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.

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!

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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!

28 May-7 June: A journey from the desert to the bush

Author: Mrs A

Location: Travelling from Birdsville to Charleville, Queensland, Australia

Farewelling Birdsville we turned on to the imaginatively named Birdsville and Diamantina Developmental Roads and pointed ourselves east. Over the next couple of days we were making our way across to Charleville, pretty much half way to the coast of Queensland.

Driving at the speed limit with no breaks, this journey would take about 12 hours

Much of the journey was along graded gravel road, with occasionally a stretch of single lane tarmac for good measure. Our first day’s driving took us across the outer reaches of the Sturt Stony Desert and Strzelecki Desert into what is known as Channel Country, so named for the numerous creeks and rivers (often dry) which intertwine across the region.

Our lunch spot – we were pleased to hide inside away from the dust and wind

The landscape is largely featureless and flat, stretching across to the horizon. The morning we left there were strong winds which whistled across the desert, nothing to stop the dust flying. As it was a head wind it made driving a challenge too – the Land Cruiser certainly ate up the fuel.

There are occasional rest areas, sometimes with picnic tables and toilets, a chance to break up the monotony of the journey. Mid afternoon we saw a slight uplift on the side of the road, decorated with a giant serpent. The Dreamtime Serpent is an important figure in the Aboriginal creation story, representing the mythological serpent which joined all the waterways throughout Mithaka Country. This artwork had been created with different coloured gravel and gibbers from across the region.

Dreamtime Serpent
I was tempted to do some weeding, but thought better of it – any plant that can survive out here deserves to live where it likes!

As we continued on through the afternoon, hills became more frequent, and we pulled over at this bizarre sign directing us to the ‘Hole through Mount Henderson’. There is a walk up to a lookout up on top of this, but the sun was getting low in the sky and we still had to reach Windorah for the night.

Interesting sign at the side of the road…
Following the arrow you can see an eroded window through the hill

It was at this point the single track of tarmac became continuous, and we knew it wasn’t far to Windorah. There we pulled up on a field behind the pub, donating $10 to the Flying Doctors to park there the night.

Blacktop making for a much smoother ride
A huge flock of LIttle Corellas takes off from the side of the road and flies across in front of us – this is just a fifth of the flock!
A Brolga (Australian Crane) strolling along the side of the road!

The following morning (Saturday) we pumped our tyres back up and gave the car and van a good wash with a high pressure hose just outside Windorah. We know it is going to get dusty again, but hopefully slightly less than the past couple of days have been.

We actually passed through Windorah and Cooper Creek when we very first started our big trip – four years ago in 2017! We reflected on how much more comfortable we are now travelling, feeling less stress towing and parking up. We have learned a lot in that time.

Cattle mustering as we leave Windorah
Another Brolga strutting across the dry mud, roadside…

The landscape started to change as we progressed, the small drought tolerant shrubs changing to small trees, then larger trees, paddocks full of dry grasses and more undulating hills on the horizon. We called in for a lunchtime break at a rest area beside a creek (with actual water in it!) I had read was good for spotting birds. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and think about something other than driving. We saw quite a number of birds, including flocks of budgerigars flying past, Mallee Ringneck Parrots, a White-necked Heron and more.

A Spotted Bowerbird – the males make a sculptural bower on the ground and adorn it with white items – mostly shells and bones, but anything else they can find is added too.
Spotted Bowerbird
White-plumed Honeyeaters

Another roadside rest area just outside the small town of Quilpie was our camp for the night.

The journey continued on Sunday morning, with just a few hours’ driving this time to our destination of Charleville. We stopped at a ‘Ghost town’ called Cooladie for lunch on our way over, which gave a chance for some more bird spotting before we settled in for an afternoon of washing.

White-winged Fairy-wren – only the male has white wings and is electric blue – he was quite shy and hard to photograph, but she was curious and had a great photo session 🤍
An Australasian Pipit – running around in the grasses

Cooladdi was originally a railhead for the local pastoral community. At one time, Cooladdi had a school, post office, and police station with a population of about 270 people. As the railway line extended further west, Cooladdi’s role and population declined. There is little evidence of a town (let alone a ghost!) today, no more than a few wooden floors and a cairn marking the town centre.

A Queensland Bottle Tree was once probably somebody’s pride and joy

It was only a short while further to our destination for the coming few days, Charleville.

Charleville is a small town located on the Warrego River. Its traditional First Nation custodians are the Bidjara People who historically lived all along the river banks. These people are still an important part of the Charleville society. As of 1980 the Bidjara language was almost extinct, with only 20 elders speaking it in communities along the length of the river. It has now been revitalised and is now being taught in schools.

The settlement built up during the mid 1800s as a service centre for pastoralists across this region. While slightly smaller these days it is no less important, with its hospital serving as the primary medical centre for the whole region. If you get sick in Birdsville, a 2-3 day drive away, it is likely you will be flown to Charleville for your treatment via the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This service is absolutely essential for residents living in remote areas and means we no longer see the high death rates seen prior to the launch of the service in 1917.

After a morning exploring the small town, the hospital was where Mark and I found ourselves on Monday afternoon, for our pre-booked Covid-19 first vaccination. We are very keen to continue our travels around the world and believe being vaccinated is our first step to being able to do this.

Smiling faces outside a hospital – now that is a rare thing!
We both had the Astrazeneca vaccine – next one mid August…I wonder where we will be then?
The hospital grounds are home to a mob of kangaroos – enough to make any unwell person smile!

We went out to dinner at the local Thai restaurant (with a Vietnamese chef!) to celebrate.

We have spent some time exploring the various parklands and riverside walks for birds of course. Mark has a new tool in his bird watching kit – a spotting scope. It is like a telescope you put on a tripod and can see birds in incredible clarity up to about half a kilometre away. It is like watching a live nature documentary unfold in front of your eyes, just amazing. He has bought an adapter to allow him to take photographs on his phone though the scope. I am certain he will soon be complementing my camera photography.

On the Warrego River Walk we felt very privileged to see a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas feeding their hungry family – just metres from people out for their afternoon stroll or jog. A few trees back I heard a call I recognised from my childhood, and up in the trees behind us was a flock of Cockatiels, their yellow faces and rosy red cheeks looking so familiar. I much prefer to see them flying through the treetops than captive in a cage.

The Warrego River (complete with Galahs having an evening drink!)
We watch the Galahs take turns at the bottom of the branch
A Pale-headed Corella and its three hungry babies. These were in a hollow branch right above a busy walking path. Just look at those huge orange beaks!
This is the female – we watched as the parents flew off to eat seeds in the meadows near the river, before returning to regurgitate them as pulp for their chicks. Their chicks were rarely alone with both parents working in quick rotation
Pale-headed Rosellas hang out in pairs rather than flocks
A pair of Pale-headed Rosellas
Cockatiel female
A pair of male Cockatiels – Cockatiels fly in huge noisy flocks, landing high up in the top of trees to call out. Another bird often seen as a pet in a cage but far lovelier to see flying free

Another outing near the Charleville Cemetary had us observing Apostlebirds, White-browed Babblers, Whistling Kites, Galahs and more.

Whistling Kites
Sulphur Crested Cockatoos flying overhead
A Whistling Kite – big raptors!
Grey Butcherbird
An Apostlebird – these gregarious birds hang out in gangs (like the 12 Apostles!) which run around mostly on the ground, and seem to love campgrounds for their rich pickings.

A novelty for us was the change in the weather. Just for one day we had rain! I know our friends and family in the UK will scorn us, but we do appreciate the brief change. With the low humidity and dry air comes dry skin and high levels of static. I am a little tired of getting electric shocks every time I turn off a light or get out of the car! The increased humidity definitely helped reduce that for a short while.

And with a little rain comes a rainbow – a symbol of hope in so many cultures

Other than the river, there is little surface water around, so the lakes at the Charleville Water-treatment Works attract a lot of birds. On the advice of a lady at the Information Centre we popped over for a look. We found five or so large patches of water surrounded by reeds and full of water birds.

The birds were quite skittery, clearly not used to seeing people. A large flock of zebra-patterned ducks took flight as we arrived. We later learned these are Pink-eared ducks (if you get close enough, you can see they have pink ears just behind their eye), and live only in Australia. Ibis (commonly seen with their long beaks in city rubbish bins!) were here too, as well as Pied Stilts, Spoonbills, Pacific Black and Grey Teal ducks. We had a good look around before leaving them back in peace.

Pink-eared Ducks (have zebra-print feathers and fang-like beaks!) and Ibis flying past
Yellow Spoonbill
A pair of Pied Stilts with their ridiculously long legs. We watched this pair for a while, as they walked along the water’s edge looking for insects and larvae, their legs barely causing a ripple
Tiger Milkweed Butteffly

Meanwhile, a couple of walks down to the quieter end of the river near where we are staying yielded some new and old birds for us. Just walking in the forest, listening to the wind and the chatter of our multitude of feathered friends is so peaceful. We ended up walking 10km without realising!

The Warrego River becomes less navigable just a short way up, with billabongs broken up by sandbanks. Far fewer people up this way, and more attractive to birds
Australian Wood Ducks (with the spotty breasts), Pacific Black Duck and an Azure Kingfisher (a long way away!)
A White-faced Heron high up on a branch overlooking the water
Brown Tree-creeper – perfectly disguised as they hunt for grubs in rotten wood
A female Galah – the females have pink eyes, while the males have black
A White-plumed honeyeater flying down for a drink. These are usually seen up in the tree’s canopy, drinking from the nectar, consuming berries and seeds and catching insects and larvae
A female White-winged Fairy-wren searching for insects
Flocks of tiny Plum-headed Finches fly out of the long grasses and up overhead like fluttering, chattering butterflies, so hard to capture a glimpse of
A pair of Red-rumped Parrots fly down for an evening drink

After a pub dinner, we went out to Charleville’s Cosmos Centre. We had booked on an hour’s stargazing session with some powerful telescopes and a guide to explain some of the sights we were seeing. We wrapped up warm with our beanies and thick coats against the 10 degrees temperatures, but had a perfectly clear, starlit night with no moon. Ideal for seeing the Milky Way and constellations. It was an interesting evening and a different way to see the stars without sitting beside a warm fire…we were pleased to warm up once the show was over.

Some of the free information available at the centre, the largest observatory and planetarium in Queensland. Bottom right, the remains of a satellite which fell from space, landing in the desert just north of Charleville. It looks like a giant burnt sphere covered in black raven feathers!

We had a lovely week, taking the time to do our cleaning and recover from the relative trauma of our disruptions on the Birdsville Track and in Birdsville. But now we are ready to farewell Charleville (or Barky-ville as we have renamed it, due to the multitude of noisy dogs here) and continue on our adventure heading east.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Yarlayandi, Karnwali, Birria, Kuungkari and Bidjara People through whose traditional lands we travelled and spent time the past few days.

Traditional custodians – a great map at: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia
Our journey over the past six months since leaving Sydney in early December 2020

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Rawnsley Station, Ikara Flinders Ranges, South Australia

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

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

Fine food in an unexpected location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rocky walls tower over us as we start our hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Inspector Gadget…

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

Solar cat in her element, if slightly tangerine

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

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

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

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

Check out those yellow feet and striped tail 🤍

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

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

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

Ikara – formerly known as Wilpena Pound

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

A delicious feast and break from cooking for ourselves

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

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

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

Farewell Rawnsley Park Station

8-11 May: Heading to the red dust

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pildappa Rock & Mt Ive Station, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

With Venus Bay in the rear view mirror we turned north, heading to the drier interior of the Eyre Peninsula, the South Australian outback. We were aiming for the outskirts of the Gawler Ranges National Park.

Within an hour we were pulling up at Pildappa Rock just outside Minnipa. Jutting up out of the flat landscape like a miniature Uluru, this pink granite monolith was a central point for the Kukatha Aboriginal communities, who used its surface pools for drinking water. Locals liken this rock to the more famous ‘Wave Rock’ in Western Australia, said to look like breaking surf in its erosion.

Geologists have found that this rock was originally formed about 7km below the earth’s surface (1500 million years ago!). The surrounding soil has weathered much faster than the rock, hence it now towers over the surrounding area. It is estimated it erodes about 50cm every million years.

On our visit, all the pools were dry, the lack of rainfall evident in the dusty surround, our climb up revealing stunning views of the landscape around us.

The First People traditional owners, the Kukatha community, cared for and tended to these lands, and we thank and acknowledge this. Being the only source of surface water for some distance, the people protected this rock and recognised it as a special and sacred place. When European settlers first arrived in the area seeking water, the Aboriginal community introduced them to this rock and shared their precious water, only to have it then taken over by the new settlers who built dams and drains to secure the water for themselves, restricting their access. Yes, yet another sad story of cruelty and selfishness from our ancestors.

Today much of the surrounding land is used for growing wheat, being autumn all harvested now. It is hard to imagine how anything grows in these dry, dusty conditions, Willie willies (mini dust tornadoes) are frequently seen racing across the huge fields, spinning up what is left of the topsoil.

This hole is known as a gnamma. When it was full of rain water, the Aboriginal people would cover it with a rock to prevent evaporation and use by animals. Other water holes would be left open for exclusive use by birds and animals, sometimes laid with traps to catch a lizard for dinner..
More gnammas and fine views
Mr A walking below me
A rock slowly being sculpted by the elements
Hello Tassie (she is asleep on the bed in the sunshine!)

We continued our journey, next stopping for lunch at a nearby camping area by some more sculpture-like granite rocks at Wattle Grove.

Miss Tassie enjoyed some interesting smells on her exploration

Once we left here, we joined a long red sand and gravel road heading further north towards a remote sheep station, Mount Ive. We let the tyres down a little to smooth out the corrugations and enjoyed the journey. The scenery was magical. The sun was just starting to dip in the sky and in doing so lit up millions of raindrops hanging in the trees, spinifex, blue bush and saltbush either side of the road. It was quite surreal, following a red-sand road surrounded by sparkling diamonds. 

Flat and dry, this is sheep country

With the sun starting to set we decided to find ourselves a wild-camp just off the road for the night rather than press on.

Where were we? Somewhere near Mount Ive, just past Pinkawillinie Conservation Park

A space for the night secured, we had an explore, bewitched by the beautiful sunset and incredible light cast on the red hills and scenery around us.

Our evening view
A landscape dotted with hardy shrubs, and not all trees have won the survival battle
Our camp for the night
Beautiful colours cast by the setting sun
The dusty road ahead
Home sweet home
Sun set

It was a beautifully dark night, a good opportunity to have a practice at some night photography. This shot of the Milky Way was my best first attempt. 

A few clouds still around, but the stars are visible in a patch of clear sky

The following morning we had a walk around, in awe of the silence. You could hear your ears ringing and the cogs in your brain whirring! Every sound seemed incredibly loud. The flocks of birds seemed to think so too, most too nervous to hang around for a photo or even to be identified through binoculars. They clearly are not used to humans out here.

A Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater finally sits still long enough for me to capture it with my camera
Getting ready to head off

We drove the final 45 minutes to Mt Ive Station, arriving mid morning and set up on the dusty dry paddock they had assigned to campers. It was a bit disappointing really. After some of the wonderful station stays in Western Australia (especially Hambleton and  Woolleen) it felt like there had been no effort made here. We had so many questions for the owners, but they were not present and the managers were fellow travellers and only had been working there for a couple of days.

A rather orange looking car and caravan – the dust gets everywhere

Visitors are attracted to the area because of its proximity to Lake Gairdner National Park. We paid for a mud map of a track and a key to a locked gate giving us access to the lake. Lake Gairdner is a huge salt lake, famous for land speed record attempts during Speed Week each March.

After setting up camp we took a drive out to the lake. No driving is allowed on the lake outside of the allocated event.

Our first view of Lake Gairdner takes our breath away

The lake is considered to be the third biggest salt lake in Australia. It is 160 kilometres long, and 48 km across, so the area we visited was all but a tiny corner.

Looks like snowfields

Stepping onto the lake it is hard to convince your brain it is not snow. It crunches like snow, but is not at all slippery, with little give when you step on it. In some places this salt is more than a metre deep.

We enjoyed our experience so much we went back the following day – the grey skies changing the whole scene, and being wrapped up in our winter gear it felt even more like a snowfield.

Mysterious skies change the scene
Crunchy salt surface
Mr A on the race course
The sun breaks through the clouds, and the salt lights up

The Mt Ive Station property also has a volcanic geological area known as the Organ Pipes. We hiked up a dry creek to explore.

Beautiful views down the valley
Up at the tocks
The Organ Pipes – they face east, so get only the early morning sun. They are covered in green lichen.
You can almost imagine yourself being in a grand cathedral
More magnificent views and colours from higher up
On the western side of the valley rocks are covered in orange lichen
Our lonely car in big country

The station is mostly set up to encourage four wheel driving, with visitors given the option to buy another mud map with further routes to explore. Rather than spend more time in the car, we decided to try some more walking, picking our way up through the rock and prickly spinifex plants to the top of one of the hills surrounding the property.

Mt Ive Station
Panorama
Prickly spinifex is home to many little critters, including marsupial mice and lizards
An old cart on the property

We had a good couple of nights here, but especially enjoyed our time wild-camping. We hope to do more of that in the coming months. For now, however, we had to head back to the coast and Whyalla – I had a plane to catch…

Wedge Tailed Eagle, Submarine and heading out….

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

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

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

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

The sediments are visible in this ancient coastline

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

The still waters as we arrive

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

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

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

Even its mates think it could look better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joy of travel!