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How do I decide where to go in Australia?

Australia is a big place. How much you see and where you go will depend on three things:

  1. the time you have,
  2. the time of the year and
  3. the things you enjoy seeing and doing.

 

The time you have

As Jane Austin says in Pride and Prejudice, near and far are relative terms. If you see my blog on the Northern Territory, you can cover a lot of ground in a short time. Fast travel isn’t for everyone, though. And if you start in a big city like Sydney, you will possibly not get so far, but have seen a great deal.

Western Australia is the largest State and has almost every climate type (see below), producing every kind of environment. Before I went, people warned that it was a long way to anywhere, but it really is about a day’s travel to many of the locations (8-10 hours drive at 100km/hr).  We did it in 39 days, but that included a long stop in Perth and other extended stops, as well as inland treks.

Every State has a lot to see and do. You would have to look at the time you have and marry it with the things you want or love to do.

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The time of the year

As a big island, we have an enormous range in climate. Our climate is temperamental. Check before you leave.

In everyday language, above the Tropic of Capricorn (see map in A good State to be in) you will be guaranteed warm to hot weather all year. Clothing – strictly shorts and light tops.

The vast desert region occupying most of the centre is cold at night in the dry season, loosely corresponding to Winter (June – August) and mild at other times. Do not underestimate how hot it gets in the desert – we have met travellers from Europe about to embark on the Tanami Desert , carrying no water. THAT IS CRAZY! You’ll need a hat, too.

It is hot to extremely hot in the Wet (October – April) and can be tremendously humid.

October to April (roughly) is the cyclone season, so floods and very high winds would deter most travellers from the ‘top end’.

There is no Spring or Autumn in this region, although wildflowers (famous in Western Australia) bloom in what would be called Spring south of the Tropic.

As you would expect, from the Tropic it gets cooler as you head south and warmer as you go north. Winter in the south is from June to August and you’ll get lots of rain and cold winds but our snow regions are sparse. Our minimum temperatures don’t commonly go below zero but in the open it’ll be cold.

Summer in the south is from December to February, but we can have 40C in March (not unexpected in South Australia).

Western Australia is windy.

 

 

In geographical terms, the following map could help:

 

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The things you enjoy seeing and doing.

We are a population that hugs the coast and once won most of the Olympic swimming competitions. We are a beach culture. However, in the north there are ‘stingers’  in Summer. These are jelly fish that sting and some can be fatal. While some beaches have vinegar or warm water for removing the tentacles or sting, not all do and it is common in these regions for people to do most of their swimming in chlorinated public or private pools.

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Climbing – we have plenty of hills and ranges to climb.

Walking – with so much space and distance there is a walk to suit all abilities and ages. Many have bike access or are wheelchair friendly.

Train rides – I’m not sure if we can compete with the speeds of Europe, but we have some delightful and some dramatic steam train journeys, including the 52 degree incline of the Blue Mountain rail journey. Then there are the epic journeys between states and across the dessert.

Underwater adventure – whether it’s the fast disappearing Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays or the Ningaloo Reef, we have underwater scenery to amaze you. Swim with sharks if that takes your fancy, but make sure you are in the cage!

Cycling – It is mandatory in many States, now, for all new roads to have bike lanes. We have the Tour Downunder for a reason, so there are tracks and roadways for everyone.

Scenery – what can I say? We have it all – the good, the great and the unusual.

Birdlife – a very large variety of birdlife can be found and you are better off checking the location you are thinking of or going to  http://www.birdlife.org.au/  before deciding where you’ll bird watch.

Wildlife – Our unique marsupials are world renowned. We have most of the deadliest snakes in the world, so research that and tread heavily where you go.

Fishing – yep! I’d recommend joining one of the Barra (Barramundi) safaris for adventure, but look out for the eyes floating on top of the water.

Food – we are a multicultural country so I defy you not to find your culture’s culinary delight. We offer food trails in most States and several in some. Free samples, too!

Wine – ah! Bacchus couldn’t ask for more. Light wines in rainy areas, heavier in the dry.  Don’t look for anything in Queensland or Northern Territory , as the humid climate and the grapes are not friends. Although they do import from the rest of us, so you’ll find something. Beer is the poison of those regions.

Botany – plants and flowers to satisfy Joseph Banks. We have such a wide range you’d need to check local areas.

Camping – of course. But we are a big place with lots of isolated areas. Be careful and sensible.

History – we don’t have the buildings of the rest of the world, that are centuries old. But we have a billion year old history that is evident in rock formations and landforms.

Rocks – see the last item and be ready for red.

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Culture – we have the oldest surviving culture, in the Aboriginal people.

SO much more. Research, research or just ask.

WATER WATER WATER and a hat. And your camera!

 

Mataranka Thermal Spring

Have you ever wondered whether there really are oases in the world? Wonder no longer.

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A short turn off the Stuart Highway, about an hour and a half south of Katherine in the Northern Territory, is Elsey National Park.  A popular place to stop, here, is Mataranka Thermal Springs and it is an oasis.

The water is ‘thick’, almost gelatinous. It has a greenish hue, while being crystal clear. I believe it comes from a natural spring at a constant temperature of 34C and is said to be medicinal. Perhaps it is Australia’s ‘Bath’. We arrived there on a 40C day and found the water refreshing and relaxing, gliding under the canopy of trees, sharing stories with other travellers.

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The area is quite clearly a great place for flying foxes, who hang languidly by day and might be a little rowdy at night. One of the things that deterred me from staying there overnight was the stench of flying fox waste product, but I DO have a rather pronounced olfaction. I would stay another time, as the delight of an oozy morning dip is very tempting.

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For a piece of history and literary link, the Elsey Station homestead has been reconstructed on the site and is very good for providing the background to pioneering tales such as We of the Never Never,  written by Jeannie Gunn, who lived there for a year with her husband in 1902 – 1903, until he died of malarial fever.

The waters are shallow and suitable for children, with rails and steps for those who need it. The path from the car park takes you past an information centre and pub and beyond the springs to the Roper River, full of fish and maybe crocs. There are two campsites in the National Park and fellow travellers reported they were good in facilities and price.

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I didn’t meet anyone, but have read blogs from people who say that Bitter Springs is much deeper and longer, with a variety of activities in the area to warrant staying a couple of days. So if that is to your liking, head further north in the park.

Travel Safe. Hat and water and bring the bathers/togs/swimmers.

wild and woolly flowers

Before leaving on a holiday to Western Australia, people asked if I was going for the wildflowers. That was news to me!

But before the journey was over, I became adept at spotting flora.

Western Australia is renowned for its wildflowers, having the largest number of varieties in the world (1200) and there are some dramatic and worthwhile trails that enable you to catch them in the right season, which is generally September/October.

 

We stopped in all sorts of places, in 40C heat and 18C cool climate, crouched down in the dirt, hoping to avoid snakes and semi-trailers, and did our best. I have since tried to find the names of them all, but gave up after hours and files of pdf docs. So none get names, fearing calls of discrimination or stupidity – after all, some might be weeds, for all I know, and noxious.

So I have put together a photomontage of some of the flowering plants I saw in WA, Australia, from Karijini, Karratha, the Pilbara, the Coral Coast, Lesueur National Park, Kalbarri, Carnarvan, Geraldton, Perth’s King’s Park,  Margaret River, Esperance, and the random stops where we couldn’t be sure where we were.

I have tried to select a range to tempt you westward…

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Travel safe. Stop and see the flowers, with your hat and water.

 

 

 

 

Lakeside

For this week’s photo challenge – reflecting – I thought I’d share one of the many that I am able to catch on my evening walk, with my sister, at local Mawson Lakes, South Australia.

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A northern suburb, it is happily situated to catch the sunset, twice over. This shot faces the old farm house, a heritage building that existed before the swampy area was redesigned to catch storm water and create the Salisbury Wetlands.

The best ones are usually in Summer, when they foretell a hot day, following.

Signs of danger?

In Australia, stray animals of the domestic and wild kind are a danger to drivers, particularly at night. Camels, goats, kangaroos, wombats, cows, sheep, horses…the list goes on. If you are traveling at 100km/hr or more and you hit an animal it can be fatal for you both.

But occasionally you get an unusual warning, as the following shows.

The one on the right is from Denmark, Western Australia and a passer-by said that in her 10 years in the area she had never seen one. It doesn’t instill the same kind of fear, to be sure. The one on the left is unusual in the length of vigilance the driver must show. It is common to have distances of 1-10 km of stray animals, but this is so long, it could only happen in Australia! It is from the Pilbara region in northern Western Australia, where there are plenty of very long stretches of road.

Travel safe. Keep your eyes peeled.

Strahan

The drive from Cradle Mountain to Strahan (pronounced Strawn) is wooded, winding and speckled with native animal road kill that we couldn’t identify beyond the wombats. Despite the latter, it is an easy and attractive route.

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It took very little time to get there and we stopped briefly at a lookout where we were reminded that we were headed for the coast by the ocean stretched along our horizon. At this lookout we met a couple from America, currently living in Melbourne, who said that they thought Tasmania was better than New Zealand. I ran this idea past my NZ friend who was in Tassie at the same time, and she reluctantly agreed!

Another stop occurred at Zeehan, which was a substantial town by Tassie standards and worth a visit. Once a thriving mining town, they have extracted gold, silver, copper and precious gems from the nearby mountains. The gem store, second hand store and cafe are interesting and/or helpful, with owners happy to have a chat. We didn’t stop at the museum but saw examples of trains and other large artifacts on display outside. The buildings are very old and the main street picturesque.

The entrance to Strahan is a little exciting, as each turn of the esplanade takes you to something more and yet never too much – places to return to when you have scouted the lay of the land.

I still think of the main street as one of the most attractive in all of Australia. Very photo-worthy. There is something about the curve of the old houses merging into shops, facing the dock. Ships perch on the water, providing reflections or silhouettes. Colour, placement, proportion. Strahan has it all.

 

We stayed at Strahan Village, with satisfying views of the town and a room 200% better on the inside than out.

Prioritising the available sightseeing, we drove back out to Ocean Beach with its thundering surf and then to Macquarie Heads where we walked to Ocean Beach and saw Hells Gates and the old lighthouse. A number of families were here, camping, fishing and riding trail bikes. As always, in the distance was the outline of far away mountains.

Although it is an easy walk from town, as we were already in the car we drove to Hogarth Falls, accessed via People’s Park, from where we undertook the very easy walk to the falls. Part of the way would be suitable for wheelchairs, but certainly not later. There are signs saying that in the evening you can see platypus. We didn’t see any, but the scenery is fabulous. The return trip is about 40 minutes if you stop and wait your turn for selfies at the falls.

There is a gallery near the Park and it houses a restaurant with superb views and menu. The gallery had examples of drawing, art, jewellery, glass and stones. There were some local crafts as well.

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Dashing up the hill to the lookout, we made some quick attempts at sunset shots with black cockatoos then back into town. Dinner could be provided by a few very pleasant establishments, with outlooks that made the decision hard. We settled on Hamer’s Bar and Grill and had excellent meals. There is a supermarket just out of the town, up a short, steep hill, so you can buy what you need and it is priced well.

The next day, we set off early on the Gordon River Cruise. The sea was calm and glassy so our ‘up close and personal’ with Hells Gates was mildly swaying, unlike the horror tales of shipwreck and disaster that led to the name. There is a commentary at some points of the cruise and this was very interesting, from engineering feats to stories of loss and heroism.

As Tasmania was one of the first States to be settled, and predominantly by convicts, it has a rich and lively history, covering the island.

The water of the Gordon, as you watch the churning at the back of the boat, reminded me of cola, but has been referred to as the colour of tea. It is drinkable, but has this colour as a result of tannins that have leached into it from the grasses at the water’s edge.

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There was a hush as we entered the Gordon River, referred to as the lower Gordon, a heritage site and the centre of a great deal of controversy in the ’80s, due to the proposal to dam the Franklin, one of its tributaries. There is a variety of flora, from dense huan forests to cold rain forest and the constant call of eagles and other birds. It is silent, magestic and so untouched. Although, there were logging parties in its early history. We made a short stop at a landing and had a quick tour of huan trees, that at 80 years of age have a circumference of about 30cm and are mature at 200 years old. A bit careless to chop them down at all, really.

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Boarding the catamaran once more we had a substantial cold lunch as we watched a video about the logging history of the area.

We visited Sarah Island, a penal settlement for ‘determined’ convicts established from 1822 – 1833, and had a guided tour from rangers. It was exceptional and had not the rest of the trip been very pleasant this, alone, would have warranted the fare. Fascinating and frightening tales of what occurred there, while the view is enchanting! It is very hard to imagine being a convict and arriving at a place that was considered one of the harshest penal settlements, from which few returned, when today it seems idyllic. Ruins remain and stories are unforgettable – but I won’t spoil it.

Returning by mid-afternoon, we visited the wood shop, where you can see wood turning exhibitions and huan pine articles are for sale. Alongside is the visitor centre and the Round Earth Company, where the longest running play, The Ship that Never Was, about the escape on The Frederick, is performed daily.

The play is suitable for the whole family, very interactive, amusing and informative – worth the ticket.

A quiet dinner followed and a glass of red, overlooking the handful of lights in town.

Travel safely. Carry water. Keep those hiking boots on.

Cradle Mountain, via Chudleigh honey farm

We headed off to Cradle Mountain, eagerly anticipating ancient rain forest and World Heritage Wilderness. Some of the plants in the Cradle Mountan – Lake St Clair National Park are ancient and land forms are a result of glacial action. The land was undulating farmland at first, surrounded by silhouettes of far-off mountain ranges. We made a stop at Chudleigh honey farm (it’s a shop) on the way. I have never had such a delicious honey and nougat experience. Make sure you stop and sample. Good facilities in the town – most towns have public toilets available, but some are not well-kept. Chudleigh has a few buildings in one street, but is interesting and a place to stretch your legs.

We pressed on to Cradle Mountain and to the visitor centre, where we redeemed our parks pass (bought through the RAA and covering all parks in Tasmania for 1 year) and waited the 30 seconds for a shuttle to take us up the mountain. The road is single-laned, so much easier to get on the bus, and off, if you work out your trek beforehand. The visitor centre rangers are great at assisting people to work out the best trail.

As it is popular and takes about 2 hours, we decided to do the Dove Lake circuit. That would bring us back by 4pm and then to our accommodation at Discovery Parks Cradle Mountain (across from the Visitor Centre). The walk is easy. We went clockwise, making the upward sections when we were fresh. Great views are to be had across the lack, in the forests and from Glacier Rock. I have since read that a device is available to those in a wheelchair that enables them to complete the Dove Lake walk, if they give reasonable notice.

The forest is ancient and it looks it. I felt as if we were on set in a Lord of the Rings movie. Beautiful, damp and green, the forests give way to surprising changes in terrain and the river runs along beside forested sections, with the lake on the other.

At the northern end of the walk there is an old boat shed, leaving walkers to wonder who had built it and for what purpose, although I sought information later and discovered it was built by the first ranger in 1940.

Being late in the afternoon, and pretty cool up in that altitude, we decided to leave the other walk for the next day and headed for the Discovery Park, after a brief stop to admire the ‘tame’ wombat that children were patting as it munched away on nearby grass.

The cabin at the park was simple but had everything we needed – linen, towels, toiletries and a quick heater. The cooking facilities enabled us to make something more substantial than a cheese sandwich or noodles.

On the topic of food – we discovered Uncle Tobys creamy honey oat packs – just add hot water and mix.

The park had a comfortable and homely camp kitchen with not one, but two, raging log fires. There was ample room for families or singles and several cooking devices to use. We went for a walk at night and there was little light, so take a lantern.

NEXT DAY: We did the Enchanted Walk and Pencil Pine walks, driving the short distance to the ranger’s station, from where they began. Both walks took us an hour in total, but if you didn’t stop for photos you could do them in 30. There was ice on the Enchanted path at 8am and steam coming off the trees. As we headed behind ‘The Lodge’, we saw another walk, pencil pine, that promised a short waterfall and rainforest walk. It was good – easy track, magnificent waterfall and plenty of wildlife wandering through.

One of the things we noticed about the West was the constant smell of wood smoke from fireplaces, and the sad prevalence of unfamiliar road kill – mostly wombats.

Travel safe, take water for those long or demanding treks, good shoes and a hat.