22- 26 July: Birds and more birds!

Author: Mr A

Location: Mutarnee, Hinchinbrookshire, North Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird photography in progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13-20 July: Loitering on the Whitsunday Coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Mackay, Midge Point, Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tail held high – this is definitely a joyful gallop!

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

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

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

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

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

A final beach walk to conclude our visit

2-6 July: Rocky…you fed us well!

Author: Mr A

Location: Rockhampton and St Lawrence Wetlands, Queensland, Australia

We needed to have a couple of days in Rockhampton, or “Rocky” to its friends, and we did leave as friends, as Rocky fed us very well.

It had been a long long run since our last decent meal out, way back in the Flinders in South Australia. TruFusion Indian Bar and Grill just delivered on avery dimension. Service, food quality, ambience.

We started the usual conversation with our waitress “Catherine is dairy intolerant….” and got ready to say “No, gluten intolerance is different”, or to be told that there was only one dish on the menu she could eat as they add cream to everything, which happened twice in South Australia. But no, these guys make all their sauces from scratch and can customise your order. How about that for customer centric?

The menu options were mouth watering and we were both quite emotional. Now this may sound rather over the top, but we have been lucky enough to have dined out pretty regularly in some fabulous places, and the last few months have been such a disappointment in that regard. The owner of this restaurant, Amit, a local guy, came over and had a chat, made us feel valued, and we wish him and his great team all the best. The restaurant is doing really well, and it just shows you there’s still money in offering something special to customers.

The next day Catherine had a hair cut booked (the real reason we were in Rocky!) and I sneaked one in as well, so it‘s our tradition we take ourselves out for a meal with Mrs A looking especially glam. So out we went again, and had great food, and very ordinary service. But you can’t win them all. especially painful as this place was twice the price of TruFusion! Anyway, no matter, we enjoyed the night out.

Hendricks Lane – great food and wine but very poor service
A good hair day

Both evenings we had walked over the river from our campsite in the middle of town to reach our dinner destination. we were super impressed with what has been done along the riverfront. Coloured light shows, buildings lit up, fountains set amongst manicured gardens. Someone on Rocky Council is clearly a mover and a shaker. It felt a bit like Singapore without the visitors!

Rockhampton lit up for the evening

Catherine even managed to find some bird life just wandering around our rather muddy and scruffy campsite.

A Striated Pardalote with a beak full of spider on our campground
A Brahminy Kite flying along the Fitzroy River
Flight of the Australian Ibis – our international readers might see these as exotic, but in Aussie cities they have been dubbed the ‘Bin Chicken’ as the seagulls of our rubbish bins
We didn’t go swimming in the Fitzroy River!

We also called in on an old friend of a friend while we were in town. Our lovely friends back in Sydney, Rosemary and Richard, had asked if we could check in on Rockhampton local, Norman.

Norman has been in this house for over 60 years and is a lifetime resident of Rocky

Now Norman, now in his 80s, kept us entertained with stories of his time in Canada, where he met our friend Richard, and then his travels around Australia. Behind an old face lies a young soul from whom we have so much to learn. As I approach my mid sixties, I take this to heart. People have already started to treat me differently, explaining things that involve “computers” quite carefully, or the other day that a middle aged lady in an information centre said somewhere is a “really long walk” when it was less than 10km. Makes me smile, then makes me sad, all that we miss learning from older people because we have this focus on skin deep youthful beauty.

Rocky might not be on everyone’s tourist route, but we enjoyed its vibe. And we’d like to acknowledge the Darumbal (or Dharumbal) Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of the land that this growing city is now built on. So I would like to correct Queensland Tourism who describe Rockhampton as ”born back in the 1880s”. Quite a few thousand years out. Not a single word mentioned on their whole Rockhampton entry about its pre colonisation history. Very sad to see these omissions continue. We are noticing this more in Queensland than South Australia. I will say no more.

We left Rocky with full bellies and then turned north once again.

We decided on impulse to turn off to wetlands that were signposted, given wetlands and birds are usually besties. And we weren’t wrong. St Lawrence Wetlands was such a beautiful little place. We walked a short distance from our camp and spotted this lot!

The ‘Bin Chicken’ (Australian Ibis) in it’s natural environment
…and apply brakes!

This Brolga was pretty special for us. Just look at this magnificent creature. Quite a bully, flapping off the other smaller birds (so that‘s all of them!).

Brolga – standing tall!
Dancing Brolga
Black Swan
Torresian or Collared Kingfisher
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Beautiful water lilies
A lithe female Red-backed Fairy-wren thinks nothing of standing on a blade of grass in her hunt for insects
Radjah Shelducks
These look pretty but are a poisonous invasive plant, Mother of Millions

We even ran into some other Zone RV owners who had stopped at the park for lunch. We had met them a couple of years ago. Delightful people and we exchanged numbers. We’ve met so many quality people through our Zone ownership. I have often wondered is there something about the characteristic of the product that attracts people we seem to hit it off with? Anyway, we are grateful.

The local general store and petrol station
Not entirely sure why there is a giant crocodile on a boat here….but hey…

So an overnight stop turned into two nights there, and that’s the joy of our lack of agenda. We could be racing up to Cape York along with the literally thousands of other caravaners who we see charging up the Bruce Highway. But we have chosen to take our time to see the road less travelled. It was with relief then that we turned off the madness that was this main highway, and headed for one of our favourite spots in Australia. Over to Catherine for that one.

St Lawrence locals enjoying the last rays of sunshine

21-28 June: Testing times in Tannum Sands

Author: Mr A

Location: Tannum Sands, Queensland, Australia

On some weeks life just doesn’t quite work out as planned. We were looking forward to a relaxing week exploring a new area (and our first sight of the coast since we left South Australia), and in 6 days managed one bike ride and a short walk! We had a whole list of things we thought we would get to do, but thanks to some unexpected incidents those plans were sidetracked.

Tannum Sands is a small coastal community with a few shops and a couple of takeaways, quite different to the “gourmet dining scene” the brochures had promised. But we are used to that and expectations were appropriately kept in check. Whoever writes these tourist brochures for regional Australia should be awarded literary prizes for fiction 🙂

Our campsite was right across from the beach, and the first day we arrived was the only time we had a chance to set foot on it in the early evening.

Right opposite our campsite

The bike ride was great, a dedicated cycle path winding up the coast along these beautiful beaches and the river.

Contemplating if my tyres would keep me afloat 🙂

We made it round a headland to the Boyne River, all very picturesque. So where do these people who live here eat out I wondered pointlessly.

Low tide

Usually cycling and birding aren’t easy bedfellows, but this ride was to prove the exception. Catherine spotted a kingfisher down by the river bank, and we later discovered it was a type we hadn’t seen before, a Torresian Kingfisher that you only find living around mangroves.

A Torresian Kingfisher

Her sharp eyes then spotted a lace monitor soaking up the sun.

A lace monitor chilling out

Fairy wrens were abundant, flitting everywhere around the vegetation. Queensland has had some decent rain this year so maybe the bird life is flourishing from this?

A Red-backed Fairy-wren flirting with his future girlfriend

Another day we took a short walk along the coastal path, and had an almost bird free time of it until this handsome fellah turns up. Now here’s a name to conjure with – he (or maybe she they look very similar) is a Spangled Drongo! Curl your tongue round that one. Feels good doesn’t it?

A Spangled Drongo, looking as splendid as their name suggests

And that’s about it for the fun stuff. Another day was consumed with 5 hours driving to Bundaberg and back as Catherine’s iPad was failing to charge, and that was the nearest repair centre. Despite having just one pin broken on the charging port it was a whole new iPad (out of warranty by 6 months of course!). I would love to know what happens to them. I hope some business is repairing them even if Apple won’t, and on-selling so tech like this doesn’t just end up in landfill.

While we were there we also managed to get a new car tyre to replace our punctured one, sort out charging for our remote solar panel, get Catherine’s bike tyre and gears fixed and pick up prescriptions and other medical supplies. So a productive day all in all.

A rueful smile as a perfectly good iPad is wiped clean and we hand over money for a replacement…

Then the nightmare started. We had noticed signs of mice being in our car after camping at Carnarvon Gorge. We had left an apple in a rucksack, and just thought that was a one off. The next day there was even more damage inside with lots of shredding of our possessions in the vehicle, and a very unwholesome smell of what we assumed was mice urine. Well it seems they liked our car so much they decided to settle in long term.

We emptied out everything from the car, a feat in itself as we are carrying a lot gear given we are full time travellers. Everything was cleaned and washed. We tried to get mice traps, and the supermarkets had sold out as Queensland has had a mice plague this winter. We only found poison-bait, and put this down. The next morning this was scattered all over the vehicle, but no sign of the mice, except scurrying noises every so often in the ceiling cavity.

Now, given we have a cat you’d think she would be of some use in this situation. Oh no…she has been completely oblivious to them, our little princess. The car has been emptied again and again and cleaned, but to no avail. We’ve tried cotton wool soaked in peppermint oil stuck into the air vent system, the car smells like a Polo-mint factory, but despite what Google Scholar says, the mice seem to be immune. Perhaps they are breathing easier though their little noses, but disappear they haven’t. We’ve tried driving the car to quiet spots and leaning on the horn for ages, another recommendation. Other than giving us both a headache and reminders of driving in Italy, it seemed to have no impact on the mice.

So we have managed to find one dodgy looking mousetrap from a “two dollar” shop. I have low expectations. We have called around every hardware store between Tannum Sands and Rockhampton today with no success in procuring more traps. The danger is the mice will start eating into the insulation around the wiring, as happened in our motorhome in the UK, then all sorts of bad things will happen. The other scenario is that they die somewhere we cannot reach and we need to live with the smell of decaying rodent for a few weeks!

Just when we thought we had seen our fair share of issues this week, the car has developed leaks through the roof. After 12 years of faithful service from our 200 Series Landcruiser, this is really the first issue we’ve had. I managed to persuade a Toyota dealer to have a quick look tomorrow, as it is hopefully just some perished washers around the roof racks, or the internal gutters blocked with all the dust. Let’s see..

These things are sent to test us. It’s really to be expected that there will be issues to deal with when you’re travelling like this. But against this we put the fact that we had lovely neighbours on our campsite this week. Rarely have we met new people like that on campsites and ended up having drinks together, but these guys were just delightful. If they are reading this then thanks Annie and Wayne for brightening up the week and sharing our life briefly. As I’ve said previously, the downside of this nomadic life is the lack of physical connection into a community. Moments like this help alleviate that, and we’re grateful.

15-17 June: Lake Wagan Wagan (Nuga Nuga)

Author: Mr A

Location: Lake Nuga Nuga, Arcadia Valley, Central Queensland Highlands, Australia

After the (relative) busyness of Carnarvon Gorge, the tranquility of our next stop was a sharp and welcome contrast.

We camped on the shores of the largest natural body of water within the Central Queensland sandstone belt – Wargan Wargan Lake, what us white folk have now called Lake Nuga Nuga.

We acknowledge the Karingbal and Brown River people as the custodians of this mesmerisingly beautiful land. Their burial sites were found in the 1950s around the lake, and were systematically raided over the next decade, until now nothing remains. Can you imagine the uproar if First Nations people had wandered into cemeteries in the 1960s and dug up graves looking for some trinkets to display on their coffee tables? Finally, in the 1980s there was at least some public support for protecting these and other archeological sites. This lake was said to have been created in the Dreaming (the creation of life) by a pair of Mundagarri (Rainbow Serpents) to ‘keep their skin wet’.

Our secluded campsite – nearest neighbours are 250 metres away across the other side of the island – just how we like it!
Perfect bouncing posture

The lake glittered in the late afternoon sun, and we set off to wander around its edges with long lenses and spotting scopes in hand. Lake Nuga Nuga is listed in the National Directory of Important Australian Wetlands. and we could immediately see the rich diversity of bird life it supported. But wait, not just birds, what was that pile of waving legs on a tree trunk?

“Hey, stop hogging the diving board, others want a turn too, you know”

She was trying to ignore the flapping wings of the Little Black Cormorant uncomfortably close behind him. Officially known, we discovered, as a Krefft’s River Turtle (named after the museum curator who sent the first sample to the British Museum for investigation). we would see an number of others soaking up the sun around the lake. Clearly a healthy eco-system here.

A topple of turtles – the bigger ones are females
Krefft’s River Turtles love sunbathing

A plethora of other birds were soon in our sights. White-throated and Striped Honeyeaters, Egrets (great and intermediate), flycatchers, Whistling Kites, our bird list was going to be a long one!

White-throated Honeyeater
Striped Honeyeater
A Paperbark Fly-catcher
An Intermediate Egret
Whistling Kite
Juvenile Pale-headed Rosella
Pale-headed Rosella eating in a Casuarina tree (native pine)

The evening light bathed our camp in a way that is so quintessentially outback Australian. Everything just glows with colour, I couldn’t tell you what colours of course, being colour blind. I will leave that to the more artistic eyes of the lovely Mrs A.

Can you spot the kangaroos bounding into the woodland?
The vegetation on the island area where we camped includes Queensland bottle trees (centre). Elsewhere in the park are endangered Ooline trees, ancient remnants of a much wetter Australia
Some of our furry neighbours come down to the lake for an evening drink

Evening settled in, we only shared this little paradise with one other couple who were camped out of site on another part of the lake, so our only company was the calls of the roosting birds. Just how we like it.

A pair of Whistling Kites sit on top of the tallest tree, admiring the sunset

I decided to try my hand at digi-scoping again, attaching my phone to the spotting scope. It is a tad fiddly, but this time managed to get my first successful shot. The image quality is not going to give Mrs A a run for her money, my purpose it is to upload into the amazing Merlin bird identification app.

A fine location to use the scope – from here I could watch Pelicans on the other coast of the lake that we were unable to even see with the naked eye!
Great Egret digi-scoped
And via the camera as it soars gracefully across the lake
Look at those shapes
Black-winged Stilt
Black-fronted Dotteral
A Chequered Swallowtail butterfly – also known as the Lime Swallowtail
Those turtles sure like a sunbathe

If you are a budding twitcher like me the Merlin app is gold (it is global, so should work for any of our readers!). Just upload a photo and it will identify the bird 99% of the time, providing the image is captured clearly enough (though we have tried with quiet blurred photos and still achieved a successful result!).

Merlin Bird ID draws upon more than 900 million observations from the e-bird citizen-science project. Another rabbit/bird nesting hole to go down. So wandering around with a spotting scope has now become a favourite pastime, almost like a kind of meditation. If somebody told told me a few years ago that this was in my future…nope, I would not have believed them. So it‘s good to surprise ourselves sometimes.

With a lake on our doorstep it would have been rude to not get the kayak out and have a paddle. So the inflatable master of the water gets a quick outing. There’s nothing quite like driving quietly along for spotting some more wildlife. Our timing wasn’t great though, as the weather was on the change and the wind was getting up.

Mr and Mrs A heading out on the lake – a change in weather is afoot, indicated by the wind picking up…
A cosy pair of White-breasted Woodswallows
A Little Friarbird swoops in and displaces the woodswallows
Paddling towards Mount Warninilla…in autumn this area of the lake is famous for its waterlily display
Little Friarbird – they have a blue-grey piece of skin around their eye which is feather-free
A pair of Grey Teal ducks.

We even got to spot this very unusual combination of a roo having a quiet lap at the water, with a passenger Willy Wagtail on board! Wonderful…

Mrs Kangaroo and her pet Willy Wagtail? Or just a fancy peaked hat?
Perhaps the Wagtail is an ear nose and throat doctor “Put out your tongue please”

The bird species count continued to climb, what a rich environment this was with the largest freshwater lake in the central highlands.

Masked Lapwing
Evening drinks and bath time for the Little Friarbirds

Now, when we looked Google maps we saw that we were in fact, according to their cartography, on an island.

Google Maps showed us as being on an island…

We then had a “severe weather incoming” alert on our weather app – thunderstorms. So not a good combination! It was actually just low lying land, but we certainly hoped it wasn’t going to pour down for too long. Lady luck was on our side, the storm passed either side of us and we just had a short shower.

We watch the storm heading off along the southern side of the valley
Disappearing off the east as the sun begins to set

The atmospheric morning mist after the storm was also pretty amazing.

Four Black-winged Stilts fly off into the mist across the lake
The morning sun starts to burn off some of the mist

We were going to take the kayak out again, but unfortunately Catherine had been suffering from a headache for several weeks, and that night it got a lot worse with a pain in her ear. I managed to get a doctors appointment at the nearest town of Moura, 252km away. We needed to make tracks. Unfortunately our luck ran out when we tried to leave. The dreaded tyre pressure monitoring system alarm went off to indicate we were losing pressure on our rear tow vehicle tyre. We changed the tyre – never easy with the big heavy 17inch wheels on the Cruiser, but a Team Ando effort, admired by a herd of cows, and we were feeling good… until…we noticed that our rear number plate was missing! We have been down some pretty lumpy tracks, and somewhere along one of them lies a NSW number plate. Ah well…

Team Anderson – tyre changers extraordinaire

We arrived at the small mining town of Moura just in time to unhitch and get Mrs A to the doctors. The diagnosis, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, impacting the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. Fairly common when it has been overused for talking. Actually I made that last bit up…It can be brought on by a host of things, but I rest my case!

We certainly didn’t fall in love with Moura. Like many small mining settlements across outback Australia, “functional” would be the kindest description you could give. When we are in a town we usually try and spend some money in it, and enjoy eating out, but the local “pie and sausage roll” cafe, Chinese restaurant with peeling paint, or the predicable menu at the “bistro” (complete with banks of TVs, strip lights and rows of gaming machines), didn’t tempt. So it was back to the Zone for one of Mrs A’s fabulous creations, with a nice glass of Grenache, and our latest Netflix obsession of “Start Up”. A lot to be said for having your home away from home on the behind the car.

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…

25-28 May: Birdsville – you little beauty!

Author: Mr A

Location: Mungeranie Hotel, South Australia to Birdsville, Queensland

When we decided we wanted to travel up the Birdsville Track, we never imagined driving several hundred kilometres of it at night! We never drive at night, let alone down a track. But we had no choice. Our caravan was on the back of a truck somewhere behind us, and we had to make Birdsville that night because we had nowhere to sleep otherwise.

The first hundred kilometres from the Murngerranie Hotel was easy going. The late afternoon light bathed the desert in an eerie golden glow.

Driving through the Sturt Stony Desert in the late afternoon light
Low sun across some wetlands
Sturt Stony Desert

We passed a couple of vehicles coming the other way, then we were on our own. To our west was the huge expanse of the Simpson Desert, all 176,000 square kilometres of it, and that is the size of Cambodia! To our east the, Sturt Stony Desert, then the Strezlecki Desert. Vast, almost completely empty of people, the odd cattle station, that’s it.

Segment from Mungeranie to Birdsville

Travelling through country like this we felt exposed without our home being towed behind us. We had nowhere to stop and shelter should we break down. The surface deteriorated, as we had been told it would, and we had to slow right down. The surface here is made up of what is called gibber rocks; what is left after the sheets of sandstone have been broken down over the millennia by erosion, and the sand and dust has blown away. Careful driving is required. But we had to press on as night fell. It really isn’t a smart idea to drive in the bush at night, especially on these unfenced roads, where wandering stock can suddenly appear.

The last glimmers of the sun as dusk falls

I normally do all the driving, as Catherine is not so comfortable doing it when we are towing, but now she took over the wheel as my glaucoma makes night driving problematic. We were both on high alert, and suddenly there was a cow and her calf charging along beside us. Luckily they didn’t veer in front and we were safely past them, hearts pounding. After what seemed like an age, but actually we made good time, we spotted the sparse lights of Birdsville as we crested a hill.

I had rang from the hotel to get us a motel room, and managed to snag literally the last bed in town. This is peak travelling season as the winter temperatures makes the desert country more accessible. Combine that with the restrictions on Australians leaving the country, and the scarce towns that there are, are heaving.

The no pets policy was kindly waived by the lovely folk who run the Birdsville Caravan Park given our situation. We got in at 7.30pm. Our tow truck driver didn’t get in until 10.30 pm, we found out the next day. These guys work so hard. Anyway we crashed out, our little Tassie super excited to be in a new environment, racing (a relative term in her case nowadays) round the room with big wide eyes. Every so often she’d come up to one of us, stare into our eyes, and tap us with her paw on the shoulder, with a speech bubble only we could see that said “What the hell’s going on? Where have you brought me now?” Heart melting stuff, for us cat dotty folk anyway.

We went over to see our tow truck driver Blake in the morning, he was now wearing his other hat of bush-mechanic-extraordinaire. He warned us that he would “get to the repair when he could”, but had to first go and rescue someone who was stuck in the desert after the storm last night. A bit of rain on that surface and the tracks get pretty crazy. We settled in to Birdsville life, with me quietly expecting we were going to be here for a bit.

The streets are wide and dusty out here, Clint Eastwood stuff.

The first visit was to the bakery. After some blood tests in March showed my cholesterol was way too high, I had been off the pies since April 1. And yes I was an April Fool to think it would stay that way forever. The smell of baking was just too much, and the local speciality was a curried camel pie! It was so good I had another…oops.

The bakery
Served by a chap from the north-east of England? Priceless!
Yes, the prizewinning Curried Camel Pie is still for sale
A water-windmill is the centrepiece to the seating area, decorated with the Dimantia Dreaming Story by two local Aboriginal artists

I asked the guy serving (Jim I think) what was his story, as I do, and it would become a familiar one in Birdsville. He and his partner was passing though in their caravan, liked it and stayed. The same for our mechanic Blake and his partner, set out to tour Australia from Brisbane and never got past Birdsville.

’So what was the attraction?’ I asked. From several people, a similar theme of enjoying a strong community (around 120 permanent residents). Interestingly thats around the size that the research tells us humans can just about remember who is who and have the emotional bandwidth to maintain their relationships with. A hundred and fifty people is the upper limit and called “Dumbar’s number” It seems to even hold true for digital relationships. So check your Facebook friends – more than 150 and you really are going to struggle to give them the love and attention a friendship deserves.

Time to book the pub. We got the last two seats for dinner.

The famous Birdsville pub, an oasis in the desert

Checking in with our mechanic, I was right and it looked like we were going to be here at least one more night.

No change with our home – still loaded up on the truck with no work started: Blake was absolutely flat out

On the way to the pub for our evening meal, we were treated to a great sunset and view of a blood super moon. We liked Birdsville!

Sunset from the Birdsville Hotel
The super moon rising over the trees full of Little Corellas beside the river, glowing in the moonlight

What a wonderful dining experience. Our server Joel was just such a delight, taking time to tell us about what we might be interested to see around the town. A great little wine list, and the food was superb.


The original pub had burnt down and been rebuilt by its current owner who happened to be a builder. And what a great job they have done. After dinner we moved to the bar and got invited to join a couple of staff from Brown Brothers winery who were there to promote their wines to the pub and its customers. Great fun. then on the way back to our motel room we saw the moon’s eclipse.

More hats and memorabilia adorns the walls and ceiling

The next day it was not a surprise to hear our mechanic say he would once again “get to it when he could”. He’s working on his own at the moment, servicing not just the hundreds of tourists driving in every day with issues, but also the station owners where he gets his year round work from. Last month he has been called out to rescue an 84 year old guy driving his Volvo solo across the Simpson Desert. A bold move indeed.

So we took a drive out into the Simpson a short way from town and wandered along a track we had been recommend for a spot of birding.

This is a Waddi Tree – the wood is said to be so hard it breaks saws! Aboriginal people used burning sticks of Waddi to transport fire between camps
Walking out to Dingo Caves, the hills in the distance – across the desert
Is this the closest to Mars we can get?
There were several groups at our campsite who were getting prepared to cross the Simpson Desert…not something you should tackle solo.

We were rewarded with a Black Kite circling round and eyeing us up. As always I get this super strong connection open up to memories of my father. If you have never listened to Spirit Bird by Xavier Rudd, then give yourself a musical treat. He tells his story of a similar experience he had, connecting with his First Nation ancestors when they visited him through a bird. Its also the same species as the one I had interacted with for my 60th birthday present. Beautiful creatures.

When we headed back into town and checked on our van, there were tools underneath, progress had been made. Blake had sourced some metal rails to replace our broken ones and had started fitting them, then got called away on another emergency. He was finally able to finish the job at at 8.30pm that night, and he still had another one to do after us!

This for us will be the lasting memory of Birdsville. The kindness of its people. They are isolated in a pretty inhospitable place. They look after each other. A great little community we’ve had the pleasure to briefly be part of. It’s time though now to leave and resume our travels.

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!

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.

5-8 May: Venus Bay – A final stop on the west coast of the Eyre

Author: Mr A

Location: Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

They Eyre Peninsula coastline runs for a staggeringly long 1,726 kilometres, and we have just spent the last five weeks wandering around the majority of it. What a trip segment it has been, so wild and wooly.

It is fitting to finish off by visiting one of the more photogenic places we have ever been to. With both a sheltered bay and a wild surf coast, all within walking distance of our little (very crowded!) caravan park on the foreshore of Venus Bay.

Now, the ancient Italians named the goddess of cultivated fields and gardens Venus, and there sure isn’t anything that civilised here. It‘s nature at its most magnificent, but it is raw, humans haven’t tamed it. There’s not a blade of grass in sight. It‘s all sand, and salt, and wind, and sun. The elements are in charge here. You can see where the sea is winning its millennia old battle against the land, as the limestone cliffs slip, chunk by chunk into the ocean, carving out these magnificent shapes in the rock.

The sediments are visible in this ancient coastline

We acknowledge the Wirangu and Nawu peoples as the traditional owners of the land that was then named Venus Bay (after the first sailing boat that explored this coast) by the early European settlers who started arriving after Mathew Flinders had mapped the coast. Early contact was as usual brutal when these First Peoples were denied access to their traditional water sources and fishing grounds by the settlers. Conflict that resulted in murders on both sides, and a public hanging for two aboriginals.

The still waters as we arrive

Arriving at lunch time we quickly set up the kayak to take advantage of a calm spell and set off randomly for one of the small islands we could see in the bay, I’d Googled them to try and find out anything, but the last reference was in 2006 in an obscure Department of Environment management plan. From that I learned the islands are (were?) home to some endangered flora and fauna. Well the birds certainly kept well hidden from even Catherine’s long lens. With over 360 offshore islands just in the State of South Australia alone, it gives you an idea of the scale of this country. Unsurprisingly then, there was not a footprint on the beach. We climbed up to the sand dunes and gazed down into the interior and wondered who had last visited. On this crowded planet, this is a special feeling.

Island conquered
We are the first footprints of the day at 2pm
Looking back towards Venus Bay

On the paddle back we did see some birds, one crested tern having a very bad hair day.

Even its mates think it could look better!

A pied cormorant stood proudly surveying its territory, and other than that the usual pacific gulls and pelicans, certainly not the species range we had been hoping for.

Pied Cormorant resting on some rocks between feeds
Wings drying in the afternoon warmth
We think we may have been spotted! Love the orange face though!

We did a couple of walks from the campsite around the cliffs, and just drank in the unspoilt grandeur of this place. Yes, there are a few new houses being built, but still we managed on our second walk to see not a soul once we had left the campsite. One set of footprints this time, but that was it.

We avoided all crumbling cliff edges, sharks and surf
Taking the headland walk on a very cold and windy morning
The surf was looking wild with the off shore breeze
Mrs A spots some White-faced herons sheltering on the next headland
And here they are – the big lens meaning they are not disturbed
A pair of Welcome Swallows stop briefly from their soaring for some respite from the wind
Their break gives us a chance to admire their incredible colouring
Welcome Swallow

The sunset glorious. very few places in the world can claim to be this unspoilt.

Our clifftop afternoon walk gave us a break from the wind and some incredible views
While the dunes look dry and sparse they are covered in succulents, survivors of drought and salt
More incredible coastline winds off in the distance
An incredible sunset, seen from the town’s jetty
Venus Bay sunset
Looking back to the campsite

A short drive down the coast took us to a cave we had been recommended, as stretch of coastal sea scape that just had us grinning from ear to ear.

Another spectacularly still morning
Woolshed Cave
A perfect rockpool at Woolshed Cave
Pristine reflections
A collapsed cave known as The Tub – spot me on the back
And just around the corner another endless deserted beach!

Venus Bay, you’re pretty special. But now its time to head off inland, leave behind the coast, and take in an entirely different landscape. And there you have it. The joy of caravanning.

The joy of travel!