Weekend wandering: Teewah Beach with Salty

A few weeks ago we upgraded from our “tarp mahal” tent camping set up to an off-road camper trailer. “Salty,” as she (the camper trailer) has been christened, was welcomed into the family with grand plans to take her to the beach as soon as possible. However, life got in the way and Salty sat forlornly in our backyard, providing a bed for my dad to sleep in during his recent visit, and a cubby house to play in on the weekends, but no off-road adventures or ocean breezes. That is, until this past weekend. Salty, packed and ready to go for the past six weeks, finally made it to the beach.


We cruised up to Teewah Beach in the Great Sandy National Park. Salty was in fine form, happy to be out of the yard and finally feel the sand between her All terrain tyres. As we arrived at our camp site, I left my hubby and Salty alone for some quality bonding time. There was some cursing, and the odd pole thrown at the ground in frustration, but they eventually found a way to get along. As the sun disappeared behind the coloured sand dunes rising up behind our camp site, Salty was set up and ready to relax.


Salty had hoped to see a whale or two swim by, but sadly the whales had stopped for a break further north for the weekend. There was still plenty of entertainment, including a few championship games of totem tennis, giant jelly fish spotting, and hammock swings.

And after a big day of sunshine and sea breezes, Salty warmed up by the campfire, before we all turned in for the night.


All too quickly Salty’s adventure to the beach was over. We packed her back up with gear and hooked her up to the Landy. Salty, a very happy camper – covered in sand and salt – daydreamed about her next adventure to the beach the whole drive home.

Weekend Wandering: Our Front Yard

Summer has come early.


After a long few months of study, surgery recovery, and hubby on night-shift, we came out of winter hibernation this weekend and ventured out into the sunshine for a weekend enjoying all our gorgeous little community has to offer.

Tucked between Bribie Island and Caboolture, the coastal-village of Beachmere has the charm of any other costal township without all the people or traffic. At low tide the sand and mud flats extend out and provide miles of beach to run and explore. Soldier crabs and worms huddle around the edges of shallow pools, the soldier crabs shuffling away before disappearing into the sand. 


Along the white sandy beach there are shells to collect and drift wood to climb. Then castles or pictures to create in the sand, decorating each creation with seed pods, leaves and the other treasures collected while walking along the beach.

When playing at the beach in the sun gets too much, the Beach Shak Cafe is the perfect place to chill out and enjoying a cold drink, a bite to eat and listen to the live local music on offer every Sunday. Or better yet, grab an ice cream, head across the road and let the kids burn off some energy in the playground, while you relax in the shade.

Pango, Vanuatu

We’re in the middle of winter now at home. Not that you’d know it most days, but that chill in the morning air makes us long for the warmth of Vanuatu again. And after a month filled with long work days/nights, study, surgery, and a few other health issues, we find ourselves reminiscing about the lazy days of reading by the ocean, surfing the Pango reef break and Breaka’s left, and chilling on the beach, surrounded by the local pups, watching the sun set.

Pango surf 1

We spent the last few nights of our honeymoon at Breaka’s Beach Resort. The resort was stunning: bungalows, hammocks, cocktails and a pool. But, we are simple creatures, and after spending the previous few days on Pele Island, we felt slightly awkward around so many people dressed in nice resort wear. Breaka’s, though, is a perfect place to stay if you enjoy a surf.

After carting a surfboard around for the whole of our honeymoon, hubby finally got to indulge, testing out both breaks. The swell was fairly small during our stay, but that didn’t stop him – and a bunch of others – from enjoying the fun little waves rolling in as the tide rose. And when the waves were too small, I’d catch him in the shallows pushing the local groms on to the waves, cheering them on as they stood up and high-fives when they paddled back out ready for the next wave.

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It was at Pango that we met John (local pro-surfer, surf coach/guide at Surf Vanuatu, and involved with the Vanuatu Surf Association – VSA). John shared a few tips of local breaks around Pango, Eratap, and Pele and how the local community is encouraging kids to get into surfing. There are no board shapers in Vanuatu and the kids cannot afford to buy new boards. All of the surfboards used are donated by visitors. The VSA, John or other surfers help repair the boards and then give the boards to kids as prizes in the local surf contests, as well as to those who show enthusiasm and positive sportsmanship on the water.

Every afternoon, kids of all ages would ditch their school uniforms and head into the ocean. Many shared surfboards, most of them had no wax or leg ropes, but they would take turns paddling into waves until the sunset. I’d spend most of the afternoon chilling on the beach, kept company by the local dogs, alternating between sleeping in the shade and watching hubby and the other surfers hanging out waiting for the next set to come in, cheering each other on with each wave caught, and finally emerging from the ocean – smiles plastered across faces – salt wrinkled skin as the sun disappeared behind Breaka’s.

Pango beach 2

Me and my mate just chilling on the beach

The surf may not have been huge, but the experience was different to surfing at home. There was no aggression, no sense of ownership, just joy for being in the ocean, and a whole lot of fun as everyone was stoked for each other and for every wave caught. It ignited a flame in my hubby, one that had been snuffed out under the pressures of work and the lack of surf time back home. The thrill of seeing someone stand up for the first time on a board. The fun of surfing together and having a whole lot of laughs. A reminder to not take life so seriously, but simply enjoy being in the water and in the moment.

Pango beach

We are planning a return trip to Vanuatu. One filled with surfing and time spent in the ocean having fun. Next time though, we’ll return prepared… with a bunch of extra boards, wax and leg ropes, so that a few more kids can join in the fun too.

 

Heaven Sent

Baby Emma came into the world on this day four years ago. Although, maybe it was four years tomorrow. No one is quite sure if it was the first or the second of June 2012, only that she arrived very quickly… and that the next day her mother was dead.

Arriving at HOH

I was volunteering at the orphanage the day the tiny baby arrived. Dressed in a purple taffeta dolls dress that was too big for her little limbs and wrapped neatly in a chitenje and big blue blanket. Her father had ridden for eight hours, with his mother sitting on the back of the bicycle holding Emma, to come and ask for help. Emma was twelve days old. Her family could not get her to drink the cow’s milk that one of their neighbours in the village shared with them. They could not afford formula. Sitting in Agogo’s lounge room opposite the grieving family and sleeping baby, I was brought to tears. And it was in this moment, as the cliché goes, my life changed forever.

The arrival of little Emma signaled a shift in my understanding of some of the issues faced in Malawi. It cemented my relationship with the orphanage and the vision that one day these children might not end up in an orphanage, instead living their days with their family because their parents weren’t dying from illness, child-birth, malnutrition or disease. The arrival of Emma also brought a purpose back to my life. For the first few days of her arrival she was in my care, until we could arrange another caregiver for her. The first 24 hours were touch and go. She slept almost the entire time and was barely taking in any formula. After twelve days of life she weighed less than 1.5kg. One afternoon, while struggling to feed Emma, my sister suggested using a syringe. We filled it up to 5mL and squirted 1mL in her mouth. She cried out and in doing so gulped the liquid down. We did it again. And finally she latched her little lips around the syringe and guzzled the entire 5mL.

Bath time

Curling up with Emma that night in bed, the smell of soap and milk lingering on her skin, I listened to her breathing. Unable to sleep, in case the soft little puffs of air suddenly stopped. My heart ached. It ached for the loss of a mother who would never see her baby grow up. It ached for a little baby who might not survive until the morning. It ached for all the children I’d met and spent time with at the orphanage who shared a similar story to Emma, or in some cases, far more horrific stories of their own arrival into the world.

That night, my heart also ached for myself. As the intricacies of my life were thrust into the spotlight of my consciousness to finally start to deal with, I realized that I needed to care about something again. I’d fallen off the rails at home: I’d left a few relationships in the space of a couple of years; been in a domestic violence situation; I’d lost an incredible friend to a plane crash; and I drank enough everyday to keep the grief, hurt and memories at bay. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the most pleasant drunk person either. I’d turned into someone I no longer recognized and I couldn’t stand the person I’d become.

Another favourite chill out spot

Maybe Agogo had sensed this and that was his reason for bringing little Emma and I together. Maybe it was God. Or the universe. Or whatever greater force it is that is out there orchestrating these moments that ultimately change our lives. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for it. I am grateful that four years on Emma is healthy and happy and loving life.

Emma 3 years

While we live in different countries, and I don’t get to visit as often as I did in her first two years of life, Emma and I will forever be linked. She may not realize it yet, and every time I do visit I have to work to regain her friendship and trust, but Emma inspired a dream that will, one day, improve the lives for lots of other babies and children in Malawi. Each year a team of dedicated people, that grows daily, come together to change the lives of women and children in Malawi. Firstly, through the sewing project to teach secondary school graduates sewing skills that could allow them to generate income, which led to the sanitary pad project, and now the Emergency Baby Home. Each step has been devised in partnership with the young women of the orphanage, providing them with support to make the choices in their lives. The Emergency Baby Care Home is not just a place for orphaned babies to live, as ultimately the next generation of young women would like to live for a long time and watch their children grow old. It’s a safe space for women to meet, to learn about pre-natal and ante-natal care, nutrition and health for women, and baby care. It’s a safe space for babies whose mothers perhaps cannot look after them because the mother needs support and care herself or the baby comes from a particularly vulnerable situation and requires high-needs care.

By the time Emma grows up, hopefully she will have the opportunity to choose for herself how the rest of her story goes. Hopefully she will be educated and able to step up and question the choices available to her. Deciding what is best for her future and re-writing her families ending, so that she too doesn’t die in child-birth leaving a baby motherless in this world.

Emma 19 months

Happy 4th birthday Emma. May your life continue to shine brightly upon this world. xx

If you would like to help mothers in Malawi to live long and healthy lives, or babies – like Emma – in emergency situations please consider donating to the Emergency Baby Care Home fundraising campaign.

em and em

Pele Island, Vanuatu

Nestled between the islands of Nguna and Emao  lies Pele Island, the smallest of the three, just a short boat ride off the north-east coast of Efate. Between 200 – 300 Ni-Vanuatu people live in the four villages on the island and each village has at least one guest bungalow, an income generating project that also encourages visitors to Vanuatu to stay with and learn more about the local people and culture.

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We were greeted at the jetty by Enoch Takaue, the chief of Werearu village, and our host for the next few nights at the Sunset Frangipani Bungalow. The island has a small primary school (students board on the mainland to attend secondary school) and we made a quick stop to pick up Enoch’s two boys and their cousin on our way to Werearu.

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As Pele is quite small, you can easily walk around the island in a day. If you decided to stop on a beach for a swim anywhere along the way, it’s customary (and polite) to ask the village chief for permission. Before arriving we’d been keen to go exploring, but after dropping off our bags in the bungalow we settled into a couple of chairs to take in the view. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, to me, there is something quite magical about sitting in the shade of a palm tree, the sand between your toes and the gentle lapping of the ocean lulling you into an almost comatose state of relaxation within minutes.

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For the next two days we moved between the shade of the palm trees and dips in the ocean. And I wrote. Pages and pages and pages. I wrote about where we were and what we were doing. I wrote down ideas for stories, ramblings, and thoughts. None of it was important, thesis related, or for anyone else. I wrote because there were no distractions. There were no meals to cook (Enoch’s lovely wife, Joanna, made us three delicious – and massive – meals a day), no Facebook to check, emails to answer or tv to watch.

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In between writing, and hubby reading and sleeping in a hammock all day, we waded out into the shallows for a snorkel. The effects of Cyclone Pam are still evident on the reef. But, one year on and the coral is building itself back up. Little reef fish are moving back in and the clams, which are a local delicacy, create a patchwork of colorful fleshy lips woven into the growing coral bombies.

Two days were not long enough. I would’ve happily chilled out in the ocean, written, played with the kids and chatted to Joanna, swapping recipes, by the fire each night. Now we know about this gem of a place, we’ll be back for sure.

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Takaue Sunset Frangipani Bungalow Details

  • Accommodation: 3500 Vatu per person per night
  • Boat ride: 500 Vatu per person each way
  • Includes three meals a day, plus tea and coffee
  • Accommodation sleeps 5 (1 x double bed, 1 x single bed, 1 x bunk bed)
  • BYO snorkel gear
  • Bucket flush toilet and cold wash bathing facilities
  • Solar power LED lights hooked up in the bungalow and to the bathroom block outside

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To Do

  • Island walk
  • Snorkel
  • Surf (there are two breaks on Pele, one a short walk North to the point/reef break and one on the South-Eastern side of the island. The wind and swell were all wrong while we were there with a 1/2 – 1 foot wave breaking on the reef.)
  • Walk through the village and meet the locals/hang out with the kids after school
  • Read
  • Laze around in a hammock

To book contact Enoch on 5348534 or 7118360 or contact Evergreen Tours to help you connect with Enoch and book a stay.

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Mele: Kava, Cascades & a Karaoke Bus Ride

About a 10 minute bus ride north of Port Vila lies the calm crescent bay of Mele. The area of Mele is home to several villages stretching from just behind the volcanic and coral mix sandy beach back to the airport. The largest village (7000 people) on the island of Efate starts from the main road – behind The Beach Bar and a private housing estate – and spreads inland toward the dense green hills that have formed with many years of Volcanic activity.


One of the first things my husband wanted to do on our honeymoon was try Kava. He’d heard stories and was itching to get out and find a Nakamal, Kava bar. By the time we’d ordered our second round of drinks on our first day in Vanuatu (having arrived late the night before), he’d asked the staff at the resort about where we could go for good Kava. And this led us to John. John was keen to have some Kava after work. He would meet us and we could go with him.

There are rules to drinking Kava and everyone will remind you of these rules… And I advise that you listen to them.

Kava Drinking Rules:

  1. Do not drink alcohol or eat from about lunch time onwards if you are going to drink Kava at night.
  2. Drink water and eat a small snack after each shell of Kava.
  3. For your first time, maybe drink 1 or 2 shells, but don’t think you can drink Kava like beer.

The excitement got the better of my hubby…

Holidays + no work + the impending Kava drinking = Beer drinking on the beach all day.

Rule #1 broken

Kava

Kava

We arrived at John’s uncles house where they had prepared a really strong batch of Kava (see pic above). Kava is just really muddy water. Made from grinding the fresh kava root, mixing it with water and straining the liquid through some sort of mesh or cloth. It numbs the lips and mouth and then relaxes the body and mind. It’s not typically a drink made for getting drunk. But, that night, my hubby and John gave it a good crack. Rule #2 was kind of abided by – well they consumed a small packet of Twisties between them and their 3 shells of Kava each. That works out to about 2 twisties each after each drink. And Rule #3, yeah, well, that one also went out the window.

As hubby spent most of the night hugging the toilet bowl, I was really glad I spat out the tiny little sip of Kava I’d tried – after all, it really is just muddy water. He was convinced the chicken in his dinner had given him food poisoning… until we ran into John later that morning. John looked at us both and said “I want to die.” Turns out no one gets away from the consequences of breaking the Kava drinking rules.

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After spending a few days at Erakor Island Resort for our honeymoon, we packed up and headed north to stay in Mele Bay. The rain had settled in on Saturday, but by Sunday the clouds cleared and the humidity was back. We walked along the beach early Sunday morning, and after missing the turn off and walking halfway around the bay, we back tracked and found the road leading to the Cascades.

 

Chilling at the cascades

The Cascades are a series of pools connected by small waterfalls and rocky overflows. The walk takes about 30 minutes, starting from the bottom pools and following a path up a set of stairs, through the dense overgrown hillside and then criss-crossing the middle section of stream and pools before reaching the actual cascades.

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Mele Waterfall

The 35m waterfall at the top is a spectacular place to cool off after the humid walk. Go early in the day though. The pool at the base of the waterfall is fairly small. There was a family of 3 there at the same time as us and we all had enough space to swim and chill out. Five people were plenty,  I couldn’t imagine sharing this spot with a bus load of people, but then I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t like being in crowded places anyway.

Settling in to enjoy a beer on the beach as the sunset that night, we met Antuan – the only surfer in Mele. There are no waves in Mele, unless there is a cyclone or tsunami warning. So the boys planned a surf trip for the next day out at Pango.

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Game of pool at one of the Nakamals in Mele village.

As the break at Pango is shallow at high tide, and the reef is out of the water at low tide, a surf wasn’t possible until later in the day. We headed into Mele village for a few hours for a game of pool, an ice cream from the local who sells 3 scoops for the price of 2, and for me to indulge in chasing the pigs that roam freely alongside the dogs and chickens, all to get a photo of a pig (If we had land at home a pig would be the first animal added to the family, well after chickens anyway).

Piggy

We came across the local English primary school (there are French and English schools in Vanuatu). Almost 12 months on from Cyclone Pam and part of the school is still operating out of UNICEF supplied tents. The local community worked together to raise money and then with locals, volunteers and NGO organisations rebuilt one of the buildings in two days. Other organisations have supported the rebuilding of other classrooms, but there is still a way to go.

After hitching a ride, our last visit to Mele was for the famous Beach Bar Fire Show. But, it was the drive back to Pango that was the real entertainment of the night. We jumped in a bus (mini van) and the driver’s cousin, Sharon, offered us beers. A couple of minutes into the drive and we stopped for Woodstocks. The driver, Pete, turned off a few streets early in Port Vila and headed to a bar/restaurant. Here he shouted a round of tequila shots and the bar shouted a free round of home-made caramel vodka shots. Not being a big drinker anymore, and having already over indulged in happy hour cocktails earlier in the evening, I’d stopped partaking in the drinking and watched all of this unfold like some strange throw back to our younger days. We climbed back in the bus and Pete reassured me, as he reversed out of the parking lot, not to worry he’d only drunk a carton of Tuskers beer that day. We continued driving along roads leading away from Vila and our destination in Pango, eventually ending up on a hill full of mobile/cellphone towers overlooking the massive harbour of Port Vila. Sharon cranked up the stereo and under the glittering lights of the towers and stars we all danced and sang barefoot beside the bus to Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”. A few songs, and a few beers later, Sharon was asleep on the front passenger seat and Pete drove us the rest of the way to Pango, singing to songs ranging from popular electronic dance music to country and western, and driving at 20km an hour along the side of the road.

Pete was right… I had nothing to worry about at all.

 

Weekend Wandering: Bribie Island

Dear parents everywhere,

I salute you! You guys are the most amazing people in the universe.

Yours in complete awe,

Emma x

This past weekend our house was home to three little ones all under the age of six years. Two sisters staying for a few days and my friend and her little one visiting overnight. After a big day on Saturday, Sunday started with a 5am wake up call after a dummy was thrown out of the cot. 

I like my sleep. I don’t function well without it, and it appears neither do little people. By 8am the world was ending. Toes were crossing imaginary lines into someone else’s “side of the couch”, doors were shut leaving one out of the shenanigans going on inside the room by the other two, and the toothpaste was the wrong colour. There were tears and cries of “it’s not fair”. And there were screams of “no”, although, in the end I’m not sure what the no’s were about.

It was time to get out of the confines of the house! Time to get some sunshine and chill out. We loaded three children into the car, protesting that they didn’t like the beach or swimming, and headed to Bribie Island. 

Bribie is a great spot to visit with kids. On the eastern side you can 4wd and camp along the beach. On the western side the beaches are protected from big swells and a perfect place to fish or for little ones to swim. There are shops and cafes, and, on weekends, markets to explore. There are playgrounds or shady patches of grass to spread out on and enjoy the view. 

We found a little patch of grass under a eucalyptus tree, in Bongaree, and spread out a picnic blanket. Within sixty seconds all three kids were pulling on swimmers and racing towards the water. So much for hating the beach!

  
We found soldier crabs and chased fish in the shallows. We chased seagulls and buried our feet in the sand. And after they’d splashed around in the gentle waves rolling in off the boats and jet skis going past out in the channel, three smiling children laughed together and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the beach. 

  
My 36 hour experience with three young children gave me a new found appreciation and respect for parents everywhere. You guys are amazing!

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