19-22 August: A crossroads in our lives – and we have taken the path to England

Author: Mr A

Location: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

As some of you may know, we have taken what for us is the momentous decision to move back to the UK, leaving behind a country we both fell in love with over twenty years go.

Catherine fresh off the plane in Sydney - day 1 in Australia

Catherine was 25 when she first stepped off a plane with a one way ticket and a backpack, most of her adult life has been spent here, and for me its been all of my forties, fifties and half of my sixties! We met here, we married here, it’s where our careers were made. We also forged what we know will be life long friendships, that the tyranny of distance will now not win against.

Our decision has caught many of our friends by surprise, even though we have made no secret of considering the option seriously for over a year now.

I guess it’s difficult for many to understand why we would want to leave such a country so rich in the many of the things we love. The wide open spaces, the diversity of wildlife, favourable weather and the outdoor life. So this blog is going to be an attempt to explain that decision in a little more detail, for those that are interested.

We have spent the last few years taking longer and longer trips back to the UK and Europe. The drawcard has been twofold; to see our respective immediate families (they are all in the UK, bar one…Catherine’s dad in New Zealand), and to visit mainland Europe. It was becoming increasingly difficult to say goodbye to them.

The clincher came when we were locked down in England last year, renting a small cottage in a little village in the south west. Pulling on our hiking boots almost every day, or setting off on our bikes to explore the local countryside, it was one of the happiest times we have ever spent. We both love the history, the ever changing landscape through the seasons, and yes, the variety of that famous British weather that is the topic of so much conversation 🙂

We fell back in love with the British countryside

Even though we couldn’t see our family that much because of travel restrictions, we found being on the same time zone made a huge difference.

We also have had several incredible trips to Europe over the last few years. A six week taster in a motorhome through France and Germany, then the following year a longer exploration of ten countries over many months. We fell in love with the food and wines of France and Italy , the mountains and lakes of Austria and Slovenia, the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees and the Alps. It was just a feast of the senses for us, and we are greedy for more.

We also are missing having a home base we can just come back to when we need or desire. We have been renting our house out for four years to help fund our nomadic wanderings, which has worked really well, but we have missed being physically part of a community. The opportunity to cash out of Sydney’s property market presented itself, and last week we sold our house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We managed to get agreement to a long settlement to the end of January, so now have a few months to prepare for the big move .

Despite being in need of a cosmetic upgrade our house sold in 3 days, breaking the street record!

Not only do we have all the normal things to do, like selling what we don’t want or can’t ship (caravan and car the big ones!), but we have some extra hurdles to jump because of the pandemic. For instance, Australia has a very tight policy on international travel, and we need to get travel exemption approval to leave the country. There are specific categories recognised as “compelling reasons” to travel, but migration isn’t one of them. However, we have heard of people who have migrated and gained the exemption. It all seems a very opaque approval process, with celebrities, sports stars, and the uber rich appearing to come and go at will.

We have just had to pay a chunk of sterling for our furnished accomodation to see us through the first few months in England before our container will arrive and while we are house hunting, so our Department of Home Affairs had better let us leave now, as we’re pretty committed. Hopefully by the time we are allowed to put our application in (early December) things will have eased up with vaccination rates much higher.

Next there are the all important flights to book, not just for us but for Tassie. We had always thought we wouldn’t put her through what will no doubt be a stressful time for her, but are now trying to balance that against our own needs. Tassie is a very adaptable cat, moving around so much with us over the last few years has hopefully trained her to manage travel and change, so we hope that stands her in good stead to cope with the journey. We know we can offer her the best home once we get through this phase.

Princess Tassie the adventure cat

So that is our plan and rationale for the move. It has been an interesting couple of weeks to say the least, everything has happened so quickly. But in between all of that we managed to have a lovely couple of nights out in Cairns. We have a friend who now lives in Provence, France, who suggested we pop in to see her friend, the multi talented Becky. Locals always know the best places to eat, and Becky was no exception. The Thai cafe she took us to had some of the best food we’ve had on this trip! We even followed dinner with our first posh bar this year and cocktails.

Delicious authentic Thai dinner

Then right next to our campsite was a fab Italian restaurant, again one of the dining highlights of the year. Joining us was the lovely Claire (who I forgot to take a photo of!) with her new baby Elizabeth. We met her in quarantine in Darwin, when she was on the same “cell block” as us at Howard Springs. We ended up forging a relationship in those sometimes challenging circumstances, as you do.

Cuddles with baby Elizabeth who watches mum carefully

A couple of trips in and around Cairns also saw us having a wander around the Botanic Gardens and then to a hydro electric scheme on the Barron River.

Barron Gorge

A trip into the city also rewarded us with a market full of exotic tropical fruits. Purchases were made of new to us ones like black sapote (tastes like chocolate mousse) and abiu (caramel flan like taste), then our old favourite the custard apple (and yes it does).

A shopping trip into Cairns took us to Rusty’s Market for fresh produce
The Cairns Botanic Gardens were a highlight
Beautiful gardens

But mostly our heads have been buried in thoughts of what the next few months will bring. I’m sure it won’t all go smoothly, and there may well be those moments in our future when we look at each other and wonder about our chosen path.

We will miss our friends here a great deal, and we know that and have to accept it. We will miss wandering around in remote bush wondering “when was the last time someone trod on this piece of Country?”. We will miss the unique sounds, smells and colours of the outback.

I don’t think Australia’s essence has ever been captured better than by the second verse of Dorothea Maceller’s poem “A Sunburnt Country”.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror —
The wide brown land for me!

Interestingly, she wrote this while living in England, and was terribly homesick. Perhaps there’s something genetic that brings us back to the comfort of our roots? I just know we both feel its time to make England our home again.

14-19 August: …”Can it be true, that I hold here in my mortal hand a nugget of purest green?”*

It was just over an hour’s journey to our next and final destination travelling north up the Queensland east-coast, deeper into the Daintree Rainforest and up towards Cape Tribulation. This area was called Kurangee by the Kuku Yalanj First Nations people, meaning ‘place of many cassowaries’. If it was up to us we would call it ‘place of many greens’ – that is certainly the dominant colour up here.

We thank and recognise the Kuku Yalanj people, present and past, for their custodianship over these lands upon which we stayed, travelled and explored.

There is every shade of green here…and when the cloud lifts and the sun shines through, a multitude more!

We set up camp at Daintree Rainforest Village, a site that had only newly opened when we last came up this way in 2018. We were pleased to see they had accepted some of our then recommendations, with a roomy camp kitchen and dining area plus landscaped campfire social space. The grounds of the camp are beautifully planted with a steep terraced garden with views over the rainforest attracting birds and wildlife.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are regular visitors to the campground
Cloud drifting through the range behind our camp – we didn’t see much of Thornton Peak
Some of the sculptural flowers and plants around our campsite
On rare occasions the cloud lifted and we saw the sunshine too! Princess Tassie liked that!

In the early evening we were delighted to see the endangered Spectacled Flying Foxes, a type of fruit bat, swooping in to the treetops around the campground to feed. They have been listed as threatened for more than 20 years, but slipped on to the endangered list in 2019 after a third of the population died in an extreme heatwave where temperatures exceeded 42 degrees centigrade. We hope they don’t become another casualty of climate change.

Spectacled Flying Fox
These gentle vegetarians are important pollinators of many of the rainforest flowers and their consumption of fruit helps spread the seeds throughout the forest

We were staying a short drive from Cow Bay, a locality which includes a beautiful rainforest lined beach, tea plantation and two tropical fruit ice cream stalls. A fine area to visit indeed, if only for the ice cream (and sorbet!). We love the tea from up here too, and ensured we purchased some.

A very tame Pademelon at the ice-cream store. The owner is a wildlife carer who hand reared this little cutie
Bailey Creek which leads down to Cow Bay
Cow Bay – where the rainforest meets the sea

We were excited to receive an invitation for lunch from the owners of some luxury holiday accomodation at Cape Tribulation, Mist.

Miff, Paul and Toffee (the rather beautiful English Cocker Spaniel) opened Mist about four years ago and have created a stunning tropical haven with the luxuries of air conditioning, private holiday cabins, each with a barbecue and unparalleled views of the rainforest. Miff is a good friend of several of our friends – our paths have crossed on multiple occasions in the past, but usually in large crowds involving several glasses of wine, so we didn’t know each other well. This didn’t matter though, we were greeted like old friends.

Toffee the rainforest dog showing us her Elvis lip curl

After hearing all about Miff and Paul’s incredible journey to reach this point over a delicious lunch at a local cafe, we were given the VIP tour of the grounds…or at least until the heavens opened and we couldn’t stay outside any longer, especially with camera equipment.

Many of the palms, trees and plants on their property are incredibly rare, and botanists have taken cuttings and samples which now grow in the Cairns Botanic Gardens. As we left the gardens and entered the pristine rainforest, thick vines twisted up into the canopy – these have been dated to more than five hundred years old. A very special location indeed.

Some of the trees use cauliflory to pollinate their flowers – this means their blooms emerge from the trunk or stem rather than at the end of branches, they are pollinated by animals that climb.

Miff was particularly excited to show us a blue pool, an aboriginal sacred site which was used by women for healing and birthing ceremonies. She had requested and gained permission from the Kuku Yalanj people to share this with guests., however the wet weather meant the only female jumping in this pool on this occasion was Toffee!

Miff leads the way through the forest to the sacred pool – Toffee shows us how to get the benefit from it
Toffee demonstrates the best way to enter the healing pool

As we headed back to camp, the exotic fruit stand at the bottom of their road gave us a chance to sample some unusual samples. The Black Sapote is like chocolate mousse – especially when whipped up with a spoonful of yoghurt – delicious.

While this area may be known as ‘the place of many cassowaries’ you are lucky to spot one of these mysterious creatures. I had been fortunate to see one from the inside of a coach on my very first visit here while backpacking around Australia, way back in 1999, but since then they have eluded us.

The Southern Cassowary is a large flightless bird, a distant cousin of the Emu, Ostrich and the New Zealand Kiwi. Colloquially they are often jokingly known as ‘the murder chicken’ because of their 20cm long dagger claw which could easily disembowel and kill anything they see as a threat. It is therefore wise to ensure you particularly keep away from any birds with chicks, and never make them feel cornered.

Creative Commons - source: The Australian Museum

Cassowaries live in the rainforest consuming forest fruits which would mostly be poisonous to us humans but due to their specialist gut can be safely eaten by them. A large proportion of fruiting trees and plants rely solely on their seeds passing through these birds in order to germinate.

(Photo source: Australian Museum, Creative Commons)

So we were excited to finally spot one at the edge of the rainforest, fittingly on our wedding anniversary as we drove out to the Daintree Discovery Centre on a bird spotting mission. She soon disappeared back into the forest, seeming to almost melt into the dense thicket of leaves and palms, but we were so pleased to have witnessed her presence.

All the fancy photography equipment couldn’t help here – I only had time for a blurry snap on my phone out the car window!

Feeling buoyed by this early morning sighting, we were some of the very first visitors to the centre. Following the raised boardwalk we climbed up a tower for a fine view of the forest.

A Brown Cuckoo Dove sits close to the tower preening
Clockwise from top left: Wompoo Fruit Dove, a female Fig Bird, a large Stag-horn Fern on a tree, male Fig Bird
A Water Python – this is actually behind glass – Mr A is not that brave!

We saw flocks of Australia’s smallest parrot – the Double-eyed Fig Parrot feeding on fruit high up in the canopy, but none kind enough to fly close enough for a photo. Hopefully on the Atherton Tablelands – we have been given a few tips!

We took ourselves up to Cape Tribulation’s ‘best’ restaurant, Whet, for a celebratory lunch. There we enjoyed a couple of glasses of sparkling wine and some tasty food to toast 19 years of marriage. While there have been both ups and downs throughout this time, I can safely say the positives far outweigh any negative times, and I feel so fortunate to have met my soulmate and best friend all those years ago. It helps us to weather storms together and is how we are able to live in an 18 foot six inch long box for all this time without murdering one another!

Happy Anniversary – 19 years
A couple of young pups 19 years ago

Cape Tribulation is the main village in this part of the coast, with several accomodation options, a very quiet backpackers (I remember staying here in August 1999!), our friends’ luxury cabins at Mist, plus a couple of small shops. The white sand beach is lined with coconut palms and crocodile warning signs!

Myall Beach at Cape Tribulation

There are a number of short educational boardwalks to help visitors interpret the impenetrable forest, which were well worth doing.

Madja Boardwalk takes you through the mangroves alongside Noah Creek – at low tide a frenzy of activity as birds flit through hunting insects or hunting the little crabs that emerge to feed on the mud.

A male Shining Flycatcher pauses for breath on a branch
The female Shining Flycatcher is more colourful than the male
A Macleay’s Honeyeater – these only live in a small range of rainforest in Northern Queensland

Dubuji Boardwalk starts in Cape Tribulation village and is often where people sight Cassowaries. It winds through the forest, through varied ecosystems.

Mark walks through a palm grove – these are rare now, having been cleared for farming throughout much of Queensland

The Daintree Coast is home to 16 palm species which can tolerate low soil oxygen levels better. than most other rainforest plants, therefore often are found in flood zones. The almost 2 metre wide Fan Palm fronds look almost like umbrellas spread out, and indeed Sunbirds sometimes shelter under these during a downpour.

Another example of cauliflory – a huge tree with flowers up its trunk – making the most of the lower storey pollinating insects
Look carefully and you might spot the eel in the stream
A ceiling of dappled greens and dense walls of undergrowth – if you have a tendency for claustrophobia it may well emerge here

We had a wonderful immersion in this incredibly special location, feeling privileged we could spend our 19th wedding anniversary in such unique surroundings. We so hope that this area remains unspoilt, and that climate change can be slowed to help wildlife adapt.

Out of five days here we had just one where it didn’t rain, but then that is what you get in the rainforest, even during the dry season. Apparently they are expecting an early wet season this year…we can only imagine what that’s like!

*A forthcoming prize to whomever can first name the comedy from which the title quote comes from 🙂

9-14 August: The Daintree “Rainforest” lives up to its name

Author: Mr A

Location: Daintree Village, Far North Queensland, Australia

I’m going to suggest something different for this blog, especially if you’re locked down somewhere, and armchair travel is all you have available right now. It will be a more immersive sensory experience if you listen to the sounds of the Daintree rainforest while you read this (just need a Spotify account).

And yes, it really does sound like this, and we feel like we are in a David Attenborough documentary. He called it “a rainforest quite unlike any other in the world”. From a total of 19 primitive flowering plants found in the world, 12 of them you can find here, the highest concentration of these plants worldwide. It also rains a lot here. We are in the “dry season” and it has rained for part of every day. In the wet, it can get up to 9 metres a year! In terms of size, this forest is just over 12,000 square kilometres – so that’s a bit bigger than a smallish country like Jamaica or the Lebanon. It has been a world heritage listed site for over 30 years, and home to the Kuku Yalanji people for thousands. We acknowledge their custodianship of this special place, and regret the decimation caused to them and their culture by the British and European settlement of their Country.

A lush and serene tidal ecosystem
The top layer is freshwater, with saltwater beneath. Every log looks like a crocodile…they call it a logodile

This is one of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world (or the oldest depending which source you read!) – with around 50-100 million years of uninterrupted evolution to create the incredible biodiversity we are seeing here. The species score (according to that World Heritage listing) is over 3,000 for plants, 107 different mammals, 368 birds species, 113 different reptiles and 51 amphibians! In each of those categories a significant proportion are only found here. Human impact on the area has been refreshingly small. Massive vistas of steep, thickly forested ranges show almost no sign of habitation. However, human induced climate change is predicated to change it forever. Come when you can. If you have grand children, it will be different here for them in the future.

Picturesque river – no two days are the same
Sunset over the Daintree River

We feel privileged to be able to experience this area for a second time. We came here three years ago, and remembered doing a great tour down the Daintree River with a brilliant guide. Who other should be standing on his boat when we fist arrived and went down to the wharf? None other than that same guy – Alex from Daintree River Wild Watch. We booked for the early tour the next morning.

I was awake even earlier listening to the rain hammering down and wondering about how “dry” is a relative concept in the Wet Tropics, but our tour went ahead and the rain paused (mostly) while we spent a couple of magical hours spotting some of those diverse species. The cameras were out, and eyes peeled, and Alex just has an amazing eye for where to spot these often superbly camouflaged creatures. However, Eagle Eye Catherine was usual on great form and bagged a couple of sightings. Here’s a selection of those photos for your viewing pleasure.

A calm morning on the river
A Little Kingfisher – the second smallest kingfisher in the world (the African Dwarf Kingfisher is slightly smaller)
A majestic Brahminy Kite watches from the top of a tree alongside the river. These are sometimes known as Red-backed Sea-eagles, as they are generally found on coastal wetlands.
A pair of Radjah Shelducks bravely at the water’s edge. All birds will make a nice snack for one of the local Saltwater Crocodiles
Three of the eight Green Pygmy-Geese we saw swimming up and down the river. They have wonderfully patterned feathers and are only found in tropical freshwater wetlands in Northern Australia. A male (centre) and two females.
A Striated Heron flies across the still waters
A Little Black Cormorant – these have green eyes. While those feet look awkward on the branch, they can really propel them when catching fish under water.
This tiny bird is a Large-billed Gerygone and this is its nest. It constructs its nest on a flimsy vine to discourage unwanted visitors (like snakes) and disguised to resemble flood debris.
We never tire of seeing the stunning Australasian Darters – these are the spear fishers of the bird world – piercing fish underwater with their beaks.
After a good session spear-fishing it is important to dry the wings
A Little Egret with a feathery beak problem
One of many Rainbow Bee-eaters along the river catching insects
A pair of Papuan Frogmouths roosting in a tree along the river. The male is the darker grey colours on the right, while the female is browner.
A male Shining Flycatcher – a deep metallic blue colour
Not the best photo, but you can see the inside of the male Shining Flycatcher’s mouth is bright orange
This is the female Shining Flycatcher – she has a copper back and tail, white chest and metallic blue head.
A Pacific Baza – before here we’d only seen these in pictures. It is a hawk with a great hairstyle that mostly consumes insects.
As their name suggests, Cattle Egrets spend their days with cows, enjoying a symbiotic relationship consuming insects attracted to their bovine mates. At sunset they all congregate in trees along the riverbank to roost. About six cows per year are eaten by crocodiles.
A Night Heron emerges after sunset to take on the evening fishing shift

We saw several types of kingfisher on our trips.

An Azure Kingfisher – a true water-hunter. These have tiny tails to help streamline them when they dive for fish and prawns in the river.
Azure Kingfisher
Azure Kingfisher
A Sacred Kingfisher – they will hunt insects, frogs, crabs and lizards as well as fish.
Sacred Kingfisher
A rather lean looking Forest Kingfisher – they have a diverse appetite and are often seen perched on powerlines watching for their next snack.
Early morning photography in action
I even worked out how to use the spotting scope on the boat

We were mostly interested to see the birdlife, but looking at crocodiles (from the safety of our metal hulled boat!) was as always a sobering moment. We are seeing a species that looks largely the same as it did in the fossil record of 200 million years ago. I was left wondering why they haven’t changed that much, when homo sapiens has taken 200,000 years to evolve into a species capable of reaching the stars, and destroying the world that created us. New research in the UK (how come they know anything about crocs?) concludes that it’s because they arrived at a body state (big and mean?) that is both so efficient and versatile that they don’t need to diversify to survive. For instance, they can live for a year without a feed! They survived the meteor impact that snuffed out the rest of the dinosaurs. Crocs are crafty for sure. Just check these eyes out and tell me there’s not a frightening level of cunning there.

The chunky 4 metre long male crocodile photographed at the bottom is estimated to be around 70 years old! If you look closely you can see some of his teeth are smaller than others – this is because crocodiles shed their old teeth and grow new ones. No dentists needed in his kingdom…(wouldn’t fancy getting close enough to smell his breath though!)
This female crocodile appeared to be having a lovely snooze in the afternoon sunlight, resting her chin on a log.
And this is a super cute 4 month old crocodile, barely visible, warming itself up on a thin branch. The survival chances of this little one are not good, with kites, eagles, barramundi (fish) and even other crocodiles happy to snap them up for a snack.

While looking out for scaly creatures we even spotted a couple of snakes on our trips:

A Common Tree Snake. This is non-venomous and feeds on frogs and lizards in the trees. This one is in a native hibiscus.
Not sure where the head is on this pile of Amethystine python. This is Australia’s largest python which can grow up to 8.5 metres long and easily consume wallabies, cats and small dogs. They are non-venomous, instead they sit and wait for their prey, then suffocate them with their coils.

Our days are spent taking drives in between river tours. We only spent a day and a half here last time, so didn’t really appreciate that there is actually nowhere you can walk. The rainforest is so dense, and the terrain so steep, other than the few tracks that wind along the valley, there is literally nowhere else to go other than the river. On one of these drives we spotted this stately looking specimen of a sea eagle.

A White-bellied Sea-eagle. This adult is so relaxed it is stood on one leg. This is a technique birds use to minimise heat loss.
White-bellied Sea-eagle

And up a short track several nervous looking birds including this Green Oriole. They’re not often seen but their calls echo through the valley (listen here).

Green Oriole calls are quite distinctive as they echo through the forest.
A lot of the cleared farmland is being bought back up by the Queensland Government and replanted to return it to rainforest.
A picturesque drive

Even around the campground there was a whole range of birdlife. We spent many hours there inside our lovely cosy Zone (listening to the novelty of rain!) just reading, or in Catherine’s case, editing what I think are these amazing photos. So she does really appreciate your feedback on them. They will be such a wonderful historical record for us in the future – when we are in a different hemisphere. If you follow us on Facebook you will see we have made a decision to move back to the UK to be closer to family and Europe. Now that as a topic deserves a post (or maybe a novella?) all on it own 🙂

Metallic Starling munching on palm tree fruit
A tiny female Sunbird drinking nectar from a passionfruit flower – you can see how little it is in relation to the passionfruit
Common Putat/Powder Puff flowers – they flower at night and are pollinated by bats and insects, before dropping off in the daylight
Bottlebrush Orchid growing on a tree. There is barely a branch without another plant growing on it
More orchids growing in the trees. All realestate is considered fair game in the rainforest!

6-9 August: Unexpected UFOs and escaping more lockdowns

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cardwell and Tully Heads, Queensland, Australia

Leaving Ingham we continued on our journey north, marvelling at the magnificent tropical views both inland and offshore. This is a truly spectacular coastline, and despite having travelled this way before, it felt like we were seeing it all through new eyes.

Our destination was Cardwell. A good friend in France had introduced us virtually to Gabi, an author, documentary maker and narrator who has now settled into life in this small town. We agreed to catch up with her and decided to stop for two nights.

Welcome to Cardwell

When we arrived in town, we were surprised to see cut outs of aliens lining the streets and welcoming us to our campground. Mark checked us in and returned clutching a leaflet. It turned out the weekend we had selected was the 2021 Cardwell UFO Festival!

We anticipated a few strange antics in our future given the conspiracy theorists were in town!

We met Gabbi at the Beachcomber’s Restaurant, located along the waterfront, with commanding views of Hinchinbrook Island a short way off the coast. With not a breath of wind, the water was a glassy ice blue, the hazard-reduction fires burning on the island (cool winter burning to prevent a more devastating hot summer burn) only serving to add more atmosphere to the scene.

Dusk falls as we walk to dinner. Fires on the island make the atmosphere all the more mysterious

We had booked dinner for 6pm at the insistence of Gabbi, which we thought was rather early, until we realised this is pretty normal for these parts – early to eat and early to bed. The food and company was excellent, Gabbi has led a fascinating life and is full of great stories. We’d definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone passing through Cardwell.

Concluding our delicious meal with cocktails

Did I say early to bed? Oh it seems not. Most of the town was all safely asleep by 11pm, but not anyone in our campsite…a house across the road was having a rather loud alcohol fuelled domestic argument and nobody could sleep. Mark ended up calling the police at 2am to have it shut down! Couple that with the Bruce Highway’s road trains roaring past every few minutes, and it wasn’t a quality night’s rest…but it was alien-free!

We finally managed to get some sleep and the following morning took a short drive up into Girringun National Park to check out views. From high up above the town Hinchinbrook Island (named Pouandai by First Nations people) looms mysteriously off the coast, its craggy peaks looking enticingly wild and rugged.

Eighteen thousand years ago the island was part of a rugged coastal range. After the last ice-age , sea levels rose and created the island. The island was home to the Biyaygiri people who lived there and along this coastline for many thousands of years. In the early 1870s a huge slaughter (initiated by the white settlers and police) wiped out all the indigenous residents of the island.

This area forms part of the ‘Girroo Gurril’ creation story. Known as ‘the first surveyor’ to local, Girramay Aboriginal people, Girroo Gurril rose out of the ocean near Hinchinbrook Island, part man, mostly eel and gazed around the newly made countryside. He pronounced his name loudly, then plunged into the sea and came out on top of the mountain at the back of Cardwell. He saw a freshwater lake surrounded by mangroves and he called it Girringun Lake.

Today Cardwell is home to the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation which represents the interests of traditional owners in the region, maintaining areas of cultural significance and educating young people. They largely work in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service and would be responsible for the hazard-reduction burning we could see offshore on the island.

We would like to recognise and thank the Biyaygiri and Girramay people for their custodianship of this land we visited.

A fine view point
Fires still burning
Green Tree Ants are the locals which make their nests by weaving together leaves with silk up on tree branches. They do bite, but don’t have a sting. Their green abdomen tastes of lemon and indigenous people would boil them up to make a lemon tea.

There is a shared pathway along the coast, and after a bite of lunch we decided to go for a walk. There is no denying this is a picturesque coastline and it was hard to walk far without taking several photographs.

Given the gruesome treatment of the first residents of the area it’s no wonder that many of the information boards along the coast walk blatantly ignore the indigenous history, choosing instead to start with the arrival of white settlers.

It’s hard to get a bad viewpoint
Cardwell Jetty stretches out into the shallow bay
Cardwell Jetty
More views of Pouandai Island
Picture perfect beaches
The coastal walk

On Saturday night Cardwell held a big concert to conclude the UFO festival, with a cover band playing Aussie 70s and 80s music and classics from the same era around the world. We didn’t have the energy to go along, but could quite clearly hear the events from our caravan – they drowned out the road trains quite nicely!

Before we departed on Sunday morning we paid a visit to the market, picking up a few things we didn’t know we wanted, and farewelled Gabbi who was busy serving sugared donuts for the Cardwell Lions Club.

Cardwell Market

We moved on up the coast less than an hour to a quiet campsite just south of Mission Beach near the heads of the Tully and Hull Rivers and on the edge of the Hull River National Park . We checked in for three nights, looking forward to a few peaceful evenings finally away from the Bruce Highway.

After getting all our washing done we had a look around the neighbourhood. We drove first to the Hull River estuary, a wide expanse of sandbanks and swirling water, with the coastal ranges stretching off into the horizon.

Hull River Estuary, part of the Hull River National Park

The National Park has been designated part of the Coastal Wet Tropic Important Bird Area listing for its preservation of wetland habitat essential for lowland birds including Cassowaries, Stone Curlews, owls, robins and a variety of honeyeaters.

At low tide the birds are a long way away and hard to spot
Stunning scenery
Empty beaches looking pristine

We then had a look at the Tully River estuary – regular readers might recall our white-water kayaking adventures higher up this river on our last visit in 2018. Looking out at the water we wondered at the tiny scraps of our DNA that might still be present here after our multiple dunking episodes on the rapids!

We were looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring this region but soon realised that wasn’t the best idea. The news broke that a taxi driver had been infectious with Covid-19 in Cairns for 10 days so the city was locking down for three days. It didn’t bode well and we couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t spread the virus to others, especially when we heard rumours of a mass exodus of travellers from Cairns – surely one of those had caught the virus and spread it?

Even more than our exploration of this area we were excited about spending time in the Daintree Rainforest, north of Cairns, and really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to stay there.

So after our little taster of this area, we packed up the following morning and did a dash north.

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.

22- 26 July: Birds and more birds!

Author: Mr A

Location: Mutarnee, Hinchinbrookshire, North Queensland, Australia

It was a long drive up the main highway north, skirting the city of Townsville, but with interest provided by the streams of military convoys on the move as part of the once every two years bilateral US/Australia exercises (with smaller numbers from five other nations) called Talisman Sabre. With the changing geo-political landscape in our region as China seeks to assert itself, this regular war gaming has been tailored to send some specific messages about the capability of the participating nations to defend their territories against claims being made in the region by China. The exercises this year have even been given a new twist with social media being used a one of the weapons in the armoury of the fictitious enemy forces.

We arrived at our campsite to realise a) It was right next to the road b) There was no on site caretaker and the toilets were filthy c) Anyone using the road could and did just drive in and use the toilets d) It was the same price as a really great camp site two kilometres down the road we had been to before. It was in spectacular surroundings otherwise, and we did manage to enjoy an hour or so exploring the grounds.

A short walk around the campground – for all its negative points, it is in a lovely setting
Crystal Creek runs through the campsite
Forest Kingfisher on our campground
Northern Fantail – a species only found in the upper reaches of Queensland – proving we really are in the far north of Australia now
Rainbow Bee-eaters are so common up here now

After a night we pulled up stumps and moved, with a full refund. We don’t always get it right. The site had mostly good reviews, but our eyes and gut-feel told us differently, so off we went, and I’m so glad we did for the sake of an hour of packing and setting up again.

We find ourselves now at one of the best run parks we’ve ever been to. The facilities are modern and kept immaculately clean. We have heaps of space and surrounded by trees, and yes, birds! Tassie is always a good litmus test for us if she heads outside and lies down, it’s a thumbs up and we know all will be good.

So if you find yourself on this gorgeous piece of coast, come and stay at the Crystal Creek Caravan Park, owned and run meticulously by husband and wife team Rod and Elizabeth. Rod even came and mended a strut on our window where the rivet had broken off. Service above and beyond from this dynamic duo!

Catherine has also made a friend in the park – “Bob the Birder” as we affectionately call him. Bob and his wife Olive have already been here for a few weeks, and they sit there for hours right outside their van with their long lenses capturing the prolific bird life flitting around the park.

Bird photography in progress

Bob has taken Catherine under his wing to pass on some of his accumulated wisdom of 80 odd years birding in Queensland. Another top bloke! What a sharp eye he has as well. I‘ve not seen many people beat Catherine to the draw with spotting, but Bob does. And they both leave me completely behind of course with my impaired vision. Catherine is so patient though, trying to explain where in a tree they are.

Varied Trillers are regularly seen
Why do Fairy-wrens get all the wonderful names? This one is a Lovely Fairy-wren
Can you spot the male Fig-bird? They’re very yellow in this part of the country

We had to tear ourselves away for a couple of day trips as there’s a lot to do in the area. The first was a short drive up the road to a series of pools and cascades we had visited many years ago. On this trip, in what is mid winter in the tropics, it was pretty empty. However, when I say winter, it was another 28 degree day, with water temperatures not far below that, so not too bad. As our park host Rod said, “Even in far north Queensland there has to be winter. Last year it was on a Wednesday”. So even I got the lower half of my body wet (I know…not a big fan of full immersion) and Catherine was swimming around in her hiking clothes having come totally unprepared with no swimming gear.

A perfect spot for meditation…in the brief half hour we were alone!
A lovely day for a fully clothed swim

We clambered up the various rock pools further away from the few families that were there, constantly issuing strident instructions to their kids (equally determined to ignore them!), and had a swimming hole all to ourselves. We even got to spot a nice python slithering around finding some sun to power up on. As you do if you’re a python.

A non-venomous Spotted Python has just had a swim
Heavenly natural spas created by the waterfalls
A local fish swims over to say hello – clearly used to visiting humans
Many options for cool off on a warm day

Our second day trip was to Paluma National Park, which is located a 40 minute precipitous winding drive away up on the ranges. At that this point in Queensland they drop down right near the coast and create a narrow corridor of flat land before the ocean. We did a couple of short walks, but sadly I wasn’t in the best of spirits as I count off the days to get my next eye test mid week. It‘s certainly affecting my mood, I know that. If the pressures are still high then its going to be really problematic finding treatment options. The risk is constantly there for me of slipping below the eyesight level required to hold a driving license. I’m right on the edge now, no room for further deterioration. It would certainly change a lot of things for us. So anyway, not our best day out, but Catherine did get some great shots…again.

Witt’s Lookout
Chowchilla – rainforest dweller that digs in the leaves for insects
Looking west from Paluma there is forest as far as the eye can see – Paluma Range National Park and Paluma State Forest
An Echidna comes snuffling through the undergrowth – the first we have seen this year!
A female Golden Whistler
Pale-yellow Robin…. how did they come up with that name I wonder?
A Large-billed Scrub-wren hops along a mossy log

The next day I awoke determined to be more positive, did some exercises (always helps!) and set off for what we thought was going to be a routine trip to a supermarket up the coast at the nearest town of Ingham. I had noticed some wetlands marked on the map on the edge of town and we decided to give them a go. We also use an app called ”e-Bird”, which is populated with birders’ sightings around the world, and it was shown as a hot spot on there. Well, talk about having no real expectations then having them blown away! It was amazing. Much bigger than we thought, and absolutely packed with birdlife, many of them new-to-us species. Apparently it was also home to a four metre saltwater croc, which we didn’t see, and I didn’t mind that as some of our path took us along the water‘s edge!

The wetlands are named after an endangered species sometimes found there, the Eastern Grass Owl (Tyto Capensis), which we didn’t see, but look at all the species we did.

A female Crimson Finch sporting a rather fabulous hairstyle
Male Crimson Finch
Comb-crested Jacarna – sometimes called the Jesus bird as they seemingly walk on water
They have huge feet which allow them to walk over vegetation such as water lilies to find their food
Look at that poise!
Wandering Whistling Ducks, all lined up ready for takeoff!
Red-backed Fairy-wrens find solace amongst the grasses and reeds to hunt their insects – makes them a challenge to see
Blue-winged Kookaburra high up in the trees
A crocodile trap – yes, there is apparently a 4 metre long Saltwater Croc in these wetlands…not yet caught
An Intermediate Egret stalks its next meal
A Sacred Kingfisher waits patiently

Hinchinbook Shire Council must be congratulated for this initiative. We walked almost all of the paths that meandered around this area that was saved from the encroaching sugar cane farming in 2002. With the mid winter temperature now over 30 degrees, I think we are visiting at the right time, summer would be unbearably hot and humid.

So a few days down, and we still have a while staying in this area so I will let Catherine take the writing reigns for the next instalment.

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bowen, Queensland, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch with a view
A very attractive coastline

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

Fire and damper

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

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

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

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

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

13-20 July: Loitering on the Whitsunday Coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Mackay, Midge Point, Queensland, Australia

One of the tricker bits of planning when you are of “no fixed abode” travelling long term like we currently are, is managing to get health care. Getting an appointment with a GP can be hard enough, let alone seeing a specialist. It takes some forward planning given how busy most of them are, but you also have to take what you can get. This drove our trip into Mackay, plus a service for the Landcruiser.

Poor Mackay, it really doesn’t have much that is drawing tourists in, so the travellers keep charging up the Bruce Highway. We stayed in a small caravan park outside of Mackay, and drove into town to get our jobs done. Service on the 200 Series Landcruiser, a big one, the 160,000, and not a single issue once again. What a great car this has been. Toyota have sure got reliability nailed. Our day livened up when unbeknown to us some friends we had met through our common Zone RV ownership (a recurring theme!) had seen from our blog that we were heading their way, and we caught up for lunch. One of the unintended benefits of writing a blog! We do miss being physically separated from our friends, so a meet up like this is a big bonus for us. If you see us coming your way give us a shout.

Unfortunately my two medical appts, one for an ear problem and the other for my long term issue with complications from glaucoma , weren’t as joyful. I have to now see an ENT specialist somehow for my ear problem, and start taking additional eye drops to calm my interocular pressure readings. Glaucoma affects nearly 2% of the population, and can lead to blindness if not treated, so make sure you get those pressures checked regularly. I lost around 30% of my vision in one eye over a period of ten days during a particularly bad episode years ago. There is some anecdotal evidence that eye pressures can spike when you have heightened levels of anxiety. Its one of the reasons I left my sales career early. I had a stent fitted and they have been good since – until now. What’s changed? Well, we have some major life decisions to make over the next few months, and this has been giving me some sleepless nights. I am a bit of a “worrier”.

Out of any problem comes a learning opportunity, or so the mantra goes. I did “phone a friend” who has been into meditation, and we have certainly seen some profound and positive changes in him as he returned to the discipline, so ‘Why not give that a go?’, I thought. It was a really great conversation, and at nearly 65 I’ve just spent the first 20 minutes of my life attempting to meditate! Jeez its not easy is it? Mind wandering all over the place, which will come as no surprise to many friends. There’s work to do. Progress updates forthcoming.

Our home for the last few days has been in the most wonderful little campsite at the unfortunately named locality called Midge Point! We will refer to it as the Whitsunday Coast 🙂

A room with a view – we loved waiting up to the colour green each morning

We acknowledge the traditional owners of this area being the Yuwibara tribe. They and half a dozen or so First Peoples have formed a Traditional Owners Reference Group (TORG), which has developed a long term (to 2027) strategy plan to preserve and improve the area. A great initiative, the Great Barrier Reef needing all the help it can get, currently being reviewed by the World Heritage organisation as wether it should be added to their “in danger list”. It will be interesting to see (now the US is taking a much more proactive stance on climate strategy, and has formed a strong alliance with the UK on their approach), whether our government will be shaken into action. Australia is rapidly becoming an outlier amongst the G20 reference group.

Now how about this for a fabulous spot. Our caravan site is right on the edge of this gorgeous rainforest, with tropical birdsong our constant music track. Its once of the best locations we’ve had. The Travellers Rest Caravan and Camping Park (note no mention of Midge Point in that name!) is such a great place to chill out. If you’re down this way please try it out.

Wallabies come and check us out every so often, and behind our screen tent (midge proof) mesh we feel like we are the animals in a cage for a change. An important feeling to ponder.

Some very cute little wallabies linger on the edge of the forest in the afternoons, eating the grass
Yard Creek, running near to our campground almost looks appealing to kayak in….until you see the ‘possible crocodile’ signs! 🐊

A 200 metre wander along the edge of the forest takes us down to this almost deserted beach, just the odd fisherman gazing wistfully into the blue water.

Glistening blue water, a horizon dotted with islands, lined by a white sand beach – not a bad location
The sea goes out a long way here!
Looking south down the coast towards Mackay

The water’s edge was dotted with a variety of birds, like this little Gull-billed Tern resting from a fishing expedition.

Gull-billed Tern
Tiny little Red-capped Plover on the shore – they rarely stop moving!
Various Terns resting along the shoreline between meals
Gull-billed Terns join Great Terns
A Striated Heron flying along the creek beside the beach
Rainbow Bee-eaters find plenty to eat around here

We’ve spent several very pleasant afternoons pottering along with camera, bins and spotting scope. My aforementioned mediation friend, made a great point, that watching these birds gives such a great insight into how far we have come from “being in the moment”. He was so right. We feel an intense sense of calm when we are doing this spotting, no sudden movements, quietly waiting for the birds to adjust to our presence and go back to their business. It is so restful, and yet there is the thrill of discovery when we make a new-to-us species sighting.

Australasian Figbird – male at the top, female bottom – they have the most amazing song
A Spangled Drongo
A Helmeted Friarbird – they are a big honeyeater – not the prettiest of birds, with their red eye, bare black skin face and horned beak, but they do like a good rainforest flower

We even had a better than average (for regional Australia) pub meal up the road at the local “Point Tavern”. There was more than the usual “red or white mate?” wine choice, and although the menu was entirely predictable (in fairness, like many of France’s country cafés!) the food was well cooked and Catherine didn’t get food poisoning! That’s how low our measure has gone after our Eyre Peninsula experience, I’m not sure she will ever eat a beef burger again…

Most importantly of course, Princess Tasmania, as she is affectionately known to us (well, a cat that enjoys filtered and chilled water with her lightly cooked salmon and mashed pumpkin has got to expect some stick) does so like it here. A twice a day stroll, and by stroll I do mean….stroll…its like a meditative experience all of its own. Five minutes of extensive sniffing of one bush not uncommon. But every so often this 17 year old shows us the kitten lurking underneath those stiff joints and bursts in a, well a sort of sideways fast shuffle. Check this out, and I dare you to keep a straight face.

Tail held high – this is definitely a joyful gallop!

So the days pass, we tune in further to the birdsong, and have the delight of another lunch with our Zoner friends Wendy and Frank who drive up from Mackay. Such a pleasure.

We end our stay here with another day of Catherine wandering around with her big zoom and capturing some more amazing shots. Meanwhile I’m stuck on the phone trying to sort an ENT specialist appt in Townsville, and get one finally locked in for a couple of weeks time. So at least now we can now plan a little more loitering along the coast.

Laughing Kookaburras are resident in the park
Blue-WInged Kookaburra – these do not laugh at all unlike the Laughing Kookaburra
A Rufous-whistler – hard to see these birds as they flit high up in the tree’s canopy – you can often hear their song, however
One of several Bush Stone-curlews which live in the forest fringes around the edge of the park
A Forest Kingfisher
A Grey Fly-catcher
A juvenile Brush Cuckoo with a tasty morsel
A tiny Welcome Swallow singing on a telephone wire
Some of the many many butterflies seen here on a daily basis
This is a juvenile male Olive-backed Sunbird – the first time we have spotted one of these. Hoping to see an adult one of these days – their colours are spectacular – vibrant yellow and blue.

The campsites are pretty busy, even with NSW locked down, but I manage to get us our next two bookings after some fast phone work.

We had such a lovely few days here, it was hard to tear ourselves away. But away we must, on to adventures new, and edging ourselves slowly northwards towards Townsville.

A final beach walk to conclude our visit

6-13 July: Entranced by emerald Eungella

Author: Mrs A

Location: Finch Hatton, Eungella National Park, Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugarcane train crossing Cattle Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely worth the hike up if you’re game!

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

Eungella Dam
Brahman Cattle share the shores with campers and picnickers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only one photographed – but still a special moment

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

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