1-20 April – Spring is in the air!

Author: Mr A

Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK

Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.

So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!

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So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.

Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.

I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.

But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.

Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.

How about that hairstyle? A Great Crested Grebe in its summer feathers
This Eurasian Coot has a nest hidden in the reeds, and has fluffed up its feathers to frighten off other birds
A Marsh Harrier soars over the wetlands, Glastonbury Tor in the background
As always, a friendly Robin follows us along the paths, hoping for a snack

Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.

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Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.

Yes…she’s a big one..the lovely Gwenevieve
Looking dwon to the coast and Porlock Harbour

Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!

Jane and Terry…been so kind to us

After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.

Just missed the Exmoor ponies charging across the road
A beautiful highland cow is right at home on these sparse hillsides
The right vehicle for this terrain!

We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.

The Rapeseed is flowering brightly, creating a vibrant patchwork of fields throughout the countryside
An Oak Tree that has been here for hundreds of years, a few km walk from Kingston St Mary

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This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).

Obi and Ani gave us plenty of laughs with their antics, and we only got the one mouse as a gift

We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.

We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.

A female Linnett – hoping to catch a male next time – they are very colourful
A handsome Mallard Duck
A tram whizzes past the wetlands en route to Seaton
A Common Chaffinch surveys the marshland
Another Robin comes to check us out

So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.

Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!

The bluebells are flowering and the scent is incredible
A bank of blue
Looking down towards the River Severn and Wales beyond

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5-31 March: Spring brings precious family time, bad news and (tentatively) most excellent news

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Brighton, East Sussex, UK

The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.

Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.

Offer accepted…now let’s wait and see!

Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!

I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.

Lunch at The White Horse, potentially our new local in Bradford-on-Tone – HUGE portions!
The River Tone – there’s a long distance walk – The West Deane Way, which follows this river for part of its 45 mile circular route

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Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.

L-R from top: Catherine and Jenny (mum), Catherine’s cake, fur nephew, Cocoa, Phil cooking up a breakfast storm, Helen (sister #1) trying out her bowling skills at the skittle alley, Hayley (daughter #2) enjoying the hot tub, Ian not in fancy dress (cousin), Catherine and mum in Aussie fancy-dress, and Catherine and Elle (sister #2)
A spring hike with some of the family members – L-R – William (nephew #3), John with Iris (niece #2), Elle, Alex (brother), Edward (nephew #2), Catherine with Elliot (nephew #1), Helen, Stu with Isabel (niece #1)
L-R from top: Helen and Isabel enjoying the hot tub, the three witches, Zoe in Aussie fancy-dress, the Fields around us, CAKE!, Elliot (nephew #1), Catherine, Dan, surrogate sister Karen, and Mr A, Iris (niece #2) in yellow, and finally Isabel (niece #1) in koala fancy dress
Catherine, Karen and Jenny on Cothelstone Hill with an icy wind

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The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.

More lovely spring weather in Milton Keynes for some dad and grandpa time. James (grandson #3) seems to have mastered Connect-Four!
Mr A, Zoe (daughter #1) and Hayley (daughter #2)

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House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.

When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.

Who’s the most beautiful Mute Swan of all…?
A Kestrel hovers over the marshland, having spotted lunch
Buzzard are a fairly common sight around here, this one kindly flying past within shot of my camera
A rather handsome Eurasian Moorhen
Spotting and photographing equipment

On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.

A magnificent Red Kite
A Marsh Harrier circles over the wetlands
Super-friendly Robins
Who are you calling a Great Tit?
Song-Thrush

Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.

Mr A couldn’t resist the FlapJackery in Wells 😂

Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Left from top: Coal Tit, Wren, Tree Creeper Right from top: Chaffinch, Great Tit, Robin and Blue Tit

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I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.

The last time I was truly breathing well was before the sale of our house in Australia…a perfect example of how stress impacts health

I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.

A stunning, sunny spring weekend in Brighton with much healing laughter
A giant pizza and family lunch
“Goodbye Auntie Catherine”

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Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.

Drinks at The Swan at Kingston – chefs Mickey Finn and Fran – and finally, lamb number 9 (one of two!) who wouldn’t let me go and had to be picked up to stop it from being terrorised by Bertie-dog!
Pure joy = a cocker spaniel with a ball in a field

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It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.

April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!

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23 October-5 December: Friends, wildlife, packing, selling and a shock visit to hospital

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

Time has just flown since we returned from our travels, and no, we have not just been spending the summer lazing by the pool (as our property agent suggested!). Untangling 25 years’ of life in Australia is as involved as you might imagine!

Over the last month we have calmed down our social life a little so we weren’t out every night, and installed a little more balance. Every day we manage to take a small step towards our move across the world, while bing kind to ourselves as well, with breaks and walks.

We have been carefully assessing our possessions and consolidating, selling things of value (farewell to our beloved double fibreglass kayak and Mark’s Surly bike), and giving away things of lesser value (various pieces of camping kit, a multitude of Australian power extension leads and plugs and more). I have become quite adept at using Facebook’s Marketplace, with most things snapped up within minutes of advertising them (as long as there is no charge!). It is certainly preferable to putting things into landfill.

We have broken up our days with outings to local areas of natural beauty, finding it a great way to turn off those stress receptors and think about something else. We have of course enjoyed a few catch ups with friends along the way.

Current day Sydney is quite different to the one we left behind. Lockdowns and a huge increase in working from home has meant the CBD is incredibly quiet, our old favourite lunchtime haunts sitting largely empty with greatly reduced menus. It is so sad. Meanwhile, the suburbs are busy, with rarely a quiet time in the neighbourhood cafes and the car parks straining to keep up with the amount of traffic.

Last week saw me off to see my Otolaryngologist here in Sydney for some more injections in my airway, to treat my iSGS. It didn’t quite go as planned. A laryngology fellow who was training with my doctor ended up causing a bruise and some bleeding which resulted in inflammation. Later that night it got particularly swollen and mostly blocked my airway – we ended up taking a drive in the early hours of the morning to the nearby hospital emergency department.

Thankfully after being admitted to hospital for two days of treatment and observation, the swelling decreased, and I was allowed home to continue my recovery. For a moment there I thought I might not make the flight back to the UK after all! I’m pleased to report my breathing has since gone from strength to strength, so finger’s crossed it stays like this so I can avoid an operation before we fly….just 8 more weeks!

I’ve shared some photos of our past month’s adventures below – feel free to whizz through them if it all gets a bit overwhelming!

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Curl Curl Lagoon – our local park just footsteps from our front door, and a great place to wind down with nature….

A White Faced Heron captures a Yellow Bellied Three-toed Burying Skink (that’s a mouthful!)
The Skink tries valiantly to escape, but becomes dinner in a snap
A Magpie Lark sitting on its mud nest over the lagoon
A characterful female Superb Fairywren – what she lacks in blue she makes up for in attitude
She leaps from her bough to snatch a snack mid air
A Silvereye sings melodiously from the top of a tree

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Dee Why – a walk and dinner with friends Bill and Olga

Making our way along the cliff top
One of the resident Peregrine Falcons swoops over, calling loudly
A pair of Peregrine Falcons
Stunning views out to sea
Catherine and Olga enjoying dinner
Mr A and Bill
A final evening view towards Longreef

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Curlew Camp Artist’s Walk, Mosman, Sydney – a new walk to us! Just down the road from where we were meeting friends for lunch and close to where we got married (Taronga Zoo)

A lounging lizard? An Eastern Water Dragon up on a tree
Mr A picking his way along through the bush
The story of the camp

Lunch at The Fernery, Mosman, with friends Andy and Donna

Replete post lunch

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Long, lazy lunch with friends in Manly at Busta (Italian restaurant)

Love how all the heads are on different angles! L-R Aisha, John, Eveliene, Clive, Mr A, Mrs A
John and Eveliene excited to be out after a long lockdown!

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Long Reef headland – a few beaches up the coast from where we live

Looking back along the beaches towards Manly
Sooty Oystercatcher digging up pipis
Not just oysters!

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Back at Curl Curl Lagoon

A Dusky Moorhen protects her young brood
A newly hatched fluff-ball looking rather vulnerable
A pair of New Holland Honeyeaters
A pair of Superb Fairywrens
Pacific Black Duck

And meanwhile, back at home….

Princess Tassie enjoying the sunshine

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Manly Dam – just 11 minutes from home and a stunning bushland haven

Brush Turkey roosting in a tree
Eastern Water Dragon
Little Wattlebird
An angry freshwater Yabbie (lobster) emerges from the undergrowth
Brown Thornbill
Eastern Whipbird
Eastern Whipbird
Olive backed Oriole
Curl Curl Falls – last visited with mum!

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Bronte with friends Jenny and David – just around the corner from my first ever accomodation in Sydney back in 1999!

Champagne on the balcony, braving a stiff breeze
Dinner at Sugarcane in Coogee

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Rainy morning walk around the Narrabeen Lakes, about 20 minutes up the coast from home

A gorgeous non-venomous Diamond Python passively makes its way through the undergrowth
Variegated Fairywren
Good little hunter…some sort of black insect on today’s menu
A tiny seed-eating Red-browed Firetail
A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo emerges from her nest hole
Juvenile male (non breeding) Fairywren

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Weekend in Newcastle, NSW with friends Chris and Karen

Drinks at Styx Brewery
Hiking in Glenrock State Conservation Area
Karen and Chris
Views down to Dudley Beach
Mr & Mrs A
Gin (and Absinthe) tasting at Earp Distilling Co
Gin cocktails and nibbles platters
Sunday morning in historic Morpeth
Wine tasting and lunch at Boydell’s

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A grey Saturday morning’s kayak on Sydney Harbour with friend Cindy

Cindy hired a kayak from The Spit
Our Advanced Elements inflatable double kayak’s maiden voyage on Sydney Harbour

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Warriewood Wetlands – a rainy afternoon walk, 25 mins drive from home

Who doesn’t love a Laughing Kookaburra?
Great weather for ducks
We have waited a long time to spot one of these, a Bellbird

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A hospital room with a view, herbal tea and healthy food…if only I could breathe and eat at the same time! Unexpected two days at the new Northern Beaches Hospital…

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Breathing improving – a walk along the coast from North Curl Curl to Dee Why…

Australian Kestrel on top of the surf club roof is an auspicious welcome to the walk
A humid, misty day, the lizards and skinks were out in force soaking up the warmth
A pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls – not native to Australia – descended from those introduced in the 1880s
Magnificent Peregrine Falcon on the cliffs. They mostly feed on feral Rock Pigeons and Silver Gulls – they’ve been clocked swooping at 300km/hr!
Superb Fairywrens don’t mind the mist – no wind means it’s a great time to sing

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Morning walk through Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, Terry Hills

Eastern Yellow Robin
Variegated Fairywren
Golden Whistler
Spider for lunch – yum! Golden Whistler
Pacific Koel – a migratory cuckoo that is a noisy summer bird
Pacific Koel

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If you have made it this far down the page, then thank you! Will try to leave it less time before our next post!

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28 August-3 September: Dashing down the north Queensland coast!

Author: Mr A

Locations: Innisfail, Ingham, Townsville, Bowen, Glendale, Claireview, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia!!

We’ve covered a lot of ground (for us) over the last five days, only staying one night at each place, which makes it tiring for all, but especially Tassie who doesn’t get her usual 17 hours deep sleep in per day. Gee can that cat sleep! But we had a few bookends of dates that were fixed, so not much flexibility unfortunately.

After leaving the Atherton Tablelands, it was a winding road dropping down to the coast, plenty of warm brakes, to the small river side town of Innisfail. We had arranged to meet up with the editor of the Freemason NSW and ACT magazine that I’ve written a couple of articles for, and Catherine has provided the all important visual images. No I’m not a mason, but a good friend is, and had asked if we could write something about our travels for them. We did and it must have gone down OK as they asked for another, which is being published shortly. I’ve really enjoyed writing for them, just delightful people, and made it very easy to work with. We have seen these people give so much back into their community through this organisation.

A cup of tea in a local Innisfail cafe

Our destination for the night was once again the town of Ingham, home of the TYTO Wetlands, which will visited for the fourth time! Just an amazing diversity of birdlife here and a credit to the individuals who provided the leadership to establish it. We read an account of one of of these, John Young, who recently went back to see how it had developed. What a justifiable sense of pride he had for his role in creating what has become a huge draw card for this lovely little town. Catherine managed to catch some great photos, as usual 🙂

Our set up beside the wetlands
An Agile Wallaby watches us from across a lake
Spring is in the air with birds pairing up, like these Spoonbills
Australasian Grebe – not a chick as it looks, but a non-breeding adult
The water lilies are blooming
Forest Kingfisher
Bower’s Shrikethrush
A Green Pygmy-Goose
Brown-backed Honeyeater building a nest over one of the lakes
A Brown-backed Honeyeater
The Crimson Finches were munching on seeds in the grass
Mistletoebird (female) looking rather wet in the drizzle
Broad-billed Flycatcher

It was then on down to Townsville the next morning, as I had an appointment with an Ophthalmologist for my biannual battery of eye tests. They were measuring to see whether the recent pressure spike I experienced had done any damage to my field of view. I am still waiting for a comparison to my previous checks from my doctor in Sydney, but at least my pressures are back down thanks to the double dose of eye drops. I can only implore again to anyone reading this in middle age, especially if there is a history of glaucoma in the family, to get your pressures checked regularly. Sight can deteriorate so quickly. Mine did.

Then the following morning it was off down the coast again to a bush camp just inland from Bowen. We had stayed here on the way up, and quick wander around the property once again rewarded with a few bird sightings. The owner is renowned for her lovely damper, cooked over the fire, but torrential rain knocked that on the head! So once again it was off in the morning for another big day in the saddle driving south. Queensland is big, really big.

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Around 1,100km (nearly 700 miles) driven in 7 days

Another bush camp was our stop the following night, just north of Clairview. We like these places, not too busy, space to wander around, and a bonus here was the owner was cooking lamb shanks that night. Yum…not a meal we would tackle in the caravan, so something different for us.

Red-winged Parrot
Little Friarbird hunting for caterpillars in a gum tree
Little Friarbirds

We made it down to just north of Rockhampton, staying at yet another bush camp run by the most delightful lady (Robyn) who insists on laying on snacks in her “girl cave” for all the campers. She said she just enjoys meeting her campers and hearing their stories. A short walk around the property also gave Catherine a few sightings. I tried with my binoculars and spotting scope but too quick for me. The scope is great for more stationery habits like on wetland. Flitting around in dense woodland, not so much.

A fine view from our campsite
A Laughing Kookaburra and a couple of female Red-backed Fairywrens
Big skies from the top of the hill

Once again we were on the road early, as we had a date with a fridge repairer, the super helpful Clint from Chiltech. We had been unable to get the temperature down sufficiently, but a ten minute clean of our condenser with his compressor was all he thought it would take to fix it. And he was right. Clint’s the man if you in his area just north of Rockhampton, and no six gun required!

Blasting the dust particles off the condenser

A short trip into Rockhampton city centre to one of our least favourite campsites was next, adjacent to a busy main road with dated facilities, but it is within walking distance of what we rated last time we came as our best dining experience in regional Australia. Trufusion delivered again, preceded by excellent haircuts from Katie Lauren.

Pre-dinner Margaritas went down a treat

It feels so special to go out to dinner somewhere nice, and especially so given how much of the country is in lockdown. We know we have been very fortunate travelling in areas that have not been affected by lockdowns. Next month we are going to back in Sydney, and then all that ends!

3-6 August: Happy and healthy in far-north Queensland

Author: Mr A

Location: Townsville and Ingham, Far North Queensland

A short drive south and a caravan park we have been to before on the edge of Townsville. Its a matter of the best of bad options, but thats not unusual for caravan parks when you are near are bigger towns and cities. They are always popular, so high demand seems to drive a culture of poor standards. But we have our own little world when we shut the door, and we are only here to get some jobs done. However, the Ross River does flow past the site, and we jumped on the bikes for a late afternoon ride.

A 12km cycle along the Ross River in the late afternoon – just the ticket

As we were riding I had a revelation. I‘ve suffered from osteoarthritis in my hand for nearly 10 years. Some days were worse than others, and on the bad ones it was so painful I struggled to change gears and use the brakes on my bike. And I suddenly noticed as we we were riding, I had no pain! Thinking back I realised it had been weeks since I’d had any bad days! The only thing that’s changed has been my diet. On April 1st I decided it was time to make some changes. Overweight, high cholesterol, high calcium, it was time to change those things. I cut out bread, pies, sausage rolls, chips and cakes. So basically all the staple food groups consumed on the road! We had also been doing the no food between 8pm and noon the next day routine, but that hadn’t made much difference that I had noticed. My hand still hurt and I was still gaining weight.

But substituting a big bowl of salad, with quinoa, pumpkin or sweet potato, for my usual sandwich or pie, that’s changed everything.

To be pain free – oh what a relief. And to lose 4.5 cm off my tummy – I’m now half way to getting out of the overweight classification. I’ve read about people “curing themselves” from arthritic pain by diet changes, but was sceptical. Now I’m a believer. Osteo just doesn’t go away for no reason, it just steadily gets worse. And nothing else is different other than my diet. I also just got another set of blood test results and my “bad” cholesterol was way down and glucose tolerance the same. Basically I’ve shifted from a fat-old-one-handed-bloke-on-his-way-to-a-heart-attack, to a less-fat-old-bloke-who-might-be-around-to-see- his-grandkids-buy-him-a-beer 🙂

Now I have to crank up my morning work out to get some muscle tone back – but someone always claims the yoga mat, for some “downward cat” moves, in slow motion.

“Thanks Dad!”

Townsville has been pretty productive for a city stop over. An Ear Nose and Throat specialist appointment for a blocked ear. A visit to a barbers for me and another set of blood tests, and a catch up for Catherine with one of her fellow iSGS sufferers, who lives locally.

A Townsville local who belongs the support group Catherine runs for people with Idiopathic Sub-glottic Stenosis (iSGS)

We took a drive out to the “Townsville Town Common”, and no, it isn’t anything like what an English person conjures up when they hear that phrase, its actually a massive area of beautiful wetlands on the edge of the city. We didn’t get many great bird sightings, but a lovely place to wander around.

Looking towards the coast – not too many birds willing to be spotted here
Crimson Finch in a eucalyptus tree
Looking out towards the Pinnacles National Park
Australasian Grebe
The butterfly and the ant

We even fitted in a wild (for us) night out on the town – some pre-dinner drinks then a decent Indian meal with a bottle of wine mostly finished between us.

A smile I will never get tired of

But it was time to move on and we headed, once again, back up the Bruce Highway north, to our favourite wetlands at Ingham – the TYTO wetland. The Ingham Visitor centre was our first stop for a permit to camp in the RV park at the back, a credit to the town, the staff there so knowledgeable and helpful.

A few hours wandering around the TYTO wetlands once again brought a richness of birdlife into our respective lenses. Catherine capturing hers on these glorious photos, me looking up close on my scope and wondering at the beauty of these creatures. I love the fact that we can get so “close” but without disturbing them.

Eastern Great Egret
Brown Honeyeater
Northern Fantail
Wandering Whistling Ducks
Australian Darter
Green Pygmy-goose

We also got some great tips from the Information Centre staff that there were a couple of delis in town, with a great boardwalk to wander along to get to them. With low expectations (we have seen many a place labelled as a deli that seemed to qualify as they sold two types of pies!), but these were the real deal. Apparently a large Italian population is still in the area from when they were attracted here by the government being offered large parcels of land to “improve”. This usually meant ripping down pristine rain forest and planting sugar cane. And of course we know Italians are serious about the quality of their food.

Boardwalk into Ingham – what a lovely way to connect the town and the wetland

Even the fish and chip shop across the road from our campsite is a gourmet version, with Tasmanian oysters ($30 a dozen, mind!) and home pickled local octopus, and spring rolls stuffed with local mud crab! They were all delicious! Wild Local Prawns its called- call in if you coming through Ingham please

Greeted with a friendly smile

A business trying this hard to deliver a quality product deserves the encouragement of your custom :).

We concluded our visit with a final look around the wetlands before we moved on. Ingham, you will be fondly remembered.

As always, a few Forest Kingfishers present on the wetlands
A Yellow Honeyeater surveys its domain in the early morning sun
You can’t see its belly, but possibly a Red Bellied Black Snake sunbathing after a cool night
It was a long snake…about 2 metres (more than 6 foot) and classed as ‘dangerously venomous’. Thank goodness for long zoom lenses!
A Brown Honeyeater in full song
A Red-backed Fairywren…with red berry
A female Red-backed Fairywren
Female Rufous Whistler
Olive-backed Oriole
Red-browed Firetail
Top left clockwise: Female Red-browed Firetail, male Crimson Finch, Comb-crested Jacana, Australian Grebe, Forest Kingfisher, Willie Wagtail

26 July – 2 August: Enjoying some of the World Heritage wonders of far north Queensland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Paluma Range National Park, Mutarnee, Balgal Beach and Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Having decided to stick around in Mutarnee for a few more days, we took a drive down to Balgal Beach, a nearby coastal settlement. There was listed a Golf and Country Club that served lunches, so we thought we would drive over and check it out. When you hear the words ‘Country Club’ you have visions of fine seafood platters, delicious wine and gourmet menus, with stunning views over landscaped grounds…but what was actually on offer was pretty basic pub grub in a rather ordinary setting. We decided not to have lunch there, and instead drove down to the riverside for fish and chips.

Balgal Beach is a very sleepy village, mostly consisting of holiday houses and two caravan parks. There is one small shop which is also a fast food outlet, and it’s here we ordered fish and chips and enjoyed them on a shaded deck overlooking the river. As with everywhere on the coast in far north Queensland, there were crocodile warning signs, but nothing to be seen. That was until I spotted what looked like a small stick, about 60cm long, making its way across the river from the opposite bank. The staff at the cafe confirmed my suspicions – it was a young crocodile! Nobody was game to dangle their fingers in the water to entice it closer, otherwise I would have a nice (or gruesome) photo to share with you here!

We ate fish and chips at the cafe on the left of this creek, and watched a juvenile crocodile (about 60cm long) swim across towards us!

It’s quite a picturesque location, but we felt we would probably be bored here for a few days – the presence of crocodiles means no kayaking, and other than the beach there is no walking here. A lovely spot to visit though, and only half an hour from our camp at Mutarnee.

Mr A gazing wistfully out towards the Coral Sea
We had a walk along the sandy beach.

Balgal Beach looks out towards the Palm Islands Group. Great Palm Island is where First Nations people were forcefully placed after being removed from their homeland across Queensland between 1914 and 1971. It is estimated there are at least 43 tribal groups represented now, predominantly descendants from tribes on the (now) sugar-cane growing land between Bowen and Cape York (the top of the east-coast of Australia). The island was considered a penal colony, with First Nations and Pacific Islander people placed there for ‘wrongdoing’ – often just being on land that had now been ‘allocated’ to someone else.

Rattlesnake Island is used by the Royal Australian Air Force for bombing practice, survival courses and live firing training.

Before long it was time for our day-trip into Townsville, about a 50 minute drive south, for Mark’s eye test. This was a critical test, and the cause of much anxiety over the past two weeks.

To recap, Mark has Glaucoma. This is an eye condition where high eye pressures can cause permanent damage to the nerve which connects the eye to the brain, at worse resulting in irreversible loss of sight, at best resulting in some injury to the optic nerve. He also has Pigment Dispersion Syndrome – this is another contributor to pressures rising, where pigment from the back of his iris can flake off, blocking the fluid drains.

It’s important he gets his eye pressures checked on a regular basis as changes in pressure are painless with no outward signs they’re happening. If caught quickly enough, eye drops can reduce the pressure and repair injured optic nerve cells – once the cells die, they cannot be revived (though there are positive early signs in stem cell research with mice, we’re not quite there yet). Our visit to Townsville was to see whether the extra drops he has been applying over the past two weeks have made any impact on the pressure.

With a great deal of relief, Mark emerged from the optician with a big smile on his face – yes, the eye pressures have returned to normal levels. Hopefully disaster has been averted. More specialist tests are needed in coming weeks to check his peripheral vision and overall eye health, but for now we can breathe easy.

We continued to enjoy our afternoon birdwatching sessions with Bob and his wife Olive on the campground. Paluma National Park is less than five kilometres from the caravan park and is the southern most point of the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. As such the birdlife continues to be prolific. Almost daily there was a new bird to be seen we had not spotted before. In the birding world these are known as ‘lifers’ – ie first time you’ve seen them in your life!

Spangled Drongo overlooking the camp
Spectacled Monarch – a gorgeous little songbird, sometimes seen flitting through the vines in the forest searching for insects (a ‘lifer’!)
White-browed Robin

Bob and Olive have really got to know the birds over their six weeks camped here, and noticed particular ones become braver over time. Take this Noisy Pitta for example. They are usually heard but not seen, living in the forest and foraging in leaf litter. But this little chap has become brave and now dashes out to find its food around the palm trees.

Noisy Pitta – they particularly like insects, worms and snails

Tiny little birds like these Lovely Fairywrens are more likely to be heard than seen as they hop energetically through the undergrowth searching for insects.

A pair of Lovely Fairywrens
A tiny Lovely Fairywren – these only live in northeastern Australia

Back at Midge Point I had seen my first juvenile Olive-backed Sunbird, a tiny yellow honeyeater. I was pleased this time to spot the adults, the male with his brilliant yellow tummy and deep blue throat and chest, and the bright yellow female.

Olive-backed Sunbird – this is the male with his metallic blue chin and chest
A female Olive-backed Sunbird

At night, the sounds of croaking and insects takes over from birdsong, our proximity to Crystal Creek meaning there are tree-frogs and cane toads joining the usual chirruping geckos. Each night I had heard a particularly repetitive frog-like (or electric car-locking) sound coming from the trees. Bob enlightened me – it was a Nightjar. He invited me to join him in a spotting that night.

I have to admit, I don’t accept nighttime invitations from all 83 year old men, but I trusted Bob’s intentions were good, and at 9.30pm we were outside in our nightclothes with cameras and torches. Bob had a recording of another Nightjar which he played, and seconds later we were being swooped. The Nightjar settled on the ground at the edge of the forest and we crept over for a look.

This is a Large-tailed Nightjar apparently. The whiskers either side of its beak are there to help it consume its favourite food, moths, aiding in widening its gape. During the day, Nightjars sit on the floor like this or low down in trees in the forest, their plumage keeping them well disguised amongst the leaf litter. It was an absolute privilege to see such a special bird up close, even just for a minute. We turned off the light and our bird flew off to make its ‘ chonk, chonk, chonk’ sound and continue its evening hunting.

A Large-tailed Nightjar – these are nocturnal birds, most often heard in the early evening and early morning when they hunt for insects. They spend their days roosting on the forest floor like this, disguised amongst the leaf litter.

On one particularly warm afternoon, we decided it might be a good idea to head up into the cool of the national park. We wound our way up the precipitous road to Little Crystal Creek. This bridge was built in 1930s depression period as part of a bid to provide employment. The winding road itself, follows what was originally an Aboriginal pathway up into the hills.

LIttle Crystal Creek Bridge

Despite being mid-winter, it was about 30°C on the lowlands, but a more comfortable 25°C up in the hills beside the water and under the trees, especially as any cloud gathers above the range, instantly giving some respite from the sun. We had an explore up and down the creek.

Plenty of refreshing pools here to cool off warm feet.
A great location just to relax and listen to the sound of water falling
Serenity
Ancient rainforest

The TYTO wetlands at Ingham were another morning out for us. Despite having visited already, we saw completely different birds this time – not surprising given there are 250 different species resident. The four-metre saltwater crocodile is apparently still at large, but we didn’t spot it. If only the birds could talk!

A Forest Kingfisher kindly sits close to a bird-hide for me to photograph
Look at that smile! A Saw-shelled Turtle pops up from under a lily pad to say hello
Left from top: Red-browed Firetail, Black-fronted Dotterel, Yellow Honeyeater. Right from top: Pair of Forest Kingfishers, Crimson Finch
A pair of Pacific Black Ducks
Stunning water lilies – much easier than birds to photograph as they never fly away!
Beautiful views out across towards Girringun National Park
Left from top: A White-gaped Honeyeater shares berries with its chick, A male Sunbird with its glistening blue throat. Right from top: a Brown Honeyeater, a Little Pied Cormorant, a Rufous Whistler
Clockwise from top left: Australian Darter, Crimson Finch, Maned Duck, female Red-backed Fairywren, Swamp Wallaby,

We farewelled Bob and Olive with a platter of nibbles and drinks towards the end of the week, as Olive was heading back to Townsville for her final infusion of chemotherapy. We’ll keep in touch with them for sure – they have a wealth of knowledge and are a lovely couple.

Over our final few days we ensured we continued the afternoon tradition of feathered friend spotting, and added a few more beauties to our list.

Left from top: Northern Fantail, Grey Fantail, Varied Triller Right from top: Yellow Honeyeater, Red-backed Fairywren, White-browed Robin, Silvereye
My friend the Rufous Fantail – met him on several occasions – a very personable chap
Some of the many faces (and bottoms) of Rufous!
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
A Mistletoebird – amazing how it consumes the fruit
A Bar-shouldered Dove picking seeds from the grass
A Dusky Myzonella (Honeyeater) drinking nectar
Clockwise from top left: male Figbird, very cute pair of White-browed Robins, Great Bowerbird, White-throated Honeyeater and female Figbird

Our time here just flew. By the time we were packing up to head to our next destination of Townsville, we had spent 11 nights in this area – other than spending time with friends, the longest we had stopped in one place since our lockdown in the UK last year! There is just so much to see and explore here if you are interested in nature and beautiful scenery. Definitely one for your list.

11-16 May: We’re heading “up the Track”

Author: Mr A

Location: Whyalla/Quorn, Ikara-Flinders Ranges

Our South Australia sojourn is drawing to an end after four months, and tropical central Queensland here we come! Our plan is to “head up the track”, as the saying goes when tackling an iconic outback adventure: the Birdsville Track. The track starts in South Australia’s arid north, and winds its way through three deserts before spitting you out, very dusty and thirsty, at the Birdsville Pub a few kilometres over the border in the central west of Queensland. It will be an adventure for sure.

But first we had a bunch of jobs to get done in the small town of Whyalla, where Catherine was once again going to fly back to Adelaide for steroid injections into her airway, a visit to the hairdressers and some retail therapy. I was being looked after by Tassie, and getting some local medical stuff done. Then it was a matter of cramming as much fresh food into the van and car as we could store. 1,700 km lies between us and our next supermarket in Queensland! Yup…thats a long way between fresh vegetables!

The steel works (top left) and the coastal walkway in Whyalla
Very rarely do we need to wear a mask these days but they are compulsory when flying, Top left, early morning at Whyalla airport, bottom left Whyalla from the skies
Catherine farewells the doctor and nurse team in Adelaide – primarily laryngologists Dr Theo and Dr Alice (right). She hopes to do some research with them later this year.
Later that day….post haircut and bouncy blow dry, a night out with friend of 35+ years, Ali 🤍
Friday farewell lunch with two of the Adelaide ladies from Catherine’s idiopathic subglottic stenosis support group, Carmel and Heather.

Whyalla is a town that has been struggling for years under threat of its biggest employer, the steel mill, closing down. Today the serious crime squad in London announced it was opening an investigation into the mill’s owner, but despite this cloud, everyone was super friendly and a strong sense of community was evident. But, we couldn’t wait to hit the road.

After six weeks on the very flat Eyre Peninsula, it was great to see the country rising up into jagged peaks in front of us This was the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, a semi-arid country containing some of Australia’s most important fossils and evidence of early human history. We had made a trip here back in 2004, but it was January and crazy hot. Now daytime temperatures are pleasant in the high teens and low 20s, and nights in single figures that have us both fighting over a snuggle with our hot water cat in bed!

Our first destination was the small settlement of Quorn, a town made famous by having for many years both the main east to west and south to north railroads passing through it. During World War 2, around 40 trains a day passed through the town carrying our troops up to defend Darwin and on from there on to fight against the Japanese in the Papua-New Guinea campaign. Nowadays its a very pleasant stop on the tourist route up into the ranges. It even has a tea shop serving a range of brews in English china cups. So civilised.

Quorn high street
Fine bone china teacups made in England
Quorn’s main street has stood relatively still for the past 100+ years
Quorn Railway Station
Wattle Bird
A beautiful Mallee Ringneck Parrot
A gaggle of White-plumed Honeyeaters
An Australian Magpie on our campground
Tassie hunting interesting smells on an accompanied walk

We had managed to snare a cancellation on the only caravan park in town. It is a really busy season up here, and we had heard from friends who stayed locally that there was an outdoor movie shown every evening at sunset. We dressed up warm and headed out. The film was projected onto the side of an old silo, very atmospheric, and had some really interesting content, including from an elder of one of the First Nation groups to live on this ancient land. So inspiring to to see a community pulling a project together like this.

Fifty seconds until the show starts – the sun has set and the new moon risen
Some of the projections during the 30 minute show

Tomorrow we head further up into the ranges and a three night stay on a sheep station, and then from there up to the end of the tarmac and the start of 519km of the Birdsville Track.

It may be a while before we get enough signal to upload another post, hence the heads up on our plans over the next few weeks. It would be an unusual plan that survives contact with the Outback, so our fingers are crossed, but we think we have prepared well enough. The wine cellar is full, the fridge groaning, and the tanks full.

16-19 April: Back to Sheringa Beach

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

We had decided to move on from Elliston, but that was before I woke early on Friday morning feeling somewhat unwell. Food poisoning. Either from the meal at the pub or the spoonful of ‘past its use-by date’ coconut yoghurt and fresh raspberries I had on my return, either way, I was not in a good state, and unable to stray more than a metre or two from a toilet. Mark tried his best to persuade the caravan park to let us stay another day, but they already had someone coming into our site and were fully booked.

Mark did all the packing up and we drove the longest 30 minutes ever down to Sheringa Beach, where we had stayed the previous weekend, found the same site we were on then and settled down for the long haul. I will not go into detail, but the following three days were pretty awful for me, and worse for Mark who was thankfully feeling well but was amazing, looking after me with kindness and patience.

Mark managed to escape on a few occasions to explore by himself, rinding in to the sand dunes and to ‘Round Lake’ which sits behind the dunes and beach.

Dune buggies and four-wheel-drives frequent these sand hills…as well as the odd Surly!
Reaching the lake shore
Climbing up into the dunes, the lake in the background

Perhaps most importantly, the 17th was Tassie’s 17th birthday, which was a sunny occasion filled with sunbathing and exploring the dunes – just as she would like! She’s such an amazing and adaptable cat – not many felines can boast having visited every capital city in Australia, climbed sand hills overlooking Uluru, slapped dogs in Cooktown and sunbathed beside a crocodile infested lake near Darwin…but Tassie can. The only state she hasn’t visited is, ironically, her namesake, Tasmania. Maybe in the spring…?

Princess Tassie turns 17

I didnt stray much further than the caravan for the first two days, and on day three managed a short walk for an hour to see the dunes.

A stormy morning – Mr A looking like he’s hiking through snowfields
Amazing textures and patterns in the sand
Looking across the swirling sands to a storm approaching out to sea
Dwarfed by sand, I walk along the top of a ridge
Jelly legs

On day four, I managed another walk in the morning. We saw our first ever flock of Rock Parrots, beautiful green birds which nest in the cliffs and spend days in the dunes behind the beach feeding on nuts, berries and seeds. There were several shore birds feeding on the sandy water’s edge, enjoying the natural bounties this coast has to offer.

The next bay around from Sheringa Beach
Sanderlings run behind the waves, pecking and chasing, darting up the beach as each wave breaks
A Sanderling racing behind an incoming wave
A Sanderling takes flight, moving along the beach to another foraging location
Silver Gulls being a little wind blown on the shore
Young Silver Gulls strut along the shore – adults have white eyes and pure red beaks – this youngster has a black eye and beak tip
The huge Pacific Gulls are common down here – around half a metre in size
Looking up a deserted coast after a short walk on the beach

I managed a few roasted vegetables for lunch without incident and we went on our way, heading for Coffin Bay. After four days without food or water, my head is pounding and body aching and weak, but hopefully finally on the mend. Food poisoning officially is something I never want to experience again!

I feel somewhat cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy this spectacular area more, but ultimately feel privileged I was able to see it at all. We offer our thanks and recognition to the traditional owners, the Wirangu, Nauo and Kokatha people for their careful custodianship over the past thousands of years, preserving the integrity and enabling us to spend time in this pristine place.

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.

22-27 January: The Barossa Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia

When Australians talk about wine brands they love, it’s pretty much guaranteed that one or more they mention will be grown in the Barossa Valley, where we just spent the last five days. We have a friend there who invited us to come and park up on her driveway in the small town of Tanunda, which is nestled pretty much bang in the middle of the winemaking action.

Our generous hosts, Phil and Lindsay

The area we now called the Barossa has been home to the Peramangk, Ngadjuri and Kaurna people for thousands of years, and when South Australia was formed as a state in 1834, it was the only one who recognised the prior occupants of the land as having a right to occupy it. However, this document was subsequently ignored by the those who followed and the First Australians were dispossessed of land by the waves of European settlers who followed. Decimated by small pox and other diseases, there is little historical record of these first peoples thereafter.

As Australia Day fell while we were in the Barossa, it was a timely reminder of how the various factions in Australian society are still trying to agree on the part Europeans played in the crippling of the world‘s longest continuous culture, in what are called the “history wars”. We watched on the news protestors who think the day should be moved, and those who think we should just “move on”. It‘s a complicated topic, but Catherine and I continue to be shocked at the level of racism that we still witness here in Australia, and in fact seems to have been given legitimate expression by the election of a President of the US who throughout his presidency displayed the behaviour and spoke the words of a racist. Let’s hope those voices are now stilled a little with the regime change there.

We were taken out on a couple of brilliant wine tastings, but also sampled some of the fantastic produce that is coming from the area. Even the local pub in town served amazing food!

Wagyu Beef schnitzel was huge and melt in the mouth at The Clubhouse
Delicious wines at Langmeil Winery, home to the oldest Shiraz Vineyard

Then we had dinner at a place called Harvest Kitchen, famous for its “Eat Like a Barossan” option on the menu. Of course we did! Wow..such great food.

Harvest Kitchen is set in beautiful surrounds

The family we were staying with was a big blended family by today’s measure, six kids and two parents, and what a reminder it was of how tough our grandparents must have had it when such a size was often the norm. It was brilliant seeing how they all worked together to keep the home running, with rosters posted on the fridge for everything.

Family roster and weekly menu plan
We cooked a chicken Penang curry one night – loved the lively dinner table discussions
Bertie the blue eyed rag doll cat, Prince the Eclectus Parrot (friend to Rosie, not pictured) and Tikka the wine loving parrot all add colour to this eclectic household

There was a real team spirit in the house, and we felt privileged to have been welcomed into this family. Australia Day was also the 7th birthday of one of the kids, and the 10th birthday of a cousin, and of course they were celebrated in style. I didn’t hear a cross word all day between the kids! Amazing.

Clockwise: Bertie the rag doll cat, birthday boy cousin Lewis, Elija looking suave, birthday boy Matthew bouncing on his trampoline, Lindsay and Phil, super parents
Clockwise: Grandpa Pete and Evan, Mrs A, Lindsay and Ali, and again with Phil’s friend Matthew, and finally Mrs A and Pete

Unfortunately we were beaten back inside by the heat on a few days, it was over 40 degrees on one of them, so it was relief when the mercury dropped and we could get out on our bikes to explore. We followed the Barossa Trail, a way-marked tarmac path winding its way around though many of the wineries, and had a great lunch before heading back. The path was a little like a roller coaster with around 440 metres of climbing (Strava link), and ours legs were feeling pretty wobbly by the time we got back. There’s a lot of work to do to get us back bike fit!

Mrs A whizzing down a welcome descent
We started the day dressed for the cool but soon stripped off the layers
A beautiful avenue of eucalyptus trees
Of course there was a wine sculpture
A dead tree that could almost be a sculpture itself

Well, it was time to move on, so we packed up and once again said our goodbyes, although we are relieved to know our return visit to Adelaide is scheduled in our future, as Catherine will need to be back for some more medical treatment in early March. In fact she managed a quick catch up with one of the people in the support group she runs who lived locally. Another life made a bit easier by Catherine’s tireless work in helping out those who suffer from the same rare disease as her.

Catherine and Sam