Tuesday, 26 February 2008

We got up early and drove to “Treasure Island” this morning, a touristy campervan park just north of Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast. It rained the whole way, but the drive was only a few hours. The kids did their school in the morning, we’re pushing to try and finish it up before South America, maybe even before New Zealand, so we can ship all that heavy stuff home. It’s getting exciting, Clay has fewer than fifteen math lessons left, it’s that last-week-of-school feeling around here.

The Gold Coast is known as party central, and it reminded me of Padre or Galveston as we drove through Surfer’s Paradise, the hub of it all. Tall sky scraper condominiums rose at the edge of the ocean, bars and clubs and restaurants lined the streets. We decided to stop here for a few reasons. One, we thought we might see some good surfers and some good boogie boarding waves. Two, it was on the way up the coast. And three, there was a Wet-N-Wild water park nearby. We knew the kids would get a real kick out of hitting the theme park, even though it wouldn’t be much different than home. An alternate route we had considered would have taken us inland, to an Australian cattle sale and some huge boulders we could have climbed. But, it would have added tons of drive time, and after that nine hour drive just a few days earlier, we just didn’t want to do it again.

We set our clock back one hour as we drove into town, we had passed through yet another time zone on the trip. We made a stop at a grocery store before arriving at our final destination, and Clay made one of his best purchases ever. A DVD with every single episode of Gidget ever made. I had been telling the kids about my lazy childhood summers, when I would sit around watching Gidget and making cheese toast for lunch. I love Gidget, and what could be more perfect to watch as we hit all these beaches in Australia? We hid it from the kids until later.

After the grocery store stop we headed to Treasure Island. This campervan park is entirely unlike either of the other two we’ve experienced. It totally caters to families, as we drove in I noticed the mini-golf course and the tennis courts. We received a plastic bag full of brochures and rules and regulations for all the activities they had on site. They had a jumping pillow (a giant, inflated pillow the kids could jump on), three swimming pools, basketball courts, pedal go-carts, mini-golf, and an activity room with air hockey and a pool table and an arcade.

The only things that were free were the jumping pillow and the pool. You even had to pay for the hot tub, you put in a dollar for 15 minutes worth of bubbles and chlorination. Laundry was more expensive here, and they had a café where you could get coffee and dessert for “only” $8. What a bargain! We were definitely in tourist land, and yet this, too, was a good land to be in. There were kids and families everywhere, no Wicked campers, and no pot drifting through the air. No ugly turkeys, either. The kids made friends with some pigeons, an ibis, and some smaller birds with yellow eyes and beaks. They fed them crumbs from their breakfast, and Alayna got one of the pigeons (she called him “Wing” because he had a broken wing) to eat out of her hand.

The weather was kind of crummy, raining off and on, I decided to wander around with the kids a while and check things out while Clay stayed back at the camper. We checked out the arcade, where games were a dollar a play (we passed), and decided to play mini-golf, where we’d get more bang, and more time, for our buck. Clay found us on hole two and became caddie and scorekeeper as we made our way around the swamped course. On some holes there was blue artificial turf to resemble a water hazard, only it really was a water hazard because of the continued light rain. Any low-lying area was underwater, including all the holes. Nate was designated ball-getter when we finished each hole, I blanched at the thought of sticking my hand down in that murky water.

Mini-golf in the rain is actually pretty fun. It’s challenging to try to hit your ball through a real water hazard, major splash zones. It adds a whole new element to the game. After golf, we went back to the arcade and gave each kid a dollar to spend on something. Nate played a game of air hockey with Clay, Alayna promptly lost hers in one of those crane games where you try and pick up a stuffed animal with a claw. She was deeply irritated that she didn’t win the laser pointer she had her eye on. Benji tried a different claw game, the claw closed around the middle of a stuffed Tasmanian Devil, and lifted it into the air, and. . . and. . . dropped it right before it went into the prize chute. Dropped it right back where it had been before. I wonder how many times that’s happened? Benji was crushed, and aghast when I told him the machine was designed to do that to little kids. To get their hopes up and then dash them time after time. “But why do they do that?” he asked. “Money,” I replied. “They want your money.” I could see the wheels turning in his little head, trying to figure this cold, hard world out. This world where stuffed animals were put within reach, and then snatched away.

The kids decided they wanted to try out the jumping pillow, so they ran to get their swimmers (bathing suits for those of you Stateside) on. The jumping pillow is inflated and rises up out of the ground like a turtle shell, all sloped on the sides. If you slid off, you landed in sand, no harm done, and it was big enough for the kids to run back and forth several long strides, bounding from one side to the other. Some beautiful birds were eating in a nearby tree, they were bright green and blue and red and yellow and orange, maybe Lorikeets. I marveled at how these tropical birds, which I’ve only ever seen in cages, could just fly around in the wild. I always figured they surely weren’t hardy enough to survive on their own, without a dripping water bottle and bird seed. After getting all sandy at the pillow, the kids checked out the pool. The water slide was fun but a little wimpy for Alayna, she opted to sit it out, eager for tomorrow when we’d encounter the big slides.

We had explored almost all the options at Treasure Island, there wasn’t a beach within walking distance. If we were staying longer, we may have rented those pedal go-karts, played some basketball or tennis, maybe played a game of pool. But, we’ll only be here two nights.

I cooked another “best dinner ever” (Nate still says this after every meal, even if it’s just green beans, steamed potatoes, and some chewy steak. I think he misses home cooking more than any of the rest of us). While I cooked, Benji fiddled with a loose tooth on the bottom and pulled it out. Snaggle is still hanging on up top. Time for the third tooth fairy visit on this trip. I hope she’s prepared.

For dessert I surprised everyone with some Betty Crocker microwave treats, a molten lava chocolate cake and a chocolate and caramel cake. They were warm and delicious and devoured in about two minutes. We watched an episode of Gidget, I still remembered the theme song, and the kids all were rapt. What a cool surfin’ girl she was with her moon doggy college boyfriend and her goofy friend Larue. I’m glad we’re able to expose our kids to such classics as we travel around the world. If only I had a piece of cheese toast . . .

 

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I woke up at 5:40am this morning, wide awake. I had no idea what time it was, but it was already daylight outside and seemed like it was time to wake up. We had school to do before Wet-N-Wild, and we had to see what the tooth fairy brought. I didn’t try to be very quiet when I came back from the bathroom, and sure enough, Benji was up and bright-eyed over his little stuffed dog and two fifty cent coins. Clay informed me it was not six in the morning yet, and I couldn’t believe it. How could it be so bright outside? But it was, and there was no falling back asleep after we were all awake and daylight was pushing its way through our feeble curtains.

We finished up school, ate breakfast, and headed to Wet-N-Wild, our house on our snail back. We delighted in the fact that we could go out to our campervan in the parking lot for lunch and save all that money on the high-priced amusement park lunch, and were incensed to see a sign that said we could not re-enter the park once we left. Man, we wouldn’t be able to fully utilize our campervan benefits! We grabbed some snacks and waters out of our van, which we had parked in the special large vehicle parking spaces, and headed into the park.

It was cloudy and in the middle of a school week, we rarely waited in lines. We rode all the rides available to us, many of them more than once or twice. Clay and Alayna went on a ride that the boys were both too short to ride. A ride so wild it made me barfy just watching it. A giant surf board had two free-rotating discs on it, and they rode on the discs. The surf board went back and forth, up and down, in a U-shape that just almost went all the way around. The discs rotated as the surf board tilted this way and that, Alayna screamed her guts out. It was one of those kinds of rides.

There was the Black Hole, where you rode through an enclosed tube. There was the racing ride where each of us got in our own lane on a mat, and rode head first when the light went green. This ride was a disaster, Nate’s mat flipped up and he rode with it doubled over, Benji missed his mat entirely and rode behind it, clutching it in his tiny hand. They were both a little shaken when we all got to the bottom (I won, by the way), and we decided we wouldn’t do that one again. One of the favorites was a big family tube ride where we all rode in one big tube. It took a picture of you at the bottom, and Clay and I made sure to embarrass Alayna, the first time by kissing, the next time Clay grabbed Alayna and kissed her just as the picture took. She screamed. It was great.

When we had our fill of the theme park we decided to go in search of all those amazing surfers in Surfer’s Paradise. Surely it wasn’t called that for nothing. The town was only a few kilometers down the road. We had a little trouble finding a parking spot near the beach for our large campervan, but we did it. As we approached the beach we saw the coolest thing, there was a high-rise condo building with balconies on every level and in each balcony was a small pool with a glass wall. There were two kids swimming in their balcony pool, about four floors up, and we could see their legs kicking as they swam around.

The beach at Surfer’s Paradise had surfers, but none of them could perform any amazing stunts. Nothing like Gidget. They were lucky to get themselves in the tube of a wave and ride it a while. Clay and I settled on a towel to watch while the kids dug an elaborate system of tunnels in a nearby sand bank. Eventually everyone headed into the water, the kids caught some great waves, and Clay got Benji out with a boogie board and helped him figure it out for himself. He rode some great waves in, and was very proud of himself.

We got back in as the sun set. We realized at some point in our trip planning that we’d never see a sunset over the ocean while in Australia, since we’d spend our whole time on the east coast, though the moon rises we saw in Stockton Beach rivaled any sunset I’ve ever seen. The sunset we were blessed with on our way home that night was a doozy, turning the clouds all fiery yellow and pink. We all tucked in, tuckered out, thinking of tomorrow and the drive ahead.