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.

14-19 August: …”Can it be true, that I hold here in my mortal hand a nugget of purest green?”*

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.

There is every shade of green here…and when the cloud lifts and the sun shines through, a multitude more!

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.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are regular visitors to the campground
Cloud drifting through the range behind our camp – we didn’t see much of Thornton Peak
Some of the sculptural flowers and plants around our campsite
On rare occasions the cloud lifted and we saw the sunshine too! Princess Tassie liked that!

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.

Spectacled Flying Fox
These gentle vegetarians are important pollinators of many of the rainforest flowers and their consumption of fruit helps spread the seeds throughout the forest

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.

A very tame Pademelon at the ice-cream store. The owner is a wildlife carer who hand reared this little cutie
Bailey Creek which leads down to Cow Bay
Cow Bay – where the rainforest meets the sea

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.

Toffee the rainforest dog showing us her Elvis lip curl

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.

Some of the trees use cauliflory to pollinate their flowers – this means their blooms emerge from the trunk or stem rather than at the end of branches, they are pollinated by animals that climb.

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!

Miff leads the way through the forest to the sacred pool – Toffee shows us how to get the benefit from it
Toffee demonstrates the best way to enter the healing pool

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.

Creative Commons - source: The Australian Museum

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.

All the fancy photography equipment couldn’t help here – I only had time for a blurry snap on my phone out the car window!

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.

A Brown Cuckoo Dove sits close to the tower preening
Clockwise from top left: Wompoo Fruit Dove, a female Fig Bird, a large Stag-horn Fern on a tree, male Fig Bird
A Water Python – this is actually behind glass – Mr A is not that brave!

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!

Happy Anniversary – 19 years
A couple of young pups 19 years ago

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!

Myall Beach at Cape Tribulation

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.

A male Shining Flycatcher pauses for breath on a branch
The female Shining Flycatcher is more colourful than the male
A Macleay’s Honeyeater – these only live in a small range of rainforest in Northern Queensland

Dubuji Boardwalk starts in Cape Tribulation village and is often where people sight Cassowaries. It winds through the forest, through varied ecosystems.

Mark walks through a palm grove – these are rare now, having been cleared for farming throughout much of Queensland

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.

Another example of cauliflory – a huge tree with flowers up its trunk – making the most of the lower storey pollinating insects
Look carefully and you might spot the eel in the stream
A ceiling of dappled greens and dense walls of undergrowth – if you have a tendency for claustrophobia it may well emerge here

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 🙂

20-22 July: A Conference of Caravanning Cats in Bowen

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bowen, Queensland, Australia

We’re not that keen on staying on traditional campgrounds, and when reading comments such as ‘packed in like sardines’ associated with campsites in Bowen, we decided to look elsewhere. A mango and cattle farm, for example. So when we farewelled Midge Point and headed north, our destination was Glen Erin Farmstay.

After setting up we had an explore along the farm tracks, through a mango orchard and along quiet grass lined pathways. Red tailed black cockatoos were the noisy locals that first caught our attention.

Strolling down the quiet tracks
A happy female Red-tailed black Cockatoo
‘Elvis is in the house!’ – Mr & Mrs Red-tailed Black-cockatoo
A Squatter Pigeon looks shocked to see us
A Rufous Whistler flits along through the bushes searching for insects
We have a surprise visitor to a small dam – a Yellow Spoonbill
A Leaden Flycatcher keeps its eyes peeled for flying snacks

The farm-stay was pretty rustic, but a friendly affair with 5 o’clock BYO drinks each evening around the campfire, with the camp host cooking a couple of loaves of damper to share amongst the guests.

The farm is about half an hour’s drive from the town of Bowen, so we drove in the following morning, hoping to find somewhere nice for lunch.

Bowen is the oldest town in Queensland, settled in 1861 and the filming location for the movie ’Australia’ (2008). It built up around a port which was essential for the newly established farming community shipping its produce across Australia particularly mangos and sugar. There is quite a large immigrant Pacific islander nations population (such as workers from Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji) who were recruited in the early 1900s as cheap labour to help with the sugar harvest. Many settled in the area, often marrying into the Aboriginal communities, both groups treated as outsiders for their dark skin.

Prior to this settlement, First Nations people from the Birri, Jangga, Juru, Gia, and Ngaro communities called this area home. We recognise and thank these people for their custodianship of this coastline for many thousands of years. They farmed the area around the port for a parsnip-like root which was a large part of their diet, as well as fishing from canoes. As we have seen in many other areas, the injustices bestowed upon the resident Aboriginal communities were numerous, with people forcefully removed and placed on reserves or in missions because their presence did not fit with the new plans for the region.

Bowen has moved on somewhat from these horrors and next week will see the inaugural Whitsundays Multicultural Festival held in town (July 30th). This will celebrate and recognise all cultures that make up the town through traditional dance, cooking and art activities. It’s great to see a community taking positive steps to recognise their extensive human history and the contribution all cultures have made to the society.

We stayed in Bowen three years ago, enjoying some great walks and incredible views. This time we found ourselves lunching at The Cove, a great Asian fusion restaurant on the ground floor of a smart apartment building, with glass walls opening up to landscaped gardens and fabulous scenery. We treated ourselves to some delicious food, accompanied by a Clare Valley riesling – very civilised indeed!

Lunch with a view
A very attractive coastline

We returned to camp for a lazy afternoon, again joining our fellow campers around the fire for damper, drinks and conversation.

Fire and damper

The camp owner has two dogs which wander around freely (Tassie wasn’t so keen!) and one nudged up against the chair of a lady by the fire. “You can probably smell the cat!” she exclaimed. Mark responded; “Oh have you seen us with Tassie then?”…which surprised us as she hasn’t really emerged here, due to the dogs. The answer was no, they also were travelling with a cat. If this coincidence was not enough, the funniest thing happened then, the lady behind us called out “We are travelling with two cats!”, and the gentleman beside her, “And we have a cat, Pippa, too!”

As you can imagine the conversation descended in to the sharing of travelling cat stories, with many laughs at the joy our furry travel companions give us. What a strange coincidence – we all ended up sitting together, and five cats between us.

Before we left the following morning, we had a bit of a cat meetup. Tassie came face to face with Pippa which was not such a good meeting (Pippa is twice the size of Tassie, and gave her a fair warning for coming within a metre or so of her territory), but the humans enjoyed it.

Furry travellers meet at a safe distance
The two Devon Rex cats travelling in a huge coach have never met another cat before!

It was a short dalliance with the Bowen region, but will be one we will always remember. Time to continue our journey north, heading to the Townsville area next.

10-15 June: When the cat’s away…the mice will play…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Carnarvon Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia

Departing Roma we were quite excited about our next location, Carnarvon Gorge National Park.

Carnarvon Gorge is not particularly easy to reach if you are not travelling with your accomodation. It is around a 9 hour non stop drive from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, or 4.5 hours from Rockhampton. There are two campgrounds, only one with power and water, the other (Sandstone Park, where we stayed) for self-contained vehicles. There is one resort with cabins, and otherwise no other options unless you are backpacking or prepared for a two hour drive from the nearest town, Injune or Rolleston. For Mark and I, it is this remoteness and status as a real oasis in the desert that really draws us in.

Carnarvon Gorge – a long way from anywhere!

The Gorge has been a sacred location for the First Nations people for at least twenty thousand years, with more than 2,000 examples of artwork in the National Park. It was visited for ceremonies, involving a recognition of the Rainbow Serpent which they believe created the gorge. We recognise the Garingbal/Karingbal and Bidjara peoples as the traditional custodians of this region and acknowledge their ancestors, stories and cultures which helped preserve and protect the land we visited and stayed on.

We were staying at Sandstone Park, a 50 acre cattle station and bush camping area, with sites set up high on a hill with 360 degree views across the gorge’s white sandstone walls. With no power or water on offer, we had filled up our tanks to the brim and hoped for clear skies to help charge up our solar power.

All set up including the screen house – fits the BBQ, chairs and table with room to spare…all we needed were flies!
The view from our campsite

The western view from the park overlooks the ‘Milgin’ or Sandstone Belt. According to our First Nation peoples’ culture, this landscape represents the burial sites of their indigenous forefathers. The tree line represents the brow (Milgin) above the eyes of the resting ancestors who continue to watch over and protect people in the surrounding area.

Having visited Carnarvon Gorge twice before and explored most of the walking trails thoroughly, we did not feel pressured to repeat everything again. So on Friday morning we set off along the main walking track with no agenda.

It didn’t take long to see our first wildlife, with a Pretty-faced Wallaby taking its morning drink down by the first water crossing. The water here is semi permanent and has only been recorded as stopping twice since records began. It. was so lovely to see water clear and pristine, not tainted by the mud and damage of the introduced carp as we have seen in so many other waterways.

Starting our 12km hike (map)
A Pretty-faced Wallaby coming down to the river for a drink

We just drank up the scenery as we walked. The huge forests of cycads and tree ferns looked incredible after the flat land we had been travelling through, the multitude of shades of green with the morning sunlight breaking through just breathtaking.

Carnarvon fan palms Livistona nitida, ancient cycads, ferns, flowering shrubs and gum trees line the main gorge

Off the main track there are several side walks to other gorges, caves and interesting sights, but we were happy to miss these out on this occasion, stepping away from the crowds of people and find our own quiet spots. Picking our way a short way down the creek we found a lovely quiet pool, a haven for small birds and butterflies – the perfect place for a picnic.

The river is a stunning feature of the gorge
We did a little rock hopping along Carnarvon Creek and found ourselves a little paradise for lunch
Step away from the crowds and you can find peaceful little rock pools looking like landscaped gardens

After lunch we continued our walk along the gorge, deciding to head to an area called ‘The Amphitheatre’. We were just walking over the stepping stones and I spotted a Platypus swimming along. It is so unusual to see one of these shy, often nocturnal creatures, we decided to miss out the side-walk in favour of watching out to see whether it would return.

This is the pool where Platypus live!

Our patience paid off – it didn’t take long before we spotted ripples and bubbles coming from the pool, and then there it was, popping up to the surface and making a dive down to catch a yabbie or other nourishing snack.

Platypus! As hard as photographing dolphins!
And again…trust me, this IS a Platypus!
And for our intrepid Platypus hunters, this is what you are looking for – enthusiastic ripples with a lot of bubbles – a clue that a Platypus has dived under and is finding a meal under the water

It was truly a magical experience, and worth waiting around for.

We concluded our day’s hiking by diverting beside another quiet area of Carnarvon Creek, along the ‘Nature Trail’. We watched a few birds enjoying their late afternoon baths and drinks, before heading back to camp.

These great sandstone walls tower over us on the walk
A Willie-Wagtail catching insects by the water
Walking on water? Willie Wagtail launches off to capture another insect
Late afternoon bath and drink time at the creek for this Blue-faced Honeyeater
Blue-faced Honeyeater

We had a lovely evening with a couple of other Zone owners, Sandie and Leigh, popping over for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles, sharing travel stories and all things Zone. There were so many parallels to our stories, and we had lots of laughs.

Later, when most of the lights were out and fires dying down, I went out into the cool night (about 5 degrees centigrade) to photograph the stars. The smear of smoke coming from the back of our Zone is in fact the Milky Way – hundreds of thousands of stars, seeming to go on forever. I have still a lot to learn about astrophotography, but I was quite pleased with this effort.

Perfect clear evenings

The following day we had a lazy start, deciding to enjoy the ambience and the campsite before taking a nature and bird watching focus for the afternoon.

Big views and a little cat
Tassie spots an interesting hole…mice!

As I picked up my rucksack I noticed a strange odour…I looked inside and found an apple I hadn’t managed to eat the day before was still inside, however with several bites out of it. Mice! Ugh. Other campers had mentioned there were lots of mice about and we hadn’t noticed until now. I cleaned out the mess and we continued.

We had decided to tackle two of the quieter walks – the Nature Trail and Rockpool walk. Both follow the creek, and walking quietly along it doesn’t take long to find plenty of bird life around, as well as some stunning butterflies.

Never get tired of seeing a Laughing Kookaburra
Striated Pardalote
More Striated Pardalote – note the very shy female bottom right
There are many Grey Kangaroos and shyer Swamp Wallabies around
Olive-backed Oriole
Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater
And the rear of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
A White-necked (Pacific) Heron
White-necked Heron
A King Parrot shouting!
A White-winged Chough. These live in large gregarious family groups and turn over the ground looking for grubs and insects while chattering away. The white in their wing is hidden unless they fly. They have red eyes.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo – hard to see here, but they have a lovely striped tail
White-faced Heron – he was stood near the White-necked Heron, looking like he was sulking!
Red Dragonfly, Meadow Argus butterfly, orange grasshopper, Blue Argos butterfly, Monarch Butterfly

After a lovely afternoon in nature, we returned back to cook a home made pizza on the BBQ – finally we have nailed the technique – two delicious pizzas, perfectly prepared. Brilliant. After dark, I took Tassie out on a mouse hunt – she had a great time at our next door neighbour’s caravan chasing several little critters away from their fridge…she’s a little too slow to catch any these days, but had a good time trying.

You can’t beat a sunset glass of wine and a fire to end the day on

On Sunday morning we decided to hike up to Boolimba Bluff. It’s a walk with a warning: only for the physically fit. Apart from me being unable to breathe unimpeded(!), we both felt fit enough to tackle the climb (54 floors of climbing) via steep paths, steps and metal ladders.

A walk only for the very rugged – Mark proving he is in this category by climbing the first ladder (in distance)
Climbing the final ladder before the top

I won’t pretend I found it easy with my restricted airway, but we made it up to the top and were rewarded with a magnificent view, and a bench to catch our breath on.

Then and now – our first visit to this National Park and this lookout in 2014, and 7 years later
A view worth climbing up for

The climb down was much easier than the way up!

Climbing down is much easier!

Monday was our last day, so we decided again to have a wildlife spotting focus. After cleaning out the previous night’s mouse damage from the car (this time they had torn up tissues and attempted to eat everything – including the inner soles from Mr A’s shoes!), we drove back down to the National Park.

It was a blissful afternoon. Just taking the time to stop and observe what is around you is so calming, and helps us develop a far deeper connection with the environment we’re in. Mark’s really getting the hang of using his spotting scope for observing birds, and I’m getting lots of practice learning the photography side of things.

Red-browed Firetail – these are tiny little birds which feed in the grasses – flying up to nearby trees when they are disturbed, often very hard to see
A pair of female Red-backed Fairy-wrens
Female Red-backed Fairy-wren

We were just returning back along the river and I noticed a rock looked different from before. Mark looked through his scope and exclaimed “Yes! It’s a turtle!”. We stopped and watched the cutie as it sunned itself on the rock, before ultimately deciding it was time to get wet again and plopped back into the water with barely a ripple. Wonderful.

On our return walk we spy a Keft’s River Turtle sunning on a rock
Our turtle friend decides it is time to head back into the water, and vanishes with barely a ripple

We have been watching Sir Richard Attenborough’s Our Planet series on Netflix. While it has some fairly somber messages for the world, it does remind us what still remains and how important it is that we take steps to ensure humans and wildlife can live harmoniously. We hope that by sharing our photos and stories, we can raise awareness of some of the stunning bird and wildlife out there and maybe sway people to think about how to protect these in the future.

Carnarvon Gorge National Park will remain in our memories as a very special location. It is a spiritually and culturally important place and a haven for many birds and animals. Five glider species call this home – we saw a few on our last visit during a night safari tour. The gorge is also full of echidnas, rufous bettongs, kangaroos and wallabies, as well as freshwater turtles, fish, snakes, goannas and more than 170 species of bird (we counted about 30 on our trip!).

While we can never hope to fully understand the significance of this location to our First Nations people, we leave with that continued feeling of connection we had felt in the past. We would certainly recommend this location to anyone that wishes to experience nature at her best…except the mice – hopefully the owls will sort that out before you visit!

A final sunset as we bid this beautiful place farewell

7-10 June: When you’re excited to go to a supermarket…

Author: Mr A

Location: Morven and Roma, Central Queensland

We continued our journey east, we would be staying a couple of nights at the small town of Roma to resupply before heading north and off grid once again. On the way to Roma we decided to break the journey with a night just outside the small settlement of Morven.

Our home for the evening was a working farm, grazing sheep, cattle and goats, with an abundance of bird life. Checking in at the office we also noticed it was home too a small business Gidgee Smith Bags. The owner set up the business 13 years ago on line and has gone from strength to strength, now employing a couple of people and producing these really smart bags from a pvc material.

A few of the bags on display in the office

We love to see this type of small enterprise, unencumbered by their location in the middle of nowhere. It probably keeps the local Post Office open as well! They also run a little coffee shop and mobile van for the passing (mostly caravans) traffic on the highway. How enterprising.

Tassie liked the fact that she had 15 acres almost to herself! It was a very peaceful afternoon for the three of us, Catherine capturing some more fab shots with the zoom lens, me continuing to get the hang of my new spotting scope, and Tas, well she was just hanging out. She doesn’t even have to leave her chair to get a drink!

Table service for Princess Tasmania
Tassie melting into her cushion in blissful sleep – the perfect combination of sunshine and shade to her liking

Apparently over 70 species of birds had been listed on their property, and what a lovely surprise to be somewhere our hosts even knew that! I think we got to 20?

Australian Kestrel in the setting sun
Hoary-headed Grebes swimming in the dam
Australian Magpie
”I’ve got an itch right on the back of my neck!” – Apostlebirds
Caper White Butterfly in the campground garden
Australian Ringneck (Mulga Ringneck)
Australian Painted Lady Butterfly
Female Superb Fairy-wren
A young moulting male Superb Fairy-wren
A Yellow-faced Miner
Striated Pardalote – very hard to see as they are so tiny and spend their time up in the tree’s canopy. You can hear their loud voices from a long way away.
Singing Honeyeater
One we have never seen before – a Striped Honeyeater. They have a brush tongue and use it to eat nectar from flowers

We then tootled off to Roma, our first town with a large Coles/Woolworths type supermarket since our small supermarket at Leigh Creek – 1,741 km behind us! Isn’t that just incredible? Charleville did have an IGA to be fair, but it was still a small supermarket. So this was our first town with a big supermarket in since Whyalla, over 2,095 kilometres away!

From Whyalla, our last town with a big supermarket, to Roma – 2,095km later!

For those of you not familiar with the sheer scale of Australia, that illustrates how low the population density is away from the coast and our cities. Imagine needing some fish sauce or oyster mushrooms for that Asian recipe you want to cook…or to find some wholemeal or fresh vegan pasta..….oops..”Bye honey…just need to pop out to the supermarket…don’t wait up…back in a week or two” And in the couple of little shops we did see on the way, you will of course be paying an enormous premium for basic foodstuffs. Quite a different world. So we were excited to get our big restock done at a big national chain supermarket!

Is it sad when you rejoice in a trip to a big supermarket??

I wonder how many Australians forced to take their holidays domestically this year (we are banned from travelling other than to NZ, and that is often interrupted by our continuous outbreaks of COVID-19 from hotel quarantines) and will be shocked by how different life is for the 15% of Australians who don’t live in our five urban centres? Hopefully the tourism dollars flowing into these regional businesses will help revive some of these small towns.

We arrived at Roma to find a delivery waiting for us – a pop up screen room from our old favourite manufacturer Oztent. We have looked at annexes over the years, but they tend to be bulky and heavy and take a while to put up. This screen tent is plenty big enough for us, and literally pops up in seconds. Another couple of minutes to peg it out and we have doubled the fly and mozzie proof living area we have available to us. Let’s see how it works out but first impressions are very good.

Oztent Screen House – waterproof walls to keep out that wind and rare rain

A wine top up was also required, and fulfilled at a little bottle shop next door to our caravan park. I also slipped in most importantly, another bottle of Woodford Reserve, our bourbon of choice. Well, it’s going to be zero degrees at night where we are headed, so something a little warming is required, or so the rationale went.

A warming drop of Kentucky Bourbon around the campfire in our future

Mrs A spotted (despite my best efforts to distract her) a sign to “the biggest bottle tree in Roma”, and off we went.

Bottle trees swell up with stored water. This tree is probably several hundred years old.

For you folk not based in Australia, yup…weird looking creations. I feel like singing “Who ate all the pies” when walking past them, but as they are pretty prevalent in Central Queensland that’s probably a slippery slope to mandatory mental health support.

So water tanks are filled, fridges and freezer stocked, washing bag empty (highly unusual status), wine store brimming over (not so unusual), its off to the wooly wilds again. Our water will need to last for five days, and thankfully the sun is forecast to shine as we will have no access to mains electricity. Carnarvon Gorge here we come! Talk soon…

21-23 May: Northern Flinders up to Marree

Author: Mr A

Location: Northern Flinders and Marree, Northern South Australia

Australia has this brand of being populated with outdoorsy and Crocodile Dundee outback types, but in fact is one of the most urbanised nations in the world, with two thirds of Aussies living in a capital city, and 90 per cent of them clustering into just 0.22 per cent of the country’s land area. So when you are away from the urban areas, as we mainly are, it sure isn’t busy! And we are about to head into one of the least populated areas of the country, the vast expanse of the far northern end of South Australia.

Leaving behind the relative comforts of the campsite at Rawnsley Park Station in the southern Flinders, we headed north for the drive up to our next destination of the small settlement of Maree. Catherine had spotted that on the way there was a “self-guided drive” along an area of outstanding geological significance. As a geographer by education she was keen. Me, I know whats good for me, I go where I’m told 🙂

Lookout over the Flinders as we leave
Rolling hills

It was actually a very interesting drive, a little rougher than I expected, but the information boards told a fascinating story of this ancient landscape. When you read that something you’re looking at is 610 million years old, it really puts in perspective the impact we homo sapiens have had in such a microcosm of time, so much so we have our own geological period unofficially named for us – the Anthropocene.

We also saw stromatolites, which are some of the earliest life forms we have found evidence of (the oldest being the ones we saw in WA dated to around 3,500 million years old!), and as the ozone layer built up over hundreds of millions of years (and that we put at risk in a decades, thanks to strong global action, now seems to be repairing) it created the first known complex life forms of Ediacara Fauna (soft bodied sea dwellers).

Fossilised stromatolites
Hoping we don’t meet another vehicle coming around the blind bend and hill
Magnificent scenery
Our view for lunch
More dramatic geology
Following a dry creek bed which clearly occasionally floods judging by the logs piled up
A geographer’s dream – just look at this uplifted ancient sea bed dwarfing our car and home

So with our heads stuffed full of this geological wonder, we emerged back on to the tarmac again and set course for the small mining town of Leigh Creek. Well, it was a mining town until the coal mine closed in 2015, and it may become one again if the plan goes ahead to create a key ingredient for fertiliser by heating the underground coal seams. We were relieved to see that not only was the local supermarket still open (the town has dwindled to around 120 people now) but was really well stocked with fresh fruit and veg. This is most unusual, and we were very grateful, as the next supermarket on our route north would be 1,201km away!

When you look at the health stats on rural Australians, they have lower life expectancies, and suffer from more preventable diseases. It just isn’t healthy in the (remote) country. It really doesn’t surprise us looking at the contents of most of these remote stores, and as for exercise opportunities, well there’s certainly a dearth of walking or cycling routes, and a climate that for much of the year would make using them pretty uncomfortable.

We pulled off for the night a 100km short of Marree, by Clarrie’s Waterhole. Nothing there, just a flattish piece of gravel, and with full water tanks and fridges that is all we needed. We were treated to a big outback sunset, then settled in for what was a very peaceful night.

Tassie has a short explore before demanding one of her servants open the door for her
This is big sky country
Emu footprints and giant paws…what beast prowls these parts I wonder…?
We are rewarded with a fabulous sunset

The morning saw us make the short run into Marree, a small (150 people and still dropping) service centre for the large sheep and cattle farms in this remote area of far north South Australia. It also lies at the junction of two inconic outback travel routes the Oodnadatta Track (which runs for over 600km up to the north west) and the Birdsville Track, that we will be taking.

The Ghan railway passed through here at one stage…the tracks are now quiet…and a painted water tank shows wild horses, camels, dingos, kangaroos and emus racing around…
Mr A checks out the Marree Hotel…it is closed and nobody is there to take a booking for dinner (though after the food poisoning incident a few weeks ago Mrs A is still understandably nervous of pub dinners!)

I noticed the roadhouse operates scenic flights from here over Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre. A bit of bucket list item for us, particularly as it has water from the Queensland floods now reaching it – a particularly rare occurrence. So off we went for our 90 minute ride around the skies above this massive natural wonder.

We thank the Arabunna people as, since 2012, the recognised traditional owners of the land we flew over. What an incredible landscape these people have lived on for thousands of years, before the Europeans arrived and claimed the land as their own in order to graze their sheep and cattle on.

Our little chariot for the afternoon…note the fly nets – our first use of these in years, and a necessity in Marree

In those rare flood years, it fills 960 sq kilometres of lake – for comparison, Sydney Harbour is 55 sq km. When it is dry and the salt is hard, it’s big and solid enough for Donald Campbell to have set a world land speed record on, averaging 649kph! It also is home to the lowest natural point on the Australian mainland, at 15 metres below sea level.

Our flight traversed 427km in just under 2 hours
Look carefully and you will see the Dog Fence (Dingo Fence) built to prevent wild dingos and dogs from killing sheep
Some of the views from our plane – the dry salt and the mud flats and islands
The patterns in the salt are like modern artworks
The edge of the floodwaters below – that white dot is another little plane far below us!
The floodwaters from the recent rains in Queensland are lapping on the shores
The very front edge of the floodwaters
The south-east corner of the lake where the salt takes on a pink hue

The area also has its fair share of mysteries, such as how do birds who are thousands of kilometres away know that the lake has flooded and fly there? In the 1998/99 flood apparently around 80% of Australia’s total pelican population turned up there! Just one of the mysteries surrounding bird navigation. If it is a subject that interests you, like it does us, check out the Sunday Times Nature Book of the Year in 2019 “Incredible Journeys’. It collects all that we know currently about how animals (including us) navigate, and highlights by implication so much of what still remains a mystery.

Back on solid ground (to the relief of Mrs A!)

Another mystery in the area is the so called “Marree Man”, a modern geoglyph (large design you can only really appreciate from the air), but unlike the famous ones in the UK and South America, this was created, by persons unknown in the winter of 1998. Thanks to NASA for enabling the timeframe for its creation to be nailed down, but nobody since has owned up to being the artist, despite Dick Smith even offering a $5,000 reward! You can’t beat an outback mystery…

With a 28km long outline and being 4km long top to bottom it is quite a feat!

Today we are heading off up the Birdsville Track. We are unlikely to have any internet for the next few days (or possibly longer if we linger!), so all going well we will post next from the Birdsville Pub in state number four for this trip – Queensland!

16-21 May: Hiking some of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges

Author: Mrs A

Location: Rawnsley Station, Ikara Flinders Ranges, South Australia

We reluctantly pulled away from Quorn, wishing we had booked for longer and explored the region around this little friendly town in more depth, but unfortunately had little choice. Firstly, the campsite in Quorn was fully booked for the upcoming week, and secondly we had booked in to stay at Rawnsley Station, on the border of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

A short drive from Quorn is the little settlement of Hawker. It has an art gallery that is quite well known for featuring some of the region’s most prominent artists, but sadly that was closed on this Sunday morning. Fortunately for us though, the other key attraction, Flinders Food Co, a cafe serving excellent food, was open for business. We called on in and ordered some delicious lunch from the interesting menu – well deserving of its great reputation.

Fine food in an unexpected location

As we drove up towards our home for the next few days we noticed quite a few vintage cars towing camper trailers. Apparently they had just come down the Birdsville Track, the route we are intending to take over the next couple of weeks into southern Queensland. Seeing the skinny wheels, most of the vehicles without air conditioning, heating or electric windows, made us feel more comfortable that we won’t struggle too much on our trip north. Punctures will be our greatest fear – we have changed a few tyres in our years travelling Australia, and it’s hard work with these heavy chunky wheels! Our fingers are crossed our tyres stay inflated. Changing a vintage car tyre would be much simpler!

One of the vintage cars that had traversed the outback track – most of the drivers/enthusiasts are mechanics so do repairs on the go

Our destination was Rawnsley Park Station which was initially settled as a sheep station in the mid 1800s, originally part of Arkarba Station. Previous to this it was the domain of the Adnaymathanha Aboriginal people. Arkarba Station was split up , and in 1951 Rawnsley Park Station was purchased by Clem Smith and his family.

Rawnsley Park Station turned to tourism in 1968 to supplement its sheep business and has not looked back. It’s a pretty well set up operation, with many marked walking and mountain biking trails, and a short drive to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges national park. Scenic flights and helicopter trips offer another way to see the region. Mr A asked about the Aboriginal history, but nobody seemed to know anything.

A bit of online searching suggests that when the sheep station was initially settled there was conflict between the First Nation Adnaymathanha people and the white farmers. Aboriginal people were shot in retribution for hunting sheep to feed their families.

I liken the situation to aliens landing and taking over our water supplies, farms cathedrals, theatres, opera houses and supermarkets and restricting our access to them all. Thirsty and hungry we are then driven to trying to dash in and get some food, and are killed for our trouble. A pretty nasty situation, and one that completely changed the way First Nations people had to live their lives. They gradually adapted to become workers on the stations, stepping away from thousands of years of sustainable living.

Today, the Adnaymathanha people are integral in their work as rangers in the national park, helping to restore the land to its former sustainable state. We thank and acknowledge these communities and their ancestors for their connection to these lands for thousands of years.

The rocky walls tower over us as we start our hike

Once we had settled into our site we pulled on our boots and set off for an afternoon hike. Rawnsley Park Station has a number of signed hikes ranging from 2 to 12 kilometres in length. We picked a 6.5km one named after one of the early station owners, Clem’s Corner. Clem is also the name of Mark’s fondly remembered late father, so the name was particularly poignant.

Remembering Clem Anderson at Clem’s Corner
A narrow rocky path picks along the hillside – you have to stop watching your feet to enjoy the view

We are approaching the end of autumn now, so the sun is setting earlier and especially where there are mountains (hills) towering above you. Rawnsley Bluff is the highest peak on the property at 943 metres (3093 ft). As we reached the lookout the light was incredible – the shadows long across the land and the colours incredibly vivid, the pinks, blues, mauves, purples and oranges a feast for the eyes.

The Station is home to many birds, including the beautiful Red-capped Robin. We had never seen one of these before, and were delighted with this little chap emerged from the native cypress pines surrounded by his multitude of girlfriends.

The Cypress Pines are covered in lichens – you could almost imagine it’s snow or frost
Red-capped Robin – looking vibrant in the approaching dusk

Early the following morning we set off on another walk through the Station, rewarded for our prompt start with many more robins, Mulga Parrots, Mallee Ringneck Parrots, huge Wedge-tailed Eagles and Emus.

The Red-capped Robin is startlingly crimson
The female Red-capped Robin has a faint orange forehead
Singing Honeyeaters live here too
A Grey Kangaroo bounds off as we appear
Mulga Parrots – the males are brightly coloured in comparison to the females – new to us too
Finishing our walk by climbing up to another lookout

We took a drive out to nearby Arkaroo Rock, a significant cultural site for the Adnaymathanha people of the Flinders Ranges. ‘Arkaroo’ comes from the name given to the petrified serpents which later became the mountains of Ikara.

Without interpretation we can only guess what the drawings depict – we can see trees or leaves…

Unfortunately the National Park folk have neglected to share any interpretive information about the charcoal and ochre paintings. The paintings depict the Yura Muda or Dreaming (creation story) of Ikara.

Watching the walls change colour as the sun sets
Mulga Parrots at Arkaroo Rock
Drinking moisture from the tin roof – as the temperature drops at the end of the day, condensation appears

A warm camp fire concluded our day with a nice glass of Malbec. With the nights dropping to between 2 and 6 degrees, we certainly appreciate all the warmth we can get!

The temperature here warms up to the late teens or early 20s during the day, starting to drop as soon as the sun dips behind the hills. It is a perfect time of year to be here. Mark and I last visited the Flinders in January 2004 (17 years ago), when day time temperatures were in the high 30s and we had to start our walks before sunrise to get the cool of the day and minimise flies. There are virtually no flies here currently, which definitely helps the situation. Walking without fly nets over your hat is impossible in the hotter months.

Another walk around the property revealed more bird and wild life including, of course, more adorable robins.

Male robins are constantly on the lookout for competition
Sitting in a native Cypress Pine tree – these are common around the property and take 100 years to grow 6 feet
Mallee Ring Neck Parrot
The Ringneck Parrots like corrugated iron roofs too

Walking back to the van we stumbled across another guest travelling with a cat. This cat is just 18 months old and huge, like a small lion – he is a Maine Coon – they can reach more than 8kg in weight – double Tassie!

Meet Inspector Gadget…

We regularly encourage Tassie to be active and get outside, but being 17 she’s mostly keen to sit in the sunshine and sleep! One one short walk from the caravan she decided to mark her territory…while a dog might do this by urinating, Tassie’s choice was to find a big dust bowl and have a good roll – rubbing her cheeks and therefore her scent on the rocks and ground. One very orange cat emerged – she needed a good brush and wipe down with a damp cloth afterwards! She was not impressed, but forgave us after another nap in the sunshine!

Solar cat in her element, if slightly tangerine

We paid a visit to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, just under half an hour’s drive away. There are a range of walks available to do there, ranging from the easy 8km hike we did up to Ikara (Wilpena Pound) up to a couple of multi day (multi week even) hikes.

Ikara was a place of initiation ceremonies and corroborees (gatherings and rituals) until it was designated as farming land in the 1850s and farmers from Adelaide arrived with thousands of sheep. Needless to say, the climate of long droughts followed by flood meant the farm did not survive.

The area was designated as a national park in 1945 though it took until 2016 for the name Ikara to be included in the National Park’s name, in recognition of the significance of this place. Ikara features in traditional Aboriginal songs across Australia, showing just how important this location is to First Nation groups from right across the country.

The Adnaymathanha rangers have worked hard to rid the park of pests, including wild cats, rabbits and goats, though there is some work to do still as we saw both goats and a rabbit on our visit. Still, the Yellow-footed Wallaby is now stabilised there, after being driven to near extinction previously.

Check out those yellow feet and striped tail 🤍

It’s a beautiful area and it pays to take the walk slowly, enjoying the sights and sounds, and for us, appreciate the novelty of tall trees after our time on the Eyre Peninsular where they are few and far between.

Not too busy on this walk
Laughing Kookaburra
Laughing Kookaburra
Inland Thornbill hunting for grubs and insects on a fallen tree
A Euro looks up at us from the path below

We climbed to the lookout and admired the view. The Flinders are the highest mountains in South Australia, Ikara stretching out before us filled with native pine and eucalypts.

Ikara – formerly known as Wilpena Pound

The Woolshed Restaurant was our evening treat – located on Rawnsley Park Station itself. As we are on a sheep station, the menu was no surprise – specialising in lamb, with fish, kangaroo and vegetarian options for those preferring something different. We decided to share a lamb tasting platter, including chops, sausages and rump. Delicious, but a whole lot of meat! Somehow we managed to find space for dessert – a vegan panacotta for me and an affrogato for Mr A.

A delicious feast and break from cooking for ourselves

On our final day we took a walk up towards Rawnsley Bluff, the highest point on the range surrounding the sheep station. Magnificent views were our reward, plus more wildlife – Euros (stocky, hairy kangaroos!), Emus and more Mulga Parrots nesting in the hollow branches of a dead tree. A fitting end to a brilliant few days here.

A group of emus strut across the plains
Magnificent views as we hike up
Can you spot the Euros amongst the spinifex grasses?
Mr A hiking up the hill
More views and no other people on our walk
Mulga Parrots flying to their night’s roost
Mulga Parrots
Euro
We stood really still and this curious Emu came over to check us out! Too close for my camera!
Sunset Emu

We will never forget our time here, it has been truly magical. But it is time for us to continue our journey north, we have some exciting things to see over the coming few days!

Farewell Rawnsley Park Station

11-16 May: We’re heading “up the Track”

Author: Mr A

Location: Whyalla/Quorn, Ikara-Flinders Ranges

Our South Australia sojourn is drawing to an end after four months, and tropical central Queensland here we come! Our plan is to “head up the track”, as the saying goes when tackling an iconic outback adventure: the Birdsville Track. The track starts in South Australia’s arid north, and winds its way through three deserts before spitting you out, very dusty and thirsty, at the Birdsville Pub a few kilometres over the border in the central west of Queensland. It will be an adventure for sure.

But first we had a bunch of jobs to get done in the small town of Whyalla, where Catherine was once again going to fly back to Adelaide for steroid injections into her airway, a visit to the hairdressers and some retail therapy. I was being looked after by Tassie, and getting some local medical stuff done. Then it was a matter of cramming as much fresh food into the van and car as we could store. 1,700 km lies between us and our next supermarket in Queensland! Yup…thats a long way between fresh vegetables!

The steel works (top left) and the coastal walkway in Whyalla
Very rarely do we need to wear a mask these days but they are compulsory when flying, Top left, early morning at Whyalla airport, bottom left Whyalla from the skies
Catherine farewells the doctor and nurse team in Adelaide – primarily laryngologists Dr Theo and Dr Alice (right). She hopes to do some research with them later this year.
Later that day….post haircut and bouncy blow dry, a night out with friend of 35+ years, Ali 🤍
Friday farewell lunch with two of the Adelaide ladies from Catherine’s idiopathic subglottic stenosis support group, Carmel and Heather.

Whyalla is a town that has been struggling for years under threat of its biggest employer, the steel mill, closing down. Today the serious crime squad in London announced it was opening an investigation into the mill’s owner, but despite this cloud, everyone was super friendly and a strong sense of community was evident. But, we couldn’t wait to hit the road.

After six weeks on the very flat Eyre Peninsula, it was great to see the country rising up into jagged peaks in front of us This was the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, a semi-arid country containing some of Australia’s most important fossils and evidence of early human history. We had made a trip here back in 2004, but it was January and crazy hot. Now daytime temperatures are pleasant in the high teens and low 20s, and nights in single figures that have us both fighting over a snuggle with our hot water cat in bed!

Our first destination was the small settlement of Quorn, a town made famous by having for many years both the main east to west and south to north railroads passing through it. During World War 2, around 40 trains a day passed through the town carrying our troops up to defend Darwin and on from there on to fight against the Japanese in the Papua-New Guinea campaign. Nowadays its a very pleasant stop on the tourist route up into the ranges. It even has a tea shop serving a range of brews in English china cups. So civilised.

Quorn high street
Fine bone china teacups made in England
Quorn’s main street has stood relatively still for the past 100+ years
Quorn Railway Station
Wattle Bird
A beautiful Mallee Ringneck Parrot
A gaggle of White-plumed Honeyeaters
An Australian Magpie on our campground
Tassie hunting interesting smells on an accompanied walk

We had managed to snare a cancellation on the only caravan park in town. It is a really busy season up here, and we had heard from friends who stayed locally that there was an outdoor movie shown every evening at sunset. We dressed up warm and headed out. The film was projected onto the side of an old silo, very atmospheric, and had some really interesting content, including from an elder of one of the First Nation groups to live on this ancient land. So inspiring to to see a community pulling a project together like this.

Fifty seconds until the show starts – the sun has set and the new moon risen
Some of the projections during the 30 minute show

Tomorrow we head further up into the ranges and a three night stay on a sheep station, and then from there up to the end of the tarmac and the start of 519km of the Birdsville Track.

It may be a while before we get enough signal to upload another post, hence the heads up on our plans over the next few weeks. It would be an unusual plan that survives contact with the Outback, so our fingers are crossed, but we think we have prepared well enough. The wine cellar is full, the fridge groaning, and the tanks full.

16-19 April: Back to Sheringa Beach

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

We had decided to move on from Elliston, but that was before I woke early on Friday morning feeling somewhat unwell. Food poisoning. Either from the meal at the pub or the spoonful of ‘past its use-by date’ coconut yoghurt and fresh raspberries I had on my return, either way, I was not in a good state, and unable to stray more than a metre or two from a toilet. Mark tried his best to persuade the caravan park to let us stay another day, but they already had someone coming into our site and were fully booked.

Mark did all the packing up and we drove the longest 30 minutes ever down to Sheringa Beach, where we had stayed the previous weekend, found the same site we were on then and settled down for the long haul. I will not go into detail, but the following three days were pretty awful for me, and worse for Mark who was thankfully feeling well but was amazing, looking after me with kindness and patience.

Mark managed to escape on a few occasions to explore by himself, rinding in to the sand dunes and to ‘Round Lake’ which sits behind the dunes and beach.

Dune buggies and four-wheel-drives frequent these sand hills…as well as the odd Surly!
Reaching the lake shore
Climbing up into the dunes, the lake in the background

Perhaps most importantly, the 17th was Tassie’s 17th birthday, which was a sunny occasion filled with sunbathing and exploring the dunes – just as she would like! She’s such an amazing and adaptable cat – not many felines can boast having visited every capital city in Australia, climbed sand hills overlooking Uluru, slapped dogs in Cooktown and sunbathed beside a crocodile infested lake near Darwin…but Tassie can. The only state she hasn’t visited is, ironically, her namesake, Tasmania. Maybe in the spring…?

Princess Tassie turns 17

I didnt stray much further than the caravan for the first two days, and on day three managed a short walk for an hour to see the dunes.

A stormy morning – Mr A looking like he’s hiking through snowfields
Amazing textures and patterns in the sand
Looking across the swirling sands to a storm approaching out to sea
Dwarfed by sand, I walk along the top of a ridge
Jelly legs

On day four, I managed another walk in the morning. We saw our first ever flock of Rock Parrots, beautiful green birds which nest in the cliffs and spend days in the dunes behind the beach feeding on nuts, berries and seeds. There were several shore birds feeding on the sandy water’s edge, enjoying the natural bounties this coast has to offer.

The next bay around from Sheringa Beach
Sanderlings run behind the waves, pecking and chasing, darting up the beach as each wave breaks
A Sanderling racing behind an incoming wave
A Sanderling takes flight, moving along the beach to another foraging location
Silver Gulls being a little wind blown on the shore
Young Silver Gulls strut along the shore – adults have white eyes and pure red beaks – this youngster has a black eye and beak tip
The huge Pacific Gulls are common down here – around half a metre in size
Looking up a deserted coast after a short walk on the beach

I managed a few roasted vegetables for lunch without incident and we went on our way, heading for Coffin Bay. After four days without food or water, my head is pounding and body aching and weak, but hopefully finally on the mend. Food poisoning officially is something I never want to experience again!

I feel somewhat cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy this spectacular area more, but ultimately feel privileged I was able to see it at all. We offer our thanks and recognition to the traditional owners, the Wirangu, Nauo and Kokatha people for their careful custodianship over the past thousands of years, preserving the integrity and enabling us to spend time in this pristine place.

11-14 February: Touching upon the western Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gleeson’s Landing and Port Victoria, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Packing up and leaving our spectacular camp at Coffin Beach was a challenge, as was farewelling our wonderful camp companions, Kim and Mike. They were off back to Adelaide, while we continued on our way. We topped up our water tanks in nearby Marion Bay, and crossed the peninsula to a council campsite on the other side known as Gleeson’s Landing.

Emus strolling along the road in Marion Bay – this adult male is babysitting the chicks

You cannot reserve sites here – it is literally first come, first served, but there are a lot of water’s edge areas to camp. Ideally suited to self contained caravans, there are a few long-drop toilets dotted around, but they are not necessarily well maintained. We found ourselves a recently vacated area on top of a small cliff overlooking the water, setting up moments before the weather changed.

What started as a hot and humid morning, changed as though by a switch of a button, the wind picking up, swinging around to bring a strong, cool southerly storm, accompanied by showers.

We watch the radar show as the weather changes dramatically
We get set up just in time before the first fat heavy rain drops fall
The calm before the storm – mirror-like stillness on the water in front of our site

The storm soon passes, leaving us with a spectacular evening about 10 degrees cooler with an incredible sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the headland
As the tide retreats it makes a great platform to reflect the wonderful colours in the sky
Looking up the coast, a double rainbow in the remaining storm clouds
And the last splashes of colour to complete our day

The following morning was cool with a fresh breeze, but it didn’t prevent our adventurous Burmese Princess from venturing out for an explore on the cliffs and dunes.

Tassie exploring

At this point we had been without any internet or phone access for five days, which may sound like heaven to some people, but when you are living full time on the road managing your affairs (and an online global support group) completely in the cloud, meant we were getting a bit nervous. Having most of our family living in the UK also meant we felt a little out of touch, hoping everyone was doing ok and keeping well.

We decided to find ourselves a town to settle down in for a couple of nights, and selected a random settlement half way up the west coast, with camping on the show ground having a full mobile phone signal. We packed up and drove to Port Victoria.

We got settled in and had a relaxing afternoon catching up on news and downloading books to read, before deciding to go out to dinner at the local pub.

Well that was a disappointment. Given it was Friday night, perhaps we should have expected it to be a little rowdy, but I guess we are out of practice with these things. It was unfortunate that a group of 20 or so men were dining there, having spent a good couple of hours downing beers as an appetiser. The atmosphere was not very relaxing. We had no other dining options, so little choice other than to eat our fresh fish and salad quickly and leave! It was probably the fastest meal out we have ever had!

We had a look around town (a tiny settlement with a population of just under 350 people), learning it was once a huge and thriving port. Windjammers were huge multi masted sailing ships which docked here at the jetty to collect grain to be transported to Falmouth (in Cornwall, where we spent Mr A’s birthday, last year) in the UK, and Queenstown in New Zealand.

The scale of these ships is almost unfathomable- the masts towered at twice the height of the tallest pine trees in the town (image was commissioned for a postage stamp – source)
The jetty still has been maintained, though is mostly used for crabbing and fishing from these days
We suspect little has changed since the last of the ships sailed into here in the 1940s

There’s a coastal walk/cycle which leads several kilometres to an Aboriginal reserve,

Lichen covered rocks along the coast

Other than a short walk, we did very little on Saturday, spending the day with Tassie, reading and drinking numerous cups of tea. A great opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back to Adelaide for a few days.

A good ebook, a cool shady spot, a cold drink, and the company of Miss Tassie – what more could one want?