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

Author: Mr A

Location: Diddillibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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

Its a serious business getting a van serviced 🙂

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

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

Our luxury ‘Surry Hills apartment’ on wheels

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

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

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

Concluding a fine breakfast at Mykies by the Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading. Soapbox dismounted.

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9-15 September: A 65th birthday to remember

Author: Mrs A

Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia

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.

Thanks to Libby for this shot of Team Anderson
65th birthday morning paddle

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.

A chilli margarita for Mr A
Delicious food and a superb cake from Fiona’s Fancies

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.

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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!

Smiling faces on the sunset cruise
Sunset on the Noosa River
Where else would you rather be?

The evening was topped off with a lovely meal at the Noosa Yacht and Rowing Club.

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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.

Eumundi Markets

A local Lebanese restaurant provided our dining experience for the evening, and we were again joined by our friends Ray and Wendy.

Taste of Istanbul – interesting menu but a little squished with poor acoustics

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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).

Tawny Frogmouth enjoying the afternoon sunshine
Tawny Frogmouth – usually very well disguised in the day, their feathers making them look like a piece of wood.
A Black-faced Cuckooshrike
Red-backed Fairywren
A Purple-breasted Swamp Hen
Blue-faced Honeyeater

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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.

More edible goodies at the Noosa Farmer’s Market

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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.

Partial team photo at the beginning
Phil is master of team selfies, and managed to capture us all in one frame

It was a beautiful walk, taking us through paper bark gum trees and along sandy and swamp lined pathways covered in spring wildflowers.

Wendy and Libby head off down a shady path lined by paper bark trees
Spring flowers including an about-to-burst tree orchid

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.

Mark and Wendy on Teewah Beach
A flock of Common Terns fly past…the water looks mighty tempting

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.

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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.

Laughs to complete the day
Ray, Mr A and Phil glowing in the setting sun
Phil and one of his now world famous group selfies

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!

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Tin Can Bay, the Fraser Coast, Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motto for the week – enjoy the moment 🙂

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

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

Why would you leave this to live in a caravan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful times with friends in Noosa

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

Exploring Brittany and Normandy in France

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

Adventures in Devon
Back to the loving arms of our family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on!

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

3-6 September: Rivers and lakes…continuing our journey south through Queensland

Author: Mrs A

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.

A pair of Scaly-breasted Lorikeets – a first for us!
A Brown Honeyeater shows it is possible to drink nectar before the flower blooms
A young Mud Crab hiding in the rocks on the river – a huge 2kg crab was caught somewhere near here two years ago, which made the news. There was nothing that big around on our visit!
A Magpie Lark keeps a lookout from up in the trees

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.

The Kiwi Zoners – Beverley and Ben joined us for an evening

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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.

Redbrook Lake
We get a workout carrying our spotting gear!
Always a Laughing Kookaburra, one of Australia’s 10 species of kingfisher
A muddy beak shows this chap has been digging in the water’s edge for its meal

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.

An Australian Kestrel has found a fine location for a nest
Pied Stilt on the water’s edge
A pair of Royal Spoonbills
Mark counted 20 turtles balancing on this fallen log and there are more in the distance
An Australasian Figbird – they are more olive than yellow in these parts
Many Tree Martins make their home here and are seen swooping over the lake catching insects
A Crested Pigeon perches precariously on a branch
A group of Grey-crowned Babblers hunting for invertebrates in the orchard
Too common for the aviary, this is a wild Double-barred Finch in the woodland
A pair of Pale-headed Rosellas fly in for a visit
Australian Maned Duck (also known as a Wood Duck)
A Rainbow Lorikeet finds the newly flowering Grevillea

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.

A magnificent Pied Peacock – not an Australian native!
He leaps down as soon as he spots a group of Peahens strolling past, and up go the tail feathers
He is quite a handsome specimin
He knows how good looking he is!
Meanwhile, in the aviary, this pretty Gouldian Finch is an Aussie native, but we haven’t seen one in the wild
Smile for the camera!
They are quite shy deer
Very curious if cautious creatures

There was even one rare creature in captivity:

I didn’t get there in time to put the locking pin in!

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.

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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

A cup of tea in a local Innisfail cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blasting the dust particles off the condenser

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

Pre-dinner Margaritas went down a treat

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

22-28 August: Kangaroos that climb trees and other delights on the Atherton Tablelands

Author: Mrs A

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.

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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.

Pots of tea and yummy food at the Nerada tea plantation. We even purchased a lovely cat teapot for our new home, wherever that may be!

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.

Very lucky to see a Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo

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

Love their black snouts and paws

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.

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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.

Five hundred years or more have created this huge wonder of a tree

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.

Spectacled and Pied Monarchs flit around the tree hunting for insects, and the thick tangle of roots and vines create many nesting opportunities

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.

A male Australasian Figbird in full song, supported by two females. The bright yellow male is most frequently seen up here. As we start heading south through Queensland their colouring will become duller and more olive-green.
Spotted Catbird – they only live in the wet tropics in far-north Queensland. Their call sounds just like a cat. There are three other types of Catbird in Australia, this is the only spotted one.

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.

Mr A heading off
Malanda Falls

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.

Johnstone River Snapping Turtle

We saw a few shy Red-legged Pademelons.

A Red-legged Pademelon – a small kangaroo that lives in tropical rainforests. They are quite secretive and solitary, so we were lucky to spot this chap through the undergrowth
Such a challenge to capture through the undergrowth

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.

Peering over the crater rim—58m down is the motionless, algal-green surface of the water, and 82m below that is rock-bottom.
Grey-headed Robin – like all robins, full of curiosity and character
Wompoo Fruit Dove feeding in the trees above before disappearing into the forest
Bower’s Shrikethrush hopping through the trees hunting insects
A Willie Wagtail pauses mid-chase, focused on its insect prey

We even spotted another Tree Kangaroo on this visit, right beside the path we were walking along.

Another Tree Kangaroo

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.

Dinner Falls cuts through the black granite
An ecosystem full of such rich diversity

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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.

Getting the jab – can the Government now read my mind?
Both done ☑️

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.

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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.

A Yellow-spotted Honeyeater in the late afternoon sun
An Australian Reed Warbler hunts for insects on the water’s edge
Pacific Black Ducks
A White-cheeked Honeyeater catches dinner…only to drop it…
A flock of Plumed Whistling Ducks flies across the wetlands looking for a place to roost
Plumed Whistling Ducks
Magpie Geese flying to their roosting site

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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.

Lake Eacham is home to 180 species of birds – amongst others we spotted Spectacled Monarch, Large Billed Gerygone and Pale-yellow Robins

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.

Almost teasing me, a Riflebird peers out from high up on a tree
I thought this was as good as my photos would get – I even captured the fabulous bright yellow mouth and turquoise green tail…

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.

Victoria’s Riflebird
Victoria’s RIflebird

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!

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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*A forthcoming prize to whomever can first name the comedy from which the title quote comes from 🙂

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Daintree Village, Far North Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We saw several types of kingfisher on our trips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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