Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best of Western Australia

It seems like a long time ago that Collin first got the confirmation that there was a teacher exchange match for him in Harvey, Western Australia.  Our first reaction was - where's that?  After about 5 minutes of online research  we quickly decided that the southwest part of Western Australia would be an exciting place to be for a year.  Reflecting back, we were probably sold once we read that we would be living 20 km from the beach.  Yes, the centrally located rural community was ideal.  Harvey is only 40 km from the regional city Bunbury, several National Parks are within a couple hours drive, capital city Perth is 140 km north and Margaret River is 140 km south.  We knew that we would be exploring WA every weekend and Harvey was proven to be an awesome launch pad.

So, what are our highlights?  What will the Walker's remember the most?  Or miss the most?  It is hard to prioritize or make a countdown list.  A few weeks before we left Australia several people including parents, students, colleagues, and neighbours began asking us what was our favourite place or most interesting part of the exchange. Both Collin and Becky stumbled around the answer and never clearly committed to one particular destination or experience.  It was all worth it!  But alas we do want to give some reasons why Western Australia is a great place to visit.  Read below...

The People
Like anywhere its the people that draw you back to a place.  We had wonderful neighbours.  Made long lasting friendships with quite a few Harvey families and of course Caleb and Jackson will miss their little mates at school.  Notable mentions - Lemke family, Wheat-Jones family, Newton family, Bonner family, Parker family, Martella family, Tindale family and although we only met face to face in the Edmonton airport, our exchange partners - the Spraggs.

The Beaches
Both Collin and Becky agree, we have never been to any better beaches than Western Australia.   We lost count after 20 beaches, but it would be a realistic estimate that we went to double that or more.  Every state capital city in Australia is located on the coast and all boast their own major beaches.  Yes, they are famous and from the amount of people on them, popular.  But, the feeling of being on a beach and as far as the eye can see you are the only ones on  it, can not be beat!  True solitude.  Many, many times during our year we went to the beach and there was less than ten people.  And several times our family was alone to play in the sand, walk the coast, pick seashells, dig, swim, snorkel, body board, float, play in the waves, watch for dolphins, or have a picnic.
The Southwest
According to Lonely Planet Travel Guides, the southwest of Western Australia was one of the top ten destinations worldwide to visit in 2010.  We just happen to do it a year later (after most of the tourists left).  The distance to get to Western Australia is daunting, but truly worth it.  If anything, the remoteness has kept it as Australia's best kept secret.

Fruit & Veg
In Canada, we have such a short growing season and it can be said we usually only have one.  Where we lived in Australia was orchard country and we were blessed that every two months or so a new fruit or veg would come in season.  Just when the feast of one type was over a new flavour would begin to ripen.  When we arrived in summer the stone fruit was out (apricots, peaches, plums) plus figs, avocados and passion fruit were all so delicious.  Next was Autumn and we ate our fill of table grapes.  During the southern hemisphere winter, June to August, brought out the tastiest citrus fruit (grapefruit, mandarins, lemons, limes, oranges).  Spring was time to harvest garden veggies, strawberries, and watermelons.  The fruit we will miss the most would be fresh from the vine passion fruit - wow the smell and taste sure packed a punch.  All locally grown.  Many people in town had a small garden and orchard in their yards.  And if you know where to go, local farmers will sell cheap, freshly picked produce from their garden to you.
Aussie Animals
We had no clue that Australia had so many unique and unusual and sometimes very rare fauna.    We came across numerous marsupials that we never heard of before our exchange year.  Many are nocturnal and most live only in a small geographic region of the country, let alone not being found anywhere else on the planet. There are too many examples to include photos of all of them, so we encourage you do to a google image search on your own.  In the wild we have seen... an echidna, quokkas, bandicoot, skinks, blue-tongue lizards, a few snakes, goanna, 100's of western grey kangaroos, and a couple euro.  In nature reserves, zoos and animal farms we have seen koalas, a cassowary, crocodiles, wallabies, numbats, wombats, dingoes, a bilby, boodies, possums and Tasmanian devils.  Along the coast, we caught glimpses of humpback whales, sea lions, Indo-Pacific dolphins, bottle-nosed dolphins, dugongs, green sea turtles, a reef shark and numerous schools of fish. 

Aussie Birds
We also seen in Australia two flightless birds - the tall gangly emu and the water loving fairy penguin.  Noisy birds woke us up early every morning like the screechy black cockatoos and white cockies, loud pink and grey galahs, magpies and crows, but we will never get tired of the laugh of the kookaburra. Bobook owl, black swans and the extremely large Australian pelicans will also be remembered.

Gum Trees
Eucalyptus trees, a.k.a. gum trees are something we learned a lot more about during our year.  We never knew that there was such a variety of euclypts.  Here is a list of some of the unique tree we saw: red gums, blue gums, white gums, river gums, salmon gums, lemon gums, peppermint gums, sheoaks, paperbarks, marri, karri, tingle, jarrah, wandoo, and jacarandas.  Again too many for pictures, but an interesting collection to google and this was just a tiny list created off the top of Collin's head.  The smell is unique.  Becky will miss the wonderful aromas of eucalyptus trees after a rain or when trees were trimmed and freshly cut.

Top Destinations We Recommend to Visit in Western Australia
No particular order of preference.  Check out earlier blogs for pictures and descriptions.
* King's Park in Perth - fantastic play areas, beautiful gardens, great places for a bbq or picnic, lots of nature to explore.

* Fremantle - Perth's more cultural twin, plenty of eclectic and ethnic places to check out, older architecture, cappuccino strip, fishing boat harbour.

* Margaret River - 90+ wineries, top surf beaches, caves, plenty of touristy things, forests.

* Albany - beautiful small city of the south, rugged coast lines, fish and chips, whales.

* Southern Forests - Tree Top Walk, giant 90 m tall tingle trees, quaint towns of Denmark and Pemberton, climbing fire lookout trees.

* Wave Rock - a giant surf wave carved out of hard rock in the middle of the nowhere,  big distance to get to this monolith, but the kids loved it, so it's truly worth it.

* Esperance - beaches, beaches, beaches and then there is the National Parks and not many people to spoil them.

* Dryandra Woodland - any nature reserve in WA was a great to camp, but we especially loved this park because of the quietness, the night sky, the wildlife, the nature trails and remoteness.

* Shark Bay - the world heritage listed park was a big drive to get to, but again worth it.  We would of loved to have got out onto the water to explore it more.

* Ningaloo Reef - Three days in Exmouth was not enough.  We would of loved to had another day or two under the waves to see more fish and marine life.

* Karijini National Park - The deep gorges, red earth, white gums, cool water, hot temperatures, 4x4 trails and rough roads, emptiness.

* Great Northern Highway - True emptiness, sheep and cattle stations, road houses, in a word Australia.

Friday, December 16, 2011

School's Out!

Harvey Primary School is a wonderful school.  As parents, we are pleased that it provided such an excellent school year for our boys.  Below are two reasons why - on the left is Mrs. Duff, Caleb's year 1 teacher and on the right is Mrs. Bayliss, Jackson's kindy teacher.

The last day of school for the year was Wednesday, 12th December and this school year was a most memorable one.  We have a few more blog entries before we close out on our exchange, so please keep looking us up for a few more weeks yet.  [Note: This entry is also a work in progress, so come back again to see a final product.]
Every day and several times a day, Mr. Walker would see skinks in the school yard sunning themselves.  Just one of many things that will provide lasting memories of Harvey and of Western Australia.
The second last day at Harvey Senior High School for the year 8's and 9's was an activity day.  Students rotated through three activities is the morning - Wii Competition, Sumo Wrestling, and a Quiz Show.  Lunch was an Aussie essential - the sausage sizzle.
Then off to the outdoor pool for a swim, games, and inflatable obstacle course for the rest of the afternoon.  Students had to fight off some teachers to get their turns on the obstacle course.

The year 10's finished regular classes in week 4 of term four and then had opportunity to continue learning by take some excellent endorsed programs.  Students were intensly instructed durings periods 1 to 4, Monday to Thursday.  Some options included first aid, skipper's ticket, driver's education, O H & S and others.  In period 5, year 10's signed up for some  less structured activity based programs, such as movie making.  Below is the product of 3 weeks of Mr. Newton and students's hard work - a zombie film with a cameo appreance of an imported actor from Canada.  Enjoy!
If you can't watch the youtube video above, then click the link below.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rewarding Days of Summer

The last weekend in Harvey before we board our flight home to Canada was spent at Binningup Beach.  The Indian Ocean coastline is only about 20 km from town and is used quite frequently by locals for fishing, swimming, surfing/ bodyboarding, and soaking up the sun.  One thing we have noticed on the Aussie beach is that if guys weren't in boardies (surf shorts) they were wearing short shorts instead.  As you can see wee Jackson joined in with his wee speedos.  The Newton family had a going away bbq for us and brought out the fishing rods to have a go.  Caleb caught the first fish within the first few minutes of throwing in the hook.  Unfortunately, it was a small puffer fish and they're poisonous.  But, the look of satisfaction on his face after catching that fish was worth all the fish in the sea. 
In the hour that we went fishing we didn't catch any keepers, but 6 fish (3 pufferfish, 2 yellow fin bream, 1 whiting) was still pretty fun.  Plus, Collin was glad to have finally gone beach fishing in Australia.  Pretty good way to spend your birthday - on the beach with +30 degrees temps.  Better than some birthday parties in his youth when invited guests had to spend the night because of terrible blizzards!
Our Children had a fantastic year at Harvey Primary School.  Both boys enjoyed their year groups, loved their teachers, made good friendships, and learned copius amounts of the Australian curriculum.  At the last school assembly of the year, Caleb was awarded an Endevour Award for  'demostrating the virtues of persistence, determination, patience and commitment'.  Two very proud parents were in the crowd thinking to themselves - which side does he take after? 
Jackson also was given going away gifts and a 100% attendance certificate for his days at Kindy.  After going to school 3 days a week here in Harvey, he might become a little bored with only 1 afternoon a week playschool back in Lloydminster.  Oh well, Becky will have to put on her Mrs. Walker, Kindy Teacher hat a little more often.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bunbury Santa Claus Parade

Last Sunday might of been one our last times to go to the beach.  We sure have enjoyed living near the coast and it's endless supply of beaches. This picture was taken in Bunbury at Hungry Hallow, an excellent swimming beach nestled between two reefs.   In Australia, the first day of summer starts on 1 December; and we wanted to make the most the summer heat before heading home to much colder climes.  And no better way to do that than attend a Christmas parade and see how the folks down under celebrate the festive season!

There was a street festival with market stalls, music, kids activities, a small side show alley, kite flying and a grand stand showcasing local talent singing, dancing, carolling, and joking the afternoon away. 

To the right are gingerbread stars to be decorated and later eaten.  Below is a game of chance - drop a ball in the clown's mouth to win a prize.  We didn't stop there as it would be just another thing to pack.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me... three musicians playing jingle bells, two little boys wanting lots of presents, and a silly Christmas tree. 
The main event and what every little girl and boy was waiting for... the Santa Claus parade. 
First the police, then Girls in Utes to lead the charge down main street.

Dolphy from the Dolphin Discovery Centre joined in as well.  Earlier in the day we saw three of his wild cousins close to shore while we're swimming.

And only a fleeting glimpse of old St. Nick riding in a convertible.  Still not sure if Santa was wearing shorts during his Australian appearance or not?
Note:  If you look back three blog entries you may notice a new one titled, Signs That You Are Not In Canada.  We started it awhile ago, but only had it saved as a draft.  We recently published it, but the original creation date remained.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scitech and Canoes

Caleb had suggested that we should check out Scitech after two traveling exhibits stopped in Harvey over the past few months.  So we did.  And it was so exciting and interactive that we stayed at the science centre for more than four hours.  We even went back to the car to get our picnic lunch to eat inside.
Welcome to Scitech, we will now take your heat image photo.  Is there any place our kids won't climb?  Well, it might as well be safely on a climbing wall.
Scitech had a Search and Rescue exhibit.  It had numerous interactive displays explaining the science behind fire fighting, ocean and surf rescues, knots, pulleys and ropes, mapping and coordinates, canyon rescues, television news reporting and much more.  As you can see the boys were ecstatic about jumping into the 'sea' of balls.
Jackson: "Help me! I am drowning in the sea!
Caleb: "Just wait, I got to help this kid into the life raft first."

Another section had an area especially made for 4 to 7 year olds to play.  The most fun was had using pulleys, inclines, chutes, wheelbarrows and foam bricks to build to wall.  Demolition was just as fun watching them smash down the foam bricks to start again.

On Sunday our hosts, Pam and Steve, took us out canoeing on the Swan River.  Pam and Steve are friends of the Spraggs and have graciously hosted us Walkers on numerous occasions.  A special thanks goes to them for all the welcoming hospitality they have given us during our stays in Perth.  It was an early paddle as we had eaten breakfast, loaded and unloaded the canoes, paddled for an hour, and were back to the house by 9 am.  The boys did so well as they were entertained and sat still for the entire ride.

On the way home, we also stopped at the WA Museum to check out the Aboriginal exhibit that was closed during our previous visit. 
The traditional shelter of the local aboriginal people and
a kangaroo cape to keep them warm during the winter months.
The original boomerang (and not those touristy ones found in the shops)
and some spears, throwing sticks, and spear throwers as well.

Monday, November 21, 2011

From Blues of Bridgetown to Fremantle Markets

Blues of Bridgetown - Blues Music and Street Festival
On Saturday 12th November we drove 130 km south past apple orchards and wineries, crossed a few rivers to get to the forested and hilly town of Bridgetown.  Each year it hosts a music festival dedicated to the blues which attracts thousands of spectators.  The main street downtown was only for buskers, street performers, musicians, fashion/ food/ trinkets stalls and of course tourists.  The atmosphere was electric, pun intended, and eclectic.  We heard covers bands sing - The Cranberries to Tom Petty to Amy Winehouse; a rock and roll bag piper playing both punk and traditional Scottish ballads; Australian blues men belting out the best Aussie blues and harmonica tunes as well.

It was such a cool atmosphere, with five different stages to hear free music.  We soaked it up, unfortunately we could only stay for half a day of the three day festival.

Saturday 19th November - Fremantle Markets
Becky and Collin left the kids with the friendly neighbours and drove 130 km north to the eclectic side of the city to check out the markets.  Great fruit and veg, plenty of Australiana souvenirs, art, and fantastic smells from the ethnic cooking and various flavours of coffee beans roasting.
Inside the markets.
Outside the markets.  Going strong since the 1890s.
A painted mural under a highway overpass brings plenty of fans and his grave is reputedly the most visited in Australia.  This rock icon wasn't born in Fremantle, but grew up there and his parents continued to call it home for the remainder of their days.  Who is it?
View of a lovely lady and some fast boats.  What else could a bloke ask for?

Becky and Collin had a date lunch with no kids.  So we went to a Spanish inspired restaurant called Gypsy Tapas which serves small plated food all made from scratch.
Tapas are small snack sized plates of French/ Mediterranean/ Spanish/ Italian style food items originally served with your wine or drinks.  We had 14 or 15 different dishes to try over the 1 hour and a 1/2 we  were there.  We ate char grilled local scallops and prawns, pickled sardines, best tasting lamb bastille ever, chorizo sausage, smoked asparagus with sesame, Turkish bread and hummus, curried chicken skewers, Jamaican pork cooked in coffee and pineapples, thick slices of baked feta and crushed tomato, mushrooms a la grecque, some other vegetables and unknown dishes from the chef's set menu. Yum Yum.

The answer of the Rock Icon is... Bon Scott.
Back in April, Grandma Hughes found a statue dedicated to AC/DC's first front man at the Fremantle Boat Harbour.