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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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?