Location: Port Macquarie and Sydney, NSW, Australia
We pulled away from our friends Phil and Libby in Brisbane, promising that this would not be the final goodbye, and we would meet again somewhere in the world. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact there are going to be quite a few of these moments in our future.
We had diligently completed and submitted our NSW border passes, and headed south not knowing what might be ahead of us.
A whole load of not much was the answer. Given Queenslanders have to quarantine to come back from NSW, subject to a strict approval process, very few people were heading interstate and the roads were eerily quiet. This is in absolute contrast to the wall to wall traffic we experienced last time we drove this journey in early February 2020, when it was pouring with rain to add to the treacherous frenzy.
It was an uneventful journey to Sydney, with a night spent in a very forgettable ‘pet friendly’ motel room in Port Macquarie, and we arrived back at our house earlyThursday afternoon. Nobody even wanted to see our border passes…I guess they assume few people want to travel to New South Covid…
It has been three years since we spent a night in our home, and entering the place with no furniture was quite eerie. We wondered how Tassie would go at remembering it, given there have been other cats and dogs living in there with our renters over the past few years. Proving to be the most adaptable cat as usual, she trotted in with her tail held high, sharpened her claws on the bottom step of the stairs as she has done for years, and settled right on in!
Our return home essentially completes our third big ‘lap’ of Australia. The map below broadly shows where we have been since we first pulled away from our house in May 2017, covering many kilometers around this huge continent.
It is hard for many people, even Australians, to comprehend the distances covered in our travels, with often three or four days of solid driving before you reach the next destination of note or even a chance to go for a walk. Accepting the distances, we have enjoyed the diversity of flora and fauna, and on this most recent trip not only saw many areas new to us, but also gave ourselves a chance to linger and revisit some of our favourite locations.
We now find ourselves ready to settle down for a few months, celebrating having more than one room and access to connected plumbing!
After a night ‘camping’ on ‘self inflating’ mattresses which had been compressed for too long (ie not inflating at all!), all our possessions were delivered from storage. We clocked up 5km and 25 flights just running up and down the stairs with the delivery guys, taking in boxes and directing furniture.
And we are ‘home’ for the next few months!
We arrived in time for the final two days of Sydney’s lockdown for double vaccinated people, but that didn’t stop us joining two of our lovely neighbours, Mike and Julia, for a picnic in the park. They very kindly did the catering, and we enjoyed a great catch up with them within the lockdown rules.
Our home is located beside Curl Curl Lagoon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and we have been reuniting ourselves with the stunning location, watching the sun rise over the water and rediscovering the birdlife. We will certainly miss these beautiful mornings when we arrive in deepest darkest February in the UK, but there we will have completely different things to look forward to.
Having got through our whole weekend of lockdown (sorry everyone who has suffered for so long!), Sydney opened up the following Monday, with shops, restaurants and bars welcoming the double vaccinated. Life has entered the phase of the next level of ‘new normal’.
Afternoon walks through the reserve rewarded us with the trills of Superb Fairy Wrens, swooping Red Wattlebirds chasing insects to feed their young, and many other signs of spring.
Just up the coast from Curl Curl is Dee Why, and we took a walk through the lagoon and beach there up to Long Reef on another day.
Long Reef has a regular nesting pair of Nankeen Kestrels, and they were out and about hunting for mice, skinks and lizards when we were there, unperturbed by all the people out walking.
Our social life has never been so busy. After 105 days of lockdown all our friends have been keen to go out, and I think we have clocked up more outings in the last two weeks than in the preceding 12 months combined!
It has been a great welcome back to Sydney, and we will continue to make the most of our time over the next few months.
And finally, some of our readers will probably know I am an artist in my spare time, primarily working on semi-abstract (meaning they look like paintings rather than photographs) landscapes.
I have decided to sell some of my work before we head off to the northern hemisphere, and have some discounted original works for sale.
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.
We had another potter around nearby Lake Somerset, a reservoir we found is home to a family of Whistling Kites.
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.
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.
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!
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!
I was self appointed barman and DJ, what could possibly go wrong?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Location: Kenilworth and surrounds, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia
Just when we thought our rainforest visiting days were over we decided to book in at the showgrounds in Kenilworth for a few days.
If you are unfamiliar with showgrounds (you may have noticed we have stayed on quite a few), a showground is a community run area of ground on which country shows – rodeos, livestock sales and comptitions and horse riding trials are held. Outside of major events, the land sits empty, so many towns have turned them into campgrounds, providing power and water to a number of sites as well as offering unpowered spots. We like them because they tend to be more bushy and spread out than caravan parks, and money earned from our fees goes back into improving the community facilities.
It was a breath of fresh air arriving in Kenilworth, after the frenzied school holidays crowds flocking to our Didillibah campsite, children keen to enjoy the water slides and jumping pillows on offer there. Although there were children around, mostly they were busy playing games on the oval or riding their bikes around the quiet driveways.
The overwhelming sound we first noticed was of birds in their hundreds, flocking to the flowering callistemon trees around the park. As well as Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas, there were dozens of tiny Scarlet Myzomelas, a challenge to see as they are so similar in colour to the flowers.
Kenilworth is situated in a rural setting ringed by national parks and state forests in all directions, the green rolling hills reminding us somewhat of England on a fine sunny day. It sits in the Mary River valley, and the river itself runs just behind the showground.
All this natural environment makes for a wildlife filled location and we ticked off more than 35 different species of bird just footsteps from our caravan!
We were reminded in no uncertain terms that (despite the temperature reaching over 30 degrees centigrade on a couple of the days we were there) it is spring, and many of the birds were busy building nests, collecting food to feed young, and often in their vibrant mating colours. It is a great time to be spotting birds.
In addition to the many birds around, on one walk we even spotted a large Australian Water Dragon, located where I had previously seen the ducklings. I was so worried that they were missing I checked to see whether duckling might be on the Water Dragon’s dinner list – fortunately not, they prefer insects and the odd baby mouse!
The Mary River is about a 10 minute walk from the campsite, following a mown grass tree lined pathway which leads down to the river’s edge.
We came to this region back in 2018 when we organised a Zoner’s Muster at Kenilworth Camping, a farm camping area on the banks of this river further downstream. Back then we had paddled 4.5km in our inflatable pack rafts and had a great time with some of our Zoner (owners of Zone RV caravans) friends. So it was really fitting when our friends Phil and Libby, who had been there with us too, decided they hadn’t quite had enough of us in Noosa, and that they would drive up with their granddaughters, Ava and Hayley, for the day.
Hayley didn’t hesitate to jump in the river for a paddle, while Ava took time to learn how to skim stones. The water was definitely too shallow for kayaking and we certainly could not have managed the trip we did three and a half years ago.
We were reminded that the river is home to more than fish, turtles and birds, when sharp-eyed Hayley pointed out a Red-bellied Black Snake slithering along the riverbank into the undergrowth. This one was just a baby – on another visit down to the water Mr A came rushing along the bank towards me ashen faced – a 2 metre long adult had just emerged from the water swiftly retreating into the reeds just centimetres in front of him. We steered clear from reeds and grasses after that!
Mark and I visited the Mary River on a few occasions, every time rewarding us with new sightings – like these gorgeous Red-browed Firetails – tiny finches often heard but rarely seen.
And little insect loving Red-backed Fairywrens flitting through the Casuarina trees (River Sheoaks) and grasses.
The river is also home to many more traditional water lovers, including Little Pied Cormorants, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Herons, Dotterels and more.
A short 10 minute drive from Kenilworth is a small area of ancient rainforest, home to the Fig Tree Walk. The boardwalk takes visitors on a short educational trail through the forest, explaining about the trees and the lifecycle within this special environment. Mark and I visited on two occasions, the second time bringing along Libby and Phil and the kids for an explore to finish their day out.
Amazingly I spotted another Tawny Frogmouth sleeping alongside the path – these nocturnal birds are not owls or related to them. They have a wide beak rather than hooked, designed for catching moths on the fly, and their feet are not talons, rather just designed for gripping a branch, more similar to a pigeon’s toes.
The walks in this area seemed to have fewer ground-dwelling birds, perhaps because the village is so close and domestic cats and maybe even foxes have killed them. There were plenty of yellow robins flitting through the trees though, chasing insects we disturbed on our walk.
Conondale National Park is also not far from Kenilworth. Just a 20 minute drive and you reach a 4WD only track, where three water crossings deliver you to Boolumba Creek Day use area. From there you can start the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk or chose from a selection of shorter routes.
We visited on a couple of occasions, loving the area rich with untouched rainforest, the constant hum of insects and chatter of birds addictive.
Imbil State Forest and the Charlie Moreland Campground are about a 15 minute drive from Kenilworth, and another location you can walk from. We combined two short walks, the Little Yabba and Piccabeen circuits which took us away from the busy camping area (we estimated around 100 people by the number of caravans, whizz-bangs (camper vans!) camper trailers, and tents) and over a small creek and into the forest. Despite the crowds at the campground, once we left the small day visitor car park and crossed the creek, we didn’t see another human for more than 2 hours!
The birdlife was prolific, starting with more Scalet Myzomelas feeding as we crossed the water, and continuing as we spotted Golden Whistlers, fantails, Fairywrens and more.
It didn’t look as though many people had recently taken the longer Piccabeen circuit, as we had to clamber over a recently fallen tree to continue round. It was worth it though, with several species of bird in the forest, and the temperature cooling as nature’s air conditioning kicked in.
On Friday we had a coincidental surprise visit from our friends Carol and Nick Gray, who had (unbeknownst to us) been having some work conducted on their caravan in Coolum Beach, and decided to camp here a few nights once they had their van back. We first met them when we were staying in the Margaret River in Western Australia back in 2017 on our first lap around Australia when they were interested in buying a. Zone. We showed them around our van and Mr A did such a good sales job they ended up buying one!
Although we have met up with them on several occasions over the years, this was the first time we had seen their new van, ironically on the same day we heard we had officially sold ours. It felt like our Australian travels had come full circle as we once again shared food and wine with our travelling friends.
We enjoyed a couple of fun evenings with them before we headed off for our final week in our home on wheels.
I conclude my post with a poem which was displayed at a reserve near the Fig Tree Walk, which feels quite poignant at this time when our life and travels in Australia are nearing the end.
We are certain there will be ‘boulders’ in our future, as there have been in our past. It is always good to be reminded that these boulders do fade with time and become much smaller issues, with somewhat smoother edges.
It had been a while in the planning, but finally we had made it to Mr A’s birthday celebration in Noosa. The past few weeks we had been anxiously watching the news, half anticipating another lockdown in the area, breathing a sigh of relief as once again Queensland recorded no community cases of COVID-19 and everything remained open.
While we were disappointed that plan A had failed to come to fruition (renting a house with three couples from NSW for a long weekend – they are all locked down and unable to travel), plan B was coming along nicely.
We arrived at our campsite in Tewantin on the Wednesday evening, and hadn’t been there long before our friends Phil and Libby arrived from Brisbane. This is a couple we had met when we first started travelling, through our common ownership of a Zone RV off-road caravan. We’ve remained friends ever since and caught up on several occasions. We had a lovely BBQ dinner while we caught up on news.
The following morning was Mr A’s birthday. After several surprise calls, we drove a short way to the Noosa River and launched our inflatable kayak beside the North Shore Ferry for a paddle. It was a beautifully calm morning, not too warm and a few birds around, including Striated Herons, White-faced Herons, Pied Cormorants, and Mangrove Honeyeaters.
It was a fine morning out, and we returned for a light lunch and a few more calls.
The birthday celebrations continued that evening, commencing with early evening cocktails at Noosa Beach House and then walking a short way to a much anticipated dinner at Bang Bang, joined by more Queensland based friends, Ray and Wendy, Brian and Caroline who are local to Noosa, and Tania who had come up from Brisbane.
It was so good to catch up with everyone, and I think we did a good job of seeing in Mr A’s 65th birthday.
Friday’s celebratory activity was an afternoon’s sunset cruise on the Noosa River, where we were joined by Ray and Wendy as well as another couple we have met through our travelling lives, Rhys and Marsha.
It was almost a disaster! Though a series of miscommunications, Mr A had received the message that the boat was licensed rather than BYO, and we had not brought along any beverages for the two hour cruise. As we watched the other cruising guests jump aboard carrying beer and wine, we realised with a sinking feeling that was not the case.
One of our quick witted friends, Marsha, spotted that we were moored beside a bar and gave them a quick call to see whether they sold alcohol to take away. Thankfully the answer was yes, and a case of beer and three bottles of wine were swiftly procured. The cruise was saved!
Feeling a little dusty on Saturday morning, Libby and Phil joined us on an outing to Eumundi Markets, about a half hour drive west of Noosa. Originating in 1979 as a small collection of stalls, this market now takes over most of the village of Eumundi on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and attracts artists from all across the region.
Japanese pancakes were the order of the day and helped cure the fuzzy heads, and then a wander around the other stalls. I purchased a gorgeous hand crafted bracelet made from an antique silver fork (by Noosa Artisan) which will bring back lovely memories of this time.
A local Lebanese restaurant provided our dining experience for the evening, and we were again joined by our friends Ray and Wendy.
It wasn’t just a hedonistic week of eating and drinking, mind you. We did have a few outings to look for birds and were even fortunate enough to spot a Tawny Frogmouth (a nocturnal insect eating bird, usually only spotted near streetlights at night, catching moths).
Noosa’s Sunday morning Organic Farmer’s Market is a must-visit location if you enjoy high quality food, with endless supplies of fresh-from the farmer fruit, vegetables, and many other food-based goodies. We had been on previous visits and made certain to not miss it this time.
Our friends Phil and Libby also knew the couple running Cedar Creek Farm’s stall selling all kinds of jams, preserves and sauces, most being sugar-free (and no artificial sweeteners or preservatives) and packed full of interesting native ingredients. We left with some tasty sounding salad dressing, lime chutney and a home made tomato ketchup.
Mr A’s eye was captured by a Portuguese Tart stand. Portugal is still on our wish list to visit- we were meant to be travelling though there last year, when the dreaded C-19 struck and changed our plans – and these custard tarts are a national delicacy there. He purchased a pack of four…two for him and sharing two with Libby. They got the seal of approval from both parties apparently well deserving of their good reputation for being authentically Portuguese.
On our final day we took the Tewantin Ferry over to Noosa North Shore to walk some of the Cooloola Great Walk. We only tackled just over 8km return of the 102km long hike, and felt a slight pang of envy as we passed a 20-something lady heading off laden with her backpack, a whole 5 day solo adventure ahead of her on this picturesque track.
It was a beautiful walk, taking us through paper bark gum trees and along sandy and swamp lined pathways covered in spring wildflowers.
The walk emerged on the pristine Teewah Beach, and we followed the coast a short way. The sand was so fine is squeaked, somewhat like the fine snowdrifts I recall in my childhood. Walking along the hard sand on the water’s edge, occasionally dashing up the beach to escape an unruly wave, our footsteps crunching over shells, helping to contribute to future grains of sand.
It is hard to recognise we might never again visit this area, walk on this beach, smell this clean salty air…we try to remember and capture it through all our senses.
On our final evening we joined Ray and Wendy at the Sunset Bar over the Noosa River for drinks and snacks as the sun went down.
This past week has been so special because of those people we have spent time with. We have been so privileged to have found such lovely friends during our time in Australia. Ultimately, this is what really tugs at the heartstrings, every time we say goodbye to people with whom we have made so many fabulous memories, not knowing when (or often even if) we might see them again.
But we stand by our decision to make the move to England next year. New adventures await us in the northern hemisphere, new friends to be made, and fresh memories with our families to be created. We’re excited about what 2022 holds for us!
Location: Calliope River and Lake Redbrook, Queensland, Australia
While we were in Rockhampton we received a message from some old travelling friends, fellow Zoners (owners of the same brand of caravan as us, Zone), who originate from New Zealand (‘The Kiwi Zone’!). They were visiting Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island, and would be travelling back through Rockhampton on the 3rd, staying an hour south of the city on a free camp beside the Calliope River. We decided to change our plans and headed down there early on Friday to secure us a campsite.
The Calliope River winds its way down from the Calliope Range, through this area before emerging into the Pacific Ocean just north of Gladstone. Our free camp was on the northern bank of the river, where we found ourselves a level patch of grass with plenty of sunshine to top up the solar power.
Both north and south banks of the river were packed with caravans and campers. There is a two night limit to staying, but it was clear that some people had spent a lot longer living in this location. You need to have brought in all your own water, and while there are public toilets, there are only two males and two females – hardly enough for the dozens of vans present. I just hoped some of these travellers were spending money in the local region to help pay for the upkeep of these facilities.
We had a wander down to the river, finding people fishing, children launching kayaks, and a pair of Brahminy Kites soaring on the breeze.
In the trees, a frenzy of bird calls led us to look up, and we found the Scaly Breasted Lorikeets lived here – cousins of their more common Rainbow Lorikeets. We’ve seen photos of these birds but never before in person, so this was a lovely sighting.
We had a lovely evening catching up with Beverley and Ben, many laughs and travel tales told. It was sad to say goodbye the following morning, thinking it may be many years, if at all, before we meet again.
Lake Redbrook was our next destination, a 165 acre property bordered by sugar cane plantations. Run by ‘Gazza and Shazza’ (Gary and Sharyn Walters) it was a welcome respite from the roaring road trains and frenzy of the Bruce Highway we have spent so much time on, and alongside, the past 10 days.
Located south of Bundaberg and close to the small town of Childers, it’s a nature lover’s paradise, with a bird-filled lake, native woodland and a friendly nightly campfire to meet the owners and some of your fellow campers. In July, Childers holds a festival with food stalls, live entertainment, tours and events, with this lake the location for afternoon opera with local wines and antipasto for sale. It would be the perfect setting for such an event.
While we decided not to visit the small historic town of Childers, a short drive away, we found plenty to entertain ourselves on the property, spending our day and a half spotting just shy of 40 different types of bird.
There’s a bird hide alongside the lake’s edge, from which we spotted Royal Spoonbills, Pelicans, Pied Stilts, Black-fronted Dotterels, Intermediate Egrets and more. As we watched I saw an Australian Kestrel soar low over the water, landing on a dead tree on the water’s edge. I quickly snapped a photo, discovering it was disappearing into a hollow, most likely a nesting site.
The site owners have quite a collection of birds and animals on site, including a finch aviary, beautiful peacocks (both blue and the more exotic white), a small herd of Moluccan Rusa deer (native to Indonesia). The property is also a working sugar cane farm.
There was even one rare creature in captivity:
It was a great couple of nights’ stay in stunning surroundings with some very welcoming and kind hosts, and somewhere we would definitely recommend to others.
We recognise and thank the Gubbi Gubbi First Nations people upon whose traditional Country we stayed and traveled on, and pay our respects to elders past, present and upcoming.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Location: Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia
Having now sold our house and being totally committed to our decision to leave Australia, we find ourselves living through a turmoil of emotions. On the one hand, we want to progress with our decision and all the multitude of tasks involved in our unravelling of more than two decades of life in Australia. On the other, we want to immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the areas we are travelling through, to capture a lingering memory of regions we most likely will never see again.
Turning inland from Cairns, we climbed up onto the Atherton Tablelands, an area shrouded in misty cloud and drizzle as we arrived on Sunday afternoon. The Tablelands is a formerly volcanic region with rich soils and cooler temperatures than down on the coast. It is a big fruit and vegetable growing area.
While the volcanoes are now extinct, in both human and geological terms the volcanic activity is quite recent, and First Nations people have immortalised a major volcanic eruption in stories passed down through generations. One such story told by the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people recalls when two freshly initiated youths broke a taboo and thereby offended the rainbow serpent, Aboriginal Australians’ most powerful and feared supernatural being. Despite being the middle of the day, the sky turned blackish-red, and the ground cracked and heaved. Then from it, a liquid spilled out. It engulfed the landscape, leaving a maar lake (Lake Eacham) as a legacy.
Geologists have dated the sediment layers within Lake Eacham and suggest the maar eruption that formed it occurred a little over 9,000 years ago, representing approximately 360 generations of people. We recognise and thank the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people for their custodianship of the lands we stayed upon and visited this past week.
On our arrival the temperatures were in the late teens, and it was exciting to wear long sleeved tops and trousers without overheating. We set up camp beside Malanda Falls and headed straight back out. What better to do on a day such as this than to visit the Nerada Tearooms.
We have never disguised our love of a nice cup of tea, and here they had the added bonus of vegan churros for me and a Devonshire Cream Tea (scones, cream and jam) for Mark. Nerada is a tea plantation, specialising in sustainable farming without the use of pesticides – you can buy their tea in most Australian supermarkets.
There was an additional reason for our visit however – the little known Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos, which we were told lived in the trees around the plantation.
You may be surprised to learn that Australia actually has two types of kangaroo that live in trees, the Lumholtz variety (only found in the Atherton Tablelands), and another the Bennett’s (only found in a small area of rainforest north of Daintree and south of Cooktown, which we were unable to find on our Cape Tribulation visit). There are actually many more varieties which live in Papua New Guinea.
When we had checked into our campground, the owner had told us this was a great place to see them, and that in 24 years only one group of customers had told her they had failed. So, fortified with tea and cake, we set off into the rain to attempt to find one.
It took us about 25 minutes of scouring the trees, walking up and down the road near to the tearooms before suddenly I spotted one. Having no idea what we were looking for, it was a surprise to find they are quite large, and more bear looking than their ground dwelling cousins, but still with the long tail. They evolved from Rock Wallabies around seven million years ago.
For their size (about the size of a collie dog) they are really quite agile, climbing deftly amongst the branches and munching on several varieties of leaves.
For the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people these were a significant food source as well as seen as a sacred animal. Being on the near-endangered list, they are no longer hunted and their habitat in this region is being conserved, so their numbers are slowly increasing
We spent a wonderful hour watching these gorgeous creatures, gathering quite a crowd of other visitors around us as they stopped by to watch them as well. Definitely a memory to treasure and a bucket list item ticked off.
Our campsite beside Malanda Falls was ideally situated about a 15-20 minute drive away from everything we wanted to visit on the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig tree is situated in protected mabi-rainforest with a raised walkway around it, protecting its roots and was where we found ourselves early the following morning.
The tree itself is estimated to be more than 500 years old, and the ‘curtain’ is formed from its many roots which hang down from the main trunk.
While seeing the tree is in itself a wonder, it is the somewhat rare opportunity to be elevated in rainforest that is also an attraction. The area is important habitat for many birds, tree kangaroos, Red-legged Pademelons (tiny rainforest kangaroos) and rare Musky Rat Kangaroos.
We spent some time listening to the forest, the rustling below the boardwalk, the flash of colour as birds flit between trees. It is not a great place for photography – not only does the camera love to focus on leaves and branches in the foreground, leaving only a blur of a bird in the distance, but the dull light makes it a real challenge to capture a sharp image. I gave it a good go though, and caught a few lovely birds.
Malanda Falls is located right beside where we were staying, an attractive waterfall a feature of Johnstone River which winds its way through the rainforest. There are a couple of walks through the forest that we explored one afternoon.
While we saw some birds, they were very hard to see, pausing only briefly before disappearing off into the forest. The river is home to the Johnstone River Snapping Turtle, and there were plenty of these around as we looked from the viewing platforms. There are apparently Platypus living here as well, but they must have been sleeping on our visit.
One afternoon we drove out to the unusually named Mount Hypipamee Crater. This is the remains of a volcanic pipe which exploded 8000 years ago – so recent that its eruption also remains told in the stories of the local First Nations people.
We even spotted another Tree Kangaroo on this visit, right beside the path we were walking along.
The Upper Barron River runs through Mount Hypipamee National Park, with another walking trail taking you down to Dinner Falls, a series of three cascades cutting their way through the black volcanic granite. This is a popular place for a dip and natural waterfall massage during the summer months.
Thursday was an important day – our second Covid-19 vaccination. We had booked in at Atherton Hospital for the injections and didn’t have to wait too long, there wasn’t a queue. As of today, 35% of adult Australians have been fully vaccinated, and an even lower number in Queensland which has been relatively Covid-free these past couple of years, outside of the capital city, Brisbane.
For us, we see the double vaccination as our passport out of lockdowns and the potential to get back out there in the world and travel. It’s a means of keeping us safe and hopefully out of hospital should we catch the virus. While most people we meet travelling are of the same mind as us – not keen to have their freedoms curbed any longer and excited to get back to touring Australia and the world – we have also met a number of hesitant people. They tend to be people who are unlikely to travel, who have never met anyone who has been unwell with Covid-19, let alone experienced the horror of someone passing away from the virus. We hope they can be persuaded to be inoculated for the greater community good – our government has pledged to open up more privileges once we are at 80% vaccinated, which feels a long way off.
On a couple of occasions during our six day stay we took ourselves over to Hasties Swamp National Park, a nearby wetland with a two storey bird hide, finding late afternoon to be the best time for action. It was a good opportunity for Mark to finally get out his spotting scope – the rainforest birds simply do not sit still long enough to get the scope lined up for a good look, but water birds tend to be a little less flighty.
We saw a large range of birds, the usual kingfishers, several varieties of honeyeater and Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks. The sound at the wetland was absolutely deafening, predominantly the loud honking of a huge flock of Magpie Geese which had noisily taken over one end of the water, constantly squabbling and flying around trying to find the optimum location to spend the night.
On our final day, we took ourselves off to do a walk around Lake Eacham. While there are apparently Freshwater Crocodiles living here (smaller and less aggressive than their saltwater cousins), people can go swimming and kayaking in this small lake, and we saw a group of teenagers shrieking as they leaped into the cold water. We stuck to land for our visit and followed a trail around the water, through the dense rainforest of Crater Lakes National Park.
It was another bucket-list native I was rather keen to see; a Victoria’s Riflebird. We had visited the lake earlier in the week and constantly heard them calling, but none were to be seen. These birds are only found in this area of Australia, and are famous for their vibrant colouring and fabulous dance to attract females. I highly recommend you watch their dance moves on YouTube, they are incredible.
So half way around the lake, I heard a loud Riflebird-like squark from high up in the trees, and spotted a black-coloured bird hopping around in the branches. Yes! A Riflebird! I got set up with the camera, willing it to come closer.
The gorgeous bird was lifting up pieces of bark and finding insects and grubs to eat. I watched it methodically work its way along the trunk until suddenly a particularly tasty looking snack dropped from its grasp and fell to the ground just a metre or two from me, swiftly followed by the Riflebird. I held my breath, willing my camera to focus on the right thing as he found his food and flew up to an old tree trunk just metres in front of me, providing a perfect view of his glistening head, throat and chest feathers. Just incredible.
I was so chuffed to have been rewarded with this special moment, an absolutely wonderful end to our visit to the Tablelands. I was only disappointed that Mark missed the show as he had walked on ahead of me. Thank goodness I was able to capture some photographs to share with him.
We’ve spent a magical three weeks exploring this rainforest-filled tropical north Queensland, longer than we have ever done before. Rewarded with incredible bird and animal sightings, we feel so privileged to have been able to take our time and immerse ourselves in this special environment. But now it is time to turn our noses south, and start making our way down the east coast. We have a bit of celebrating to be done in Noosa with friends!
It was just over an hour’s journey to our next and final destination travelling north up the Queensland east-coast, deeper into the Daintree Rainforest and up towards Cape Tribulation. This area was called Kurangee by the Kuku Yalanj First Nations people, meaning ‘place of many cassowaries’. If it was up to us we would call it ‘place of many greens’ – that is certainly the dominant colour up here.
We thank and recognise the Kuku Yalanj people, present and past, for their custodianship over these lands upon which we stayed, travelled and explored.
We set up camp at Daintree Rainforest Village, a site that had only newly opened when we last came up this way in 2018. We were pleased to see they had accepted some of our then recommendations, with a roomy camp kitchen and dining area plus landscaped campfire social space. The grounds of the camp are beautifully planted with a steep terraced garden with views over the rainforest attracting birds and wildlife.
In the early evening we were delighted to see the endangered Spectacled Flying Foxes, a type of fruit bat, swooping in to the treetops around the campground to feed. They have been listed as threatened for more than 20 years, but slipped on to the endangered list in 2019 after a third of the population died in an extreme heatwave where temperatures exceeded 42 degrees centigrade. We hope they don’t become another casualty of climate change.
We were staying a short drive from Cow Bay, a locality which includes a beautiful rainforest lined beach, tea plantation and two tropical fruit ice cream stalls. A fine area to visit indeed, if only for the ice cream (and sorbet!). We love the tea from up here too, and ensured we purchased some.
We were excited to receive an invitation for lunch from the owners of some luxury holiday accomodation at Cape Tribulation, Mist.
Miff, Paul and Toffee (the rather beautiful English Cocker Spaniel) opened Mist about four years ago and have created a stunning tropical haven with the luxuries of air conditioning, private holiday cabins, each with a barbecue and unparalleled views of the rainforest. Miff is a good friend of several of our friends – our paths have crossed on multiple occasions in the past, but usually in large crowds involving several glasses of wine, so we didn’t know each other well. This didn’t matter though, we were greeted like old friends.
After hearing all about Miff and Paul’s incredible journey to reach this point over a delicious lunch at a local cafe, we were given the VIP tour of the grounds…or at least until the heavens opened and we couldn’t stay outside any longer, especially with camera equipment.
Many of the palms, trees and plants on their property are incredibly rare, and botanists have taken cuttings and samples which now grow in the Cairns Botanic Gardens. As we left the gardens and entered the pristine rainforest, thick vines twisted up into the canopy – these have been dated to more than five hundred years old. A very special location indeed.
Miff was particularly excited to show us a blue pool, an aboriginal sacred site which was used by women for healing and birthing ceremonies. She had requested and gained permission from the Kuku Yalanj people to share this with guests., however the wet weather meant the only female jumping in this pool on this occasion was Toffee!
As we headed back to camp, the exotic fruit stand at the bottom of their road gave us a chance to sample some unusual samples. The Black Sapote is like chocolate mousse – especially when whipped up with a spoonful of yoghurt – delicious.
While this area may be known as ‘the place of many cassowaries’ you are lucky to spot one of these mysterious creatures. I had been fortunate to see one from the inside of a coach on my very first visit here while backpacking around Australia, way back in 1999, but since then they have eluded us.
The Southern Cassowary is a large flightless bird, a distant cousin of the Emu, Ostrich and the New Zealand Kiwi. Colloquially they are often jokingly known as ‘the murder chicken’ because of their 20cm long dagger claw which could easily disembowel and kill anything they see as a threat. It is therefore wise to ensure you particularly keep away from any birds with chicks, and never make them feel cornered.
Cassowaries live in the rainforest consuming forest fruits which would mostly be poisonous to us humans but due to their specialist gut can be safely eaten by them. A large proportion of fruiting trees and plants rely solely on their seeds passing through these birds in order to germinate.
(Photo source: Australian Museum, Creative Commons)
So we were excited to finally spot one at the edge of the rainforest, fittingly on our wedding anniversary as we drove out to the Daintree Discovery Centre on a bird spotting mission. She soon disappeared back into the forest, seeming to almost melt into the dense thicket of leaves and palms, but we were so pleased to have witnessed her presence.
Feeling buoyed by this early morning sighting, we were some of the very first visitors to the centre. Following the raised boardwalk we climbed up a tower for a fine view of the forest.
We saw flocks of Australia’s smallest parrot – the Double-eyed Fig Parrot feeding on fruit high up in the canopy, but none kind enough to fly close enough for a photo. Hopefully on the Atherton Tablelands – we have been given a few tips!
We took ourselves up to Cape Tribulation’s ‘best’ restaurant, Whet, for a celebratory lunch. There we enjoyed a couple of glasses of sparkling wine and some tasty food to toast 19 years of marriage. While there have been both ups and downs throughout this time, I can safely say the positives far outweigh any negative times, and I feel so fortunate to have met my soulmate and best friend all those years ago. It helps us to weather storms together and is how we are able to live in an 18 foot six inch long box for all this time without murdering one another!
Cape Tribulation is the main village in this part of the coast, with several accomodation options, a very quiet backpackers (I remember staying here in August 1999!), our friends’ luxury cabins at Mist, plus a couple of small shops. The white sand beach is lined with coconut palms and crocodile warning signs!
There are a number of short educational boardwalks to help visitors interpret the impenetrable forest, which were well worth doing.
Madja Boardwalk takes you through the mangroves alongside Noah Creek – at low tide a frenzy of activity as birds flit through hunting insects or hunting the little crabs that emerge to feed on the mud.
Dubuji Boardwalk starts in Cape Tribulation village and is often where people sight Cassowaries. It winds through the forest, through varied ecosystems.
The Daintree Coast is home to 16 palm species which can tolerate low soil oxygen levels better. than most other rainforest plants, therefore often are found in flood zones. The almost 2 metre wide Fan Palm fronds look almost like umbrellas spread out, and indeed Sunbirds sometimes shelter under these during a downpour.
We had a wonderful immersion in this incredibly special location, feeling privileged we could spend our 19th wedding anniversary in such unique surroundings. We so hope that this area remains unspoilt, and that climate change can be slowed to help wildlife adapt.
Out of five days here we had just one where it didn’t rain, but then that is what you get in the rainforest, even during the dry season. Apparently they are expecting an early wet season this year…we can only imagine what that’s like!
*A forthcoming prize to whomever can first name the comedy from which the title quote comes from 🙂
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 youlisten 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.
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.
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.
We saw several types of kingfisher on our trips.
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.
While looking out for scaly creatures we even spotted a couple of snakes on our trips:
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.
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).
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.