All posts by Whatever!

The information on this blog provides general information only. The information includes personal opinions of the authors who are not qualified experts. You should seek professional advice from an expert (e.g. medical practitioner, solicitor, accountant, tax adviser or financial planner (as appropriate)) before making any decisions in connection with anything contained on this blog. The authors assume no responsibility for any decision taken as a result of the information contained in this blog.

New Zealand with teens

By Julie Fisonphoto

A summer holiday on New Zealand’s Southern Scenic Route means stunning mountain scenery, rugged coastlines, great food, wildlife encounters and plenty of chances to get the adrenaline going. Pack a jumper (and a beanie and gloves) just in case summer turns out to be on the wintry side and enjoy!

We spent just over a week between Queenstown and Dunedin. Here are the highlights. 

Queenstown – 3 nights

Queenstown is the gateway to New Zealand’s ski fields. It’s also the adrenaline capital and that means teenage heaven.

We kick things off with an afternoon of luging at the top of the Queenstown gondola. It’s a lot of fun, but even if you don’t see the point of hurtling down a concrete path on a sled, the view over Lake Wakatipu and across to the Remarkables is worth the visit.

Mountain biking is another big hit with my sons. Bikes and gear can be rented in town. The trails also run from the top of the gondola and are steep – very steep. Not for novices.

IMG_2058Probably the highlight of our visit is whitewater rafting on the Shotover. The thrills start with the van ride to the river – a hair-raising descent along a mountain-goat track into Skipper’s Canyon. Once at the bottom of the canyon we are assigned rafts and guides and equipped with paddles. For the next hour or so I have my heart in my mouth as we are propelled down the rapids, dodging rocks. I try hard to follow the paddling instructions from our but all I want to do is curl up in the bottom of the boat and stay out of the way. I swear my heart stops for a second on the final rapid when I turn around to find my son had fallen out of the raft. He bobs to the surface moments later and is fine, but I take a bit longer to recover. This is not for the faint hearted!

There are plenty of options for dining in Queenstown. The lakefront is prime position on a warm evening and the food here all seems pretty good. We also love Bella Cucina for great pizzas and Italian fare. Fergburger is massively popular with backpackers and teens, but the queues are a bit of a killer. The bakery next door – is a better option for a quick bite – great pies and baguettes.

Our accommodation is at Peppers. The apartments are well set up with great views over the lake and are walking distance from the town centre.

Te Anau – 3 nights 

It’s a spectacular drive along Lake Wakatipu and through lush farmland to the town of Te Anau. This is the entry point to the Fiordland – Milford Sound and Dusky Sound. But we’re here for the trout fishing.

I’m not a fishing person at all, but I can recommend a day on the Waiau with a guide and a jet boat. (We used Fishjet). Our helpful guide is always on hand to change lures, untangle lines and unsnag hooks. He also offers expert commentary on the area and is a dab hand at the BBQ. He prepares a gorgeous lunch of crayfish and venison on the a sandbank in the middle of the river. The trout as it turns out are a lot smarter than they look. We can see them, we even catch a few but landing them proves very tricky. There’s extreme excitement when I finally land a mini monster. There are a quick few pics before he goes back into the river and we drag ourselves home

IMG_2082We stay just out of town at the Blue Mountains Cottages. It’s a stunning setting and we’re a very impressed by our supply of home-made shortbread and fresh eggs. Our hosts make us feel very welcome as do the dogs! We take a late afternoon walk along a nearby section of the Keppler Track. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here. If hobbits were real, they would live here!

We also hire golf clubs and play a very average game of golf on a stunning course. The views are much better the standard of play.

Portobello (Otago Peninsula) – 2 nights 

It’s a two hour trip through farmland from Te Anau to Invercargill. Then we take a very, very long drive along the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin. The route roughly follows the coastline, but to see the sites, diversions are necessary. We stop off at Waipapa Point – the site of New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. Here we almost trip over a sea lion lounging in the sand dunes and get chased by another one. Beware! We make several other stops where we are almost blown off the cliffs by the howling southerly.

It’s early evening by the time we arrive on the Otago Peninsula. This is the home of seal colonies, more sea lions, an albatross colony and several types of penguins. The harbor side of the Peninsular faces Dunedin (not the world’s loveliest cities) but the seaside of the Peninsula is wild and spectacular.

The albatross centre at the end of the peninsular is worth a visit – even just to take in the view and the wheeling gulls. We only spot two albatross when we are there. Sadly bird numbers are being hit by long line fishing.

Queenstown lugeEating options on the Peninsula are limited, but the Portobello Hotel serves good meals. Our accommodation is not far away in a very comfortable house, that overlooks the harbour. That was rented that through Porterfields Lodge.

For my sons, the highlight of the holiday is Queenstown. They love the adventure activities. My hubbie is also a big fan of the place. But for me, it’s the wild side of the Otago Peninsula – trekking down to Sandfly Beach, where we find a seal colony, a lazy sea lion, a lonely yellow-eyed penguin and two brave surfers. If you love wildlife – you’ll love it too.

Visit Julie Fison’s website

Just walk away – Maria Island

By Julie Fison

Forget the spa treatment. A long walk with a bunch of great friends has to be the ultimate way to rejuvinate the mind and body. And it doesn’t get much more perfect than a guided walk on Maria Island. The island is a jewel of pristine white beaches and rugged dolerite columns off Tasmania’s east coast. It’s just 20 km long but the tiny island has been home to Aboriginal people, whalers, convicts, entrepreneurs and farmers. Each population has left its mark and taking a guided walk on Maria is like ambling along a timeline of Australia’s history, with gourmet meals and homemade biscuits for sustenance along the way. READ FULL STORY.


I didn’t see that coming

By Julie Fison

I love holidays. But I find the planning stage extremely time-consuming and stressful. Will the accommodation be as good as it looks on the web?  Have I got the best deal available? Will there be enough to do for the kids when we get there?

The permutations for a perfect holiday are so complicated, the possibility of a disaster so great. And even when I think I have struck on a winning formula my children get older, their tastes change and it’s back to the drawing board (otherwise known as the internet). Holidays are so precious that I want to make them as close to perfect as possible.

But sometimes the elusive X factor can be found in the most unexpected places.

IMGP1207Last September, after months of planning, I set off with my husband and two sons, aged 11 and 14, along with three other families for a North Queensland driving adventure. The trip had lost its ideal status even before we left.

My older son had been chosen to compete in the Queensland rugby championships in Toowoomba, which meant he and my husband would only be spending three nights in North Queensland. Not great, but not a catastrophe. I could still explore the Far North with my friends and younger son.

However, the holiday didn’t quite work out that way.

While I was swimming with a friend at Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, a garfish, not much bigger than my index finger, shot out of the water and speared me in the ear.  The small intruder left a 2.5 cm spike in my eardrum as a souvenir of its visit, before wriggling free and disappearing into sea

North Queensland is famous for its lethal marine life. Crocodiles, sharks, Irukandji jellyfish are the ones you normally have to watch out for in this part of the world. But garfish?

As it turns out, they are a lot more dangerous than they look. In the Torres Strait bigger garfish periodically spear fishermen, causing all sorts of injuries and in at least one case – death. As far as I can tell, I’m the first to be speared in ear – a very dubious accolade.

Because of my freakishly unlikely and extremely painful encounter, I spent three hours in surgery at Cairns Base Hospital having the spike removed, and the next five days convalescing in Cairns and Palm Cove, instead of exploring the Daintree and Cooktown.

Meanwhile, my son, who had gone further north, fell out of a tree at Cape Tribulation and broke his wrist. My wonderful friends took him to Cooktown Hospital to have his arm manipulated and set in a temporary cast. An eventful holiday to say the least.

To cap things off, I was forced to cancel my flights and take the train home because I had a perforated eardrum. Max and I boarded the Sunlander for the 30-hour journey from Cairns to Brisbane with a couple of magazines, a novel each, and two packets of jubes. I hadn’t even packed any electronic devices

Max had his arm in a sling and I was sporting a facial palsy and was almost completely deaf in one ear. (Yes, quite a pair.) A fitting end to the holiday from hell – right?

Well, not really.

I will certainly concede that Max would have had more fun without a broken wrist and I would have had a better holiday if I hadn’t been speared by a garfish. But at least I had good care in Cairns and had great friends to look after me.

I was sorry I missed out on the Daintree, yet I did have a few lovely memories to take home. We’d all had a great day snorkelling on the reef before the garfish incident and I also managed to enjoy some good meals in Palm Cove and Port Douglas with my friends. And as for the train trip home, I found it quite rewarding.

Normally, I would say that a 30-hour train ride with any number of children (even in a sleeper) is tantamount to torture, but because Max was injured, he was content to read and sleep.

I found just gazing out of the window as the cane farms drifted by and flicking through magazines quite therapeutic (for the first 10 hours anyway). I also had my medication to keep me busy – antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anti-viral pills to take at various times of the day, along with ear drops and eye drops.

When we needed a break from sleeper-life, we stumbled up to the dining car for a serving of lasagna and over-cooked vegetables, then staggered back for another nap. It wasn’t quite the Orient Express, but it was scenic, relaxing and the kind of experience that doesn’t come along too often.

I wonder how many times I’ll get the chance to hang out with one of my sons for a day and a half without any other distractions – to talk, read and play cards. Probably not too often, is my guess. And if nothing else, that made the holiday very special.

So ten weeks later, my hearing still isn’t great, but my face is almost back to normal. Max has his cast off and it’s holiday time again.

Will it be perfect? Who knows.

Something unexpected always crops up. I know it won’t be a rogue garfish, but there’s bound to be a hitch at some stage. I won’t mind if it’s not perfect, though. I know that just spending time together as a family will make it special and a little bit of adversity can provide unforeseen rewards – that’s what memories are made of.

Julie Fison website

Do women need muscles

After two weeks of watching the world’s best compete at the London Olympics, it’s hard not to feel inspired. But even if you don’t have aspirations for Rio, there’s a lot to be said for putting a bit of extra effort into training. This great article, by Charles Poliquin, outlines the benefits of gaining muscle – not just to look good, but for long term health. It’s definitely worth a read. See more.

Driving to Carnarvon Gorge

By Julie Fison

It seems almost wrong to have a holiday in Queensland without a beach nearby. But  head out to the towering sandstone cliffs of Carnarvon Gorge, 720 km north west of Brisbane, and you’ll see another side of the state – a little piece of Jurassic Park, an oasis of remnant rainforest and crystal clear creeks, platypuses and echidnas and some of the country’s most impressive Aboriginal rock art.

Teen alert: This is a 2000 km round trip, so pack plenty of in-car entertainment. We went with two other families with a good mix of under 12s and teens. This worked really well as teen angst/complaints didn’t dominate the holiday (in fact it rarely even came up). It also meant that on the long walks the children had company.

Day 1 Brisbane to Roma

Day 2 Roma to Carnarvon Gorge

Day 3-4 Carnarvon Gorge

Day 5-7 Carnarvon Gorge – Biloela – Agnes Water – Brisbane

READ full story here. 

Fruit & nut muesli bars

By Diane Stevens.

Here is an easy recipe that we have adapted from Bill Granger’s muesli bars.  They are a healthy alternative to sweets (i.e. no butter or refined sugar) and are ideal as an  energy boost for kids:  in their lunchboxes, for morning tea or afternoon snack, before sport or homework!

125 ml sunflower or grape seed oil 

1 cup honey

¼ cup pure maple syrup

4 cups rolled oats (untoasted)

½ cup sesame seeds

1 cup pitted dates, chopped

½ cup mixed dried fruit (I used dried cranberries, currants,sultanas)

¾ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional for decoration on top)

  • Preheat oven to 150 Celsius.  Grease a 20 cm X 30 cm lamington pan and line with baking paper.
  • Put oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan over low heat, whisk until ingredients are combined.
  • Place all dry ingredients in a large bowl and add honey mixture. Stir well ensuring all ingredients stick together loosely.
  • Transfer mixture to pan, spread evenly to edges of tray and press firmly. If desired, sprinkle an additional tablespoon of sesame seeds over prepared pan.
  • Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown
  • Allow tray to cool or store in refrigerator overnight before cutting into bars. They are ideal to freeze or will keep in an airtight container for 4-5 days.


Mummy’s boy

By Julie Fison.

Once a year, at a lunch in Brisbane, mothers of boys meet to share stories from the front line – tales of risky behavior, stinky shoes and rugby injuries. It’s an annual celebration of the special status of the mother of only boys – the lone female in the fog of testosterone that we call home. It’s a great event, but I’ve never heard any suggestion that our boys should join us. That would just be weird – wouldn’t it?

Or would it?

Schools put on father and son events, there are mother and daughter lunches and even father and daughter dinners on some family calendars – but the relationship between mothers and sons is more often mocked than encouraged. And it’s generally accepted that there’s nothing attractive or manly about a Mummy’s boy.

But, US author Kate Stone Lombardi is challenging that notion. In her new book, The Mama’s Boy Myth, Lombardi claims that our view of the relationship between mothers and sons is frozen in a long-forgotten decade and she believes it’s time we changed. Although mothers have always been warned that keeping sons close will damage their masculinity, Lombardi argues that their relationship is extremely beneficial. She points to new research that shows that it is a “boy’s mother who is the most influential when it comes to risky behavior, not only with alcohol and drugs but also in preventing both early and unprotected sex.”

This is no way lets fathers off the hook. The problems faced by underfathered boys are well documented and on this subject Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys is a treasure-trove of practical parenting advice. But Lombardi’s point is well made, that it’s not just okay for mothers and sons to retain a close relationship in adolescence and beyond, it’s essential.  The mother-son relationship is just as valuable as every other family relationship. And that’s something most mothers of boys would agree with.

The Mama’s Boy Myth is due out March 15, or you can read an essay by Kate Stone Lombardi here.

Handling difficult questions

By Diane Stevens.

It’s not often that we look to politics for lessons on parenting, but if there’s one thing that comes out of the recent leadership crisis, it is this: (and I’ll be generous here) attempts at misrepresenting the truth generally end badly.

Like politicians, parents face a constant barrage of difficult questions – many of them directly relating to our past. So, how do we handle them? What do we say when our fifteen year old asks us: “Mum, did you drink alcohol at my age” or “when did you first really kiss” or my personal favourite, “you weren’t always studious at school were you?”  For a moment we might be tongue tied as our past modus operandi flashes in front of us. Maybe we feel our credibility as a parent is on the line. We don’t want to sink in the ratings of our teen’s own private opinion poll.

So, it’s tempting to throw up a diversion or maybe we feel a lie is the best way out: “I didn’t touch a drop until my 18th birthday.”  Perhaps just ‘gilding the lily’ will work.

Here, politics provides an example. As the leadership crisis unfolded and history was rewritten for political expediency, viewers were left to wonder if there was anything true being said. Where truth is sacrificed, a loss of credibility will surely follow. As parents, I think we also risk the same thing happening in our relationship with our teens if we resort to political spin when explaining our own past behaviour.

My experience of bending the truth backfired with my attempt to remember, in a state of muddled confusion, what story I told to which teen.  I found the loss in credibility as a parent was far greater than the risk associated with revealing the truth that I was once young and took ridiculous risks.

So, I decided to take the honesty route, figuring that the tricky question moment was an invaluable opportunity (a captive audience with my teen!) to seriously discuss the pros and cons of my past risky business.

According to Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, teens 14-17 years, can be the biggest risk takers. Steinberg’s research supports the view that teens use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults.   However, he points out that the difference is that teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently particularly when their peers are involved.  (See our story on the Teenage Brain  and Rewards) Moreover, these higher levels of risk-taking among adolescents have been reported in studies of females as well as males (Gardner & Steinberg, 2005) and the fact that the gender gap in real-world risk-taking appears to be narrowing according to studies by Byrnes, Miller, & Schafer, 1999.

Research does suggest that teens do much better in life when parents engage, guide and at times offer some kernels of wisdom –‘ knowledge valued not because it comes from a parental authority but because it comes from a parent’s own struggles to learn how the world turns’ (Laurence Steinberg).  I thought by navigating these difficult questions with honesty and in the context of my own experience, it might possibly alter the outcome of my teens’ future indiscretions or, at the very least, make them stop and think about the consequences before they act.

Teaching a teen to drive

After hundreds of hours on video game consoles, many teens think they can drive before they even sit their learner’s test. So what happens when they actually get behind the wheel? Mother of five, Jo Mower, shares her experience:

With five children who love sport and a husband who works on weekends, I’m well and truly up against it on Saturday mornings – getting five kids to five different parts of Brisbane by 7.30am is no fun. So the prospect of our eldest son getting his licence is very exciting. And he’s dead keen – a good combination you would think …

Two days after he turned 16 the L plates were on, a driving lesson was already booked in anticipation of my teen passing the exam – “Mum, EVERYONE passes, it’s so easy…” I should have read the warning signs then.

The instant my son gets behind the wheel, he goes from being this calm, man of few words, to an aggressive, cocky, opinionated expert.  Maybe I exaggerate slightly, but it makes me very nervous, sitting in the passenger seat – the most nervous I have been in a very long time.

Every morning I face the question: “Can I drive?”  I don’t want to quash his enthusiasm, but do we have the time? It’s so much quicker for me to get the family to school. And do I really want him driving his siblings while he’s still learning?  But opportunities for practice are limited. He needs to log up 100 hours of driving to go for his test. I won’t let him behind the wheel when he’s tired (which is often, as with any Year 12 student), or when friends are in the car. How would I explain to a nine year old’s parents that we were late because my son crashed the car! So, I take a deep breath and let him get behind the wheel most mornings.

I thought his father would be the main instructor. Being a very competent, decisive driver himself, and coming from a family of teachers, he should be perfect. How wrong could I have been? They both come into the house after an hour of driving and go their separate ways, shoulders slumped.  A cheerful “How did it go?” from me is met with grunts from son, and shaking of head from husband.

Another father who shared his experiences between overs at the cricket one day was of the opinion that there was just too much testosterone flying around in too small a space with father and son together. “Learning to drive comes when boys are asserting their independence. It makes it very interesting.” To say the least!

I still have hopes that my husband can teach our daughter to drive when the time comes. Maybe that will be a better combination. Or maybe not … A friend has three girls – triplets. (Can you imagine the pain involved in getting in 300 hours of driving time?) He confessed there had been lots of tears shed in the car – both his own and his daughters’.

For us, things were starting to look up after my teen had notched up 30 hours. He was getting the hang of the automatic LandCruiser. It wasn’t quite the white-knuckle ride on corners and roundabouts that it had been at the beginning. I wasn’t being shot through the window or being forced into my seat with excessive breaking and accelerating.  I had a little more confidence we were going to actually stop in time at junctions. Until … we made the transition to a manual.  Only then did we realise our BIG, BIG mistake.  Starting out with the automatic first seems to have made driving a manual ten times harder.    

Driving to Ipswich, I was wondering which would fail first – would the gearbox fall out, or would we go through the tyre rubber if we squealed one more time?  At one point we were screaming at each other. I’m not sure we have ever done that before – as I said he is a man of few words. It has been very demoralizing for him going back to square one.

Yet, he’s determined to get those hundred hours and pass his test. So, we’re battling on. For all of the blood, sweat and tears, there’s a silver lining and it has a big red P on it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Never assume a teen is competent just because he looks confident. The first time my son drove he thought he could turn right on a green light. He didn’t know he had to wait for a break in the traffic – scary!

2. I talk through the planned route and conditions on the day and how they will affect driving. If it’s raining, I remind my son that it will take longer to stop. Extra bags and passengers in a small call will also add to stopping time. I also keep an eye on the speedo.

3. When I am driving and my teen is the passenger seat I explain how I handle traffic situations and why.

Good luck!

Take heart if you’re teaching your teen to drive. Even Top Gear presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was terrified when he took his daughter out for a driving lesson.

She knew that if she were to brake, I’d wail like a banshee again, so she figured it was best to keep clear of the middle pedal altogether. It was quite simply the most nerve-wracking hour of my life.” Read the full story here.

Read details on how to teach learner drivers here:

And this is another good site for defensive driving techniques:

See details of how to apply for a learner’s licence here. 

And despite the many rumours about an increase to the number of hours required by learner drivers in Queensland. There are NO plans to change the rules. This is from the Department of Transport and Main Roads:

“At present, a total of 100 supervised on-road driving hours are required to be completed in a Queensland Learner Logbook including a minimum of 10 hours of night time driving.  Any driving hours that are outside the 3 year period at the time of submitting the Learner Logbook for approval will not be accepted.

There are currently no plans to increase the required number of supervised on-road driving hours for the Queensland Learner Logbook.  Please disregard any rumours.  Any change to the number of accrued hours for the Learner Logbook requirement would be well publicised before a change was to be implemented.”

Additional information relating to the Queensland Learner Logbook is available here:

Review of ‘The Descendants’

By Sarah Cox.

With Oscar fever heating up and the stars getting ready to walk the red carpet, the world is waiting to see who will take out the Academy Awards.

A strong contender  in the categories of Best Film, Best Actor and  Best Director is the film, The Descendants, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemming and directed by Alexander Payne. Starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, it is set in Hawaii and portrays an everyday, modern family living through the throes of the teenage and midlife years. Alexandra, the 17-year-old daughter, played by Woodley, has against her will, been taken out of college to return home and visit her mother who lies in hospital in a coma following a waterskiing accident. Her workaholic, distant father, Matt King, played by Clooney, is ignorant of the fact her mother had been having an affair just prior to the accident. Left to cope emotionally with growing up on her own, Alexandra, at the outset of the film, is rebellious and attention seeking. She is caught by her father late at night underage drinking outside the college grounds.

What makes this film worth viewing is the evolving relationship Alexandra has with her father Matt put in the context of the pressure she experiences to conform with her peers. As they come to terms with the mother’s impending passing and the journey they undertake to discover who the mother’s lover is, Alexandra changes from being a rude, opinionated teenager to a daughter who allows her father to parent her again. Previously ignored by both parents who were consumed with their own lives, she assumes the typical role of the try hard teen at college. When she returns home and has to face up to the tragic news that her mother is dying, this hard shell exterior is peeled away and her vulnerability and honesty is revealed. Her relationship with her father changes to be more one of love and support in the face of the family crisis. It is this portrayal of the human frailty in family life that makes this film quietly powerful.

Alexander Payne typically portrays people with flaws in his movies who are having some crisis. He said he made this film because he wanted to make it in the beautiful setting of Hawaii. Two  anchoring points in the film he thought resonated are, when the father Matt decides to find his wife’s lover and tell him the wife is dying. Though he feels that he wants to kill the lover, out of an act of love he  informs him. Also when the wife of the lover shows up at the hospital to the dying mother’s bedside, she tells the wife her husband was too cowardly to turn up but out of an act of love she feels that didn’t seem right so she goes herself. Human goodness overpowers the dysfunction.

Whilst The Descendants is a very good film, I personally did not find George Clooney entirely convincing as the responsible Dad (he was much better as the corrupt politician in The Ides of March). I thought Woodley’s portrayal as the daughter was a fine performance. Do you agree?

For a preview of the film see

In an interview, Shailene Woodley discusses the pressure placed on teenagers by our consumer society to act grown up and beyond their years –