I posted a video a few days ago on our Facebook page sharing our day’s adventure swimming with the whale sharks.  Whale sharks appear at the Ningaloo reef for several months every year.  They are the largest fish (and shark) in the ocean and many people travel to Exmouth to swim with these immense creatures. They grow up to 12 meters. Our video included all the visual highlights of the day (at least until our GoPro battery gave out), but as I thought about it, I realized the biggest part of the day was not represented at all.  I wanted to share a little of that story here.

 The trip to swim with the whale sharks is a full day boat outing in the ocean beyond the coral reef.  Spotter planes find the gentle giants from sky (they’re that big!) and then call to the tour boats to alert them to the location and likely trajectory of the sharks. Visitors suit up in wet suits, masks, snorkels and fins and then wait in the open water hoping to be aligned just beside the path of the sharks as they swim by.  For the comfort of the whale sharks, swimmers must keep a four meter distance from the sharks and stay out of their direct path. Once the massive pectoral fins pass the group, it is permissible to swim like mad to keep up with them for several minutes.

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We made the decision many weeks ago that this tour would be our big splurge on the west coast and we talked about the upcoming trip for several weeks with the boys.  Snorkeling has been a regular part of our routine as we have made our way up the coast.  We hoped all the time in the water would help our city boys feel comfortable in the water and snorkeling before our trip to Ningaloo.

The big day approached and the boys were apprehensive about swimming with the whale sharks.  There was lots of discussion about their eating habits – they eat like baleen whales, not like great white sharks.  There was pondering whether the sharks would be visible from the boat – hard to know in advance.  When asked, the boys were regularly saying “I’m staying on the boat.  I am not getting in.”  I decided to stop engaging the conversation and discouraged it with others because I didn’t want my boys feeling like they had to stubbornly defend that position even if they changed their minds at a later point.  We shared that we were excited about the trip and different pieces of information we learned about the trip to help get them interested without pushing the issue of whether they would swim with them or not.  The whale sharks had been around in the Jurassic and Cretaceous tie periods, for instance, making them real life dinosaurs (sort of).

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A couple of days before the trip, we met up with a family we have known for several months and their five-year old had a great time swimming with the whale sharks. He talked to the boys enthusiastically about the trip primarily focusing the big box of lollies that was given out at the end of the day. I began to feel hopeful that the boys may decide to do it.

The morning of the trip our boys suggested a reward that they thought they should earn if they swam with the whale sharks.  I have mixed feelings about bribes / rewards with kids.  On the one hand, of course, I want our kids to learn, stretch and grow themselves for good of the pursuit and not for something else.  On the other hand, it sounds a bit absurd to assume that it would be enticing to ask the boys to do something entirely unfamiliar to them (go out on a boat, swim in the deep ocean with the largest sharks in the ocean for the joy of seeing them) for an unknown benefit.  I asked them what they had in mind and “iPad time” was the request.  It seemed reasonable enough to me. A handshake each and the iPad deal was on.

We all suited up on the boat, bending ourselves into wet suits, cleaning our masks and pulling on fins.  The first stop was a chance to test out all of the snorkel equipment at the coral reef before we headed out into the deeper ocean.

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The initial entry to the water, jumping in, got Finn flustered.  The waves were rolling around the coral and the current was strong.  He got water in his mask and he had a new large scrape on his knee that burned in the salt water. This was not a good start. He wanted out instantly.  I tried for a few minutes to help him settle down, but it was clear to me that he needed to get out of the water before he would calm down.  Jay and Lake swam off to the coral while Finn and I went back to boat to get reoriented.

We skipped the rest of the coral snorkel and started talking about getting in just to see the whale shark once and not needing to do it multiple times.  Lake thought this was a great idea.  One trip in and done. Finn was still not sure that he wanted to go in again.  When we got the call to jump in with the first shark, we improved our water entry, but Finn was still overwhelmed in the water and missed looking down as the shark swam by.  We weren’t very well positioned so no one was able to swim along with it after the initial sighting.  Lake did see it and announced he would not be getting back in the water.  He had seen it, met the criteria of the reward and he was done.

The crew made the call for our next opportunity and Finn was crying on the deck.  He didn’t want to get back in, but he desperately wanted his prize. Lake had shed his PFD and was settling into a book on the deck. Sniffling Finn entered the water and I felt terribly conflicted.  Was I pushing too hard? Was this too much?  He had loved other snorkeling and sharks are his favorite animal and I was so worried about him missing out, but he was miserable.

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This is an adventure with wildlife and unfortunately, that trip into the water was a false alarm.  The whale shark dove — and when they dive it is always unclear if they will come near the surface again.  We came out of the water and Finn insisted another trip into the water was far too many.  He would not be doing it.

I knew we had done all the pushing that we should do.  For the next two swims, Jay and I ventured into the water offering the opportunity to join us and met with an energetic “No” from both of them.

The next opportunity, Lake suddenly said he wanted to do it again.  We quickly got him ready and he jumped in.  We got a wonderful long swim with the shark and Lake came out of the water beaming.  He told Finn all about it and my heart was simultaneously proud for one boy and breaking for the other.  Finn looked forlorn.  I felt terrible for setting up a situation where Lake would be rewarded and Finn wouldn’t be.  What was I thinking?  How could I have not anticipated this possibility?

Amazingly, we got one more call to swim with the whale sharks.  Lake said he wanted to go again and as we pulled on his gear, Finn came over and said he wanted to come too.  I was surprised, relieved and praying that the whale shark would show up.  Lake paired up with Jay and Finn and I gave it another go together. He was much more relaxed in the water and we were perfectly positioned as all of the nine meters of whale shark came into view.  We both kicked furiously to swim along side the shark.  I picked up my head periodically to make sure Finn’s face was in the water and he was seeing this magnificent beast.  Each time I saw him mask down, kicking along.

By the time the shark swam ahead of us, I was panting and Finn was thrilled.  He loved it.  His enormous smile filled my heart as we made it back to the boat. 

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Everyone got dried off and changed for lunch and an afternoon over the coral reef.  Finn and I stood on the deck looking out at the water.  We had a lull in our conversation and he told that swimming with the whale shark was a much better prize than the iPad time.  (Although he did quickly clarify that he still wanted the iPad time.) He felt victorious and I am sure that the experience will live on for a long time in him.

I have been thinking about it a lot over the past 24 hours.  It reminded me of how many times on this trip, I have joined the kids in their fear when they are pushing their boundaries.  I have felt the moment of panic as I wonder if I am asking too much of them and setting them up for failure.    When they are given the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone, they have struggled initially.  In each of those times, the boys have risen to the occasion and surpassed my hopes and expectations.  They are teaching me a lesson in providing them the opportunity to do big, brave things and to allow them to struggle in order to feel the power of their own success.

I told Finn I was writing this post and asked him what he wanted you to know.  He said, “Tell them I loved it.  I was scared at first, but I loved it and I got the best viewing of the shark!”

When we had a flat tyre on our way to Coral Bay last week, we decided that caution was the order of the day.  So we turned around and drove back to Carnarvon to get the tyre sorted out.  Instantly, we had help from our friend Vic and Coopers Tires, who were super responsive in helping us get back on the road.


When we returned to caravan park that we had just left in Carnarvon, it felt like Old Home day (does that reference translate)?  We were warmly greeted by fellow traveling families that we had gotten to know over the previous week.  We also got a wonderful surprise when a family we had met in Tassie walked into the camp kitchen that night.

The wait for a new tyre turned into a few days of fun for our boys with the opportunity to play with other kids from daylight to well after the sun set.

After an entertaining and (very) late farewell evening with the adults in the group, we headed off to Warrorra Station with one of the families in hopes of connecting with other friends.  We ended up with a picturesque camp on the beach.  Once we settled into camp, we were disappointed to find that one of the wheel bolts had sheared off the wheel on the same wheel as our newly replaced tyre.  Several interested fellow campers came by to check it out and the consensus was we were in reasonable shape (4 of 5 is ok, less than that is bad) and could repair it once we made it to a town with a service center.

The next day we discovered this was not the case when we started hearing a bad sound from the car that turned out to be two loose wheel nuts.  After a consult with a tyre shop, we jacked the car up and retightened all the nuts, we began a very slow trek back to our camp.  
  
We were stopping every 1-2kms and discovering that the nuts loose at each stop.  One snapped off during on of those stops and we were dumbfounded as to our next move. The Land Cruiser only has 5 wheel studs. We were on a dirt track and it was about to get dark (due to our very slow progress back to camp).  Panic set in for a moment as we were unsure if we would damage the car further by driving on it.  That’s when the fun started.  

Friends who we thought had already returned to camp appeared behind us on the track.  Huge sigh of relief.  We weren’t alone and we would not have to settle in on the side of the track for the night. Just knowing they were there edged the panic out so that rational thought could take over and we could start to figure out next steps. By some miracle of miracles, we got a bar of mobile service and quickly sent off a note to the most amazing 4WD mechanic, Justin Cooper, who we met in Tassie.  He responded instantaneously and asked us to call. Jay had a quick conversation and we had a game plan in place.  Our friends took the kids and me back to camp, which was about 5kms away and fed us dinner.  At the same time, the men from two other families got back on the track in the dark to make sure Jay made it safely back to camp.

We had a great evening around the fire recounting the days exctiement that night after the kids were in bed.  All the activity picked up again in the morning.  One family lent Jay their car so he could drive to the top of a sand dune to get mobile reception and call for roadside assistance. Endless negotiation with the roadside assistance resulted in a plan to meet us at the bitumen road to tow us the 200kms or so to the nearest service station.  This was not an insignificant feat as we were 25kms in on a dirt track and we needed to get our car and our camper to the road. 

Travelling families rallied around us yet again as one family watched the kids while Jay and I frantically packed up and another family volunteered to tow our camper out for us both to ensure we made it safely and to reduce the strain on beleaguered Cave Lion.  We made the long trip to the bitumen slowly as I cringed watching our wheel wobble from the trailing car.  Everyone felt huge relief as we came over a dune to see the flatbed tow truck waiting for us.  

Cave Lion was loaded onto the tow truck and then Siberian Tiger was hooked up to the truck and towed behind us.  We bid farewell to our friends as we set off in the truck. Our tow truck driver couldn’t have been friendlier and we got a great history lesson on the area as we made our way north.  The town truck pulled us into our camping spot before the car was taken over for service.

Our day was capped off with yet another act of generosity as one of the travelling families who also made their way to this caravan park, invited us for dinner as a treat after our long day.  Everyone had a great time.

The last several days have certainly brought some stressful moments, but I am struck so much more by the kindness, generosity and team spirit shared with us. There is a real feeling of “we are all in this together,” which for so many defines the Aussie spirit. We came to this country 10 months ago and began this journey so completely outside of our element and experience without having met anyone in the country.  

Our car woes have reminded us how many wonderful relationships we have formed and how far we have come.  This is all part of the adventure and I am so grateful that it has allowed us to connect with so many wonderful people.

(For those of you wondering, we have had the wheel studs repaired here in Exmouth and some time in the next week or so should get the replacement tyre and then hopefully this chapter of our car woes will be behind us.)
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!
first hour
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!
family summit
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!

boys summit

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