Welcome to our world of 4 boys, Autism, Homeschooling and life in general.

Hi I'm Angie, busy Homeschooling Mum of 4 young boys aged between 4 and 11 yrs.

Bailey (11) is a huge car enthusiast, particularly classic cars, VW 'Herbie' beetles and VW Combi vans. Bailey lives with Autism (ASD) and Epilepsy but does very well coping with everyday life these days since we made the change to homeschooling back in 2010.

Dane (8) enjoys playing guitar, building Lego masterpieces and all things superhero! Dane also lives with a form of Autism (Aspergers) and a Language developmental delay (Apraxia of speech).

Ehren (5) is our gentle 'giant' and is a keen student in our Homeschool classroom. He enjoys both physical and mental pursuits and has a clear interest in currency!

Fraser (aged 4) is our little pocket rocket. He's a confident, head-strong little boy who never stops talking, singing or dancing!

Follow us on our journey as we learn about the world around us in our own unique way!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our Easter 2011 Trip

Those of you who have been living under a rock might not know that a few months back we bought an old caravan and decided to fix it up a bit to do some travel with around Australia. We decided late last year that a light weight caravan might be an easier option for taking a holiday every now and then rather than tenting it as we have done now for several years. Space was getting pretty tight in the fourby now we've got the 4 boys and there was only so much stuff we could stow away on the roof basket before it reached weight limits. Besides who wants to spend a good half hour to set-up your basic tent layout just to stop over for a night somewhere and then have to pull it all back down again in the morning before hitting the road. We also soon realised motels charge you a fortune to stay even one night once you're family of 6!

Our best solution was to buy a cheap old caravan that we could pay outright cash on and do it up over time to make a comfortable place to eat and sleep, not to mention carry all our stuff in. Actually who am I kidding, the main reason for the caravan was so I could take a mountain of clothes and shoes with me and not be concerned if my suitcase is going to fit in the boot! We spend a good 3 months searching on Ebay to find the very best bang for buck. We considered a pop top to cut down the weight and the height of the van but most of the second-hand vans we looked at had water damage from the pop top or needed the canvas replacing. We also thought about buying a camper trailer but figured it needed almost as much setting up as our turbo-lite tent and you were still carting something behind your car. Finally we agreed that a basic full height but lighter weight caravan would serve the purpose and if we really wanted to rough it and do harder tracks we would go back to using the old tent for those trips. We bought an old Viscount because there seemed to be a lot of them still available and we did some research and founds parts were still very easy to buy. We got it at a good price as it had a fair bit of work to be done but was still towable back from Newcastle where we bought it from.

This Easter was our first caravan trip so as you can imagine we were all very excited. We spent hours in the caravan, painting, pulling out old carpet, filling holes and taking out the copious amounts of hooks and nails the previous owner had stupidly hammered in all around the caravan! We replaced the hubs and fitted brand new light truck tyres on the van and the spare wheel. Clif took the old dodgy hitch off and replaced it with a brand new assembly and replaced all the brake assembly with new parts. We pulled out the old kitchen and Clif replaced it with a temporary kitchen to get us through the trip, basically a pre-loved caravan sink put onto a new base. We'll work on the new kitchen in the coming months and have it ready for our next trip, hopefully a short one in October.

Our trip lasted 7 nights and 8 days and took us down through country NSW into the Blue Mountains region before heading back up along the coast to home. Our plan was to gradually chill out on the way down to the cold and then thaw out on the way back.

 Unfortunately my itinerary planning for our first night's stay in Armidale was made without the knowledge that it is in fact is one of the coldest towns in country New South Wales! Armidale is set up high on a mountain and catches a lot of the cool winds coming across the surrounding valley. We set ourselves up at the Pembroke Tourist park and were pleased to discover we had been given an ensuite site. For those camping amateurs this means you have your own bathroom (usually a toilet, shower and basin). It might not seem such a big deal but when you've got kids waking up to use the toilet at 2am in sub zero temperatures it's a true godsend!

We all took a walk from the caravan park to the closest Bunnings down the road to get a few odd things we hadn't thought about bringing! Walking back at 7pm the weather had become quite brisk but didn't seem too bad. We had some dinner and went off to bed soon after and figured we'd be ok without the heater as although it was cool we had lots of warm pj's and sleeping bags. Turns out the weather changed considerably at around 2am to the point that poor Fraser just couldn't stay warm and spent a good part of the morning awake screaming in our bed! We had to move stuff around to pull the heater out of the hatch under our bed but by then the van was already too cold to really make much difference til morning. We were beginning to wonder if this trip was going to be worth it!

Next day we headed for Tamworth for some sightseeing. We did some shopping at their 'big' shops and stocked up on even warmer clothes for the kiddies. We were a bit panicked that if the weather was that cold in Armidale what in the world would it be like in the Blue Mountains? We stopped off at the Golden Guitar for a look and some coffee (which was the worst coffee I've ever tasted mind you) then headed for our next night's stay in Scone.

We pulled into the caravan park in Scone and my poor hubby just wanted to turn the van around and keep going. It was a very old park, mostly filled with long term tenants in even dodgier vans than ours. In fact it's quite possible that our 32 year old caravan was the pick of the bunch so that's saying a lot. I knew when booking the park that it would be nothing special as it was the cheapest site on our itinerary but I figured it was a just a stopover so didn't really matter. We set up the van and played some totem tennis that we had brought along for the trip. Thankfully Scone is down in the valley so it was a warmer night than the previous one, but we put the heater on anyway just to be sure. We had a much better night's sleep that night and headed off first thing in the morning for the Jenolan Caravan park in Oberon where we would be staying for 3 nights. We were both very excited and apprehensive about reaching the coldest part of our journey.

I decided that we should take the scenic route and take a drive down through the mountains rather than out through Newcastle. At first the scenery was bushy and slightly boring but as time passed and we got deeper in the mountains we were thrilled to find huge rocky canyons, mountains reaching high into the clouds and deep valleys with beautiful lookouts. At one stage the road got dustier until we were led onto an unsealed road. Unfortunately it was at this time that we lost GPS signal and had no real idea how long the road would remain unsealed or how well suited it would be for the caravan. We travelled for around 30 mins on the bumpy unsealed road until we were back out on the Golden Highway and came across a cute little country town for a toilet stop and a stretch. Clif thought it was a good thing for the caravan to 'rough it' a bit as it proved that it really is a strong, old battle axe.

We reached Oberon late Thursday afternoon and set up the caravan for the longer stay. The big boys were keen to take their scooters for a spin to find out how many kids were staying for the Easter break. The park was at maximum capacity with loads of families setting up their monstrous campsites, complete with outdoor kitchens covered by huge outdoor tarps. Some even had their normal fridge from home stacked with meat and beer in preparation for the long weekend. We looked tiny by comparison. Just our car parked neatly beside our little 13 foot sunshine yellow striped caravan. No annexe, no tarp, just 2 folding chairs and a picnic blanket.

Good Friday was our big day. We had our 2 most exciting activities planned and it would all come down to perfect timing for us to get them both done. We headed off first thing towards the Jenolan caves. The road from Oberon stretches down towards the bottom of the mountain. It's an extremely twisty road, perhaps the steepest drive I've ever done. I put the Prado into first gear at the top of the mountain and it stayed that way right to the bottom, which takes about half an hour to descend. Finally when we reached the bottom we walked towards the amazing chalet type buildings to find a mish-mash of tourists, backpackers and families rugged up in their winter woolies.

The line-up at the ticket counter seemed endless and I was glad I left the family back in the car at the carpark whilst I got the tickets organised. The tour we wanted to do was the Imperial cave tour. I had chosen this tour as it was apparently the easiest and the best for young children. It had just over 300 steps to complete in an hour, whereas some others had over 1200 steps to complete in less than 2 hours. I reached the front of the line at 9:30 and was lucky enough to get the 10am tour. This meant though I had to run right to the top of the very steep hill to get the family to drive down to the drop off point so Clif could go back and park the car. I gave Fraser a breastfeed whilst we waited for Clif to return, whilst trying to ensure Ehren didn't jump into the waterfall/pond in front of us. Easier said than done, without a pram and a baby attached to the breast.

We managed to make our way to the cave opening with a few minutes to spare and wait for our guide to meet up with our group. The boys made friends with a little boy of similar age that was also waiting for the Imperial tour. Our guide showed up and we made our way up a staircase that led us into the top of the cave entrance. The Imperial cave follows the underground river and is mostly flat with a few steps down as you walk along through it. The underground river itself was probably the most impressive thing. It is crystal clear water with limestone sand underneath. It is that clear when you first look you swear it is just sand, no water at all. The stalactites and stalagmites are very impressive. They have been stained with peachy-apricot colours from the sediment washed along with the river over time. Our guide explains that this cave can get quite deep with water during times of plentiful rain and it was impassible earlier this year with all the floods that occurred down South. Our boys were quite impressed with the crystals growing on some of the walls. We are told that the crystals are much more impressive in some of the other larger caves. We will come back again in a few years when the boys are bigger to take a look at those. Clif and I were getting quite buggered as we reached the end of the tour. I was carrying Fraser in his sling and poor Clif was carrying Ehren through most of the walk, up and down stairs, through very low, cut away cave ceilings.

We didn't get much time to hang around in Jenolan as we were hoping to catch the 1pm steam train leaving from the ZigZag Railway in Clarence, just out of Lithgow. We raced back to the car and took the drive through the mountains trying our best to get there in time. Luckily I'm a bit of a leadfoot and a fairly confident driver and managed to get us there just as the train was pulling into the station. We quickly grabbed our tickets and loaded the boys onto the train before it departed for it's journey into the Blue Mountains.

Bailey LOVES trains. In fact that's probably the understatement of the year! Bailey lives, eats, sleeps and breathes trains and the look on his face as we took off in one of his beloved 'steamies' was totally priceless. The train stopped a number of times to turn the train in opposite directions as we zigzagged down and then back up the mountains. The ride was a little scary at first. The track sits right on the edge of the mountains and the train feels a little unsteady as it rattles around along the tracks. There are 2 very old brick bridges that the train travels across and a very long tunnel that puts the train into complete darkness for a good 3 or 4 minutes. The train itself is an old Queensland Rail steam train. You can almost imagine yourself as one of the passengers back in the days when train travel was one of the most popular forms of transport. It's quite smelly from the coal and the train workers themselves end up black by the end of the 2 hour journey. The train ride was one of the real highlights of our trip. It's something I know Bailey & Dane will remember fondly right into their adult years.

The next day we decided to take a drive into Bathurst after a recommendation from a facebook friend that lives there. We took a drive to take a look at Mt Panorama then spent a good few hours at their award winning adventure playground. We all had a ball there, us adults included. The boys rode their scooters on the awesome paths, we all went on the flying foxes, the giant slide and took a climb up the giant web-like climbing structure. After that we moved on to the Kelso Pub. The food was first class country cooking but what really won us over was the huge covered play area that kept the kids happy and gave us some much needed relaxation. For those people who have taken their kids to a Lollipops playland or similar imagine pub quality lunch and free access to the play area, that's exactly what this awesome Pub has!

Easter Sunday also marked Dane's 5th Birthday. The boys woke to find Easter Bunny had made the effort dropping off some goodies in the caravan. Dane opened some birthday presents and we all had a little Easter egg with our pancake breakfast before packing up the caravan to hit the road yet again. It was a little sad leaving the Jenolan Caravan park in Oberon. Most other families were staying for another day and the boys had started to get very comfortable with the 'riding crew' doing laps around our block. The park is top class, roomy powered blocks, clean grounds and immaculate new looking amenities. We're hoping to stay there another time.

We drove that Easter Sunday heading out through the stunning Blue Mountains for the last time and stopped that night at the Big 4 Holiday Park in Cessnock. I had booked this park thinking that being a Big 4 it would have all the usual kiddy friendly inclusions but we were disappointed to find they didn't even have a little playground. The owner advised us they were more a park for the older travellers doing the Wine tasting tours. For a cost of $70 for an ensuite site I can say we won't be going back there any time soon. We found a local park and took some Pizza along for Dane's birthday dinner. I piled up some Dominoes Choc Lava cakes and stuck a number 5 candle on top for an impromptu birthday cake. Dane seemed happy enough with that and we all agreed the cake was yummy.

The next day Easter Monday we made our way up to our favourite holiday spot, Coffs Harbour. Coffs has such a lovely Gold coast feel without all the hussle and bussle. It's always a bit warmer in Coffs than in Brissy, no matter when we've visited. We stopped off for some tobogganing fun at the Big Banana. It's become a tradition for us now! We normally like to go and watch some candy being made too but we needed to check in at the caravan park and get ourselves settled in for the night. We stayed at Beach Park Holiday park this time and it's got to be the best park ever for kids. The weather was quite nice for late afternoon so Bailey, Dane and I went for a play and swim at the water adventure park they have there. We then took a nice drive around Coffs while the sun went down before picking up some yummy fish and chips to eat back in the caravan. Wasn't long before we turned in for the night and headed back towards home in the morning.

The only real mistake I made when putting together our itinerary was not staying an extra night before coming back home. The Easter holiday traffic was a nightmare and together with pelting rain it made for a long and somewhat testing drive home. We saw 3 accidents on the way back, mostly just people being impatient and not being considerate to other drivers. It's amazing how many caravanning families drive like absolute maniacs in their effort to get home as early as possible. We took our time and even stopped off the side of the road to cook up a can of casserole on the gas cooker for lunch before taking a scenic detour through Byron Bay. We were just happy to get home safe and sound.

The trip was our very first in the caravan but it certainly won't be the last. The convenience of pulling up somewhere, pulling the support stands down and being able to enjoy ourselves was simply awesome. I can't imagine ever going back to camping in our tent again. This has me asking the question, should we sell our super-duper $1000 tent or keep it just in case? Hmmmm....


  1. When the boys get bigger they might want a granny flat/teenage retreat in the tent - and it would give you all some room on those longer stay overs.

    I'm so jealous, Angie! I've been thinking about getting a caravan for a while as Jamie prefers to camp in a bit more comfort than the tent allows. This is ok on some sites but it limits where we can go. Anyway, it sounds like an awesome trip! so glad you all had a good time.

  2. Fabulous Angie. I am so looking forward to hearing more about your adventures in the van :-)

  3. My grandfather built the zigzag railway outside Lithgow. Clarence was my grandparents' home, and relatives still own the property and operate it as a B&B!