When we were parked alongside the creek, two concerned locals came and warned us about the possibility of flood. One also invited us to park on his property on acreage at the Promised Land outside Bellingen if we wanted somewhere to stay. As we have started letting the relationships we make on this journey determine our next moves, it was obvious to us that we were supposed to stay longer in this beautiful location and get to know the locals of “Bello”!

The Promised Land, January 2011
With such lush countryside in a picturesque setting, it's easy to see why this is called "Promised Land".

During our many trips between bridges as I ferried David upstream for his whitewater experiences, we passed locals along the road. We saw one of the more famous locals — David Helfgott — twice.

Helfgotts' property, January 2011
The Helfgotts live just down the road from where we've been staying, on an acreage property with a fire-engine-red bridge at the start of the driveway.

The first time we saw Helfgott, he was jogging along the road with a large bottle of Coke. We later discovered that he is not allowed to have any caffeine, and it’s likely that he purloined the Coke from a neighbour’s house. The second time we passed him, Helfgott was standing out the front of his driveway and gave David a generous two-thumbs-up as we drove past.

Our hosts in the Promised Land outside Bellingen were Andrew and Kate Sommerville. They have two daughters — Reyna and Hayley — and a 7yo son Alex. They run a worm farm from their property, and Andrew is a human resource consultant with HumanHand while Kate teaches at Bellingen. Soon after we were invited into their home, Kate showed our girls where the toys were kept, instantly winning their affection — obvious by the way they started talking with her.

Parking outside Sommervilles, January 2011
We parked out the back of their shed, alongside their worm farm trays.

Aisha playing with trains at the Sommerville's house, January 2011
Although they preferred emptying the dress-up bag, the girls were happy enough to play with the train tracks.

Brioni playing, January 2011
The girls were amused that all Alex's toys were kept in his bedroom and not in a "playroom" like at our house.

In the Sommerville's house, January 2011
The girls soon started playing with 7yo Alex and he enjoyed the extra attention.

Swimming in the Sommerville's pool, January 2011
The girls liked playing briefly in the pool. It rained most of the time we were at Sommervilles'.

During our stay, rain in the catchment area flooded the Bellinger River and cut off the bridge back into Bellingen. We were effectively stuck where we were, but we were having such a good time. This was also the week that Brisbane and southeast Queensland experienced devastating floods, but from all reports our property escaped the rising water of the Logan River.

During our time with the Sommervilles, we’ve discovered that we have an existing connection. Andrew is part of the Kairos prison ministry group along with David’s father Hugh, and Andrew has even stayed at the Grafton house on several occasion. We were delighted when Andrew exclaimed: “So you’re Hugh Fisher’s son?!”

David cooking at the Sommerville's, January 2011
David prepared and cooked dinner for everyone one night.

Delaney and Kate, January 2011
After wooing her persistently all day, Kate finally was able to take Delaney into her arms after dinner.

We enjoyed a lovely time at the Sommervilles’ property. They are very hospitable, inviting the girls to come into the house and play from when they woke up in the morning. Kate also offered us the use of their washing machine and dryer — a godsend!

After spending many hours talking with them, we’ve been inspired by their lives. The Sommervilles are friendly and hospitable — Kate looked after friends’ kids for several days at a time — driving into town to collect and return them. These added visitors gave Alex friends his age and allowed the mother to get other work completed. As well as volunteering at the jail, Andrew is committed to a number of men’s groups and has led many groups of youths in wilderness treks.

Playing with Rosie, January 2011
Our girls loved playing with an older girl when Rosie came over for a visit.

Alex, Kate and Delaney, January 2011
Kate was very happy to nurse Delaney for me while I was doing other things. Alex, too, enjoyed playing with a baby.

Kids in Sommervilles' pool, January 2011
Andrew called this fun activity "kid soup" (with David thrown in for added spice). On this day, Kate was looking after two extra children.

The Sommervilles have hosted several international students as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange and are expecting a girl to arrive from Germany this weekend. Their oldest daughter Reyna spent a year living in France as part of the exchange program and learned excellent French as a result.

Eating dinner with the Sommervilles, January 2011
On our last night at the Sommervilles, Kate cooked a gourmet meal for us all.

At the Sommervilles, January 2011
From Alex's perspective, our girls were "little kids", and Aisha and Brioni were disgusted to be labelled as such.

We were also inspired to see a good and Godly couple demonstrating the importance of love and relationship in regards to their adult daughter. David and I are always looking out for role models that we can direct questions to. We loved seeing how the family was enriched by the oldest daughter’s continued presence because she was still living at home. The Sommervilles have welcomed their daughter’s boyfriend into their family, and it was lovely to see how he got along so well with everyone, acting as a big brother to Reyna’s two younger siblings and learning responsibility from Andrew.

One of the highlights of our stay was when the Sommervilles’ neighbour Alan invited everyone to come kayaking down the river with him. We first met Al and Susie a couple days ago, and David wandered down to his place for a chat one morning. With a little bit of prompting, Andrew, his daughter Reyna and her boyfriend James decided to go along for the ride.

Before the kayaking, January 2011
All the players congregated in the Sommervilles' driveway. We had three kayakers and two going down the river on boogie boards.

We all drove upstream to the top bridge and then Al taught the men how to sit in the kayaks, adjust the foot pieces and tuck their skirts in.

David in the kayak, January 2011
The men wore a neoprene skirt around their torsos and hooked under the lip of the manhole to keep the water out of the kayaks.

Kayaking, January 2011
To get into the river, the men had to slide into the water off the bank.

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
The men easily slid past the point on the river where I had first gotten stuck on a log a couple days ago.

David kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
David was having such a good time on the water — heaps of fun and friends to enjoy it with.

The water was still too high to allow safe passage under one bridge, so everyone had to get out and walk around before relaunching.

Carrying the kayaks, January 2011
Al showed David how they could work together to easily carry the two kayaks over the banks and around to the bridge for the next leg of the journey downstream.

Brioni with the kayaks, January 2011
Brioni accompanied me so she got to see the fun her Daddy was having. It won't be very many more years before she'll be following David on all his adventures.

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
This was a new experience.

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
In the water and ready to paddle — great fun!

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
David was relieved and exhilarated after that entry into the water!

Andrew kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
Andrew loved being in a kayak again.

Rayna, January 2011
Reyna rode down on one of our boogie boards.

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
The party of five stayed together in the water for most of the way down.

Kayaking down the Never Never, January 2011
David and Al both tried to surf the whitewater at Broken Bridge Swimming Hole.

Allan kayaking in the Never Never, January 2011
Al wasn't afraid to take risks and capsized his kayak several times.

Al kayaking on the Never Never, January 2010
Ever since he and his wife Susie moved to the Promised Land three years ago, Allan has been kayaking down Never Never Creek when it's in flood.

James surfing at Broken Bridge Swimming Hole, January 2011
James had no trouble surfing the white, "What's the big deal?" he asked.

We have many lovely memories from our six-day stay in the Promised Land. We enjoyed accompanying Andrew on his daily morning walk — the routine one he was on when he first met us! He shared special places with us along the way, describing the changes he’s seen in the twenty years he’s lived here, and we prayed together on his special Prayer Rock.

Andrew has a thorough knowledge of the local wildlife and pointed out a striking black and gold regent bowerbird in a nearby tree, easily visible from their deck. He could identify almost any creature we spoke about or brought to him.

The Sommervilles currently have their property on the market, and a prospective buyer was booked in to view the house today, so David and I were able to lend a hand with tidying things up. Afterwards, we all headed down to the creek to cool off.

Walking in the Promised Land, January 2011
This was our last walk with the lovely family.

Calista about to go into the creek, January 2011
Calista was happy to strip to her undies and go for a swim in the cool water.

Lauren and Delaney, January 2011
Delaney always likes playing in the water, which inevitably means that I get wet too.

Alex playing with Aisha, January 2011
Alex doesn't really like to swim in the creek, but he was happy to clown about with the girls as an appreciative audience.

It was sad to say good-bye this afternoon — Aisha cried — but we’ve been invited to visit another farm outside Dorrigo. Before we left Bellingen, however, we stopped by the high school which has been the location for Camp Creative — a creative arts summer school for all ages. Tonight a concert was being held in the school hall, but we mainly visited to taste some of the international foods on offer.

David and our girls at Bellingen High School, January 2011
The first meal David bought was a vegetarian burrito very much like the ones he likes to cook!

Delaney eating an ice cream, January 2011
The girls took turns sharing their ice cream cones with Delaney. (Dell doesn't like chocolate and so wouldn't lick my cone!)

David and our girls at Bellingen High School, January 2011
We really felt like locals when we heard our name being called from the crowd. Andrew had come to the high school for the event too.

We’re looking forward to the next leg of our trip along the Waterfall Way through Dorrigo, Armidale (where I was born) and to Tamworth. After such an uplifting experience in Bellingen, we’re excited about the people we’ll meet in the future!