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.

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bowen, Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch with a view
A very attractive coastline

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

Fire and damper

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

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

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

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

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

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

6-13 July: Entranced by emerald Eungella

Author: Mrs A

Location: Finch Hatton, Eungella National Park, Queensland

It was nearly 19 years ago when Mark and I first visited Eungella National Park. It was August 2002 and were on our honeymoon. After a week of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands with friends and family, we had a few free days to ourselves. hoping to spend some time kayaking around the islands. it was much too windy for kayaking, so we opted for plan B. After a couple of nights camping, we spent a few days in a cabin in Eungella National Park. I remember clearly us seeing our first platypus, and being enthralled by the rainforest birds that visited our cabin surrounded by trees and vines. And so the spell was cast – we had to return.

Eungella National Park is situated about 80km west of Mackay, half way between Cairns and Brisbane. Located on the eastern side of the Clarke Range, the landscape is lush and rich, receiving plenty of rainfall.

The location of Eungella National Park
Our campsite at Fitch Hatton Showgrounds is far from fancy but the views more than make up for it

This is in fact our third trip back to this gorgeous location, every time as magical as the first. After setting up camp in the Pioneer Valley at Finch Hatton, we rushed up to Broken River to try and find platypus. As these bizarre looking creatures live for an average of 20 years, it could be possible we have seen the same ones on each of our visits.

We followed a walking trail along Broken River, looking out for telltale ripples and bubbles. It didn’t take long before we spotted one.

To our delight we find a platypus out foraging for food
It is hard to know which end is which – you can see the eyes on the right hand side, before the ‘beak’
Saw-shelled Turtles also are frequently seen sharing the pools with Platypus

Platypus are an endangered species, already extinct from South Australia (though they have now been introduced to Kangaroo Island), and with reducing numbers elsewhere. This is one of the best places to see them in the wild and we relished the opportunity.

We spotted an Azure Kingfisher which seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with the platypus, following it around the pool and diving in when the platypus disturbed small fish. It certainly gave us a good show, nevertheless!

Spectacular colours of the Azure Kingfisher
The Kingfisher kindly lands on a partially submerged branch covered in orange fungi, to bring out the beautiful orange colour of its chest

Due to the diversity of the environment, the bird life is of course prolific, though it is a challenge to see, as most are hiding away in the dense thicket of the rainforest. We managed to spot quite a few despite this, and even caught some with the camera. Walks were constantly accompanied by the rustles and calls of Whip-birds in the leaves and the booming cries of the Wompoo Fruit Doves high up in the canopy.

An unimaginatively named Brown Thornbill entertains us in the riverside undergrowth
And our Brown Thornbill gets ready to take off again – they only stop still for a second or two
Golden Whistler – pretty shy but with an incredible voice
A Yellow-spotted Honeyeater drinks nectar from the bottlebrush flowers

We did a few walks through the rainforest, and despite the numbers of visitors were still able to see a large number of birds just going about their daily business. It just took a few moments of standing quietly listening to the rustling and occasional movement to start seeing them there. Of course the density of the undergrowth made it virtually impossible to photograph them so only a fraction of what we saw is shared here.

An Eastern Spinebill drinks the nectar from a Morning Glory flower – a pest weed in some of these parts
A White-throated Treecreeper appeared on a tree just in front of us and climbed the trunk with its huge feet, hunting for insects
A Little Shrikethrush – another bird that loves hunting for insects, thinking nothing of ripping off bark in its quest
No insect is safe from this Little Shrikethrush

There are many lookouts up on the Eungella Plateau which makes up part of the Clarke Range. The views are simply breathtaking down into the valley where we are staying.

Looking down from Eungella into the valley
Mr A finds another use for his spotting scope to look down the valley
On a clear day you can apparently see all the way to Mackay and the coast from here, just over 90km away

Since European settlement of Australia, around a quarter of the rainforest has been cleared for farming, and this area was originally earmarked for that purpose. While some of the forest was cut down (now used for growing sugarcane and farming cattle), much of it was saved after a 12 year battle and designated national park in 1941.

Our visit falls during sugarcane harvest season, with seasonal workers busy chopping the crop and loading up trains and trucks to take it for processing further down the valley. Much of the Mackay region is dedicated to sugar…I would have expected to see more dentists around than I have!

Sugarcane train crossing Cattle Creek

Where cane has already been harvested. the farmers were out busy ploughing the fields ready for planting the next crop. You can see the richness of the soil here, stark contrast to Australia’s land further west.

Getting ready for the next crop
Black Kites fill the skies behind the tractor, searching for mice and other goodies turned up by the tractor
Black Kite
Black Kite
Exploring the farm lanes – it is hard to believe this long grass becomes sugar!

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The name Eungella is derived from the First Nations language meaning ‘land of the cloud’. We thank and acknowledge the Wiri-Yuwi People as the traditional custodians of this land. The waters of Broken River have been seen as sacred for the more than 10,000 years these people have called this area home.

Other than a cursory mention, there is little to learn about these nations. A little research reveals they were hunted down in great numbers by the white settlers in retribution for spearing cattle or trespassing on land. Others were enslaved to work on farms or moved to the coast to work on fishing boats. There was little policing in these parts in the mid 1800s, so people took the law into their own hands.

While information boards request visitors to respect the cultural significance of the park, they share no information about this. The Queensland Government National Park’s website talks only of the geological history, avoiding any mention of culture. It is sad to continue to see this when we as Australians should be taking time to recognise the significance of the long human history in this region, and perhaps learning from the way these first nations people lived in this evnivronment.

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Finch Hatton Gorge is a part of the national park which is accessible from close to where we are staying, so we drove out there for a hike. The temperature in the rainforest is a few degrees cooler than out, reminding me of that feeling when you step in to a magnificent cathedral. Your breath catches as you experience the wonder of it all, the rich organic smell of decaying wood and leaves accompanied by signs of new life all around you.

Setting off on the walk – what a contrast to our time in outback Queensland
The diversity of plants and trees never fails to entrance us
A feast for the senses – a Varied Eggfly Butterfly amongst lovely leaves and fungi in the forest

Our walk to up the Wheel of Fire cascades ( named for the red flowers that surround them in the summer months) entailed a precarious rock-hop over Arulen Creek before climbing many slippery stairs to the top. If you can cross the creek without getting wet feet – you are doing well. Mark hasn’t yet achieved this accolade!

Arulen Creek where we cross -requires balance and agility
In between the cascades are deep waterholes – perfect for swimming in on a hot summer’s day
Nearly to the top
We reach the top
Last time we visited here we went in for a swim – not this time
A natural sculpture in the forest

Definitely worth the hike up if you’re game!

Up on the Eungella Plateau sits Eungella Dam, a large reservoir and freshwater fishery. You can actually camp out here, as long as you don’t need power. It sits nestled in a picturesque valley and is a great spot for birdwatching.

Eungella Dam
Brahman Cattle share the shores with campers and picnickers

We had lunch on the sandy beach before taking a wander to see what bird life was around.

An Australian Darter sits on the shore drying off after its latest fishing expedition
It decides it is time to head back out for more food….preparing to take off
And away it goes – just look at those gorgeous wings. From afar, these beauties just look black.

Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Pelicans, White-eyed Ducks and some very pretty Cotton Pigmy Geese were amongst the birdlife spotted.

Straw-necked Ibis – just look at those colours!
Little Pied Cormorants, Wood Ducks and Pelicans

Staying at Finch Hatton for a week has meant we could also visit some locations off the traditional tourist trail, finding our way to creeks and locations that are a little quieter. Cattle Creek winds its way through the valley past our campground and had a wealth of surprises for us each time we went out.

Mr A lining up to spy on a Great Egret across the creek
Great Egret
Beautifully disguised among the pebbles on the creek’s edge, Black-fronted Dotterels dash along hunting for food
Tiny and well disguised Black-fronted Dotterel
A Sacred Kingfisher perched up in a tree with a good view of the waters below
Another viewpoint across the Pioneer Valley from Teemburra Dam, not far from Finch Hatton

We finished up our visit with a somewhat longer walk along Crediton Creek. This hike actually continues on, forming the Mackay Highlands Great Walk – heading one way for 56km (taking 3-5 days). The short 10km return walk we did was pretty stunning.

Beautiful waters of Crediton Creek
Epiphytes (parasitic plants) growing on trees
A Giant Panda Snail shell – these are the size of golf balls – the largest snail in Australia and a favourite of many birds in the rainforest
A fabulous array of greens along our pathway
Windows through the trees frame vistas of the creek

Not far from the end of our walk we took ten minutes to sit down by Crystal Cascades (how many falls have this name, I wonder! A lot!) and just enjoy the ambience. Listening to the constant sound of the water running over the rocks as they have done for hundreds of years, to breathe in the clear, clean oxygen from the forest.

Taking a moment on the warm rocks
The water cascading down the rocks, smoothed from centuries of water action

Just before heading back to the car we diverted briefly to see whether we could catch our last glance of a platypus. Lucky us, we were rewarded with two.

Only one photographed – but still a special moment

Our week here has been so incredibly precious. We have relished every morning waking up to our incredible views, breathing in the clean air and drinking in the colours, scents and sounds of this unique location. As we move on back to the coast, we will continue to hold Eungella in a special place in our hearts. 🤍

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PS Tassie loved it here – walked and walked exploring the sheds and fenced paddocks where cattle would have been kept during the last show day. Her favourite area was the shed with the tractors in.! One happy Burmese!

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

28 June – 2 July: When the cat’s away… the mice won’t play after all…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kinka Beach and Byfield National Park, Queensland, Australia

We said goodbye to Tannum Sands and Mark, Tassie, I and our uninvited mice drove up to Rockhampton then headed back inland to the coast again, heading to a little settlement called Kinka Beach It was a cool day with a strong southerly wind blowing, nicer behind glass than out exploring. But having not been out much the past few days we were keen to stretch the legs and set off, aiming for the Kinka Wetlands, a location rich in birdlife we had read about online.

Sadly the wetlands were not to be as we trundled down a very rough narrow road, which looked more like a stream after all the rain we had this past weekend. We gave up and decided to check out the beach instead, finding a stunningly wild setting with the forest stretching down to the sand.

Kinka Beach
It feels a little like Scotland!
Can you spot the lone walker with his dog, braving the sand and salt blasting?

The chilly wind was unfettered down on the shoreline, icy cold fingers creeping down necks and up sleeves, sending shivers down our spine. We figured most of the feathered creatures this coast is well known for would be hiding in sheltered bays or behind rocks.

At the water’s edge sat a pair of Caspian Terns, taking off and gliding effortlessly over the waves. These are quite robust birds, but they still remained pointed into the wind so their feathers wouldn’t get messed up!

Caspian Terns on the beach – they are the largest of the Tern family and usually solitary
Caspian Tern – so streamlined in flight – they turn into narrow darts when they drop from the sky to catch fish. Their latin name translates as ‘Water Swallow’ – you can see that here

Shortly after they had moved on we were wowed by one of Australia’s three types of eagle swooping past, a White-bellied Sea-Eagle.

White-bellied Sea-eagle – a magnificent bird
And the eagle soars away along the beach

After a couple of kilometres walk along the shoreline we gave up and drove back to camp to warm up, deciding to have another go with the el-cheapo mouse-trap in the car.

We went outside at 8pm to check – Bingo! Got one. We reset the trap vowing to check again before bed. Yes! it had caught another one…Finally the following morning we awoke to find that a third had succumbed. Since then we have heard nothing, smelt nothing and there is no visual evidence of mice…we are hoping we have seen the last of our hitchhikers!

🐁 🐁 🐁

The following morning we moved on up to the town of Yeppoon where the Toyota service centre was going to have a look at our car and the leaking roof. We had a wander around town, leaving Tassie sleeping in the van in blissful sunshine.

Sun, sand, beach – a lovely temperature up here, if a little breezy!

A few hours later we returned, the problems solved. It turned out some of the people who worked on the vehicle while we were away in Europe last year had failed to screw the roof racks on properly and the rain was leaking in through the holes! Their mistake cost us nearly $400, but at least it was all fixed, holes siliconed up – no more water ingress in our future. Thank goodness we didn’t have any disasters with the loose racks!

Our next destination was the small village of Byfield. This sweet settlement sits nestled in between Byfield State Forest, Byfield National Park and the huge Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area , and is just under an hour’s drive north of Yeppoon.

Kinka Beach, Yeppoon and Byfield

Much of this little known area of Queensland is relative wilderness – thick rainforest surrounded by mountains and leading down to remote sandy beaches. Our kind of place!

The mountains stretch along the coast, inaccessible being on military land
The military training area is a quarter of the size of Wales

Our home for the next three nights was beautifully lush and grassed, and we learned used to be an old mandarin orange orchard. More than thirty years ago, when Beth and her husband purchased the plot, the trees were hardly producing any fruit, so it wasn’t a hard decision to remove them and landscape the land. We’re pleased, because it resulted in Byfield Camp stay – no facilities other than a couple of long-drop toilets and a rustic shower, but being pretty self-sufficient, it suited us perfectly.

Green lawns! Lush undergrowth!
A little piece of paradise in the rainforest
Beth, the owner has done a lot of landscaping over the years
We are welcomed in by the locals – Grey Fantail

It was so peaceful – after our long day getting the car fixed, we arrived just before sunset and immediately heard blood curdling cries from the forest behind us. It turns out this sound is the cry of the Bush Stone-curlews, which choose dusk to make themselves known. During the day they are rarely seen, choosing to stand still like statues on the forest floor, or pick their way quietly through the undergrowth. We were lucky to spot one on the edge of the forest the next day.

Well disguised and about 50 metres away from us, this Bush Stone-curlew (also known as a Bush Thick-knee) barely rustled a feather for 5 minutes before picking its way back into the dense forest

We had a look around the grounds in the morning. We could hear a lot of bird life, much of it very high up in the canopy of the trees and inaccessible. But rounding a corner beside the dam we saw a couple of Forest Kingfishers. They were clearly used to seeing people and comfortably sat in a tree beside the water, occasionally flying down to catch a lizard or frog from the long grass below. Forest Kingfishers are more similar in their diet to Kookaburras, not necessarily relying on fish and other aquatic creatures for meals.

Beautiful colours
Love posing on branches
Beautiful little birds 💙

Later in the day we took a drive over to Waterpark Creek in the National Park for a look around. On our way there I spotted an Emu strolling alongside the road, so we pulled over for a look…and he thought exactly the same thing as he strolled right on over to inspect us. Lucky Tassie wasn’t in the car – she already is afraid of birds – this large visitor might have put her off travelling for good!

“Good afternoon, can I see your diving licence please?”

Once in the park we found a lovely pair of Kookaburras and saw the multicoloured Wompoo Fruit Doves, last photographed in Cape Tribulation on one of our earlier trips. This time they stuck to allowing us fleeting glances as they flitted through the canopy, not hanging around for a picture.

The serenity of Waterpark Creek
Mirror-like stillness on the creek
Camera at the ready…
Kookaburras sitting in the tree
A Red-browed Firetail sits watching us suspiciously from a branch, keeping watch for the rest of its flock which is munching on seeds in the long grass below
A Grey Fan-tail followed us on our walk, catching insects as we disturbed them
Grey Fantail

The National Park stretches down to the coast, with a few water crossings leading to a sandy track where you need to deflate your tyres to continue. After all the car issues of the past few days we chose not to risk another puncture or other problem so headed on back to camp via a local pottery. We purchased three lovely little pots.

This land is Darumbal Country. We thank and acknowledge these First Nations people as the traditional custodians of this region of Queensland.

The Darumbal people have a long history in this area, living in and off the land, its creeks and the ocean. When white settlers arrived in the region during the 1800s, the usual horrors of murder and displacement ensured. More than 3,000 Darumbal people were either killed or forcefully removed from the region, and there are many horrible stories about how the new landowners poisoned, chained and drowned community members in order to remove them. Much of the virgin rainforest was cleared for farming, and what we see now is mostly regrowth.

The slow glimmers of turnaround for the Darumbal people has been in relatively recent times, with Native Title claims first made in the mid 1990s, and finally land returned to the community in 2007. In 2016 they were recognised by the government as the Traditional Owners of the land along this coastline and up to Marlborough, north of Rockhampton. Much of the traditional lands sit within what is now the military training area, surrounded by high barbed wire fences. In 2019 an agreement was signed with the military allowing them access to their sacred sights. Things are looking up.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Princess Tassie just loved her new home, particularly after the four dogs and their families had left! She went for quite a few accompanied walks, loving the greenery, new sights and smells as much as us. Fortunately the closest we got to any slithering reptiles was this snakeskin on a woodpile Tassie was exploring. We encouraged her to explore new areas after that!

Perhaps a python?
Loving a bit of tree climbing (with some help)
What arthritis?
A Green Oriole looks on from high up in a tree
A male Australasian Figbird – they sound like R2D2 with their pops and squeaks!
A female Australasian Figbird

We had a brilliant two days – the second being a little wetter and therefore a little more anxious as we didn’t get as much solar power as we would have liked – but we got though fine.

One of our fellow campers was a maths teacher from Brisbane who was having a little downtime in the school holidays, chilling out in her camper reading books and enjoying the ambience. We discovered it was her birthday, so our campsite owners baked a homegrown kumquat cake for her, and Mark and I provided nibbles and a chicken red curry for dinner. We lit a campfire and whiled away the evening with many laughs and a few too many beverages consumed. All in a good cause!

We moved on the next morning feeling a little dustier than planned!

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.

18-21 June: Exploring the feathered side of Cania Gorge National Park

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cania Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia

We were woken up in Moura at 4.30am by the idling engines of four wheel drives as the resident mining community headed off to work. We had already had a somewhat disturbed night with the caravan park’s pool constantly gurgling and making unpleasant suction noises as the water level was too low. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and see Moura in our rear view mirror.

Within two hours we were pulling into our little piece of paradise for the next three nights, Cania Gorge National Park. We were staying on the edge of the National Park, surrounded by red sandstone walls, tall forest and many birds at Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat. The park is actually for sale, if anyone fancies a project and has $1.5 million to spare. It needs some upgrading, but is in an unbeatable location.

Every afternoon at the retreat is bird feeding time, and while we disagree with feeding wild birds in principle, it certainly brings the inaccessible birdlife down to meet the average person. We were given some sunflower seeds and held our our hands to see which birds were hungry.

Rainbow Lorikeets and King Parrots were the most courageous visitors

The brightly coloured and gregarious Rainbow Lorikeets flocked to the site, their screeching almost deafening as they squabbled to get to their free feed. Beautiful King Parrots (red and green) were also there, but a little more cautious in their approach. In the trees surrounding us (but not game to come down to the people) were pink and grey Galahs, Laughing Kookaburras, and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos calling from the highest treetops, excitedly.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

We had a wander around after the feeding, to see what other birdlife was around.

A juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater
Laughing Kookaburra
Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Cania Gorge has a First Nations history dating back at least 19,000 years, (to the height of the last ice age) with many examples of freehand artwork in the park, but none of the nine art sites accessible to the public. The Gooreng Gooreng people were the custodians of this land, their territory stretching from here all the way to the coast (200+km away). When white settlers arrived in the area, the Gooreng Gooreng, like many other tribes during the 18 and 1900s, were murdered, starved or sent off to settlements such as Woorabinda, Cherbourg and Palm Island (making for very grim reading).

In good news (it is hard to find any!), in the mid 1990s a bunch of academics worked with a Gooreng Gooreng elder in order to save the language from extinction (90% of Aboriginal languages are extinct), and produced an English/Gooreng – Gooreng/English dictionary to teach the next generations. This is so important – Indigenous history is a living thing, handed down and carried on by language via spoken word and the story telling. More than 40,000 years of knowledge about Australia’s flora, fauna, how to cook, how and where to travel, when to harvest particular foods is shared in this way. When a language disappears, so does all this knowledge. We often wonder what we are only now learning that our First Nations people may well have known for centuries.

We acknowledge and thank the Gooreng Gooreng people, present and ancestral, as the traditional custodians of the land we visited.

We did a early morning short walk looking for birdlife, just relishing the refreshing temperatures and clear blue skies. Following various birdcalls, we found ourselves climbing up to the Giant’s Chair Lookout, where a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were swooping acrobatically through the sky, chasing insects.

Laughing Kookaburra

We breathed in the oxygen from the surrounding forest, finding peace in the greens and blues and just taking the time to stop and be amongst nature. Without realising it, we have really missed the variety of vegetation on our travels the last few weeks.

King Parrot munching seeds on the forest floor
King Parrot
King Parrot
Black-faced Cuckooshrike
Mr A on his spotting scope watching the Rainbow Bee-eaters
Rainbow Bee-eaters – the males have the longest tail feathers
The male Bee-eater watches as his mate swoops past chasing an insect
Mr and Mrs A at the lookout feeling happy

Later in the day we decided to tackle a longer hike, heading up along a dry creek bed to Ferntree Pool, a location we hoped would attract some of the harder to see forest birds. It was a bit of a workout for Mr A as he carried my heavy camera lens on the 7km circuit as well as his spotting scope, but it was worth it.

Hiking up through the valley, the vegetation changes to more rainforest with vines and a new variety of tree
There are some giant trees here
Mr A has to limbo under a fallen tree trunk

We almost couldn’t believe it when we saw water in the pool, a precious resource for the native birds and wildlife here. We stopped and sat quietly at the water’s edge, enjoying an apple and watching quietly to see who would turn up.

Ferntree Pool

First to arrive was a Grey Fantail. She flitted around catching insects, before finding herself a quiet edge of the water for a bath.

Grey Fantail searching for insects deep inside the ferns
A frenzy of splashes as our Grey Fantail has a bath in the shallow water’s edge

Then we gasped as a little flash of red, black and white appeared, then another and another – a small flock of tiny honeyeaters flew down to the ferns, dipping down for a quick drink of water, then up to the safety of the undergrowth. It was so hard to capture them, but we later learned they are Scarlet Myzonelas. They are rarely seen as they feed high up in the canopy, usually identified by their calls.

Male Scarlet Myzomela
Juvenile males have smaller amounts of red, while the females are completely brown

We watched them for a while before continuing on our way, climbing back up on to the ridge and returning back via the Giant’s Chair Lookout.

Picking our way along sandstone walls
Fine views at the lookout but no Rainbow Bee-eaters this time

When we returned to the campground we had missed the evening bird feeding, but I persuaded Mr A to hold out his hand and see whether a bird would come down…the answer was yes….but he would be swiftly punished with a Lorikeet nip for not having any snacks in his hand! Oops!

Warning, don’t tease the birds, they will soon let you know you are naughty!

Before long it was our final day at Cania Gorge and still there were many walks we hadn’t done – we really could have stayed here a week, but already had a booking at a site on the coast we didn’t want to lose (things are getting busier now as the wave of travellers heads north from South Australia, Victoria and NSW for the winter).

A short drive took us up to Cania Lake, a large reservoir at the end of the valley, and likely the reason for there being so many dry Creeks in the area. Other than some Pelicans and Little Black Cormorants there was little evidence of water birds.

Lake Cania
Lots of Pretty-faced Wallabies up by the dam – this female carrying quite a large joey in her pouch

We decided to try our luck at finding some new birdlife down at Three Moon Creek – one of the few waterways with water in it.

It was a good choice. We immediately saw Peregrine Falcons soaring up at the top of the sandstone cliffs, and a frenzy of birds flitting along through the undergrowth. We found ourselves some quiet spots and waited to see what would come to us once we were no longer seen as a threat.

We spent a good hour there, seeing some interesting birdlife, many we had never seen before (thank goodness for the Merlin bird ID app in helping us work out what we’d spotted!).

Very little and cute White-browed Scrub Wrens – picking along the creek edge finding morsels to eat
White-browed Scrub Wren
An Australian Raven stopped for a rest on the trunk crossing the creek right in front of me
Australian Raven – with the sunlight on his glossy feathers you can see the purples, blues and greens in what usually just looks black
A loud fluttering in the bushes behind me and a Brown Cuckoo-Dove had landed just a metre away
The moon had already risen, its craters clearly seen
Dusky Moorhen – a noisy little bird
Clockwise from left: LIttle Pied Cormorant, Peregrine Falcon (long way away!) and a Grey Fantail

We had a great couple of days here, but it was time to move on. We’re finally going to reach the coast again after six weeks of being land-bound, and are quite excited about it!

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.

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Carnarvon Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia

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

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

Carnarvon Gorge – a long way from anywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the pool where Platypus live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect clear evenings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The climb down was much easier than the way up!

Climbing down is much easier!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A final sunset as we bid this beautiful place farewell