Woah! What a stormy weekend we've had! I've never seen anything like it. Trees were falling down like dominoes in 130km winds as we watched in awe out of the window - and we got away lightly compared to many places. What a welcome home! Apparently there's more of the same to come this week. Take me back to Australia - please!
*Sigh*, this time last week we were sunning ourselves in Queensland. I just don't know where the last fortnight has gone. Unfortunately I ended up being sick with the flu for most of the trip! Noel said that was typical, he reckons it wouldn't be a holiday unless I got sick. The cheek of it! I stuffed myself full of expensive vitamins for weeks trying to keep it at bay, so determined was I not to catch it. So much for that, it still caught up with me in the end! Still - ill or not, a wonderful time was had by all.
Although for a while I did wonder if we were actually going to make it to Brisbane as planned! After a smooth start, our plane got delayed and we sat on the runway for a good hour past take-off time while maintenance men went back and forth to the back of the plane. As you may know, I am NOT a good flier so it really didn't fill me with confidence when the captain's voice came over the loud speakers explaining that we couldn't take off due to a technical hitch but hopefully it would be fixed soon. I sat frozen to the spot imagining all sorts of dreadful things happening such as doors flying off, until I could stand no more and asked in trepidation if the 'hitch' was a major one. Imagine my relief when I was informed it was just the ovens that weren't working!
The flight, once we eventually took off, was not one of my favourites. We bumped our way across the Tasman in our little flying cigar and were not permitted to take off our seatbelts for the entire journey. However, we did eventually make it and excitedly picked up our hire car. Sunshine Coast here we come! To tell the truth, I was a little concerned about letting Noel choose our hire car company. I'd much rather go with the Vault recommendations thank you very much. However, after shopping around for countless quotes, he settled on a company called Letz. We saved $280 for the fortnight compared to all the others we looked at. At least I got to choose the type of car, picking a nice, eco-friendly Hyundai Lantra over the flipping great Commodore station wagon Noel wanted. He grumbled at the time but he was very glad for that little car several times throughout the trip, not least when it took us about 45 minutes to get out of the airport carpark. We had a pre-pay ticket to get us through the gate but every time we put it into the machine we got the message 'WRONG CARPARK'. How could it possibly be the wrong carpark?! Round and round and round we went but it didn't matter what we did, we got the same message. Just as we thought we could stand no more, Noel had a brainwave. With a tweak of the wing mirror, our little Lantra was small enough to squeeze past the barricade! Soon we were on our way! Letz by the way, turned out to be an excellent hire company, we would definitely use them again. Our car was immaculate, had only done 7,000km and they didn't even request that we fill the tank with petrol before dropping it off, unlike most companies, due to petrol being so expensive. What nice guys!
As mentioned before, I had been a little concerned as to how we were going to keep Liam sustained with allergy-free food throughout our holiday. As it turned out, the hardest part of the whole trip was keeping him fed on the plane and in the airport. There was basically nothing for wheat/gluten intolerances. I explained he was a coeliac and asked the air stewards if we could possibly get something like a piece of fruit or yoghurt. They were lovely and well-meaning but turned up shortly after with a tray containing a muesli bar, a scone and a muffin! Consequently by the time we finally got out of the airport poor Liam was just about keeling over, having been on the go for seven hours already. Barely 10km down the road we had to stop for our first Australian meal - McDonalds! Thank goodness for chips!
Now we were all refuelled and on our way again I figured the next stop was our holiday home but Noel had other ideas. After the stress of the day so far he decided a beer was in order, and he knew just where to get one - the Ettamogah Pub! The kids thought this was rather strange - why were Mum and Dad so excited to go to a pub? The Ettamogah Pub holds fond memories for us from our trip to the Sunshine Coast 10 years ago and we were delighted to see that it hasn't changed a bit. However, everything else in the vicinity certainly had! We were gobsmacked to find the place crawling with people. There was a whole string of shops which hadn't been there before and where years ago we used to park right outside the pub, this time we had to park three blocks away!
Curiosity abated, we finally made it to our holiday home for the next week - Kalua Holiday Apartments in Maroochydore. The building is actually much nicer than it appears on the website. I'm not a fan of high rises and we loved our ground floor apartment in its quiet street. You may recall we booked it on Wotif and we were delighted with our bargain. The facilities were excellent, fully self contained and it was safe and sheltered for the kids, with room outside for them to play. That had been another thing I had been a bit concerned about actually - booking with Wotif. Even though I had heard a lot about them on Simple Savings, I was still a bit nervous about booking online. I had visions of turning up to find our booking hadn't gone through and we'd be stranded with no place to stay! However, we had nothing but positive experiences the whole trip, everything from our accommodation and car hire through to theme park bookings went without a hitch. Don't you just love the Internet!
I've kind of done my blog a little backwards, as I mentioned in the last one how we caught up with Fiona and Matt already! Now I have to admit, while we did enjoy a lovely holiday into the bargain, the real reason for going to Australia in the first place was to take care of some top secret Simple Savings stuff. Now don't ask me what it is, 'cos I can't tell you! It was lovely to hang out with the SS team, some of who were meeting for the first time. Naomi B, Fran Sheffield the Homeopath, Debbie Eustace, Steve Panozzo the Sally and Hanna cartoonist, Kirstin and fellow Kiwi Sophie Gray (who I took to straight away, being someone who actually hates flying even more than me, if that's possible!) We thoroughly enjoyed our week of eating 'nude food' on the Sunshine Coast, discovering the most awesome fresh fish in Mooloolaba, scoffing bowls of Fiona's delicious home made soup and eating what I think was the best steak EVER fresh off the barbecue a la Matt.
A most anticipated event for Master Ali was his 'Zookeeper for a Day' program at Australia Zoo. We had booked this months ago as part of his upcoming birthday present. As far as Ali is concerned there are only two possible career choices he will consider - rock star or zoo keeper. Having heard him play the guitar I am gently coaxing him towards the latter! He had an unforgettable day and made lots of friends. I was expecting him to say his favourite animals were the elephants, or Aggro, the crocodile he sponsors but the ones he loved most were the kangaroos. I think most of his holiday money has since gone on kangaroo books! We also paid a family visit to Australia Zoo, which I was really looking forward to. Noel and I had been there 10 years before, when Steve Irwin was just getting well known and we remembered an enjoyable day strolling around. In fact, we were pretty much the only people in the zoo. Not so this time! Boy has it changed. There were so many people it was hard to move! I'll be honest, the sheer volume of people really did dampen the experience for us but I love what the Irwins have achieved and continue to achieve. I'll even admit to coming over quite emotional as I watched Terri and Wes in the Crocoseum, carrying on Steve's work. What a courageous woman. Through Bindi, they are reaching kids all over the world just like mine and getting their conservation message through. Watching the show, I would like to think they are making a big difference to the fate of some of our endangered species by educating so many, particularly the younger generation. I couldn't help wondering what the future holds though - at present, Steve has been gone for less than two years and he is still everywhere at the zoo. What's it going to be like in 10 years time I wonder?
Of course one of the things I was most looking forward to was our Simple Savings get together in Cotton Tree Park in Maroochydore. I couldn't wait to meet other members and put some names to faces! Unfortunately the day before it became clear I was really coming down with something and by the time I got up on Sunday morning my head was hammering and my throat was so sore I was struggling to speak. What timing! There was no way I was missing out though and the first face I recognised was that of the lovely Vonnie, aka Fairy from the Savings Forum, who wondered how I recognised her until I reminded her she was on the front cover of the GO Crazy cookbook! It was also lovely to meet Natalie from the SS team and her family for the first time, as well as the Sue's, the Julia's, Zoe, Kym, Sarah, Sara-Maree and Sandra K to name a few! To anyone I had the pleasure of meeting that day, I do apologise if I came across as a bit vague or aloof, I was losing my voice and terrified of breathing germs on you all!