Catherine loves painting and photography as well as the great outdoors. Cycling, kayaking, pack-rafting and hiking are favourite activities as well as scuba diving when the location permits. A self confessed geek, she’s the reason details are included in our stories!
Location: Lydeard St Lawrence, Twickenham and Heathrow, UK
So much has happened since our last post, we can hardly believe it has been just over three weeks.
Our eleven weeks holiday rental in Kingston St Mary came to an end, and we moved out and into a gorgeous AirBnB in a nearby village, Lydeard St Lawrence. Around the same time as moving, our shipping container arrived from Australia – we took out one or two bits, but mostly that went straight into storage. It feels quite surreal seeing items (such as our camping car fridge) in the UK, items we only ever have associated with our travels in Australia.
We also have changed our car – another Mercedes but a slightly larger one with a bit more clearance for those country lanes, an issue we were finding with the GLA. Thankfully (due to some negotiation from Mr A with the Mercedes dealership in Exeter) there was no cost of changeover, and we just paid the difference with our larger vehicle.
The AirBnB we moved into next was a great find. We had wanted somewhere in the same region – not too far from the Quantock Hills, closer to Exmoor and within a village we could easily walk from, and had stumbled across a little self-contained cottage in Lydeard St Lawrence.
Given Tassie’s arrival was impending, I had enquired whether pets were allowed…and once that was confirmed, checked whether a cat would be ok. It turned out that our superhost, Cat, is a British Shorthair cat breeder, and was very welcoming of a feline visitor. Perfect! There was also parking available for both our car and Truffy, so no alternative storage required – it really was meant to be. We soon settled in.
We had been there a couple of days before it was time to head up to London for a day we we had been long anticipating – Tassie’s arrival on a flight from Sydney.
She had a huge journey, leaving the loving arms of her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard on Friday morning, two nights in a ’pet hotel’ near Sydney airport, before being loaded up into a Qatar Airlines plane and flown to Doha. Once again she was offloaded and released into another ’pet hotel’.
Finally she was loaded onto another flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 7am on Tuesday morning…finally being released nearly six hours later after all the paperwork had been completed. It was such a relief to see her – and as she stepped out of her carry cage and rubbed her cheeks on my hands and started purring, we knew that she forgave us for the traumatic journey and was pleased to be back with her original servants. Princess Tassie the Adventure Cat has officially made it to the UK!
We must not forget to say thank you to our friend Jacky who kindly took us on a whirlwind walk around Twickenham while we waited for the call to collect Tas – a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy some fresh air and buy lunch before spending another three hours in the car.
So we settled into life in Lydeard St Lawrence. It’s another pretty historical village set in the countryside between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. Being a conservation area, there are many listed buildings and every corner has a story to tell.
The village’s name comes in part from the church. There has been a church in the location since the year 854, and in at least partially its current form for almost 700 years, since around 1350. The church tower makes a great landmark for our return walks and cycles.
There are countless footpaths disappearing in every direction across the hills, and in the couple of weeks we stayed there we walked many circuits, and never the same one twice.
Mark and I still have our ’tourist-eyes’ on and are really appreciating the chance to just walk from the front door, drinking up the ’new’ smells and sights. Like we did with our travels in Australia, I think we are appreciating our location all the more for being away.
One Sunday afternoon we took ourselves out to Clatworthy Reservoir, situated on the edge of Exmoor and just a 30 minute drive from our cottage. Mr A had picked it as our destination somewhat randomly, spotting it on the map and suggesting we take a drive.
It is a picturesque location surrounded by native woodland, and an ancient hill fort. There are a couple of hikes there, the longer 8 kilometre walk circumnavigating the water, while we took the shorter hill fort hike, spotting wildlife as we went – especially excited to spot a pair of wild Red Deer.
Another outing just 20 minutes drive away was to the unusually named Wimbleball Lake, on Exmoor. Wimbleball is an International Dark Sky Reserve by night (perfect for star-gazing), but during the day a great place to walk, cycle, fish, kayak and stand-up paddle-board. Our visit was predominantly aimed at walking and bird watching.
We did a 7km return hike around some of the lake’s edge, spotting our first British Kingfisher (sadly it didn’t stop still for a photo) this year. We will keep our eyes peeled for another.
We also had some great meals and pub garden afternoons out with our friends, Karen, Jane and Terry from West Bagborough, including a somewhat disappointing lunch at the Rising Sun, (our ’local’ while we lived in the village which was always closed because of lock-down) and a superb lunch at a nearby gastro pub-restaurant , The Barn @ Pod Shavers (apparently a pod shaver is someone who makes traditional cricket balls!).
The landscape changes almost daily as the trees bud and these burst into bright green leaves – in a handful of days the fields have gone from being lined with bare trees to thick lush green. We are loving the almost overwhelming impact on our senses.
As the days have got warmer, we have also been out on the bikes, the quiet (mostly traffic-free) country lanes ideal for exploring….and there is always the bonus of a village pub to mark as your destination for a refreshing afternoon beverage.
We have had a wonderful time in Lydeard St Lawrence, made ever so welcome by our hosts (who even very kindly brought Tassie a ’welcome to the UK’ gift of treats and toys) but now it is time to move on again to our next little cottage in Devon.
Our house purchase is progressing smoothly (touch-wood!), and we hope to be moving in by the end of June. The next temporary accommodation will see us through til then.
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Brighton, East Sussex, UK
The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.
Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.
Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!
I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.
Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.
The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.
House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.
When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.
On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.
Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.
Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!
I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.
I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.
Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.
It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.
April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset and Brighton, East Sussex, UK
The UK has been naming its’ severe weather events since 2015, having taken the idea from the USA. The season commences in September, with the first major event beginning with the letter A, and then continues throughout the year (names never start with letters Q, U, X, Y or Z), to date never going beyond the letter K before resetting in September.
Since our last post, 12 days ago, the UK has encountered Dudley (17/2 just Scotland and the North of England), Eunice (18/2) and Franklin (21/2)! Despite the dramatic news headlines you may have heard, we fortunately escaped unscathed.
The afternoon before the arrival of Eunice, I left Mr A in Somerset and took the train from Taunton up to London and across down to Brighton to catch up with my sister and her family there. It’s been about 18 months since we last saw one another in person, and the children are growing up so quickly.
It was a lovely relaxing weekend, with walks with the dog, and just enjoying one anothers’ company – the usual pressure of trying to maximise every second eased by our migration. I even bumped into an old friend from Uni on one of our morning walks, she was coincidentally doing a run in the same area.
The time flew by, and before long it was time to farewell Helen, Stu and the children and train it up to London to meet Mark.
Several weeks ago Mark had read an article which talked about an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum in London; ‘Stonehenge’. Mark travelled up from Taunton on a train that had been speed-limited to 50mph (because of the potential for post-storm branches on the line) and taken twice the time it should have done, and I met him in central London.
It was a wet Sunday evening and we headed into Chinatown for duck pancakes and then a basement cocktail bar for a drink.
On Monday morning, we walked from our hotel up to the British Museum and the exhibition. We had pre-purchased our timed tickets online, but on arrival saw a long queue snaking along the road. Mark spoke to one of the security guards who recommended heading instead to the entrance at the rear of the building. We strolled around and walked in with no queue at all – good tip for future visits!
It was an excellent exhibition which made use of multimedia, sounds, lights, and videos to bring the artefacts on display to life. One of the key messages we took from ’Stonehenge’ was just how migration has always been a part of the British and continental European heritage – DNA investigations into bones of people buried beside Stonehenge show that some were born in Spain in the Pyrenees, while others were born in the UK but spent time in Spain and other countries. Many of the techniques used in the creation of jewellery, weapons and stonemasonry were developed and shared many hundreds of miles away, showing how people were likely travelling more than most of us in the past two years!
We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.
Back in Somerset, our life has been focused on trying to find a house to buy…or as time progresses without anything suitable, looking at the very uninspiring rental market. As the weeks tick by with little to go and see, we are starting to feel the pressure of finding a longer term home. Our holiday rental is all well and good, but there is a definite deadline, after which we will need an alternative place to live.
We have managed to take some time out from scouring the property listings to do some local walks and a spot of bird photography too.
Despite having the typical wintry weather (including some sleet and light snow) we also have had some spectacular sunshine. We did a great 12km walk last weekend from our front door, following ancient footpaths across fields and quiet lanes.
We finished up our walk at our local pub, The Swan, which was just finishing up a busy Sunday lunch. The Landlord is an ex Royal Marine and several of his old colleagues live nearby, and one also employed as the pub’s chef. It’s a great atmosphere there, where everyone welcomes you like family, and Mark and I certainly feel like we have made friends already.
This week we actually made an offer on a gorgeous property, but suspect we will be severely outbid on this occasion. It’s been the first house to really tick all our boxes – plenty of space for visitors, good energy efficiency, walking distance to a great village and pub and yet within an easy drive to Taunton train station for trips up to London. We’ll hear for sure next week after they have shown another 20 or so interested parties around.
Mid week we paid a visit to the Somerset Levels and an RSPB wetlands site – Greylake. Despite a chilly wind blowing across the water, there were plenty of people camped out in the bird hides with their spotting scopes, binoculars and telephoto lenses. We fit right in, other than the fact we don’t know what birds we are looking at! We spent an entranced hour watching Little Grebes, White Swans, Egrets and vast flocks of Wigeons (ducks) all in their fabulous breeding colours. Just magnificent. Of course, the usual woodland birds were there as well, with a lovely little European Robin posing for a photo on some brambles.
We’re finding it is increasingly important to step away from our property searching to enjoy some pure and simple nature, reminding us why we love this area. This coming weekend we have another reminder coming up – 28 members of our family will be joining us to help celebrate my birthday…and it’s not even a big one! We’ll share all the news from that in our next post 🙂
When people talk about going through a rollercoaster of emotions, it surely has to describe the multitude of sentiments we have gone though these past few weeks, packing up our home, farewelling longtime friends and colleagues, and walking away from the stunning, wild and unique scenery and wildlife of Australia. We have both found ourselves pushing memories and thoughts of the past quarter century to the back of our minds for fear the feelings will overwhelm and render us incapable of tackling the many tasks at hand.
Australia really has provided us with a wonderful life. We have made lifelong friends, visited incredible locations, had many special experiences. While we look forward to the next chapter of our lives in the UK, we are so thankful for the people who have enriched our lives. We had a few private farewells who gave us some wonderful meals and company to remember – with extra special thanks to Donna and Andy, and Tassie’s current foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, who went above and beyond to treat us.
Finally, once all the shipping container was filled and our bags packed, our friend Jenny very kindly drove across town to pick us up and courier us to the Shangri-la Hotel in the city for our last few nights.
The Shangri-la Hotel was the location for one of our first dates, back in 1999. We had dressed up in our finery and visited the Blu Bar cocktail bar before attending a performance of Madam Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House.
Back in October last year, Mark had spotted that we could use our Qantas Frequent Flyer Points to book rooms, finding we had just enough remaining to cover four nights. A small sum extra allowed us to upgrade to a room with a view of Sydney Harbour – we felt we deserved it!
We checked in on Friday evening, not long after the shipping container with all our possessions had left. Emotionally exhausted, we enjoyed some champagne in our incredible 28th floor room and had takeaway Asian street food for dinner! We were asleep by 9pm.
The following two days went by in a whirl. Friends flew up from Melbourne, drove down from Newcastle and booked into city centre hotel rooms to spend time with us. Saturday dawned hot, clear and sunny, a typical Sydney’s summer day, and we enjoyed a feast at the Sydney Fish Markets, followed by an evening at a local pub.
Sunday we had organised a lunch at The Malaya, a bit of a Sydney institution, just for the closest members of our extended family. We had 11 friends join us for an afternoon full of laughter, tears and the sharing of funny stories and memories. When eventually the restaurant needed us to leave so they could prepare for dinner, we went to the aforementioned cocktail bar at our hotel to continue the party, and finished off in our room with fine views and dancing. It was indeed a fitting farewell to all these incredible friends who have become our surrogate family in Australia.
Our final couple of days were far more subdued. Taronga Zoo is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, and a short ferry trip from Circular Quay, a five minute walk from our hotel. It was the venue for our wedding, nearly 20 years ago, and I was keen for one last visit to remember the ambience of the location. Our friends Dan and Michelle joined us their with their young daughter Darcy. They are picking up the Aussie-adventuring lead where we have dropped it and are collecting their second hand Zone caravan very soon. We chatted to them about the joys of caravanning and the potential adventures that may lay ahead for them.
On Monday evening we were treated to a final supper with our friends Clive and Aisha. We had been determined to be alcohol-free but ended up sharing a bottle of wine and completing the meal with a cocktail! Such willpower! But all in a good cause.
And then it was upon us, our last day as Sydney residents. I set off early to walk across town to the hairdressers, and Mr A had a walk around the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens and city. Time just flew by, and before long we were wheeling our re-packed luggage into a maxi-taxi and heading to the airport.
And then we were off. Did it feel emotional as we pulled up from the land and sped off through the air towards Dubai? Strangely, no. Partly I think we have cried so many tears over the past week or so it was a relief to be finally boarding the plane and partly because now our brains have moved on to the next stage, and we are feeling so excited about what lies ahead.
I think it will take us a little while to really recognise that this is not just another holiday and that we are here to live. Once Princess Tassie arrives and we have found a house to purchase I think this will all seem real, Otherwise for now it’s all a bit of a dream.
Already London has been treating us well, with some great shopping and dining opportunities and a few convivial nights out with friends and family.
We have more fun already planned for the next few weeks, reuniting and reconnecting with friends and family…the next adventure has begun.
Time has just flown since we returned from our travels, and no, we have not just been spending the summer lazing by the pool (as our property agent suggested!). Untangling 25 years’ of life in Australia is as involved as you might imagine!
Over the last month we have calmed down our social life a little so we weren’t out every night, and installed a little more balance. Every day we manage to take a small step towards our move across the world, while bing kind to ourselves as well, with breaks and walks.
We have been carefully assessing our possessions and consolidating, selling things of value (farewell to our beloved double fibreglass kayak and Mark’s Surly bike), and giving away things of lesser value (various pieces of camping kit, a multitude of Australian power extension leads and plugs and more). I have become quite adept at using Facebook’s Marketplace, with most things snapped up within minutes of advertising them (as long as there is no charge!). It is certainly preferable to putting things into landfill.
We have broken up our days with outings to local areas of natural beauty, finding it a great way to turn off those stress receptors and think about something else. We have of course enjoyed a few catch ups with friends along the way.
Current day Sydney is quite different to the one we left behind. Lockdowns and a huge increase in working from home has meant the CBD is incredibly quiet, our old favourite lunchtime haunts sitting largely empty with greatly reduced menus. It is so sad. Meanwhile, the suburbs are busy, with rarely a quiet time in the neighbourhood cafes and the car parks straining to keep up with the amount of traffic.
Last week saw me off to see my Otolaryngologist here in Sydney for some more injections in my airway, to treat my iSGS. It didn’t quite go as planned. A laryngology fellow who was training with my doctor ended up causing a bruise and some bleeding which resulted in inflammation. Later that night it got particularly swollen and mostly blocked my airway – we ended up taking a drive in the early hours of the morning to the nearby hospital emergency department.
Thankfully after being admitted to hospital for two days of treatment and observation, the swelling decreased, and I was allowed home to continue my recovery. For a moment there I thought I might not make the flight back to the UK after all! I’m pleased to report my breathing has since gone from strength to strength, so finger’s crossed it stays like this so I can avoid an operation before we fly….just 8 more weeks!
I’ve shared some photos of our past month’s adventures below – feel free to whizz through them if it all gets a bit overwhelming!
Curl Curl Lagoon – our local park just footsteps from our front door, and a great place to wind down with nature….
Dee Why – a walk and dinner with friends Bill and Olga
Curlew Camp Artist’s Walk, Mosman, Sydney – a new walk to us! Just down the road from where we were meeting friends for lunch and close to where we got married (Taronga Zoo)
Lunch at The Fernery, Mosman, with friends Andy and Donna
Long, lazy lunch with friends in Manly at Busta (Italian restaurant)
Long Reef headland – a few beaches up the coast from where we live
Back at Curl Curl Lagoon
And meanwhile, back at home….
Manly Dam – just 11 minutes from home and a stunning bushland haven
Bronte with friends Jenny and David – just around the corner from my first ever accomodation in Sydney back in 1999!
Rainy morning walk around the Narrabeen Lakes, about 20 minutes up the coast from home
Weekend in Newcastle, NSW with friends Chris and Karen
A grey Saturday morning’s kayak on Sydney Harbour with friend Cindy
Warriewood Wetlands – a rainy afternoon walk, 25 mins drive from home
A hospital room with a view, herbal tea and healthy food…if only I could breathe and eat at the same time! Unexpected two days at the new Northern Beaches Hospital…
Breathing improving – a walk along the coast from North Curl Curl to Dee Why…
Morning walk through Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, Terry Hills
If you have made it this far down the page, then thank you! Will try to leave it less time before our next post!
Location: Port Macquarie and Sydney, NSW, Australia
We pulled away from our friends Phil and Libby in Brisbane, promising that this would not be the final goodbye, and we would meet again somewhere in the world. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact there are going to be quite a few of these moments in our future.
We had diligently completed and submitted our NSW border passes, and headed south not knowing what might be ahead of us.
A whole load of not much was the answer. Given Queenslanders have to quarantine to come back from NSW, subject to a strict approval process, very few people were heading interstate and the roads were eerily quiet. This is in absolute contrast to the wall to wall traffic we experienced last time we drove this journey in early February 2020, when it was pouring with rain to add to the treacherous frenzy.
It was an uneventful journey to Sydney, with a night spent in a very forgettable ‘pet friendly’ motel room in Port Macquarie, and we arrived back at our house earlyThursday afternoon. Nobody even wanted to see our border passes…I guess they assume few people want to travel to New South Covid…
It has been three years since we spent a night in our home, and entering the place with no furniture was quite eerie. We wondered how Tassie would go at remembering it, given there have been other cats and dogs living in there with our renters over the past few years. Proving to be the most adaptable cat as usual, she trotted in with her tail held high, sharpened her claws on the bottom step of the stairs as she has done for years, and settled right on in!
Our return home essentially completes our third big ‘lap’ of Australia. The map below broadly shows where we have been since we first pulled away from our house in May 2017, covering many kilometers around this huge continent.
It is hard for many people, even Australians, to comprehend the distances covered in our travels, with often three or four days of solid driving before you reach the next destination of note or even a chance to go for a walk. Accepting the distances, we have enjoyed the diversity of flora and fauna, and on this most recent trip not only saw many areas new to us, but also gave ourselves a chance to linger and revisit some of our favourite locations.
We now find ourselves ready to settle down for a few months, celebrating having more than one room and access to connected plumbing!
After a night ‘camping’ on ‘self inflating’ mattresses which had been compressed for too long (ie not inflating at all!), all our possessions were delivered from storage. We clocked up 5km and 25 flights just running up and down the stairs with the delivery guys, taking in boxes and directing furniture.
And we are ‘home’ for the next few months!
We arrived in time for the final two days of Sydney’s lockdown for double vaccinated people, but that didn’t stop us joining two of our lovely neighbours, Mike and Julia, for a picnic in the park. They very kindly did the catering, and we enjoyed a great catch up with them within the lockdown rules.
Our home is located beside Curl Curl Lagoon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and we have been reuniting ourselves with the stunning location, watching the sun rise over the water and rediscovering the birdlife. We will certainly miss these beautiful mornings when we arrive in deepest darkest February in the UK, but there we will have completely different things to look forward to.
Having got through our whole weekend of lockdown (sorry everyone who has suffered for so long!), Sydney opened up the following Monday, with shops, restaurants and bars welcoming the double vaccinated. Life has entered the phase of the next level of ‘new normal’.
Afternoon walks through the reserve rewarded us with the trills of Superb Fairy Wrens, swooping Red Wattlebirds chasing insects to feed their young, and many other signs of spring.
Just up the coast from Curl Curl is Dee Why, and we took a walk through the lagoon and beach there up to Long Reef on another day.
Long Reef has a regular nesting pair of Nankeen Kestrels, and they were out and about hunting for mice, skinks and lizards when we were there, unperturbed by all the people out walking.
Our social life has never been so busy. After 105 days of lockdown all our friends have been keen to go out, and I think we have clocked up more outings in the last two weeks than in the preceding 12 months combined!
It has been a great welcome back to Sydney, and we will continue to make the most of our time over the next few months.
And finally, some of our readers will probably know I am an artist in my spare time, primarily working on semi-abstract (meaning they look like paintings rather than photographs) landscapes.
I have decided to sell some of my work before we head off to the northern hemisphere, and have some discounted original works for sale.
Location: Kenilworth and surrounds, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia
Just when we thought our rainforest visiting days were over we decided to book in at the showgrounds in Kenilworth for a few days.
If you are unfamiliar with showgrounds (you may have noticed we have stayed on quite a few), a showground is a community run area of ground on which country shows – rodeos, livestock sales and comptitions and horse riding trials are held. Outside of major events, the land sits empty, so many towns have turned them into campgrounds, providing power and water to a number of sites as well as offering unpowered spots. We like them because they tend to be more bushy and spread out than caravan parks, and money earned from our fees goes back into improving the community facilities.
It was a breath of fresh air arriving in Kenilworth, after the frenzied school holidays crowds flocking to our Didillibah campsite, children keen to enjoy the water slides and jumping pillows on offer there. Although there were children around, mostly they were busy playing games on the oval or riding their bikes around the quiet driveways.
The overwhelming sound we first noticed was of birds in their hundreds, flocking to the flowering callistemon trees around the park. As well as Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas, there were dozens of tiny Scarlet Myzomelas, a challenge to see as they are so similar in colour to the flowers.
Kenilworth is situated in a rural setting ringed by national parks and state forests in all directions, the green rolling hills reminding us somewhat of England on a fine sunny day. It sits in the Mary River valley, and the river itself runs just behind the showground.
All this natural environment makes for a wildlife filled location and we ticked off more than 35 different species of bird just footsteps from our caravan!
We were reminded in no uncertain terms that (despite the temperature reaching over 30 degrees centigrade on a couple of the days we were there) it is spring, and many of the birds were busy building nests, collecting food to feed young, and often in their vibrant mating colours. It is a great time to be spotting birds.
In addition to the many birds around, on one walk we even spotted a large Australian Water Dragon, located where I had previously seen the ducklings. I was so worried that they were missing I checked to see whether duckling might be on the Water Dragon’s dinner list – fortunately not, they prefer insects and the odd baby mouse!
The Mary River is about a 10 minute walk from the campsite, following a mown grass tree lined pathway which leads down to the river’s edge.
We came to this region back in 2018 when we organised a Zoner’s Muster at Kenilworth Camping, a farm camping area on the banks of this river further downstream. Back then we had paddled 4.5km in our inflatable pack rafts and had a great time with some of our Zoner (owners of Zone RV caravans) friends. So it was really fitting when our friends Phil and Libby, who had been there with us too, decided they hadn’t quite had enough of us in Noosa, and that they would drive up with their granddaughters, Ava and Hayley, for the day.
Hayley didn’t hesitate to jump in the river for a paddle, while Ava took time to learn how to skim stones. The water was definitely too shallow for kayaking and we certainly could not have managed the trip we did three and a half years ago.
We were reminded that the river is home to more than fish, turtles and birds, when sharp-eyed Hayley pointed out a Red-bellied Black Snake slithering along the riverbank into the undergrowth. This one was just a baby – on another visit down to the water Mr A came rushing along the bank towards me ashen faced – a 2 metre long adult had just emerged from the water swiftly retreating into the reeds just centimetres in front of him. We steered clear from reeds and grasses after that!
Mark and I visited the Mary River on a few occasions, every time rewarding us with new sightings – like these gorgeous Red-browed Firetails – tiny finches often heard but rarely seen.
And little insect loving Red-backed Fairywrens flitting through the Casuarina trees (River Sheoaks) and grasses.
The river is also home to many more traditional water lovers, including Little Pied Cormorants, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Herons, Dotterels and more.
A short 10 minute drive from Kenilworth is a small area of ancient rainforest, home to the Fig Tree Walk. The boardwalk takes visitors on a short educational trail through the forest, explaining about the trees and the lifecycle within this special environment. Mark and I visited on two occasions, the second time bringing along Libby and Phil and the kids for an explore to finish their day out.
Amazingly I spotted another Tawny Frogmouth sleeping alongside the path – these nocturnal birds are not owls or related to them. They have a wide beak rather than hooked, designed for catching moths on the fly, and their feet are not talons, rather just designed for gripping a branch, more similar to a pigeon’s toes.
The walks in this area seemed to have fewer ground-dwelling birds, perhaps because the village is so close and domestic cats and maybe even foxes have killed them. There were plenty of yellow robins flitting through the trees though, chasing insects we disturbed on our walk.
Conondale National Park is also not far from Kenilworth. Just a 20 minute drive and you reach a 4WD only track, where three water crossings deliver you to Boolumba Creek Day use area. From there you can start the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk or chose from a selection of shorter routes.
We visited on a couple of occasions, loving the area rich with untouched rainforest, the constant hum of insects and chatter of birds addictive.
Imbil State Forest and the Charlie Moreland Campground are about a 15 minute drive from Kenilworth, and another location you can walk from. We combined two short walks, the Little Yabba and Piccabeen circuits which took us away from the busy camping area (we estimated around 100 people by the number of caravans, whizz-bangs (camper vans!) camper trailers, and tents) and over a small creek and into the forest. Despite the crowds at the campground, once we left the small day visitor car park and crossed the creek, we didn’t see another human for more than 2 hours!
The birdlife was prolific, starting with more Scalet Myzomelas feeding as we crossed the water, and continuing as we spotted Golden Whistlers, fantails, Fairywrens and more.
It didn’t look as though many people had recently taken the longer Piccabeen circuit, as we had to clamber over a recently fallen tree to continue round. It was worth it though, with several species of bird in the forest, and the temperature cooling as nature’s air conditioning kicked in.
On Friday we had a coincidental surprise visit from our friends Carol and Nick Gray, who had (unbeknownst to us) been having some work conducted on their caravan in Coolum Beach, and decided to camp here a few nights once they had their van back. We first met them when we were staying in the Margaret River in Western Australia back in 2017 on our first lap around Australia when they were interested in buying a. Zone. We showed them around our van and Mr A did such a good sales job they ended up buying one!
Although we have met up with them on several occasions over the years, this was the first time we had seen their new van, ironically on the same day we heard we had officially sold ours. It felt like our Australian travels had come full circle as we once again shared food and wine with our travelling friends.
We enjoyed a couple of fun evenings with them before we headed off for our final week in our home on wheels.
I conclude my post with a poem which was displayed at a reserve near the Fig Tree Walk, which feels quite poignant at this time when our life and travels in Australia are nearing the end.
We are certain there will be ‘boulders’ in our future, as there have been in our past. It is always good to be reminded that these boulders do fade with time and become much smaller issues, with somewhat smoother edges.
It had been a while in the planning, but finally we had made it to Mr A’s birthday celebration in Noosa. The past few weeks we had been anxiously watching the news, half anticipating another lockdown in the area, breathing a sigh of relief as once again Queensland recorded no community cases of COVID-19 and everything remained open.
While we were disappointed that plan A had failed to come to fruition (renting a house with three couples from NSW for a long weekend – they are all locked down and unable to travel), plan B was coming along nicely.
We arrived at our campsite in Tewantin on the Wednesday evening, and hadn’t been there long before our friends Phil and Libby arrived from Brisbane. This is a couple we had met when we first started travelling, through our common ownership of a Zone RV off-road caravan. We’ve remained friends ever since and caught up on several occasions. We had a lovely BBQ dinner while we caught up on news.
The following morning was Mr A’s birthday. After several surprise calls, we drove a short way to the Noosa River and launched our inflatable kayak beside the North Shore Ferry for a paddle. It was a beautifully calm morning, not too warm and a few birds around, including Striated Herons, White-faced Herons, Pied Cormorants, and Mangrove Honeyeaters.
It was a fine morning out, and we returned for a light lunch and a few more calls.
The birthday celebrations continued that evening, commencing with early evening cocktails at Noosa Beach House and then walking a short way to a much anticipated dinner at Bang Bang, joined by more Queensland based friends, Ray and Wendy, Brian and Caroline who are local to Noosa, and Tania who had come up from Brisbane.
It was so good to catch up with everyone, and I think we did a good job of seeing in Mr A’s 65th birthday.
Friday’s celebratory activity was an afternoon’s sunset cruise on the Noosa River, where we were joined by Ray and Wendy as well as another couple we have met through our travelling lives, Rhys and Marsha.
It was almost a disaster! Though a series of miscommunications, Mr A had received the message that the boat was licensed rather than BYO, and we had not brought along any beverages for the two hour cruise. As we watched the other cruising guests jump aboard carrying beer and wine, we realised with a sinking feeling that was not the case.
One of our quick witted friends, Marsha, spotted that we were moored beside a bar and gave them a quick call to see whether they sold alcohol to take away. Thankfully the answer was yes, and a case of beer and three bottles of wine were swiftly procured. The cruise was saved!
Feeling a little dusty on Saturday morning, Libby and Phil joined us on an outing to Eumundi Markets, about a half hour drive west of Noosa. Originating in 1979 as a small collection of stalls, this market now takes over most of the village of Eumundi on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and attracts artists from all across the region.
Japanese pancakes were the order of the day and helped cure the fuzzy heads, and then a wander around the other stalls. I purchased a gorgeous hand crafted bracelet made from an antique silver fork (by Noosa Artisan) which will bring back lovely memories of this time.
A local Lebanese restaurant provided our dining experience for the evening, and we were again joined by our friends Ray and Wendy.
It wasn’t just a hedonistic week of eating and drinking, mind you. We did have a few outings to look for birds and were even fortunate enough to spot a Tawny Frogmouth (a nocturnal insect eating bird, usually only spotted near streetlights at night, catching moths).
Noosa’s Sunday morning Organic Farmer’s Market is a must-visit location if you enjoy high quality food, with endless supplies of fresh-from the farmer fruit, vegetables, and many other food-based goodies. We had been on previous visits and made certain to not miss it this time.
Our friends Phil and Libby also knew the couple running Cedar Creek Farm’s stall selling all kinds of jams, preserves and sauces, most being sugar-free (and no artificial sweeteners or preservatives) and packed full of interesting native ingredients. We left with some tasty sounding salad dressing, lime chutney and a home made tomato ketchup.
Mr A’s eye was captured by a Portuguese Tart stand. Portugal is still on our wish list to visit- we were meant to be travelling though there last year, when the dreaded C-19 struck and changed our plans – and these custard tarts are a national delicacy there. He purchased a pack of four…two for him and sharing two with Libby. They got the seal of approval from both parties apparently well deserving of their good reputation for being authentically Portuguese.
On our final day we took the Tewantin Ferry over to Noosa North Shore to walk some of the Cooloola Great Walk. We only tackled just over 8km return of the 102km long hike, and felt a slight pang of envy as we passed a 20-something lady heading off laden with her backpack, a whole 5 day solo adventure ahead of her on this picturesque track.
It was a beautiful walk, taking us through paper bark gum trees and along sandy and swamp lined pathways covered in spring wildflowers.
The walk emerged on the pristine Teewah Beach, and we followed the coast a short way. The sand was so fine is squeaked, somewhat like the fine snowdrifts I recall in my childhood. Walking along the hard sand on the water’s edge, occasionally dashing up the beach to escape an unruly wave, our footsteps crunching over shells, helping to contribute to future grains of sand.
It is hard to recognise we might never again visit this area, walk on this beach, smell this clean salty air…we try to remember and capture it through all our senses.
On our final evening we joined Ray and Wendy at the Sunset Bar over the Noosa River for drinks and snacks as the sun went down.
This past week has been so special because of those people we have spent time with. We have been so privileged to have found such lovely friends during our time in Australia. Ultimately, this is what really tugs at the heartstrings, every time we say goodbye to people with whom we have made so many fabulous memories, not knowing when (or often even if) we might see them again.
But we stand by our decision to make the move to England next year. New adventures await us in the northern hemisphere, new friends to be made, and fresh memories with our families to be created. We’re excited about what 2022 holds for us!
Location: Calliope River and Lake Redbrook, Queensland, Australia
While we were in Rockhampton we received a message from some old travelling friends, fellow Zoners (owners of the same brand of caravan as us, Zone), who originate from New Zealand (‘The Kiwi Zone’!). They were visiting Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island, and would be travelling back through Rockhampton on the 3rd, staying an hour south of the city on a free camp beside the Calliope River. We decided to change our plans and headed down there early on Friday to secure us a campsite.
The Calliope River winds its way down from the Calliope Range, through this area before emerging into the Pacific Ocean just north of Gladstone. Our free camp was on the northern bank of the river, where we found ourselves a level patch of grass with plenty of sunshine to top up the solar power.
Both north and south banks of the river were packed with caravans and campers. There is a two night limit to staying, but it was clear that some people had spent a lot longer living in this location. You need to have brought in all your own water, and while there are public toilets, there are only two males and two females – hardly enough for the dozens of vans present. I just hoped some of these travellers were spending money in the local region to help pay for the upkeep of these facilities.
We had a wander down to the river, finding people fishing, children launching kayaks, and a pair of Brahminy Kites soaring on the breeze.
In the trees, a frenzy of bird calls led us to look up, and we found the Scaly Breasted Lorikeets lived here – cousins of their more common Rainbow Lorikeets. We’ve seen photos of these birds but never before in person, so this was a lovely sighting.
We had a lovely evening catching up with Beverley and Ben, many laughs and travel tales told. It was sad to say goodbye the following morning, thinking it may be many years, if at all, before we meet again.
Lake Redbrook was our next destination, a 165 acre property bordered by sugar cane plantations. Run by ‘Gazza and Shazza’ (Gary and Sharyn Walters) it was a welcome respite from the roaring road trains and frenzy of the Bruce Highway we have spent so much time on, and alongside, the past 10 days.
Located south of Bundaberg and close to the small town of Childers, it’s a nature lover’s paradise, with a bird-filled lake, native woodland and a friendly nightly campfire to meet the owners and some of your fellow campers. In July, Childers holds a festival with food stalls, live entertainment, tours and events, with this lake the location for afternoon opera with local wines and antipasto for sale. It would be the perfect setting for such an event.
While we decided not to visit the small historic town of Childers, a short drive away, we found plenty to entertain ourselves on the property, spending our day and a half spotting just shy of 40 different types of bird.
There’s a bird hide alongside the lake’s edge, from which we spotted Royal Spoonbills, Pelicans, Pied Stilts, Black-fronted Dotterels, Intermediate Egrets and more. As we watched I saw an Australian Kestrel soar low over the water, landing on a dead tree on the water’s edge. I quickly snapped a photo, discovering it was disappearing into a hollow, most likely a nesting site.
The site owners have quite a collection of birds and animals on site, including a finch aviary, beautiful peacocks (both blue and the more exotic white), a small herd of Moluccan Rusa deer (native to Indonesia). The property is also a working sugar cane farm.
There was even one rare creature in captivity:
It was a great couple of nights’ stay in stunning surroundings with some very welcoming and kind hosts, and somewhere we would definitely recommend to others.
We recognise and thank the Gubbi Gubbi First Nations people upon whose traditional Country we stayed and traveled on, and pay our respects to elders past, present and upcoming.
Location: Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia
Having now sold our house and being totally committed to our decision to leave Australia, we find ourselves living through a turmoil of emotions. On the one hand, we want to progress with our decision and all the multitude of tasks involved in our unravelling of more than two decades of life in Australia. On the other, we want to immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the areas we are travelling through, to capture a lingering memory of regions we most likely will never see again.
Turning inland from Cairns, we climbed up onto the Atherton Tablelands, an area shrouded in misty cloud and drizzle as we arrived on Sunday afternoon. The Tablelands is a formerly volcanic region with rich soils and cooler temperatures than down on the coast. It is a big fruit and vegetable growing area.
While the volcanoes are now extinct, in both human and geological terms the volcanic activity is quite recent, and First Nations people have immortalised a major volcanic eruption in stories passed down through generations. One such story told by the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people recalls when two freshly initiated youths broke a taboo and thereby offended the rainbow serpent, Aboriginal Australians’ most powerful and feared supernatural being. Despite being the middle of the day, the sky turned blackish-red, and the ground cracked and heaved. Then from it, a liquid spilled out. It engulfed the landscape, leaving a maar lake (Lake Eacham) as a legacy.
Geologists have dated the sediment layers within Lake Eacham and suggest the maar eruption that formed it occurred a little over 9,000 years ago, representing approximately 360 generations of people. We recognise and thank the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people for their custodianship of the lands we stayed upon and visited this past week.
On our arrival the temperatures were in the late teens, and it was exciting to wear long sleeved tops and trousers without overheating. We set up camp beside Malanda Falls and headed straight back out. What better to do on a day such as this than to visit the Nerada Tearooms.
We have never disguised our love of a nice cup of tea, and here they had the added bonus of vegan churros for me and a Devonshire Cream Tea (scones, cream and jam) for Mark. Nerada is a tea plantation, specialising in sustainable farming without the use of pesticides – you can buy their tea in most Australian supermarkets.
There was an additional reason for our visit however – the little known Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos, which we were told lived in the trees around the plantation.
You may be surprised to learn that Australia actually has two types of kangaroo that live in trees, the Lumholtz variety (only found in the Atherton Tablelands), and another the Bennett’s (only found in a small area of rainforest north of Daintree and south of Cooktown, which we were unable to find on our Cape Tribulation visit). There are actually many more varieties which live in Papua New Guinea.
When we had checked into our campground, the owner had told us this was a great place to see them, and that in 24 years only one group of customers had told her they had failed. So, fortified with tea and cake, we set off into the rain to attempt to find one.
It took us about 25 minutes of scouring the trees, walking up and down the road near to the tearooms before suddenly I spotted one. Having no idea what we were looking for, it was a surprise to find they are quite large, and more bear looking than their ground dwelling cousins, but still with the long tail. They evolved from Rock Wallabies around seven million years ago.
For their size (about the size of a collie dog) they are really quite agile, climbing deftly amongst the branches and munching on several varieties of leaves.
For the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people these were a significant food source as well as seen as a sacred animal. Being on the near-endangered list, they are no longer hunted and their habitat in this region is being conserved, so their numbers are slowly increasing
We spent a wonderful hour watching these gorgeous creatures, gathering quite a crowd of other visitors around us as they stopped by to watch them as well. Definitely a memory to treasure and a bucket list item ticked off.
Our campsite beside Malanda Falls was ideally situated about a 15-20 minute drive away from everything we wanted to visit on the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig tree is situated in protected mabi-rainforest with a raised walkway around it, protecting its roots and was where we found ourselves early the following morning.
The tree itself is estimated to be more than 500 years old, and the ‘curtain’ is formed from its many roots which hang down from the main trunk.
While seeing the tree is in itself a wonder, it is the somewhat rare opportunity to be elevated in rainforest that is also an attraction. The area is important habitat for many birds, tree kangaroos, Red-legged Pademelons (tiny rainforest kangaroos) and rare Musky Rat Kangaroos.
We spent some time listening to the forest, the rustling below the boardwalk, the flash of colour as birds flit between trees. It is not a great place for photography – not only does the camera love to focus on leaves and branches in the foreground, leaving only a blur of a bird in the distance, but the dull light makes it a real challenge to capture a sharp image. I gave it a good go though, and caught a few lovely birds.
Malanda Falls is located right beside where we were staying, an attractive waterfall a feature of Johnstone River which winds its way through the rainforest. There are a couple of walks through the forest that we explored one afternoon.
While we saw some birds, they were very hard to see, pausing only briefly before disappearing off into the forest. The river is home to the Johnstone River Snapping Turtle, and there were plenty of these around as we looked from the viewing platforms. There are apparently Platypus living here as well, but they must have been sleeping on our visit.
One afternoon we drove out to the unusually named Mount Hypipamee Crater. This is the remains of a volcanic pipe which exploded 8000 years ago – so recent that its eruption also remains told in the stories of the local First Nations people.
We even spotted another Tree Kangaroo on this visit, right beside the path we were walking along.
The Upper Barron River runs through Mount Hypipamee National Park, with another walking trail taking you down to Dinner Falls, a series of three cascades cutting their way through the black volcanic granite. This is a popular place for a dip and natural waterfall massage during the summer months.
Thursday was an important day – our second Covid-19 vaccination. We had booked in at Atherton Hospital for the injections and didn’t have to wait too long, there wasn’t a queue. As of today, 35% of adult Australians have been fully vaccinated, and an even lower number in Queensland which has been relatively Covid-free these past couple of years, outside of the capital city, Brisbane.
For us, we see the double vaccination as our passport out of lockdowns and the potential to get back out there in the world and travel. It’s a means of keeping us safe and hopefully out of hospital should we catch the virus. While most people we meet travelling are of the same mind as us – not keen to have their freedoms curbed any longer and excited to get back to touring Australia and the world – we have also met a number of hesitant people. They tend to be people who are unlikely to travel, who have never met anyone who has been unwell with Covid-19, let alone experienced the horror of someone passing away from the virus. We hope they can be persuaded to be inoculated for the greater community good – our government has pledged to open up more privileges once we are at 80% vaccinated, which feels a long way off.
On a couple of occasions during our six day stay we took ourselves over to Hasties Swamp National Park, a nearby wetland with a two storey bird hide, finding late afternoon to be the best time for action. It was a good opportunity for Mark to finally get out his spotting scope – the rainforest birds simply do not sit still long enough to get the scope lined up for a good look, but water birds tend to be a little less flighty.
We saw a large range of birds, the usual kingfishers, several varieties of honeyeater and Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks. The sound at the wetland was absolutely deafening, predominantly the loud honking of a huge flock of Magpie Geese which had noisily taken over one end of the water, constantly squabbling and flying around trying to find the optimum location to spend the night.
On our final day, we took ourselves off to do a walk around Lake Eacham. While there are apparently Freshwater Crocodiles living here (smaller and less aggressive than their saltwater cousins), people can go swimming and kayaking in this small lake, and we saw a group of teenagers shrieking as they leaped into the cold water. We stuck to land for our visit and followed a trail around the water, through the dense rainforest of Crater Lakes National Park.
It was another bucket-list native I was rather keen to see; a Victoria’s Riflebird. We had visited the lake earlier in the week and constantly heard them calling, but none were to be seen. These birds are only found in this area of Australia, and are famous for their vibrant colouring and fabulous dance to attract females. I highly recommend you watch their dance moves on YouTube, they are incredible.
So half way around the lake, I heard a loud Riflebird-like squark from high up in the trees, and spotted a black-coloured bird hopping around in the branches. Yes! A Riflebird! I got set up with the camera, willing it to come closer.
The gorgeous bird was lifting up pieces of bark and finding insects and grubs to eat. I watched it methodically work its way along the trunk until suddenly a particularly tasty looking snack dropped from its grasp and fell to the ground just a metre or two from me, swiftly followed by the Riflebird. I held my breath, willing my camera to focus on the right thing as he found his food and flew up to an old tree trunk just metres in front of me, providing a perfect view of his glistening head, throat and chest feathers. Just incredible.
I was so chuffed to have been rewarded with this special moment, an absolutely wonderful end to our visit to the Tablelands. I was only disappointed that Mark missed the show as he had walked on ahead of me. Thank goodness I was able to capture some photographs to share with him.
We’ve spent a magical three weeks exploring this rainforest-filled tropical north Queensland, longer than we have ever done before. Rewarded with incredible bird and animal sightings, we feel so privileged to have been able to take our time and immerse ourselves in this special environment. But now it is time to turn our noses south, and start making our way down the east coast. We have a bit of celebrating to be done in Noosa with friends!