A whale of a time with whale sharks

Photo of “George” by Ollie Clarke

After years of dreaming about going swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of Exmouth, Western Australia, my family and I finally did it! I had built-up expectations after all those years and I am very happy to report that I was not disappointed. In fact the experience in mid 2021 surpassed all my expectations. What an amazing day that I am sure I will never forget! My husband and 11-year-old daughter were equally impressed.

Swimming alongside these gentle giants was an other world experience. And it was the expert crew from Ocean Eco Adventures that made it all possible. Everything from spotting the whale sharks with their own spotter craft, to teaching us how to get into the water in formation, to leading us as we kept abreast with the whale sharks. Capturing the moment for us was a professional photographer Ollie Clarke who did an awesome job capturing all of our “bucket list” moments.

Prized whale shark moment for Lily. Photo by Ollie Clarke.

Throughout the day we had nine swims with six different whale sharks. We nicknamed our whale sharks to keep them straight in our heads and “George” will always stand out in my mind as he was our first encounter. They are all different looking in their own special way – in shape, size and dot markings. Their markings very much reminded me of Aboriginal dot art. They were also different in behaviour, with some cruising slow enough to keep up to them as we swam alongside (you do have some fitness to achieve that), and others gliding through the water in a straight line, while some could be a little more challenging to keep up with. They are wild fish after all!

When we weren’t in the water, we were treated to knowledgable insights about the whale sharks and other marine life, as well as being treated to food and drinks. And to top it all off, we also had a couple of hump back whales cruise alongside the boat on our way back to Exmouth. What a special moment. My family and I can’t wait to get back into the water for a repeat of our “bucket list” experience. It’s just too much of an amazing experience to restrict it to a “once in a lifetime” event.

Keeping up with the whale sharks off the coast of Exmouth. Photo by Ollie Clarke.

Camping in a COVID-19 era

Jansz Beach – on one of the first windy days we had during our most recent camping trip in our home state of Western Australia, just about every beach along the western coastline of Cape Range National Park was “blown out”, except for this delightful beach. What an awesome day.

When the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic hit our shores in Western Australia in March this year, we soon realised just how “small” our world is. Not only did we gain a better appreciation of how something that starts on the other side of the world can have a huge impact on us. But it’s also more evident how having to reduce contact with people, aka social distancing, can shrink our world.

In terms of the immediate effect it had on our little family, we had to substantially change plans for Lily’s 10th birthday party in late March. Instead of a sizeable indoor lazer-tag party, we had to change it to a very low-key outdoor water-gun party at the local school oval. Luckily it was a warm day. Later that same day, additional social distancing rules came into effect which meant even tighter restrictions. So in retrospect we were very lucky to be able to have the “plan b” birthday party.
As the months went by, Western Australia ended up enjoying very few restrictions while many parts of Australia and the rest of the world were hit hard by the pandemic.
With a hard border lockdown across our WA border, we can enjoy everything that our amazing State has to offer – for now (and we’re holding our collective breaths, hoping we don’t have any outbreaks). And it turns out that this forced “inward gaze” has made us all realise just how much WA has to offer!

A popular way to discover WA has been through camping trips and us Sandgropers have taken up this travelling option like it’s a sport. Our most recent camping trip was to the Ningaloo Coast which is a World Heritage Site. It contains the Ningaloo Reef along a 260km stretch, making it Australia’s largest fringing coral reef and the only large reef located so close to land.
All we had to do was swim a few strokes out and we were surrounded by beautiful corals and their tenants – fish, fish, glorious fish!
We initially had some very windy days, which forced us to relocate from Yardie Station, near the Cape Rane into the RAC Exmouth caravan park. Once the wind settled, we had some amazing snorkeling days at Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks. Lily was very happy to have a nice thick wetsuit, as was I, so we could stay in the water a bit longer (the water can be a bit cold at this time of year).

On our last night we did a sunset cruise that was absolutely stunning. The water was dead calm, which meant the whales were a bit sleepy and didn’t make much of an appearance for us. But despite that, it was glorious to just be out on the calm water and spot turtles, dolphins, some distant whale tails and even a swordfish that we caught dozing on the water’s surface.
It’s an amazing part of the world and I feel blessed that we have this in our extended “backyard”.
I can’t wait to return next year, and hopefully we can have a swim with the whale sharks.

Bday Party Disco on wheels

For Lily’s 9th birthday, Lily had a stretch limousine party. I came up with the idea and Lily helped out with the planning. Miraculously, she was able to keep the party theme a secret from her friends until the moment the limousine rolled up to our house. The collective screams of excitement from the 12 girls was ear splitting! We toured around the foreshore, first stopping at South Perth and then Elizabeth Quay for photoshoots, with out final destination at Kings Park where we had a picnic and cake. The girls loved the superstar treatment and they hammed it up with their feather boas and fascinators. Happy Birthday Darling Daughter! You mean the world to me. xxoo

IMG_0319 - Lily Party - Girls in LimoIMG_0320 - Lily Party - Elizabeth QuayIMG_0330 - Lily Party - Limo

Beachin’ good time

Lily, me and my hubby recently spent some holiday time at Dongara/Port Denison, which is about 3 hours north of Perth. We stayed at the Seaspray Caravan Park which is in Dongara and spent a lot of time at the local beaches including the one shown in this photo which is just south of Dongara.  The caravan park was more of a glamping experience rather than “roughing it” as we had our own ensuite bathroom near our patch of grass. It made tent camping a lot easier and more comfortable. Our original intention was to do bush camping east of Esperance but the weather was going to be horrible in the Esperance area so hence we drove north instead. We do intend going bush camping again sometime soon.

Dongara beach time - Jan 2019
South Beach, which is south of Port Denison, January 2019

We were able to take our puppy Schnitzel with us on the camping trip. Schnitzel is a miniature schnauzer that we added to our family in late September when she 8 weeks old. She was born August 2 2018 and she has been a great addition to our family, but she is most definitely a lot of hard work. Lily had been bugging us to get a dog for a few years and I finally made the commitment last year (2018). Lily has been quite good with keeping up her end of the bargain to be involved in taking her for regular walks and toilet breaks and playing with her. Lily still wishes she had a sibling but well, this is the next best thing. Here’s a sunrise photo at the beach at Dongara near our camping place.

Schnitzel - Jan 2019
Dongara beach, January 2019


Provence – an exploration of the senses

When I think back to our visit to Provence, about this time last year, I think of the warm summer glow in the Les Alpilles mountain ranges that inspired Vincent Van Gogh; the sound of the cicadas which intensified as the day’s warmth waxed and wained; and the lively and harried markets with the blended smells of lavender, chocolate, cheeses and the season’s fruits.

I think of the company of my dear friend from Paris and her charming family as we feasted on local culinary delights, with the rambling gardens of our villa as the backdrop. I think of the many carousel rides Lily and I took – so many rides. And I think of all the amazing sights we experienced: the ancient arena where we saw a bull fight; the medieval mountain top village we climbed to; the icy cold waters of the Gardon River running under the Roman-era aqueduct; and the Shakespeare-inspired theatre performance whose stage setting was the actual relics of the ancient Roman village Glanum. Amazing interactions with history.

When I look back at all our photos from that one week in Provence, with our villa in St Remy de Provence as our base, I can’t believe we experienced all these amazing things. What a sensory delight.

Here is the travel article I wrote about our time in Provence, which was recently published in The West Australian newspaper: https://sevenwesttravelclub.com.au/stories/a-family-friendly-holiday-in-provence


From dolphins to turtles

Lily, me and hubby had an extended Easter holiday along WA’s Coral Coast, spending a week at Coral Bay, our favourite WA holiday spot, and stopping along the way for some sightseeing.

Kalbarri’s coastline

First we drove up to Kalbarri for some sight seeing at the national park. Nature’s “window” was closed but we enjoyed some other coastal spots.

The next day we drove to Monkey Mia to hang out with the dolphins. We had a great little cabin by the beach, as part of the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. The water in the bay was super flat so we all gave stand-up paddling a go for a bit of fun.

Monkey Mia – Lily made up for the lack of actual monkeys

In the morning, Lily got to feed a dolphin which she was super excited about. She thought she’d be able to swim with them as well, so um, there was some expectation management involved there 🙂

Feeding the dolphins

Next stop was our final destination – Coral Bay – where we had a villa overlooking the bay. This is our favourite all-time spot in WA. It’s a great beach for kids as the water is always flat, and there is snorkelling just a few strokes off the beach. It’s one of those spots where you can do as much or as little as you want.

On one of the days we did a beach buggy adventure ride, ripping along some dune tracks south of Coral Bay where we got to see some turtles and had an awesome snorkel at Five Finger Reef where there were so many amazing fish and beautiful coral.

One of Lily’s Coral Bay highlights was hanging out with local artist Sadie James who does inspiring artwork that captures the coastline and sea life in creative ways. She’s also written a kids book with great illustrations about a whale shark and she has another book on the way.

Lily with Coral Bay artist Sadie James – https://www.facebook.com/sadiejamesinthebubble/

I reckon a nice big canvas painting from Sadie would look great in our newly renovated living room as a reminder of the great times we always have up here. See you in another two years Coral Bay.

Glorious sunset at Coral Bay

Beautiful Barcelona

Hamming it up in Barcelona

There’s those gingerbread houses

Last Summer, Lily, Jason and I spent a month in Europe, starting in Rome, travelling through Umbria and Provence, before ending up in Barcelona. The only reason we chose this northern Spanish city was the convenience of not having to backtrack to Rome to fly out. We had no hopes or expectations about Barcelona but it ended up wowing us – the friendly people, the easy of getting around, the lively flameco dancers, intriguing architecture (Lily was particularly intrigued by Parc Guell’s “gingerbread houses”) and of course the fact that there was a Desigual clothing store in every district.

Here’s a travel story for The West Australian travel section on our brief Barcelona experience which was published on the weekend:


The local beach where Lily and I collected smoothed pieces of glass to make a collage.

Local street art on a store’s front doors.

Lily adored this street performer

A local ice cream joint in our neighbourhood

Slumber party success

IMG_5144.JPGEver since Lily’s 6th birthday, she’s been planning for her 7th. The days just can’t go quickly enough for her. Meanwhile they can’t go slow enough for me. I don’t want her to grow up so fast but like she keeps telling me, she can’t help that and damn it she’s right.

So her 7th birthday steam rolled ahead and before I knew it I was saying farewell to my little 6 year-old one night and singing happy birthday to my 7 year-old the next morning.

She was so excited about turning a year older she could hardly sleep. And she was even more excited about her birthday party on the weekend when we would have seven girls for a slumber party. Yes, I know, hubby and I must be crazy but despite moments of chaos, seeing this bunch of girls have so much fun made it all worthwhile.

I think the winning formula for the event was making sure we had an itinerary, keeping the girls busy and letting them know what the plan was. Changing up the venue when we went on an “excursion” also helped, so they didn’t go stir crazy in the one location. And of course letting them know who was boss so that they understood this was no Lord of the Flies experiment was key as well.

First we had game time – Twister and Apple Dunking which ended up like a backyard bath which they loved. Then some free play time in Lily’s upstairs studio which sounded more like a competition of who could screech the loudest. Then icecream birthday cake and opening of presents.

IMG_5069We then changed venues, walking to a nearby nail salon where the girls were treated to a mani-pedi spa treatment. It was more like a mini tornado swept through the salon, with other customers looking at us parents with a combination of sympathy and admiration.

IMG_5117.JPGDinner was right next door at an Italian restaurant where the girls inhaled pizzas before we walked back home.

Somehow I managed to shower 7 girls in under 25 minutes – one of my proudest mummy moments I reckon. The girls then settled down to watch Sing, a movie Lily chose beforehand so there was no 15-minute debate about what to watch.

Then it was off to La La Land – slumber time. And guess what – after their busy schedule and no sugar since the afternoon birthday cake, those girls drifted off within half an hour.

The next morning the girls were treated to pancakes, bacon and maple syrup – a good old fashioned Canadian breakfast. Then we played a couple more games including musical statues. Before pick up time we walked up to a nearby park for a play so by the time we got home, parents were already arriving.

IMG_5204.JPGIt was one of the easiest parties to organise and host but yes, it definitely required a focused parenting “presence”. And hats off to all those parents who have more than three similar ages kids. To do that every day would require so much effort. Our little one night effort just wouldn’t compare but I’m still chalking it up as a victory.

Now I guess we start planning for the 8th birthday party but in the meantime I want to enjoy having a 7 year old for as long as I can.

Europe through a child’s eyes

Check out The Weekend West Australian‘s travel section, June 20-21 2015, where there’s a travel story I’ve written about the trip I made with Lily to Europe last year. I think I make a convincing case for why it’s worth taking a four-year-old on a four-week European adventure. Now we’re trying to decide where to go to next. Any ideas?


Lily loved anything to do with the Eiffel Tower.
Lily loved anything to do with the Eiffel Tower.

Grabbing a sunset at Santorini
Grabbing a sunset at Santorini

Lily on top of one of the Trafalgar Square lions after seeing The Lion King musical performance. She's even holding her toy Simba.
Lily on top of one of the Trafalgar Square lions after seeing The Lion King musical performance. She’s even holding her toy Simba.

Lily’s marmalade painting

While I was preparing another batch of marmalade on the weekend, Lily got busy painting – one of her all time favourite activities. This is her first effort at a marmalade painting for our pretend marmalade shop. Three giant jars of marmalade sitting under our orange tree with a ladder to the side. She’d pick oranges every day if she could.

Lily's marmalade painting
Lily’s marmalade painting

Her other favourite activity is being a joker. Here’s a little video of her in the process of making her marmalade painting. Listen to how she describes the marmalade – a classic case of “kids say the darnedest things!”. Check out the separate page called “Lily-isms” – where she’s joking or mucking around, or just having a good laugh about something. The “Lily-isms” page leads with a video of her laughing her head off when she was a baby…and she still has that some contagious cackle today. I’ll be adding some more videos and snippets to “Lily-isms” soon.