Our family adventures in nature with our international guests, nurturing our future environmental champions and overcoming the challenge of finding other like-minded, nature-loving families.

Wow, I’m totally exhausted … but happily so!

You see it’s been quite a nature-filled, adventure-packed, all-weather, noisy, giggly, fun and fantastic couple of weeks for our family.

Taylor and Nash in the tree - Splitters Falls Grampians - July 2014

Nash and Taylor find some shelter in a fairy house.

Having our new friends Ron and Janice Swaisgood and their boys Owen and Luke visiting us from the US has been so much fun. Whilst they may be relatively new friends, our shared passion for connecting with nature, both within our own families and in helping encourage and support other families to get outside more, bought us together and our families seemed to fit together so naturally.

While the things we did and the natural beauty we explored were incredible, what really struck me was how quickly and deeply all of our kids connected with each other … and that connection was strengthened even further the more time they spent simply playing outside together.

Nash and Taylor have already organised for them all to stay and live here including for the boys to go to school in Noorat. Millie thinks they’re super because she has a Koalafornia t-shirt and Luke and Lucas had the hugest grins on their faces and made quite the singing duo hanging out together. Within five minutes of meeting Nicholas and Owen had announced that they were designing their own flag (which I thought was brilliant!) and I overheard Owen say, “Hey we have to have a secret code too” to which Nicko wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agreed!

Janice and I have discussed on a number of occasions how challenging it can be to meet other like-minded, nature-loving families. In fact, I’ve had that conversation with a lot of parents.

So for families who are wanting to get back outside and reconnect with nature and with other families who like to do the same, it’s important that they know where to find each other. But where to look?

One of the fabulous things about Family Nature Clubs and other activities where families meet to explore, socialise, and play in nature – you get to meet lots of other like-minded, nature-loving families … and often it can make it less daunting and a whole lot more fun (for the kids and the adults!) when you’re out with other families.

Family Adventures in Nature families on a Hike, Rose Canyon, San Diego CA. Photo Courtesy of Family Adventures in Nature

Family Adventures in Nature families on a Hike, Rose Canyon, San Diego CA. Photo Courtesy of Family Adventures in Nature

Connecting like-minded, nature-loving families with and in nature is also the reason I am absolutely passionate and so excited about the Family Nature Connection Retreat I’m running in September.

More about the retreats later in the week (or you can click HERE to find out more now – we’d love you to come along). It’s only open to a small number of families and it’s going to be FUN!

Read on to hear about just some of the many adventures the Swaisgood’s and our family enjoyed together, and keep an eye out for the link to my interview with Ron too down below.

In the interview, I chat with Ron about about the importance of teaching our children to know and love the natural world to ensure we are nurturing environmental stewards for the future. You’ll also learn how Ron, Janice and their two adventurous young boys make nature a part of who they are as a family and how family nature clubs can bring families and communities together. We weigh up the risks and rewards of nature, and you’ll hear how letting your kids get ‘off the trail’ to explore nature is often the right thing to do! 

So, off we go!

Our joint family adventures saw us getting out and about all over Melbourne and South West Victoria, despite the very “ordinary” weather. It seemed that Mother Nature was determined to us her very best South West winter!

The Swaisgood’s have learnt when Aussies describe anything – be it the weather, a person, food, or just about anything else – as being “ordinary” we actually mean really awful. We even had to evacuate the Melbourne Zoo due to gale force winds – only the second time they’ve done that in 23 years and it happened to be on the very day that Ron, the Director of Applied Animal Ecology at San Diego Zoo was visiting!.

But, as they say in the nature connection world, there is no such thing as bad weather … just poor planning and poor equipment. I do have to say though, the weather last week DID challenge that saying.

Nevertheless we dressed appropriately, took shelter where necessary, packed a few changes of clothes (for when the kids were not quite speedy enough in their game of ‘the waves are chasing us’ at the beach), rescheduled our activities as required and soldiered on.

When the Swaisgood’s first arrived into Melbourne, we had organised to meet them at my beloved Fairfield Boathouse to feed the ducks and take a row boat ride down the Yarra River.

Nash and Taylor at Fairfield Boathouse a- June 2014

We LOVE ducks and Fairfield Boathouse

Funnily enough, initially we ended up at two different boathouses! My original message to Ron and Janice was that we’d meet them at the Fairfield Boathouse. I had forgotten to say that there were actually two boathouses, both in Fairfield but on opposite sides of the river and a few short river bends away from each other.

Eventually we worked out that we were in fact in different places! Shortly after we found each other, the ducks were fed, no one fell in on our boat ride and the kids collected an amazing assortment of treasures (sticks and leaves) that were floating in the river. Ron even got his workout in rowing the boat.

On getting settled in to our nice warm flat that evening, Taylor decided to show her new friend Ron the Explorer, her best “Jaguar Crawl” demonstration. Of course he approved, telling her she looked just like the real jaguars that he’d seen in the wild. She was pretty proud of herself!

The next morning we were taken on a beautiful tour of the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens by their amazing Education Director, Christine Joy. The always enthusiastic and nature loving Mick Robertson from Cranbourne’s incredible Botanic Gardens also joined us for a fun exploration of the Ian Potter’s Children’s Garden, a wander through the beautiful and magical Fern Gully. Again, a shared passion for the natural world and connecting people with nature shone through and connected us.

Chasing leaves at Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens

Chasing leaves at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens

That afternoon we visited the gorgeous Abbotsford Convent. After a hearty hot lunch to keep our energy up after a busy morning, the kids picked (and picked and picked) the lush green grass ensuring that the already very friendly and very fat flock of sheep even friendlier and fatter. We then ventured excitedly into the bush that runs along the river bank.

More grass please

Leaving Melbourne, we headed to The Otway Ranges with hopes of exploring the temperate rainforest. This National Park is renowned not only for its incredible beauty, but it’s also known to receive the highest rainfall in the country. And the day we visited was no exception!

The previous days’ gale force winds and the sideways rain thwarted our hopes of zip lining through the beautiful Otway Ranges rainforest on The Otway Fly and the drive down to the trail to get to Triplet Falls was blocked from fallen trees and debris, forcing us to turn back and seek other places to explore.

We settled on doing a lovely little rainforest walk in a pretty part of the Otways called Melba Gully, notably famous for the glow worms that live in this dense, wet forest area, providing a magical twinkling effect after dark.

the big tree melba gully

The Big Tree at Melba Gully State Park

We arrived at our home in Boorcan to a hot, hearty and delicious beef stew that had been simmering all day in the slow cooker (YUM), and were joined by Michael, Nicholas, Lucas and Millie for dinner and who were eager to meet the Swaisgood’s.

The following morning I took Ron and the boys to the Camperdown to Timboon Rail Trail for a bush walk and adventure along the tracks, trails and rail bridges of the now disused railway line. We were met by three passionate locals and Rail Trail committee leaders Pat and Ric Robinson and Greg Farmer. They were lovely hosts and it was great to have their passionate perspectives and in-depth knowledge of the history of the Rail Trail and the area.

Timboon Rail Trail - June 2014

Camperdown to Timboon Rail Trail – one of the 38 spectacular old rail bridges

Pat, Ric and Greg are passionate and very active stewards of the environment, but they’re also part of the older generation and voiced their concern about the growing divide between young people and nature and the relatively small numbers of young people who are keen to join them in maintaining and caring for the natural places they feel so strongly connected to.

It prompted me again to ponder this important and challenging question: If our children are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world, where will our environmental champions of the future come from?

There are many wonderful people who are passionate advocates and practitioners in the growing movement to reconnect children with nature, and Ron Swaisgood and his family are leading the charge – and leading by example.

In my Nurture in Nature Interview Series, I chatted with Ron about this very subject and I know you’ll enjoy his unique perspective as a passionate conservation biologist. You’ll also hear how his family connects with nature and helps others to also.

Here’s the link to listen to my interview with Ron … http://bit.ly/ninrons

Tania chats with Ron about the importance of teaching our children to know and love the natural world to ensure we are nurturing environmental stewards for the future. You’ll also learn how Ron, his wife Janice and their two adventurous young boys make nature a part of who they are as a family and how family nature clubs can bring families and communities together. We weigh up the risks and rewards of nature, and you’ll hear how letting your kids get ‘off the trail’ to explore nature is often the right thing to do! 

OK, so getting back to the Rail Trail … what trek through this beautiful part of the country would be complete without those delightful creatures called Leeches?

As I’ve been talking about, nature is a great connector. Sometimes, it seems, that connection literally means that it connects to your leg and sucks your blood! Thanks to Ron and Owen, the local leeches were well fed that day.

During their visit, our international guests also learnt that when someone here in Australia says it’s “probably about a 10 minute drive/wait/anything” that it’s generally a gross underestimation.

The exception to this was when we headed for our delicious late lunch to Kermond’s Hamburgers in Warrnambool. Their 10 minutes was actually almost spot on 10 minutes. Luckily too, as we had 4 kids who had worked up quite an appetite climbing volcanoes (including down the crater), up in tree houses, visiting our local primary school to see Nicholas and Lucas, and a big play at Lake Pertobe in Warrnambool.

By the way, Lake Pertobe is AWESOME. It’s a great mix of lots of nature, a bit of plastic fantastic and wooden play equipment, a fun maze and two flying foxes (like a zip line) … and it’s over a huge area. It’s also somewhere I remember fondly and vividly during my own childhood, especially trekking over the bridges and exploring the little trails and islands. Actually, I still love playing there as an adult.

Lake Pertobe

Lake Pertobe in Warrnambool – The perfect place for family fun!

 That day was also Luke’s 8th birthday, and I take it from his description of “best birthday ever” that it was one he wont forget!

After our yummy hamburgers, we headed back towards home. On the way, we made a very special stop for dinner, a campfire, an indigineous ceremony and to meet some very special young adults.

In addition to being a remarkable Dad to his kids and step-dad to mine, my amazing partner Michael is one of the best and most passionate educators and supporters of young people that I know. He is Prinicpal at the Gnurad Gundidj campus of the School for Student Leadership, a Year 9 Leadership Program with a vision to create passionate, active and infomed global citizens.

Nash, Taylor and I regularly spend time visiting at this amazing school, and we are blessed to do so. That evening, Michael had Janice, Ron and their boys to see and experience this incredible school and it’s beautiful students and staff.

They were awe-struck.

Gnurad and the other campuses of the School for Student Leadership, really are special places, and a few words here won’t do it justice, so I’ll leave that for another time soon.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write more on what is an incredible school and how blown away I am too see on the positive impact it has on the young adults who are lucky enough to attend. It’s also the families, schools and communities that they go back to who see and experience what a difference this school makes to young lives.

What I will say here though, is that the School’s Founding Principal, Mark Reeves, was struck and inspired by how he resonated with Richard Louv’s thoughts and philosophies on Nature Deficit Disorder and of the Hybrid Mind in his books “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age”. Louv’s work has been a major influencer in the school’s construct.

ssl-gnurad-gundidj-campus-cover-1

Connecting with nature is a big part of life for students at Gnurad Gundidj – School for Student Leadership

But back to our adventures …

We also spent plenty of time exploring the farm where we are so lucky to live. Playing on the hay bales was definitely the biggest hit with the kids – and, OK I’ll admit, us adults had a ball doing it too!

Haybale running - Farm adventures Boorcan - July 2014

Haybale running – Farm adventures Boorcan

Leaving the farm, much to the dismay of Luke who has decided he now wants to live on a farm and was very sad for having to leave his hay bales behind, we headed to the majestic Grampians National Park. On arrival at the beautiful property I had found and booked for us, the kids – and us – were in nature connection heaven.

No sooner were we out of the car than the four older boys were off in search of adventure, returning periodically to tell us of giant boxing kangaroos, hopping red-necked wallabies and they even saw three emus. They climbed trees, rode bikes, dug around the frog bog, and explored every square inch of the property.

Nash and Taylor being much younger, stuck a little closer to us under instructions as there were two large dams on the property. The boys had been shown the dams too of course, and understood the boundaries.

It was fun playing with the kids outside, but we also enjoyed just watching them from a distance. Unstructured play, particularly in natural settings, is something that far too many kids these days just don’t have the time or opportunity to enjoy.

Seeing and hearing the hoots, hollers and laughter of our kids playing outside, roaming free-range and exploring the natural wonders of our surrounds, made me even more sure that the work I do and my passion for connecting kids and families with and in nature is where my heart lies. 

Nash and Taylor enjoyed that all-important unstructured play time too, just under a little closer eye from the adults given the nearby dams.

Nash and I also enjoyed a “Mummy and Nash time” bike ride along the long and bumpy driveway. I make the effort every week to spend some one on one time with both Nash and Taylor – I love it as much as they do and it’s helped our relationships grow so much stronger.

Nash and Mum's bike ride to the gate at Pomonal - July 2014

Nash LOVES riding his bike!

Nash loves bike riding, and can be seen pedalling around outside as often as he can. But, as we were riding along I realised that it’s not something we often  to do together. Given how much we both enjoyed it, and his excitement that I was out there riding with him, it’s definitely something I’ll make the time to do with him more regularly.

During our time in The Grampians, the “ordinary” weather again threw out a challenge to us. On Monday, a change of plans saw the longer hike moved to the promised sunnier next day, which opened up an opportunity to do some smaller walks that afternoon.

I was excited because it meant that Nash and Taylor could go on the “go on the hikings” too as they called it.

So we headed up to Wonderland Car Park, deciding on a 700m each way walk to Splitters Falls. The lady at the information centre had told us it takes “about 10 minutes” each way to get to the falls, and that it was “pretty easy”.

We looked at each other and smiled, predicting that of course it would take us much longer than her estimated “10 minutes” even just with our adult legs, and not so sure her “pretty easy” wasn’t also an understatement.

So off we headed, with expectations for extra time needed for little legs and prior memories I had of this walk which I thought I remembered involving QUITE A LOT of ups and downs. We also factored in plenty of time for play and exploration along the way and at the Falls themselves.

But really, there was no rush, which is just the way any great hike or bushwalk should be – especially when kids are involved.  We were there to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

I think the pictures tell the story here.

splitters falls

Splitters Falls Hiking Fun in The Grampians

Suffice to say, we all had a great time, it took us waaaaaaay longer than 10 minutes, there WERE quite a lot of ups and downs, and I was so proud of my little hikers. More importantly, the kids were all super-duper proud of themselves.

Tan, Nash, Taylor - Splitters Falls Grampians - July 2014

Proud Mum, Proud kids!

On consultation with the kids, they told us that they’d had enough for one day, especially the four older boys who had said they had gotten a “signature from the waterfall”. I think that meant they touched it, and as such they were drenched and ready for a warm shower and a hot chocolate.

boys exploring a - Splitters Falls Grampians - July 2014

The boys getting a “signature” from the waterfall.

Nash and Taylor weren’t wet due to those super cute “puddle pants” you can see them wearing, but they were ready for a packet of sultanas and a rest. Looking at it from their pint-sized perspective, if I had to go on a walk where a lot of it meant stepping up on steps and rocks as high as my waist, I’d be tired and ready for a rest too! To be honest, I would’ve probably given up or complained way more than they did!

After Hike Snack - Splitters Falls Grampians - July 2014

A well deserved snack and a rest after a great effort on the trail

We headed back home, warmed up, had a hearty dinner and all got a very early night. 

The next day was sunnier (at the start anyway) and the older boys, Ron, Janice and Michael got organised and set off on their longer hike.

Although Nash and Taylor were very keen to go on more “hikings”, one look up what is called “The Pinnacle” was enough for them to understand that perhaps that much longer, much steeper walk might be much too big a task for their little legs. “One day” I promised.

My kids had another reason to want to stay on more level ground … we were off on a visit to Halls Gap Zoo! What fun that was, a lovely little zoo and so interactive for the kids. We had so much fun in fact, that we took Michael and the boys back there the following day!

Visiting Zoos and Aquariums are fantastic ways to get kids excited about nature, particularly those that allow for lots of interaction and have programs and experiences that encourage unstructured nature play for kids and lots of opportunities for families to connect with each other.

zoo

Halls Gap Zoo

Reports from the rest of our crew of The Pinnacle walk were great, and despite being a little chilly at the very top, they had a wonderful time – enjoying scampering over rocks and exploring caves on the way, and taking in the spectacular view from the top. That night, again, everyone ate a hearty dinner and we were all in bed very early.

The next morning, the Swaisgood’s set off the next stage of their Aussie adventure. Nash and Taylor are still taking some convincing that unfortunately they aren’t coming back to live here with us forever.

Owen, Nicholas, Lucas and Luke are practically blood brothers.

As for Ron and Janice, well, I think you can tell from my writing here my thoughts on these two wonderful people. Michael agrees. We are incredibly blessed to have spent some amazing times together with them and their boys playing ‘tour guide’, and the friendship I’m sure will stay strong even across the Pacific Ocean.

I know they enjoyed their ”cultural homestay” with us as Ron was calling it, and we’ve promised to all land on their doorstep one day in sunny San Diego for more adventures.

They showed us a slower, more kid-led way of exploring the tracks and trails around us – as I said, hiking with kids is way more about the journey than the destination – and we showed them just how much fun playing on the hay bales at our farm can be. 

The time our families we spent together was filled with so many adventures and the memories made will be cherished by all of us – especially the kids.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the fun we’ve been having, and it’s prompted you to start planning your own family adventures in nature.

Oh, and don’t forget, if you want to meet some other like-minded, nature-loving families and make some cherished memories with your kids just like we did, we’d love you to join us at our upcoming Family Nature Connection Retreat in September … to find out more click HERE.

 

 

What is your greatest takeaway from these interviews?

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