Riding

We are sharing the guest house with Jill and her family and were woken up around 7.30 by Theo shouting at the top of his voice. Still we wanted to get up early and despite the cold we’re quickly out of bed and dressed. We make our way over to the barn and have our breakfast. Stood around the fire we look up at the sky, ominously overcast, it has been raining very heavily overnight and the ground is really boggy.

First job of the day is to milk the cows Gracie and Princess. Bill explains that they provide enough milk for the farm guests, although they have run out since we arrived due to our hot chocolate consumption! We make our way to the barn and Bill gives a quick demonstration before encouraging us to have a go. Oh my god what an experience that was! Still it’s not too difficult although Ali managed to squirt the milk almost everywhere but in the milk pail.

We take the milk back to the house for straining and watch Chris mending a bullwhip. He explains that they can cost upto 400 dollars and are all hand made. They are plaited in such a way to make them supple and use the best quality leather. He tells us he used to make them a lot. They show us how to crack the whips, although this isn’t too difficult the skill is cracking them in the right place. (Not behind your ear as I managed to do)

Bill decides we’ll ride later to give the ground a chance to dry up a bit and we all pile in the ute for a ride. Daily jobs on a ranch this size include checking the levels in the water bores. Water conservation is really importance here and even though it has rained heavily the dams we visit aren’t full. Bill explains that checking fences is also an ongoing task and he constantly checks on the cattle. The ranch breeds heifers for sale, which will be grown at other farms to a larger weight before reaching the slaughter house.

The kids really love the bit of off road 4 wheel driving and its really interesting listening to Bill telling his tales about the history of the land he obviously loves so much. He shows us the molasses lick that the cattle use, an Aboriginal shield cut from a tree and a Bull Ant nest.

We get back to the farm and its time for Chris and Dan to leave. It’s been great listening to their stories. Dan breaks horses for a living and shows us a graze on his ear he has got from taking place in a calf scruff. This involves wrestling the calf to the ground and then branding it and sounds like part job part sport. Bills parents have arrived and we’re introduced to Marie and Big Bill. After lunch we’re going riding again and despite my slightly sore arse I’m excited about this, I think we all enjoyed yesterdays ride a lot.

There are no ceremonies today and we’re expected to find our own horses and their tack. As we have all forgotten which saddles and bridles we used it does take a while but eventually we’re ready to go and set off. Lorel is also riding today for the first time in about 40 years and I admire her enthusiasm for it all. The land is stunning and I think we all feel there’s a sense of simplicity about life here on the ranch.
We ride for a couple of hours and by the end of the afternoon Simon, Ali and I are all cantering around on our horses. It’s fantastic to see Ali has gained so much confidence around the horses and enjoyed himself so much and Maisie has also trotted on Starlight. (Something she thought she couldn’t do) As everyone heads back to the farm Bill asks Simon and I to help him muster the milkers. (Rounding them up) Herding cattle on horseback was just so cool; I felt like a cowboy and absolutely loved it.

Bills girlfriend Toni arrives with her daughter Gabby and after dinner we help clear up before heading off to bed. Our original plan was to stay for one day and night but as we are having such a great time we decide to stay longer. Simon sorts this out with Bill. Hurray! How cool is that!

Glassford Creek Farmstay

Today has been for me a realisation of dreams that I have had since I was a little girl. After a long, cold and restless night we were up at 5.30am and quickly chucked on our clothes to get warm. Our taxi at 6.20 drops us at the greyhound terminal and we catch the bus to Miriam Vale two hours down the coast.

When we arrive we are met by Rosie, a cheerful Londoner who has been working for accommodation and food at Glassford Farmstay for the past few weeks. We pile into the ute and within 5 minutes are making our way along an unsealed road on the way to the farm. The scenery is breathtaking, nothing like anything else we have seen anywhere along the East Coast and I’m smitten. Rolling hills, tall gum trees and spartan looking greeny brown grass cover the land as far as we can see.

Around half an hour later we arrive, the farm is a large beef ranch with 4000 acres of land, 350 cattle and over 30 horses. We make our way up to the long drive and pull up alongside a sturdy and spacious looking white painted, wooden house. The largish barn serves as a kitchen and dining area and as it is completely freezing we’re pleased to see a basket with a log fire burning away in the middle. Rosie encourages us to make ourselves hot drinks and endless rounds of toast with local honey for breakfast. No sooner have we made a start on that than we’re interrupted by a booming voice. Attached is one of the most friendly and instantly likeable people I have met.

Bill is the owner of the farm and warmly introduces us to the other guests. A British/Australian/French family consisting of Lorel (Aussie born, lived in England for the past 40 years) Jill, her daughter (UK born lived in OZ for 10 years) Theo aged 4 and Chloe aged 3( Born in Australia) and their Dad Terry ( French).

In no time Bill announces we will be riding and after kitting ourselves out in layers and layers of shirts, cowboy hats and riding boots we follow him out to the horses. Rosie has explained to us that there are no routines or set timetables here and we can do as little or as much as we want to join in with the daily farm business. We saddle up the horses and after 5 minutes of instruction we’re off. The kids are both looking really anxious and although I have got complete faith in Bill and Rosie I can see why. This couldn’t be further from a riding school experience. Bill doesn’t like the horses to walk in single file and we make our way in our group across the absolutely awesome and beautiful, wild looking land.

We ride for about an hour and Bill gives us some great informative explanations about the wildlife, trees and cattle along the way. The kids just love it. Despite their initial nerves they’re both grinning and as I know Ali was a bit worried it’s fantastic to see him getting more confident. With a bit of encouragement he is so pleased to be able to make his horse AJ do what he wants. My horse Jasper is a dream to ride, very lively and fresh but really responsive and despite not having ridden for years I feel really confident and just love it. Maisie is riding Starlight and Simon is on Canada.
We make our way back and after sorting the horses out head to the barn for lunch. Bill has made some potato and celery soup and we have cold chicken, ham, boiled eggs and salad to go with it. So good. We were all completely freezing at this point and mugs of steaming coffee washed it all down and warmed us through.

Bill then announces we have to move Nobbsy the bull back to the pastures. Apparently he is a fantastic bull who loves his job so much he forgets to eat in between servicing the cows and therefore has been penned in for the past 3 weeks to give him a rest and feed him up! Getting Nobbsy up the ramp and into the truck is no mean feat and I was scared just watching Bill. The bull was massive and although not enraged, just pissed off enough to show Bill who’s the boss. Watching him snorting, pawing the ground and rolling his eyes whilst crashing around his pen was a scary and exciting experience. Eventually though he was in.

We set off along the road to the pasture. Four year old Theo sat on Bills lap and helped to drive. The kids loved it, racing along in a big van with Chloe and Theo whooping along as we sped up and down the hills. When we arrived Bill let Nobbsy out and once he was at a safe distance we all jumped down and listened as Bill explained more about the day to day running of a ranch this size.

Back at the house and Bills mates Chris and Dan have arrived. Another couple of cowboys, they stride in and explain how they took the back roads here to avoid detection by the local police. Having been involved in a collision with a roo they have a light missing on the car which needs replacing! Bill explains that Polocross is a very popular sport in these parts and they will give us a demonstration if we want.

They saddle up 3 horses and after a quick explanation they’re off. A cross between polo, lacrosse and rugby it’s a dangerous and thrilling looking game and we watch from the edge of the field.

We get back to the barn and have some homemade biscuits and hot chocolate. The kids feed Poppy, a hand reared baby kangaroo who has just been weaned from the bottle. It’s magical watching them and after a quick chat we decide we definitely want to stay here longer than our planned day and night.

Our dinner of roast beef cooked in a huge cast iron pot over the open fire is fantastic and we sit around the fire later listening to Don Williams. I tell Bill I know the words to the songs despite not hearing them for 25 years. He tells me he has been listening to the songs every night for the past 25 years and still doesn’t know them!

Being here is an amazing adventure and all my romantic ideas of cattle station life are coming true, sat here listening to the men chatting about cows and rodeos and drinking Bundaberg Rum. Off to bed now it’s a long cold walk in the dark to the guesthouse. Bill tells us first job of the day tomorrow is milking the cows! Yeee ha!

Botanic Gardens and Zoo

We woke up at 8am when the fella from the Glassford Farmstay called us. We decided last night that we definitely want to do this as it sounds really good fun. We arrange that we will catch the bus from Rockhampton to Miriam Vale tomorrow morning at 6.45am and he will collect us from the bus terminal at 8.55 when we arrive.

That sorted we get up quickly, we have to move out of here as unfortunately they don’t have room for us tonight but they have given us the name of another place across the bridge and overlooking the river. We have some fruit and yogurt for breakfast and load up in the van for our lift to Rockhampton Heritage Hotel. It’s costing us 80 dollars (33 quid) for a shared room with 4 bunk beds and no toilet or shower but when we arrive I’m not too bothered despite our rapidly diminishing funds. It’s very atmospheric here, from the outside very pretty with wooden trellising all around the high veranda and a kitsch 1970 look to downstairs. Upstairs though is cool, old fashioned saloon style, I feel like a cowgirl walking around this place.

Rockhampton is described as the beef capital of Australia and there are loads of steakhouses, life size cattle figurines and cowboy hats. Apparently the PC brigade haven’t reached Rocky yet and darl, gal and mate are the general terms of address for everyone here. Suits me I love all that.

We catch the bus to the Botanic Gardens. We have a long walk around the cactus and Japanese gardens before the kids play in the park for half an hour or so. We are joined over lunch by a large number of birds including Lorikeets, Peacocks, Kookaburras and some other tall white things with long bony looking beaks. Next we walk around the small zoo. The animals here are nearly all well known Australian species and we enjoy the opportunity of seeing Koalas, Cassowaries, Wallabies and Dingoes close up. As we are heading back to the bus we stop off at the small visitors centre and the lady tells us about the spiders on display and shows us a baby crocodile in a tank. As the Botanic Gardens are free we agreed it was a great way to spend the afternoon and we have had a lovely time.

Get back to the town centre and while Simon has his haircut me and the kids sit in the bar and have a drink. Tonight is 10 dollar steak and karaoke night and we have our dinner around 8pm before heading off for an early night. 5.30am start tomorrow.

Greyhound to Rockhampton

Simon woke me up early this morning. I slept like a log and it takes me ages to wake up properly. (Still swaying!) We had a quick shower and chucked on our warmest stuff before making our way up to reception where we have to wait for the courtesy bus to take us to the Greyhound Terminal at 11. It is pissing it down and fairly cold. All I can think off is the fact that I’m so glad we aren’t joining Rowan, Oscar and Jason on the sailing trip today. We hear a girl saying she has cancelled her trip as its so stormy looking.

The bus eventually arrives a bit late and we all pile on. It will take at least 7 hours to get to Rockhampton but to be honest I’m quite looking forward to sitting doing nothing all day and don’t really mind. The first hour or so goes quite quickly, the last Harry Potter film is showing and we all sit glued to it despite having seen it loads of times before. I stare out of the window as we carry on. The land is very flat, quite bare and barren looking and so much space! We seem to drive for miles without seeing anything other than fields and a few trees. I imagined as the East Coast is the most heavily populated part of Australia that we would drive past lots of towns on our way but so far it’s not been like that and we don’t see much on the way.

We stop at a truck stop around 2.30pm and have 4 of the most toxic sandwiches I have ever seen. I refuse to eat mine and save it for later when I’m really hungry and might be able to force it down. Eating cheaply and healthily here seems to be a contradiction in terms and unless we cook our own food our budget limits us to Hungry Jacks, McDonalds, Red Rooster and KFC. Despite being a junk food addict even I have got fed up with it and feel quite unhealthy these days.

I listen to my new music on my MP3 on the way and read a few magazines. At last we arrive and ring the Rockhampton YHA to come and get us. About 20 minutes walk out of town, it’s a decent hostel with porta cabin type accommodation, shared kitchen and TV lounge.

We walk to the nearest supermarket, a large Woolworths and buy lots of fruit, some salad, cheese and yogurt. None of us could face a big dinner tonight and we just picked at fruit and carrot sticks. The kids then watched TV and I sit typing this. We’re not really too sure what we’re doing here in “Rocky” but decide to sort that out tomorrow. We have a vague idea of hoping to sort out a farm stay over next few days. Tired now off to bed.

Costal Walk

Woke up feeling really bone tired this morning, still swaying a lot and seem to have developed a number of bruises and aches and pains in muscles I didn’t realise I had. Rowan said that despite the lack of cardio exercise on the boat, sailing is physically demanding and I guess now we’re back on terra firma I am feeling it a bit.

We had a lovely morning, slow breakfast and then some schoolwork, maths today which went well and I learnt something also. (Long division). We caught the bus into town and had a wander around the harbour area. All the towns we have visited so far on the East Coast have very similar sea front areas. With manmade salt water lagoons, children’s playgrounds, lots of grass and BBQ’s they are a great place for hanging out by.

We book some onward bus tickets to Rockhampton, leaving tomorrow at 11am and go to Nando’s for lunch. We check our emails and reply to a few from friends. Also heard from Lou the girl we met in Cambodia today. She’s off on holiday again soon I didn’t think it would take her too long! After stopping off at the book exchange and picking up a copy of Lonely Planet Sydney City Guide, we walk back to the hostel along a lovely coastal path which takes us around an hour. We stopped for a drink at the yacht club on the way and I laughed to myself when Maisie asked loudly “Where’s our yacht moored?” (What a blagger!)

In the evening we meet up with Tracey for dinner. She returned from sailing the day we went and also had a good time although apparently was very seasick for most of her two days. It’s great to catch up with her and have a good chat. She tells us she loves it in Airlie beach and is staying on for a bit longer than she had originally planned. (Partying!) We all have cheapo steak and plan to catch up again in Sydney. We’re heading to New Zealand and Fiji around the same time also so I guess we’ll see her again.

Get back to the hostel and decide to walk up the road and make a few phone calls home. Have a good chat with Mum and Dad and Pauline and wish Dad and Paul a Happy Fathers Day. Simon also speaks to his Mum and after an hour of standing in a phone box in the freezing wind I’m almost blue and ready to snuggle up in bed with some chocolate and a coffee.

Packed our gear, all our clothes are washed and dried at last. Managed to pinch this week’s copy of OK from the pile of magazines in the TV lounge for the bus ride tomorrow! He He!

Sailing

Well we got our wish, woke up at 8 today to see clear blue skies and bright sunshine -hurray! Everyone slept a lot better, (despite Maisie sleep talking!) and we motor slowly out of the bay. We are heading for a resort island and in no time we are taking advantage of the gusty winds and hoisting the sails. It’s an incredible feeling and I always thought I would love it but considered it to be an expensive, snobby and elitist pastime in England. When I talk to Rowan about this he agreed and despite his long sailing experience didn’t sail when he lived in England for 6 months for that reason.

It’s so exciting once the winds get up and Maisie loves it. Absolutely thrilling when the boat is leaning right over and none of us seem to really notice when we get a drenching every now and then! It seems too soon when after an hour we reach the island resort. We all have slightly different agenda’s for our time there. Nadine, Princess and Oscar go for a walk. Simon and the kids swim. Jason and Rowan stay on board to clean the boat and prepare lunch and I take advantage of the hot sun and strip off for a tanning session by the pool.

After lunch which included fish caught by the fella’s we start to make our way back. We sail nearly all the way, which I’m thrilled about. It’s so cool! Although the trip has cost us loads it has definitely been worth it. I have really enjoyed the flexibility of being on a smaller boat and Rowan, Jason and Oscar have all tried really hard to make sure we had a great time. The food was fantastic and we have had a lot of laughs and loads of fun. We swap music from Rowans laptop to my MP3 player, getting into the Aussie stuff now love Powderfinger! Despite a slightly rocky start with a bit too much fast sailing excitement for the kids, their seasickness never returned and they had a great time.

When we get back to Bush Village I’m quite surprised to see that despite not having a shower for 3 days I don’t look too bad, a bit piratey I guess but generally quite healthy and tanned. Glad to be back on dry land though. Feeling so so tired.

Got a take out roast dinner for our evening meal, what a great invention that is. Feeling quite landsick if that’s the right word now. Probably be swaying for days. Going to catch up on some emails now and then crash out for the night. Zzzzzzzzzz!

The Whitsunday Passage

I woke up around 7.30 having had a slightly disturbed night. It started raining sometime during the night and the noise was pretty loud. As the tide turned, the waves hit the side of the boat causing it to rock a lot also. It is a very strange feeling sleeping in a boat out on the sea and only Rowan who lives on the boat seemed to have slept really well.

The weather is quite bad, raining and gusty winds and we decide the best thing to do is head for a sheltered cove and take advantage of the snorkelling there. Simon and Ali both snorkel for ages. The Great Barrier Reef extends all down the East Coast of Australia as far as Rockhampton and they said the visibility was as good as at Cairns but the fish were friendlier! I have a quick swim but the current is strong and as I’m pulled away from the boat really quickly I soon get back on.

We motor around the headland and me and the kids go out to the island in the small dingy we have been towing behind us. We have a walk, collect a few shells and clamber over the rocks, after being on the boat for 24 hours in rough weather it feels good to get out and get some fresh air. The afternoon is spent fishing and swimming. Not for me though, I sit reading my book in the relatively warm and dry cabin.

We sail to Refuge Bay in the evening. There are no mooring spots so we have to anchor the boat and I volunteer to guard it with my glass of wine, cheese and biscuits and Jason for company whilst everyone goes hunting for oysters. Simon and I are the only ones on board who claim to like them but after collecting, shucking and washing them everyone else except Rowan tries them and they’re wolfed down! We have a lovely evening, some great Mexican food; Ali plays Rowans guitar and lots of beers.

1am – off to bed hoping for a good nights sleep and some great sailing weather tomorrow.

Whitsunday Islands

Woke up this morning feeling quite rested but very apprehensive about the trip. We pack up our stuff and catch the bus to the pier at Airlie Beach for 8.30. We’ve been told not to take too much gear, but despite this have got enough snacks to feed us for the next 3 days if they forget dinner.

The Captain of “Whitsunday Passage” is called Rowan and the crew are Oscar and Jason. Oscar is an Irish girl who just got off the boat yesterday having done the same trip as we are doing and Jason a friend of Rowans, an experienced skipper of motor boats out to learn some sailing skills. Rowan tells me he has been sailing since he was 3, grew up on a boat and was almost completely home schooled by his parents on the boat. As he usually captains this trip alone without any crew I’m not too concerned about the relative inexperience of Oscar and Jason. There are only 2 other guests a German couple, Nadine and her boyfriend who is immediately christened Princess.

The weather is breezy, excellent sailing weather we’re told and before long we help raise the main and head sails and we’re off. Flying! It’s absolutely amazing, exhilarating and scary. The boat tips far to the side and we get splashed a lot but it’s fantastic! We’re doing nearly 12 knots in no time and Rowan has to reduce the main sail a bit to slow us down. The kids are completely green within minutes and have to sit on the deck with their faces in the wind, gazing across to the horizon and gobbling their Kwells down.

The waves are really big and Rowan explains that it will take about an hour to get to the place where we will be snorkelling for the afternoon. We have a chance to explore the boat, which doesn’t take long. There are 3 double cabins and 4 single birth beds, a small kitchen area and toilet. The safety talk included a discussion about blocking the toilet, something that will apparently almost constitute an emergency on board and I think we all make up our minds it won’t be one of us 4 that makes that unfortunate mistake!

We arrive at the snorkelling site but there’s no way I’m going in.( Too cold) Instead Rowan takes us across to the beach and we have a wander around whilst waiting for the tide to drop further. When it does, the reef is exposed and we have the opportunity to walk along the rocks of the reef and examine the coral close up. There are lots of different types and we see some clams and starfish also.

After a great dinner of BBQ kangaroo steaks, salad and potato salad washed down with a few wines, Jason and Rowan set up their fishing lines. The aim is to catch something big and Maisie has caught a Bat Fish in no time. The fish are literally jumping onto the lines and they throw loads back even though they are over a couple of feet long as its illegal to keep them unless they’re over a certain size. They explain they always throw fish back unless they are going to be eaten or used as bait.

Off to bed now. Simon and I are sleeping in the cabin right in the bow and the noise of the water splashing all around; the lack of space and the damp sheets make me think we probably won’t get a great nights sleep .Fingers crossed, can’t cope with tiredness as well as salty hair.

Bush Village

We have had a very quiet peaceful and relaxing day today. We got up late and eventually caught the bus into town. After paying for the remainder of our sailing trip we had a wander around the lagoon and got some lunch at the local health food shop.

In the afternoon I swap my book for the most recent Harry Potter instalment. I have read it before but very quickly when it was first released and figured it will make a good distraction from the sea sickness if that becomes a problem tomorrow.

Get back and have dinner, its good to be able to cook some decent food and we all stuff our selves before crashing out. I’m feeling very excited and a bit anxious about the sailing trip. Hope the crew and other guests are nice; guess we’ll be chucking them overboard if not.

Airlie Beach

It didn’t take us too long to pack this morning and we left a few things behind that we just couldn’t carry any further including fins and books. The Moke has to be back at 10am and the timing is good as we want to catch the ferry back to Townsvillle at 9.45. We pile all our stuff in and set off. Maisie and I wait at the terminal while Simon and Ali return the Moke and by 1030 we are back on the mainland waiting for the Greyhound bus to Airlie Beach.

The bus ride takes around 6 hours. Unfortunately Ali has had some bad luck over the past few days, first leaving his PSP case with 2 memory sticks on the bus from Cairns to Townsville and then yesterday snapped the joystick on it. This means he has to read or listen to my MP3 player on the bus and he’s not a happy bunny. We stop off on the way for an hour and have some sandwiches and sweets.

We arrive at Airlie beach with nowhere to stay and follow a fella up the road to Magnums Backpackers. When we arrive they tell us we can’t stay there as it’s licensed and “no kids allowed”. What a pain. Our stuff is really heavy and as it’s hot we just sit at the bar and have a pint before deciding what to do next. We have also been given a card from another place slightly out of town and give them a call. They tell us they will be down to collect us in 10 minutes.

Bush Village Backpackers Resort turns out to be great. More expensive than we have been paying at 156 dollars (65 quid) but worth it. The accommodation consists of decent sized cabins with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and best of all a bathroom. We realised last night that this is the first time we haven’t had a shared shower and toilet since arriving in Australia and although it’s a simple thing it seems like a real luxury.

We sit having a few beers with the manager Greg. We have decided we are going sailing and after much discussion eventually decide on a 2 night/ 3 day trip for 600 pounds. This still sounds a lot and it did hurt, but that is on a smaller yacht (Only 12 people) and includes the reef taxes, all food and activities. Greg also gives us tomorrow nights accommodation here free and they will store our gear and take us and collect us. When we broke it down it worked out that each day will cost 50 quid per person all in. (Doesn’t sound quite so bad put that way!)

Simon and I walk up to the supermarket and get some food, leaving the kids watching Neighbours and then Home and Away! We get back and eat quickly before I crash out on the bed with a few magazines and a glass of wine. Simon goes off to update our website but comes back unable to do it. I have found the crappy internet service here in OZ a real pain in the arse. Some places won’t allow you to plug anything into the USB and it can be very expensive. There also seems to be a distinct lack of wifi which means we haven’t been able to make any telephone calls home on Skype either. Very frustrating!

Off to sleep now we have to sort out a few things tomorrow before sailing on Thursday morning.