et me tell you about Monday – Jay’s birthday.  

We began the our morning in the most idyllic camp spot on a warm, sunny day. We were nestled behind a sand dune after a drive in on a fun, but completely tame 4WD sand track outside of Jurien Bay, Western Australia. We were so appreciative of our friends having found this spot. We met up to camp with them after originally meeting them six months ago in Queensland and really connecting. We have kept in touch and eagerly awaited this reunion. 

We had a bagel breakfast with all the fixings. This was the first bagel smorgasbord for us since arriving in Australia nine months ago – thanks to our friends from Perth for helping us find this elusive delicacy. It was a such treat to indulge in a meal that was once a weekly Sunday morning ritual for our family. 

Just over the dune was the picturesque turquoise water with deep blue spots revealing the reef just a few meters off the beach where we snorkeled on a glorious afternoon. The boys were elated as they each saw their first fish while snorkeling.  The kids built sand castles while our friend went spear fishing. 

For dinner we teamed up to make a huge Mexican feast, Jay’s favorite, with homemade tortillas, freshly caught fish and guacamole. 
Once the kids went down to sleep, the adults drank port and ate chocolate being warmed by the campfire. The clear night sky was visible in all its glory and put on a beautiful show including the largest shooting star I have ever seen.  Perfect day. 
I could also tell you about our day this way. We got up slowly after a largely sleepless night. Jay had a rough night, suffering from a stomach bug that has plagued our family for the last several days. Unfortunately for Jay it waited until we were in the bush to find him. And sleep wasn’t much friendlier to the rest of the family as the wind gusted erratically all night providing a canvas symphony for us. We avoided a family photo for the day in part because we didn’t want to step out of our fly nets long enough for the photo to snap and partially because I am vain and I’m still sporting a massive black eye from an errant flying object courtesy of one of my children a few days ago. Jay missed most of the afternoon on the beach due to a work deadline and when he did make it to the water was stung by a jellyfish. Dinner ended abruptly as our kids decided to provide a full throttle display of why we vow to feed them an hour earlier than we did that night. Cake had to be postponed until the next morning. (We called this our American timed birthday celebration… )
So there you have it, two ways to view the day.  I am going to go with the first telling of the story. We are so fortunate to be able to spend this time as a family in these glorious surrounds, warts and all.  It was a terrific day. 

I caused a bit of a stir the other day when I decided to roast poblano chile peppers in the camp kitchen. I spied my beloved peppers at the Albany farmers market this past Saturday and it was my first time seeing them since arriving in Australia. I had to get them!

  

The thing about poblano peppers is that the skin is bitter, and they are best when they’re roasted with the skin removed. At home I usually do this directly on the flame of the stove, charring the skin to a crisp.  But in effort to be a better camp kitchen visitor, I opted for a dry skillet. 
I threw them in the pan and went about my evening cooking. I am used to getting some looks in the kitchen, but the smoke rising from my pan – rising from the fact that I’m obviously burning chiles attracted more notice than usual! 
“Hmmm,” one fellow camper observed. “Did you know you’re burning those?”
Sometimes I draw raised eyebrows because my accent instantly identifies me as an outsider, and sometimes because my meals tend to look a bit complicated. When asked about my cooking, I try to explain that since we are doing this long term, we need to be feeding the kids and ourselves in the way we want them to be eating. I am not sure it makes sense to my fellow campers, but it’s the way we do things. Lately, in an effort to to introduce more variety to our usual routine we made bi bim bap, a Korean rice dish and okinomiyaki, a savory Japanese, and a few different Indian and Thai inspired dishes, but I digress. 
So I’m cooking the peppers in the pan, which need to be charred. People are looking over, giving me looks with a mixture of curiosity and sympathy. They think I’ve ruined my dinner because the outside is turning charcoal. People are moving through the kitchen frequently.
Eventually I removed the peppers and placed them in a covered bowl to cool so I could peel off the skin. Delicious! Worth the awkward moments… And looking forward to grabbing more for the road this weekend before we leave Albany!

I was so moved by the unique beauty of Tasmnia that I decided to wake up early and post 30 photos of sunrise on our Instagram feed as we moved across Tassie.  This was a great project and I’m sad it’s finally come to an end. (For the first installment of 30 Tassie Sunrises, click here )

  

 Here is the parting shot in our Thirty Tassie Sunrises series. 

  

It’s an early morning view of Cave Lion and Siberian Tiger (our Cruiser and Cub Camper, affectionately named by the kiddos) waiting in line as the sun rises for the Spirit of Tasmania ferry back to the mainland. 

  

 I really appreciate all the support and positive comments for the Thirty Tassie Sunrises Project. It’s true that sunsets are often more dramatic, but there is something special about walking alone in the quiet beginning of the day, listening to the birds say good morning and waiting for the sun. There’s a soft light at sunrise that goes well with the peacefulness and frees you up to think big thoughts, like “I can’t believe I am in Tasmania at the end of the world.” 

  

Not every sunrise was magnificent. Some were often rainy and cloudy. It was Tasmania after all – a place where the locals tell you “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a half hour.” This was indeed true: one day I awoke to a cloudy sunrise with no sun, packed up the camper in punishing heat, and then found myself driving through hail by noon! Go figure! 

  

 I am including a few recent favorites here in this post. The images were taken with either my cell phone or our Canon SLR.   We shared some of these shots on Facebook, but I encourage you to check out our account on Instagram @MilesFromBrooklyn if you haven’t already to see the full 30. Just go to any of our sunrise shots and click on #thirtytassiesunrises

  

Farewell, Tasmania. It’s a place I love, and I’m happy to report Lake and Finn loved it as well (Miranda, too). I know it won’t be my last time in Tasmania – at a minimum, Lake and Finn have promised to walk the Overland Track with me in their teens. By that time, the tables may be turned. I will expect them to be encouraging me with Tim Tams and carrying my water! They will have to train hard, because, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I drink and a lot of water! 

Today I encountered the largest electrical challenge in the “Miranda wants to be an auto-electrician” portion of our journey. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that I have been enjoying learning about various mechanical and electrical elements of our Cruiser and trailers. It’s a whole new world of learning for me and on a practical level makes us much more self-sufficient as various little things go wrong during our journey. 

My electrical pursuits were kicked up a notch a couple of weeks ago when I replaced the fuses for our brake lights on the side of the road. Next I installed a UHF radio into our car, but my biggest challenge occurred when our camper trailer fridge plug snapped off, which caused all of the 12v power in the trailer to fail. 

The first challenge was overcome relatively easily once I realized there were fuses connected to the battery themselves that had blown, but I was still left with a bi problem. The plug was broken and we leave on the Spirit of Tasmania (an 11 hour ferry ride) in the morning. We had no way to get someone to repair it on a Sunday and most of the shops with various supplies were closed any way. All of the potential vendors (Cub and Evacool) were also inaccessible on a Sunday. I love that so much of Australia does a much nicer job offering reasonable hours for employees compared to the US, but it can be inconvenient at times 🙂

I definitely did not want to lose the week’s worth of groceries in the fridge so we needed a DIY solution. 

I turned to my favorite resource for all things camping, 4wd and camper trailer related – MySwag and posted with my crisis. I got several responses of what to do within a few minutes. Most helpfully, one person offered to speak to me by phone. (I would thank him more directly here, but I don’t actually know his name!) 



Over the next 30 minutes by way of 3 calls he patiently took me through the steps to hardwire the fridge until I can get it to the mainland for a proper repair. It was such a wonderful gesture of kindness to a stranger. 

I have found so much willingness to lend a hand, share knowledge and help a fellow camper on this trip. We have benefitted so greatly from it. We do our best to pay it forward as we meet travelers heading in a direction we have already been, but we have far more often been the beneficiary of this kindness. 

So to the wonderful Myswagger who helped get our fridge up and running again (and helped fuel my dreams of getting more capable on this area), thank you!





Our Tassie hiking extravaganza continued in World Heritage listed Cradle Mountain, where we took the boys to the summit of Marion’s Lookout, and then cut across to complete the scenic Dove Lake circuit via Wombat Pools.

Miranda and I made the trip to Cradle Mountain nearly a decade before, in one of our first camping trips together, and reached the Cradle Mountain Summit.  I remember it clearly — because my memory is the only clear thing about that hike filled with rain, snow, fog and wind.  If we hadn’t stumbled onto Bay of Fires the following night, our visit to Cradle Mountain may have been our last camping adventure.  Somehow the only space remaining to pitch our tiny Oz tent was on an incline, and we were utterly unprepared for the frost and bitterly cold rain that ensued.  I ended up buying a winter hat from the Parks Department because I woke up with frost in my beard.

This day eight years later with the boys was completely different.  The conditions were great from the moment we awoke, with a bright sun and clear blue skies from start to finish.  We ate cereal in the pleasant company of a pademelon family, which was not in the least intimidated by our presence. And we were more worried about sunscreen than snow- a vast improvement!
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The ranger at the National Parks office took a look at Lake and Finn before we headed out and said, “Maybe you should just do the Dove Lake Circuit. It’s flat, pretty, you can go as long as you’re comfortable and turnaround, and everyone does it.”   No, we wanted something more challenging.  Lake said we would prove HIM wrong! The distance wasn’t as far as some of our other hikes, maybe 4 hours, but the hike up Marion’s Lookout was pretty steep – and actually involved a safety chain to help pull yourself up some steep rocky parts as you positioned for a run at the summit.  It took our little boys about an hour to warm up to the idea that we were going to be hiking all day and there was no turning back, but then they rallied and were all in for the adventure.  The treats on this hike were TimTams cookies and a jelly bean or two, plus dried fruit.  TimTams are an incentive unique to Australia that any youngster would hike many kilometers for.

After two hours we reached a kind of saddle before making the push up to Marion’s Lookout.  Cradle Mountain is a popular destination, and there were several other hikers who watched with raised eyebrows while Lake and Finn darted up towards the lookout, a steep scramble about an hour up from the saddle.

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Finn and Lake took to the chain like they were at a playground

As we progressed the kids really started to get into the idea that when you’re up high, things you’ve already walked past look smaller.  Finn especially was into this, as he LOVES the idea of shrinking things.  When we tell imaginary stories, he always wants his characters to have the power to shrink his “enemies” down to the size of toys.  Then he puts them in his pocket until they “promise to be good.”  Well, things got pretty small as we climbed towards our TimTams!
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The nice part about the hike was that the way down took us past new scenery, Wombat Pools and Dove Lake.  Wombat Pools was a very peaceful place, and somehow we didn’t come across any other hikers as we walked among them.  We did come across a black Tasmanian Tiger Snake, however.  Yikes! Double Yikes!  Not even Finn, who loves tigers, wanted anything to do with the Tassie Tiger Snake.  They are poisonous and big, but I’ve been told by locals that it’s “not too bad” if one bites you because the (deadly) venom is sprayed from the back of the teeth rather than the tips, so you have a bit of a sporting chance to seek medical treatment if one bites you.

“Oh, it’ll kill your children, Mate, but you’ll probably survive if you clean it and treat it,” this kind sir offered over a Boag’s Draught.

I eventually replied, “Um….”

Fortunately the Tiger Snake slithered on its way, and we hurried past along to the more popular Dove Lake circuit, which had postcard views of blue water beneath Cradle Mountain if you are lucky enough to go on a clear day.   The guide told us clear days like the one we had were actually less frequent than snowy days (like the one we had last time!), so we were fortunate indeed!
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As our hike concluded we trudged over to take a shuttle back to the car park.  This is a nice feature that makes Cradle Mountain accessible to almost anyone.  There are about 30 walks of different lengths and difficulty and shuttles to carry everyone back to the original car park.  Unless you are beginning the multi-day Overland Track to Lake St. Clair, which Lake and Finn have pledged to do with us in ten years from now.

I wonder what it’s like to be a shuttle driver in Cradle Mountain National Park, taking the same loop all day, saying the same five minute speech over the intercom, dodging the many tourists in rental cars, who think “oh we’ll just drive down to where we’re going ourselves”, not heeding the clear signs alerting you to the fact that your auto insurance stops as soon as you start on the road, and that the parks road followed mining rules of the road, which of course no one understands except people who drive in mines.

Our driver was a certified grump at the end of this day, and was moving at a quick clip back to the main car park.  He lost his marbles at an oncoming tiny green rental that narrowly squeezed by us without yielding on a narrow turn.  Finn and I had the pleasure of sitting in the front passenger seat, right next to the driver, and were treated to a long-winded and detailed description of the mining rules of the road.  (According  to Grumpy MacGrumperstein, it basically means yield to every possible situation, especially if the oncoming traffic is in a larger vehicle, and under no circumstances should anyone fail to yield to him).  I can attest from my front seat vantage point, that although the other driver didn’t yield, the fact that I could see the whites of his eyes the size of softballs suggested he sure wished he had.

One thing I will give Grumpy MacGrumperstein is that he did have a soft spot for wildlife.  I saw an echidna along the road and pointed it out to Finn.  When Grumps saw Finn’s face light up he said, “look up on this hill up there on the left – and you will see a wombat and kid.”  Sure enough, a few seconds later we were treated to our best wombat sighting in Australia so far, as a pair of furry brown balls waddled across the bushy windswept grass.  Grumps nodded, smiled a knowing look, maybe I needed to rename him after all…. Then a weird bird shot across the horizon on foot – fast!  It was brownish and carried a slightly jiggling belly as it motored across the way.  “That’s a Turbo Chook!” Grumpy announced proudly.

Turbo Chook! Guffaw!

“It’s so fast!” I said excitedly, whereupon I learned they can travel up to 50ks per hour.  “Is that sort of like the bush turkeys in Queensland? They are pretty fast, too?” I asked, naively.

“Hurumph!” That was the end of our budding friendship. His eyes narrowed. “No,” he sighed, as if any comparison of a Turbo Chook to a Bush Turkey was a sacrilege.  “Turbo Chooks are native Tasmanian hens.  They have no relation to turkeys”.  And like that, the conversation was over.  And so was our wonderful trip to Cradle Mountain.  We look forward to making it back again in the future!

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Donna Takes Us on a Wild Ride

The hand painted sign directly in front of us read: “If you don’t have a permit, F?!K OFF!!” Given that we didn’t have a permit, this gave us pause. We had no intention of taking a challenging track during our leisurely journey to the east coast, so we opted to turn back at this friendly signpost. (Incidentally it also felt like the sort of area you may be chased out of with a shotgun if you didn’t belong there… or maybe that’s just an American thing?)

It was clear we probably weren’t taking the most direct route to Hobart. The space to turn around with the trailer attached was next to nil, so after getting out to walk the grassy area surrounding the dirt track we were slowly able to turn around and make our way back to a larger road.

Donna had done it to us again. She is a constant companion to our family of four, on the road with us through our every twist and turn. Donna is our Hema GPS, and given that we have now done over 25,000kms together, we have gotten to know her personality a bit.

She arrived to us secondhand. Most of the time she is highly reliable in helping us make it to the next location. Sometimes not the fastest way, but we always make it.  She also has off-road tracks programmed into her “mainframe”, which is nice support when we venture off the bitumen.  Periodically, though, we pass through an area that has changed notably since Donna last learned it. It’s not really her fault. Her maps are outdated by now. When Donna starts to lose it – perhaps she shows us dangling over water or running parallel to a road – we move back to old fashioned maps. Lake periodically suggests she should be renamed “Mrs. Never Know Pants”.

These stretches where Donna is exceedingly confused usually only last for a little while and then by her 14th announcement that she is “recalculating,” she is back on track.

Yesterday we were making the trip from Derwent Bridge back to Snug, Tasmania just south of Hobart. We were less than 200kms from Hobart, so we didn’t expect the trip take long and departed with a goal of setting up and having an early dinner.

I kept looking at the map, and it was basically a straight shot on one of the main roads running east-west in Tasmania. Repeatedly, Donna called for us to turn onto small streets. It felt like there should be a way to bypass Hobart on our route, so we took several of her suggested turns in hopes of another path through.  Each one ended. One led us to a place that said “No through road”, another brought us to a 4wd track that said no trailers permitted. The last one arriving at the menacing hand painted sign resulted in us pulling the plug on Donna.

We kept wondering: What had gotten into her? She normally prefers main roads to dirt ones. Her behavior was totally out of character. Mrs Never Know Pants was having a no good, terrible, horrible very bad day!

Amazingly, it took four hours for it to occur to me that perhaps Donna wasn’t being “crazy,” but rather maybe an actual setting was wrong.

Alas, I figured out she was set to the “short” route rather than the “fast” route about 15 minutes before arriving at our destination. In an area full of mountains and many more dirt tracks than paved ones, this setting made a huge difference.

I turned back to the boys and asked whether they had changed it. They erupted in laughter. Oh the joys of traveling with children..
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Figuring how to set-up a car and a camper trailer to carry our whole family around Australia for a year was quite a daunting task.  Since we don’t have any friends or family in Australia, we knew that whatever we wanted to have in the country with us would need to be carried somewhere in our set-up.  I sat half a world away from Vic Widman from Great Divide Tours as he shared endless advice both about the big things and minute details as we made decisions first on what vehicle (100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser) and off-road, hard floor camper trailer (Cub Camper Supamatic Regal) and then how to equip the vehicle and trailer.  From my couch in Brooklyn, I spent endless hours researching sites online, watching YouTube videos and exchanging emails with Vic before it all got set-up trying to imagine how this would all take shape in real life.

Our family of 4 have been traveling and living in Cave Lion and Siberian Tiger for six months now and it is high time I share some details about our set-up.  I haven’t yet successfully made a Pimp My Ride style video, so this post will have to do for now.  I have added a page to this blog that includes all of the details of our 100 series Toyota Land Cruiser and our hard floor Cub Camper Trailer.

Check out “The Set-up” for all the details!

We have come to have deep affection for these two inanimate objects that provide our shelter and our transportation.  Looking through our photos, I think we might take as many pictures of Cave Lion doing amazing things as I do of the kids… I try to spare you too much of either of this blog though!

And if you have any questions about any items in the set-up, please let me know.  I enjoy discussing all of these endlessly researched choices… perhaps a little too much!

You never want to look at the dark face of a furry critter that has sneaked up on you in the middle of the night and think, “I wonder if that’s a Tasmanian Devil?”

But that’s exactly what I found myself thinking when I saw two beady eyes looking out at me over a small nose on a furry black face under the camping chair six inches to my right.

It’s the kind of thing you can’t get out of your head, the Tasmanian Devil. Like Cassowaries in the Daintree, or Crocs in Queensland, I’m in Tasmania, so seeing the Devil is at the forefront of my consciousness. I want to see a Tasmanian Devil in the wild, but I’m also a little scared. How many of these critters come out to play when the sun goes down, anyway? I know I don’t want to provoke one, given the notorious strength of their jaws. But what is their demeanor? Are they aggressive? Do they run away from people like most wild animals, or have they developed the brazenness to stroll into my campsite and search for food, like the Rufus Bettong?

It’s one o’clock in the morning. I should be in the tent sawing the Zzzzzs, but I’m not. I was enjoying a bit of solitude, finishing up a project outside under the ambient green light from our recently rediscovered LED lightstrip. And now my solitude is interrupted. I am face to furry face with a dark creature of unknown species, and all I can think is: “Mmmm, is this guy just another marsupial scavenger, or does he possess the most powerful jaws on God’s green earth?” I try using the remote control for our ambient LED strip in hopes of scaring him: will he run away if the light shifts from green to red? 1,2,3… RED! Take that! If animals can smirk, this one did. Let’s just say he was not moved. The standoff continued.

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*** This amazing photo was taken by Amie Hindson, http://www.zoo.org.au

During our last days in Brooklyn, we were lucky enough to find lodging in a great friend’s apartment. (Actually we took refuge in more than one great friend’s apartment – thanks to all!). There I borrowed Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective from their eldest son’s collection, to read to Lake and Finn.

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“How would Encyclopedia Brown handle this?” I wondered. Encyclopedia Brown likes to close his eyes when he’s thinking hard. I like to close my eyes when I’m scared. Easy. Step 1: Close my eyes. Step 1: complete.

Encyclopedia Brown has a library in his head. I have Wikipedia on my phone. Step 2: Reacquaint myself with the details of the Tasmanian Devil to identify it…. Hmm, black fur, nocturnal, razor sharp teeth, powerful jaws, subject of a Looney Tune, lives in Tasmania…did I say jaws powerful enough to break bones? No internet access for Wikipedia at Bay of Fires, so that’s all I got. Step 2: Fail.

Step 3: Yikes! The creature emerges with a bound so fast it reminds me there was really nothing I could do except sit there, anyway. Black body. Fur. Long tail. Skilled leaper. A smidge of cuteness. Whew! Must be a possum of some sort, or some other marsupial scavenger not yet known to me. The threat level returns to low so long as I don’t provoke it. Back to my project.

But after a few minutes I find I’m still thinking about my late night company. Where did that sucker actually leap to? Did I leave any food out? There’s a scratching sound. I look up. He’s on the fridge box, about three feet off the ground in front of me. Another leap. He’s directly above me, crawling on the awning. Ridiculous. I don’t want his claws to scratch a hole in our Australian canvas, so I grab the camper chair next to me and poke the awning. Gingerly at first, then with a little more force. Scram! In the back of my mind I’m thinking: I sure am glad everyone else on the campground is asleep and not watching me struggle awkwardly and vainly against a Flying Night Possum.

After a poke or two more, he’s gone. But I didn’t see a landing on the ground, and there’s no longer a depression anywhere in the awning. I try to channel the powers of observation Encyclopedia used so well against his boyhood rival, Idaville’s bully in residence, Bugs Meany. If he’s not on the awning, and he’s not on the ground, then he must have jumped into a tree. But I didn’t hear that either. Against my better judgement, I walk out from under the safety of the awning and look at our camper from the front. Where is that sucker? I shine my headlamp low. Nothing. I shine it high. Nothing. Wait a second! Unbelievably, the Flying Night Possum is perched atop the highest point of our camper trailer. Jeepers can that guy jump. He’s staring at me with what I imagine is both a wicked and triumphant smile. This is probably twelve feet from the ground. He then takes a small jump and slides down the camper trailer canvas like our camper is his own personal playground. He lands on the fridge box again, and before I can react, leaps into the trees. I set the lights to blue. Maybe that will keep him away for a while, but the final score is Flying Night Possum 1, Poppa 0

***Tasmanian Devil photo credit to Amie Hindson, http://www.zoo.org.au

Picture this.

It’s about 2:30pm. Having just towed our camper trailer up a 6,000-foot mountain on a windy off-road track in Victoria’s High Country, we’re slowly stepping our way down a rocky descent. I’ve got Cave Lion, our 100 Series Land Cruiser, in low range, trying to keep the momentum of our Cub off-road Supamatic camper trailer under control as we gingerly poke our way down the mountain. That extra day of training I got in Braidwood focused on off-road towing is looking like time well spent.

Cave Lion started our trip into Vic High Country freshly washed white, but now it is happily caked in mud and dirt. All is good. Siberian Tiger has streaks of red dirt from our trips to Cape York and the Queensland outback. The red dirt, I’m told, can never be cleansed, and we kind of consider its presence a merit badge in this family.

The trail is rough, a path pocked with holes, rocks of all sizes, dirt and dust. In the back of my mind I’m glad our tires – Coopers S/T Maxx, ironically made by an American brand testing its mettle in Australia, just like us – are relatively new. Despite all the abuse we’ve put them through, they have only about 20,000 kilometers of wear and feel up to the task. I’m focused on driving, but I take a quick look around. The view is majestic as we “walk” down the mountain range. It’s a horizon full of greens, browns, yellows, and oranges as we move among the peaks and trees, all set under the kind of deep blue sky I’ve rarely seen outside of Australia. Of course, a byproduct of off-road trails leading down majestic mountain ridges is the perilous cliff’s edge, a hazard not far enough off to the right. It’s a feature of the drive that keeps me alert, to say the least. The story about the crazy Americans who left Brooklyn to go camping and off-roading in Australia is much better if we don’t drive off a cliff.

There’s a lot of crunching noises as we navigate the rocky downward trail. The angle is steep and the rocks are chewing at our tires. By steep I mean the kind of steep where you can feel the firm grip of the webbing in the shoulder strap of your seatbelt holding you in place as you descend.

I take a moment to glance around our fully loaded interior. Next to me in the passenger seat is the intrepid Jessica Lipnack (her post about this journey here), a loving mother to my wife, grandmother to my boys, and mother-in-law to me. She is visiting for this portion of our journey. This is her second day ever 4WDing, and the first time she’s been on this kind of off-road track, towing a camper trailer down mountains, for sure. We positioned her in the front seat to be polite and also to reduce the chance of car sickness (it can be tough riding on a bumpy, winding road squeezed between two car seats). Her sense of adventure is impressive. Her hands are gripping something, hard, but she’s handling what must be a ridiculously scary descent with complete coolness, not raising the level of anxiety in the carriage one iota. Jessica is in fact emitting such a calm energy for this circumstance that I wonder whether she is employing some newfangled kind of zen master trick like invisible knitting.

This is particularly impressive to me. Most of our driving together has involved navigating the city, during which I’ve not done much to impress her. In Brooklyn you have to drive with a kind of psychotic edge to survive as your road companions follow such rules of the road as “accelerate into intersections; people will move” and “turn first, signal never,” among others. Outside of New York, my poor sense of direction is usually the culprit. Wrong turn here, wrong turn there, a stubborn unwillingness to learn my way around the streets of her hometown in MA. Finally my still-developing parallel parking skills may not have made a good impression. But luckily there is no parallel parking out here…. Certainly there won’t be with a camper trailer in tow!

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Assuming you know what your car is capable of doing, it’s much easier on your stomach to drive these off-road tracks than to ride shotgun. When you’re driving you feel in control – even if you find you’re not – and have the steering wheel steadying your body, a luxury not afforded to the passenger. You also know before every brake, bump, and turn. As a passenger, all you can do is sit there, choose whether you want your eyes open or closed, and pray the driver has had enough coffee.

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In the back seat sits my lovely wife Miranda and our two boys. Lake and Finn are seasoned veterans of this kind of thing. They are unfazed. Lake is reading a book about Han Solo. Amazingly, Finn is taking a snooze.

“Wake me up if we cross a river,” he said casually before nodding off.

Miranda is suspending Finn’s head carefully to prevent it from flopping into awkward positions as we trundle downward. She’s a loving mother; I’d be napping like Finn, letting his head flop in the wind. Don’t be fooled by who’s penning this: Miranda is an accomplished off-road driver and has far better wheel placement skills than I do. She drove the previous day, when in fact we did have more than twenty water crossings as we explored the Crooked River. Finn was pleased!

One of many crooked river crossings with Finn at attention and Miranda behind the wheel!

One of many crooked river crossings with Finn at attention and Miranda behind the wheel!

Don’t worry; we’re not so terribly irresponsible parents as it seems. We haven’t explored High Country off-road before, and didn’t want to be taking the boys down potentially treacherous mountain trails on our own. So we have joined up with a “tag along” off-road 4WD tour run by our friend Vic Widman’s company Great Divide Tours. Through pure coincidence – a post he noticed on Instagram – we found out we were camping right by their tour, that they had an open slot, and we were able to join up with a great group of Australians on Day 2 of their 7-day journey through the High Country. We were planning some off road adventures outside of Bright, Victoria, but this would let us really explore the area in a way we probably wouldn’t have been able to do safely otherwise.

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The expedition was led by a fearless father son duo, Greg and Jason. In addition to being friendly and expert guides, they were well-equipped with safety and recovery gear and know-how. Perhaps more importantly, they came prepared with plenty of supplies for making long lasting campfires. Also, both Greg and Jason had cool Australia outback hats, an attribute which speaks for itself. Thinking back on this, if I end up leading 4WD tours with Lake, Finn, and Miranda one day, I’ll be one happy man.

Well done, fearless leaders!

Well done, fearless leaders!

We met up with the Great Divide team at their campsite in Talbotville. From there we visited Grant and had a mouth-watering burger at the iconic Dargo Pub, before making our way to Wonnangarra valley and Conglomerate Creek. We also saw several famous bushman’s huts in the mountains, but the refurbished one featured in The Man From Snowy River film – Craig’s Hut – was the most awe-inspiring for me.

We had an unbelievable time on this tour. It was a great way to explore the High Country and make new friends. The group of tag-a-longers was inviting and fun, embracing our addition to their team with smiles, the occasional story about their trip to Vegas, and some kindly American jokes… I know, it’s hard to imagine those exist. Naturally, the best response to all this was to respond to every radio roll call with the most classic American response I could muster- and this was exactly how I felt at the time: “Yippee ki yay!”

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We accomplished a feat on Friday that I would not have considered possible just a few short months ago. Our family hiked to the most southern point of Australia* in Southwest National Park, Tasmania. The amazing part was not reaching the southern tip about 100 days after reaching the northern tip of Australia, but rather that the boys walked over 15.4 kms / 9.5 miles to do it! We were walking for just over 6.5 hours to make it happen.

Family photo in Southwest National Park in South Cape Bay.

Family photo in Southwest National Park in South Cape Bay.

In accomplishing our goal of reaching the southern tip of Tasmania, the journey solidified a lot about what we have learned about hiking with young children:

1) Hiking / bush walking is more of a mental challenge than a physical one for kids. Our boys have boundless energy, but long walks can be boring, which rapidly can lead to whining. Keeping kids engaged makes all the difference. We normally begin walks with a long story from Jay. The boys pick the characters and seemingly will walk to the end of the earth (they nearly did!) just to hear what happens to their characters. Turns out Jay can keep a story going for about an hour and that gets the kids over the initial hump of a long walk.

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Walking through the forest provides a great backdrop for imaginative story-telling.

2) Goals are important. We talked with lots of excitement about how Lake and Finn would be the first 5-year-olds from Brooklyn to reach the northern and southern tips of Australia. (No Guinness Book verification on this one, but it seems a reasonable assumption.) On the track, we try to identify many interim goals so they can feel their progress. A goal is often getting to a particular feature of the walk (e.g. waterfall, open field, etc.) or it may be arriving at the next stop (e.g. lunch). We often spend the last part of the hike talking about all that we saw and all that they achieved. On this trip, the boys were positively energized during the return portion of the hike. The first half of the journey took 4 hours, whereas the return was only 2.5 hours. There weren’t any large descents to account for the discrepancy. It was mostly excitement of having reached their goal. Lake proudly told each of the 3 groups of walkers we passed on the way back that he had reached the southern point of Australia.

Placing a rock on the cairn at the midway point at South Cape Bay.

Placing a rock on the cairn at the midway point at South Cape Bay.

3) Lots of snacks are key. Kids burn energy quickly and keeping them fueled up is an important part of multi-hour walking. We carry a wide assortment of bars, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and sandwiches in addition to sweet treats. Walking is a great excuse to treat kids to usually restricted treats. Normally, our kids get biscuits / cookies and lollies / candies quite infrequently. The allure of getting a treat as we pass different milestones on the track is a great motivator. The boys are always willing to go a bit further on the promise of a marshmallow. We also find that the sugar rush provided by these sweets helps the kids keep going and we don’t see the hyper, sugar fueled kiddos that can sometimes come from eating sugar.

Snack stop by this amazing tree.

Snack stop by this amazing tree.

4) Good equipment makes a difference. It makes a difference for adults and it does for kids too. We got the kids good hiking boots, hiking socks, rain jackets, rain pants, and appropriate layers for the conditions. (We were fortunate to find the rain pants at a great second-hand, pop-up shop in Hobart since it rains so frequently here.) For shorter trips, the kids often wear sneakers or hiking sandals, but I think they end up expending a lot of extra energy trying to keep their footing. Adequate footwear reduces this issue. At the end of our hike, Lake told me his boots had “really improved their mud skills” on the trek. He was right! He was able to keep his footing and his feet stayed dry all day in spite of the intermittent rain.

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5) Steep inclines and declines are hard and kids need extra support. Not rocket science here, but holding hands on steep inclines and helping share the burden make these portions of the track much more enjoyable for all. It also helps keep pace going uphill and avoids discussion of needing to be carried. Similarly a strong hand going downhill can help avoid many slips and tumbles as kids learn better foot placement skills.

Teaming up on the downhills

Teaming up on the downhills

6) Let the kids lead the conversation. This is not new parenting advice, of course, but I have found long walks to be a unique opportunity to let the kids talk. It creates a rare, focused, uninterrupted time to talk. The boys relish in this opportunity. On this excursion, conversation spanned magic green and blue Knights with the ability to start a campfire with their swords to the process of mummification in ancient Egypt to various uses for a grappling hook. As our conversation followed the amazing journey through their heads, we also made great progress on the track. There are no toys, no chores, or other activities to distract any of us from focusing on one another.
7) Separating for portions of the walk into one parent / one child teams works well for us. It allows each of our boys to get uninterrupted attention from a parent and to focus on what interests him most. It also has the side benefit of avoiding a seemingly contagious condition of “I’m tired”-itis.
8) Observing our surroundings helps keep it interesting. The boys love to stop and look at different kinds of rocks, plants, and water features as we walk. We discuss the changes in landscape, types of trees, mud, rocks, etc. as we go. Picking specific items to observe at different points in the walk often encourages the boys to run down the path in search of the anticipated item. Trail markers can often be enough to keep them fascinated with the path ahead.

Using binoculars to get an up close view of the creek below. The color of the sand was the standout here.

Using binoculars to get an up close view of the creek below. The color of the sand was the standout here.

9) It’s a mental challenge for the parent too. I realized that believing the boys could do long walks was an important part of their succeeding. We had never tried long walks because the boys often complained about very short walks. Turns out that with longer walks they are able to get into a rhythm that we hadn’t experienced on shorter walks. On the long walk last week, the boys started to hit a wall about 30 minutes from the turnaround point. We were 3 hours into the adventure when they started to complain that they were tired. I felt myself panic. We were 3 hours of walking into the middle of nowhere and I found myself worrying about what would happen if they melted down. How would we get back? What had I done?! Turned out a 5 minute break, re-tying of the shoes, some extra attention and they were back at it. An hour later, we were running down the path and I was digging deep in myself just to keep up.

I told the boys I was writing this post and asked them if there are things he wanted to share. Lake wanted me to be sure to tell you that he taught Mommy that even though she was tired she could still run (he’s right). He also noted that his favorite parts of hiking are seeing beautiful things you couldn’t otherwise see and feeling proud when it is finished. He made sure to clarify being proud of his hike is different than liking every step. Finn’s advice is “bring whatever snacks the kids want!”

As with everything else in parenting, hiking / bush walking with young children is a different experience than doing it without them. It rarely includes the meditative silence I found on previous trips and I also find a lot less space for whining to myself about my own fatigue. In place of those things, I get to explore nature in a new way with my attention brought to little ferns and bizarre insects all the while having genuine quality time with kids. Over the next few days, we’re looking through a book of hikes as a family to pick our next one!

Foot cleaning station.  Much of our walk through Southwest National park went through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area.

Foot cleaning station. Much of our walk through Southwest National park went through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area.

* We decided to exclude islands for our definition of northern and southern points. The northernmost point of continental Australia is the tip of Cape York. The southernmost point was a bit more complicated. We decided we would choose a point in Tasmania to meet the goal of southernmost point rather than the more commonly known, more northerly point in Wilson’s Promontory on mainland Australia. The problem is that the most southern exact point can only be reached by boat. We decided the most southernpoint that can be reached on foot was a lofty enough goal for our crew.

Thirty Tassie Sunrises

I don’t know if Tasmania noticed our absence, but we sure missed it! Last week we returned to Tassie and introduced this unique place full of natural wonders to our five year-old twins Lake and Finn, taking  an overnight ride on The Spirit of Tasmania with our Land Cruiser and Cub Camper, dubbed “Cave Lion” and “Siberian Tiger,” respectively, by our Big Cat loving boys.

We were all super excited to make the trip to Tasmania. On the drive to Port Melbourne we came up with a new family song about taking an overnight boat from Port Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania, to the delight of the boys. This ditty was performed during the hour-long lineup to drive aboard the Spirit.  It was sung by yours truly, and pantomimed by a toy stuffed Mars planet, to a tune very loosely inspired by a combination of Andy Sandberg’s “On a Boat” and “Troodon Night Train” by Mr. Conductor on the kids’ show Dinosaur Train. Other passengers waiting to board only wished their radios would play such a melodious tunes…

Sunrise at the bottom of Bruny Island, Tasmania

Sunrise on bottom of Bruny Island, Tasmania

The Spirit was ideal transport, with a restaurant, activities, a pub, and plenty of room to wander about as we left the mainland behind us. We stayed in a very comfortable berth with two sets of bunk beds, kids on bottom, parents on top.  Amazingly, despite the excitement over our new adventure, we were all asleep with no issues by ten. The voyage on the Spirit can encounter rough seas, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned I would tumble off my bunk during the night.  There was one time I woke up in the early morning hours and found myself looking down at Miranda.  I knew this meant trouble, potentially, as she was also in a top bunk, and there was only one explanation why I could be looking down at her — this boat was really rocking! But luckily, no one fell, and we made it back to sleep, and the kids mostly slept through the night as well. I’m guessing if they can fall asleep during a 4WD track down a mountain in the Victorian high country, they can handle some waves! Overall I’m happy to report no major issues or sea sickness for the team!

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Lake and Finn prepare to snooze on The Spirit of Tasmania

The good news is that, even after all our adventuring over the mainland, Tasmania has not lost its shine. So far we’ve spent much of our time in the southeastern shores, with a long stint camping on Bruny Island, a pitstop in the Huon Valley and a run to the southernmost point. The coastlines here are raw, and the beaches can emerge in stretches of unblemished sand alternating with dramatic rock formations, windswept eucalypts or coastal spindle grasses. The rock formations are the most magical for me. Sometimes they are cliffs, where it’s easy to imagine Tasmania breaking off the mainland. Other times there are piles of boulders, or an intricate pattern with the sea intermingling with long flat rocks along narrow grooves carved slowly by the surf over time.

I’ve been so moved by the beauty here I’ve decided to embark on a new project. We are going to post 30 sunrise photos over the next month from our trip around Tassie to our MilesFromBrooklyn feed on Instagram.  Just log on to Instagram and follow @MilesfromBrooklyn or search for #thirtytassiesunrises

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I’ve included a few sunrises in this post, and we will do a follow up post when as we near 30. In the meantime, stay tuned for some exciting family adventures from Tasmania on MilesFromBrooklyn.

Let Fly the Green Arrow

Finn and Lake were the extremely happy recipients of toy bows and arrows for Christmas.  The good news is, before we venture too far into this tale, that we still have eight eyes between the four of us.  The even better news is that these arrows were a massive hit with our adventure seeking young duo.

The inspiration for the gift was our eldest twin son Finn (by all of two minutes), who had been attempting to build a bow and arrow out of rubber bands and sticks ever since meeting a new friend named Mathew in Townsville, QLD.  After our friends Cameron and Benita showed him a real bow and arrow in Rockhampton – Benita is a sharp shooter – his interest in them became an obsession.  When we read him a book of Greek myths, Heroes, Gods and Monsters, Finn listened intently to the story of the huntress Atalanta, whose archery skills felled the wild Calydonian boar.  He listened to that tale more than a few times.  Now, nerf-like weapons in hand, Finn tears over the grass at a full sprint, his head swiveling from side to side with precision as he fires soft green arrows on all-comers: man, toy, dog, or magpie.  This has, of course, made us a favorite among the parents of other five year olds in Bright…

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Before descending on Bright, VIC where our bow and arrow frenzy has reached full throttle, we were camping in the lovely town of Ballarat at a family friendly Big4 there called The Windmill – run by what must have been the nicest staff in Victoria.  Outside of Ballarat I had the pleasure of taking Lake and Finn to Castle Kryal, which was the kind of adventure that made me once again think how lucky I am to be a father of adventurous, imaginative twin boys!

Seriously, does being a father get any more fun than this!?!?,

We got the idea for going to Castle Kryal from Matthew, who had a set of toy knights and dragons, and enthusiastically recommended it! Kryal is a very kid friendly castle set in the style and dress of Arthurian Legend.  Lake and Finn were the perfect age for this, with activities that included a lifesize maze, a wizard’s workshop, a playground shaped in the form of a castle, and of course a live jousting tournament.  The kids are SUPER into lifesize mazes and we’ve been fortunate enough to come across a few recently (including an amazing one at Adventureland in the Riverlands, which leads you to a playground when you find the center!). Fortunately I had the key to this maze, courtesy of the “wizard’s apprentice” so I didn’t mind venturing in and letting Lake and Finn run wild despite the midday heat!  I would highly recommend this maze because once you find the center, there is a quick path out and you’re free in thirty seconds.

A nice looking castle maze!

A nice looking castle maze!

Now, I have told Lake and Finn all about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, so they were properly stoked for this adventure.  True to form, Finn’s favorite knight of the round table is Sir Perceval, one of the Grail Seekers.  Of course, Finn likes Sir Perceval not for his feats of legend, but because of his beloved green pillow, Percy from Thomas the Train, who shares the same nickname.  Lake doesn’t seem to have a favorite knight, but he loves King Arthur and Merlin, and listens intently to the stories.  Lake can always tell when I don’t quite remember the tale.  He doesn’t mind me making up a new ending – he just wants me to make sure I clarify what is “real” and what I am making up 🙂
Castke Kryal was loads of fun and we searched every bit of it – except the “torture chambers” -which were definitely targeted towards older kids…. Plus, I like to avoid torture chambers whenever possible.  Our adventure began with a history of Castle Kryal that included an animatronic dragon in the style of Showbiz Pizza and a gripping tale of magic, intrigue and drama.  Then we headed outside, where our gallant young five year-olds faced their destiny, stepping up to the legendary sword in the stone.  Try as we might, none of us could pull it out.  Alas, the Albanys are not the rightful heirs to the throne of England!

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Without question, the highlight of the afternoon was the joust. The joust was the perfect mix of excitement without too much violence.  It also included theme music well-suited for parents of my generation.  As the knights prepared their steeds and lances, an emcee of sorts – still in period dress – announced that we all needed to rise before commencing the joust to listen to the national anthem of Kryal.  What song was this?  Picture kids, period-dressed actors, parents, and a smattering of black T-shirted medieval times enthusiasts rising to stomp their feet to We Will Rock You as the knights entered the arena.  Fortunately, the mead was flowing – this was still Australia after all.

Watching the joust

Then each knight circled the arena, raising their shield and lance to elicit crowd support.  And yes, both Sir Baldwin the Lionhearted and Sir Godfrey the Blue brought theme music.  Sabotage by the Beastie Boys and whatever that song is from the early naughts (or perhaps late 90s?) that goes like this: “I’m the fire starter! I’m the fire starter!” to screeching but somehow pleasing fast-paced dance music.  (Fact checking has revealed this *song* was by an outfit called the Prodigy).  Lake and Finn were enthralled.  Their mouths dropped open.  Those were really horses.  Those were really lances.  This was really a joust.   Dust rose in a cloud as the knights gently kicked their steeds into action.  A roar from the crown sounded as lance smashed upon shield.   The Lion knight won, raising his shattered lance in victory, and making Lake happy (he loves lions).  And after the joust there was a melee of sorts, in which one knight fired arrows carefully into another’s shield.  Both boys had smiles from ear to ear as the arrows were let fly!