Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Dose Of Vitamin Sea

Confession: I have been a very bad blogger.
Somehow, in spite of my best intentions, I haven't quite kept up with my blogging recently - as any of my followers will have noticed!
But it's been a busy time.
Since I last posted:
  • The kids returned to school and settled in.
  • Miss 13 turned 14. (She chose not to have a public trip down memory lane though.)
  • I survived another surgery (and this time the results were a lot better).
  • I've grappled with watching my Mum fade away in front of me as she battles leukemia and dementia at a local nursing home, separated by poor health for the first time in her married life from Dad.
  • I've managed to fit in a bit of a social life. Yes really! 
  • I'm getting back into the writing routine again.
  • We've had Easter, and the kids got to spend quality time with their Dad.
  • That meant I got to catch up with loved ones too, including one of my best friends who was visiting from his home overseas.
  • Chase had at least one emergency trip to hospital (he's okay though, thank God and the Universe).
  • I've enjoyed watching him gain fitness and confidence in training for this year's Kokoda Challenge.
  • I got a bit of water in my eye when I watched both kids perform with the school choir at our Kingaroy Eisteddfod. (The choir they were members of gained second place in each section.)
  • I've been grateful for the support, as always, of our family and friends. For better, for worse. 
So basically, it's just been busy!

However, the highlight of our year so far was when we visited Sea World on the Gold Coast, so the kids could swim with at least 60 manta rays, 60 sharks and hundreds of fish at Shark Bay.

Sound familiar?

Why yes, because from the moment he discovered it was a thing, Chase begged me to let him do the Tropical Reef Snorkel at Shark Bay. When we lived in Brisbane, that dream came true. His sister wanted to do it too, but needed an an adult (that would be me) to accompany her.

Shark Bay

Back then, I imagined it would be pretty tame. After all, I'd dived and snorkelled on real reefs, with wild sharks, including the Great Barrier Reef which was once practically part of my backyard.

But being in close confinement with sharks, rays, and fish which are used to humans is a different thing entirely. It was quite breathtaking being so up close and personal to so many species, and also, having them swim so fast and close to you. One actually bumped into me, much to my mixed delight and horror.

And this year, when Chase turned 16 and some of his friends are having birthday parties to celebrate the milestone, I asked if he'd like to have one too.

His immediate response was no, but could he swim with the sharks instead? His sister - whose birthday is about three weeks later - loved that idea too, so I had immediately had found two birthday presents in one.

Now I'll be honest. After doing it once, I didn't know if modern kids would really like repeating an experience again. What if the memories weren't as good as the reality? Wouldn't they rather try something new? Swimming with the dolphins? (Cute, but sharks and manta rays are awesome). Indoor sky-diving or jet-packing? (Over too fast). Whale watching? (Love whales, but the kids don't get along with boats all the time).

Plus Sea World is on the Gold Coast, which is the home of many cool things. In particular, my kids love the food, shopping and sunshine.

While the Gold Coast was once a short drive away, now we live in the country it's pretty much an overnight event. Truthfully, I wouldn't have managed a four-hour-plus drive each way there and a full day at Sea World as well, so it was self-preservation too.)

As it happened, of all the places to book, the nearby Sea World Resort had an amazing special on, which made it better value than anywhere nearby. How lucky were we? I kept checking that the price wasn't per person, not for all of us! So I certainly recommend checking their website if you are planning to stay over.

Staying so close meant we could go 'home' to our room when we were finished, and also have unlimited entry to Sea World, Wet 'n' Wild, Movie World or Paradise Country while we were there. (Sadly, we didn't have time to take advantage of that this time, as it was a normal weekend, which meant we had to be back in time for school on Monday.)

So after a long drive, and an early morning for us, we made it. As an animal lover, I have no qualms with visiting Sea World on the Gold Coast. I've written many features on Sea World and the people who work there, and I know they have good hearts and do loads of rescue work that wouldn't otherwise happen without their funding and expertise. I also know that the animals there are released back into the wild if they are deemed healthy enough and able to cope. The breeding and education programs are also world class.

It was a while before our snorkel, so the kids wanted to check out the rides and attractions.

And although it's been quite a few years since our last visit (bearing in mind that country school camps often include a visit to theme parks like Sea World, and both my kids enjoyed that), there was plenty to keep us entertained.

First up, was the Jet Rescue ride. Last time we visited, the kids missed out on this one because there was a large queue and, being that little bit younger, their energy was waning.

This visit, the park was pleasantly populated, and because we'd arrived early, the queues were short. Winning!

Practically no waiting time! What a great start to the day.

Here they come. The kids are in front!

Loved seeing the enjoyment on their faces!

Oops, I was spotted taking photos! 

The kids had so much fun they did the ride again, and got on immediately. They probably would have ridden all day had a certain male not been 'nutted', a technical term I believe, during the ride. Or maybe it was an excuse to stop and find something to eat! He had churros on his mind ...

On the way to find churros, we did the obligatory stop to pat the stingrays at Ray Reef. The kids have always loved stingrays, and we've even been lucky enough to feed them on previous visits.

Chase got his first chance to try the underwater camera his Dad gave him for his birthday

First pics taken underwater ...

Sea World now has a big shady, undercover area in the middle of the park. A much-appreciated improvement since our last time there. (It's probably been there for ages, but this was our first time in years.) It was nice to have somewhere relatively cool and quiet to sit. 

We liked the design of the place too and the attention to detail.

As with all theme parks, food and drink are expensive. And while there are healthy options like salads and wraps these days, feeding hungry teens can really break the budget. We saved money by stopping during our road trip - recommended for sleepy Mum anyway - so we weren't starving by the time we got there. I winced and treated the kids to some reusable drink cups, which are free to refill (or $1 if you decide to go for a frozen drink.) They can be used on future visits, and although we also took in a water bottle each, I don't like to be completely stingy. They also enjoyed churros, which seemed to have gone up in price, but are a rare treat. We decided to skip lunch, and spend the money we'd saved on an early dinner of Japanese food instead. (This proved to be an awesome decision. I instagrammed the hell out of that meal, but hopefully I'll post about it later.)

We still had time to spend before their snorkel, so the kids spent a little of their pocket money at the shops. I thought the souvenirs were pretty good value and quality for a theme park, and quite useful too, with products like cups, towels and backpacks available as well as the usual suspects.

A seagull helpfully sent us in the right direction ...

To Shark Bay!

I love that Sea World has a 'hands on' policy wherever possible. And there is always a friendly employee around to give information and answer questions. (Like on our previous visit, when Chase asked why some sharks were chasing and biting each other. Um, they were mating. But to give the employee credit, she explained simply and in terms appropriate to the kids' ages.) The 'do touch' policy applies to the touching pool. Once you're snorkelling, you are obviously not supposed to touch the marine life, just as you wouldn't on a real reef.

Some really important information about sharks, which are so misunderstood by some. 

Setting up for their experience.

Checking out the marine life.

Last minute instructions. Participants are given a full briefing before their experience, and the loan of wetsuits, masks, snorkels and flippers are included. There are also two staff members on hand if there are questions or concerns throughout the experience.

Cleaning masks. A bit of a spit and polish, as regular snorkellers and divers would know!

And they're off!

Not being able to join them, I thought I might feel like I was missing out. But, considering I hadn't long had major surgery, it wasn't an option. As it happened, I think I got as much out of watching the kids enjoy their experience as they did actually doing it. (Parents will understand). Being out of the water also meant I had the chance to take photos to capture the occasion.

As for my fear the teens might find the experience a little less exciting since they had done it before? How wrong I was! Chase had turned 16 and Harmonie was about a week away from 14, and their extra maturity and fitness meant they were far more confident and stronger swimmers, even mastering free-diving to get a closer look at the marine life. Having experienced the reef snorkel before too, the 'fear factor' was gone and they were able to really enjoy every minute in the water.

As an added bonus, because it was the last snorkel of the day and the crowd was enjoying watching the group snorkel, the friendly staff actually gave all the participants a little longer in the water. 

The kids couldn't wait to explore the reef.

Chase wasted no time putting his birthday camera to good use.

The underwater gallery makes for great viewing. And yes, that's my part-mermaid Miss 14 they are enviously watching. (Okay I was eavesdropping!)

Diving deep.

Under the sea ... but where are my kids?

Hello! (Okay, not one of my children but I'd happily adopt this creature!)

The idyllic scene at Sea World ...

All smiles after their experience. Sea World provides each swimmer with a complimentary photo but I thought mine was a better. But before I allow myself a smug moment, it's hard to get the perfect shot when friendly sting rays and manta rays are appearing at the subjects' feet.

And for old times' sake, this is the photo from the first time the kids did the experience, when I accompanied them. 

The kids were on a high after their snorkel, and after a refill of their drinks, we took our time heading out of the park, enjoying the scenery along the way.

A different kind of shark...

Can't get enough sharks!

An iconic spot ...

It was almost as if the dolphins were waiting to say goodbye to us! And truly, this unexpected delight occured as we were making our way out of the park. The kids loved communicating with the dolphins, and it was really special end to the day.

See you next time!

I have to say that the Tropical Reef Encounter really is one of the best animal adventures you can experience in Australia for the price. It's $59.99, which includes everything you need, including a photo. Sea World has loads of other experiences on offer, so you can choose the one which suits you best. You DO have to already have Sea World entry, but for a special occasion or present, you really can't beat it. And you don't have to leave Australia!

Now the kids are older, I don't tend to buy them presents, but rather experiences that we can share and hopefully remember forever. This was really wonderful.

It was made even better by the second half of the kids' birthday presents, the overnight stay at Sea World Resort, and a spot of shopping and eating on the way home. But more on that later...

I only wish we'd had more time to return the next day, or try out one of the other theme parks. But hey - there will be other special occasions I'm sure.

NEWS FLASH: Sea World has just celebrated the birth of twin baby polar bear cubs. I can't wait to go back see them!

Do your kids like birthday parties? Or do they prefer experiences and/or treats instead?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Message To My Son - The 2017 Edition

Dear Chase,

How in the world did 16 years just fly by? Suddenly, I have a young man in my life! You really are The Man Of The House.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved every minute I've spent with you. Well, except for the parts when I've nagged you to get ready for school, to do your chores, and to PLEASE put your socks on! And maybe those meltdowns when you were younger. (I'm not sure if mine or yours were worse!)

When you and your sister came back to live with me last year, it was as if all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once. And it was proof, to me at least, that dreams came true.

But, writing this post while you're still sleeping, as I did last year's birthday post, I can remember the day you came into the world as if it were yesterday. And I still can't believe that the years have gone so fast.

Since that day, we've shared so much, and you are growing into a wonderful young man who I not just admire, but I enjoy being with. That's quite a gift you know. Not all families enjoy being together. I couldn't have wished to have played a part in creating a nicer human being.
You make me prouder every single day, as you take on more responsibilities. Juggling high school with a part-time job, and volunteer work. Helping care for me when I was recovering from surgery recently. Being kind to your grandparents. Carrying home the groceries when I couldn't drive (and continuing to help out whenever we need to shop), mowing the lawn, doing All The Things without complaint. (Okay, sometimes with a few grumbles).

You don't ask for much - well, except maybe for food! But you're a good cook who doesn't mind helping out, so I figure it balances out.

For this year's birthday post, rather than giving advice, which I know I dole out ad nauseum, I thought I'd share some memories from throughout the years that you may have forgotten.

I know you are camera-shy now but it wasn't always the case!

Celebrating my birthday at one of our favourite local restaurants, Cassis at Booie, South Burnett. Not the best pic, but one of the few I have of the three of us together recently. Thanks to Uncle Owen and Aunty Leanne for taking us out that day.

Flexing your muscles by spearing and de-husking coconuts at the kids club at Samoa when you were still an ankle-biter. They gave you a lot of freedom there, and while I was initially a bit horrified at the sight of you thrusting coconuts onto spears, I soon embraced it with the same enthusiasm you did.

Living the high life, ordering coloured lemonades at the swim-up bar at The Warwick Fiji, many years ago.

And always trying something new. Lunch at a village on the Coral Coast, Fiji. Where we ate locally-grown foods with our hands.

Loving our jetboat ride on the Sigatoka River, Fiji.

 Ice-skating with Harmonie at the temporary winter wonderland in Brisbane a few years ago. Just before she slipped and had several hunky men, sorry First Responders, tending to her. (She was fine.) 

Diving into the chocolate dolphins waiting in our room at Sea World Resort one Easter. I don't think I even got to taste one!

Always a fan of cooking, you often posed with chefs whose food you admired. This dude was the fantastic teppanyaki chef at the Japanese restaurant at Sea World Resort when we stayed there. You once included 'cooking with Matt Preston' on your Bucket List. I think the choice of chef has changed. No offence Matt. 

Feigning exhaustion at Wet 'N' Wild, Qld.

Cooking dinner at home,with a taste-tester at hand. 

Waiting for lunch at the Novotel Darwin Atrium (hosted event) another Easter holidays. With the help of our little green friend Kermit.

You're so great with kids. Baby-sitting one of our neighbour's kids, who all feel like family to us.

One of the highlights of our year was attending Oz Comic-Con (PR event). Harmonie and I giggled at the sign at entry which prohibited 'no annoying loud things', and wondered if you should be banned. You took our naughtiness with good humour.

Oz Comic-Con was so cool, but despite my begging, you wouldn't dance. Nor would you allow me to! 

Catching a crab a few years ago on the Tweed Coast, NSW, when I was on assignment for a story. The crab was later cooked on board the boat, and as Harmonie doesn't like seafood, you and I got to share it. It tasted amazing, and I seem to remember you wishing for more!

On theme, catching a prawn in your mouth at the teppanyaki restaurant at Sea World Resort. Always up for new experiences!

Finding your zen with Harmonie in Canberra. You were only tiny then.

At one of your favourite restaurants when we lived in Brisbane, Yum Yum Peking Duck, Darra.

Reeling in another fish at The Ledge Beach, WA. One of the many special experiences we've had with Uncle Stuart and family. We've spent great times with Uncle Dar and Bel too, but I couldn't quickly find a pic for this post.

At The Italian Festival, held at the school you attended when we lived in New Zealand, Freeman's Bay. I love this one, because of the body language between you and your sister. You weren't getting along that day. And that's okay, because brothers and sisters don't always have to get along, as long as you make up eventually!

And another from the 'life isn't always perfect' files. Throwing up with your sister after one too many rides at the Lantern Festival at Darra, Qld, many years ago. It actually looks like you are being sick on her head, but I swear that was not the case!

And happier times! Joy with your sister as you jump into the pool at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, when we took a last-minute break there. Later we went to a magic show, when you asked the magician how to make your sister disappear! Jupiters was not an obvious choice to take then tweens to, but it was off-season, well-priced. and we had the pool to ourselves. I'm not a gambler so didn't need to go the casino, and we just enjoyed the room, the pool, the show, and access to nearby Broadbeach. You and your sister completely blissed out

Taking in the Brisbane River from the Executive Lounge at the Brisbane Marriott, where we spent your birthday last year. This year's was a bit quieter, as it fell during the school week. Though being an Australia Day baby, you still had a day off!

Ready to swim with sharks and manta rays at Shark Bay, Sea World, on the Gold Coast. You'd been begging for years, and the moment you were old enough, we did it. I know you dearly want to do it again, and I hope we can soon.

Milking a fake cow at the Royal Auckland Show, New Zealand. It had fake udders and produced 'real' milk, which was all kinds of weird, but we ran with it

Making friends with all the orphaned kittens, at Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey's Resort. Don't know who that is behind you ... Cough!

Wiped out after a busy day at Auckland's Sky Tower. It's okay, you were only a youngster then, so you were allowed to have cuddle toys!

Happy times. We were living overseas then and visited the South Burnett only on holidays. Here you are helping Pa-Pa dig for potatoes. Harmonie is cranky because you are doing the digging. If looks could kill ...

Playing cricket with Allan Border (I won't mention that I had to tell you who he was on the way there!) We also had afternoon tea and a BBQ dinner with him and some of his friends.Thanks for being willing to tag along for some of my writing stuff.

I'd love to share some of the latest pics of you, but I respect that you'd rather keep your privacy these days. But I hope you enjoy revisiting these moments as much as I have.

That's why I keep taking photos, even though I don't share them. Because in the future, they might remind us of times that we might otherwise forget. And making memories is important. May we make many more.

And may you enjoy many more sunsets like these. (This one was closer to home, at Mt Wooroolin, Kingaroy)

You have the world ahead of you my son.

Happy birthday baby.

Love Mum xx