Category Archives: Close to home

Hunter Valley Zoo

If you haven’t been to the Hunter Valley Zoo in Nulkaba, then pack a picnic and head there pronto! We went for the first time on Boxing Day with Nanna and the Sydney cousins, and we had an absolute ball.

The Hunter Valley Zoo originally opened its doors in 2006 on the site of a former deer park. Although it hasn’t been around for long, the zoo has built up a lovely collection of animals (both furred and feathered) and an excellent reputation.

Wallabies, lions, alligators and – my personal favourite – a tapir, are just a few of the creatures on show. And the site is small enough to be totally manageable with little people. It is also beautifully kept, with clear signage to tell you what you’re looking at. Just in case you think that the brown camels are in fact llamas, like muggins here . . .

We loved that you can get up really close to some of the creatures – like these goats, deer and llamas (er, correction: camels). We actually went in a pen with some goats, too, but I didn’t get a pic as they were super-excited to see us (i.e. leaping around, rearing up on their hind legs as they tried to reach the cones of food we had bought on arrival). Yes, we weren’t feeding the friendly creatures ice cream, in case you were wondering from the photo below; the cones actually contain special animal pellets.

The zoo is open every day during the school holidays. Ickle and Mivvy both gave it a big thumbs up. Ickle particularly liked the dingoes and wolves and Mivvy thought the sheep were great. Looks like we’ll be going back again in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Funky Fungi

This could be the wettest March in recent years, according to the experts. We’ve still got a few days to go before they tot up their totals, but the local mushroom population is out to party.

Weird and wonderful fungi have been popping up to say hello on a daily basis. I’ve never seen so many along the lakeshore. These pics were all taken within a 5-minute walk from my back door.

Except the two images below where, following a hot tip-off, I hopped on my bike and cycled all of 5 minutes down the road. Worth it, though. Could they be alien life forms in various stages of development, I wonder? Nope, they’re mushrooms, of course. Although I’m not sure which species. In fact, I am unable to put a name to any of the wonderful fungi I have photographed. Any budding mycologists out there, please enlighten me.

In the meantime, I shall continue advising Ickle and Mivvy that all the mushrooms growing outside are ‘poisonous’. All they want to do is jump on them, anyway.*

*IMPORTANT NOTE: I read this weekend that jumping on mushrooms is not advisable – inhaling spores from certain species can trigger allergic reactions in some individuals.

Fairy Garden

We have a resident fairy at our place: Lucy Rosebud. She comes and goes via a fairy door placed high on a bookshelf in Ickle’s room. Sometimes, she leaves little notes and gifts. And once, Ickle woke to find a heart traced in green glitter on the bedroom floor. Glitter is fairy dust, after all.

But the magic is not confined to inside. We also have a fairy garden conceived and constructed by Ickle with a box of trinkets she was given by her cousin.

Before work got underway, though, we decided we needed a few extra pieces to complete the collection. Hence an excursion to Wyee Nursery, where we enjoyed a coffee and babyccino and fed the fish before checking out their extensive range of fairy ornaments.

Clutching a couple of miniature unicorns, two pinwheels and a bag of pink pebbles (glow-in-the-dark ones, no less), we returned home. Ickle arranged everything until it was a perfect fairy paradise.

And she gave Mivvy a special preview later that day.[Note: this tree-dwelling fairy is not Lucy Rosebud, but may be one of her friends.]

Circus Antics

Ickle spotted them first, the giant inflatable clowns positioned at various strategic locations around Swansea. A dulll are-we-there-yet car journey suddenly became exciting, because there was something different to look at, something fun! Yes, folks, the circus is in town. And we wanted to see what it was all about. So last weekend, we headed to the Big Top in Quinn Park.

We had opted for ringside seats. Although at the more expensive end of the range,* it was so worth it. Sitting just two rows back from the ring, we had an unobstructed view of the action (give or take a few stray heads).

Webers Circus are currently on tour in NSW with their “Wild West” show. In keeping with the theme, we were treated to whip cracks, Cowboy and Indian costumes and line dancing. The real attractions, however, were the main acts – but which was the showstopper?

Perhaps it was the talented juggler.Or the queen of hula hoops.Or the Lyra, where the circus artists performed aerial acrobatics, and succeeded in folding their bodies in ways I didn’t think were humanly possible.Perhaps it was the Wheel of Death, where the star performer kept impeccable balance, and a huge grin on his face, as he ran inside a huge metal hoop. And then outside it. And then did it blindfolded. High above the circus ring.

Or the grand finale, the Russian Swing, which catapulted acrobats high into the air onto a crash mat. And, more daringly, onto a chair held aloft by another performer. And even into the arms of a catcher, hanging upside-down by his feet.

There was barely time to pause for breath during the two-hour show. Even during the interval the action continued, with a jumping castle, teacup ride and refreshments outside the Big Top.

We loved it, although the girls were more than apprehensive at the start of the performance. Ickle was terrified the performers were going to fall, and Mivvy announced after the first act that she wanted to go home. By the time we got to the second half, however, the circus had worked its magic on both of them. They want to go again, right now, but we might leave it until next year.

*$32 per adult, $22 per child over 3 (ringside seats)

The Reptile Park

Getting up close to dinosaurs was an unexpected bonus of our recent visit to the Australian Reptile Park. Ickle leapt out of her skin when they roared into the show pit. Her cousin lasted a tad longer. “They’re not real,” she said. “They’re not real.” But she failed to convince herself, and we ended up in a trembling huddle with Mivvy, who had been playing in the dirt, oblivious to the excitement.

Located in Somersby, not so far from the beautiful falls we visited last year, the Reptile Park is one of NSW’s premier tourist attractions. At $95 for a family pass or $35 per adult, it is an expensive day out.* And the site is not that extensive, either. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for with its “hands-on zoo” experience, allowing everyday folk the chance to view crocodiles, turtles, snakes and the like at close quarters, along with some of their well-known furry friends. The park is also home to a snake and spider venom-milking program – worth the entry price several times over, I reckon.

Shows are scheduled throughout the day, where visitors not only see the animals but learn about them too.  As well as the Dinosaurs Alive and Reptile show, we hung out with a Galapagos tortoise at feeding time, and then with Elvis the Crocodile. It happened to be the cranky croc’s 50th birthday. He’d already snapped up half a cow that morning, but still had room for two chooks a few hours later.Boy, was it busy when we visited, despite the overcast skies and drizzle. Our trick was to look ahead at the day’s programme and get in early to guarantee top spots. So, two of us spent 30 minutes staring at an uninterested crocodile lazing in a small pool of green water so the littlies could see him strut his stuff during showtime. But it was worth it! Elvis is one of Ickle’s top memories from our visit.

Oh, and one last word before I go: coffee. If you are a aficionado of the barista-made beverage with freshly-ground beans and textured milk at just the right temperature, you have come to the wrong place. The Reptile Park has yet to adopt Australian café culture, it seems, and only serves instant coffee with skim powdered milk.*We saved the cost of one adult entry by using an Entertainment Book voucher. 

Pavement Graffiti

20161105_164847As you know, Ickle and Mivvy love art. I’ve written about their various creations on many occasions, and most recently here.

But I haven’t written about their passion for pavement graffiti before. Some afternoons, the little maestros take their chalks and artistic talents outside to decorate the best canvas ever. The alley between our house and next door is a welcome retreat from the sun and the perfect spot for creative activity. Sometimes the boys-next-door join in too and the mummies hang out by the rubbish bins while a rainbow of colour appears at our feet.

This weekend, Ickle and Mivvy were the only artists in residence, but this didn’t stop them from having a lot of fun.20161105_165131Hello! Anyone next door? Hello! Hello!

20161105_164813Ickle was exploring forms: parallel lines and circles in various colours. And making trails with her chalk as ants scuttled across the concrete.20161105_164946Mivvy drew a puddle of water in yellow, but was actually more interested in wandering up and down the alley.

There’s no trace of their artwork now – the recent rain has washed the chalkboard clean. Don’t you just love the transient nature of pavement graffiti?


Hurry!  Only a few days to catch the dinosaurs at Newcastle Museum before they head elsewhere.P1030681Although ‘catch’ is probably not the appropriate word in this context. The tyrannosaurs* were ferocious meat-eating predators with powerful legs, heavy jaws, and very strong teeth. We humans wouldn’t have lasted at all long had we overlapped with the dinosaurs. Lucky for us, then, that they were wiped out by a giant meteorite in the Mesozoic Extinction Event 66 million years ago.P103067066 million years ago. Imagine that. I can’t. Such a huge number, the mind boggles. In fact, so much about dinosaurs defies comprehension, and the exhibition brilliantly showcases the wonders and mysteries of these primitive creatures. 10 life-sized specimens from the tyrannosaurs family were on display, including the king himself, Tyrannosaurus rex (Scotty), who measured an estimated 12 metres in length. Guanlong wucaii, early relative of T.rex, was also present. This feathered fiend has got dinosaur experts the world over oohing and aahing, as it confirms the link between tyrannosaurs and birds. Yup, people, T.rex was a bird in the making.

Wow! I hear you say. You managed to gather all this information at the exhibition with your littlies in tow? And the answer is: Are you kidding?! I read the headers on the day and left the small print to late-evening Internet research. But I didn’t need the detail to enjoy the visit. And nor did the tots. The dinosaur specimens wowed us with their strange forms, giant size, long tails, and scary teeth. Especially T.rex, whose shadow had a mind of its own, and would reach down to grab unsuspecting visitors as they passed underneath.P1030678The interactive side of the exhibition was fun. Ickle and Ettie particularly enjoyed being in their own dinosaur movie, although things did get a little loud at one point. And Bear tried very hard to jump up and down to power a meteorite large enough to wipe out the creatures we had come to see.P1030673We combined our visit with a play in the museum’s Mininova soft play area, morning tea on the lovely grassy lawns outside, plus a coffee and scoot along Honeysuckle.

*Tyrannosaur comes from the Greek “tyrant lizard”.

Flip Flop Tree

20160221_111745-001Australia is renowned for its eucalypt forests and acacia woodlands and shrublands. But never before have I found mention of the flip flop tree.*

We found this unique specimen on one of our family excursions to the beach. We had opted to head to Reids Reserve in Swansea Heads. Mivvy conveniently dropped off to sleep on the way there, so Ickle and her daddy went exploring, while her mummy sat in the car and played around on her mobile phone. Nothing like a bit of downtime ensconced in the driver’s seat.20160221_111819-00120160221_111853-001And father and daughter found a beautiful pathway leading to a sandy beach and honey-rock slab a stone’s throw from the ocean. And on the way there, of course, the flip flop tree.20160221_112611-001The access to this stretch of paradise is strewn with rocks so it was a bit of a scramble, but nothing like our recent rock-hopping experience. Ickle and Mivvy had huge fun playing together in the channel, with the water swooshing gently in both directions (this is definitely not the place to be when the tide comes in). And Mivvy enjoyed picking miniature shells off the rocks and examining them, while Ickle went for a climb to observe the ocean at closer range.20160221_113305-00120160221_114259-001We were tempted to pick a pair off the tree on our return to the car, but decided we’d leave the unusual blooms in situ for others to enjoy.20160221_111807-001*Well “thong tree” really doesn’t have the same ring about it. (In Australian English, flip flops are known as thongs.)

Somersby Falls

P1030605Ickle and Mivvy have never seen a waterfall before, so last weekend we headed on a family adventure to Somersby Falls. Located close to Gosford just off the Pacific Motorway, the falls are a fair drive from our lakeside home. But oh so worth it.

Don’t be put off by the route in – Somersby Falls Road was not the beautiful stretch of paradise I had imagined. Nope, I suggest you close your eyes to the industrial ugliness – unless you’re driving, of course! – and then open them once you reach the National Park.

Here, the rainforest is dense and cool and a steep track takes you through the trees to the upper falls. We got there early, before the masses with their cameras, kids, and bottles of beer. And before the bearded man who decided to immerse himself in the waterfall, fully clothed. Hence this snap of ‘untouched’ beauty.P1030609With heavy rain the week before our visit, an impressive volume of water was cascading down the rock face into the pool below. Ickle partially stripped off to paddle in the water with her daddy, at which point Mivvy wanted a slice of the action, too. Splish, splosh!

The descent to the lower falls was a bit of a scramble – muddy and slippy in places. Broad stone ledges span the water course providing an attractive viewing platform or place to rest and picnic. We elected to boulder-hop to a little patch of beach further down where the girls had a play and a sand-covered snack.P1030630The climb back to the car park is not for the faint-hearted. I’ll admit to being a little out of puff by the time we emerged from the rainforest. But I was carrying an extra 10 kilos in the form of my youngest daughter.P1030633

Note: The car park (fee-paying) was full by the time we left at around 11 am, with cars lining both sides of the road outside the main parking area. Mind you, we had chosen to visit on a Sunday during the busy summer holidays.


P1030576Bunnings, the leading Australian home improvement and outdoor living retailer whose products are often displayed in warehouse-style premises with an intimidating number of aisles to navigate. An unusual choice for a girls’ excursion on NYE, perhaps. Until I point out that many of the stores incorporate a café and kids’ corner (along similar lines to Macca’s), and often run activities for children too. Yup, the good people at Bunnings certainly know how to attract the family demographic.

Besides, after some impressive weeding and leaf clearing by Ickle and me earlier in the week, the little courtyard outside our front door was ready for some new plants. And Daddy Ickle had tasked us with finding a kitchen tap filter – the excitement! – so that washing up is no longer an excuse for an extra shower.P1030556Let’s get our priorities straight, though. We made a beeline for the playground as soon as we arrived. I sipped a (surprisingly good) flat white while the girls explored the space. Perfectly suited to Ickle now she’s almost four – don’t you know. She scampered up one plastic chute and slid down the other, made faces at her little sister through the perspex windows, and adjusted the hands on a huge clock face. Mivvy was limited in what she could do, but enjoyed looking on, and made valiant attempts to scramble up the slide.P1030554P1030561It’s a small space so things can get a bit manic with more than a handful of littlies at play, or when some of the big kids come in to let off steam. But great for a breather before the important business of tackling all those aisles.P1030568We didn’t find a tap filter despite our best efforts. And there wasn’t a miniature trolley in sight for Ickle to run around with, like on a previous visit. (Apparently they have a habit of disappearing). But we did come away with some beautiful plants and veg for our courtyard garden…and possibly the smallest pair of gardening gloves ever.P1030582P1030585