Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Penguin, Koala and Goanna, Oh My!

Gregory got up at 5:30 A.M. to go and watch the sunrise with his mom. We were rewarded not only with an incredible sunrise but also with a penguin sighting. (See below.)

Sunrise at Halifax Head (Between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay)

Little Fairy Penguin (His head looks a bit yellow in this picture but that is just because it is 6:00 A.M. and the sun is rising!)
"All 18 penguins are restricted to southern seas. Only one, the smallest, breeds in Australia" (Taken from Reader's Digest Country Australia The Land and The People)

Little Fairy Penguin swimming just near shore.

Gregory's new friend Ben invited him to play Legos at his camp!

Our first koala sighting ~ This little fellow was way up in the treetops. (See more Koala pictures in an upcoming post. We went to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.)

Gregory and Ben boogie boarding at One Mile Beach

A Goanna (Australian Water Monitor Lizard) just in the car park at One Mile Beach

We spotted an octopus while snorkeling at Fly Point, Nelson Bay

Afternoon Tea

Gregory enjoyed the morning at Swansea Lake playing soccer and tennis and riding bikes with Ben Murray (15), Nick (10), Mitchell (8) and Ben (6). Nick and Mitchell’s mom Pip (short for Philippa) offered to keep all of the boys for one last night of holiday while the parents (and her partners in business) went on their way. When it came time to packing up 3 tents, etc. I commented, “What were you thinking?” and then offered to help. Fortunately, help was on the way.

Unfortunately, we had to do a bit of shopping today and just being in the mall and other shops was making me feel the need for wide-open spaces. We finally found Bar Beach late in the day and Gregory had a little surf time. We were still flying by the seat of our pants for camping and ended up in rush hour traffic through Newcastle and then across Stockton Bridge with view of one of the biggest coal ports in all of Australia. Though it was a very industrial area and we made a couple of wrong turns with no outlet, when we crossed the Stockton Bridge there was a brilliant orange sunset. Finally spying a blue camping sign we made our way to Stockton Beach Tourist Park and settled in well after dark. The Barbie (BBQ) was nice and Mike grilled up some chicken for dinner while I steamed some fresh green beans on the camper stove. With a bit of brown rice it made a lovely meal. We had refreshing hot showers and were happy to put our heads to the pillows.

The next morning Gregory and I were completely surprised when upon investigation we found that Stockton beach is stunning . We walked a bit and found the water surprisingly warm so we went back and collected our boogie boards. Mike was absorbed in the end of a book so he had some alone time and Greg and I had some fun in the waves. After riding the waves, and then floating further out, we placed our boards side by side on the beach and then laid belly-down on them and let the sun warm our backs. It wasn’t long before a wave came in and tickled our toes and up our legs. We just stayed there for quite some time and let nature have its way. It was just such a special time.

Later in the day we ended up at Shoal Bay, a beautifully pristine white sand beach with a picturesque harbour filled with sailboats. We had a swim and Gregory and I walked down around the point where we found a marine sanctuary with a sign informing beach-goers of “no collecting and no fishing”. As we made our way around Halifax Head we saw a man entering the water to snorkel and inquired about the snorkeling as we had heard from Pip (back at Swansea) that Nelson Bay was good for snorkeling. He assured us that it was and told us where we could rent snorkels and masks.

We spent the afternoon at Fly Point doing a bit of snorkeling and though we were told in was better at high tide (which we had missed by a couple of hours) we still saw many large schools of fish in varying sizes. What impressed me the most though was the vast array of sea grasses, anemones and soft coral. The fish were not as brightly colored as the ones we saw in Hawaii but there were some yellow and black striped fish and enormous schools of a small, almost iridescent little fish that kind of seemed to emit a “flash” when the entire school changed direction. It was almost as if someone had taken a picture.

We enjoyed camping at the Halifax Holiday Park with its beach side setting and best of all for Gregory, a new playmate, Ben. Ben and his sister Madeleine are home-schooled therefore are able to take a holiday this week versus during the last two weeks of regularly scheduled holidays for most kids. Ben shared his Legos and invited Gregory for a marshmallow roast.

The next morning we went ahead and booked another night before the 10:00 check out time. We were invited to join Ben, Madeleine and their parents Ruth and Tony at One-Mile Beach just up the road. Gregory was just too excited at having a boogie boarding partner his own age! We also stayed another day because we knew that we wanted to go snorkeling again at high tide which was 1:50 P.M. The snorkeling at Fly Point was at a bit clearer at high tide but the water was rough. I felt like I had a bit of vertigo after over an hour of bobbing around in rough water.

Gregory is the master at spotting sea life and once again (like in Hawaii) he was the one to spot an octopus. Actually he saw two today. The first one was at One-Mile Beach while boarding and then another while snorkeling!

Today was actually the day for spotting wildlife. First, Gregory and I got up at 5:30 A.M. to watch sunrise out on Shoal Bay and we actually spotted a single penguin swimming close to shore in the marine sanctuary. He would dive for a bit and then pop his head back up. We followed him along the shore for some time. It was such a treat to watch him swimming along. I think it was a little fairy penguin. I didn’t really expect to see one in Australia because we are further from Antarctica here.

The second wildlife spotting of the day was a koala! It was the first of our trip. On the way to One-Mile Beach, Mike noticed a group of people staring up into a tree and figured it had to be a koala. Sure enough a koala was nestled in the crook of a branch just having a nap in the canopy of a tree. We have been assured that we will see many on this trip. It was exciting though because it was a first.

Thirdly, we were leaving the car park at One-Mile Beach when a lady told Mike about a Goanna, or Australian Monitor Lizard, up in a tree. This particular Goanna had been spotted earlier eating a bird! It was massive at about 4 or 5 feet long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He was just lying on a huge branch gripping it with some sizeable claws! We think he was a Water Monitor based on his markings and the pictures we saw on this site.

Lastly, as I already mentioned, we went snorkeling and saw many fish and an octopus. It was a pretty incredible day full of firsts!

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