Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
The Jenss family holiday season extends a week or two beyond the traditional parameters of Thanksgiving and New Year’s because our children’s birthdays fall just before and after those two days. To celebrate Tyler’s 12th birthday, we did what many locals do to escape the big city of Sydney during the first week in January–we headed for the nearby Blue Mountains. In many ways, this excursion reminded us a lot of our drives to ‘the country’ outside the New York metropolitan area, albeit without the dramatic scenery of Wollemi National Park as a backdrop. In our pursuit of avoiding hotels as much as possible on this trip, we found the perfect retreat in Bilpin Springs Lodge: a spacious, self-contained B&B neatly tucked amongst an expanse of gum trees and apple orchards.
Upon our arrival, we were immediately greeted by the caretaker Tony, who showed us around the homestead where we’d spend the next three days, and the boys made a bee-line to the trampoline parked right on the front lawn. As he ran down the list of all the possible activities to consider around the area, I told him how we just wanted to take a break from the hectic pace we’ve been on for the last six months and just hang out. He smiled and said, “That’s terrific. Not too many of our foreign guests come here and do that. They’re usually in and out of here pretty quickly.” I figured this was a good sign that we might have the place all to ourselves, and we pretty much did.
We did take an afternoon for the obligatory trip to see the famous “three sisters” rock formation and hike to some of the scenic overlooks of the Blue Mountains themselves. But as most of the day-trippers headed back by motor coach to their hotels in Sydney, we leisurely made the short trip back to take full advantage of the self-contained facilities at the lodge. After cooking up our own surf and turf dinner, which included some rainbow trout the boys and I caught in a pond right on the property, I stayed up with Tony for a while to kick back on the veranda and to share some wine, adventures stories, and views on the world. I always enjoy spending time with the locals to get their perspective on things, and in this case, I made sure to give Tony mine.
I told him and a host of other New Zealanders and Aussies whom I met that they really don’t know how good they have it and should really appreciate where they live. They’re quite fortunate to live in a country that’s incredibly beautiful, prosperous, completely modernized, and isolated, which I explained was probably a good thing. Although they are not immune to the global economic crisis, they’ve successfully stayed out of the way of most international conflicts and haven’t been affected by any major civil unrest or acts of terrorism–not unless you consider getting beaten in cricket by South Africa a major national crisis!
After a wonderful stay in the Sydney area, we flew across the country to Perth, where we would spend the last few days of our stay in Australia. It was never our intention to actually travel to Perth, but because we had to fly from there to Africa to start the next segment of our journey, we had no choice. As luck would have it, this was quite the fortuitous twist of fate. Shortly before leaving on the trip back in July, I met someone who works at Qantas and told her of our Australian itinerary. When I mentioned we’d be finishing up in Perth, her eyes lit up and suggested that if we wanted to experience the best of what Australia has to offer and visit her favorite place in the entire country, we needed to go to Margaret River, a four-hour drive south of Western Australia’s capital city. Never one to turn down advice from knowledgeable insiders, I amended our plans accordingly and booked us in the Waterfall Cottages
for three nights.
All I can say is that when we arrived, it felt like we hit the Australian jackpot, or I should really say a “trifecta,” because we basically did the same three things every day we were there. This region is best known for it’s outstanding wines, famous surf, and geological wonders, and offers somewhat of a microcosm of the country as a whole. Each morning, while Carol spent a few hours home schooling the boys, I scoped out a different vineyard, beach and cave for us to visit in the afternoon–just the right mix of activities to satisfy the entire family.
Margaret River, it can be argued, produces some of the best wines in Australia. With most of the 150 wineries of Western Australia being concentrated in this area, there’s certainly a variety to choose from. Because we weren’t going to drag the kids around from vineyard to vineyard, we simply selected one winery for lunch each day. After all, the boys had to eat. Ultimately, we went to the oldest (Vasse Felix), biggest (Voyager Estate), and perhaps most family-friendly (Woody Nook) in the region.
Our second stop in the afternoons where spent exploring. After visiting the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet, we spent the next two days checking out some of the caves that belong to a series of complex and fragile karst systems which are landscapes formed by the rapid drainage of water underground. The Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association operates three spectacular show caves; Lake, Mammoth, and Jewel, which are easily accessible and decorated with their own unique and incredible formations. Needless to say, this was a hit with the boys as well as Carol and I.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that like the wineries, Margaret River has some of the “best in class” when it comes to beaches as well. It doesn’t take a whole lot to persuade a child to play in the sand, so we could basically take a run at the lot. Renowned for its roaring waves, Surfer’s Point was where we spent our last afternoon. Blessed with crystal clear but chilly Indian Ocean waters, the surfers were having a field day. Although we didn’t venture in ourselves, we couldn’t have found a more fitting spot to conclude our wonderous month Down Under.
Photos: Rainer Jenss