Emma and I had been discussing the idea of a holiday for a while. In our imagination it seemed like a wonderful idea. Escape Sydney for a few weeks, go somewhere far away from work and housework, and show Hannah a new part of the world.
Before Hannah was born we had romantic notions of returning to Japan – the scene of our honeymoon. These dreams vanished pretty quickly as the logistics of baby wrangling became apparent. We found ourselves unable to go for a walk to the shops without a large stroller, nappy bag, three changes of clothes and a week’s worth of food for Hannah, so there was no way we would be able to fit within the weight restrictions of commercial air travel. Also, the idea of ten long hours on a plane… Instead we promised ourselves that, this time next year, we would be on our way to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Our next thought was ten days in Tasmania. Neither Emma or I had ever visited the Apple Isle, and there was plenty there that attracted us as a holiday destination. Amazing natural environments, fresh produce from both land and sea, relics of Australia’s colonial past. And compared to Japan, it was a mere stone’s throw away. Perfect! Except, once again we realised that air travel with Hannah would require the sort of logistics usually associated with a military invasion of a foreign country. Maybe next holidays.
Far North Queensland, beautiful this time of year! Nope, same reasons as above. Finally, we did what all good Sydney-siders do when presented with the overwhelmingly diverse and spectacular range of destinations that this wide brown land has on offer – we booked two nights in a serviced apartment two hours’ drive up the highway, on the Central Coast.
After a bit of research we booked into the Waldorf Serviced Apartments at The Entrance. This accommodation appealed to us for several reasons. It had a kitchenette, so we could store and heat food for Hannah easily. It was a fairly large space, easily enough room for a portable cot and play mat to be set up without having to clamber over things. A balcony with views over the estuary provided a place to sit and relax while Hannah slept. It was in the heart of The Entrance, which is itself an idyllic throwback to kinds of family holidays Australian kids like me experienced in the 80s (pelican feeding at 3.30pm every day ,rain, hail or shine!). On top of all that it was the place that Emma and I spent our first ever holiday together.
Emma made a list of the bare necessities that we would need for our adventure in the days before we left. The night before we left, we completed most of the packing. Pessimistically, I checked to see if the three main pieces of luggage (one large suitcase, one large stroller and one portable cot) would all fit in the boot of our Toyota Camry. To my surprise, they fit together with the same satisfying tessellation of Tetris pieces (misspent youth). There was also still enough space on top of these items for all the other little items we’d need.
The morning of our adventure Hannah woke us at 7am, the perfect time to start our day. I gave a silent nod to whichever genius invented daylight savings – 3 days earlier this would have been a 6am start! We completed the usual morning routine, threw the last-minute items into the suitcase and prepared to leave. I gave another silent nod to the inventor of the Tardis-like suitcase as it swallowed what appeared to be twice its capacity in clothes, towels, toys and other miscellaneous, baby-related objects. I also marvelled at my wife’s ability to remember to pack things I never would have thought about. I heaved the suitcase down the stairs an slotted it into its preordained position in the car. I felt slightly relieved when, once again, it fit like a glove.
We all piled into the car and hit the road. As we left the driveway, Emma declared “I’m hungry”, so we headed to our fist pit stop… 500 metres down the road at our local take-way. As we sat in the drive-through I pondered whether we had set a new world record for the shortest distance covered on a road trip before stopping. Full of energy, we set off again, only to stop a few kilometres down the road, this time for fuel.
Still not out of our local neighbourhood, but with two stops already completed, we set off for the third time. This time we started to cover some ground. Traffic was smooth as it was the Monday of a long weekend. We sailed in towards the centre of Sydney and soon Hannah was sleeping peacefully. She was still sleeping peacefully as the towers of the CBD came into sight for the first time in her life. She slept peacefully as the majestic sails of the Sydney Opera House appeared and disappeared, and still as she crossed the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. I contemplated waking her, but I figured a) she probably wouldn’t appreciate what she was witnessing, b) she wouldn’t remember it anyway, and c) she could just read about it later in my blog!
Soon after we passed the most inspiring of what Sydney has to offer, Hannah began to stir. By the time we were on the less-than inspiring Pacific Highway, she was chatting away animatedly. Emma, who was sitting in the seat next to Hannah, decided that if she provided no stimulation, Hannah would soon drift back to sleep. Hannah countered that with a series of the most adorable baby noises you could ever imagine. When that failed to stimulate attention from Emma, Hannah picked up her monkey rattle and began beating it against the side of her car seat. We burst into laughter and Hannah had won. Emma conceded defeat and engaged in a lively discussion, punctuated with giggles.
Not long after Hannah had woken up, she declared herself hungry. Thankfully we were still a few side streets away from the M1 entrance, so I was able to pull over. I drove into the nearest side street, down the street a little and pulled in under a large tree. Emma unbuckled Hannah and soon the cries were replaced by the steady sound of feeding. At a bit of a loose end, I marvelled at the size of the houses around us for a while. After a short time I noticed a car pull in behind us. As the driver killed the engine I heard the unmistakable sound of a hungry infant crying. I watched in my rear vision mirror as the man, about my age, jumped out of the driver’s seat, opened the boot, then went to the rear passenger door to assist his partner in the back. I wondered if this was just pure coincidence, or if the residents of this particular side street was a regular infant feeding spot for opportunistic parents. I wonder what the residents in their posh houses must think.
We finally hit the motorway and enjoyed a trouble free run. I was thankful for that as, due to the unexpected number of stops and two large coffees, I was now in need of a “rest stop” myself. We made it to the Gosford exit, pulled into the information centre and completed our fourth stop of the journey.
Four hours after we left our house, we arrived at The Entrance. We congratulated ourselves on making the wise choice of not attempting to travel any further on our first trip away.
After an easy check-in at the apartment we spent a few minutes relaxing and settling in. Emma fed Hannah while I unpacked the car. As someone who previously subscribed to the only make one trip philosophy of unpacking a car, I have now resigned myself to a new way of life – make as many damned trips as necessary, otherwise you’re going to hurt yourself. Having a baby means that one partner has the sole task of wrangling the infant, which leaves the other to play the role of pack mule.
With Hannah happy on a full belly, we set out to find something for the adults to eat. The Entrance is centred around it’s number 1 tourist attraction – pelican feeding. Close by is a cluster of restaurants, a decent park, a water play area and a foreshore walk. We stepped out into this area to find a vibrant setting packed with tourists. A busker added further to the atmosphere and the scene was completed by the myriad of sounds coming from the carnival that occupied the park.
The restaurants and cafes were busy, but we soon found a fish and chip shop and ordered lunch to take away. We located a comfortable bench under a tree and tucked in. Towards the end of the meal, Emma pointed out that the fish seemed to be a bit underdone. We left the remaining portion and wondered off in search of ice cream. I briefly imagined what the night ahead had in store for us and the scene was not pleasant – Hannah screaming through the night, unable to settle in the foreign environment and Emma and I playing a continual game of tag between the toilet and the crying baby.
We spent the rest of our afternoon walking along the foreshore and playing with Hannah back at the apartment. For dinner we ordered an interesting roast lamb pizza from a place called Pizza Capers (Wikipedia tells me it has 110 stores in Australia). A slightly more eventful bath time than usual led to us having to use the washing machine and dryer, something we hadn’t planned on doing on a two-day holiday. Once again we were pleased with our choice of serviced apartment over motel. While Emma gave Hannah her final feed, I slipped out and found a bottle shop around the corner.
Emma put Hannah in the portable cot and within seconds she was asleep. So much for my visions of hysterical crying filling our night. Emma and I retired to the balcony for a quiet drink and we enjoyed our view out over night-time The Entrance. The hustle and bustle of the early afternoon had completely disappeared, with just the occasional figures wandering past. We discussed the distinct change in atmosphere and wondered whether it was because most people just came for the pelican feeding at 3.30. Neither of us were suffering any ill effects from the suspect seafood earlier in the day, so all was good. Eventually we headed to bed and enjoyed a relatively peaceful sleep (just two moments of crying – one because I woke Hannah while checking that the front door was locked).
We woke up fairly refreshed at about 6.45, to Hannah’s usual morning song. I looked in her cot to find that she had turned herself 90 degrees and become wedged. While not yet distressed by her predicament, Hannah was starting to grunt furiously as she tried to adjust her position. I pulled her out of bed and we began our usual morning routine.
After breakfast we went for a morning walk along the foreshore. Again, we noted the distinct lack of people in contrast to the hustle and bustle of our arrival yesterday. This further fuelled our suspicions that The Entrance really only becomes busy around pelican feeding time. We took some family photos looking out over the water, bought some coffees from one of the only cafes that was open, and returned to our apartment. It was getting close to Hannah’s usual nap time, so our plan was for Hannah to sleep in the car while we travelled to our first destination.
We had intended to first stop at Caves Beach in the Lake Macquarie area. It was a place that we had first discovered this time last year, while Emma was pregnant with Hannah. It has a series of caves that only become accessible at low tide. Last time I had taken a photo of Emma, pregnant and silhouetted at the entrance to a cave. I intended to take a repeat photo, this time with Emma holding Hannah. However, as we drew near to Cave’s Beach, Hannah was still fast asleep. Not wanting to wake a sleeping baby, we drove aimlessly around Swansea for a while before deciding to head further north and see what we could find.
After several more kilometres of aimless driving we formulated a new plan, to head to the Fernleigh Track. This is a disused railway line that has been turned into an extensive bike/walking track, perfect for a pram. Again, we had discovered it during our holiday the previous year. Having been there before we knew of the perfect place to park to access the highlight of the track -a tunnel under the Pacific Highway.
By the time we reached the Fernleigh Track, Hannah was stirring and it was time for a feed. When she was done we walked down to the track, me carrying Hannah and Emma pushing the pram that would no doubt soon be needed (7 month olds are heavy!)
What is it about tunnels? I still get a thrill when I walk or drive through one, but I really can’t put my finger on why. I was worried that the gene for enjoying a good tunnel may not have passed on to my daughter, but I needn’t have panicked. Almost immediately her eyes lit up. She looked up at the ceiling, then around at the walls, then back at me with a look of pure delight. She heard the noise of a cyclist approaching, then turned around and watched as he rode further into the tunnel. Hannah made one of her usual loud noises, which echoed. I talked to her and that too echoed. By half way in she was giggling in delight at the whole experience. By the time we left the tunnel all three of us were laughing hysterically at the experience. If you are ever looking for a cheap way to entertain your baby, take them through the nearest tunnel (results may vary).
We walked on for a while longer then returned to the car. We headed off in search of the next part of our adventure – lunch! The plan was to head back towards Caves Beach and stop at the first place we found. This was mainly because both Emma and I were now starving. We assumed that this would most likely be a fast food place, as we didn’t have the time to go searching for anything better. Sure enough, as we reached the crest off a hill the familiar golden glow of a chain’s logo appeared before us. Fortuitously, next door was a Malaysian restaurant. Emma poked her head inside while I wrestled Hannah from the car seat. She reappeared while I was strapping Hannah into her pram seat and gave the thumbs up. A ten dollar lunch menu provided plenty of options and soon we were enjoying a flavour-filled Rendang curry and a bowl of noodles. Hannah had a few mouthfuls of pureed kale, but she was not really interested. Who knew that Lake Macquarie was the place to go for delicious Malaysian food?
With full bellies we headed on towards our destination of Caves Beach. In a moment of panic I suddenly remembered that the caves are only accessible at low tide, but a quick check of a tide website told us that the tide was on its way out. It turns out that we were fortunate that Hannah was asleep when we first intended to visit the caves, as that was the peak of high tide.
We arrived at the beach and made our way a short distance across the sand to the caves. I chuckled at the sight of a young woman who had climbed a rock while holding on to a selfie stick, and was in the process of attempting to photograph herself from every angle. I made a mental note to try and teach Hannah about the dangers of vanity when she is old enough to understand.
We found the same cave that Emma and I had stumbled upon a year ago and I took a few photos in the same spot. The magic was somewhat ruined by the unmistakable stench of urine, so we didn’t hang around for too long. A little further down the beach was an inviting area of shallow water. Emma sat on a rock and gently lowered Hannah’s feet into the water. She appeared to enjoy the experience, but seemed a little unsure about what she was supposed to do. She stood and smiled, and watched the water around her feet as it gently raised and lowered.
If Hannah was unsure of how to deal with the ocean, she had no such trouble understanding sand. We found a shaded spot on the beach to sit and take some photos. Immediately, magnetically, Hannah was drawn to the sand. Her hand reached out as she drew near and she grabbed a large handful. The enjoyment was obvious as she let the granules fall through her hand. She opened her hand and inspected what was left, then went back for handful after handful. She began by sitting on Emma’s skirt, but soon she was splayed across Emma’s lap in an effort to get closer to the magical substance. Finally we relented and sat Hannah down right on the sand. She played and played. She experimented with her feet and her hands. She watched intently as the sand slipped between her fingers and she giggled as her toes became buried. I mentioned to Emma that I thought Hannah would probably give it a taste and, soon enough she face-planted into the soft white stuff. Emma picked her up and we gently wiped off her face (this was definitely Hannah’s least favourite part of her sand experience). I checked her mouth, but thankfully she had not managed to get any sand inside.
We returned to the car and drove back to The Entrance. Hannah nodded of five minutes from our destination and so had a rude awakening after a very short nap.
We decided that I would stay at the apartment with Hannah so that she could have some much needed play time, while Emma went out in search of dinner. I put Hannah on her mat and pulled out Mem Fox’s classic, Where is the Green Sheep? But we didn’t get far. I read the first page “Here is the blue sheep…”, but the smell wafting from Hannah’s nappy told me the book would have to wait. “… and here is the poo sheep,” I added while scooping Hannah up, in an effort to provide her with some kind of closure to her story.
I then began what would become my most comical nappy change to date. I placed Hannah on the makeshift change table and expertly arranged all the equipment that I would need for a quick and clean nappy change. Hannah, however, had other ideas. She spotted the packet of wet wipes and immediately decided they were her new favourite toy. She rolled to her side just as I was about to undo her nappy and made a grab for the packet. I pried the wet wipes from her hand and coaxed Hannah on to her back.
Thinking I could outsmart an infant, I placed the wet wipes directly behind her head, out of view. I went for my second attempt to remove the nappy and this time I got a tab undone. Just as I did, Hannah flipped her torso around in search of her new favourite toy. I had a hold of her feet, so I was left with a baby who had a pooey nappy half on, and was lying on her tummy happily playing with the wet wipes while I held her feet suspended in the air. On top of all that, sand began to pour out from inside her jumpsuit. It took me a moment to register what was happening, at first I was terrified that it was something that her body had produced. I then realised that I’d uncovered Hannah’s secret sand stash.
All I could do was laugh at the situation. There I was, completely stuck. My hands were full, one holding the baby’s legs, the other trying to hold the nappy in place. Sand was everywhere and the wet wipes packet was firmly in the possession of Hannah. She was happily playing with them, completely unaware of the drama at the other end.
Eventually Hannah flipped back over, wet wipe packet still in hand. I quickly pulled off the second tab, opened the wet wipes (that Hannah was now diligently holding in front of her for me to easily access) and cleaned up the mess. Soon enough a new nappy was on and the crisis was over. I was disappointed that Emma had gone to the shops and so missed the show.
The rest of the evening was business as usual. We ate as a family, cleaned the baby, then put her to bed. Emma and I spent another pleasant evening relaxing on the balcony.
We woke the next morning and went through the usual rituals, before packing and heading to the counter to check out. We bundled Hannah into her car seat and she drifted off to sleep after about ten minutes. A trouble-free run home (with just two stops!) took just three hours.
Although it was only a short trip, it was well worth it. It showed Emma and me that it could be done, which was an important lesson to learn. We are now contemplating a summer adventure and I think we have greater confidence than we otherwise would have.