The Mighty Mekong River

DSC06865We still had some time on our Vietnam visa so decided to head down to the Mekong Delta, the massive agricultural area fed by the Mekong River. Also known as the Nine Dragons River, it is the lifeblood of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia as it brings the water to irrigate the rice paddies and orchards, as well as the fresh water fish it provides. As we had enjoyed our Cu Chi trip we decided to book a homestay trip to the Mekong with the same company Water Buffalo Tours, again with Quang as our ‘local boy’ guide.

DSC06612Our first stop was a rural market place Can Duoc, and from the reaction to Ollie it was obvious it’s not a place that see many western tourists. Ollie’s pale skin is in big demand here, everyone wanted to touch him – literally! The locals were all so friendly, wanting to have their photos taken and have a laugh with us – so lovely. It was also a great market for the boys to see as there were lots of live ducks & chickens for sale, and the stall holders gave them baby ducks and chickens to hold – Ollie wanted to buy one of course!



Baby chicks for sale!


The ladies love Ollie!

From here we drove to Tan Hoa, Quang’s beautiful village, surrounded by emerald green rice paddies. Here we met his Mum, brother and sister (he is number 10 in his family) and he took us on aDSC06656 scooter ride around his verdant village, stopping at his Uncle Number 4’s house to have a fresh coconut from his trees and feed his goats. (This numbering is how you refer to your relatives to show respect). Lunch was spent at Tan Thanh, a beach-front seafood restaurant overlooking the muddy clam farms, eating the most fresh prawns and clams we’ve ever tasted. Then it was off to the Upper Mekong River to experience life on the river; from the barges hauling tons of dredged sand for the building industry, to those carrying wood and even rice towards the port of Saigon.


With our homestay family

With our homestay family

Overnight we stayed with a local family in a homestay. Even with limited English we felt so welcome in their beautiful, traditional wooden home. The ‘Uncle’ who owned the homestay was also a famous local chef so the food was incredible, with unusual deep fried Elephant-Ear Fish and even cooking us frogs so we could experience traditional cuisine (they were delicious!). They had puppies for Ollie to play with and a granddaughter for Cameron to amuse, so it was a perfect stay. DSC06836Then it was time for some exercise with a bike ride around the village. This area is famous for its orchards; growing many types of fruit including Pomelos, and limes and has over 20 million coconut palms, so it is very fertile, steamy and lush, just as you image a tropical jungle would be.

Frogs - delicious!

Frogs – delicious!




A chilli nursery.



Underneath the mosquito net.

Underneath the mosquito net.

Travelling around the Mekong, allowed us to see some of the other industries on the river that make this place so productive, including the brick making industry, hand filled kilns burning rice-husks for fuel, coconut processing factories and fish-farming in nets underneath the locals houseboats. We also got out of bed at 5am one morning to see the floating markets at Phong Dien, where local farmers come to buy and sell their fruit and vegetables from their small power or wooden rowing boats. They indicate what goods they are selling by hanging examples from long bamboo aerials above their boats. We even had coffee from the coffee boat – so much nicer than Starbucks!

DSC06942A stop at a large bird conservation area, included another boat journey through some of most stunning mangrove forests we’ve ever seen.



Brick making on the riverbanks.


Our tour around some of the 50,000kms of waterways in the Mekong, meeting some of the friendliest people, and watching people go about their daily lives in this incredible delta area gave us a taste of the real Vietnam, and we felt privileged to have experienced what many tourists don’t. Thank you for showing us your beautiful home Quang!


Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Vietnam, as we headed off to Chau Doc, to catch the ferry to Phnom Penh in Cambodia to start the next part of our South East Asian adventure. We will miss Vietnam, it has been an exotic, vibrant and often thought-provoking visit and we would love to return some day.

Caodaism is a popular religion here that combines Christianity with Buddhism and Hinduism.

Caodaism is a popular religion here that combines Christianity with Buddhism and Hinduism.



This is the Vietnamese version of the motorway services (the coffee shop!!)

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Xin Chao from Saigon


Despite the name change after the end of the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon by many of the locals, especially District 1, the backpacker ‘party district’, where we stayed. Our hotel, the Luan Vu, was a little gem, tucked away off the main strip, so it was in the heart of the action but still quiet enough to sleep, and all for the mere sum of 25 GBP a night, including breakfast for all four of us! Amazing value.


Saigon roads are hard to cross!


Ben making crispy filled pancakes on the street food stall

We had also, on the recommendation of an Aussie family we met in Hoi An, booked a food tour with the Back of the Bike Company. Seven Vietnamese university students picked us up at the hotel, and for four hours drove us around Saigon on the ‘back of their bikes’ taking us to 5 different food areas to get a taste of real Vietnamese cuisine. The kids were absolutely in their element getting a ride on the back of the scooters, looking very relaxed while I, for one, held on for my life as they merged into the crazy scooter packed streets of the City, a literal white knuckle ride! But soon you realised that the girls were excellent riders, well used to negotiating the chaos, one of the girls noted that there are over 6 million scooters in Saigon and one thing they were good at was avoiding hitting one another!  I can confidently speak for us all when I say it turned into one of our most memorable nights in Vietnam!

Our ‘girls’ were so interesting to talk to, we asked them so many questions about the City, 5a860d80-6cc5-11e5-a4f2-060cfa67f42f-img-previewthe food and their lives and they were great fun with the kids. And the food? Amazing. We had street food from a stall of grilled meats, green papaya salad with beef jerky, whilst sitting in a park, a busy locals restaurant specialising in seafood soup with rice puffs and a speciality desert-only café for a selection of the most delicious ice-creams, fruits and sticky rice – yummy! And we even learned that the word yum is rude, not to cross your fingers and how to pronounce Pho (soup)properly so you were not asking for something unmentionable! We also found out why people sometimes laughed when Ben said thank you in Vietnamese – it’s all in the inflection apparently – he’s been telling them to ‘shut their mouths’ instead!

DSC06421And finally when the girls dropped us off at our hotel that night they asked if they could take the kids out for ice-cream the next afternoon (how could we refuse?), and so the kids all got another scooter ride the next day, free ice-creams and their faces all over the girls Facebook pages! The kids are just as popular here in Saigon as they were in Hanoi, stopping daily for cheek pinching, hair stroking and photograph taking.

Ice-cream with the girls

Ice-cream with the girls

This gave the adults a bit of child-free shopping time. We had already enjoyed a brief but alarming encounter with the hawkers at the Ben Thanh Market the day before, where the kids were manhandled a bit too much for our liking, so Saigon Square 1 was a welcome relief.  We did return later for some souvenirs, but stuck to the ‘fixed price’ stalls to avoid the aggressive sales tactics.

DSC06493Then it was history curriculum time with a trip to the Cu Chi Village where the infamous Vietcong tunnels system was used very successfully in guerrilla warfare against the American soldiers inthe Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s. We went on a private tour with Quang, a very knowledgeable tour guide who explained how the tunnel system worked, and demonstrated some of the ingenious, but brutal, man traps and ambush techniques the Vietcong used.



And these tunnels have been increased by 30% to accommodate European tourists!!

DSC06437There are also some tunnels that you could go down to ‘experience’ how the Vietcong lived and fought for nearly 20 years. The kids loved it but far too hot and claustrophobic for me.  It was interesting viewing the war from the Vietnamese point of view, rather than the war movies of the Americans. Quang also talked about how his family was affected as his father fought for the South Vietnamese Army, the SVA, on the side of the Americans and how his father was later ‘re-educated’ by the Communist government. Ollie was quite shocked to hear the term ‘American Killer Heroes’, used in the displays celebrating the Vietcong victory, but it made for an interesting and lengthy discussion about how we write history with Ollie afterwards.

Ben and Rob both had a go at firing an AK-47 (at $1 per bullet)

Ben and Rob both had a go at firing an AK-47 (at $1 per bullet)

Considered too graphic for the kids, Ben and Rob followed up with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. We later took the boys to see the tanks, jets and armoury in the museum courtyard.  Ollie wanted his picture taken with every single one.


The Post Office – designed by the famous Eiffel (lots of steel!)


Sadly, this was also where we had to say goodbye to our awesome travel companions, Cath, Rob & Lani. We had such a ball with them, we walked, drove, cycled, flew, swam, biked, rowed, floated, chugged, laughed, played, haggled, ate and drank our way through this amazing country together and have some incredible memories to take with us. Thanks so much guys, you made Vietnam a very special experience – how does same time next year sound??

Everyone loves having their photo taken

Everyone loves having their photo taken


Electrician is a high risk job in Vietnam


Another great scooter shot!

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It’s not always easy! Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City


The nice bit away from the city.


On the gondola

After the ancient splendour of Hoi An, Nha Trang was a bit of a let down. It’s a kind of Benidorm for Russians. All the restaurants, bars and shop names are all in Russian first and Vietnamese second, which feels like total cultural confusion for us. Still, we did have dinner in a restaurant called Gorky Park, and ended up dancing the night away with some very energetic Russians! One guy even bought the kids ice-cream afterwards.


Best ride ever!!

Nha Trang is a party beach resort, with a strip of neon lit hotels offering sunbed and cabana packages, bars, spa’s, tours, seafood and just about anything you like. It is good for shopping though, as it caters for European sizes, which is helpful when everyone else here is a size 0.   The kids amused themselves getting fish massages (skin nibbling), Ollie loved it, and we had some RnR around the rooftop pool.

DSC06250Nha Trang also has an excellent theme park Vinpearland, with rides and a waterpark that, in the stifling humidity, was just the spot to spend an afternoon. The kids, and big kids, had a ball, especially on a 1km long luge ride, the Alpine Coaster, which is something else- all of the kids doing it without using their brakes!   The amusement arcade was free and the wave pool was awesome fun.


Even getting to Vinpearland was great as you travel in the longest gondola ride over water in the world, 3kms over the harbour. The scenery is stunning, but unfortunately gave you a good view of the amount of rubbish floating in this busy waterway too. You can see the environmental issues Vietnam will have to deal with in the future.  But it’s not all bad, we did find a nice temple and a Catholic church to visit




Everyone’s taking selfies!





We are all looking so hopeful..

We are all looking so hopeful..

When planning the Vietnam trip we were concerned that in taking flights we might be missing some of the ‘real’ experience of travelling in Vietnam (internal flights are cheap), so rather than fly we booked tickets on the SE5 train from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City.

DSC06310But be careful what you wish for! Our 8-hour day trip to the capital ended up being an epic 18- hour overnight adventure, as the train line had broken 4 hours into our journey, and we just had to wait until they fixed it before the train could move. Luckily we had booked sleeper seats, so we could bunk down overnight, but frankly the train probably hadn’t been cleaned since it was built in the 1970s, and I can’t begin to describe the toilets, so the Orient Express it wasn’t!

The kids were so great at amusing themselves

The kids were so great at amusing themselves

Rob's new best mate

Rob’s new best mate


Finally at Saigon

The kids were horrified when we first boarded, especially as we had to ‘remove’ 4 young guys who had appropriated our cabin (and Cath and I were relieved to think we wouldn’t have to be in our cabin overnight- ha!) but eventually we all got used to it and our fellow travellers were really kind sharing their food with us, and translating the delay information. Ben and Rob even made a few friends on the train, particularly with one guy who just wanted to repeatedly have his photograph taken. But I think we were all very glad to see Saigon train station at 6am the next morning, a mere 10.5 hours late! Not sure even British Rail could beat that…


The train staff settling in for a long wait – making lunch on the tracks

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Hoi An Ancient Town



The Walker and Schnitzerling grand tour of Vietnam continues south to Hoi An. If you’ve been to VieDSC00656tnam, then you’ll understand when I say Hoi An Ancient Town is just fantastic. It is a small port town that has managed to keep its historical old buildings intact, despite yearly flooding, retaining its unique character of Vietnamese culture yet catering from the demands of a growing tourist industry. It’s a city of lanterns, decorating the old town and river by day and night, with children dressed in dragon costumes, dancing and banging drums in the run up to the annual Children’s Festival of the Full Moon.  It was a lot of fun just to walk around.  We feel very lucky to have experienced it, as it is very different from the larger cities.

DSC00802Our accommodation also set the tone for Hoi An, as we are staying at the beautiful Orchid Garden HomestayDSC00559 with huge villas set amongst an orchid filled garden only walking distance from the old town. Yummy & Tammy are the lovely hosts here, and with the rest of a fantastic staff made us feel so welcome and relaxed here. Yummy also took us out to dinner one night, to the amazing Bale Well Restaurant where the waitresses hand-roll you rice paper rolls stuffed with omelette, spring rolls, bbq pork and veg all inside. It was delicious but felt like an exercise in force-feeding the customer! Yummy also took Lani to buy a traditional Vietnamese dress, an ao dai, on the back of her scooter – she had a blast but also looked beautiful in it.IMG_0053


2015-09-20 14.41.41

With Tammy & Yummy



We had also pre-booked a cooking day with Mrs Linh at the Golden Lotus Cooking School and what an experience, starting at the markets buying our produce from the stallholders with Linh explaining what things were, such as oranges and mandarins with green skins, water spinach, dragonfruit and an incredible array of fish and seafood.  Back at Linh’s home we cooked up an 8-course banquet, under her professional guidance and to celebrate our culinary achievements we ate ourselves silly! This is a fantastic way to spend a day here, Mrs Linh was lovely, telling us about her life, and we got to meet her family too. Cooking schools are plentiful here and we would recommend it to anyone considering a trip to Vietnam, just make sure you come to Hoi An to do it!


At the market with Mrs Linh








Rob's amazing pork stuffed squid

Rob’s amazing pork stuffed squid



Cath and I in the kitchen - a rare event for me!

Cath and I in the kitchen – a rare event for me!

After all that hard work we decided some relaxation was needed, and booked a family package at a beautiful spa, at a fraction of what it would cost in the UK. It was also in an idyllic setting, overlooking the paddy fields, and I loved having a pedicure whilst watching the ducks waddling around in the rice fields. The boys were a bit sceptical, Ollie thought it might be a bit girly, but we booked them in for a kids massage, herbal Jacuzzi and mocktail – this might have swayed it. While the grown-ups were having their massages we could hear the kids laughing and giggling, they were sitting in three wooden Swedish tubs looking out over the rice-fields having a fantastic time! Ollie and Lani wanted to do it again and Cam was annoyed when we said he couldn’t have a facial too! What have we created?

Spa with a view!

Spa with a view!

DSC06020After this it was back to the serious business of sightseeing on a bicycle tour with Heaven & Earth tours. We had two guides, Moon and Maia, who took us on a day of cycling around island villages, explaining local customs and handicrafts to us. It was such a great cultural experience, as we watched locals making sleeping mats and carving wood to in-lay pearl, had a go in a bamboo fishing boat and Ben & Rob’s favourite stop, rice wine making in a home still – potent stuff. They even use the pig manure to power the still with natural methane!



So, if you come to Vietnam make sure you put Hoi An on your itinerary, as you will be mesmerised by the architecture, the friendly people and the festive atmosphere it encapsulates.  We all LOVE Hoi An, and only wished we could have stayed longer.


Hoi An is gorgeous

Hoi An is gorgeous


Rob making boats old-style!

Rob making boats old-style!


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Ha Long Bay Cruising to Historical Hue


We left the winding bustling streets of Hanoi behind to travel to the serene beauty of Halong Bay. We had pre- booked 2 nights on a cruise ship, the Glory Legend, to see the 2,000 or so limestone karsts that rise out of the bay in this incredible Unesco World Heritage Site, and both the ship and the bay were a revelation. We had two beautifully furnished connecting wood-panelled cabins with floor to ceiling sliding windows to take in the view, quite a step up from the camper trailer!!



Our gorgeous cruise ship

The food was also sublime (but too many courses) and the cocktails were plentiful on the extended Happy Hour. We went kayaking, swimming (with Luc our brilliant host), and squid fishing (Ollie got a great specimen), and they took us to one of the biggest cave systems Ben & I have ever been in.

Huge Cave!

Huge Cave!

But best moment for the kids was a bamboo boat trip to see the Cat Ba Legurs (monkeys) they have introduced on one of the tree covered karsts as part of a conservation programme, and they seemed to put on a show for us, swinging down through the trees to the waters edge to get a closer look at the humans!













So we practically rolled off the cruise ship, to fly to Hue, an hour south, and the site of the imperial palace of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last royal rulers of Vietnam. They built an impressive citadel with a ‘forbidden’ city inside for the royal family and their retainers. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War of the 1960-70s destroyed many of the historical sites in this City, but much of it is slowly being rebuilt. We also visited some of the splendid royal burial tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty that are dotted around the City.


DSC00494It was an incredibly hot day and the kids all did really well walking around so much, so welcomed a lunch break in a restaurant owned by a Vietnamese Poet, which has some of the most elaborately displayed dishes we’ve ever been served. The Vietnamese food is generally less hot than Thai food, with a more subtle spice and fresh herb palate, and is very reasonably priced outside of the more fancy restaurants; one evening, we paid only 7 pounds for 4 big bowls of chicken & noodle soup and 8 drinks – including beer!


Learning to make incense sticks

Learning to make incense sticks



Our visit to the Thien Mu Pagoda, where the Buddhist Monks worship, live (and have been politically active from) was fascinating as the kids, through our guide, spoke to some of the trainee monks, learning that they often come to the pagoda at age 7-8 to begin their spiritual apprenticeship, often as orphans. Around 18 they decide whether to become fully fledged monks or to leave. Shaving your hair is part of this so the monk ‘juniors’ all have these wacky hair-styles while they can. It was a definite cultural learning experience for us all.


Our time in Hue ended with a dragon boat ‘’tour” along the Perfume River which unfortunately turned out to be a relentless and unavoidable hard selling opportunity for the boat owner – we lost count of how many times we had to say ‘no thanks’, it was a relief to disembark! We were yet to learn the true meaning of hard-sell, which we got on the next leg of our journey from Hue to Hoi An. Our itinerary included a stop at Marble Mountain near Danag, but we instead ended up in a Marble Shop with a ‘helpful’ assistant so hot on Ben’s heels that she actually kept stepping on the back of his thongs!

Some of our favourite scooter photos:DSC05394DSC05421DSC05404DSC00468


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Good Morning Vietnam!

DSC00146Always wanted to say that!! Vietnam was number one on my list of places to visit when we did our travel year planning, so expectations are high. And so far our impressions of Hanoi have gone from complete sensory overload on our first couple of days (but we have come from the Outback!) to being totally captivated by the whirlwind of sights, smells and noises this bustling, scooter-crazy, horn-beeping, crowded city keeps throwing at us. Crossing the street is a death-defying event and pavements here are actually for scooter parking not walking but we just love it!




We also have company…being joined by Cath, Rob and Lani, our long time friends from Brisbane (Cath & I are High School buddies). So we are fortunate to get to share our Vietnam trip with much-loved friends, and Lani is giving the boys some much-needed kid company.




Staying in the Old Quarter gives you a great feel for how Hanoi, and the world, looked before modernism, where each street has its own speciality selling a particular good or service, for example coffee street (they are massive coffee growers and consumers here), linen street, sewing street, copper & stainless steel street, grave goods street, spice street and where our hotel is located, hardware street! Where deliveries of everything is made on scooters as well as whole families out for the day (so far the highest count was 5 people on 1 scooter).  Rob and Ben are actually engaged in a photography competition to see who can capture the most overloaded scooter shot – so watch this space. They are also determined to eat their way down Vietnam and try as many different culinary and liquid delights as possible!  Today they actually managed to find a micro-brewery… well, more like a corner “canteen” with vats of home-made beer for 35p per glass!


DSC00164Hanoi, once controlled by the French, retains much of this influence in the grand avenues, houses and public buildings, as well as being very definitely an Asian city, with temples, lakes and no obvious building regs. We walked past a shop on the first day to witness the ceiling falling in on the unfortunate ladies inside having their hair styled – no one was hurt but it was an interesting event! We’ve also visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, where the body of the father of unified Vietnam, is kept (he is, unfortunately, not on display at the moment) and covered Vietnam’s turbulent history with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Hoa Lo Prison (nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American POWs), originally built by the French to house the Vietnamese Revolutionaries captured during the war, complete with a well-used guillotine.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum


The popular Night Markets

Less political was a night out at the popular Hanoi Water Puppet Show, watching the ‘puppets’ performing on a stage made of water, replicating the shows put on in villages during the wet season in the rice paddies. Our kids have subsequently put on their own puppet shows inspired by this; surely this covers the ‘drama’ part of our travel school curriculum? A trip to the night markets covered Cath and my own alternative curriculum requirements too.

The temples are a feast for the senses.

The temples are a feast for the senses and spirit.


Mmmm food is pretty good here!

Mmmm food is pretty good here!

Not sure what he bought!

Not sure what he bought!





To get a break from the scary prospect of crossing the scooter-fumed, gridlocked roads on foot we’ve also tried the more traditional Cyclos, or seats on bicycles, and the new Green Tourism electric cars (large golf buggies) forms of transport, both of which are much more fun and a great way to explore the hidden gems of the back streets of the old quarter, to find a cool coffee shop for Vietnamese egg-froth topped coffee, to hole-in-wall local eateries with one dish menus or the sumptuous velvet chaise-lounge filled Green Mango restaurant.  Now this is travelling!


Finally, a word on the kids… to our amusement they are quite simply the most fascinating things many Vietnamese people have ever seen – both young and old, being constantly asked to take photos with them (sometimes quite forcibly pulled in front of selfies) and have so far been very obliging and patient with it all. One enthusiastic teenage girl actually ‘smelled’ Lani’s hair while getting her picture taken with her?! None of us were sure what to make of that!DSC00219


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To Perth… and the end of the Aussie Road Trip!

The Pink Lake

The Pink Lake

DSC05251The Turquoise Coast was our drive from Kalbarri down to Perth, and lovely it certainly is with gorgeous sandy beaches and masses of wildflowers. The landscape included some added interest in the shape of the strange trees growing sideways near Greenough (caused by incredibly strong coastal winds), the unusual and pearl white mobile sand dunes that are working their way up the coast at a rate of 12 metres per year, and the Pink Lake, coloured from the amount of beta-carotene in the water (same stuff as in carrots!). And of course, The Pinnacles, a vast area of peculiar limestone features that seem to be growing out of the yellow sand.


Then it was on to Perth and Ollie and Cameron were very excited to be staying in a ‘real house’ after our long road trip, staying with their Uncle Tim in his lovely home in Fremantle. It’s a lovely spot, with the Fremantle Markets, Harbour and Café’s all at your fingertips. We even had a ‘grown-ups’ night out at a Jazz Club in Perth, with the boys enjoying a sleepover with Auntie Penny and their cousins Meg & Charlotte! It’s so nice to be with family again!


View of Perth from King’s Park

With Tim, Deb, Charlotte, Megan, Ben & Mark

With Tim, Deb, Charlotte, Megan, Ben & Mark

With Auntie Penny at Kings Park

With Auntie Penny at Kings Park


We also had a nice day at King’s Park, one of our favourite places in Perth, and some time playing on the beach with the boys.

On Father’s Day, Tim cooked a fantastic selection of pizzas for family & friends, including the delicious chocolate & strawberry pudding pizza!

Ben, Megan and the boys also did a day trip cycling around Rottnest Island,(22kms off Fremantle).

Cameron –” I really enjoyed riding around the beautiful Rottnest Island with our cousin, Megan. Oliver and I had races down the steep, smooth roads! The roads are not busy so it is much safer for families. The food at The Bakery was delicious and at a reasonable price. Strangely enough, they even have a Subway that a friend of ours described as the slowest in the world! Some of the beaches are very tempting, but unfortunately we did not have enough time for a swim. The whole island is dotted everywhere with Quokkas, they look a bit like a small wallaby with a rats face! Oliver definitely enjoyed exploring the gun emplacements on Oliver Hill. Oliver said “ It was awesome getting to stand inside gun emplacement and learning how the gun was aimed and fired”. The same 9- inch guns were located all across the Commonwealth during WWII. To sum it up we had a great time at Rottnest Island ☺”

Beautiful Rottnest Island

Beautiful Rottnest Island



With our gorgeous cousins




Finally, we rested our weary heads and did our washing (thanks Tim), stored the camper-trailer & car (thanks again Pen) sorted paperwork, and repacked our backpacks for the next part of our trip – we are off to Vietnam!!


Our trip across the “top end” of Australia has been truly amazing and varied; our 9 -week, 12,000km journey has given us a glimpse into life in the outback of Queensland and The Northern Territory, and the stunning landscape and coastline of WA has given us some real “wow” moments. We were lucky to meet some amazing people on the road too. Sadly, we weren’t able to see everything we would have liked to but on the plus side, we’ve added some new places to our bucket list!!


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Western Australia’s Coral Coast

Our 'famous' whale watching trip

Our ‘famous’ whale watching trip


Underwater fun for Cameron

Ningaloo Reef is an exceedingly dynamic 286km stretch of fringing coral reef, meaning it is situated close to shore, located just off the white sandy beaches from Exmouth down to Coral Bay.   For us, it has been the best place we’ve ever been for the variety and sheer volume of marine life and corals, indicating a very healthy reef, so an incredible place to snorkel and dive.IMG_8794

We started at Exmouth watching humpback whales frolic on the far side of the reef from the beach, went snorkelling at the amazing Oyster Stacks in the Cape Range National Park and booked on a dive/snorkelling tour with the excellent team at Ninagloo Whaleshark Swim.  With only a small number of tourists and a fun dive team, we had a brilliant day on the reef snorkelling over ‘bombies’ tall coral towers that attract hundreds of rainbow-coloured tropical fish. The boys practising their snorkelling ‘diving’ with Jeremy, one of the dive crew, all over the reef peering under corals and into caves like the little fish they are becoming, with me trying to keep up with above on the surface, and Ben scuba diving below us all.    We also met the lovely Phil, who served the most excellent breakfast baps from his funky van at the caravan park we stayed in, he and Ben had a lot in common!



From Exmouth we drove down to Coral Bay, the southern end of the Reef where we did the incredible (and newsworthy!) Manta Ray trip that turned into a unique whale experience too.   Not only seeing but hearing the Humpback Whales as they splashed so close around us was magical, and following this up by swimming 2 metres from the huge Manta Rays made it our best ‘nature’ day ever.

Ben and Ollie also did a fun ‘sea-doo’ trip, looking like something out of a James Bond movie, while Cameron and I snorkelled off the beach.


If you want to see incredible marine life forget the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is simply beautiful and still unspoilt by mass tourism.


More natural wonders awaited us at Shark Bay, another world heritage site that includes Monkey Mia, famous for dolphins coming into the beach, and as Ollie mentioned in his post, where we also saw Dugongs. Unsurprisingly, it is also a fantastic place to do some shark watching (and there are plenty in the shallow waters to see).  Shell Beach is one of only two beaches in the world made up entirely of the shells, here up to 10 metres deep.  It is also home to another stranger ‘animal’ the stromatolites which are the world’s oldest living organisms (only about 3.5 million years!)



DSC04837We stayed here at Denham, where the boys made friends with the son of the park owner (and his dog) and they had lots of fun together paddle-boarding and kayaking in the gorgeous shallow bay.  It is also good for the boys to ‘find’ friends on the road, as they do need the company of other kids, and it has been quite hard on them at times.





Waiting for the dolphins to arrive.

Waiting for the dolphins to arrive.







 further south down the Coral Coast, was our last stop before Perth, with stunning rugged coastlines and a national park with more spectacular gorges and lookouts, including ‘nature’s window’.

DSC05189DSC05109It is also wildflower season here, and the countryside is covered in multi-coloured blooms, a big change from the endless bush scenery we’ve been used to on our long drives.   We also had our first rain in 9 weeks which was a novelty, and thankfully coincided with us having a break from camping for this bit, so we didn’t get wet either!


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Marine Life of Western Australia by Ollie

While we’ve been on the coast in Western Australia there have been some incredible marine animals to see. Here are some of my favourites:

Driving the dive boat on Ningaloo Reef.

Driving the dive boat on Ningaloo Reef.


DSC04749Humpback Whales. We were very lucky to see four large humpbacks swimming really close to our boat, and they hung around for about 30 mins circling and checking us out.  It was very exciting to see as they were blowing up water and splashing around too. My Mum put the picture taken from the air on Facebook and it was on the news here too! They can get up to 14 metres long and at this time of year they are going south to Antarctica to feed on krill and fish after having their calves in the warmer water off the coast here. They come into the bays with their calves for safety from hungry sharks.  There are about 30,000 of them migrating south at the moment but the water is not usually as shallow or as clear as this, so we got an awesome view.

Compliments of google - what the Dugong looks like from under the water

Compliments of google – what the Dugong looks like from under the water

Dugongs.  Today we were in the biggest bay in Australia, Shark Bay, where they have a huge number of Dugongs. They are also known as Sea Cows, even though their closest relative is the elephant. They graze on sea grass, can grow up to 3 metres long and weigh up to 300kgs. This area has the biggest seagrass fields in the world.  I learned that Dugongs have a 15 month gestation period and when they are threatened they put their babies on their backs to protect them (by making them look too big for sharks to eat). They can smack sharks with their strong tails too.

Dugong, very hard to catch on film as they only pop up for seconds.

Our Dugong photo –  very hard to catch on film as they only pop up for seconds.

Each Manta Ray has a different marking underneath.

Each Manta Ray has a different marking underneath





Coastal Manta Rays. We were very lucky to get to swim with them at Ningaloo Reef, near Coral Bay. The ones we swam with were about 3-4 metres in diameter , but the Oceanic Manta can grow up to 9 metres wide. They do not have barbed tails, they are gentle graceful giants and feed on plankton. Under the water they were beautiful to watch but fast swimmers and hard to keep up with, even with my fins on. Our snorkel guide Vicki took a photo of their markings to keep a record of which ones are returning to the same area.  Other rays we saw included Cowtail Rays, Stingrays, Blue-Spotted MaskRay and Leopard WhipRays – all around Ningaloo Reef.


Spotted Wobbegong – When snorkelling near Exmouth we saw a Spotted Wobbegong shark hiding under a coral bombie ledge. Our snorkelling guide told us to leave it alone as they get aggressive when you get too close to them, and they can spin 360 degrees to bite you quickly – we did not stick around to get a photo (here is one from Google) Unfortunately, they were a popular ‘fish’ in fish n’ chips here, so numbers were getting low.

Grey Reef Shark. We saw one of these in a reef cleaning station, this is where they sit on the bottom with their mouths and gills open for very small cleaner fish to swim in and eat all the bacteria and flesh bits left in their teeth. We snorkelled on the surface watching it finishing being cleaned, then it swam around with a huge shoal of trevally before disappearing, as they are quite shy.  We got a bit of video of it on Dad’s Go-Pro but no photos, but it was amazing to be swimming around above it.  I wasn’t scared at all.

We also spotted a Leopard Shark from the boat in the shallow reef, and it has really bright spots all over it.  I really wanted to see a Tiger Shark but there were none unfortunately.
DSC03847Tawny Nurse Shark – At Horizontal Falls we got to hand feed these fantastic looking sharks pieces of fresh barramundi. They are very unusual, as they do not tear their food, but use a powerful suction to suck up their prey such as crabs, octopus and small fish. We also saw them on Ningaloo Reef. They can also change their colour slightly depending on their environment – clever!

Loggerhead Sea Turtles – At Ningaloo we swam with a large female turtle, she dived down to the bottoIMG_8640m, as they are shy, but did not swim away like most turtles do when they see boats or people. Apparently they can get drunk on jellyfish juice which makes them a bit sleepy and slower to react. There is a male called Albert that is happy to have people swim with him as long as you don’t get in his way. We also saw loads of Green Turtles here and Leatherback Turtles today off Monkey Mia.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins – These are the ones that hang out at Monkey Mia since the 1960s, being handfed by locals. The Dept of National Parks now controls the amount of contact they have with humans to keep them ‘wild’ but they feed the large females 3 fish each in the morning from the beach. We got to meet ‘Surprise’ today with 2 younger dolphins. On a boat trip to deeper water we got to see a dolphin with a sea-sponge on its nose, the only place in the world where this happens, as they use them to protect their noses while they dig around on the seabed for a particularly tasty fish. Only the females do this ! We were very lucky to see this today (but not able to photograph it).


‘Surprise’ coming in for a visit

At Monkey Mia

At Monkey Mia

Checking out the reef!

Checking out the reef!


The only thing we didn’t get to see was the Whalesharks, which my Dad really wanted to see as we were just too late in the season, so we are going to have to come back again to swim with them too some day.  I loved Ningaloo Reef, there was so many amazing things to see.

Posted in Western Australia | 3 Comments

Beautiful Broome to Karijini National Park


DSC03992From Derby, it’s west to Broome, well known for its place in the Australian Pearling industry. We took a drive to Willie’s Creek Pearl Farm, up a red dusty road, to find out more about pearl production and its history. We had a great tour with an Irish guy who explained how the pearls are seeded and harvested, making you realise just why quality pearls are so expensive – it is a specialised and labour intensive process. He let the boys harvest a pearl out of a shell, and it was a beauty, but unfortunately not to keep! I tried on a $20,000 golden pearl necklace, but it just wasn’t my colour so we didn’t buy it!  A visit to the Japanese and Chinese Cemetery gave us a good insight into how dangerous the industry was historically too, not only from the dangers of deep water diving but also the frequent cyclones that hit this area.



The location of the farm is incredible, the water is azure and clear, so another good spot to take a short helicopter ride for the boys to spot whales from the air. Later that evening we had a drive onto Cable Beach for a picnic to watch the gorgeous sunset and the camels.






A spot of fishing for Ben and Ollie at Pardoo Station Stay.

From Broome, it was inland to Karijini National Park. Ben still talks to EVERYONE we meet, and it seemed to be one of the places most hotly tipped as a ‘must’ to visit. With good reason too, it has some incredible, and challenging walks into stunning gorges and waterfalls – just what we needed after some long car journeys. We met another family at the Dales Gorge camp ground, with boys the same age as ours, who instantly bonded and we all enjoyed spending a day gorge walking with them, and the evening building their own den in the park.

Fantastic geological features.

Fantastic geological features.




Descending into Handrail Pool



Hancock Gorge





Posted in Western Australia | 4 Comments