21 April-10 May: Princess Tassie-the-adventure-cat flies to the UK

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lydeard St Lawrence, Twickenham and Heathrow, UK

So much has happened since our last post, we can hardly believe it has been just over three weeks.

Our eleven weeks holiday rental in Kingston St Mary came to an end, and we moved out and into a gorgeous AirBnB in a nearby village, Lydeard St Lawrence. Around the same time as moving, our shipping container arrived from Australia – we took out one or two bits, but mostly that went straight into storage. It feels quite surreal seeing items (such as our camping car fridge) in the UK, items we only ever have associated with our travels in Australia.

Last seen on our driveway in Curl Curl, Sydney – here’s our container in Somerset!

We also have changed our car – another Mercedes but a slightly larger one with a bit more clearance for those country lanes, an issue we were finding with the GLA. Thankfully (due to some negotiation from Mr A with the Mercedes dealership in Exeter) there was no cost of changeover, and we just paid the difference with our larger vehicle.

No more grey Merc – now a flashy red number to brighten up our days

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The AirBnB we moved into next was a great find. We had wanted somewhere in the same region – not too far from the Quantock Hills, closer to Exmoor and within a village we could easily walk from, and had stumbled across a little self-contained cottage in Lydeard St Lawrence.

Given Tassie’s arrival was impending, I had enquired whether pets were allowed…and once that was confirmed, checked whether a cat would be ok. It turned out that our superhost, Cat, is a British Shorthair cat breeder, and was very welcoming of a feline visitor. Perfect! There was also parking available for both our car and Truffy, so no alternative storage required – it really was meant to be. We soon settled in.

We had been there a couple of days before it was time to head up to London for a day we we had been long anticipating – Tassie’s arrival on a flight from Sydney.

Richard has his final cuddle before Tassie heads off – and in the Sydney ’hotel’ before her first flight

She had a huge journey, leaving the loving arms of her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard on Friday morning, two nights in a ’pet hotel’ near Sydney airport, before being loaded up into a Qatar Airlines plane and flown to Doha. Once again she was offloaded and released into another ’pet hotel’.

Finally she was loaded onto another flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 7am on Tuesday morning…finally being released nearly six hours later after all the paperwork had been completed. It was such a relief to see her – and as she stepped out of her carry cage and rubbed her cheeks on my hands and started purring, we knew that she forgave us for the traumatic journey and was pleased to be back with her original servants. Princess Tassie the Adventure Cat has officially made it to the UK!

The best cuddle ever!

We must not forget to say thank you to our friend Jacky who kindly took us on a whirlwind walk around Twickenham while we waited for the call to collect Tas – a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy some fresh air and buy lunch before spending another three hours in the car.

Yes, yet another stunning spring day

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So we settled into life in Lydeard St Lawrence. It’s another pretty historical village set in the countryside between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. Being a conservation area, there are many listed buildings and every corner has a story to tell.

The village’s name comes in part from the church. There has been a church in the location since the year 854, and in at least partially its current form for almost 700 years, since around 1350. The church tower makes a great landmark for our return walks and cycles.

Approaching Lydeard St Lawrence and it’s old church

There are countless footpaths disappearing in every direction across the hills, and in the couple of weeks we stayed there we walked many circuits, and never the same one twice.

In one of the sandstone walls in the village, a memory of jubilees past – this plaque commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee (this year is the platinum jubilee) sits above a spring, apparently celebrated for its medicinal qualities and has never stopped flowing

Mark and I still have our ’tourist-eyes’ on and are really appreciating the chance to just walk from the front door, drinking up the ’new’ smells and sights. Like we did with our travels in Australia, I think we are appreciating our location all the more for being away.

Views in every direction
Which way now? The trees are heavy with perfumed blossom and the roadsides sprouting with wildflowers.
Spring emerging in the woodland
Primroses surround an old lime kiln in an ancient woodland
Bluebells, celandines and more wild lfowers emerging in every location
Looking towards the Quantock Hills
A grassy bridleway between two fields
We watched three wild red deer dash out of the woods at the bottom of this field and bound away
Fields of wheat are sprouting
The quiet country lanes are fragrantly flower-lined
A Greater Spotted Woodpecker flies to a tree right in front of us, before disappearing into this hole
Goldfinches are colourful visitors to the hedgerows, rarely stopping still long enough for a photo
Goldfinch
History around every corner in the Somerset lanes

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One Sunday afternoon we took ourselves out to Clatworthy Reservoir, situated on the edge of Exmoor and just a 30 minute drive from our cottage. Mr A had picked it as our destination somewhat randomly, spotting it on the map and suggesting we take a drive.

It is a picturesque location surrounded by native woodland, and an ancient hill fort. There are a couple of hikes there, the longer 8 kilometre walk circumnavigating the water, while we took the shorter hill fort hike, spotting wildlife as we went – especially excited to spot a pair of wild Red Deer.

A picturesque valley
A Blue Tit hunting for insects in the newly burst oak leaves
Mr A hiking past the bluebells
A pair of Red Deer emerge right on cue
Very shy, they soon gallop off through the woodland

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Another outing just 20 minutes drive away was to the unusually named Wimbleball Lake, on Exmoor. Wimbleball is an International Dark Sky Reserve by night (perfect for star-gazing), but during the day a great place to walk, cycle, fish, kayak and stand-up paddle-board. Our visit was predominantly aimed at walking and bird watching.

We did a 7km return hike around some of the lake’s edge, spotting our first British Kingfisher (sadly it didn’t stop still for a photo) this year. We will keep our eyes peeled for another.

A Song Thrush hunting for worms and insects in a lawn
A Dunnock keeping an eye out
No visit is complete without a Robin!
A Great Tit perches in a hedgerow, getting ready to fly off at a moment’s notice
Wimbleball – no idea of the origin of the name – not for the lack of searching!
Mr A hiking off in to the distance

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We also had some great meals and pub garden afternoons out with our friends, Karen, Jane and Terry from West Bagborough, including a somewhat disappointing lunch at the Rising Sun, (our ’local’ while we lived in the village which was always closed because of lock-down) and a superb lunch at a nearby gastro pub-restaurant , The Barn @ Pod Shavers (apparently a pod shaver is someone who makes traditional cricket balls!).

Laughs with our friends, The Ayres – and yes, Karen has a drinking problem (as in people keep buying her drinks and she cannot keep up!)

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The landscape changes almost daily as the trees bud and these burst into bright green leaves – in a handful of days the fields have gone from being lined with bare trees to thick lush green. We are loving the almost overwhelming impact on our senses.

As the days have got warmer, we have also been out on the bikes, the quiet (mostly traffic-free) country lanes ideal for exploring….and there is always the bonus of a village pub to mark as your destination for a refreshing afternoon beverage.

A typical country lane – all single track around here and very much suited to cycling
The fresh spring colours in the sunshine are breathtaking
An unpaved track – probably more suited to horse trekking than our little e-bikes, but brings us out into some incredible views
Looking across a field of wheat

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We have had a wonderful time in Lydeard St Lawrence, made ever so welcome by our hosts (who even very kindly brought Tassie a ’welcome to the UK’ gift of treats and toys) but now it is time to move on again to our next little cottage in Devon.

Our house purchase is progressing smoothly (touch-wood!), and we hope to be moving in by the end of June. The next temporary accommodation will see us through til then.

Tassie gets to sunbathe in Lydeard St Lawrence – ironically an activity she has missed in rainy Sydney!
Tassie is settling in nicely to her British life

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Tin Can Bay, the Fraser Coast, Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motto for the week – enjoy the moment 🙂

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia

Having now sold our house and being totally committed to our decision to leave Australia, we find ourselves living through a turmoil of emotions. On the one hand, we want to progress with our decision and all the multitude of tasks involved in our unravelling of more than two decades of life in Australia. On the other, we want to immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the areas we are travelling through, to capture a lingering memory of regions we most likely will never see again.

Turning inland from Cairns, we climbed up onto the Atherton Tablelands, an area shrouded in misty cloud and drizzle as we arrived on Sunday afternoon. The Tablelands is a formerly volcanic region with rich soils and cooler temperatures than down on the coast. It is a big fruit and vegetable growing area.

While the volcanoes are now extinct, in both human and geological terms the volcanic activity is quite recent, and First Nations people have immortalised a major volcanic eruption in stories passed down through generations. One such story told by the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people recalls when two freshly initiated youths broke a taboo and thereby offended the rainbow serpent, Aboriginal Australians’ most powerful and feared supernatural being. Despite being the middle of the day, the sky turned blackish-red, and the ground cracked and heaved. Then from it, a liquid spilled out. It engulfed the landscape, leaving a maar lake (Lake Eacham) as a legacy.

Geologists have dated the sediment layers within Lake Eacham and suggest the maar eruption that formed it occurred a little over 9,000 years ago, representing approximately 360 generations of people. We recognise and thank the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people for their custodianship of the lands we stayed upon and visited this past week.

On our arrival the temperatures were in the late teens, and it was exciting to wear long sleeved tops and trousers without overheating. We set up camp beside Malanda Falls and headed straight back out. What better to do on a day such as this than to visit the Nerada Tearooms.

We have never disguised our love of a nice cup of tea, and here they had the added bonus of vegan churros for me and a Devonshire Cream Tea (scones, cream and jam) for Mark. Nerada is a tea plantation, specialising in sustainable farming without the use of pesticides – you can buy their tea in most Australian supermarkets.

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

There was an additional reason for our visit however – the little known Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos, which we were told lived in the trees around the plantation.

You may be surprised to learn that Australia actually has two types of kangaroo that live in trees, the Lumholtz variety (only found in the Atherton Tablelands), and another the Bennett’s (only found in a small area of rainforest north of Daintree and south of Cooktown, which we were unable to find on our Cape Tribulation visit). There are actually many more varieties which live in Papua New Guinea.

When we had checked into our campground, the owner had told us this was a great place to see them, and that in 24 years only one group of customers had told her they had failed. So, fortified with tea and cake, we set off into the rain to attempt to find one.

It took us about 25 minutes of scouring the trees, walking up and down the road near to the tearooms before suddenly I spotted one. Having no idea what we were looking for, it was a surprise to find they are quite large, and more bear looking than their ground dwelling cousins, but still with the long tail. They evolved from Rock Wallabies around seven million years ago.

Very lucky to see a Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo

For their size (about the size of a collie dog) they are really quite agile, climbing deftly amongst the branches and munching on several varieties of leaves.

For the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people these were a significant food source as well as seen as a sacred animal. Being on the near-endangered list, they are no longer hunted and their habitat in this region is being conserved, so their numbers are slowly increasing

Love their black snouts and paws

We spent a wonderful hour watching these gorgeous creatures, gathering quite a crowd of other visitors around us as they stopped by to watch them as well. Definitely a memory to treasure and a bucket list item ticked off.

Our campsite beside Malanda Falls was ideally situated about a 15-20 minute drive away from everything we wanted to visit on the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig tree is situated in protected mabi-rainforest with a raised walkway around it, protecting its roots and was where we found ourselves early the following morning.

The tree itself is estimated to be more than 500 years old, and the ‘curtain’ is formed from its many roots which hang down from the main trunk.

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

While seeing the tree is in itself a wonder, it is the somewhat rare opportunity to be elevated in rainforest that is also an attraction. The area is important habitat for many birds, tree kangaroos, Red-legged Pademelons (tiny rainforest kangaroos) and rare Musky Rat Kangaroos.

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

We spent some time listening to the forest, the rustling below the boardwalk, the flash of colour as birds flit between trees. It is not a great place for photography – not only does the camera love to focus on leaves and branches in the foreground, leaving only a blur of a bird in the distance, but the dull light makes it a real challenge to capture a sharp image. I gave it a good go though, and caught a few lovely birds.

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

Malanda Falls is located right beside where we were staying, an attractive waterfall a feature of Johnstone River which winds its way through the rainforest. There are a couple of walks through the forest that we explored one afternoon.

Mr A heading off
Malanda Falls

While we saw some birds, they were very hard to see, pausing only briefly before disappearing off into the forest. The river is home to the Johnstone River Snapping Turtle, and there were plenty of these around as we looked from the viewing platforms. There are apparently Platypus living here as well, but they must have been sleeping on our visit.

Johnstone River Snapping Turtle

We saw a few shy Red-legged Pademelons.

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

One afternoon we drove out to the unusually named Mount Hypipamee Crater. This is the remains of a volcanic pipe which exploded 8000 years ago – so recent that its eruption also remains told in the stories of the local First Nations people.

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

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

Another Tree Kangaroo

The Upper Barron River runs through Mount Hypipamee National Park, with another walking trail taking you down to Dinner Falls, a series of three cascades cutting their way through the black volcanic granite. This is a popular place for a dip and natural waterfall massage during the summer months.

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

Thursday was an important day – our second Covid-19 vaccination. We had booked in at Atherton Hospital for the injections and didn’t have to wait too long, there wasn’t a queue. As of today, 35% of adult Australians have been fully vaccinated, and an even lower number in Queensland which has been relatively Covid-free these past couple of years, outside of the capital city, Brisbane.

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

For us, we see the double vaccination as our passport out of lockdowns and the potential to get back out there in the world and travel. It’s a means of keeping us safe and hopefully out of hospital should we catch the virus. While most people we meet travelling are of the same mind as us – not keen to have their freedoms curbed any longer and excited to get back to touring Australia and the world – we have also met a number of hesitant people. They tend to be people who are unlikely to travel, who have never met anyone who has been unwell with Covid-19, let alone experienced the horror of someone passing away from the virus. We hope they can be persuaded to be inoculated for the greater community good – our government has pledged to open up more privileges once we are at 80% vaccinated, which feels a long way off.

On a couple of occasions during our six day stay we took ourselves over to Hasties Swamp National Park, a nearby wetland with a two storey bird hide, finding late afternoon to be the best time for action. It was a good opportunity for Mark to finally get out his spotting scope – the rainforest birds simply do not sit still long enough to get the scope lined up for a good look, but water birds tend to be a little less flighty.

We saw a large range of birds, the usual kingfishers, several varieties of honeyeater and Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks. The sound at the wetland was absolutely deafening, predominantly the loud honking of a huge flock of Magpie Geese which had noisily taken over one end of the water, constantly squabbling and flying around trying to find the optimum location to spend the night.

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

On our final day, we took ourselves off to do a walk around Lake Eacham. While there are apparently Freshwater Crocodiles living here (smaller and less aggressive than their saltwater cousins), people can go swimming and kayaking in this small lake, and we saw a group of teenagers shrieking as they leaped into the cold water. We stuck to land for our visit and followed a trail around the water, through the dense rainforest of Crater Lakes National Park.

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

It was another bucket-list native I was rather keen to see; a Victoria’s Riflebird. We had visited the lake earlier in the week and constantly heard them calling, but none were to be seen. These birds are only found in this area of Australia, and are famous for their vibrant colouring and fabulous dance to attract females. I highly recommend you watch their dance moves on YouTube, they are incredible.

So half way around the lake, I heard a loud Riflebird-like squark from high up in the trees, and spotted a black-coloured bird hopping around in the branches. Yes! A Riflebird! I got set up with the camera, willing it to come closer.

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

The gorgeous bird was lifting up pieces of bark and finding insects and grubs to eat. I watched it methodically work its way along the trunk until suddenly a particularly tasty looking snack dropped from its grasp and fell to the ground just a metre or two from me, swiftly followed by the Riflebird. I held my breath, willing my camera to focus on the right thing as he found his food and flew up to an old tree trunk just metres in front of me, providing a perfect view of his glistening head, throat and chest feathers. Just incredible.

Victoria’s Riflebird
Victoria’s RIflebird

I was so chuffed to have been rewarded with this special moment, an absolutely wonderful end to our visit to the Tablelands. I was only disappointed that Mark missed the show as he had walked on ahead of me. Thank goodness I was able to capture some photographs to share with him.

We’ve spent a magical three weeks exploring this rainforest-filled tropical north Queensland, longer than we have ever done before. Rewarded with incredible bird and animal sightings, we feel so privileged to have been able to take our time and immerse ourselves in this special environment. But now it is time to turn our noses south, and start making our way down the east coast. We have a bit of celebrating to be done in Noosa with friends!

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

30 April-5 May: Streaky Bay – part 2

Author: Mrs A

Location: Streaky Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

As our regular readers will know, it is quite rare for us to spend much longer than three or four nights in one place, but on this trip we are making a habit of slowing right down, and with few hard deadlines to meet, we are following our guts. Streaky Bay has been a perfect location to stop and pause at. Not only a great camp site, but lots to see and do in the area.

We had visited the Department for Environment and Water to ask where the the best areas for seeing birds were, and one area highlighted was Sceale (pronounced scale) Bay Conservation Park, in particular a saltwater lagoon which lay behind the dunes. We drove over for a look.

We found quite dramatic scenery with the wind whistling across the water, a shallow lake edged with salt encrusted mud, but not a single bird in sight, not even footprints on the water’s edge. We had a short look around and decided to continue down to the coast and Sceale Bay itself.

Sceale Bay Conservation Park – a bird-free zone

We found yet another stunning beach stretching along towards some small shacks and houses which make up the settlement, and just two people on the beach. It is just incredible how few people there are everywhere, and we are just lapping up the isolation.

Sceale Bay Beach – stunning turquoise waters with a clean surf break

We returned to the Zone to get ready for dinner. Yes, after my nasty food poisoning episode, we had decided to brave it for a night out in town.

We had chosen a small cafe with water views called Drift. They had an interesting menu, with ingredients sourced from local areas, so we had great expectations.

Sadly, we were disappointed. While the shared plate of steamed dumplings were tasty, they seemed no different from the frozen ones we occasionally have in the caravan. We both chose a seafood marinara for our main dish, only to find all the prawn, calamari and scallop flavours completely swamped with bucket-loads of an incredibly sickly sweet tomato sauce. So disappointing.

The wine we chose was nice, but tainted by the young lady serving us snapping that we couldn’t take unfinished wine home, and therefore she wouldn’t give us the cap! Responsible service of alcohol regulations anyone? In their favour, neither of us ended up sick, so that was good. Overall, it was such a shame. We so wanted to support this small business.

A fine view for dinner, even if the food was disappointing

Saturday dawned overcast, so we followed part of the Westal Way loop drive (one of three loop drives from Streaky Bay which take visitors to several natural attractions) and made our way to Tractor Beach, just 20 minutes south. There’s council camping in a site by the beach and they provide free wifi and solar power charging at the beach shelter.

Charge up and get online by the beach shelter.

The sign at the beach was our first and only sighting of any mention of the local Aboriginal Wirangu communities which previously made this coast their home. We recognise their connection with this country and thank them for their custodianship over the past thousands of years.

We were the only two people exploring the beach of course, which stretched along to an ever-decreasing headland, slowly being worn away by the sea. Another picturesque afternoon’s outing, but still no sight of the sea-eagles or osprey which apparently call this coast their home.

A picturesque beach, particularly as the sun breaks through and shines across the bay
WIth tinges of pink on the skyline it almost looks like sunset – an eerie afternoon light

Our surprise sighting of a female Sea-lion last week had left us wanting more, so we took a drive out to Point Labatt, about a 50 minute journey south of Streaky Bay. The drive took us along the stunning Baird Bay, a relatively calm but expansive area of water surrounded by sand dunes and not a boat in sight. We are constantly amazed by the spectacular beauty we find here, with so little human impact to spoil it.

Finally at the point, we found ourselves at a viewing platform above one of Australia’s last remaining Sea-lion colonies. As mentioned in our last post, it is heart wrenching to think that these beautiful creatures could be extinct in the next 40 years unless something is done to change their demise now.

It was incredibly windy at the lookout, and we had to wrap up warm to stand there and watch the goings on below us. Both Australian and New Zealand fur-seals and Australian sea-lions make this location their home, protected from their main predators, the Great White sharks, by a reef out at sea.

Sea-lion paparazzi disguised as a cloud!

Female Sea Lions carry their pups for just under 18 months before they give birth, and then are pretty much ready to mate again within a week. Sadly only 3 out of every 10 pups will reach maturity.

A Sea Lion Pup feeding from mum on the beach
Sometimes mum is just good for a warm chin rest

Sea Lions differ from seals in that they have external ear flaps, and rather than flopping along on their bellies, they can walk on land using all four flippers. All females are light grey with yellow-cream chests and bellies, while the males are much darker and up to four times larger.

You can almost imagine a storyline here – the young pup having a whinge to mum and then hanging her head in shame as she’s told off by dad….
A couple of females facing off
It all gets a little more serious….
The battle is taken to the rock pools where they can move faster….there is a lot of splashing and others join in…is this mating ritual perhaps?
Still seem to be a few issues, some time later….
Later, there is a relationship counseling session which helps sort things out…they appear to kiss and make up
Another young pup wandering around the rocks calling out
An adult Sea Lion fresh from the ocean, having run the shark gauntlet and now relishing the feel of the sun
Sunbathing on the rocks – Sea Lions sharing their safe haven with Fur Seals (you can see one towards the back of the rocks, much darker and furrier than the Sea Lions) , gulls cormorants and terns

On Sunday we kept things more close to home, and took a walk up the coast from the campsite. We saw one person all afternoon, and he was stood at the shore fishing, just four metres from his car! We have the feeling that not too many people pick their way along this shoreline.

The coast is pretty rocky right to the water
A pair of Sooty Oystercatchers fly along the rocks

On Monday we drove south to Speeds Point. Speeds Point was the location of Australia’s first ever big-wave surf competition in 2009. It was certainly wild – what they call a high energy coast, with several collapses on the cliffs evident. Apparently scenic flight operators along this coast notice cliff collapses every day…something to bear in mind when standing near the edge capturing another spectacular scene.

Arriving at Speeds Point – you can see the huge waves in the background and the calm waters below
Speeds Point – relatively calm water on the right with wild surf on the left
A White-faced Heron and several Pied Cormorants rest on the rocks between fishing expeditions

From there we followed the Westall Way touring loop around, visiting Smooth Pool (an area of rock pools – it was busy with four wheel drives literally everywhere, so we didnt stop), Point Westall, and The Granites.

Mr A admiring Point Westall

The Granites was incredible. It’s a popular surf beach with some pretty big waves, especially off the point. We spent some time on top of the cliff watching the exhilaration of the surfers as they rode the breakers.

Woo hoo! This looked like fun…
Even bigger waves off the point – this surfer looks like an ant, but he’s actually over 6 foot tall!

Our final day in Streaky Bay has been spent doing final jobs and stocking up at the small supermarket in anticipation of not having any shops for the upcoming week. I encouraged Mark to join me on the historical tour of the town – it took us around the old hospitals, shepherd’s hut, monuments and official buildings. It was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs without getting sandy or dusty, or having to watch our step walking over rocks. We also got our flu vaccines – given we cannot get our Covid vaccines here yet (and it is extremely unlikely we are going to catch it anyway) we thought we should be protected from something!

Our time finished off with another fine sunset. I made sure to take advantage of seeing it set over the water. It’s likely to be a while before we get to enjoy such sights again.

Sunset over Streaky Bay

18-22 April: Coffin Bay without the oysters

Author: Mr A

Location: Coffin Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australa

Unfortunately Mrs A still hasn’t recovered from her food poising, so no Coffin bay oysters for her, and so I abstained in sympathy. Poor thing, it’s been a bad one.

Anyway she was still keen to get out for a couple of walks, amazingly energetic given all she has consumed for the last 5 days have been two pots of apple purée, a couple of bananas, and dry crackers.

We set off from our campsite in the small town of Coffin Bay and immediately almost bumped into some wallabies, as you do. We had a bit of a eye starring competition, we lost and we moved on. A grey flycatcher came to say hello next, this was looking like a promising walk!

Bush Wallaby
Bush Wallaby
A Grey Flycatcher stopping for a brief rest from chasing insects

The path took us along the side of the bay, and in the late afternoon sunshine it was glorious, with a very brief and distant cameo appearance from a dolphin. They actually have their own species here, first identified in 2015. Only in Australia.

Looking out towards Mount Dutton
We spotted one of Coffin Bay’s rare dolphins from here
Sunset over Coffin Bay
Sunset over Coffin Bay

Once again this was a walk completely devoid of other walkers, other than one guy headphones on marching back to his isolated shack on the edge of the bay.

The following day we took a drive to Coffin Bay National Park and did a 9k circuit from Yangie Bay. We saw one other couple and a family. Positively bustling.

Great views over Mount Dutton and the Marble Range as we drive into the park
View over Yangie Bay Marine Sanctuary Zone – a kayaking paradise
Looking out over the bay

There wasn’t much wildlife about on the walk out to Yangie Island, but after we had quietly sat for a few minutes, Mrs A spotted a small flock of rarely seen Rock Parrots fly down to the samphire salt flats nearby to feed. Out came the big lens, somewhat relieved as I’d carried the thing nearly 5km without a hint of a reason to get it on the camera. It certainly made it worthwhile, we hadn’t knowingly seen this species before. They are quite stunning don’t you think?

Rarely seen Rock Parrots, usually only spotted flying away, if at all. They nest in offshore islets in disused bird burrows or under boulders. The live in this area, and a few discreet regions along the Western Australian coast.
Olive green, blue and yellow, they are very well hidden on the ground. There are always a couple on lookout while the others feed. Like with many species, numbers of these little birds are in decline.

On the way back we realised we were on a wildlife roll when a couple of emus came strutting over the path a few metres in front of us. They are odd looking creatures. Never tire of watching them.

Spot the Emu – they’re very well disguised despite their size

A short while later, we rounded a corner to find a couple of wallabies which were as surprised as us to find each other eye to eye.

Strolling back to Yangie Bay

So a pretty good walk on the bird and animal front, and the views not too shabby either. A nice way to end this trip down the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula.

Tomorrow its “the big smoke” of Port Lincoln and then a bit of a look up the east coast that we dashed down a month ago.

24-30 March: Wildlife spotting in Adelaide

Author: Mrs A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide Hills and Adelaide, South Australia

After the dust storms and dry environment of the Riverland it was a relief to pull up at our friends’ house in the Adelaide foothills, appreciating all the more the lush grass, and tenderly cared for fruit and vegetables. Leaving Berri, we had a big day’s driving across country.

Kim and Mike live in the Coromandel Valley. The valley was named after a ship (The Coromandel) from which a number of the crew deserted in 1837. The deserters hiked up into the hills, climbed a tree and watched until the ship left port, after which they surrendered to the local Governor and became free settlers.

Prior to the arrival of and subsequent settlement by these sailors, the area was home to the Kaurna people. They lived along the creeks and rivers, actively farming – fishing, hunting animals and harvesting native seeds, vegetables and fruits. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Kaurna people, the traditional custodians whose ancestral lands we spent time on. We acknowledge the deep feelings of attachment and relationship of the Kaurna people to country and we respect and value their past, present and ongoing connection to the land and cultural beliefs.

A Red Wattlebird perches in the tree overlooking Kim and Mike’s garden

Not far from Coromandel Valley is Belair National Park. The Kaurna people called it Piradi, which means baldness. This was the description of the area when seen from the plains – the location where the city of Adelaide now sits. The Aboriginal population used to actively farm this area, a practice known as ‘fire-stick burning’ – clearing the vegetation to encourage grazing animals, making them easier to hunt. It also spurred the growth of understory plants such as bush potatoes and grasses which were harvested and used in cooking and flour making.

It was declared a National Park in 1892 and is South Australia’s oldest park. Since the 1920s, only native plantings have been allowed, resulting in a valuable haven for native birds and wildlife. Mr A and I were anxious to get out walking, and Kim kindly obliged us by guiding us on one of her favourite circuits in the park. Unlike many Australian national parks, dogs are allowed here, as long as they are kept on a lead, so we were joined by furry friends, Cooper and Rikki.

The rest of my birthday present had been delivered to our friends here – a monopod (used to stabilise the long lens when you’re trying to keep ultra still when photographing) and a fancy sounding MonoGimbal which connects the monopod to the camera. I also had a camouflage coat for my lens – to make it blend into the bush a little better.

Nothing to see here! Photographing a koala and birds, the monopod takes the weight and allows me to concentrate on framing and focusing!

Our 6km walk was the perfect opportunity for me to practice putting it on and I had some great subjects to practice on, with a few birds about in the cool morning, and the first koala we’ve seen since getting back to Australia turning up on cue!

Crimson Rosella coming out of its nesting hole in a hollow branch
A Red Wattlebird showing off its acrobatic prowess – these honeyeaters love flower nectar but also supplement their diet with insects
This koala has been tagged
Gorgeous – koalas are not bears, but more closely related to wombats
Another tree holds a nest site for a pair of beautiful pink and grey galahs

I took every opportunity over our visit to practice my photography, not too hard given the number of interesting walks and bushy areas around.

A New Holland Honeyeater – these little birds breed whenever there are nectar producing flowers in bloom, so despite being Autumn, they were busy flitting around courting and too preoccupied to notice me spying!
A Laughing Kookaburra – these are actually Australia’s largest kingfisher. We’ve seen them eat fish quite frequently (including goldfish from our pond) but they are also partial to frogs, mice and even snakes.
Galahs mostly eat seeds, but they like to chew on wood to keep their beaks sharp – usually close to a nesting hollow to indicate it is occupied.
Red Browed Finches flitting through the reeds beside the river
More honeyeaters
May I share your perch?

One particularly memorable walk took us in a circuit along the Sturt River valley and climbed up through the hills. It was a beautifully cool day and a novelty to wrap up warm. Known as Warri Parri in the native language (windy place by the river), the river valley was traditionally used as a travel corridor by the Kair a people linking the hills with the sea. The population would spend the cooler months on the plains, before heading up via this route in the hotter summer months to spend time in the hills. The riverside path we tracked along followed some of this route.

A beautiful sense of calm and serenity alongside this river
Feet have trodden this path for thousands of years
Cooper and Rikki probably ran three times the distance as us on this hike!
The water quality is being actively managed – there is far less water than in the past

Sturt Gorge Recreation Park is the second biggest park around Adelaide after Belair National Park. How fortunate for our friends to have both locations literally on their doorstep.

Our friend and Kim’s daughter, Ali came to stay on Saturday night with one of her sons, Lewis. The following morning I joined Ali, Lewis and another friend, Nicky (Ali’s not-at-all-wicked stepmother!) at an Adventure Room. We were handcuffed to bars in a locked room and spent an hour solving puzzles and unlocking padlocks. Much fun was had and we made it out with 40 seconds to spare!

The crack detective team

Later, I joined Mr A as we caught up for drinks and nibbles with Nicky’s husband, and long time friend (and amazing musician and film maker) Pete. A perfect Sunday!

Our time in the city concluded with another set of tracheal injections for me, followed by a lunch catch up with some local patients who sadly share the same airway disease as me and who are members of the support group I run. As always it was an absolute delight to meet these lovely ladies, an opportunity to share stories and our experiences along our journey.

L-R: Heather, Julie, Fay, Catherine and Carmen

It was a great chance to shake out the dust from our lives, reset and do all those things that only a large town or city can provide, but we were soon ready to be on our way. The many walks, laughs, fine wines and dinners shared with Kim and Mike greatly enjoyed and appreciated, we said our farewells, not knowing when or indeed if we will ever pass this way again.

1-4 February: Adelaide and the Coromandel Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide has been a city where we have had some great times on various visits to friends over the years. This visit has certainly continued that pattern!

Amongst other things, it is a city that boasts a pristine white sand beach and bath-warm shallow waters that are fabulous for a spot of kayaking. Well that was one afternoon outing for me anyway, testing out the new top deck I had zippered on to the kayak that makes it a full-on open water boat.

Launching at Seacliff Beach – not another soul about!

I had dropped Catherine off for her next lot of injections in her throat to keep this persistent narrowing of her airway at bay. Then she had organised to meet up for lunch with a group of ladies who are members of the support group she manages for that disease. It’s always so great for her to meet others in person and judge how her considerable labours in administering it are valued.

A lovely catch up with Adelaide ladies with iSGS

She was buzzing with enthusiasm when I picked her up, and I felt so proud once again of what she has accomplished. The lovely doctor she met for the first time who gave her the injections greeted her by calling her “the visiting celebrity” much to her amusement. 

We had been invited to stay with a couple of friends who live up in the hills to the south of the city centre. It’s been such an interesting visit, as we share many passions that involve getting out and about in the great Australian outdoors. They have two thirds of an acre that‘s heavily planted with all manner of vegetables and fruits, with chickens clucking away and laying the most gorgeous rich yellow yoked eggs.

Mike and Kim and their loyal pooches
A 7km walk around the neighbourhood with the dogs, Cooper and Rikki
A babbling creek that runs close to their house has a new walkway alongside it
Princess Tassie enjoyed exploring the garden while the dogs were away but stealthily ignored the chickens 🐓

One dinner in particular will always stick in our minds as they had taken their tinny (small metal tin boat with an outboard motor) down to the city beach and just a few hundred metres offshore sunk a line and some crabbing pots. Apparently the sea there is rich in blue swimmer crabs, almost at plague proportions at the moment. Lovely to hear that something is thriving so well in these climatically challenged times. Well, they were absolutely delicious, together with some small garfish and herring they also caught. A salad picked fresh from the garden, and washed down with a local chardy. Then peaches straight off their tree. What an absolute feast of fresh bounty!

Look at this absolute feast!

Another couple of friends had agreed to join us for a paddle and they suggested a local spot that was a dolphin sanctuary. We crossed our fingers and sure enough up shows a small pod pottering round us having a fish. The weather was just perfect, not too hot considering the time of year. Adelaide can have some scorching weather but we are currently delighting in La Nina dominating, bringing some fresher temperatures and the odd shower or two. 

Peter the dolphin whisperer
Nicky snaps an obliging dolphin on her phone
And a flippered friend passes us by
Missile or dolphin?
Loving the freedom this inflatable boat provides
Longtime friends, musicians and dolphin whisperers, Pete and Nicky

As well as activities, eating and drinking, it has also been a busy few days getting jobs done while we are in a city, like haircuts, and shopping.

We have had some issues with our Land Cruiser’s 12 volt accessories, a legacy of some poor workmanship back when we initially had the vehicle fitted out in Sydney. A visit to Toyota ensued, and they also told me after running an engine scan that I should have a “trans wash”. I clearly looked a bit bewildered, and somewhat nervous. The young lad then hastily clarified, a transmission wash out. I briefed an audible sigh of relief and booked that in.

I also found a local auto electrician, who after examining our vehicle for a few minutes asked me if it was a Prado. Now that may not seem like a red flag unless you are familiar with the Australian car scene, but let me tell you it did not inspire confidence. He was all we could find at short notice, and added zero value but still charged me his call-out fee! Not happy…. now we have a booking in ten days time at a business specialising in the area we need. It just means a shorter trip to the Yorke Peninsula than we had planned – no great hardship. So let‘s keep our fingers crossed the electrics behave themselves while we away. 

Happy haircut and a bruise on the neck from injections!

25 May to 2 June: Summer comes to Somerset

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

Another week streaks by in our lovely little rented cottage here in the west of Somerset, with a clear blue sky greeting us as we pull the blinds back every morning, apparently the sunniest May on record,

The toughest decision of the day, ‘Shall we walk or ride?’ and ’What shall we have for dinner?’ I think we will always remember this lockdown for the bizarre dichotomy of living our day to day lives in the most stress-free way we ever have, surrounded by the world in chaos.

This is a life we have never experienced before, having been mostly city dwellers, passing though the landscapes as we travel, but not being immersed enough in it to really appreciate the depth of its beauty and function. Not really seeing the rhythm of a life that goes on there by people who call it home.

Wild dog roses climb through the hedgerows
Honeysuckle, another climber
Insects pollinating the delicate cow parsley

I recently read a book that touched on this theme, called ‘A Shepherd’s Life’, set up in the English Lake District. The author, James Rebanks, a shepherd himself, makes a number of really poignant observations about the tourists who come and travel through his countryside, but with no appreciation of how that landscape is worked to produce the food that enables our lives. I feel in many ways our travels over the past few years, while broad in their scope, have lacked the depth of perception that comes when you stay in one place long enough to start to see the cycle of nature moving through the seasons, something we really don’t notice in Australia as much.

Nonchalant look from a neighbouring sheep as we stroll through her field

By this enforced stay in one place we have been able to watch spring come to the landscape, to see lambs take their first stumbling steps, to then come back a few weeks later and watch them bouncing around with their mates. To spot the wild flowers change as spring is turning into summer. It has just been a totally different, and in many ways, more meaningful expereince than the ‘drive through‘ touring we have been doing.

Welcome shade up on the hills

As I reflect back on individual walks we have done, all from our back door, they start to merge into one long memory of being immersed in this beautiful lanscape , putting one foot in front of the other as we watch a fox dash to a hedge before scornfully peering at us over her shoulder then disappearing instantly, or a deer startled by us invading its little slice of paradise, and bolting through the woods. We just want it to go on and on, relishing the breather from having to decided where to travel to, negotiating unfamiliar roads, trying to find campsites, constantly planning where we go next. Our minds feel calm, and it’s wonderful.

Mum and foal on a walk last weekend
More young foals on another walk in the hills
A young colt wakes up from a nap as we pass by

The history of humans in this landscape continues to enthral us. In Australia it is so inaccessible to most non-indigenous folk like us, but here it’s around every coroner. The fire beacon on the top of a hill, lit to warn of invaders sailing up the estuary, there’s a story to be uncovered everywhere we look.

Beacon Hill looking out towards Minehead
More lovely Highland Cows grazing on the grass here
A young calf eyes us suspiciously
A brief break to enjoy the view
Shades of green
Stout Lane which leads us back down to West Bagborough and The Rising Sun Inn
Carpets of purple Rhododendron petals line our path

It was time to swap our boots for our bikes, and I had read about a cycle trail running through the coastal town of Barnstaple. The Tarka Trail (named after the 1927 novel, Tarka the Otter, set in north Devon) is over 200 kilometres of traffic-free path, the longest in the UK, and all running along old railway lines. Off we set, for our longest drive (at 90 minutes) since mid March. It felt like quite an adventure! We had read horror stories about the traffic on the coast, but this day it was empty, as was the car park, apart from the mobile virus testing station being run from a big army truck.

Not ‘too’ hard to find a parking space in Barnstaple

This was magnificent riding, we batted along and soon found ourselves passing though a number of small villages before settling on the beautifully positioned Instow, on the estuary of the river Taw and Torridge (just roll of the tongue don’t they?).

This medieval bridge is grade 1 listed and known as the Barnstaple Long Bridge
Low tide means these boats are going nowhere
Lovely countryside reaching down to the water’s edge
Mrs A stops along the path to take a photograph
A meadow full of oxeye daisies
Looking across the River Torridge to Appledore

We chatted to a couple of fellow cyclists who turn out to be motorhomers as well, as we munched into our first proper Cornish pasty. Just blissful. We so miss that random connection with another human being sharing stories and learning from each other.

Lunch at Instow
A real cornish pastie (dairy-free) from the superb local deli – John’s of Instow – glad it’s not closer, it would be dangerous!
Looking across the wetlands towards the Torridge Bridge
You can almost imagine an old steam train puffing over this bridge
This viaduct used to house a canal over the river, but has since been filled in and now serves as a grand driveway to a house!
One of the many tunnels we ride through

With 50 kilometres under our wheels we arrived back at our car park and noticed the army truck had left, and the 2.7 metre height barrier had been put back down. Given we are driving a 3 metre high motorhome, that became a problem!

Uh-oh…trapped!

It had been lifted up when we arrived and I had sailed through, not really anticipating it would be lowered and locked. Oops…several panicked phone calls to the council, who were wonderful, and a warden arrived to unlock it. Next problem, the army had changed the padlock and not told him the combination. He tried for a while to reach them with no success. We had visions of spending the night there, which would have been illegal under the current restrictions, with no bed linen, food or cooking equipment. Luckily in the end they reached the military men and we were released.

A fish and chip supper in Truffy on the way back and our day trip was complete. There is just something about well fried English fish and chips that tastes so delicious to us, starved of that in Australia where they do it very differently. I guess its what you grow up with, hard baked into your taste buds, like mother used to make Yorkshire pudding, in my case.

Saturday afternoon saw us off on another 10km walk through the Quantocks
Discovering a hidden valley with amazing views
A pristine babbling brook and an ancient tree just asking for us to have a rest
Bright spears of foxgloves break up the fresh greens of the new bracken
Just seen a red deer!
The scenery is just so lovely
A dunnock sits proudly on top of a young spruce
After showers, a relax by the pool with drinks and the last of the day’s sunshine

The only interruption to our serene regime comes when Catherine is out on a walk and arrives back carrying the tiniest baby rabbit (apparently called a kit).

Tiny, blind, deaf and hairless but alive, Mrs A couldn’t leave her to die

She had noticed it lying on the road, just having been narrowly missed by a car and covered with gravel. Its little eyes were still closed it was so young, maybe a day old. Perhaps the victim of that fox we saw, or a buzzard? Catherine was straight on to her sister, who worked at the RSPCA, and armed with advice put a message out onto the local village chart group. A few minutes later a kindly neighbour has offered her a heat pad and syringe to try and get some nourishment into her. All we have is oak milk, but she takes it and seems to settle down in the cosy little warm nest we have made.

Our little charge manages. little warmed milk

So here we are on the second morning with an addition to our household, and she is still with us. So two extra days of life for this little one. Catherine’s niece and nephew are loving following the story, and just for that alone its worth it. A cycle down to the local Co-Op rewards us with kitten milk, apparently the best substitute for doe milk. Catherine is almost clucking with maternal delight feeding her this morning, until the little one releases her first pee down her arm.

Then and now – Mrs A feeding a kit during the 1980s…and now

We have decided now she seems stable, that a name is appropriate. Catherine has the inspired idea of Bags..as in we are in West Bagborough, so Bags Bunny. I will leave you with that to roll your eyes and laugh at us, or with us, we don’t really care 🙂

Bags Bunny’s relatives?

7-12 April: Spring progresses in the Quantocks

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

It has been over twenty years since either of have watched an English spring bring the countryside alive. One day we are walking around in winter coats and beanies, then a few days later its shorts and t-shirts! The smells and sounds of the changing seasons are almost overwhelming our senses, triggering nostalgic memories for both of us.

The great wood brings the aroma of fresh pine
Just us and the Exmoor ponies for company
Snakes Head Fritillary, primroses, dandelions, bellflowers…
Orchids, snowdrops, blossom and wild garlic
Wood anemones, grape hyacinths, and yellow archangel flowers (middle-left – now considered an invasive species) and delicate wood sorrel (top left – only found in ancient woodlands)
Some of our neighbours checking us out as we stroll through their field
The bluebells are starting to come out in the woodlands

We have continued our exercise regime, with a couple more spectacular walks through the Quantock Hills. We keep stopping and listening to the buzz of insects growing a little louder every day, a bird proudly flying with a big ball of wool to line her nest, lambs greedily feeding from mum, and the slightly eerie but oh so fabulous complete absence of the background noise of humans. Not a vehicle engine to be heard, no roar of planes overhead, just the sound of nature going about its business, uninterrupted by the usual synthetic cacophony.

Dame’s Violet, the colours ever more vivid in the clean, clear air
All Saints Church in Aisholt village, dates to the 14th century
Half a scotch egg and a cup of tea in the churchyard
We saw our first wild red deer on this walk…this was not it
The woodlands are beginning to green up
Temperatures have climbed in to the early 20s, so shorts and t-shirt are the new attire
This moss covered tree has seen a lot of years
Tranquility
Pheasants are frequent visitors, the cocks looking colourful in their breeding colours

In the middle of this tranquility came the news on Thursday afternoon before Easter, that by the end of that long weekend we needed to move out of our rambling big house that had been home for the last three weeks. We know our landlord was trying to find a long term tenant, but I guess we had convinced ourselves it wasn’t going to happen with all the restrictions of movement in the lockdown. Well, we were wrong.

What followed was 48hrs of frantic searching for a new property to rent. The assistance of friends was enlisted, and once again we were blown away with the effort and thoughtfulness of those who tried to help.

Things were looking dire, and then a cancellation in a holiday rental literally across the road from us gave us an opportunity we grabbed. Home for at least the next month, and most likely two, will be a lovely cosy little two bed cottage, a barn conversion attached to a bigger house and set in the most fabulous gardens.

Our tiny little Honeysuckle Cottage…bigger than Truffy at least!
Beautiful landscaped gardens available to tenants

As for most people, life has been a roller coaster the last month, and the support of friends and family mean everything. We woke this morning with our first “Zoom Hangover”, after a cracking night chatting with friends around the UK and drinking a little too much wine, dissipating our pent up anxiety via laughs and conversation.

A final sunset – we will have to find a new viewing location

These are strange times, and we need our relationships with those who we hold dear to help us make sense of our lives right now.