive around to find a nice quiet spot and romp around on the beach for a bit.  Tourist brochures always show kangaroos lazing around on the beach here and we did see one sun-seeker hopping around the edges! Temperatures weren’t really favourable for swimming but I did venture in up to my calves – momentarily. If this is the standard being set in Western Australia I am looking forward to seeing the rest of this State…

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

The Nullabor

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Driving across the Nullabor always seems like some magical mystery tour that all Australians should complete one day, like a rite of passage. The very name is part of Australian folk lore and it has always evoked images of desert, dust and aboriginal tribes in my mind. We initially considered shirking this rite of passage, looking at endless kilometers with bored children, however investigation into the cost of freighting the car and camper soon put those thoughts to rest! We decided to man-up and head for the border – sort of like Thelma and Louise but with a husband and two kids in tow instead – so nothing like them except in my imagination…sigh…

The launch point across the Nullabor crossing is Ceduna in South Australia, we arrived in the middle of a storm in the dark so decided to book into a cabin for the night to avoid setting up in the rain. Looking back I’m still convinced that our good friend Lisa telling us to “enjoy a night of luxury” via facebook was what jinxed us – the first indication of trouble at the cabin site was the fact they were all ATCO huts. This could have just been an aversion from years of staying in them for military purposes so we reserved judgement – until opening the door. I’m not a snob, I have no problem with budget accommodation as long as it’s clean and in good repair – this place was neither. At first it was just funny, like staying in the middle of an op shop – or maybe someones garage sale, but once we realised the extent of how grubby this place actually was it became slightly horrifying – almost as much as paying $110 when we could have been in our comparatively pristine camper. This did however make me realise how unpretentious children really are, there is no pre-conceived notion of standards with them – the girls thought the place wonderful as there were bunk beds and a deck out the front to sit on.

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We were out of there first thing in the morning with a great sense of relief – and no bed bug bites amazingly, and off across the plains. The reality of the Nullabor crossing was nothing like the images in my mind – instead of dust there was this rainy, wild vista with huge cloud formations on the horizon, stretches of blue along the Australian Bight and a lot of low shrubbery adorning the red dirt beneath. There were road houses and towns so fuel was never an issue and we met a bunch of lovely grey nomads who always seemed to be towing absolute behemoths of caravans for just two people and maybe a pooch.

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Did not expect pouring rain!

It was a bit frustrating at first not being able to see the coast line from the road – as soon as we came to a look-out area we pulled off to gawk at the Great Australian Bight for the first time. The look-out area had multiple warning signs, thorough fencing and a prominent cross to make sure everyone stayed away from the edge – apparently the cliffs around here are very prone to slippage. Once you glimpsed this coast line for the first time it was apparent why – there is nothing but sheer edges on this particular edge of our great Southern Land! Stunning though, reminded me of the great ocean road in Victoria but on a grander more threatening scale.

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Great Australian Bight

We spent our first night in the Nullarbor National Park free-camping 52 kilometres from the border and although it was possible to drive right to the cliffs to camp this spot had no fences and edging up to take a photo made my stomach contort in ways its just not supposed to. The thought of having our five year olds racing around there just about made my stomach revolt completely so we backed off closer to the road and safety where they entertained themselves thoroughly in the piles of road construction gravel and puddles (who knew that would be natures playground?!)

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The girls favourite gravel pile

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Muddy Puddle Fun

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Sunset over the Plains

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Watching the sun go down over the horizon with a glass of wine in hand atop our adjacent mound of gravel in the middle of nowhere – really felt that we were seeing how magnificent our backyard is. Although a little nervous about being in the middle of nowhere camped just off the main highway overnight there were plenty of other intrepid travellers doing the same thing and we made it through all three nights across the Plains – only incident we had was a couple of German back packers who turned up unexpectedly at our door one night to borrow our axe – that sorted of felt like the start of a bad story but Craig ended up going over and having a beer with them all later that night so clearly I have watched one too many horror stories! As beautiful as it was we were all very glad to get to Norseman and the end of three very long driving days – the girls were absolute troupers but enough was enough of endless miles of straight road..

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Sign Post at the Western Australia-South Australia border – long way from home!

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Setup on the Plains – Hitched up Still in Case of Quick Getaway!

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The Great Australian Bight – stunning!

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Close up View of Unprotected Cliff Edge – Yikes

 

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Deloraine, Mole Creek and Cradle Mountain

I think we left our run to Cradle Mountain a little late – by the time we arrived in this region it was freezing, rain was coming in sideways and any thoughts of hiking through this beautiful area had turned into camp fires and hot chocolate longings!  However – our first stop after Launceston was delightful, the little town of Deloraine – beautiful, quaint, featuring a meandering river with modern art on the banks and a supply of hippy types camping out on the sidewalks! I loved this spot, nestled in between mountain ranges with a melting pot of tourists, locals, hippies, overseas back-packers and picturesque scenery.

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Funky Art Work

Beautiful Deloraine

Beautiful Deloraine

Walking Path

Walking Path

Deloraine River Bank

Deloraine River Bank

Our camp site was about half an hour on from here at Mole Creek – an unfortunate name for a beautiful spot at the foot of Cradle Mountain. We had tried to book a powered site at Cradle Mountain itself however none were available – after freezing our butts off all over Tasmania we decided that no heater was a deal breaker so we booked at Mole Creek – this turned out to be a stroke of luck. The van site was right next to one of those crystal clear streams that should be in an english fairy tale but was reportedly inhabited by platypus – which weren’t sighted despite the girls searching high and low. The husband was delighted as camp fires weren’t only allowed but fire wood supplied AND we had power for a heater – funny what becomes nirvana after weeks of camping. Only draw back was the possibility we (as in Craig!) offended the lovely group of young french back-packers next door by putting on a terrible fake french accent. This was partly because I’m walking around repeating french phrases constantly as I learn and partly because he just can’t help himself – seems to think that putting “la” in front of everything and putting on a bad accent is the equivalent of knowing French!  Level of french affectation seemed to be proportional to the amount of red wine consumed around our camp fire so hopefully they were oblivious as well by that time of night.

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Best of all was this area had relatively clear weather compared to up the mountain so while we did venture up to the peak and wander around some of the child friendly tracks the constant rain and wind (avoiding the wombat poo at every step and turn) made us very happy not to be camping up the top! W

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What’s with the Weather?!

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Wonderland Walk at Cradle

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Cold!!!!

This was also the site of the girls fifth birthday celebrations so will always hold a special place in our memories of Tasmania.  The day was marked by lamington cake, balloons, small toys (emphasis on small) and exploring the local caves – the glow worms were a huge hit as was the point at which the guide turned out all the lights in the deepest darkest spot possible.

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Happy Birthday Littlest Campers

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Camper Party (it was raining)

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Making a Wish – hopefully not to go home!

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Celebrating in the Caves!

I do wish we had made Cradle a priority when we arrived, it’s a disappointment not to have completed some of the walks around this incredible area, however the husband has pledged to bring the girls back to do the overland track when they are old enough – there was no mention of taking me though, maybe he thinks I will be too old by then???!!!