Coral Bay and its all important playground

There is a choice of two caravan parks in Coral Bay. By choosing the one with the playground, we are forced to make do with a non-powered site for the first night, then pack up the next morning, hitch up, check out, park outside, wait 2 hours, then check back in again, unhitch, unpack, to get a powered site for the second night. (All important since our next stop is the bush for at least a week and we need time to charge up our many devices...)

But the effort is worth it to see the kids frolic on the monkey bars and swings. So frolic they must. Continuously. No arguments about it. When? Now! Why? Don't argue! Yes, at Coral Bay all three Bihary offspring are on strictly enforced playground duty 24-7 unless we head to the beach.

Which is, of course, the only other thing to do around here and its a good thing at that! The weather is hot, the water sublime, the coral in reach, and the fish friendly. We snorkel, we swim and we hitch a ride on a glass-bottom boat. Budge and Jack prove themselves to be the snorkle kings, with Rikki still somewhat apprehensive (prefering to piggyback on daddy rather than go the full submerge) and Benji happiest cavorting back on the sand. Then, as rains sweep in, we hustle up our playground prisoners and move on.

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn en route to Coral Bay, with our own Capricorn Budge (DOB Jan 16) marking the spot. When explaining to the kids that the other Tropic on the globe is Cancer, we realise that's Sam's starsign (DOB July 21), which makes the Samantha and Darren union even more special.... Until now, we only had the Bewitched reference to giggle over.
Wading through the shallows to board our boat ride, the fish around our ankles. It goes without saying that the views beneath the sea when snorkeling were FAR more impressive than anything that can be conveyed here, but without an underwater camera we'll need to commit those to memory.  
Peering down in the glass bottom boat, elegant toes of Rikki and Sam in the foreground, shaggy heads of Benji and Jack (alongside dad) across the way. Another glimpse of the underwater wonderland - but again, a poor cousin to snorkelling it oneself.

Carnarvon Oasis

Springing up from within the dry dusty outback is Carnarvon, a lush oasis of tropical plants and fruit and vegetable plantations on the banks of the underground Gascoyne River. During our three days here we tour one (and learn the ins and outs of growing bananas, grapes and mangoes), shop our way through a few more, invest in a juicer (but of course!), and sample all manner of frozen and dehydrated organic delights. With temps in the high 20s, there's also time for a spot of swimming back at the caravan park, some fishing (with success), and an opportunity to unpack our mattresses, pillows, sheets and doonas and give them a well-earned airing. We leave a little more tanned, a little more sated and with a fridge filled to capacity with frozen mango.

Another terribly long jetty but this one at least delivers... Budge reels in a mulloway big enough to keep. Rikki is so proud of her dad she sprints ahead with fish in bucket in hand - regaling every passer by with news of our catch.
A buncha monkeys with a buncha bananas. (Interestingly each tree produces just one bunch.)
Choc covered frozen bananas. Almost as good as the choc covered frozen strawbs. Or the dehydrated banana straps. Or the sundried mango. Or the mango icecream popsicles. So much fruit... and luckily, so much time.  

Shells, Surf and Spa

Another Shark Bay highlight is Shell Beach, an expansive beach comprised of tiny white coquina shells instead of sand. We make shell castles, we write our names in the shells, and we find out that whilst shells don’t get in the eyes like sand does, they are pretty adept at getting into one’s undies. It’s then onto Nanga Bay overnight. Just enough time for some beach surfing and another hot spa (though nowhere near the fabulous 40 degrees).

Shell Beach Shenanigans.
More Shell Beach Shenanigans.
Down at Nanga Beach... and we can't resist the opportunity to write our names in the sand, again, in shells.
Jack asks to race our car back to the caravan park at Nanga Bay. He's not bluffing either. Testosterone alert!

Morning at Monkey Mia

We’re not accustomed to setting an alarm but set one we do – and for 7am no less – to ensure we’re on the beach at Monkey Mia by 7:45 for the first dolphin feeding of the day. We need not have hurried, because these days the dolphins are temperamental and we wait until about 8:45 before six of them grace us with their presence. It is, however, well worth the wait. As we stand knee deep in water, they swim back and forth past our legs, so close we could touch them (but this is, of course, not allowed). Then comes time for the keepers to feed them, and our kids are chosen from the crowd to help. Naches, again. You betcha.
Lined up to greet the dolphins. Indianna Budge is asplendant in his new leather hat.
The sight of friendly fins approaching. 
Real live dolphins. So - so - so - so very close.
Brekkie time with three excited assistants.

Hot Tubs n’ Hot Dogs in Denham

Our caravan is back, our spirits are high and Shark Bay beckons. First stop, Denham – the western most town in Australia, neighbour to the famous Monkey Mia and with some charming treasures all of its own. At the Ocean Park Acquarium we have a guided tour of the tanks filled with rays, sharks, squid, turtles and fish of all shapes, colours and sizes – we watch them being hand fed and bombard the guide with our questions. At Eagle Bluff we follow the boardwalk out over the water to spot the same sea creatures in the wild – but one lonesome stingray and a few shy dolphins is the best we can do. At the Peron Homestead we are captivated by the preserved shearing shed, shearer’s quarters and stockyards: re-living life on a sheep station a century ago. Most exhilarating of all is the Peron Homestead artesian bore hot tub – forty fabulous degrees and the bath we have all been waiting for. Lightheadedness be damned, we stay immersed for ages, before shuffling our bright pink, wrinkled little bodies across to the BBQ for a hot dog picnic. Heaven.
Budge cracks everyone up as he demonstrates how to shear a sheep in the Peron Homestead shearing shed, using our own three little lambs.
Feeding the sharks at Ocean Park Acquarium.
Hot Tub Heaven.

Hanging out with Princess Shirley

Heading back to Geraldton we leave Australia, travel to a foreign land, then return to our shores again. All in the space of one and three quarter hours. Hutt River Province is a legal quirk, a farmstead that ceded from Australia in the early 1970s to avoid a tricky taxation scheme, and now stands alone as a completely independent, self-sufficient principality. Everything about the place is surreal, from the story of its creation to its currency and postage stamps to its living royal family. It is a hoot and we soak it up, even if the kids are disappointed that Princess Shirley is not wearing her tiara on the day we visit.

Copping a wink with Prince Leonard.
Having our photo taken with Princess Shirley. The kids are excited about that, but even more excited about the cans of Creamy Soda that they have been allowed to buy. After all, you can't visit a foreign land without partaking in some local food that you're not allowed to have back home.
Budge deep in conversation with her royal highness Princess Shirley, after we complete our tour of the Principality, including post office, chapel and souvenir shop. The official flag of Hutt River flies at full mast.

The Amazing Jam Sandwich

From about the 2km mark on the Murchison River Gorge hike, Jack let us know he was hungry. Then he started talking about all the foods he wished he could eat. Then he started looking for any sort of food along the trail. THEN he found a jam sandwich. None of us believed him, we were too exhausted to even turn around to look – but he insisted… and blow us down, he was holding a rock that had us all fooled. Yes indeed, you CAN manifest anything with your mind.

Our hardest hike, ever!

The hike around the Murchison River Gorge in Kalbarri National Park is 8 kilometres long. It winds across steep cliff tops, before descending into the valley, weaving alongside the river then ascending up again. There is next to no shade, lots of scrambling, and great chunks of trail that appear too steep/ slippery/ dodgy/ dangerous were it not the for marker up ahead signalling “yes, this IS the right way”. For reasons that still elude us, we embarked on the walk rather casually, packing minimal food, avoiding any pep talk preamble and fully expecting to knock it off in a few hours and head back for an afternoon of canoeing.
Lessons. Lessons. Lessons.
The important thing is, we completed it. It took its pound of flesh and will henceforth be the benchmark for any future hikes – overtaking our previous best, Bluff Knoll. Needless to say, canoeing did not get a look see that afternoon.

The gang, gung ho, about to set off.
Peering into the Gorge through "Nature's Window".
Deep in the Gorge. Four Biharys and an impressive anthill.
Alongside the Murchison River. We're about 3km into the hike and its only a short time later that Benji waves the white flag and climbs aboard Budge's shoulders, where he remains for the subsequent 5km.

Holiday time in Kalbarri

Kalbarri is about 2 hours from Geraldton and about 2 (wonderful) degrees warmer… we are surrounded by tropical palms, staying in a cabin and it completely feels as though we are on a holiday. And it’s an eventful holiday at that.
• When fishing off the pier Benji manages to get a bite. Unfortunately it happens when we reel in a fish too small to keep, and Benji picks it up to toss it back in – only to have it bite him, hard, on the hand.
• Leaving her challah dough to rise in the sun, Sam gets it to rise to almost triple its size, the best result to date. Sadly her efforts are in vain because it is only then that we discover our cabin, in fact, has no oven to speak of. (Subsequent attempts to boil the challah along with some bagels are a resounding failure).
• Budge outdoes himself in the kitchen not once but twice – firstly by converting 4 chicken thighs into a staggering 49 nuggets, then by turning a simple broccoli and rice dish into a stirfry masterpiece that convinces the kids that they CAN enjoy a meal that is meatless AND includes onion.
• Budge outdoes himself again when we decide on a whim to drive onto a beach for a spot of R&R… and promptly find ourselves bogged. So it’s R&R for everyone except our man of the moment, who instead gets busy letting the tyres down, driving the car out to firmer ground, then pumping each tyre up all over again. No rest for the wicked…
• No sunbaked holiday is complete without the obligatory “non-stop-rain-for-the-entire-day” day and ours comes on our forth day in town. But with the novelty and spaciousness of two bedrooms plus living area available, sleeping bags on hand to prompt all sorts of play ideas, and the saving grace of a laptop well stocked with downloaded movies - nothing is going to rain on our parade!
• Our daily drives and walks along the coast take us to countless lookouts with superb panoramas atop sea cliffs layered with the famous Tumblagooda sandstone (“remember kids, that’s tumbler like rolling on the ground and gouda like the cheese”). Emboldened and inspired, we tackle the gorge walk in Kalbarri National Park – 8 kilometres long and pitched as a 3 hour exercise. We complete it in just under five. It is without question the most gruelling thing we have done to date.
All holidays must come to an end so we swap shorts for pants and dig out our hoodies. It is high time we collected our beloved and much missed caravan.

Plenty of time to play while daddy unbogs the car.
Amazingly our bogging on the beach happens at the mouth of the Whitecarra Creek, site of what is believed to be the first permanant landing of white men in Australia in 1629 - castaways from the Batavia shipwreck (our all time favourite seafaring tale).   
Sprinting off on the Mushroom Rock coastal trail. The kids grizzle about going but concede quickly that it's a beauty, what with crab spotting and lots and lots of scrambling. In hindsight, it's their enthusiam on this walk (1.5km) that encourages us to tackle the National Park Gorge walk (8km).  Hmm, the logic stacked up at the time.
B-Man at the Z-Bend lookout.

Gigantic-ish Geraldton

Our two bedroom cabin in Geraldton's caravan park feels ENORMOUS and it takes some time to adjust to the novelty of having our own bathroom - inside! - and needing to take a good 4-5 steps to get from the sink to the kitchen table. The city itself is also on the big side, but we tick all the tourist boxes quickly (Museum - check. Fisherman's Wharf - check. HMAS Sydney Memorial - check. Harbourside playground, Fruit & Veg superstore, every camping store in town. Check check check). After a few days in Geraldton we have cabin fever... literally - so we jump in the car (which feels eerily light) and head to the sunnier shores of Kalbarri.

At the memorial for the HMAS Sydney navel vessel. The dome is made up of 641 seagulls representing the sailors lost at sea. The kids gaze skyward as Budge points to the pillar that marks the longitude and latitude of where the ship was finally located.

Turbulence Strikes!!

After an overnight stopover in Dongara (nothing to see folks... move along, move along...) we set off early in the morning for Geraldton with big plans. Thirty kilometres shy of our destination a tyre flies off the caravan and our plans fly out the window. The caravan needs to go in for substantial repairs, we need to downsize our life yet again so that we can fit what we need into just the car - and it looks like it will be cabin n' motel accomodation for us for the next week, at least.

The damage up close. The tow guy informs us that he was called out to a similar incident a week ago, but instead of the tyre shooting out and across the road (as ours did), it shot up through the body of the caravan and ripped the whole side apart. So it seems, in the scheme of things, we got off lightly. That, and the fact that it all happened near enough to Geraldton, a city with not one, but two, caravan repair shops to choose from.... as opposed to, say, the Nullarbor.
Benji is transfixed watching the van being hitched up onto the tow truck. His siblings are transfixed on the DVD movie we have put on for them in the car... one of many in what quickly becomes known as the "great movie marathon day".
Every day we set off somewhere in the car, Benji, without fail, has asked "Is our caravan behind us?" Today, as we trail the tow truck, we can answer for the first time "no dude, it's in front".

Pinnicle Playground

The Pinnicles. Plentiful. Proud. Powerful.... Perfection.



Sandy Cape

With the Foundation Day long weekend bearing down upon us, we opt for an extended stint of camping at the picturesque Sandy Cape. Getting in early gives us the pick of the sites, and we position ourselves alongside a giant tree, whose branches provide great climbing and rope swinging entertainment, and within a coo-ee from the beach, whose sandy dunes keep the kids busy for hours on end - even more so after we buy our own sandboard from the local surf shop and toss them some Shabbat candles to keep it well waxed. Mix in some day trips - fishing, four wheel driving, cave exploring and the legendary Pinnicles - add some long lazy afternoons curled up with novels and suduko (while the kids are but silent specks on the sandy horizon...) and its a wonderful re-entry to life in the great outdoors.

Jack proves that Budge ain't the only builder in the family, working diligently over an afternoon to construct a remarkably resiliant teepee from twigs. The local ranger is so impressed with his construction he stops by to sing the boy's praises and even take his own digital snaps.
Brekkie pikelets a'la Budge. Minutes later our new friend Jasmine from the caravan across the way comes by to share with us a plate of her mum's freshly cooked... you guessed it - pikelets. Must've been something in the water...
About to enter the deep dark cave at Stockyard Gully National Park, torches in hand. Unlike the caves we've explored already, this one is the uncut, unplugged version - which means a 100 metre or so journey into complete pitch blackness. Very fun!
Atop the beloved dunes, babysitter extraordinairre.

Go Saints!

St Kilda versus Fremantle at Subiaco. Perfect weather. Perfect company. Perfect score: Saints 102, Dockers 56. Go Saints!!

The Biharys head to Subiaco with Cam, Caro and Cam's folks to see St Kilda romp it in. It was always a long stretch to get Sam to a game, so no one is surprised when she chucks a sickie and forfeits her ticket. 
Seats are right behind the goals. The kids are co-opted into the cheer squad and get flags to wave and badges to wear. Their dad gets much naches. 

Frolicking in Fremantle

One week in Perth. Much accomplished.

* Car and caravan put in for service, then cleaned at home from top to tail. They look brand new. Nothing that a day back on the road won't completely undo in a hurry...
* Biharys put in for service too - haircuts for all, long baths for the kids, the dentist for Budge. Again, nothing that a day back on the road...
* City explored - and voted our new favourite capital city in Oz. So much to love: the Swan River (and it's dolphins!), the views, the beaches, the humid weather, and the enormous, engaging Kings Park.
* Reunited with our neighbours from home (O'Loughlan St) who are house-sitting in Fremantle and let us camp in their driveway. The kids revel in having a house to play in again - a bath! morning TV! real couches!
* Shabbat dinner with cousins Yoni, Esther and Yara. Surrounding by family, warmth and a feast of food, it's just like being back home.
* A day at the footy... and victory for the mighty Saints.
* A tour of the Maritime Shipwreck Museum, where we see relics from the Batavia, whose gruesome history we have recently read about. (That infamous book that Sam devoured in 2 days... quite possibly the best read, ever!)
* A day of retail therapy, Bihary style, trawling the op shops of Fremantle. Importantly we top up our supply of audio storybooks, after noting how the kids can recite whole chapters from the few that we have on regular rotation. (Not exactly the sort of home schooling we had in mind. We're tempted to play CDs of times-tables from now on...)
* Many lovely meals shared with our hosts, including a (successful) spelt bread experiment. When we bring our contributions in from the caravan it gives new meaning to the concept of Meals On Wheels.

Having powered through our To-Do list, it's time to leave city comforts behind us once again. We're heading north into awesome country and we cannot wait.

Gazing upon the Swan River from Kings Park after doing our first reconisssance of Perth. Shortly after we tire the kids out with a series of "race to that tree... way, WAY, over there...we'll time how long it takes you..." sprints.  
Shabbat dinner with the beautiful Steingiesser family.
All hands on deck to clean the car.
Melbourne neighbours (and Fremantle super hosts) Carolyn, Lily and Cam, with the kids on the verandah ... our caravan parked in the driveway behind them.