Our Team of Favourites

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Before we can tell you what our favourite places and experiences were, we need to give a big cheer to our kids Noah and Chloe. Without their help, opinions and enthusiasm, this trip would have been very different. Our teamwork was complimented many times by the grey nomads, especially directed at the kids when setting/packing up.

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Noah, our handsome young man, sorted the stabilisers, hammered in all the pegs, set up awnings and was always on the front box lifting or folding the canvas. We are so proud of his teamwork and initiative, but especially the kind, thoughtful person he has always been. Opening doors for strangers and contributing to any adult conversation that was had around the campfire, he has grown so much. No longer did he ask for us to get his scooter of the roof of the car, he was up there taking both of them off and strapping them up when done. Thank you Noah.

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Chloe, our inquisitive girl, can now do her jobs unprompted (well maybe just a little prompting now and then). Chloe was always on top of the trailer undoing/doing up the clips, sealing the velcro around the top and tying down the sides. She also pulls out and sets up the kitchen on arrival. All this before running off to the jumping pillow or the beach sand to play. She was also in charge of the evening wash up, collecting everything up and hauling Noah off to the camp kitchen. At every turn there was at least 5 questions about anything and everything. Never stop learning Chloe.

So, now that we are home, we are often asked the “favourites?” question, and we spent the last week on the road having a healthy debate between the four of us. It helped to pass the time and bring back some memories for the kids too. Anyway, here is the hardest blog to write!

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Darwin

Camping Spot – Big 4 Howard Springs! Thanks for the company, Karen Wilson, we just loved sharing our epic adventure with you! You coming was such a highlight for us. And our friendly neighbours, the Perry’s, bonding over shared hose connections to fill the tanks! Memorable 9 days with very special people. (Possums nearly ruined it all!)

Experience – it was hard to agree on this one, so kids voted the Darwin waterfront with the wave pool and RFDS facility and the adults went for ‘Walk Darwin’ tour. If we could add more, it would be the Territory Wildlife Park!

 

Kakadu

Camping Spot – although we really wanted to camp at Jim Jim, it was still closed (sorting out the crocs) so Cooinda was perfect for 8 nights. It was like camping in the bush, but with a pool, restaurant and facilities within reach.

Experience – it was a tie between Gunlom Falls especially the infinity pool at the top (of a 500m vertical climb!) and Ubirr rock arts/crocodile watching at Cahill Crossing.

 

Stuart Highway

Camping Spot – SA/NT border. The best free camp. Watched the stars at their brightest as there was no light pollution at all. We were all on our own there.

Experience – Mataranka thermal pools. This was Chloe’s absolute favourite place and probably pushed her swimming skills to the next level because she never got out of the water.

 

Kata Tjuta National Park

Camping Spot – Ayers Rock Campground. We just didn’t fit into the unpowered sites, Myrtle is 6 x 8m, so we were upgraded to the powered section. This was the first time we plugged in. The resort was fantastic, loved the Astronomy talk (with a huge telescope) too.

Experience – Mala walk. This free ranger guided talk took two hours at the base of Uluru and focused on the history as well as current life of the Ananou people. It also helped with our family discussion on why we should/shouldn’t climb. These were the best school days for the kids (and adults).

 

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Damper Peninsula

Camping spot – Gumbanan, perched on an escarpment, looking out to Curlew Bay and the Indian Ocean. We thought we’d stay for 2 nights, ended up staying 8 nights. Probably our favourite camp spot of the whole adventure.

Experience- Southern Cross Lullumb walk with Bolo. Although we explored the Damper Peninsula for 2 weeks, spending the day with Bolo and his family in Bardi Jawi country was an experience we won’t forget.

 

Ningaloo Reef

Camping Spot – Ningaloo Station, another corrugated road but worth the beach front camping! We didn’t wear any shoes for 4 days. Bonfires on the beach, swimming on the reef and fishing heaven. This was Noah’s favourite spot.

Experience – Dive with the Whale Sharks. Thanks to Ocean Eco Adventures, this was the most humbling experience to swim next these amazing animals. All four of us got to swim along side whale sharks, and turtles with the bonus of seeing humpback whales that had just given birth to their calves. They were just starting their journey back to Antarctica.

 

Shark Bay World Heritage Area

Camping Spot – Francois Peron National Park. We were completely on our own, more beach front camping, more stunning views. This was Darren’s favourite spot. We were the only ones here and the colours stunning. Red sand, white sand, brilliant blue with the setting sun.

Experience – meeting the dolphins at Monkey Mia, it was on Noah’s ‘top three’ list and he was lucky enough to be chosen to give them a little feed of fish. Darren’s favourite experience here was being recognised in the street from http://www.Smithsgowest2018.com website! Thanks Angela!

 

Gibb River Road

Camping Spot – Ellenbrae Station. A little oasis along a bumpy, dusty road. The kids fell in love with Evie the dog, we ate the best scones and showered under a semi-outdoor boab tree (hot water thanks to a wood fire stove). We also loved Kununurra – our beautiful neighbours Olivia and Matt! We sure hope to see you guys again soon.

Experience – Mitchell Falls. This was a hard place to get to. It took us 3 hours to travel 70km at one point but it was oh so worth it. The helicopter ride to the top of the falls, exploring every nook on the way back (under water falls and over rocks), it was a great slow amble back to camp. The rock art here was incredible as well.

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Nullarbor Plain

Camping Spot – ‘Gravel pit past the sink hole’ on WikiCamps. 509km east of Esperance. It was a magic free camp! Totally found it by chance.

Experience – watching Noah build epic campfires each night to keep us warm. He has mastered the ‘flint & steel ignition like a true bushman. The three days traveling across was not so Nulla-boring after all!

 

Eyre Peninsula

Camping Spot – Whyalla foreshore. We were 5m from the water (again) and Noah spent half the day fishing. It was also our last time camping in Myrtle for the epic adventure.

Experience – Day at Coffin Bay. Exploring this little coastal town had us chatting to the local volunteer ambos, walking along the numerous jettys and learning all about the oyster industry from Chris at PURE Coffin Bay Oysters.

 

Coober Pedy

Camping Spot – Riba’s Underground. Rick and Barbara (RIBA) were really great hosts giving honest advice on what to do and see with kids. Everything that was recommended was tops. They also had their own mine their and did a real hands on tour. Lotsa flies here!!!

Experience – This place was also on Noah’s top three list! All of it, the shops, mines and churches. The most interesting place (maybe a little weird) was Faye’s Underground Home. This house was dug out by three women over 10 years. They made sure to have a cellar, bar and indoor pool. They sure liked a party.

 

So that is a quick answer to “what was your favourite?” We did so much more that it is extremely difficult to narrow all our experiences down to one short blog post.

In the end, we managed to do a hell of a lot together, cover many 21, 595 kms of this awesome country and had a great time doing it. Next, it’s either smithsgonorth or smithsgosouth!

Thanks for coming along with us.

Eyre (Oyster) Peninsula

 

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Only one week til home, one more week…… We’ve planned and booked the home stretch, thanks to Darren who won is a few nights stay at Barossa Valley. Although the luxury tent was tempting, it only sleeps 2, so we swapped the tent for a luxury cabin that sleeps 4.

But before the cabin luxury we indulged in the seafood luxury! We had oysters for morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Oh. Yeah. They was also the fish, the prawns and the calamari.

Streaky Bay, Coffin Bay and Boston Bay all had the goods. We sure do love exploring a good peninsula! The scenery along here is stunning, we found this little spot for lunch, would have been another great free camp, but we are starting to feel the pressure of time. That real world is fast approaching us.

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Thanks to Chris at PURE Coffin Bay Oysters, we learnt exactly why oysters are an expensive treat. Talk about labour intensive. My memory of oysters growing is they just stayed on a rock and waited for tides to come and go. We were the only ones on the tour (more oysters for us!) So we asked ask the questions. Noah also finished a last video for his homework.

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Port Lincoln was our base for us to explore the lower Eyre Peninsula. We got another waterfront spot, we have been so lucky on this trip. According to the holy grail of all truths, Wikipedia, Port Lincoln may have the most millionaires per capita in Australia as its the premier seafood Aquaculture region. Interesting. We made sure to sample as much seafood as we could, you know, just to be sure*.

On our way to Whyalla, we had a scheduled stop at Glen Forest Park and Lincoln Estate winery. It’s a family business with crops, animals and vines! It was a little tip-off from a lady in Coffin Bay.

See you soon NSW.

I am fairly certain the people SELLING the seafood are the millionares! BUYING and EATING it has not in any way resulted in any financial gain 🤣 – Ed (Daz)

The ‘Other’ South Coast – Walpole, Albany & Esperance

20180828_1338101839427201.jpgWe’ve just had a week on the WA south coast and wish we had more time to explore. Do you think our health employers will extend our leave? Probably not, so it will have to go on the list for our next adventure. We certainly have been pining for the warmer weather again, especially watching our new friends Olivia and Matt who are still working in Kununurra, the Perry’s and Dust Off The Grind – they are still frolicking in the north west of the state. Buggers. Darren and I have surprised ourselves with the warm weather craving, we never wished for summer before, but now…..

After leaving Margaret River, we went to Walpole, or ‘Valley of the Giants’. First stop was the Gloucester Tree at Pemberton. A 53m tall tree that was used in 1947 to climb and look for bushfires. So the steel rungs sticking out had been there a while. Noah was super keen, but our health knowledge kicked in – no nets, no safety and the whole tree swayed. No way.

However the Treetops walk through the red and yellow tingle trees was – not as scary and far safer. The walking platform was elevated 40m in the air. Yes, the walkway did sway, especially when Noah jumped up and down on it.

Albany. Home of the National Anzac Memorial. As with most of the war history we have learnt along this trip, there are so many facts we never knew. Albany was the last piece of Australia that over 40,000 ANZACs saw as this was the harbour they departed from.

The memorial was beautiful and personalised as you were given a card with some details, and you learnt more about them as you went around the displays. We also visited the church where Padre White did the first dawn service, St Johns.

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Our last night in Albany was wet and windy thanks to the Great Australian Bight This convinced us to splash out on a cabin in Esperance. The weather continued to be questionable, but there were a few patches of sun so we could see this spectacular coastline.

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Next is the Nullarbor. Having never done this stretch of road I’m looking forward to it. Darren keeps laughing at me…..

Magnificent Camping @ Margaret River

Myrtle had a little slice of heaven this week in MR, at Glenbrook. Thanks again to Wikicamps, we had 20 acres to ourselves 5 min from town.

But before MR, we made a stop at Busselton Jetty. The longest jetty in the world as its a 3.6km return journey. Even though it looked a bit stormy, we risked it. There was an option to catch a tram out, but the walk with our rain jackets was easy. We were a walking ad for Kathmandu.

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Glenbrook was also a magical spot for a birthday! This was our fourth birthday cake on the trip, having celebrated Jacks in Perth. Darren chose all the adventures for the day……

 


Great base to explore the capes. Who knew that there was more than grapes here? Darren and I were here many years ago, for the food and wine. OK, it was mostly wine (no judging here, it was 15 years ago).

First off, a little drive down to Cape Leeuwin to climb and cave. Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse only became fully automated in 1992, the last keeper leaving in 1996.

Its the tallest one in WA, so if course we had to climb it. Amazing views of treacherous coast. Its also where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.

There is a 100km stretch of limestone from cape to cape in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste national park so after going up, we went down.

Jewel Cave was huge. 500 steps (on top of the lighthouse steps!) But worth it. Richard, our tour guide had a great take home message:

1 – this cave took a million years to decorate,  let’s keep it that way for future generations and

2 – MR is special,  no planes or trains.  Take the time to listen to all the other sounds around you.

As well as tasting a little bit of wine, we also tasted chocolate and chorizo. Daz tasted some beer! Onto the Valley of the Giants……

The Great Western Jaffle Discovery

20180810_102853.jpgApparently Ron Smith (Grandpa) had a round jaffle iron, that had quite an effect on Darren. So basically, we have been traveling Australia searching for a round jaffle iron. We go into every camping store, second hand shop and randomly ask people at camp sites.

Things came to a head in Kalbarri, we had our first rainy day of the trip and the desperation for a warm jaffle lunch escalated. We enjoyed Kalbarri, we checked out the NP, loved ‘nature’s window’ and learnt all about Zuytdorp shipwreck, a Dutch East India ship from early 1600’s.

The drive from Kalbarri to Geraldton took us a while – the coastal cliffs were spectacular. No wonder the Dutch ships ran aground on the surrounding reefs. (We learnt more about these ships in Geraldton.)

We also passed a pink lake! WA has three of these lakes, an algae turns it pink, weird but wonderful.

Anyway, back to jaffles…. We arrived in Geraldton with Daz announcing his intention to just buy a square one! ARB Geraldton had some (and a set of Clearview mirrors I won from ‘Travelling Aus with Kids in a Camper Trailer FB page!!!!) And the jaffle fun dance commenced.

Spaghetti, baked beans, ham, cheese, tomato and ‘the blue tin’ all went in. Kids were amazed at the deliciousness of the Jaffle. Everyone went to sleep dreaming about the next ARB jaffle (breakfast) and what else could go inside them.

Geraldton is somewhere we could live. What a great town! The museum provided a tour about the Dutch shipwrecks, seafood for lunch on the marina, a park on every corner, the most bizarre church we’ve ever seen.

A young man, John Hawes, who grew up in Wales in the 1870’s, trained in architecture, became an anglican minister, then became a catholic priest, went to Rome, met an Aussie bishop, moved to WA and built a whole lot of churches changing his ideas and design as he went along. Then he retired to the Bahamas and died in Miami.

It certainly was a different looking interior to the usual “cathedral” we are familiar with. We did enjoy a rare Sunday in church though!

Tomorrow sees us packing up and heading south, a bit closer to Perth.

Our Most Westerly Point

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So, the actual most westerly point, Steep Point Peninsula, is closed for August for roadworks….. Not to worry, we decided to explore the most westerly area available to us. Denham, Monkey Mia, Francois Peron National Park – all part of the Shark Bay World Heritage area gave us some great memories over the next week.

Denham was a great little town and our base for a few days while we visited Monkey Mia. (There was camping facilities available at MM but it was extortion $$$)

So an early rise to see the dolphins – this experience had been on Noah’s ‘must do’ list so there was some excitement . Long gone are the days (the 1980’s) where everyone can feed and pat the dolphins, now we wait to see if they want to come in and interact with us. They come in right to the shore and turn on their sides so they can look at you. Then there is one ranger/MM volunteer per dolphin with a couple of fish. So only 5 people are chosen out of about 150 people to feed a dolphin.

Lucky Noah and Chloe. Check out our video here

Next was some more remote beach camping at the top of Francois Peron NP. Some creative 4wd in sand (thanks honey) landed us at beautiful Bottle Bay, the most available westerly point. NP fees were a tad high, but we had the place to ourselves. Fishing, exploring and chillaxing replaced swimming, its now too cold to swim 😭. We have seriously though about turning around and going north again…. Really, that was not a joke!

Have you ever been to a NP with its own artesian hot tub? We have! On the way out of the park, we had a hot tub soak – at the heritage site of the the old pastoral homestead was 40°C, and it was ‘hotter than Mataranka ‘ according to the kids.

The bays here have twice as much salt in the water, so, Shell Beach is unique as the crockles love the hypersaline waters. 4000 live in one square metre. It’s squashy, salty soup! No sand here, just shells. They are actually used in landscaping all around Shark Bay.

Next, the stromatolites. There are thousands of species that make up the ‘microbial mats’. Plants and animals don’t really like this salty environment. They are also the earliest form of life on earth, this is what earth looked like millions of years ago. Without water, they turn into rock. Daz thought they looked like the usual badly laid roads from our hometown!

Our last stop was a station stay, Hamelin Homestead. These station stays make you feel like you are a guest at someone’s home, rather than a number in a caravan park. Next up – Kalbarri NP and Geraldton before we land in Perth. We have another scheduled pick up at Perth airport…… Who will it be this time? 🤔

PS Celebrity Moment Alert: sitting at the park in Denham, Daz was approached and asked if we were the Smiths from Smithsgowest2018. We were recognised!!!!!

Ningaloo Station – Barefoot Escape

We’ve camped at a few station stays along the way, but this was by far the best. I’d bookmarked this station way before we left, a post on FB Families Traveling Australia claimed this was the best beach camping in WA. We were not disappointed.

45 min down a sandy, corrugated road led us to the homestead. Ningaloo Station is a 50,000 hectare pastoral lease managed by the Leroy family since 1934. It is also situated along the Ningaloo reef!

We had to bring our own everything and all waste needed to be taken out too. But oh it was so worth it. After stopping at the homestead, we made our way up the coast to South Lefroy Bay and set up 50m from the edge of the warm water of Ningaloo reef. Tyres down to 18 psi for the next 3 days of beach living.

Leaving our shoes in the car, we settled in. No devices required, kids played in the sand all day, building shelters (thanks to Bolo’s influence) and swimming in the reef. Daz spent hours dot sitting with his rod, the fish nibbled all the squid bait but no luck catching any.

The station is so big we also spent some time exploring the dunes, there is an abandoned whaling station here, we didn’t have any luck finding it. Daz had fun trying all the dunes though.

Trev and Julie, our closest neighbours, gave us the invaluable tip of walking as far as we could South along the beach, then let the current float us back to camp. Snorkels in hand, we jumped into the warm, clear water. Coral, little blue fish, clam shells, some sort of sting ray (scared away by Noah) and fish a plenty. Reassured there were big fish in the reef, we tried some more fishing. Hard life eh?

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very night we also had a fire on the beach. I remember as a kid we had numerous fires on the beach down the south coast of NSW, so I was so happy our kids could also have a memory like this. Noah, set up and maintained our fire each night as we watched the sunset.

It was also special to share this with our lovely neighbours on the last night. I just don’t want these sunsets sharing moments to end.