Happy 4th Birthday Benji

As Chanukah ends, Benji's birthday celebrations begin. A final jam donut, anyone?

Scoffing donuts before the guests arrive. Luckily there are lots, lots, LOTS more.
All in for the obligatory family photo.
Surfer Benji, atop his new surfboard... thank you Nana Jenny and Grandpa Em!
Skater Benji, atop his new skateboard... thank you Nanna Laima and Papa David!

The wedding we've been waiting for

Our Sydney stopover is scheduled so that we can all attend (with gusto!) the wedding of Michelle Sowey and David Urbinder. Hands down, THE most romantic wedding ever.

Hanging out at the Chuppah.
Best mates having the best-est time.
After-Party Antics.

Happy Chanukah

Our oily Chanukah celebration this year starts in Bellingen and ends in Sydney, as we pick up aunts, uncles, cousins and lots of calories along the way. Happy Holiday - Chag Sameach - indeed!

Third night of Chanukah in our caravan with supermarket donuts.
Forth night of Chanukah and we're now in Sydney with Uncle Josh.
Fifth night of Chanukah and its time to cook up a latkes storm.
Sixth night of Chanukah and our family expands (as do our waistlines) as Loo, Pin and the kids arrive in time for more candles, latkes and donuts.

Muddy Monkeys Return

As they say, you can fight the tide or you can go with the flow.
In Bellingen, with rain beating at our door, it was a muddy flow all the way.

Pink Princesses start rehearsals for their muddy theatrical debut.
We all assemble for the muddy performance...
... and our Muddy Monkeys take a bow to loud applause.

Spidey Strikes Back

Bellingen's Monthly Market has everything! Even for costume-hunting Benji.

But we get more than an inkling of how long we've been away from everyday life when Benj dons his suit, flexes his new muscles and declares himself to be .... Spider Web Man.

Too much camping out in the wild, perhaps. None of us has the heart to set him straight.

Spider Web Man at the market.
Back on the deck and Spidey's big bro can't resist getting in on the act.

Muddy Monkeys

Shall we set the scene?

We are in Bellingen.
We have a dinner date with the Kornhausers.
We are running really really late.
Dad and Jack are in the car.
Rik and Benj are not coming when we call.
Stress levels are escalating.
Sam goes to search for them.
Never, ever, in our wildest dirtiest dreams, did we expect to find what we now fondly call The Muddy Monkeys.

Is it even worth mentioning that they'd been told to keep themselves clean.

Mud covers every square inch yet hair remains remarkably clean. Small blessings.
Queue-ing for the shower.
Checking out some music with Kathy, Sam and Jo-Jo Kornhauser after dinner. No muddy monkeys in sight.

The Surfers Sprint

Midway through our second Bellingen week we need to duck back up to Surfers Paradise for a day. (Short appointment... long story...).

But it's a perfect chance to lunch in Mullumbimby, have a family sleep-over at the Silberberg's in Byron Bay, and stop for lunch at Ulmarra (where the main street has four op shops and the biggest second hand bookstore we've browsed yet). Less perfect is our windscreen after four stones flick up and leave fingernail sized cracks, that - by the time we arrive back via Coffs Harbour - are almost arms length. Nothing that a trip to Oh Oh Oh O'Brien can't fix.

Breakkie time with Marly and Lolah Silberberg.
Basking in the glow of Silberberg hospitality.
Outside Ulmarra and the official (Bihary-judged) winner of "best second hand bookstore in Australia".

Beauuuuuuu-tiful Bellingen

What's not to LOVE about this Eden on earth!

From the happy cows chomping in the paddocks; to the ancient trees and rain forests sprawling through hills and valleys; to the magnificent community garden of vegetables, fruits and herbs (including that delectable peppermint - who needs gum!); to the magical water holes in the wild, the stunning Bellinger River and the isolated beaches in the surrounding towns (all warranting a skinny dip, if only we had the guts); to the just-perfect mix of shops, eateries and mind-body-soul services on tap in town (not forgetting the well stocked fruit n' veg barn on the outskirts)..... the whole Bellingen region rocks with an earthy, wholesome, creative vibe that presses all our buttons, even those we didn't know we had!

We stay for three weeks, parking ourselves for most of that time next to the awesome riverfront house that is being built by our Bello buddy Bruce, and shared with his stoic partner Sam and the dynamic mix of kids and inlaws visiting at the same time as us.

We are, for all intents and purposes, camped in the wild - powered by batteries, gas cylinders and the sun, tank water in use, and portapotty at the ready. It rains, heavier and more frequently than we knew to expect, which adds another layer of challenge to the whole experience as everything... bikes, toys, books, shoes, clothes, faces, floors, fingernails... is covered, mercilessly, in mud.

It does nothing to muddy our enthusiasm for the magical block of land on which we are staying (THAT river! THAT decking! THAT view!), much less for Bellingen itself.

Long time Bello fan Uncle Josh joins us early on for five days with Auntie Karen, and we delight in being shown around his favouriate spots and discovering new ones together. We chew the fat with the Kornhauser clan, whose Around Australia journey of '09 was inspiration for our own. We catch two weekend's worth of markets, gathering funky threads and fresh food. We meet lots of interesting folk, share lots of wonderful big meals with friends, and find that we are inhaling the Bello country air in big grateful gulps.

For our last few Bellingen days we relocate to the Undarra caravan park and avail our dirty selves of the laundry and shower facilities. Then its time to hit the road again. Less than a month left of our epic adventure. Next stop: Sydney.

Chilling out on Bruce's deck. Nothing finer!

Feeling like garden gnomes as we explore the Community Garden.
Gathering for our first big dinner on the deck. Many more to come.
Rikki and Bruce's daughter Nell playing on the deserted Hungry Head beach, before stripping to undies and hitting the surf.
Rikki and Jack paddling out to the "island" in the Bellinger River at the bottom of Bruce's block.
Next day when Jack attempts a similar river crossing, the currants up the ante, leaving him stranded and needing a heavy rescue mission. Cue: Daddy.
It's overcast. It's nippy. It's windy. And we haven't packed bathers.
But at Undarra, undies are the go. And the kids just go... go... go...!
Budge at the big fire where we roast spuds, corn and marshmallows...
(The spuds, unfortunately, are tossed in way too far and it is a sweaty, skin-peeling exercise extracting them.)
The kids build their own fire next to ours. A perfect spot for Rikki to kick back and eat her 'taters.  
Bruce bonding with the python found outside his kitchen.  
Hitting the mighty monthly market. Over 200 stalls, food, rides, bands ... The week before we'd done the Bellingen Farmers Market and thought that was tops! This leaves that for dust. 
Downtown in Bellingen. Jam donuts in hand. Bring on Chanukah!


Passing through Coffs Harbour we spend a morning at the Big Banana, with its two educational movies, plantation tour, Carmen Miranda memorabilia and kooky souvenirs. Bananas already rank as one of our all time favourite fruits: now we just have a few more facts and figures to help us understand why.

Wooli Water Fun

We have been clamouring to try our hand at kayaking or canoeing for months and in Wooli we finally get the chance, with both available to loan - for free! - at the lakeside caravan park we are staying in. Well worth the wait.

Our second Wooli day is earmarked for more canoeing fun, but after a morning cycle (in mother duck formation... dad, benji, rikki, jack, mum) an unexpected wave of exhaustion washes over us instead and in the absence of any nannas within a coo-ee to lend a hand, we resort to the next best thing: the "Lunchtime To Bedtime DVD-a-thon". Two meals, three kids, four movies. No shame, no pain. Adventurers gotta do, what adventurers gotta do.

Budge, Rikki and Benji canoeing out on the lake
Everyone waiting for mum to jump aboard so the team can set sail.
Tropical trees, sunshine... but movies in the annex are more enticing, while mum reads and dad shloofs.

Yaaaaaaa - amba

We have been beach hopping for so long that its all becoming a bit of a surf-sun-sand blur. So it is a refreashing change to stumble upon the Blue Pool in Yamba. A natural water hole nestled amongst Pandana trees, the Pool's deep depths and rocky cliff face walls provide a gut churning, high diving challenge: one that is tackled and conquered, with gusto, by the Bihary brave.

From Yamba we also make day trips to Grafton, to the Scottish town of Maclean and into the Yamba township itself - all of which are a more subdued affair for our family of thrill seekers, but a welcome distraction nonetheless as wet weather continues to stalk us.

Pucking up the courage for early jumps, Budge leads the way.
Jack conquering the six metre jump.
Daddy mid flight.
Tandem dive. Go boys go!
In the town of Maclean each telegraph pole is decorated with the tartan pattern of the town's many Scottish families and founders. The kids are more interested in hearing about what a scotsman really wears under his kilt.