The wrinkles are visible…everywhere by the corners of the eyes, on the forehead, on both cheeks. The muscle tension of the eyebrows is not what it used to be, the teeth have lost their edges and their white gloss (I should try bleaching one of these days). The stitches on the forehead and eyebrow are also signs of time. I am lucky that my hair have not parted from my head or have not turned white yet, (hang-in there, boys!), but I guess this is not going to last forever either…
Looking at this picture, I am nonetheless grateful to be here writing this post. Since yesterday, I am pain-free. I was in such a state at the realisation of this fact. It has been a long time since I woke up pain free (See the “Pain Free Days” post written in April last year). I have Isabel, I have Manon & I have Zoé everyday around me. I feel good mentally and I feel strong again physically. I have learnt a lot last year and the years before and I cannot remember a year that has started better than this one.
I have turned 40 and it is a reason to celebrate. I have decided to go to Glenorchy, close to Queenstown, to celebrate with my family. No matter how stupid that sounds, a day to remember how beautiful life is and how lucky I am.
It is January 16th, 0400 AM. A bus picks us up from Noosa direction Brisbane Airport and from there a plane from Air New Zealand takes us directly to Queenstown, New Zealand. I step out of the plane and I have a 30 years flashback. The air, the light is something I can remember from my childhood in the Alps of Switzerland. It is so clear, so pure, so crisp and so clean. The colour of the sky, here in Queenstown is just bright blue, no trace of pollution, no veil. Just the sky. I talk to Isabel, she fully agrees, this takes us back to a time, when Europe did not have so many people, so many cars, so much industry. It takes us not only back to the past but also to a world of candour & innocence. It is love at first sight.
From Queenstown, we drive 75km with our rental car (so much about absence of CO2) to Wanaka. It is all very scenic and the arrival to Wanaka is breathtaking. In the front a peaceful little town build at the South End of an incredibly pristine clear lake. In the back lays the rugged mountains and the Aspiring National Park with its glacier. Our accommodation, just a few minutes’ walk from the lake, is an old settler style wooden house. It has a lovely garden with a pear tree and a VERY old barbeque (I nearly burned down the house when I used it for the first time).
All is peaceful and I mean as much what surrounds us as ourselves. Isabel and I agree that this first week in Wanaka has been the best as far as family is concerned since our departures. I could write pages about all we did to get to this point (but the blog remains something accessible to the public), so I will just say that Wanaka is a place where we have come to peace and enjoy our kids at their best.
We have chosen to give to our kids some sort of education in each country were we stayed. In Leukerbad we sent them to the Kindergarten at the Villa Champignon, in Bali to the Holistic Bilingual “Pelangi” school. In Australia we sent them to intensive swimming school at the Noosa Aquatic Centre. Manon went to the Flying Fish class and Zoé to the Goldfish class. The instructors were just great, singing, having fun, playing with plastic Doris and Nemos and teaching the kids the basics of swimming. They never focused on technique, just on movements in the water that would give them a fighting chance against drowning. It is not an exaggeration to say that the last 3 weeks, our kids spent 2-4 hours playing in the water every day. They love the water, they feel confident in it, I cannot imagine bringing them back to a place where they cannot go in the water whenever they want. I can also hardly imagine now an activity more suited for the development of the child than swimming. I knew that I loved to swim as a kid, but I discover now as a parent how important that element is to my children. Both Manon & Zoe can pick up objects that are 1m underwater. Zoé can stay about 10 second underwater. I hear in the background: are you pushing them to become swimmers? No, I just enjoy see them play and learn to dive, to float, to go underwater and I want to give them access to water, always.
I never considered myself a big fan of beaches. The idea of spending a day at the beach never really appealed to me. I even used to say that I was not a participant to a skin cancer contest. Spending 6 weeks on the Sunshine Coast of Australia has changed it all. I must sadly admit that I am a beach boy now…still better than a lying on a plastic long chair under a striped umbrella by the pool. One has to understand the beach culture first and I did not get that until now. First, you come to the beach equipped:
Body board & fins – Surfboard – Sun Shelter – Cold Drinks – Wet shirt and heaps of sun cream – bucket and shovel – Running Shoes – Sunglasses – 3 Sherpas.
When the base camp is set, it is just about deciding in which sequences you are going to build a sand castle or a sandy pool for the kids, swim, surf, bodysurf, jog/stroll, eat, drink or sleep in the shelter. All this is only valid if 2 parameters are in spec: The sea must throw big crystal clear waves at you, the sand must be white and real smooth. Take out these two parameters and you take the beach boy out of me.
In the end, I felt that I could not spend enough time at the beach to do all this. It happened actually two times, that I walk up at 4:45 AM to go with a neighbour down to the beach to swim in the calm ocean before starting the day.
Here a small gallery of our past activities on the Eastern Beaches of the Sunshine Coast:
The following morning, we decide not to spend the whole day in the Jacuzzi. We therefore put our shoes on, get some Powerade in the bag together with some granola bars and before we go, we check on Garmin Connect different trails that hikers have done in the park before us and decide to go for the so called “Waterfall Box Circuit”. We meet a bus load of tourist on the first few hundred meters and are terrified. Will it be like this all along? Is the trail so easy that these “shaped” people can do it in their flip flops? Well…no…the first crossing says to box circuit “left”, to botanic garden “right”. No one is taking a left.
The walk becomes more and more scenic, the forest become pristine, higher trees and at last rainforest. What we did not expect (mostly because we stand at the opposite side of a wild life expert) was all these encounters with animals we had never seen before and no clue what they could be. First we stumble on a 70cm big blue lizard (we learn later that it is a snake killer and understand better why he was not afraid of us at all…). We then stop of what literally looks like a mini T-Rex. It moves on its posterior legs like a T-Rex, it is not afraid like a T-Rex. Although it was quite small, I did not dare to go to near. Past this mini-dino, we walk a few hundred elevation meters down to the river and its waterfalls. Breathtaking beauty and we soon come to our next specimen: a blue sweet water langoustine surrealistically walking sideways through the forest (we learned later that we were quite lucky to see one of those crossing from one creek to another). After 2 hours of hiking, we arrive at the highest waterfalls. A few pictures later we make our way up back to O’Reilly. After 4 hours, we are back from our 2nd hike together since Bali.
The remaining of the week-end is spend to taste O’Reilly food (average) and O’Reilly wines (excellent) before driving back to the Sunshine Coast.
As New Year gift, our host, Rita, offered us to spend a long weekendwithout our daughters. We first thought about a romantic place on one of the Whitsunday Islands or a City trip to Sydney. But after a few minutes, we realised that we wanted cool, fresh, crispy air, escape from the heat that has surrounded us in Hong-Kong, in Bali and in Australia. What we also realised was how much the Southern Region of Queensland has to offer. Just 250km away from white sand beaches of the Sunshine Cost lays a 1000m high plateau in the middle of the Lamington National Park: the O’Reilly Plateau. It is named after Bernard O’Reilly, who settled in the region with his brother and became famous by saving 2 survivors of a plane crash in the Lamington Mountains: The Stinson Rescue in February 1937.
Anyway, we find the O’Reilly mountain resort very attractive and think it is a very good response to our needs. Let’s also say straight away that O’Reilly is way beyond our daily budget, but we thought; what the heck, it is our first week-end without our children in 12 months. So, I call and yes there is still a lodge available from the 1st to the 4th of January.
The packing is done in just minutes, the tank of Rita’s Chrysler Grand Voyager is filled up to the brim and there we are, kissing goodbye to our two little blondes. The kids reacted surprisingly well, as if they were as happy to let us go for three days as we were 🙂 .
The first highlight was the last 20km drive on the Green Mountain section of the Lamington National Park. A windy narrow roads amidst, or I should better say, under the big rainforest trees. Windy because the road respected big old trees and instead of bulldozing a highway the National Park Authorities decided to go for more elegant and environmental friendly way.
The second and biggest highlight is the O’Reilly resort. We could only book a “Rainforest Villa” (meaning that you have big trees and vines in front of your window without a vie really. But we got super lucky and we were checked-in a Valley View villa.
Part II of the week-end in Lamington National Park Coming Soon…
It is the first time since my time in Uganda in 1997-1998 that I spend a winter in the warmth of a tropical country. And for this, waking up in Noosa is good reason enough to celebrate. Chillax, as they say here, time goes slowly by, all activities we do inks with the outdoor. We are hiking in cool mountains, we do family walking on the white smooth sandy beaches, surf on the gentle waves of a cove, bodysurf on the rough waves of the Sunrise Beach, Slackline between trees, swim in open waters or in beautiful salty lap pools of the Noosa Aquatic Centre, etc…
All activities are outdoors…well no, we do also indoor activities and this is mostly celebrating big events like the birthday of our host Rita, Christmas Eve & New Year. We also celebrate just that we are all together around a big table with 5 boisterous and gorgeous children!