Another little gem of a spot that I hadnt been to before, yet had always heard of, was the area known as “Bells Rapids”, located in Brigadoon, northeast of Perth in the Swan region. This spot is famous to the people of Perth because in August it is a great vantage point to check out the “Avon Descent”, a canoe/kayak race that takes place over a weekend and utilizes the winter rains (that we hopefully will get each year!). We came for the bushwalking opportunities around the area, and as it was June, it was still too early for any rain to weave its magic and create the rapids and whitewash that makes the canoe race so popular for people from around the world. Instead, on a balmy still warm June day, we took the 5.5km “bells rapid circuit walk trail”.
The walk was lovely, relatively easy with a slight steep climb at the very start once you crossed over the footbridge. Once up high we could see far down into the coastal plain. As we came down we took a bit of a detour and explored a bit more along the banks of the Avon, hopping across boulders, reliving our childhoods and larking about. It was a fun morning out!
After our walk we sat right next to the river and ate our lunch. Where we were sitting you could see changes in the colour of the rock that would indicate that in a few months time where out butts were would have been submerged in a torrent of water. I have seen the river roaring on tv before, but on this day it was hard to picture the river ever being so dangerous, it was more like a large puddle! I would definitely love to go up after the winter rains and see the changes to the river at this time.
Overall, a lovely day out but quite a long drive for a short trail. The trail was what we needed at the time though – I was still recovering from a mosquito borne virus and I think one of us who shall not be named was slightly intoxicated from the night before! lol! So a perfect little hike on a perfect winters day!
As the weather cools down it is time for the our little group of hiking girls to get back together and start hiking! After having suffered for a few months with a mosquito borne virus I couldnt handle a long big trail so it was decided that our first ‘hike’ would be a casual 6km stroll around Lake Mount Brown.
This was another one of those hikes that we didn’t know existed, yet is so close to where most of us live that we could have walked from our houses! We found this on the trailswa website, which we have since discovered is a great little site listing all the various walks around the wetlands in our region.
“The Beeliar Regional Park consists of two chains of wetlands comprised of 26 lakes and numerous wetalnds stretching 25km along the coast and covering an area of approximately 3400 hectares.
Lake Mt Brown lies in the western chain near the coast at Cockburn Sound. It has been created by a depression behind the coastal dune system. The wetlands were important camping, ceremonial areas and sources of food for Aboriginal people. The vegetation communities found in the park represent communities once widespread on the Swan Coastal Plain but now significantly decreased.”
It was great to finally get out after many months of being inactive, and also wonderful that Mrs H could come along. Having a young baby girl at home means she doesn’t get out on as many hikes as she likes, but i’m sure as her daughter gets older she might get more opportunities to join us.
After meeting at our rendezvous point at the Mount Brown Carpark (just off Cockburn Road opposite the Naval Base Village), we walked the 2km of sealed path through some decent wetland bushland. Once at the junction of the lake, the sealed path becomes a rocky limestone path typical of trails in this region. The loop around the lake was around 1.5km. On our way back we could have returned to the carpark and then followed a second trail from there up to the Mount Brown lookout, which is about 900 metres, but we cut through on a rough limestone track going up the side of Mount Brown. The views from the top were great, overlooking Cockburn Sound (which I should mention now is pronounced Co-burn and not Cock Burn as we kids used to giggle about when we were younger. The “ck” is silent folks!) I was very surprised by the views, actually, surprised by the fact Mt Brown even existed. How many times I had driven past here and not even noticed there was a ‘mount” (ok its a tiny hill, but for this flat coastal region it is quite high). Anyway after stopping for a snack, and taking in the view we headed back down to the carpark. I was glad to have managed this small hike and pull up ok afterwards, and also pleased that it was such a lovely day and that I had a new local trail that the family could easily do.
After 18 days of exploring the Balkans it was time to head back to our first port of call, the lovely city of Split. This time we came back 2 days early to make sure we had time to explore this port city which is full of amazing history and good coffee! I had fond memories of my previous visit to Split some 14 years earlier, so it was great to be able to come back and see it with my family in tow. Split did not disappoint – we had glorious sunshine with mild weather, our room just outside of the city walls was beautiful, and we could take our time and wind down before the long 26 hour plane ride home.
Split is full of history. The central core is pretty much an open air museum. This was the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s summer palace, and today you can walk around it, soak up the ancient feel and see the crumbling walls and buildings. Step out of the ancient centre and you have the Riva, home to a strip of cafes that while obviously very touristy orientated will still serve an awesome cup of coffee. Nothing beats sitting by the sea on a sunny morning sipping a glorious coffee and watching the world go by. A little further afield, along the harbor, is Marjan Hill, an oasis of green in this bustling port city and well worth a climb if you have the time.
Upon our first hour of being in Split, when we had awoken from our late night arrival and looked for a place to eat some breakfast and grab a coffee, my husband looked at me and said “If this is what Croatia is going to be like then I am going to love this place and we are so coming back”. This was before we had even seen anything of the city or Croatia, we had only walked one block from our apartment and had sat by the sea to eat!!! I am glad husband was suitably impressed by Split, and Croatia in general and he is already talking about returning in the future!
- For our first nights accomodation after our long flight we booked through booking.com and got a little apartment/room at Villa Kate. As we only stayed the night and took the bus to Dubrovnik the next day we didnt make full use of the room, but it had a little kitchenette would be handy for a longer stay, and the room was beautifully renovated. They also picked us up from the airport for a set fee which was cheaper than a taxi.
- Our accomodation on our return was also through booking.com with B&B Riva rooms. It was a beautiful large spacious newly renovated room with all the modcons. Located just outside the northern wall and the theatre. A real gem.
- A playground for the kids is located just outside the northern wall of the old town near the Grgur of Nin statue, on Kralja Tomislava (street).
This concludes my series on our Croatian Adventure! Taking our 4 year old daughter on her first long haul trip ended up being one of the best things we have done! Croatia is a perfect place to take your family on an overseas trip, and its also a perfect place for solo female travellers or really, any sort of traveller – from nature lovers, to historical fans, or to the young who love their techno music festivals and nightclubs. Croatia is a relatively safe place that has alot to offer. 6 months on at the time of writing this our Croatia trip is still a hot topic of conversation for our daughter – she loved the plane, she liked the pink church in Slovenia (Ljubljana), the waterfalls were cool (Plitvice), why was the statue of the Virgin Mary golden? (Zagreb), why did we have to wait so long in Rome airport? (Rome obviously!). She learnt so much, and so will you if you go!
After collecting our hire car from central Zagreb it was time to head south towards Croatia’s most famed national park, the Plitvice Lakes. I was sweating it a bit driving out of a busy city on a busy weekday morning, but the gps instructions were easy and once out of Zagreb the road was super easy to get to our destination.
We arrived in the afternoon, and decided not to push to go see the lakes straight away as we had two nights booked at our hotel. We took a walk down to the ticket booth from our hotel, and bought our tickets for the following day so we could be up early and in the park. The afternoon was very crisp and fresh – the difference in temperatures between here and the coast only 2 hours away was quite surprising. It was chilly, foggy and the coldest we had been this trip. So we snuggled in our room, baby A watched some cartoons and we relaxed. We decided to jump into the car and head around 10km back up the road towards Zagreb to eat at Restaurant Degenija. We had heard good things about this place, and our visit confirmed that this place is great for a good feed. So good we went back the following night too.
Anyway the next day we were up early and at 8.30am we entered the park. It was very fresh, but clear and pleasant. We jumped onto the inner park shuttle bus and got dropped off to the very top of the park. From there we walked and wound our way all the way down, past the numerous lakes and so much water! The second part of the walk involved a little boat taking us across the main lake to the “lower section”, which is home to biggest waterfall in the park. The boat trip across the lake was short, but it was sooooo cold on the water. Luckily at the other end there is a warm, but overpriced cafe/restaurant where we got some hot coffee and food. Not the best, but it was warm and did the job.
Overall we walked over 8km on numerous dirt trails, boardwalks and bridges. We were a bit concerned about baby A not being able to cope, but she absolutely LOVED it here. She walked the whole time with no complaints. Towards the end she was a bit tired and worn out, but she totally surprised us with her resiliance and love for the place! This place is a must see!!!!
- Hotel/Restaurant Degenija is on the main road about 10km north. Very reasonably priced and great size serves.
- We stayed at the Hotel Plitvice. This was the worst place we stayed at for the price. Quite expensive for a run down, old 1970s inspired room, BUT BUT BUT… you cannot beat the location. A short walk to the main entry. And I will give it that it was very clean considering how old it is.
- Having a hire car was a godsend. The hotel restaurant didnt look promising, so having easy access to surrounding towns to eat at local places or stop at small stores to buy juice, yogurts (for Baby A) etc was helpful.
- It gets COLD here. Mid september and the air already had a winter chill. We wore all our layers here. Even with a jacket the boat transfer in the park was freezing. Two hours later in Split on the coast it was warm, so yes, this region has its own microclimate while is chillier than the coast.
- If you have small children do NOT bring a pram/pusher. We saw two people with this and they looked as miserable as all hell. There are heaps of up and down, rickety platforms, uneven steps etc. You will need to carry your child if they cannot walk.
- Not many places to stop and buy drinks/snacks in the park. Bring your own backpack as you will spend most of the day out and you might need snacks inbetween.
After Slovenia it was time to head back into Croatia and visit the capital city, Zagreb. I had been numerous times in the past, but the last time had been over 10 years ago, so it was interesting to see how the city has grown and developed. Of course, the old centre was pretty much the same as it always has been, but as the bus was entering the outskirts of the city it was impressive to see how much the city has grown, with new modern fancy office buildings and large shopping complexes. Croatia has certainly developed since the first time I had visited back in 2000.
Anyway we had a lovely 2 nights here to rest up, recharge and explore the city before hiring a car and continuing on to Plitvice. Baby A thoroughly enjoyed Zagreb for its water fountains and statues. She was especially taken with the large golden statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the cities main cathedral. I dont know why but she just liked it, so we had to walk past it numerous times. We enjoyed exploring the old upper town, which is the oldest part of the city and has many interesting buildings and monuments. Of course we enjoyed many coffee stops too – Zagreb has a thriving cafe culture and we enjoyed numerous cappucinos on the main square, Trg Ban Jelacic.
Another highlight was the chance to catch up with some old friends who I hadnt seen for a very long time. It was so great catching up with two friends who I had known for close to 15 years via the travel website Virtualtourist (which sadly just closed down recently). Having a coffee and a laugh with Mr B and Miss Z and hearing about life in Croatia from ‘the locals’ was a treat, and I’m grateful for the gifts they gave us too! The wine and grapes were super good!
Zagreb is sometimes overlooked because everyone heads straight to Croatia’s famed coast. I can understand that – the coast is special indeed. But if you have a few days up your sleeve be sure to stop in Zagreb. It really is thriving and it definitely has a positive vibe to it. Its definitely a more uplifting city than it was the first time I visited 17 years earlier.
After spending time with the family it was onwards and northwards. I had organised to drop off our hire car in Rijeka so that we wouldn’t have to drive it into Slovenia, and also because I have two very good friends I hadnt seen in over ten years who live in Rijeka. After dropping off our car we went into the city centre, found our apartment and later on, Miss A and Mrs N came to meet up with us. It was so great catching up after so many years, having a coffee and icecream and enjoying a nice evening on the town. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet us you two lovely ladies!!!
The next morning we caught the bus to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It was so beautiful driving through the Slovenian countryside, it is just so green and the villages are just so picture perfect! We arrived into the capital and and after walking around a bit we caught up with some more friends that I had communicated with for a number of years on the travel website virtualtourist.com .
It was so great finally meeting up with Miss M, and remeeting Ms K! Miss M was kind enough as well to take us to Lake Bled, which unfortunately was rained out! lol. She also told us about the famous Lake Bled cake that we just had to try, so of course, we did and it was truly delicious. The best cake we had in the balkans we reckon! Ljubljana is a really charming city as I knew from my first visit many years ago, but this time it was great to experience it with my family.
We are very grateful for the time and generosity that Miss M showed us. It was nice to learn more about Slovenia and to drive through more of the countryside, which I didnt have the chance to do last time. Thanks must also go to Ms K who found a playground and was willing to sit for a while and let Baby A have her play. I hope to meet you ladies again some day!
After spending time with mum’s side of the family it was time to head over to the island of Pag (Otok Pag) to spend time with dad’s side of the family. The whole reason of our coming to Croatia for a holiday was to visit my grandparents, and for them to see little A. It had been over 10 years since I had last seen them, and I had been warned that they had aged considerably since that last time. My grandmother has also got the onset of dementia and her health is deteriorating, so I knew this was the time to go and quite possibly say my final goodbyes.
We spent a lovely 3 days here exploring the island and of course, spending time with my grandparents. The sea was still gloriously warm so we would walk down to the village beach and have a swim. Having a hire car meant we could explore the island as well, which we did. Each morning we would go into the small main town on the island, also called Pag, and sit in the cafes by the sea. We also took a trip to Novalja, where we saw an epic sunset. Novalja is now “all the rage” amongst the young kids, as they have huge DJ festivals and beach parties during the summer. Luckily in mid september it was pretty tame and there were only old germans in socks and sandals left behind, so it was pretty quiet and peaceful. I was quite shocked to see how large Novalja has grown due to being the new ‘Ibiza’ of europe – the small sleepy fishing village I remembered from well over 10 years ago is now a buzzing large town which is even crazier and busier in the months of July and August.
Saying goodbye was not fun. My gran’s dementia meant that she thought I lived around the corner and that I would be visiting next week. My grandfather was quite teary because he knew that this was highly likely the last goodbye. I can’t see us getting to Croatia any time again soon, and at their age, time is limited. We all knew this, so the parting was pretty emotional to say the least. I was of course so glad I made the pilgrimage back to the village, but it was also bittersweet. I am just grateful they got to meet their great grand daughter before it is too late.