Animals In The Wild List (AITW)

New Norfolk – Gordon Foreshore Reserve (Tasmania)

12/03/19  Dropping down from the Tiers, we followed alongside the meandering Derwent River, now considerably wider than up at its source on Lake St Clair, and pulled in to the riverside town of New Norfolk, checking into the local caravan park for a few days to wait out the bushfires and smoke that was hanging in the air. Smoke hazard alerts had been issued for the Derwent Valley, Huon Valley and Hobart, so on power it was way more comfortable in the air-con, avoiding the smoke and staying warm during a couple of very cold days that brought snow to nearby Mt Wellington. The cool spell was well-timed as it helped to douse the fires.

We took a drive out to Mount Field National Park and walked in through a glorious forest of tree ferns to the picturesque Russell Falls, after which we drove on further to Lake Pedder and the spectacular Gordon Dam. The country out there was just spectacular with rugged mountain peaks and rocky ridges overlooking glacial valleys, and near Maydena vast areas looked blackened and apocalyptic from recent bushfire.

Our itinerary was adjusted, once again, due to the looming public holiday long weekend when all the coastal camping sites would be packed out with local holiday-makers. So, heading south through Hobart, we leap-frogged past a few of our intended camp spots to pull up in the foreshore reserve at Gordon where we’d sit out the three-day weekend. We were fortunate to find a good spot in the almost full campground where we could look out on the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and across to Bruny Island. The awning went out, the ground mat went down and we were comfy.

We took a day drive back up the coast to check out the small communities of Middleton, Flowerpot and Woodbridge (where we had lunch in the restaurant at the Peppermint Bay Hotel ), then headed across to Cygnet and Glaziers Bay on the Huon River, to follow the shoreline right the way around back to Gordon. It was a very pleasant drive through some lovely farming country. 

Rather than taking the van across to Bruny Island, we decided to do a day trip instead as a few people had mentioned it could easily be got around it in a day. So we put the Landy on the vehicle ferry at Kettering for the short trip across the Channel to Bruny and headed down to the South Bruny National Park in the hope of seeing an albino wallaby, high on Di’s wish list of animals to see in the wild. On the way, we stopped off at the Big Hummock, mid-way along the narrow Neck joining North and South Bruny, to take in the view from the lookout and walk on Neck Beach. Down at the national park, after unsuccessfully stalking around in pursuit of the elusive white wallaby, we were about to give it all away when we wandered into a particularly promising patch of bracken fern and came face to face with the rare white wallaby (Twenty-Fourth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) in all its glory in its natural habitat. And there sitting alongside it was its non-albino mate. We did our best David Attenborough impersonations, slowly making our way in quite close to them, all the while whispering in voices heavy with a Cambridge education. “Doing a David” worked for us, but it became plainly obvious these wallabies were very used to being gawked at and photographed by tourists as they were not at all disturbed by our presence. It was a lovely encounter, and Di was ecstatic at seeing a white wallaby after looking forward to it for so long.

We tucked into the Bruny food trail, starting with lunch at the Bruny Island Seafood Restaurant, then on to the local Chocolate Company for a selection, and following a drive down the western shoreline to Cape Bruny Lighthouse, called in to Australia’s most southern winery, Bruny Island Winery, for a glass of pinot noir and a shared slice of cheesecake, finishing off with a cleansing ale at the Bruny Island Hotel, Australia’s southernmost pub. We were on the island on the last day of a long weekend, which meant getting off again involved a wait of an hour and three-quarters in a kilometre-long queue to board the return trip, even with three ferries operating. Still, we were in no hurry, the weather was pleasant, and the view nice. In fact, the scenery and water views were lovely everywhere on Bruny. It was certainly a picturesque place.

“Queueing is the only word with five consecutive vowels.”

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Tasmania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Richmond (Tasmania)

7/01/19  With the Christmas holiday season on us, we’d opted to go to ground somewhere to wait it out till the campsites cleared of summer holidaymakers. Reasoning somewhere close to Hobart would give us access to sightseeing around there, we settled on a caravan park at Richmond, and booked in for almost three weeks. And for only the third time in five years, the complete canvas annex even went up to give us a “downstairs” living space. What a luxury; our home on wheels had doubled in size. We were compelled to buy a small table to furnish all that extra space.

Richmond is a quaint little village of many lovely stone buildings, and being only 30 minutes from Hobart, it’s a popular drawcard for day trippers. The close proximity was to our advantage in doing day trips the other way. The village is home to the Richmond Bridge, Australia’s oldest surviving large stone arch bridge, built by convicts in 1825. It’s still in daily use and coming into Richmond we crossed over it with the van. A couple of days were spent strolling around the local attractions and stores, including the old Richmond Gaol.

A little before Christmas, we caught up again with our French “backpacker daughter”, Clem, who was in Tassie doing some HelpX volunteer work at a horse riding property not too far away. We hadn’t seen her since July up in far north Queensland and it was great to meet up again. She also joined us for Christmas Day in the van for an antipasto Christmas lunch of cured meats, a variety of Tasmanian cheeses, nuts, fruits and marinated vegetables, accompanied by a local Shiraz and a Moscato for Clem. We dropped her in to Hobart the following day to meet up with her next HelpX host who operates a Gypsy Cob horse stud where she’ll be working. After seeing her off, Di and I took in the sights of the waterfront precinct and Constitution Dock, where busy preparations were underway in readiness for the arrival of the Sydney to Hobart Race yachts. We quite liked Hobart; lots of interesting old stone buildings and galleries and, aside from other things, parking meters that when you go to pay on a public holiday say, like “Nah. It’s cool. No charge for you today.”

Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum on the waterfront was a fascinating true replica of the historic hut constructed in Cape Denison, Antarctica, in 1911 by Dr Douglas Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition. Constructed by heritage architects and builders, the replica hut was outfitted as closely as possible to the real one, even down to the soundtrack of blustery Antarctic winds playing in the background. Time was also spent in the Tasmanian Museum and quite a few art galleries in the vicinity, before we finished up over a pint of ale at Irish Murphy’s pub on Salamanca Place.

On the first Saturday, we headed in to Hobart to check out all the open-air stalls at the renowned Salamanca Market on the waterfront. It was bustling with around 300 stalls selling clothing, Tasmanian wood products, wines, knickknacks, all sorts of food and lots of other stuff. Well worth the visit.

A visit to the lookout on top of Mt Wellington was planned around forecasted clear weather, and for once the gods were kind. We had a beautiful clear day (ignoring the cyclonic winds up that high) with spectacular views down across Hobart and the Derwent Valley. Talk about a narrow, twisty drive up and back, though. It’d be truly hairy in rain or snow. I’ve yet to find a good road in Tassie (apart from a 4kms stretch of the Tasman Highway just east of the Tasman Bridge).

We were at Constitution Dock for the arrival of competitors in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and found a great spot right on the finish line buoys. The first yacht to cross the line in front of us was the Tasmanian yacht, Alive, which ended up taking out overall race honours on handicap, the first Tassie boat to do so in nearly 40 years. What a buzz. We watching a couple more cross the line, and then headed back to Salamanca Place to take in the Taste of Tasmania Festival featuring food and beverage products from a heap of local Tassie producers. Yummy.

Speaking of beverage products, Hobart is the home of Cascade, Australia’s oldest brewery and second oldest continually-operating company. While Di stayed in the restaurant, I took a very interesting guided tour through the brewery that finished back in the restaurant with a beer tasting session. I also put my hand up to compete in a beer pouring competition. My game strategy was to fill the glass right to the top within the required time – minimum head for maximum beer. But the official Cascade standard apparently required a dome-shaped head about a thumb-width deep. Needless to say, I didn’t win but no worries, I got to drink the upsized beer I poured.

We occupied most of a day at MONA, the Museum of Old and Modern Art. Interesting place. The art had more to say to Di than to me but the building was fascinating, like nothing we’ve been in before. Imagine an Egyptian tomb crossed with an air-raid shelter that has aspirations of being a nightclub. The labyrinthine layout was very disorientating and had us regularly consulting the floorplan map, that itself could have been hung on the wall as an example of discombobulating Escher art. Everything about MONA was eccentric and interesting.

With good weather forecast for the following day, we drove back to Triabunna to spend the day on Maria Island, which we’d missed out on doing earlier due to crappy weather. Once on the island, the only modes of transport were walking and cycling; we chose to walk; more a trudge, really, as it ended up a very hot day under the Tassie ozone hole. But, it was worth the effort to see the Painted Cliffs and the convict era settlement of Darlington, maintained in a good state of preservation.

Absolutely everyone we’d spoken to about Maria Island had assured us we’d be tripping over wombats; they’d be everywhere. But after three hours of trudging in the heat, not one was to be seen. “Well, we’ve not seen more wombats here on Maria than we haven’t seen anywhere else in Tassie” I said to Di. A Ranger we spoke to reckoned they’d all be trying to keep cool and pointed us down to where we might likely find some. He was right; we came across one taking a midday snooze in a shady spot on the creek, along with a Potoroo and a couple of Pademelons which was nice. Note to self – wombats are best tripped over on cool days.

A morning was spent exploring the laneways of Battery Point located up beside Hobart’s waterfront precinct. The 19th-century housing styles were certainly diverse, ranging from tightly-nested cottages once occupied by waterfront workers and fisherfolk to large stone mansions of well-to-do merchants. Recent gentrification of the area has skyrocketed real estate values while still retaining the quaintness of the historic maritime village. We finished up our morning stroll with lunch at the old Shipwright’s Arms Hotel in one of the backstreets.

On our hottest day since arriving in Tassie, we visited a couple of wineries and cheeseries (is that a word?) near Richmond. The sky over towards Hobart was an ominous apocalyptic kind of red from a smoke plume stretching for hundreds of kilometres across the state off a large fire in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Didn’t deter us from the tastings, though.

The remainder of our day was spent cloistered away in the van with the air-con cranked down to sub-Antarctic. For the past couple of weeks we’ve suffered the occasional day of very strong wind gusts. On the worst of them, the front annex wall bore the brunt of 65kph winds, billowing like the spinnaker on Wild Oats and bending the leading awning pole. I was able to engineer a replacement pole from bits and pieces from the local BCF, along with two bracing bars to stiffen up the awning frame. Our annex now laughs in the face of winds. I can fully appreciate what Douglas Mawson would have gone through, confronted with these very same issues down where he was – aside from the snow and temperatures and sled dogs, of course. Otherwise, exactly the same.

“We had discovered an accursed country. We had found the Home of the Blizzard.” – Douglas Mawson

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Tasmania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coles Bay (Tasmania)

9/12/18  It’s very easy to get badly sunburnt in Tassie due to its close proximity to the hole in the ozone layer. In addition to that anomaly, there’s a further irregularity I’m convinced is at play in Tasmania concerning the space-time continuum that causes kilometres in Tassie to be unlike kilometres in the rest of the known Universe. On the mainland, 32kms gets you to Bunnings and back for a tap washer and sausage sizzle. 32kms in Tassie gets you from our camp in Bicheno to the camp in Coles Bay. Now, mainland Australia laughs out loud at 32kms between camps. 32kms doesn’t sound far but, after driving it to Coles Bay, my force was spent; I was ready to curl up for a nap. Perhaps at this point I should bring up the very ordinary condition of the Tasman (cough) Highway on which we travelled those 32 Tassie kilometres; that black hole of a (cough) road that demands every bit and more of your concentration, saps your energy and transforms your usual Ghandi-like demeanour to that of a cranky bugger. Take a deep breath, Pete…breathe…

So, 32kms of goat track later, we reached the Freycinet Golf Club at Coles Bay. Besides providing quite good facilities for the striking and pursuit of small white balls, the club also offers a low-cost camping area for self-contained RVs and the occasional sneaky backpackers who slip in late and bolt early minus the payment. After setting up and a cuppa, we headed off around the area in the Landy to check out coastal views and note impressive homes and weekenders for when we crack the big Lotto win.

The community of Coles Bay was surprisingly smaller than we’d expected given its reputation as one of Tassie’s Must-Do destinations. Still, it was refreshing that the township still retained an authentic laid-back feel about it, not yet worked to death by developers. The scenery of the bay and views across to The Hazards were as good as we’d been led to believe; as were the wind gusts that came close to blowing us both off our feet down on the beach. We stopped in at the Freycinet Lodge resort in the National Park to have a break from the wind and partake of D&Vs (drinks and views) in the lounge looking out across Coles Bay. The terrific view was ours for the mere price of some drinks instead of the $1100 a day accommodation rate.

There are a number of ways we could have seen iconic Wineglass Bay, on the opposite side of the Freycinet Peninsular just a short distance south of Coles Bay – take a pricey day cruise around to the bay; take an even pricier scenic flight over it; take a less-expensive water taxi to nearby Hazards Beach and then hike across the rest of the way; or drive through the national park and hike up to Wineglass Bay Lookout to look down on it. We took the last option. The grade 2 walk sounded suitable; easy enough for Di’s knee. She did very well, despite misreading the brochure – it was actually a Grade 3 walk. An hour of walking and climbing many, many steps paid off with a terrific view down onto Wineglass Bay. While an overcast sky dulled the colours of the water, the view was still great. I mean, who can hope to emulate those professional tourism photos anyway. I just couldn’t see the wineglass thing, though.

At Friendly Beach, Di caught a fleeting sight of an Eastern Quokka (Twenty-Third Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) as it darted across a track and into the scrub; another tick on her Animals in the Wild list. Have I previously mentioned the wind in Tassie? Well, that wasn’t really wind. We now know what real wind is after visiting the Cape Tourville Lighthouse. Man, was it ever windy standing on that boardwalk that wraps around the top of the cliff like a large horseshoe! I thought I was smart swapping the Akubra for a cap, but it blew off into the bush pretty quickly. The views across Carp Bay and Sleepy Bay and into the white sands of Wineglass Bay were absolutely spectacular. And across the bay, we watched as a solid white cloud front spilled over the top of the ridge of Cape Forester and crept down towards the bay; just awesome. A little way offshore below us, seals basked on the rock shelves of one of The Nuggets islands, including some big bulls that were getting into it about something. Di got lots of sea bird shots, some of new birds including a Shy Albatross. Most of my panorama shots didn’t turn out; smooth pans being impossible to manage in the buffeting winds.

It’s so windy it’ll blow a dog off a chain, that’s if it doesn’t hang itself first.

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Tasmania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ironhouse Brewery – Bicheno (Tasmania)

5/12/18  Di and I got itchy feet after four days at Pyengana, and headed down the mountain to St Helens to replace a recently-filled tank of water that tasted deplorable. Chlorine taste usually starts to dissipate after a few days but not that last lot. The Tasman (cough) Highway goat track continued on south from St Helens down the coast – very narrow and bumpy, camber all over the place and little elbow room between us and oncoming vehicles – until just beyond Scamander where it seemed to finally become a proper grown up thoroughfare.

The original plan was to go from Pyengana through St Helens and on to camp at the town of St Marys, but along the way Di remembered reading something about avoiding St Marys Pass if towing a van. Wikicamps provided us a good alternative, a nearby free camp at the Iron House Brewery which looked good for two reasons – 1. It was free; and 2. It had beer – both admirable ticks in my book. After sampling their beer taster, we headed in to the restaurant for lunch with terrific views overlooking McIntyre Beach. The stretch of coastline from the small village of Falmouth in the north to where we were at Ironhouse Point was our most favourite so far; snow white beaches, granite boulders, and beautiful turquois water. We camped in the brewery’s grassy bush camp area for three days, and had it all to ourselves until the final afternoon. I’d always thought it’d be rather convenient to live at a brewery. And I was right.

St Marys wasn’t too far away and we still wanted to see it. With the van left back at the brewery, we negotiated the twisty St Marys Pass on the way up the mountain range to have a look around the small town and the nearby villages of Cornwall and Fingal, and came back down through the even narrower and twistier Elephant Pass. With due care, St Marys Pass would be doable with a van, but I wouldn’t like to try Elephant Pass, up or down. After driving both these roads, we were glad Di had cautioned us away to our brewery camp.

Tasman Highway (Tas)

Continuing south down the east coast after leaving the brewery, the (cough) highway again narrowed and became a goat track. Everyone seemed to agree that it’s the worse road in Tasmania. We both felt that we needed a break from travelling, and went into a caravan park at Bicheno. The awning came out (which doesn’t happen all that often) and our initial booking of three days kept getting extended. It was just too easy to keep pushing it out. Our first three days were glorious – clear skies, mild daytime temperatures, and slight breeze – and we thought “Why leave?” The next four days were overcast and showery with 30-45kph wind gusts, and we thought “Why leave?”

Tassie’s climate is better suited to the production of white wines and Pinot Noirs. A handful of wineries also produce Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blends and finding those has been part of our Tassie mission statement. Just out from Bicheno, an enjoyable couple of hours were spent at the Freycinet and Devil’s Corner wineries, sampling their reds and taking in the vineyard scenery, particularly the views from the distinctive lookout at Devil’s Corner fashioned from shipping containers. In fact, much of their cellar door and eatery facility was formed from a cluster of repurposed containers.

Despite the inconsistent weather, we enjoyed resting up in Bicheno. One evening, sitting on the foreshore rocks after sunset, we watched Little Penguins (Twenty-Second Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) coming ashore across the rock shelves, just visible in the moonlight. And heading back up to the car to go, a small group of them were just off in the vegetation near where we’d parked. The following evening, we went off on a Devils in the Dark guided tour to see Tasmanian Devils. What an amazing experience. We sat in a glass-walled semi-underground viewing hide with wild Devils carrying on at eye level only a metre or two away outside as they fed on a kangaroo carcass. The first Europeans to Tasmania were apparently very freaked out by the unearthly wailing and growling sounds coming out of the bush at night. And we could totally understand their reaction; the group of seven Devils we viewed sounded like some zombie ghoul movie.

Just as the animal threatens to devour him, Bugs looks up “Tasmanian Devil” in his encyclopaedia and discovers that it’s a “strong murderous beast” that eats just about any animal. It doesn’t mention rabbits, and so the Tasmanian Devil, who has been reading over Bugs’ shoulder, pencils in “rabbits”. Bugs calmly asks, “What’s up, doc?” – Devil May Hare (1954) cartoon storyline

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Tasmania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Petal Point – Derby (Tas)

21/11/18  Earlier this year, we’d travelled up to north Queensland as far as Laura and Cooktown. The average price of diesel for that 8,500km trip was $1.527 a litre. After 4,000kms on our current trip through New South Wales and Victoria to Tasmania, the average go-juice price has been $1.670 – up $0.15 a litre or an average increase of 9.4% from earlier this year. Two years ago, we did 29,500kms through western New South Wales, western Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and back, and the average fuel cost for that trip was $1.326 a litre. So, in two years, there’s been a 26% increase in average fuel price. And in NT and WA, we were buying fuel in some out-of-the-way places for totally outrageous prices which would have inflated the average price; that are 26% less than now! I wonder why diesel has risen in price so much? What’s driving it? My revenue stream certainly hasn’t gone up by that rate so it’s having a detrimental impact. Fuel is a big line item for what we do. ANYONE who can do SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT and MEANINGFUL about fuel pricing will definitely get my vote. That said, I’m old enough and ugly enough to know that that’s just not going to happen in this world of globalised corporate level playing fields; too many hands in too many pockets. I reckon the way fuel prices are increasing and incomes stagnating, it’ll eventually be cheaper to just hire people to push us around.

From Low Head, we travelled east on the Bridport Road through the coastal towns of Bridport (which we liked the look of) and Tomahawk (which we didn’t) to camp at Petal Point, located up in the top right-hand pointy bit of Tasmania at Cape Portland. We had the isolated coastal camp entirely to ourselves. From our elevated camp, we looked out on the blue waters of Foster Inlet, with Lemons Beach at our 2 o’clock, Semaphore Hill in the distance at 12 o’clock, and Baynes and MacLean Islands just a little off shore at 10 o’clock. That night, we saw our first wombat (Twenty-First Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) in the wild, very near the van; a big beefy bulldozer of a thing. There’d been wombat sign everywhere so were hoping for a sighting, and Di was very excited to have finally seen one that wasn’t lying dead on a road.

When we came in to Petal Point, the 50kms of gravel road hadn’t presented any problem, apart from being pretty narrow in parts and coating the vehicles in a fine white powdery dust, but throughout that night we had strong gusty winds and rain, and the following morning’s weather report warned of further heavy rain, winds and possible flooding. With the likelihood of it not easing for a few days, we were concerned about the state of the road going out and made contingency plans in case we needed to move. By lunchtime, the clouds had cleared, but mindful of the changeability of the Tassie weather, we decided to err on the side of caution and get the heck out of there while we could. So we headed south to the small village of Derby and camped beside the Ringarooma River (sounds like some country dance step at the local hall, doesn’t it).

Derby is a quaint little town sitting in a steep valley. Many old homes and buildings still exist, some refurbished as B&Bs and hostels for tourists. Derby owed its existence in the old days to tin mining. That’s all finished and the town now relies heavily on a vigorous trade catering to droves of lucre-clad mountain bikers who come to cycle rapidly along mountain bush trails. It looked all too energetic…perhaps an electric bike would have done the job for us…I should have asked about that at the mountain bike shops in the main street. Not sure how I’d look in all the clobber, though. As we sat by the van sipping our afternoon drinks, two ambulances and a police car sped past and turned up a bush track, to return a while later and load an unfortunate biker who’d face-planted a tree into the Westpac Care helicopter for a chat in Hobart with a maxillofacial surgeon. Ouch.

“My doctor told me I shouldn’t work out until I’m in better shape.” – Steven Wright

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Tasmania | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Forrest Beach – East Palmerston – Georgetown (Queensland)

16/06/18  Forrest Beach is a small coastal town an hour north of Townsville and 20km east of Ingham. We set up close to the water in a campground run by the local Progress Association – a large grassy area with shade trees – and in no time Di had us down on the sand to top up her Beach Babe tank. After just three weeks away from the coast, her Beach Separation Anxiety level was high. Sand between the toes quickly fixed that.

We shared the large camping area with just one other van, and the long beach was deserted apart from us. I couldn’t understand why no other people were here. This place was a gem – a store and newsagency across the road, and a pub within a short stroll – all the basic requirements for a top spot. I’m not going to be the one to spread the word around, though. Less travellers in the camp site suits me just fine. Please forget that you just read this.

The TV was tuned in ready for State of Origin game one while I tuned in with a glass or two of Shiraz to give the Maroons the benefit of my expert coaching skills. Origin is about the only time we watch TV – all the inane commercials and relentless sports betting ads drive me nuts. So much for my expert coaching, though. We’ll get the Blues next time.

Heading on from Forrest Beach, smoke coming from the stacks of the Victoria Sugar Mill signalled the start of the cane crushing season. From now on, we’re likely to come across harvesters in the fields and cane trains with loaded bins on their way to the mill or empties on their way back out.

Near Mourilyan, a backroad took us from the Bruce Highway, through the small villages of South Johnstone and Wangan and across to the Palmerston Highway, to camp at Sybbie’s cattle property, at East Palmerston. We love that place. When we lived in Townsville, it was like our second home that we visited as often as we could to relax in its greenness, if there is such a word. You just want to soak up the pretty scenery – rolling green hillsides, permanent streams in the gullies, stands of African Tulip trees, dotted with grazing horses and cattle. It’s so lush, if you stand still too long, you start to take root through the soles of your feet.

We arrived to find Clem, the French traveller who we’d met earlier at Glen Erin, already there awaiting a cattle mustering job she was soon to start up on the tablelands. Sybbie had arranged the job after I’d given him a call. Until then, she was helping out on his cattle property.

Sybbie is always a great host. He took us all on a tour of the tea plantation, then to Etty Bay for a fish and chips lunch, where we were joined on the beach by a cassowary (a new bird for Di’s twitcher list) that strolled casually out of the rainforest onto the sand, and for dinner we tucked into some terrific wood-fired pizzas at The Falls Teahouse up in Millaa Millaa. Clem’s tiramisu that she made a couple of days later was to die for. It clinched her official entry to the family as we celebrated the anniversary of her first twelve months in Australia, and the approval of the second year on her visa.

Sybbie runs the harvested tea leaf up to the Nerada Tea Factory just outside Malanda two or three times a day. On one of these trips, we followed behind his truck and were given a tour of the tea factory in operation, tracking the leaf along conveyer belts to the various stages of processing into black tea product. The factory is noted for its resident Lumholtz tree-kangaroos in the surrounding grounds and, after much looking, we at last spotted one up in a tree (Twentieth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List). Di and I hadn’t seen one before and its agility among the branches was surprising. To me, it looked very much like a wallaby-sized possum.

Millaa Milla – Lumholtz Tree-kangaroo (Qld)

Before heading back for the day, Di, Clem and I stopped off at Malanda Falls and then Gallo Dairyland where we selected some yummy cheeses. We continued with more touristy things with Clem the following day, again visiting The Falls Teahouse for lunch, and doing the circuit drive to Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. A quick stop on the way back at Gooligans Creek produced a new bird for Di – a Woompoo Fruit Dove – with a platypus very close by in the large pool.

We had a change to the travel itinerary. The plan was to head further north, but Sybbie was taking a few horses to compete in the Georgetown Campdraft over the weekend, and Clem was going as well to hopefully have a ride. So we’re heading west with them to be their cheer squad. I’ve checked out the North Korean Olympic cheer squad on You Tube to get some pointers for what’s involved.

The drive from East Palmerston to Georgetown took about 5 hours, up the Palmerston Highway and through the Wooroonooran National Park to Millaa Millaa, then onto the Savannah Way to Ravenshoe, Mount Garnet, Mount Surprise and finally Georgetown. For the stretch from Millaa Millaa to Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland, we were at times down to 40kph with the very steep inclines and heavy vehicles. But the slow pace gave us a chance to take in the lush scenery around us.

Camp was set up in the Georgetown recreation grounds near the campdraft ring, in amongst an assortment of horse float trailers and goosenecks of all kinds and sizes (some seriously huge). The Kruiser looked for all the world like a very flash horse float, and drew a lot of attention and questions about what it was. At pretty much every camp in the past four years we’ve had someone come over for a look at the van. It’s all part of the Kruiser experience. When we hear “G’day, mate. What is it?” we’ve got the standard presentation down pat. It’s a great way to meet people, and a lot of folks are genuinely interested in it, especially horse people whose first reaction is to assume it’s some kind of strange horse float.

The annual Georgetown Campdraft event is a big part of the local community calendar and one of a number of similar events held throughout rural Australia. Competitors come from all over to compete and we were looking forward to our first campdraft. We had a great three days of close contact with horses, cattle, dust, beer, country music, big Akubra hats, blue jeans, spangles, boots and spurs. And met some wonderfully welcoming people out to have a good family time.

From Georgetown, we’ll be returning back to Millaa Millaa and going north, so on the final day we said our goodbyes to Sybbie who we’d be seeing again on our way south, and to Clem who was going out west to work in a contract mustering team for a couple of months.

“Cheerleading isn’t easy – if it was more guys would be in it.”

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Queensland | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Perth – Fremantle – Rottnest Island (Western Australia)

2/11/16  Coming in to Perth, we headed to the caravan park at Karrinyup Waters Resort and set up on a grassy site among the trees down the back, away from the crowded rows of caravans on concrete slabs. It was just like bush camping…but with power and bathroom facilities, oh and a pool and spa and laundry – well, similar to bush camping.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d noticed a weld on the Landy’s rear wheel carrier that looked cracked and rusted. It was fitted by Opposite Lock back home in 2013 and had carried a spare wheel for well over 60,000kms, sometimes over very rough roads and tracks up to Cape York and all around Australia. When I mentioned to Aaron at OL that I was calling from WA, he suggested I contact the manufacturer who happened to be located in Perth, of all places! What’re the chances of that! We dropped in to the Outback Accessories factory and they said yep, no worries, we’ll replace that with a new one. It turned out not to be an actual weld break after all but they were still more than happy to replace it anyway as they had slightly changed the way they were making them since I’d bought mine. Great guys and excellent customer service. It’s terrific to deal with a company that will so readily stand behind their product without any hassles. The next day, the Landy was sporting a brand spanking new rear wheel carrier with a complementary wheel cover thrown in to the bargain. Thumbs up to Ross and Justin.

We caught up with Gary, an old friend and neighbour from back in the 80s in Townsville. Despite the 35 year interval, it was just like old times which is always the sign of a good friendship. We spent a great day being given a guided tour of the Sunset Coast beach strip and the old convict-era attractions of Fremantle, with lunch at Bather’s Beach House next to the old jetty. The following day, Di and I went back to Fremantle to see more, and caught up afterwards with “New Best Friend” (inside joke) and fellow traveller, Fleur, for coffee and a chat at her home. It was a shame we missed seeing Peter who was away for a few weeks chasing his El Dorado with a gold detector.

The Landy (aka Big Ears) is now wearing a set of Clearview extending mirrors for added towing vision, courtesy of Wayne, our “New Second-Best Friend” (same inside joke) and ex-Disco 3 owner who we met at Karijini NP.

Being back in a bustling city after so long in the bush was curious – more 2WDs than 4WDs; more people who’ve obviously had a bath that day; young people outnumbering the grey-haired baby boomers; fast freeways full of fast drivers who take a gap regardless of one being there or not – so noticeable after tootling around in the Serenity for so long. I drive like I’m in a 6.5-tonne rig – steady braking, steady acceleration, braking distance in front – not so easy to do when everyone else is in such a hurry. Get me back to the Serenity!

We went to Fremantle yet again to see the WA Maritime Museum, home to the winning 1983 America’s Cup yacht, Australia II. She’s under full sail and suspended up in the air in a large room in the museum, with her famous breakthrough winged keel on full display. Di enjoyed a coffee in the museum’s sunny outdoor café while I was escorted through the Oberon class submarine HMAS Ovens that is also housed permanently at the museum. My guide was an ex-submariner who served a large part of his 25 years in the Royal Australian Navy as one of the three Sonar Operators on a similar Oberon class vessel. I was the only person in his tour group so was able to see everything up front and close and ask him lots of questions. The guide was extremely knowledgeable about the sub, because every crew member regardless of their job, including the Cook, was required to know the subs full operations and how to work everything. The tour was very interesting and very cramped, even with just the two of us below deck. I couldn’t imagine the conditions on board with a regular crew of 63! With the shoulder-width corridors and doors that require you to go through sideways, it’d be like constant “Excuse me…after you…no, no, you first…”

We also visited the Freemantle Arts Centre, housed in an historic colonial gothic building in the heart of Freemantle, and built by convicts in the 1860s as the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot. Not so much PC in those days. The buildings planned demolition in the late 1950s was halted following a public outcry and since that time it has been used for a variety of community purposes. Following a major restoration, it is now a lovely complex housing the Freemantle Arts Centre, with exhibition rooms and artist work spaces.

I made the mistake of filling the tanks with what laughingly passes in Perth for water. It was like I had a glass of swimming pool, leaving a metallic chemical taste like putting your tongue on a 9v battery. Perth drinking water is derived 47% from desalination, 46% from groundwater and 7% from dams. Then they must combine it and bomb the hell out of it with chlorine. Chlorinated water generally settles down after a day or so in the tanks and becomes tasteless, but not this latest lot – it’s been a week and still smells like spa water. We resorted to buying bottled water for the daily cuppas.

Gary took us in to Perth to the Bell Tower and Kings Park and Botanic Garden, followed by a drive to nearby wineries in the Swan Valley, where we had a leisurely lunch at the Ugly Duck Winery before more wine tastings at a few nearby wineries.

We took a day trip to Rottnest Island via Rottnest Fast Ferries from Hillarys Wharf. To get around on the island, the choices were 1) walk, 2) hire a bicycle, 3) catch the hop-on-hop-off bus, and 4) take a guided bus tour. Rottnest isn’t a particularly large island, but walking or bicycling around it was out for us. The hop-on-hop-off bus was also dismissed as a lot of time could be spent just waiting for the next one to come along. We decided on the bus tour which was very informative with the driver providing a running commentary, but the downside was that the tour went around the island in a clockwise direction and we found ourselves sitting on the wrong side to really see the magnificent coastline views. If you’re considering the bus tour, ask the driver which way you’ll be travelling to make sure you are on the best side. We also had a couple of dawdlers in the group who were regularly very tardy getting back to the bus, causing the latter part of the tour to be rushed to connect with the return ferry. Our recommendation – spend more than just one day on Rottnest to take it all in at a leisurely pace and use the hop-on-hop-off bus to get around and make sure to see the Quokkas and New Zealand Fur Seals (Eighteenth and Nineteenth Ticks for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List).

Our departure from Perth was delayed by a day so we could meet up with Ros and Dean, fellow Kimberley Kruiser big-lappers who we’ve been corresponding with for some time via the blog and have been looking forward to meeting while we were in Perth. Over drinks and a fine Italian meal, we had a lovely evening sharing travel stories and anecdotes, followed by a nice stroll back to their place alongside the Swan River with a million dollar view of the city lights opposite. The fresh evening breeze was quite pleasant given the ambient level of friction (Ros’s First Law of Thermal Transmogrification – as yet unpublished).

The following quote is for my trusty second seat Navigator throughout our travels.
“When looking at your two paws, as soon as you have decided which of them is the Right one, then you can be sure the other one is the Left.” – Winnie the Pooh

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Carnarvon (Western Australia)

27/09/16  Leaving Cape Range National Park, we refuelled at Exmouth and camped for the night an hour down the road at the rustic Bullara Station with its novel open-roofed shower and toilets that they call Lava Trees. You can star gaze while contemplating life, the universe and everything. We set up next to the cattle yards. Bullara is very much a working cattle property, with stock close around the homestead. We woke the following morning to the sounds of a station – grinder being used in the nearby shed; motorbikes and vehicles coming and going – and opened the door to be greeted by a couple of horses grazing beside the van. The down-to-earthness and lack of graces is what we like about farm stays.

South from there heading to the coastal town of Carnarvon, we once again crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn where, true to form, the temperature underwent an immediate change, cooling from the low 30s of the morning to mid-20s in the afternoon. We’ve wondered about this before, so this time I asked Mr Google – the Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude on Earth where the sun’s rays can be directly overhead at local noon and marks the southern boundary of the tropics. This means that south of the Tropic the sun is at a lower angle, travelling through more atmosphere and providing less heat. Makes sense, but we’ve always found the change at the Tropic as noticeable as if someone had flipped a switch.

In Carnarvon the next day, our shorts were put away and we were again back into long pants and pullovers.

img_4639While camped for a few days at Carnarvon, we wanted to have a look up the coast at possible camp sites to use in a few weeks’ time, so took a drive north from Carnarvon to Quobba. On the way we checked out Bibbawarra Bore that used to be the longest sheep trough in the southern hemisphere. It’s no longer in operation but in its day, steaming hot artesian water flowed out of the ground and used to cool along the 175m long trough so the sheep could drink it. The trough is now dry but the artesian water is still hot and flowing.

On the way to Point Quobba, I caught a quick glimpse of something on the road as we went by and had an idea what it might be. Turning back to check, we saw our first ever iconic Thorny Devil (Seventeenth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List). We’d been hoping to see one since last year when travelling through the Northern Territory and South Australia, and now we finally have in Western Australia! It was standing very still on the road pretending as hard as it could to be invisible, maybe waiting to chase traffic, I don’t know, but it was definitely not a safe place for it to be. So passive and unmoving, it allowed me to pick it up to move it off to the side. Di got such a buzz out of finally seeing one and had a hold of it also. Seeing one of these little fellas was a real highlight of our travels. And if that wasn’t enough, a little later in the day on a sandy track in nearby Quobba Station, we came across another one! Again standing frozen on the track. And again needing a helping hand off the track. Two in one day – wow! We now know that Thorny Devils are quite cute, not nearly as prickly as they look and have absolutely no road sense.

At Point Quobba, we drove up the goat track access to take in the views from the lighthouse, checked out the nearby camp sites set among very rustic and ramshackle fishing huts, and were fortunate to be at the blowholes at the right time of tide to see the water spouts at their best.

A very interesting and educational couple of hours were spent at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum that displays the involvement of the local Carnarvon Tracking Station and the OTC Satellite Earth Station in NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The displays brought back teenage memories of eyes glued to the woodgrain television set, struggling to ring the most from grainy black and white images telecast from the Moon. We squeezed into a replica Apollo Command Module nose cone and blasted off on a journey into Earth orbit. Fortunately, the flight was fully automated as I obviously lack the Right Stuff after repeatedly crashing the Shuttle Landing Simulator, while Di bombed out on the manual dexterity test required to be an astronaut – no surprise there. NASA can sleep safe in the knowledge we are not on our way over there.

“10, 9, ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero. All engines running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff! Thirty-two minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11!'” Jack King, Nasa Chief of Public Information, commentates on the launch of the Apollo 11 over a live television broadcast on July 16, 1969

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cape Range National Park (Western Australia)

20/09/16  img_5959After two relaxing days at Miaree Pool, we travelled 240kms south to spend the night at Nanutarra Roadhouse, then 80kms the next morning before stopping for a quick cuppa where the highway crossed the Yannarie River. The area down beside the sandy riverbed looked very pleasant and, while it was only mid-morning, we opted to camp there for the night.

Daytime temperatures at this latitude were still up in the mid-30s. It was a dry heat though that made it comfortable, and most days had a gentle cooling breeze which stayed on through the night, when temperatures dropped to the low teens. These conditions were now more pleasant for bush camping than up in the far north, and with the endless blue skies, the solar panels had no trouble keeping the batteries fully powered up.

Our site at Osprey Campground in Cape Range National Park was on the beachfront with great views of the sand dunes, beach and ocean. We arrived at about the same time as the south-easterly winds which blew steadily all day, rocking the van and preventing the awnings being set out for shade. Osprey was fully occupied, everyone hunkering down in their vans or trying for a still spot on the beach away from the wind. Despite the water being very chilly, Di was keen to get in for a swim after we set up. And I have to say, once you numbed down to it, it was almost enjoyable.

The colours of the water inside Ningaloo Reef were a marvellous mix of blues, aquamarines and greens, made so by the brilliant white sand. The main reef was marked by a line of breakers a hundred metres or so offshore, providing a calm lagoon into the beach for swimming and snorkelling. The low weathered limestone cliffs forming the top of the beach were once part of an ancient coral reef, full of fossilised corals and shells. My search for a fossilised shark tooth came up empty, but we saw lots of amazing fossilised coral formations frozen in stone in minute detail.

Di and I snorkelled at nearby Oyster Stacks Beach where Ningaloo Reef was literally just metres offshore. If you went into the water at the northern end of the beach at high tide, after gingerly negotiating over the foreshore rock shelf, the current drifted you slowly south parallel to the shoreline and along the reef to the sandy beach at the southern end of the cove, where you could exit and start over again. The colours and types of fish were spectacular, as were the coral formations and occasional bombie. Di hadn’t done much snorkelling before, but soon got the hang of it and was diving and clearing her snorkel like an expert. She loved it, as did I and we both stayed in for a long time. My back got sunburnt, so the following day, we headed into Exmouth for supplies and picked up a couple of rashies so we could keep on snorkelling each day.

On the way back to camp, from the heights of the lookout at Vlamingh Lighthouse we watched humpback whales breaching a little way offshore. Just amazing. We spotted whales from the shore every day.

Over our five days there, the weather was terrific apart from a couple of days of incessant wind– a T10 breeze (gauged by how many metres your thongs blew away if left outside).

The day before our departure from Cape Range National Park, we went on a Whale Shark cruise to hopefully see the world’s biggest fish. It was late in the season and no guarantee of a sighting could be given, though there had been good encounters the previous week. The wind dropped off that morning, boding well for me and my challenge with mal de mer. Our boat had only just gotten out beyond the main reef, when word came from the spotter plane circling overhead of a nearby sighting. It was a 5m Whale Shark (Fifteenth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List), and we were dropped into the water with snorkelling gear to watch it slowly glide past below us. What an awesome sight.

During the course of the day, we had multiple Humpback sightings and breachings, one just next to the boat. The spotter plane directed us to a couple of giant Manta Rays (Sixteenth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) nearby, and while we were in the water with them, a female Humpback and her calf swam right past our group, between us and the boat. Who gets to actually be in the water with Humpbacks! We do! I wonder what they made of all those strange little creatures floating on the surface as they went by.

To finish off the cruise, we had a snorkel over Ningaloo Reef using electric sea scooters. The fish were amazing and we came across a large stingray resting on a sandy patch of sea floor. The cruise certainly delivered – Whale Shark, Humpback Whales, Manta Rays, Stingray. What a day! Absolute magic and definitely the highlight of our travels. Lots of ticks for Di’s Animals in the Wild List too.

“Most whale photos you see show whales in this beautiful blue water – it’s almost like space.” – Brian Skerry, underwater photojournalist, National Geographic magazine.

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cue – Karalundi – Gascoyne River – Newman (Western Australia)

27/07/16  There’s something about these Western Australians that makes them want to chop the top off every hill and ship it to China. What they don’t ship, they stack and make a new hill next door. Almost every hill out this way is terraced, squared off, and on its way to somewhere in a dump truck or train.

IMG_0184

Thankfully, the service of the Landy’s transmission seems to have fixed the shudder. I wasn’t looking forward to having the transmission worked on.

After four nights at Boogardie Station, we headed north and spent the night back at Cue. The water tanks were filled the next morning and we continued north. Having a break and a cuppa in Meekatharra, a young bloke wandered over and asked how the Kruiser was going. It turned out he was a gold prospector who also owned a Kruiser, and we had a yarn about our vans and his gold mining operation out of town. Small world. A prospector living in a Kruiser on his gold mining lease was not something we’d expected.

About 60kms north of Meeka, we pulled in to the Karalundi Aboriginal Education Community and were lucky to get a spot as we hadn’t pre-booked. We ended up on the last available campsite and I must admit, we reckoned it was the best of the lot anyway. Karalundi is a boarding school for Aboriginal boys and girls, and a green oasis surrounded by the mulga scrub. We set up and relaxed to the sounds of school children singing and playing – not your average campsite backdrop.

Karalundi Aboriginal Education Community (WA)

Karalundi Aboriginal Education Community (WA)

After a night at Karalundi, we continued north on the Great Northern Highway, or Bottle Way as it should be called for the continuous line of discarded plastic and glass drink containers along both sides of the roadway. In the middle of the WA Outback, countless beer bottles and plastic drink bottles lie only metres apart. Who does that with careless disregard for the land or their fellow persons? Stubbies consumed while driving, energy drinks downed to maintain the pace, drink containers of pee to avoid pulling over – all are thrown out the window to join those already dotting the roadside. This outback way is the litter trail of Western Australia.

We free-camped at Gascoyne River South Branch, set up a little way back into the scrub and shared our camp fire with Peter and Fleur from Perth. The outback night sky was glorious with the Milky Way and shooting stars. On the way from Gascoyne River to Newman the next morning, a mob of donkeys were just in off the edge of the road, checking us out as we went by. Another tick for Di’s Animals in the Wild List. The further north we go, Wedgetail Eagles and Whistling Kites are becoming more prevalent and we have to keep an eye out for the eagles on roadkill as they are very slow to fly off when on the ground.

IMG_0172

A short distance south of Newman, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, 23.5 degrees south latitude, and, just as we’d noticed in western Queensland last year, the day immediately felt warmer. Off came the pullover and at camp in Newman the van windows were all opened up for the first time in ages. In winter and travelling north, that latitude seems to be the demarcation between “Jeez, it’s bloody cold” and “I think it’s getting warmer”.

“The days are getting warmer now. The nights are getting shorter now.” – America, Children, America album

Categories: Animals In The Wild List (AITW), Travel News, Travel News - Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,