After our long drive to Mum and Dad’s, and Alannah’s very late night, we had a relaxing day pootling around Mum’s garden and visiting Hat Head beach. That evening, sun and sky decided to put on one of its spectacular Kinchela sunsets for us, with flocks of birds soaring above the calm Macleay river adding an extra special touch. We had planned to have a few nights in Kinchela before heading towards Sydney, stopping off to see friends at various points along the way.
I always say the only predictable thing about kids is their unpredictability, and this was certainly the case in the early hours of the morning when it became evident Alannah was not well at all. Both Paul and Alannah had experienced the Australian medical system at good old Kempsey Medical Centre within a few days of landing as they developed matching ear infections. Alannah’s cleared up pretty quickly with ear drops (Paul’s was a bit more stubborn) but we’d been able to stick to our itinerary up to this point. Alannah was far sicker now though, and with her temperature up around 40 degrees it was off to Kempsey Hospital’s A&E we went. She was so quiet and listless, so very un-Alannah like, and ended up falling asleep while sitting in my lap in the waiting room! It was the weekend and I was dreading the wait to be seen as we drove to the hospital, but there were only a few other people there so we were seen fairly quickly. The doctor we saw couldn’t find any obvious source of infection so concluded it must be a virus. We ended up having to stay in Kinchela and cut our Sydney time short by a few days as she was just too sick to travel, but once her temperature was back to normal and she was her usual chipper self we headed south towards Sydney, with a stop in the Hunter Valley along the way.
Melinda (Ninna) is my oldest friend in the world. She has known me since birth, and lived around the corner of the one street that constitutes Kinchela village with her Mum, my lovely Godmother Aunty Julie, all through Primary and Secondary school. We even ended up going to the same university in Newcastle! Now, Ninna and her partner live in a small village in the Hunter Valley, and it was wonderful to catch up and meet their menagerie of horses and cats!
Alannah was well and truly in her element, as she loves cats and horses. In a few hours it was time to move on to Sydney. I’d arranged to meet my friends Suzanne and Amber in a park in Ryde before heading on to Grandad Geoff and Grandma Faye’s house. Both Amber and Suzanne have had kids since I saw them last, so not only was I excited to catch up with my mates I got to meet their adorable kids too!! And there was an added bonus, Suzanne’s mum was there too! It was a perfect few hours, gloriously sunny, great mates to catch up with and new little ones to get to know. The kids were totally engaging, confident, curious, full of beans and so so funny! Those couple of hours flew by, in the way they always do when you’re fully enjoying yourself, and it was soon time to say goodbye and drive to Belmore, where we would stay with Grandad Geoff and Grandma Faye for the next few days.
Alannah has met her Grandma and Grandad several times before, the first time she was only 3 months old, but it had been a while since she last saw them so I thought she might be a bit shy and take a while to warm up. But it was only a minute or two after she came out from her peeking-out-from-behind-my-legs position before the full force, crazy, funny, adorable Alannah we know and love was in the house! Geoff and Faye proceeded to thoroughly spoil us with delicious meals and lovely local wines, and Alannah with presents-upon-presents and treats-upon-treats! We even discovered she shares a love of squirty cream topped ice cream with her Grandad.
The next day we headed for Darling Harbour and the Sealife Sydney Aquarium. I’d forgotten how spectacular the simple act of catching a ferry is in Sydney, the views are breathtaking every which way you turn!
The aquarium was fab, and we spent several hours there. Alannah got a bit stuck at the beginning as she got completely absorbed in brushing away sand to ‘discover’ a fossilized dinosaur, then covering it up with sand only to rediscover it. This happened over and over and over again, and woe betide any other child who tried to discover “my dinosaur!” Eventually she began to explore the tanks around her, delighted to find Nemo and Dory. Alannah soon became curious about another section, where a microscope, with slides of small sea creatures, and others encased in resin on top of a light box, attracted her attention and time.
I was quite fascinated by the larger creatures we saw further into the aquarium, sting rays and various types of shark (particularly the enormous shovel-nose sharks), and particularly loved the dugongs. I’ve never seen one before, and found them to be so graceful as they would glide past silently with curiously human-like facial features. I can totally see how they were mistaken for mermaids many moons ago!
But the highlight was saved for last…a raft ride through a penguin colony! We loved it, Alannah most of all, and when it was finished she wanted to go again. Luckily the guy at the raft ride entrance heard this and ushered us back on for a second (then third and fourth!) ride through! Once we’d thoroughly explored the raft ride we went to exit the penguin area, but Alannah became entranced by a few penguins hanging out near a large viewing window. One of them would waddle off to collect little chunks of ice, then waddle back to deposit each chunk, one at a time, on top of a pile he was creating right next to the window. As he was busily working, the penguin in the foreground of the photo below would wait til his back was turned, then dart over to the pile, attempting to steal the ice chunks! The first penguin was well aware of this and was on the lookout for trouble.
Whenever the cheeky thief penguin darted towards the pile, the busy builder penguin waddled back to intercept the would-be thief quick smart, with a noise that was very clearly protesting about the attempted robbery. It was quite hilarious, and we spent ages watching them. Later we asked the keeper about the ice-collecting behavior. Apparently it is connected to nest-building. In the wild the penguins would be collecting (or stealing) small stones to make their nests. The penguins in the aquarium don’t have small rocks to do this, but the nest-building instinct is so strong they collect chunks of ice instead.
On the way back to Geoff and Faye’s we told Alannah that she would be meeting her uncle Kevin when we get back. Paul has a brother and sister living in Australia, Kevin in Sydney and Saf in rural Victoria. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit friends and family in Victoria on this trip, so that will be a priority on the next trip. Alannah was quite curious about uncle Kevin, and asked “is he a boy and he loves me?” I think the following photos provide the answer…
Alannah was in full-on charming and adorable mode, and I think it’s safe to say they were both positively smitten!!
The next day we were off on the train and ferry again, this time to visit Taronga Park Zoo. While on the train Alannah, with her fascination/obsession with safety notices and ‘crossed circles’ signs, soon clocked this sign
and asked us what each picture means. I explained the first three, then she told me the last one means “no chess.” So when catching a train in Sydney, be sure to leave your chess set at home!
My lovely cousin Fiona had gifted us the tickets to Taronga (I really can’t thank you enough Fi, the zoo was one of my highlights for the whole trip!) and I was really excited as I’d not been before and had heard great things. In reality, it surpassed my expectations! Seriously, if you’ve never been, put it on your bucket list. As a zoo it is quite simply marvelous, but when you add in the amazing views of Sydney harbor….
It is absolutely spectacular! I swear those giraffes have the best view in Sydney!
Taronga has so many different animals and keeper talks/animal shows/interactive experiences it makes for a full-on exciting day. If I documented everything we did and saw here I think it might break wordpress, so I shall just share some of our highlights.
We went to the gorilla talk, which I’m sure was very interesting but I kept drifting in and out of listening to it as I became totally absorbed in watching them interact and play in a stunningly human-like way. Before the talk began the gorillas were in another part of their enclosure, and the keepers had hidden some treats (I think it was peanut butter) in random nooks and crannies, such as inside a hole in the triangular rock in the first photo. The gorilla in front of the rock first tried to pick it out with his fingers, but it was wedged too far back. Another gorilla came over with a stick, gestured putting the stick in the hole then gave it to the first gorilla. It used the stick like the perfect peanut-butter-scooping-implement it is and soon, with the second gorilla helping with another foraged stick, they were licking peanut butter from sticks and fingers.
The second photo is of three larrikin gorillas, who sat side by side like this the whole time we were watching. I had my camera pointed at them for ages, silently willing a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil moment to happen. They all did the actions at one time or other…just not at the same time! It’s like the cheeky buggers knew what I was up to! One would put his hands over his mouth, the other would start eating a banana, the third would scratch his bum, that kind of thing.
The elephant tower experience was just wonderful, and we were lucky to be visiting at a time when there were lots of baby elephant calves around! The mum and dad in the photo clearly doted on their little one, seemingly tickling it mischievously with their trunks!
The ‘Tiger Talk’ area was very interesting, for the obvious reasons but also because it provided a stunning example of one of Alannah’s quirks. She has this ability to focus intently on really tiny, minor details and miss the really big, exciting things happening right in front of her. Case in point, this enormous tiger. We’d been in this position for a good 5 mins or so, hoping to catch a glimpse of a tiger that seemed increasingly unlikely to make an appearance as time ticked by, when he decided to start prowling around a small section of bushes, over and over again, no more than 2 metres from us! The amount of detail we could see was breathtaking. Alannah was focussed on some small detail in the rocky ledge in front of her, and despite both Paul and I vociferously attempting to draw her attention to the massive carnivorous beast in front of us, selective hearing was in effect and it took a good few minutes before she clocked it!
The seal show was really fun, full of laughs and audible-intake-of-breath moments. Like this truly enormous elephant seal, who managed to outdo the smaller, more agile seals when he unexpectedly leapt up out of the water and flipped himself around in a circle!
The spider monkey encounter was another great experience. Small groups went into their enclosure to observe them, and happily they seemed quite interested in us as they came up quite close to check us out. They are incredible movers, their agility was spectacular to see in such close proximity. They’re very social as well, with large groups seeming to form out of nowhere, voice their opinions on the topic at hand loudly and simultaneously, before swinging off in myriad directions to pursue their individual/small group agendas.
I have to include these next few photos. Alannah’s love of sticking her head through a hole to transform into whatever is painted on the other side is the stuff of legend!
The next day was Paul’s last day in Australia, as he had to fly back for work. Alannah and I had another 2 weeks of adventure ahead of us, which would prove to be punctuated with tongue-in-cheek cries of “poor Dadda, having to go back to work!” Still, before he left I though I’d better put him to work and we headed off to meet up with a great friend I first met in high school, Tina (bootheeeyyyy!). We met at Top Ryde shopping centre, at a little play area I immediately fell in love with. It was situated in a large open space, with plenty of varied equipment and features to keep kids thoroughly engaged for long periods of time. But the part I fell in love with… it was surrounded by low, soft barriers so parents could see what their kids were up to, had a lovely coffee/cake/snack/lunch counter right next to it and large, comfy seating all around the outside. So I got to have a fantastic, uninterrupted catch up with Teens while Paul sorted Alannah out. Pure bliss! Of course Tina and Alannah became great mates pretty much instantly, with general tomfoolery and hilarity the order of the day.
Later we went to the cinema to see Peter Rabbit with Grandma and Grandad before a quick family selfie then off to the airport to send Dadda off on his way back to London.
“Poor Dadda, having to go back to work!”