26 September-5 October: Concluding our ZoneRV travels with a bang!

Author: Mr A

Location: Woodford, Moreton Bay Shire, and then Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Well, what a mixture of emotions, our last week as proud owners of our Zone RV caravan. We were going to drop it off in a few days, and decided to spend our last two nights on a showground on the edge of the small town of Woodford. Surrounded by national parks, we had a few great outings where birdlife was once again captured by Mrs A’s eagle eyes (get the pun?) and her very long lens.

A couple of short walks showcased to us, for the last time, what nature has to offer in this part of the world. Dense forest with soaring trees, and the ever present calls of birdlife, both the familiar and the not so much.

Setting off on a hike
Kookaburra on the showground
An Eastern Yellow Robin eyes us curiously on a walk in D’Aguilar National Park
A Laughing Kookaburra flies into a thick vine, swinging back and forth in the sub-tropical forest
A tiny Silvereye flits through the undergrowth
A Striated Thornbill in the woodland
The wet weather plays havoc with one’s feathers
A tuneful Pied Currawong flies in
A Striated Thornbill collecting seeds on the casuarina tree
A Grey Fantail sings it’s melodious song from a nearby tree
Magnificent views across to the Glass House Mountains so named by Captain James Cook as they reminded him of the glass kilns of 1770s Yorkshire.

We had another potter around nearby Lake Somerset, a reservoir we found is home to a family of Whistling Kites.

Mother-Whistling Kite flies by
She lands on a dead tree in the water eyeing us cautiously
Two tiny chicks peer over the edge of the giant nest, awaiting their next feed
A flock of Maned Ducks flies off

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Then, with very mixed feelings, we packed up camp for the very last time, and headed down to Brisbane and our friends Phil and Libby who has so kindly invited us to stay with them while we emptied out our caravan and cleaned it ready to go to its next owners. Purely by chance, friends from my working life lived ten minutes up the road from them, so a glass of Prosecco at a local hotel with a view was called for, then off to their place for dinner.

Bubbles and Thai food with friends…and the odd gecko!

It was so great to see these guys, made even more poignant by wondering when and where we would next share a glass? I guess there will be a lot of that over the next few months as we prepare for our exit from Australia at the end of January next year.

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We settled into a week with our kind friends Libby and Phil, spending several days sorting out our caravan and boxing up all of its contents ready to ship back to Sydney. It was quite amazing how much we had crammed into the car and van!

Where did all of this stuff go? Basically the contents of a bed sit displayed here

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But it wasn’t all work, there were some very lovely evenings of fine food and wine, and many many laughs. Libby and Phil had asked our friends to join them and a couple of their friends, Daryl and Nat, for a Saturday night barbecue. Well that was a blast, as you can tell!

Phil and Libby’s house is designed for entertaining and they are superb hosts

I was self appointed barman and DJ, what could possibly go wrong?

Daryl’s Boxer dog, Dusty, is still as lovely as ever. We first met him in 2018.

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The day came when we had to drop off our caravan, an hour’s drive up the coast via the very busy Sunshine Coast motorway. Half way there an almighty explosion shocked both Catherine and I. We had had a spectacular blow out on our rear car tyre. I fought to control the rig, and managed to get us pulled over onto a very narrow bit of hard shoulder, while road trains hammered past centimetres from our window, rocking our heavy truck like a snowflake.

I quickly called roadside assistance, then climbed out of the passenger door, there was no way I could get out the driver’s side. Roadside assistance arrived in a few minutes, and we were towed off, it would have been too dangerous (and illegal) to try and change a tyre where we were.

Finishing our Zone travels with a bang!

He dropped us around the corner, where another RACQ Special Incident truck happened to be sitting. After I’d woke up the driver (yup!) he gave us a hand. We would have done it on our own, but our friends were waiting for us to handover the van and it makes it so much quicker with help.

So, two hours late, we rolled up to our drop off point, and said goodbye to what has been our Australian home on wheels for four years. The adventures it has taken us on, in so much comfort. But we need to look forward now to the next phase of our life, making a new home in the UK.

Farewelling our Zone home for the last time. It gets a new stone guard, solar panels, tyres and lithium batteries before it heads of on adventures new.

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The new few days passed in a blur, with tyres getting fixed, and car batteries, our contents being picked up, a hospital visit for Catherine and again some lovely evenings with Phil and Libby.

Phil was master cook one night treating us to this incredible roast cooked on their fire pit. What a delicious feed, and a night we will always remember as being so quintessentially Australian. A fiery sun setting over the eucalypt forest that forms a backdrop to their garden. White cockatoos screeching at apparently nothing in particular, lorikeets darting around their bird feeder. The smell of the fire, the chink of a glass, a shared belly laugh as day turns to night in between the blinks of an eye closed against the smoke.

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flies in for a snack from the garden
A Double-barred Finch spies seed on the bird table
A colourful Rainbow Lorikeet joins its flock for a meal
A fine campfire tended by Phil the chef, makes a delicious roast dinner
Less delicious is the orange jelly Mrs A got after her day surgery on her airway

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It was a sad goodbye as we started our journey back to Sydney, the car packed to the roof. Tassie was so displeased at being back on the road and confined she sat with her back to us for the first hour!. She had made herself so at home at Libby and Phil’s. Just look at this old poser.

Princess Tassie thought she had a new Queensland pad for a while there

So goodbye Queensland and our friends there, the people who have made this leg of our trip so memorable. Thank you for your friendship, your kindness and your words of wisdom as we garble with the transition to a new life.

Sad to say goodbye, with strong hopes we will meet again

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PS We will continue to share our travels and experiences as we return to Sydney and make the transition to our new life in Europe.

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15-18 September: Preparing to sell our beloved Zone RV caravan – another migration milestone coming up

Author: Mr A

Location: Diddillibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

As we prepare to sell our lovely luxury apartment on wheels, the Zone RV caravan, a service was required. Off down the coast we went, saying goodbye (for now) to Noosa and the friends who live there. We had booked a couple of nights at a new caravan park on the Sunshine coast, at somewhere fairly challenging to pronounce called Diddillilbah, which we soon morphed into Diddely-squat, which was a bit unfair as it was quite a decent site with large pitches and a nice restaurant in the park itself. But not really our cup of tea, purely functional, we prefer being out in the bush more. But our caravan service was scheduled just round the corner with the marvellous Suncoast Caravan Service. Our friends who used to work at our caravan manufacturer, Zone RV, both work there now. The power couple of the Sunshine Coast Caravan Industry, Marsha and Rhys Gehrke.

Its a serious business getting a van serviced 🙂

Our home was handed our home over to these capable hands, and we spent the day based at our caravan site in our Oztent Screen-house (wonderful bit of kit!). Tassie is not a fan though, I think she senses we want her to settle in there so with perfect feline logic does the opposite. Instead she based herself on her sheep’s wool futon in the car with the windows open! We took it in turns to head out for bike rides and food.

We picked our van up that night, with new bearings and other stuff I have no idea of the function of, all fixed up and ready for a lucky owner to snap up when it is advertised.

Our luxury ‘Surry Hills apartment’ on wheels

The caravan park was a good base to cycle from, with a mostly traffic free route along the Maroochy River.

Boats on the Maroochy River
Maroochy River
Ancestors (Cash & Davis, 2016) – a tribute to local timber workers, when the river was a conduit for the industry intertwined with a recognition of the local Aboriginal history.
Chambers Island – a conservation reserve linked to the land by a footbridge
Walking over to Chambers Island – and no I’m not scratching my bottom!
They like their brightly coloured boats on this river!

The next morning we had a catch up with friends we knew from Sydney who had moved up to the Sunnshine Coast a few years ago (Peter and Valerie). Always a pleasure with these guys, and what a breakfast spot! It was interesting to hear about how they had gone about integrating into a new community, something we are working out how we will do when we move.

Concluding a fine breakfast at Mykies by the Bay

That night was another catch up with Rhys and Marsha and their family. That was a cracking dinner at the campsite restaurant I have to say. Rhys and Marsha are going to be selling our van for us (all enquires to Marsha please via: Marsha.gehrke AT gmail.com). I just didn’t think there was much point towing a van that was built on the Sunny Coast, is registered there as well, and has a specialist like Rhys who knows this brand inside out on hand to do any upgrades a customer might like. Whereas Sydney is still locked down, so a harder environment to sell it in. So let’s see how it goes. It means we will be emptying and cleaning the van at our friends’ house up here next week, then shipping the contents back to Sydney.

Of course no plan will necessarily survive contact with the enemy, in this case lockdowns, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that the border with NSW just holds the virus back another two weeks. Catherine has an important medical procedure at a Brisbane hospital on the 5th of October, which is likely to be cancelled should lockdowns come.

Talking about lockdowns, and lockouts in the case of people trying to return home across Australian state or international borders, there’s something I feel very strongly about I want to air to anyone who is willing to read on while I mount my soap box.

I am appalled at the lack of compassion being shown to Australian citizens who are trying get permission to return to their home state, when celebrities and the well heeled seem to be able to come and go as they please. Every week I read of another case where someone has been denied permission to go home, and it’s always the poor and powerless, it would seem. This story documents two contrasting examples of how are travel rules are being so differently applied, and turned my stomach over once again.

This is an Australia that I am increasingly not recognising as the one I fell in love with and pledged my citizenship vows to. The country that was proud to say they looked after each other, with a hearty dose of egalitarian mateship. Yet around our friends I see nothing but kindness and compassion for others, and usually amongst those we meet around the campsites. So is it just some of our politicians, driven by what they think will make them popular amongst their voters on the next morning’s news cycle, who give so little weight to those in need? Or is the lack of humanity within our the leadership of our institutions who have to implement their policies, and who seem to encourage so little discretionary compassion from their staff? I don’t know. But it doesn’t make me proud to be Australian when I read these tales of suffering, and then read about another celebrity given an apparent free pass to roam at will. And don’t get me started on our treatment of refugees! Not much evidence of compassion there either.

Soapbox dismounted, but if you feel as I do, why not let your MP know (you can find out who and how best to contact them, here), if you are an Australian citizen. I have regularly communicated with our Federal member, and her office has encouraged me to keep feedback coming. Mind you, she is an independent! And a compassionate voice in our parliament.

If we just keep quiet, our political leaders will think they have a free pass.

Zali Steggall: Federal Member for Warringah (our home base on the Northern Beaches of Sydney)

Thank you for reading. Soapbox dismounted.

6-8 September: A great start to the week: birding, dolphin watching and deep blue skies.

Author: Mr A

Location: Tin Can Bay, the Fraser Coast, Queensland

We have had a great couple of days in an out of the way little coastal settlement with the unique name of Tin Can Bay, located on the Fraser Coast a few hundred kilometres north of the state’s capital Brisbane.

Unfortunately the origin of the town’s name seems to be unclear, but likely a corruption of what the traditional owners called things that grew there (tin-kung – a coastal vine). For us it is has a been a lovely quiet spot with walks along the beautiful coast, and of course a few birding opportunities in this area which is part of a RAMSAR wetland . We’ve walked both days following the Tin Can Bay Foreshore Bird Walk, with detailed signage following nearly ten kilometres of unspoilt coastline lined with paperbark and gum trees, that went right down to the edge of the crystal clear waters of the Great Sandy Strait.

A Sacred Kingfisher on the marina alongside Griffin and Schnapper Creeks
Coastgard boats along the creek side marina
Looking up the river
Mangroves at low tide

This would be a great place to get the kayak out, as finally we are finally south of the area where crocs are a hazard. Just swap that disappearing water hazard though for sharks stingers and stonefish (nasty) which are all still there waiting for the unsuspecting tourist, but in a kayak, you’re good. Unfortunately the wind was up and it was walking only.

Many lovely views framed by mangroves
A brief pause along the pathway
More lovely views
Stripes on the sand as the tide gently goes out
A female Scarlet Myzomela
Brown Honeyeater on a Grevillea
You can just see this Brown Honeyeater’s tongue as it stretches towards the flower
Rainbow Bee-eaters hunting for insects along the coast
A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo nesting in a tree hollow
A Little Corella nesting in another hollow

It was hard walking along this pristine coast, with blue skies and mid-twenties temperatures, to not think how much we will miss places like this when we move back to the UK early next year. But on the other hand, when I Googled the history of Tin Can Bay, there’s almost nothing, very different to what our future holds in the northern hemisphere. The original inhabitants of this Fraser Coast area have lived in it for thousands of years, and I’d love to know more about their lives, but sadly it’s still almost completely inaccessible to us white fellahs, and I really don’t want to read about another set of massacres, because that’s what there was.

One pretty unique attraction that Tin Can Bay has that it’s one of the few areas where wild dolphins come into to the beach to be hand fed.

I wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea of humanising wild creatures like this, and sure enough one Google search turns up this report from Action For Dolphins that claims (from a review of the research on the topic) that it leads to changes in behaviour where the dolphins become more aggressive towards other dolphins and humans, also reducing their maternal care time (which may account for the high death rate at the Money Mia feeding site we have been to in Western Australia?), and a number of other issues.

But I’m pretty sure there are also contrary points of view, with records of human-dolphin interactions in these parts for thousands of years. We decided to go along and be educated.

A humpback river dolphin swims in to see us
Smile for the camera! These teeth are made for fish eating
Mother and daughter swim in to join in the session

While these dolphins are fed small amounts of fish each morning (3kg per animal), this is a small fraction of the 15kg they need to consume daily and ensures they are not totally reliant on humans to survive. We gave them two small fish each.

The dolphins are so gentle, it is hard to believe they are wild
To see the video of the feeding click here

It’s my birthday this week, the sun is shrinking, and I am content as I gaze at this beautiful landscape, and enjoy the lack of crowds and the fresh air.

Motto for the week – enjoy the moment 🙂

Turning dreams into memories: how life got even better in my 60s!

CONTENT WARNING: THIS IS NOT STRICTLY A TRAVEL BLOG POST!

Author: Mr A

Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia

I’m 65 today, and that’s a bit of a milestone I guess. Certainly enough of one for me to reflect back and take stock of the first half of my sixties. If you’re interested in our story of how we have spent those years, the events that drove us, the key decisions we made, and the risks we took, read on. I hope there’s something in our story that resonates with you, or sparks a thought or two about your own life choices.

I glanced at my Facebook Memories a few day ago, and as someone who tends to look forwards rather than backwards, that was unusual, but yes it’s a big birthday. Here’s what I saw “On this day…” and the story that goes with those memories.

Six years ago, in 2015, in the last year of my fifties, I see that we were at our home in Curl Curl, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and I clearly remember wondering what the rest of our lives looked like. I had been made redundant earlier that year, from an organisation that, at least in Australia, I felt had become toxic for me. So it was a relief to find myself cast adrift out of the blue, but it also posed a lot of questions for us. Catherine was still working and not really enjoying it, but we didn’t have enough in our pensions to support both of us. It wasn’t really working for either of us. I didn’t have my best friend with me in the day to enjoy this new found discretionary time with, and she would come home envious of any fun things I had done.

Why would you leave this to live in a caravan?

I fast forward a year and five years ago I see we were in Singapore with old school friends who were on their way to Australia with us to celebrate my 60th. Catherine and I had just returned from a six week trip through France and Germany in a rented motorhome and agreed we had just had one of the best holidays ever. Yes it was pretty scary for me driving a big vehicle for the first time, with eyesight thats not the best, but we got through that with just a few hairy moments, and we dreamed of how we could do more of this type of travel. We had barely scratched the surface of Europe, but that motorhome rental had been so expensive, how could we ever afford it again? My mind was whirring.

Hiking in the Pyrenees
Some of our travels through the French Alps and Provence
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France

One other thought we took away from this trip though was how much we had loved having a toilet and shower to call our own. At this point we had never had that luxury on our Australian camping trips, heading off with a tent and a smile for many years, then finally🙈moving on to a camper trailer. So we started to research upgrading to a caravan. Our financial planner said yes, we could afford it. We had been pretty sensible with commission from a big sale I had made a few years ago. No fancy sports cars or expensive holidays, and our share portfolio had also kept growing, thanks to a conservative investment strategy. We were doing OK, but still one of us was going to need to work.

So then, four years ago, we are the other side of Australia in Perth. Catherine had applied for extended leave, been refused, so we had bitten the bullet and she had resigned. We were both free of employment, and together. Off we headed for our first multi-month trip, having found a way to fund both of us not working. We had taken the plunge and rented our house out in Sydney, furnished.

We were now committed nomads, and had also just flown Princess Tassie-the-adventure-cat out to join us. Yes, we could now make our trips purrr-fect 🙂 It was a hard decision to let strangers into our beloved home, but it was the only way we could see of realising our dream to explore this country together, the three of us.

The route that brought us to this point in 2017
The Adventure-Cat flies 3,290km from Sydney to join us

Then three years ago I see we were in Noosa, sitting on the back of a friend’s boat and talking about possibly making Noosa our Australian home base and cashing out of Sydney. We had done a couple of long laps around Australia, spending a lot of time in the outback, and knew by then that moving back into Sydney didn’t excite us, and we hadn’t seen anywhere we liked more than Noosa. We had also been back to our house and seen the damage to our furniture (a low point) and decided to put everything into storage, and rent unfurnished. Noosa was fabulous. But was it right for us? We weren’t really sure.

Wonderful times with friends in Noosa

Two years ago I see that we were in Normandy, France, viewing the Bayeux Tapestry and travelling in our very own little motorhome! We had done the sums and could see that if we used it over multiple annual trips, then financially it made sense. The share market had continued to do well, and our financial planner was not overjoyed but gave us the thumbs up, with the proviso that after a couple of years we needed to decide where our life and vehicles were going to be based and consolidate. We had already travelled through ten countries over several months and were hooked on Europe, wondering how we could get to spend more time exploring this fascinating region and all it has to offer. OK, well mainly its wine! We were starting to wonder if anywhere in Australia held enough for us? Could we live in Provence? Or Italy? Or Slovenia? We were beginning to think that Europe beckoned.

Exploring Brittany and Normandy in France

Last year at this time I see we were in Devon in the UK, being able to travel once again after three months of a lockdown that was to change our lives. We were cat sitting for friends,  and starting to articulate for the first time an idea of possibly making England our home once again. We had watched spring and summer come and go in a beautiful English village, and now autumn was knocking on the door with its distinctive smells and colours. We had seen weeks of blue skies through the glorious spring weather, survived two named storms stuck in our tiny motorhome on a cliff top in Wales in mid summer. Then watched my sister and brother in law have their new tent ripped to shreds by another named storm in August. We had seen the best and worst of what England’s unpredictable climate can throw at you. And yet, we still had fallen back in love with her. We hadn’t seen our families a great deal because of the travel restrictions, but just being on the same time zone made a huge difference to our relationships.

Adventures in Devon
Back to the loving arms of our family

Like so many people, we had always taken our international travel for granted, as long as we could afford to buy an airfare. But we saw Australia not only limiting those who wanted to return home, but also refusing to allow its citizens to leave, in case when they came back they would bring COVID-19 with them. The world had tilted. We could not guarantee that we could come and go as we pleased in the future. It was time to make a decision. The foot in both hemispheres phase had to come to an end.

Today, as I reflect back on these memories of the last six years and the life we have led, I am very happy. that we took the path we did. Yes, we have missed our friends with our nomadic existence, but have kept in touch with as many of them as our often remote locations allowed. Our travels have enabled us to see some extraordinary things. We have learnt so much, and I think, grown enormously with the experience.

What did this reflection on the last five years drive home for me? When my late father used to say to me “Memories are better than dreams son”, I didn’t know what he really meant. But four years ago when we started this blog, we chose to use that phrase as our tagline, because we realised the truth in what he had said. It is great to dream, but unless you convert those dreams to memories, they remain just dreams. There’s always a reason to not make those dreams happen. We could have stayed working longer to accumulate more money, and just kept dreaming of more travel. Thats what our accountant at the time advised us to do. The “you can never have enough” principal. I always told my daughters I’d own a Porsche, and we turned our back on that approach. We could have listened to friends who said “renters are going to trash your beautiful home”, and yes the first lot did. But it’s only stuff. Or to the many people who said we were crazy not to come back into our house last October when we returned to Australia. Instead we have continued the adventure while largely avoiding big towns and cities which were always going to be hotspots for the virus, and taken the roads less travelled. We have been lucky that the share market has continued to rise through the pandemic, and I’m not sure I will ever understand that. I know going back in October to the gorgeous house and garden we had left is going to be hard, but that’s the choice we made.

It certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing when you commit to living without a permanent home to retreat to when things get tough. Falling ill with food poisoning for instance, makes you appreciate the value of connected plumbing! Throw a pandemic into the mix and things have got pretty scary sometimes. To be given an hour’s notice in England that caravans parks were closing as part of a lockdown, and we had nowhere else to go. That was stressful indeed. We were offered a rental, and were told we would be OK there for the duration, but then a few weeks later told we had one working day to find a new place to live.

But without that adversity we wouldn’t have found our little haven in Somerset where we fell back in love with England. Remote travel in Australia this year has also had its moments; like breaking down in one of the most remote locations at the centre of three deserts. Sometimes we have looked forward to a less exciting life!

Being carted off the Birdsville Track after a bolt on our water tanks sheered off!

But we wouldn’t change a single big decision we have made. We feel we have taken advantage of the situation we found ourselves in, where work opportunities here in Australia have been so rewarding for both of us. I certainly took some risks, moving out of my comfort zone in the human resource consulting business to a whole new field of sales. I suffered from imposter syndrome most of that time, but somehow managed still do OK. Without Catherine’s belief in me, that would never have happened. Spending 24×7 with me in a confined space of a caravan or a motorhome for most of the last four years, must have been an absolute delight (cough) for her, but somehow it has worked, and that trademark smile of hers has rarely been absent. Thank you Mrs A for making these the best years of my life (so far!). I know the next five are going to be exciting in a totally different way.

Bring it on!

A 65th birthday morning paddle on the Noosa River in Queensland

28 August-3 September: Dashing down the north Queensland coast!

Author: Mr A

Locations: Innisfail, Ingham, Townsville, Bowen, Glendale, Claireview, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia!!

We’ve covered a lot of ground (for us) over the last five days, only staying one night at each place, which makes it tiring for all, but especially Tassie who doesn’t get her usual 17 hours deep sleep in per day. Gee can that cat sleep! But we had a few bookends of dates that were fixed, so not much flexibility unfortunately.

After leaving the Atherton Tablelands, it was a winding road dropping down to the coast, plenty of warm brakes, to the small river side town of Innisfail. We had arranged to meet up with the editor of the Freemason NSW and ACT magazine that I’ve written a couple of articles for, and Catherine has provided the all important visual images. No I’m not a mason, but a good friend is, and had asked if we could write something about our travels for them. We did and it must have gone down OK as they asked for another, which is being published shortly. I’ve really enjoyed writing for them, just delightful people, and made it very easy to work with. We have seen these people give so much back into their community through this organisation.

A cup of tea in a local Innisfail cafe

Our destination for the night was once again the town of Ingham, home of the TYTO Wetlands, which will visited for the fourth time! Just an amazing diversity of birdlife here and a credit to the individuals who provided the leadership to establish it. We read an account of one of of these, John Young, who recently went back to see how it had developed. What a justifiable sense of pride he had for his role in creating what has become a huge draw card for this lovely little town. Catherine managed to catch some great photos, as usual 🙂

Our set up beside the wetlands
An Agile Wallaby watches us from across a lake
Spring is in the air with birds pairing up, like these Spoonbills
Australasian Grebe – not a chick as it looks, but a non-breeding adult
The water lilies are blooming
Forest Kingfisher
Bower’s Shrikethrush
A Green Pygmy-Goose
Brown-backed Honeyeater building a nest over one of the lakes
A Brown-backed Honeyeater
The Crimson Finches were munching on seeds in the grass
Mistletoebird (female) looking rather wet in the drizzle
Broad-billed Flycatcher

It was then on down to Townsville the next morning, as I had an appointment with an Ophthalmologist for my biannual battery of eye tests. They were measuring to see whether the recent pressure spike I experienced had done any damage to my field of view. I am still waiting for a comparison to my previous checks from my doctor in Sydney, but at least my pressures are back down thanks to the double dose of eye drops. I can only implore again to anyone reading this in middle age, especially if there is a history of glaucoma in the family, to get your pressures checked regularly. Sight can deteriorate so quickly. Mine did.

Then the following morning it was off down the coast again to a bush camp just inland from Bowen. We had stayed here on the way up, and quick wander around the property once again rewarded with a few bird sightings. The owner is renowned for her lovely damper, cooked over the fire, but torrential rain knocked that on the head! So once again it was off in the morning for another big day in the saddle driving south. Queensland is big, really big.

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Around 1,100km (nearly 700 miles) driven in 7 days

Another bush camp was our stop the following night, just north of Clairview. We like these places, not too busy, space to wander around, and a bonus here was the owner was cooking lamb shanks that night. Yum…not a meal we would tackle in the caravan, so something different for us.

Red-winged Parrot
Little Friarbird hunting for caterpillars in a gum tree
Little Friarbirds

We made it down to just north of Rockhampton, staying at yet another bush camp run by the most delightful lady (Robyn) who insists on laying on snacks in her “girl cave” for all the campers. She said she just enjoys meeting her campers and hearing their stories. A short walk around the property also gave Catherine a few sightings. I tried with my binoculars and spotting scope but too quick for me. The scope is great for more stationery habits like on wetland. Flitting around in dense woodland, not so much.

A fine view from our campsite
A Laughing Kookaburra and a couple of female Red-backed Fairywrens
Big skies from the top of the hill

Once again we were on the road early, as we had a date with a fridge repairer, the super helpful Clint from Chiltech. We had been unable to get the temperature down sufficiently, but a ten minute clean of our condenser with his compressor was all he thought it would take to fix it. And he was right. Clint’s the man if you in his area just north of Rockhampton, and no six gun required!

Blasting the dust particles off the condenser

A short trip into Rockhampton city centre to one of our least favourite campsites was next, adjacent to a busy main road with dated facilities, but it is within walking distance of what we rated last time we came as our best dining experience in regional Australia. Trufusion delivered again, preceded by excellent haircuts from Katie Lauren.

Pre-dinner Margaritas went down a treat

It feels so special to go out to dinner somewhere nice, and especially so given how much of the country is in lockdown. We know we have been very fortunate travelling in areas that have not been affected by lockdowns. Next month we are going to back in Sydney, and then all that ends!

19-22 August: A crossroads in our lives – and we have taken the path to England

Author: Mr A

Location: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

As some of you may know, we have taken what for us is the momentous decision to move back to the UK, leaving behind a country we both fell in love with over twenty years go.

Catherine fresh off the plane in Sydney - day 1 in Australia

Catherine was 25 when she first stepped off a plane with a one way ticket and a backpack, most of her adult life has been spent here, and for me its been all of my forties, fifties and half of my sixties! We met here, we married here, it’s where our careers were made. We also forged what we know will be life long friendships, that the tyranny of distance will now not win against.

Our decision has caught many of our friends by surprise, even though we have made no secret of considering the option seriously for over a year now.

I guess it’s difficult for many to understand why we would want to leave such a country so rich in the many of the things we love. The wide open spaces, the diversity of wildlife, favourable weather and the outdoor life. So this blog is going to be an attempt to explain that decision in a little more detail, for those that are interested.

We have spent the last few years taking longer and longer trips back to the UK and Europe. The drawcard has been twofold; to see our respective immediate families (they are all in the UK, bar one…Catherine’s dad in New Zealand), and to visit mainland Europe. It was becoming increasingly difficult to say goodbye to them.

The clincher came when we were locked down in England last year, renting a small cottage in a little village in the south west. Pulling on our hiking boots almost every day, or setting off on our bikes to explore the local countryside, it was one of the happiest times we have ever spent. We both love the history, the ever changing landscape through the seasons, and yes, the variety of that famous British weather that is the topic of so much conversation 🙂

We fell back in love with the British countryside

Even though we couldn’t see our family that much because of travel restrictions, we found being on the same time zone made a huge difference.

We also have had several incredible trips to Europe over the last few years. A six week taster in a motorhome through France and Germany, then the following year a longer exploration of ten countries over many months. We fell in love with the food and wines of France and Italy , the mountains and lakes of Austria and Slovenia, the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees and the Alps. It was just a feast of the senses for us, and we are greedy for more.

We also are missing having a home base we can just come back to when we need or desire. We have been renting our house out for four years to help fund our nomadic wanderings, which has worked really well, but we have missed being physically part of a community. The opportunity to cash out of Sydney’s property market presented itself, and last week we sold our house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We managed to get agreement to a long settlement to the end of January, so now have a few months to prepare for the big move .

Despite being in need of a cosmetic upgrade our house sold in 3 days, breaking the street record!

Not only do we have all the normal things to do, like selling what we don’t want or can’t ship (caravan and car the big ones!), but we have some extra hurdles to jump because of the pandemic. For instance, Australia has a very tight policy on international travel, and we need to get travel exemption approval to leave the country. There are specific categories recognised as “compelling reasons” to travel, but migration isn’t one of them. However, we have heard of people who have migrated and gained the exemption. It all seems a very opaque approval process, with celebrities, sports stars, and the uber rich appearing to come and go at will.

We have just had to pay a chunk of sterling for our furnished accomodation to see us through the first few months in England before our container will arrive and while we are house hunting, so our Department of Home Affairs had better let us leave now, as we’re pretty committed. Hopefully by the time we are allowed to put our application in (early December) things will have eased up with vaccination rates much higher.

Next there are the all important flights to book, not just for us but for Tassie. We had always thought we wouldn’t put her through what will no doubt be a stressful time for her, but are now trying to balance that against our own needs. Tassie is a very adaptable cat, moving around so much with us over the last few years has hopefully trained her to manage travel and change, so we hope that stands her in good stead to cope with the journey. We know we can offer her the best home once we get through this phase.

Princess Tassie the adventure cat

So that is our plan and rationale for the move. It has been an interesting couple of weeks to say the least, everything has happened so quickly. But in between all of that we managed to have a lovely couple of nights out in Cairns. We have a friend who now lives in Provence, France, who suggested we pop in to see her friend, the multi talented Becky. Locals always know the best places to eat, and Becky was no exception. The Thai cafe she took us to had some of the best food we’ve had on this trip! We even followed dinner with our first posh bar this year and cocktails.

Delicious authentic Thai dinner

Then right next to our campsite was a fab Italian restaurant, again one of the dining highlights of the year. Joining us was the lovely Claire (who I forgot to take a photo of!) with her new baby Elizabeth. We met her in quarantine in Darwin, when she was on the same “cell block” as us at Howard Springs. We ended up forging a relationship in those sometimes challenging circumstances, as you do.

Cuddles with baby Elizabeth who watches mum carefully

A couple of trips in and around Cairns also saw us having a wander around the Botanic Gardens and then to a hydro electric scheme on the Barron River.

Barron Gorge

A trip into the city also rewarded us with a market full of exotic tropical fruits. Purchases were made of new to us ones like black sapote (tastes like chocolate mousse) and abiu (caramel flan like taste), then our old favourite the custard apple (and yes it does).

A shopping trip into Cairns took us to Rusty’s Market for fresh produce
The Cairns Botanic Gardens were a highlight
Beautiful gardens

But mostly our heads have been buried in thoughts of what the next few months will bring. I’m sure it won’t all go smoothly, and there may well be those moments in our future when we look at each other and wonder about our chosen path.

We will miss our friends here a great deal, and we know that and have to accept it. We will miss wandering around in remote bush wondering “when was the last time someone trod on this piece of Country?”. We will miss the unique sounds, smells and colours of the outback.

I don’t think Australia’s essence has ever been captured better than by the second verse of Dorothea Maceller’s poem “A Sunburnt Country”.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror —
The wide brown land for me!

Interestingly, she wrote this while living in England, and was terribly homesick. Perhaps there’s something genetic that brings us back to the comfort of our roots? I just know we both feel its time to make England our home again.

9-14 August: The Daintree “Rainforest” lives up to its name

Author: Mr A

Location: Daintree Village, Far North Queensland, Australia

I’m going to suggest something different for this blog, especially if you’re locked down somewhere, and armchair travel is all you have available right now. It will be a more immersive sensory experience if you listen to the sounds of the Daintree rainforest while you read this (just need a Spotify account).

And yes, it really does sound like this, and we feel like we are in a David Attenborough documentary. He called it “a rainforest quite unlike any other in the world”. From a total of 19 primitive flowering plants found in the world, 12 of them you can find here, the highest concentration of these plants worldwide. It also rains a lot here. We are in the “dry season” and it has rained for part of every day. In the wet, it can get up to 9 metres a year! In terms of size, this forest is just over 12,000 square kilometres – so that’s a bit bigger than a smallish country like Jamaica or the Lebanon. It has been a world heritage listed site for over 30 years, and home to the Kuku Yalanji people for thousands. We acknowledge their custodianship of this special place, and regret the decimation caused to them and their culture by the British and European settlement of their Country.

A lush and serene tidal ecosystem
The top layer is freshwater, with saltwater beneath. Every log looks like a crocodile…they call it a logodile

This is one of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world (or the oldest depending which source you read!) – with around 50-100 million years of uninterrupted evolution to create the incredible biodiversity we are seeing here. The species score (according to that World Heritage listing) is over 3,000 for plants, 107 different mammals, 368 birds species, 113 different reptiles and 51 amphibians! In each of those categories a significant proportion are only found here. Human impact on the area has been refreshingly small. Massive vistas of steep, thickly forested ranges show almost no sign of habitation. However, human induced climate change is predicated to change it forever. Come when you can. If you have grand children, it will be different here for them in the future.

Picturesque river – no two days are the same
Sunset over the Daintree River

We feel privileged to be able to experience this area for a second time. We came here three years ago, and remembered doing a great tour down the Daintree River with a brilliant guide. Who other should be standing on his boat when we fist arrived and went down to the wharf? None other than that same guy – Alex from Daintree River Wild Watch. We booked for the early tour the next morning.

I was awake even earlier listening to the rain hammering down and wondering about how “dry” is a relative concept in the Wet Tropics, but our tour went ahead and the rain paused (mostly) while we spent a couple of magical hours spotting some of those diverse species. The cameras were out, and eyes peeled, and Alex just has an amazing eye for where to spot these often superbly camouflaged creatures. However, Eagle Eye Catherine was usual on great form and bagged a couple of sightings. Here’s a selection of those photos for your viewing pleasure.

A calm morning on the river
A Little Kingfisher – the second smallest kingfisher in the world (the African Dwarf Kingfisher is slightly smaller)
A majestic Brahminy Kite watches from the top of a tree alongside the river. These are sometimes known as Red-backed Sea-eagles, as they are generally found on coastal wetlands.
A pair of Radjah Shelducks bravely at the water’s edge. All birds will make a nice snack for one of the local Saltwater Crocodiles
Three of the eight Green Pygmy-Geese we saw swimming up and down the river. They have wonderfully patterned feathers and are only found in tropical freshwater wetlands in Northern Australia. A male (centre) and two females.
A Striated Heron flies across the still waters
A Little Black Cormorant – these have green eyes. While those feet look awkward on the branch, they can really propel them when catching fish under water.
This tiny bird is a Large-billed Gerygone and this is its nest. It constructs its nest on a flimsy vine to discourage unwanted visitors (like snakes) and disguised to resemble flood debris.
We never tire of seeing the stunning Australasian Darters – these are the spear fishers of the bird world – piercing fish underwater with their beaks.
After a good session spear-fishing it is important to dry the wings
A Little Egret with a feathery beak problem
One of many Rainbow Bee-eaters along the river catching insects
A pair of Papuan Frogmouths roosting in a tree along the river. The male is the darker grey colours on the right, while the female is browner.
A male Shining Flycatcher – a deep metallic blue colour
Not the best photo, but you can see the inside of the male Shining Flycatcher’s mouth is bright orange
This is the female Shining Flycatcher – she has a copper back and tail, white chest and metallic blue head.
A Pacific Baza – before here we’d only seen these in pictures. It is a hawk with a great hairstyle that mostly consumes insects.
As their name suggests, Cattle Egrets spend their days with cows, enjoying a symbiotic relationship consuming insects attracted to their bovine mates. At sunset they all congregate in trees along the riverbank to roost. About six cows per year are eaten by crocodiles.
A Night Heron emerges after sunset to take on the evening fishing shift

We saw several types of kingfisher on our trips.

An Azure Kingfisher – a true water-hunter. These have tiny tails to help streamline them when they dive for fish and prawns in the river.
Azure Kingfisher
Azure Kingfisher
A Sacred Kingfisher – they will hunt insects, frogs, crabs and lizards as well as fish.
Sacred Kingfisher
A rather lean looking Forest Kingfisher – they have a diverse appetite and are often seen perched on powerlines watching for their next snack.
Early morning photography in action
I even worked out how to use the spotting scope on the boat

We were mostly interested to see the birdlife, but looking at crocodiles (from the safety of our metal hulled boat!) was as always a sobering moment. We are seeing a species that looks largely the same as it did in the fossil record of 200 million years ago. I was left wondering why they haven’t changed that much, when homo sapiens has taken 200,000 years to evolve into a species capable of reaching the stars, and destroying the world that created us. New research in the UK (how come they know anything about crocs?) concludes that it’s because they arrived at a body state (big and mean?) that is both so efficient and versatile that they don’t need to diversify to survive. For instance, they can live for a year without a feed! They survived the meteor impact that snuffed out the rest of the dinosaurs. Crocs are crafty for sure. Just check these eyes out and tell me there’s not a frightening level of cunning there.

The chunky 4 metre long male crocodile photographed at the bottom is estimated to be around 70 years old! If you look closely you can see some of his teeth are smaller than others – this is because crocodiles shed their old teeth and grow new ones. No dentists needed in his kingdom…(wouldn’t fancy getting close enough to smell his breath though!)
This female crocodile appeared to be having a lovely snooze in the afternoon sunlight, resting her chin on a log.
And this is a super cute 4 month old crocodile, barely visible, warming itself up on a thin branch. The survival chances of this little one are not good, with kites, eagles, barramundi (fish) and even other crocodiles happy to snap them up for a snack.

While looking out for scaly creatures we even spotted a couple of snakes on our trips:

A Common Tree Snake. This is non-venomous and feeds on frogs and lizards in the trees. This one is in a native hibiscus.
Not sure where the head is on this pile of Amethystine python. This is Australia’s largest python which can grow up to 8.5 metres long and easily consume wallabies, cats and small dogs. They are non-venomous, instead they sit and wait for their prey, then suffocate them with their coils.

Our days are spent taking drives in between river tours. We only spent a day and a half here last time, so didn’t really appreciate that there is actually nowhere you can walk. The rainforest is so dense, and the terrain so steep, other than the few tracks that wind along the valley, there is literally nowhere else to go other than the river. On one of these drives we spotted this stately looking specimen of a sea eagle.

A White-bellied Sea-eagle. This adult is so relaxed it is stood on one leg. This is a technique birds use to minimise heat loss.
White-bellied Sea-eagle

And up a short track several nervous looking birds including this Green Oriole. They’re not often seen but their calls echo through the valley (listen here).

Green Oriole calls are quite distinctive as they echo through the forest.
A lot of the cleared farmland is being bought back up by the Queensland Government and replanted to return it to rainforest.
A picturesque drive

Even around the campground there was a whole range of birdlife. We spent many hours there inside our lovely cosy Zone (listening to the novelty of rain!) just reading, or in Catherine’s case, editing what I think are these amazing photos. So she does really appreciate your feedback on them. They will be such a wonderful historical record for us in the future – when we are in a different hemisphere. If you follow us on Facebook you will see we have made a decision to move back to the UK to be closer to family and Europe. Now that as a topic deserves a post (or maybe a novella?) all on it own 🙂

Metallic Starling munching on palm tree fruit
A tiny female Sunbird drinking nectar from a passionfruit flower – you can see how little it is in relation to the passionfruit
Common Putat/Powder Puff flowers – they flower at night and are pollinated by bats and insects, before dropping off in the daylight
Bottlebrush Orchid growing on a tree. There is barely a branch without another plant growing on it
More orchids growing in the trees. All realestate is considered fair game in the rainforest!

3-6 August: Happy and healthy in far-north Queensland

Author: Mr A

Location: Townsville and Ingham, Far North Queensland

A short drive south and a caravan park we have been to before on the edge of Townsville. Its a matter of the best of bad options, but thats not unusual for caravan parks when you are near are bigger towns and cities. They are always popular, so high demand seems to drive a culture of poor standards. But we have our own little world when we shut the door, and we are only here to get some jobs done. However, the Ross River does flow past the site, and we jumped on the bikes for a late afternoon ride.

A 12km cycle along the Ross River in the late afternoon – just the ticket

As we were riding I had a revelation. I‘ve suffered from osteoarthritis in my hand for nearly 10 years. Some days were worse than others, and on the bad ones it was so painful I struggled to change gears and use the brakes on my bike. And I suddenly noticed as we we were riding, I had no pain! Thinking back I realised it had been weeks since I’d had any bad days! The only thing that’s changed has been my diet. On April 1st I decided it was time to make some changes. Overweight, high cholesterol, high calcium, it was time to change those things. I cut out bread, pies, sausage rolls, chips and cakes. So basically all the staple food groups consumed on the road! We had also been doing the no food between 8pm and noon the next day routine, but that hadn’t made much difference that I had noticed. My hand still hurt and I was still gaining weight.

But substituting a big bowl of salad, with quinoa, pumpkin or sweet potato, for my usual sandwich or pie, that’s changed everything.

To be pain free – oh what a relief. And to lose 4.5 cm off my tummy – I’m now half way to getting out of the overweight classification. I’ve read about people “curing themselves” from arthritic pain by diet changes, but was sceptical. Now I’m a believer. Osteo just doesn’t go away for no reason, it just steadily gets worse. And nothing else is different other than my diet. I also just got another set of blood test results and my “bad” cholesterol was way down and glucose tolerance the same. Basically I’ve shifted from a fat-old-one-handed-bloke-on-his-way-to-a-heart-attack, to a less-fat-old-bloke-who-might-be-around-to-see- his-grandkids-buy-him-a-beer 🙂

Now I have to crank up my morning work out to get some muscle tone back – but someone always claims the yoga mat, for some “downward cat” moves, in slow motion.

“Thanks Dad!”

Townsville has been pretty productive for a city stop over. An Ear Nose and Throat specialist appointment for a blocked ear. A visit to a barbers for me and another set of blood tests, and a catch up for Catherine with one of her fellow iSGS sufferers, who lives locally.

A Townsville local who belongs the support group Catherine runs for people with Idiopathic Sub-glottic Stenosis (iSGS)

We took a drive out to the “Townsville Town Common”, and no, it isn’t anything like what an English person conjures up when they hear that phrase, its actually a massive area of beautiful wetlands on the edge of the city. We didn’t get many great bird sightings, but a lovely place to wander around.

Looking towards the coast – not too many birds willing to be spotted here
Crimson Finch in a eucalyptus tree
Looking out towards the Pinnacles National Park
Australasian Grebe
The butterfly and the ant

We even fitted in a wild (for us) night out on the town – some pre-dinner drinks then a decent Indian meal with a bottle of wine mostly finished between us.

A smile I will never get tired of

But it was time to move on and we headed, once again, back up the Bruce Highway north, to our favourite wetlands at Ingham – the TYTO wetland. The Ingham Visitor centre was our first stop for a permit to camp in the RV park at the back, a credit to the town, the staff there so knowledgeable and helpful.

A few hours wandering around the TYTO wetlands once again brought a richness of birdlife into our respective lenses. Catherine capturing hers on these glorious photos, me looking up close on my scope and wondering at the beauty of these creatures. I love the fact that we can get so “close” but without disturbing them.

Eastern Great Egret
Brown Honeyeater
Northern Fantail
Wandering Whistling Ducks
Australian Darter
Green Pygmy-goose

We also got some great tips from the Information Centre staff that there were a couple of delis in town, with a great boardwalk to wander along to get to them. With low expectations (we have seen many a place labelled as a deli that seemed to qualify as they sold two types of pies!), but these were the real deal. Apparently a large Italian population is still in the area from when they were attracted here by the government being offered large parcels of land to “improve”. This usually meant ripping down pristine rain forest and planting sugar cane. And of course we know Italians are serious about the quality of their food.

Boardwalk into Ingham – what a lovely way to connect the town and the wetland

Even the fish and chip shop across the road from our campsite is a gourmet version, with Tasmanian oysters ($30 a dozen, mind!) and home pickled local octopus, and spring rolls stuffed with local mud crab! They were all delicious! Wild Local Prawns its called- call in if you coming through Ingham please

Greeted with a friendly smile

A business trying this hard to deliver a quality product deserves the encouragement of your custom :).

We concluded our visit with a final look around the wetlands before we moved on. Ingham, you will be fondly remembered.

As always, a few Forest Kingfishers present on the wetlands
A Yellow Honeyeater surveys its domain in the early morning sun
You can’t see its belly, but possibly a Red Bellied Black Snake sunbathing after a cool night
It was a long snake…about 2 metres (more than 6 foot) and classed as ‘dangerously venomous’. Thank goodness for long zoom lenses!
A Brown Honeyeater in full song
A Red-backed Fairywren…with red berry
A female Red-backed Fairywren
Female Rufous Whistler
Olive-backed Oriole
Red-browed Firetail
Top left clockwise: Female Red-browed Firetail, male Crimson Finch, Comb-crested Jacana, Australian Grebe, Forest Kingfisher, Willie Wagtail

22- 26 July: Birds and more birds!

Author: Mr A

Location: Mutarnee, Hinchinbrookshire, North Queensland, Australia

It was a long drive up the main highway north, skirting the city of Townsville, but with interest provided by the streams of military convoys on the move as part of the once every two years bilateral US/Australia exercises (with smaller numbers from five other nations) called Talisman Sabre. With the changing geo-political landscape in our region as China seeks to assert itself, this regular war gaming has been tailored to send some specific messages about the capability of the participating nations to defend their territories against claims being made in the region by China. The exercises this year have even been given a new twist with social media being used a one of the weapons in the armoury of the fictitious enemy forces.

We arrived at our campsite to realise a) It was right next to the road b) There was no on site caretaker and the toilets were filthy c) Anyone using the road could and did just drive in and use the toilets d) It was the same price as a really great camp site two kilometres down the road we had been to before. It was in spectacular surroundings otherwise, and we did manage to enjoy an hour or so exploring the grounds.

A short walk around the campground – for all its negative points, it is in a lovely setting
Crystal Creek runs through the campsite
Forest Kingfisher on our campground
Northern Fantail – a species only found in the upper reaches of Queensland – proving we really are in the far north of Australia now
Rainbow Bee-eaters are so common up here now

After a night we pulled up stumps and moved, with a full refund. We don’t always get it right. The site had mostly good reviews, but our eyes and gut-feel told us differently, so off we went, and I’m so glad we did for the sake of an hour of packing and setting up again.

We find ourselves now at one of the best run parks we’ve ever been to. The facilities are modern and kept immaculately clean. We have heaps of space and surrounded by trees, and yes, birds! Tassie is always a good litmus test for us if she heads outside and lies down, it’s a thumbs up and we know all will be good.

So if you find yourself on this gorgeous piece of coast, come and stay at the Crystal Creek Caravan Park, owned and run meticulously by husband and wife team Rod and Elizabeth. Rod even came and mended a strut on our window where the rivet had broken off. Service above and beyond from this dynamic duo!

Catherine has also made a friend in the park – “Bob the Birder” as we affectionately call him. Bob and his wife Olive have already been here for a few weeks, and they sit there for hours right outside their van with their long lenses capturing the prolific bird life flitting around the park.

Bird photography in progress

Bob has taken Catherine under his wing to pass on some of his accumulated wisdom of 80 odd years birding in Queensland. Another top bloke! What a sharp eye he has as well. I‘ve not seen many people beat Catherine to the draw with spotting, but Bob does. And they both leave me completely behind of course with my impaired vision. Catherine is so patient though, trying to explain where in a tree they are.

Varied Trillers are regularly seen
Why do Fairy-wrens get all the wonderful names? This one is a Lovely Fairy-wren
Can you spot the male Fig-bird? They’re very yellow in this part of the country

We had to tear ourselves away for a couple of day trips as there’s a lot to do in the area. The first was a short drive up the road to a series of pools and cascades we had visited many years ago. On this trip, in what is mid winter in the tropics, it was pretty empty. However, when I say winter, it was another 28 degree day, with water temperatures not far below that, so not too bad. As our park host Rod said, “Even in far north Queensland there has to be winter. Last year it was on a Wednesday”. So even I got the lower half of my body wet (I know…not a big fan of full immersion) and Catherine was swimming around in her hiking clothes having come totally unprepared with no swimming gear.

A perfect spot for meditation…in the brief half hour we were alone!
A lovely day for a fully clothed swim

We clambered up the various rock pools further away from the few families that were there, constantly issuing strident instructions to their kids (equally determined to ignore them!), and had a swimming hole all to ourselves. We even got to spot a nice python slithering around finding some sun to power up on. As you do if you’re a python.

A non-venomous Spotted Python has just had a swim
Heavenly natural spas created by the waterfalls
A local fish swims over to say hello – clearly used to visiting humans
Many options for cool off on a warm day

Our second day trip was to Paluma National Park, which is located a 40 minute precipitous winding drive away up on the ranges. At that this point in Queensland they drop down right near the coast and create a narrow corridor of flat land before the ocean. We did a couple of short walks, but sadly I wasn’t in the best of spirits as I count off the days to get my next eye test mid week. It‘s certainly affecting my mood, I know that. If the pressures are still high then its going to be really problematic finding treatment options. The risk is constantly there for me of slipping below the eyesight level required to hold a driving license. I’m right on the edge now, no room for further deterioration. It would certainly change a lot of things for us. So anyway, not our best day out, but Catherine did get some great shots…again.

Witt’s Lookout
Chowchilla – rainforest dweller that digs in the leaves for insects
Looking west from Paluma there is forest as far as the eye can see – Paluma Range National Park and Paluma State Forest
An Echidna comes snuffling through the undergrowth – the first we have seen this year!
A female Golden Whistler
Pale-yellow Robin…. how did they come up with that name I wonder?
A Large-billed Scrub-wren hops along a mossy log

The next day I awoke determined to be more positive, did some exercises (always helps!) and set off for what we thought was going to be a routine trip to a supermarket up the coast at the nearest town of Ingham. I had noticed some wetlands marked on the map on the edge of town and we decided to give them a go. We also use an app called ”e-Bird”, which is populated with birders’ sightings around the world, and it was shown as a hot spot on there. Well, talk about having no real expectations then having them blown away! It was amazing. Much bigger than we thought, and absolutely packed with birdlife, many of them new-to-us species. Apparently it was also home to a four metre saltwater croc, which we didn’t see, and I didn’t mind that as some of our path took us along the water‘s edge!

The wetlands are named after an endangered species sometimes found there, the Eastern Grass Owl (Tyto Capensis), which we didn’t see, but look at all the species we did.

A female Crimson Finch sporting a rather fabulous hairstyle
Male Crimson Finch
Comb-crested Jacarna – sometimes called the Jesus bird as they seemingly walk on water
They have huge feet which allow them to walk over vegetation such as water lilies to find their food
Look at that poise!
Wandering Whistling Ducks, all lined up ready for takeoff!
Red-backed Fairy-wrens find solace amongst the grasses and reeds to hunt their insects – makes them a challenge to see
Blue-winged Kookaburra high up in the trees
A crocodile trap – yes, there is apparently a 4 metre long Saltwater Croc in these wetlands…not yet caught
An Intermediate Egret stalks its next meal
A Sacred Kingfisher waits patiently

Hinchinbook Shire Council must be congratulated for this initiative. We walked almost all of the paths that meandered around this area that was saved from the encroaching sugar cane farming in 2002. With the mid winter temperature now over 30 degrees, I think we are visiting at the right time, summer would be unbearably hot and humid.

So a few days down, and we still have a while staying in this area so I will let Catherine take the writing reigns for the next instalment.

13-20 July: Loitering on the Whitsunday Coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Mackay, Midge Point, Queensland, Australia

One of the tricker bits of planning when you are of “no fixed abode” travelling long term like we currently are, is managing to get health care. Getting an appointment with a GP can be hard enough, let alone seeing a specialist. It takes some forward planning given how busy most of them are, but you also have to take what you can get. This drove our trip into Mackay, plus a service for the Landcruiser.

Poor Mackay, it really doesn’t have much that is drawing tourists in, so the travellers keep charging up the Bruce Highway. We stayed in a small caravan park outside of Mackay, and drove into town to get our jobs done. Service on the 200 Series Landcruiser, a big one, the 160,000, and not a single issue once again. What a great car this has been. Toyota have sure got reliability nailed. Our day livened up when unbeknown to us some friends we had met through our common Zone RV ownership (a recurring theme!) had seen from our blog that we were heading their way, and we caught up for lunch. One of the unintended benefits of writing a blog! We do miss being physically separated from our friends, so a meet up like this is a big bonus for us. If you see us coming your way give us a shout.

Unfortunately my two medical appts, one for an ear problem and the other for my long term issue with complications from glaucoma , weren’t as joyful. I have to now see an ENT specialist somehow for my ear problem, and start taking additional eye drops to calm my interocular pressure readings. Glaucoma affects nearly 2% of the population, and can lead to blindness if not treated, so make sure you get those pressures checked regularly. I lost around 30% of my vision in one eye over a period of ten days during a particularly bad episode years ago. There is some anecdotal evidence that eye pressures can spike when you have heightened levels of anxiety. Its one of the reasons I left my sales career early. I had a stent fitted and they have been good since – until now. What’s changed? Well, we have some major life decisions to make over the next few months, and this has been giving me some sleepless nights. I am a bit of a “worrier”.

Out of any problem comes a learning opportunity, or so the mantra goes. I did “phone a friend” who has been into meditation, and we have certainly seen some profound and positive changes in him as he returned to the discipline, so ‘Why not give that a go?’, I thought. It was a really great conversation, and at nearly 65 I’ve just spent the first 20 minutes of my life attempting to meditate! Jeez its not easy is it? Mind wandering all over the place, which will come as no surprise to many friends. There’s work to do. Progress updates forthcoming.

Our home for the last few days has been in the most wonderful little campsite at the unfortunately named locality called Midge Point! We will refer to it as the Whitsunday Coast 🙂

A room with a view – we loved waiting up to the colour green each morning

We acknowledge the traditional owners of this area being the Yuwibara tribe. They and half a dozen or so First Peoples have formed a Traditional Owners Reference Group (TORG), which has developed a long term (to 2027) strategy plan to preserve and improve the area. A great initiative, the Great Barrier Reef needing all the help it can get, currently being reviewed by the World Heritage organisation as wether it should be added to their “in danger list”. It will be interesting to see (now the US is taking a much more proactive stance on climate strategy, and has formed a strong alliance with the UK on their approach), whether our government will be shaken into action. Australia is rapidly becoming an outlier amongst the G20 reference group.

Now how about this for a fabulous spot. Our caravan site is right on the edge of this gorgeous rainforest, with tropical birdsong our constant music track. Its once of the best locations we’ve had. The Travellers Rest Caravan and Camping Park (note no mention of Midge Point in that name!) is such a great place to chill out. If you’re down this way please try it out.

Wallabies come and check us out every so often, and behind our screen tent (midge proof) mesh we feel like we are the animals in a cage for a change. An important feeling to ponder.

Some very cute little wallabies linger on the edge of the forest in the afternoons, eating the grass
Yard Creek, running near to our campground almost looks appealing to kayak in….until you see the ‘possible crocodile’ signs! 🐊

A 200 metre wander along the edge of the forest takes us down to this almost deserted beach, just the odd fisherman gazing wistfully into the blue water.

Glistening blue water, a horizon dotted with islands, lined by a white sand beach – not a bad location
The sea goes out a long way here!
Looking south down the coast towards Mackay

The water’s edge was dotted with a variety of birds, like this little Gull-billed Tern resting from a fishing expedition.

Gull-billed Tern
Tiny little Red-capped Plover on the shore – they rarely stop moving!
Various Terns resting along the shoreline between meals
Gull-billed Terns join Great Terns
A Striated Heron flying along the creek beside the beach
Rainbow Bee-eaters find plenty to eat around here

We’ve spent several very pleasant afternoons pottering along with camera, bins and spotting scope. My aforementioned mediation friend, made a great point, that watching these birds gives such a great insight into how far we have come from “being in the moment”. He was so right. We feel an intense sense of calm when we are doing this spotting, no sudden movements, quietly waiting for the birds to adjust to our presence and go back to their business. It is so restful, and yet there is the thrill of discovery when we make a new-to-us species sighting.

Australasian Figbird – male at the top, female bottom – they have the most amazing song
A Spangled Drongo
A Helmeted Friarbird – they are a big honeyeater – not the prettiest of birds, with their red eye, bare black skin face and horned beak, but they do like a good rainforest flower

We even had a better than average (for regional Australia) pub meal up the road at the local “Point Tavern”. There was more than the usual “red or white mate?” wine choice, and although the menu was entirely predictable (in fairness, like many of France’s country cafés!) the food was well cooked and Catherine didn’t get food poisoning! That’s how low our measure has gone after our Eyre Peninsula experience, I’m not sure she will ever eat a beef burger again…

Most importantly of course, Princess Tasmania, as she is affectionately known to us (well, a cat that enjoys filtered and chilled water with her lightly cooked salmon and mashed pumpkin has got to expect some stick) does so like it here. A twice a day stroll, and by stroll I do mean….stroll…its like a meditative experience all of its own. Five minutes of extensive sniffing of one bush not uncommon. But every so often this 17 year old shows us the kitten lurking underneath those stiff joints and bursts in a, well a sort of sideways fast shuffle. Check this out, and I dare you to keep a straight face.

Tail held high – this is definitely a joyful gallop!

So the days pass, we tune in further to the birdsong, and have the delight of another lunch with our Zoner friends Wendy and Frank who drive up from Mackay. Such a pleasure.

We end our stay here with another day of Catherine wandering around with her big zoom and capturing some more amazing shots. Meanwhile I’m stuck on the phone trying to sort an ENT specialist appt in Townsville, and get one finally locked in for a couple of weeks time. So at least now we can now plan a little more loitering along the coast.

Laughing Kookaburras are resident in the park
Blue-WInged Kookaburra – these do not laugh at all unlike the Laughing Kookaburra
A Rufous-whistler – hard to see these birds as they flit high up in the tree’s canopy – you can often hear their song, however
One of several Bush Stone-curlews which live in the forest fringes around the edge of the park
A Forest Kingfisher
A Grey Fly-catcher
A juvenile Brush Cuckoo with a tasty morsel
A tiny Welcome Swallow singing on a telephone wire
Some of the many many butterflies seen here on a daily basis
This is a juvenile male Olive-backed Sunbird – the first time we have spotted one of these. Hoping to see an adult one of these days – their colours are spectacular – vibrant yellow and blue.

The campsites are pretty busy, even with NSW locked down, but I manage to get us our next two bookings after some fast phone work.

We had such a lovely few days here, it was hard to tear ourselves away. But away we must, on to adventures new, and edging ourselves slowly northwards towards Townsville.

A final beach walk to conclude our visit