Hopo and HOTA – hidden gems of Australia’s Gold Coast

In June of 2020, my family was divided in one State and one Territory. Covid had locked down the Territorians and was rampant in another State, showing every indication that it would spread rapidly to other States and Territories. With uncharacteristic optimism, in this climate and after much voting, we booked our Christmas in the Gold Coast, Queensland.

View of Surfers Paradise from our apartment

Ever a popular destination for Australians, at this time of year it is muggy and there are frequent storms. But we knew it would be warm and had the beach, two ingredients for lifting our spirits. We were not disappointed and did the usual ‘Worlds’ and rainforest walk, but we came across a couple of activities that were surprises.

Deciding on a river cruise one day, we investigated our options and decided on boarding Hopo – the hop-on, hop-off ferry to 5 major attractions in the Gold Coast (GC). As the only destination at which we wanted to disembark was HOTA, we saw the others briefly and paid less for the 2 hour journey, to boot. The crafts are very comfortable, with adequate shelter when the rains came, and allowed people to practice social distancing, after showing your full vaccination status on arrival.

Looking back on Surfer’s Paradise

A commentary is provided as you go, about the types and prices of some of the yachts berthed there, the buildings and notable landmarks, and even Jackie Chan’s house was pointed out (for those of us who knew who he was).

Not so rich and famous, I thought this Alpine houseboat – or is it a church? Was quite unique.
Yachts moored here can come from Europe

HOTA, or Home of the Arts, was a treasure-trove of creative activities and displays. Beginning life as the Gold Coast Civic Centre in 1976, ten years later it became an Entertainment and Arts Centre and in 2018 it was renamed HOTA and today it has multiple facilities, including a roller skating rink, music and theatre performances, a gallery, cafe and we saw families swimming and picnicking on the banks of a lake.

Looking over the complex from the gallery
Amphitheatre and skating rink on the right

We concerned ourselves with the gallery and, as one not too bothered about art, it was magic! Not too big, holding a huge variety of exhibits, like short movies, things you just wanted to touch even though the sign said not to, sculptures, photos and an impressive gift shop with pieces to purchase. As you enter the gallery, the attendant at the door suggests an order of floors to provide you with the best experience and tells you not to miss the hidden work!

The piece de la resistance, the ‘hidden work’ is a sculpture that has it’s own attendant, who calls you over should you forget and go to walk by. Encased in darkness, Iris – the messenger, is by Sam Jinks who is “Known for creating eerily lifelike representations of the human body…” (from the plaque).

She is so lifelike you don’t want to disturb her

The attendant told me that each hair is placed separately and would represent many hours or weeks of work, alone. The wings are 24k gold and as Iris gazes into the reflective waters of the River Styx, there are so many angles from which to enjoy and photograph this piece. It is so realistic and beautiful.

Although the other visitors detract from Iris, you can see she is life-size

We visited the floors in the order suggested and were not disappointed by anything. I took a selection of photos of the ones that moved me the most and will include the artist.

Donna Marcus’s ‘Offspring ‘
Butterfly drawing, by Maria Fernanda Cardoso
Jimmy Ortso’s carved wooden pelicans
Mothering Garden, by Kathy Temin

An hour and a half was spent here and then back on the ferry for a return to Surfers Paradise, having seen Broadwater Parklands, Sea World and Marina Mirage on the north bound trip. HOTA is free, so all this entertainment in 3.5 hours for $18/adult. I can get seasick, but not a qualm on this vessel and they brought down the plastic walls to keep us dry when the rain came in. Give it a whirl!.

Incident- ambivalence, by Aleks Danko.

Exmouth and surrounds

A very popular destination in Western Australia, this northernmost part of the Coral Coast region is far from metropolis and features World Heritage Ningaloo Reef. There are caravan parks and campsites and National Parks all along the west coast. Heading in that direction, we tried to secure a campsite a week earlier, but had very slim pickings.

We thought that 4 days in the region would enable us to see all that we had researched at a pace that lent lots of time to beach combing or sitting around in our deck chairs, but it was not to be. Two nights was all we could get, and driving distance to any of the tourist spots.

The Fortescue River provided a stop for morning tea and then by the side of the road for lunch. It did the trick and we had a walk around, looking at the river and the cattle, goannas and pelicans.

Another traveler responded to my surprise at seeing pelicans by saying that they follow the rain and if you see them fly off, they’d be heading for water. I think this place was called Ashburton River Rest Area.

We arrived at Bullara Station, 80km from Exmouth,  around 2.45pm. It was a dirt road in and we were a bit nervous, but the few corrugations were tiny, and the road was very short. We were met at a ‘meet and greet’ spot where we got a brief history of the station and told about the main features. The station had been cattle but now ran sheep and this required an extensive year-long team. That night was damper night, so a guy made damper at 5.30 and we could bring a drink and whatever we liked on our damper, to the area behind the camp kitchen, and he told tales of his wanderings and of coming to this station.

‘Lounge’ with TV, set up beside livestock pens.

There were some walking paths, and they liked people to have a look at the old buildings and make sure we saw the Lava Tree ablution block.

As our camp was near there, we made it an early destination. The concrete slab floor had a tree growing out of the centre, the toilet was on the right, with a wash basin and soap and paper towels, and on the left was a bucket, suspended high over the floor and two taps nestled in the corrugated iron wall. We had been assured that the water was hot and the pressure strong, so we are both looking forward to trying that in the morning.

Unfortunately, the birds and I wake too early and no-one had lit the fire to warm the water, so I went for a more conventional shower block, with disappointment I confess. The early morning fog was beautiful, though.

Still early, we headed into Exmouth and by 8.30 had a coffee at Mutts Cafe, before my husband wanted to visit the secondhand bookstore across the way, while I took photos of the friendly wildlife.

Corolla eyeing me off
Little magpie hoping for scraps

Heading around the North West Cape, towards Cape Range National Park, we stopped at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse to try and spot whales. It’s very popular, despite the steep climb, and we were rewarded with ‘spurts’ offcoast, visible without binoculars. There were about 8 whales circling and playing in the expanse before us. This is the top of Ningaloo Reef, so a great spot for the whales.

A spray to try and catch, as evidence

Heading to our next station stay, at Yardie Homestead Caravan Park, it was nearing 11.30, and the grounds were very large but well-appointed. The sites had little shade, but we were not planning to be hanging around, so it didn’t matter. We asked at the office about good swimming beaches and the gorge walk, nearby.

First stop Mandu Mandu Gorge and we attempted the 3km walk that was supposed to be 2 hours, so we set out to beat that. It was pretty demanding at the end, after the first half was walking on river bed stones, with the difficulties they bring. But then, uphill, downhill, loose stones, steep inclines, steep descents for 1.7km and although there were some good views, back into the gorge and out to the Ningaloo Reef, it was taxing. We were both very pleased that it took us less than an hour.

It was definitely necessary to head to Turquoise Bay for a cool down. Aptly named, the bay was such a gorgeous shade of blue/green and the moment we stepped into the water, fish approached us boldly. Some were about 40cm long, all were silver, and they seemed pleased when we turned up the sand at our feet. The nearby reef provides such a huge variety of sealife and we regretted that we forgot our snorkelling gear.

We cooled down for a bit and then went for a walk to see if we could see other fish in other parts of the bay. Near some unusually eroded rocks we found a variety of crabs and a starfish, but no more fish.

The crabs were very skittish and we first noticed them when they scuttled away, over the rocks or under ledges, waiting for a few minutes before peering out to see if we had gone. It took some patience to wait for them to appear in order to capture them.

There was a lookout we had observed on our way to the gorge, and we decided to investigate it. In fact, we thought there were 2, but were only able to identify one of them on our way. This was a bird watching one and there was a bird hide built beside the mangroves, which looked fairly new. A soft breeze blew in the hide, and the scene was peaceful, despite the noisy bird nearby that remained hidden.

In fact, when I went to find it, a cute little bird hopped right in front of me on a branch and didn’t seem too bothered about being photographed, but moved much faster than I could with my phone camera. We returned to camp  we were mindful of the comment that someone had put on wikicamps, about people needing to be secretive when they stare(???) so practiced that, we think.

By 7.37 next morning, we were bound for Coral Bay. It was a shock to see how much it had grown and how full and busy it was. The increased traffic could have been that we were visiting at an earlier time of the year, or the restrictions imposed by Covid were keeping Western Australians in their own backyard and swelling the usual tourist population. With some trepidation, we made our coffees and took them to the bay. The shape and colour immediately brought back memories and I wanted to stay, but Alan was put off by the busy-ness and was happy to keep our original plan, so we put our feet in, walked the front beach and then left the Exmouth region, sure we would return in a few years.

Who wouldn’t?

Flowering gums

Ready for Christmas, this Corymbia ficifolia (gum) flowers a glowing red.

Buds in varying stages
Spent blooms reveal those upcoming gumnuts, still sticky with nectar

The tree is over 40 years old, but hasn’t grown very tall, so close-ups and enjoyment of the beautiful blossoms is easy.

Whether it’s in the shade or sunlight, you can’t miss them

By contrast, at my back door is an infant lemon myrtle gum, which is showing a soft blossom that is faintly honey-scented.

At 1m it’s all shades of green
A close up highlights the riot of little white flowers with translucent petals

The leaves are considered medicinal by indigenous Australians and I love adding them, chopped, to my Anzac biscuits.

If you love seeing different flowers, you’ll see more in Cee’s FOTD.

Pull up a seat while you walk Centenary Steps.

Built in 1939 to commemorate the early pioneers of South Australia, these impressive steps lead to a bluestone path at Rocky Bay, Port Elliot.

You can stop at different intervals, although it isn’t very taxing in either direction, and admire the beautiful views. This post is in response to Xingfumamas challenge, which gets me to notice cool places to pull up a seat.

The path is from Horseshoe Bay to Knights Beach and has stunning scenery and some secluded waterholes if you are very careful. There are strong currents and underwater rocks.

Green Bay

Another reason to visit Pt. Elliot.

PPAC Port Elliot

As we strolled along the very short shoreline from the caravan park to the famous Flying Fish Cafe, we spied these wooden walkway artworks.

An oozing octopus
Stuck starfish
I thought surfboard fins but my husband said a school of sharks

We couldn’t find anything that said who the artist(s) are, either there or online. So, if anyone knows, please share.

These are for Marsha’s Always Write blog, PPAC#26

CFFC -Sand or dirt

Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, Western Australia

For Cee’s Fun Foto challenge, the topic is sand or dirt. There’s plenty of both in Australia, so it’s just “which ones?”.

Wildflowers in the sandy soil, Kalbarri National Park
Barn Hill Station, Western Australia
Lizard, crab and maybe snake tracks on the beach, Barn Hill Station
Mindil Beach hermit crab, Darwin, Northern Territory
Agnes Creek Campground, South Australia
A whirly whirly starting, Bonnie Well, Northern Territory

So many more on the editing table.

Karijini National Park

Nestled in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, recognizable by it’s red and orange hues, is Karijini National Park. You can get to the park from three directions, North, South and West and each is at least 2 hours from the next campsite or town. We came from the North and found the scenery stunning, as the tufts of spinifex and layers of red hills came and went. The wildflowers were so vivid and varied, that we both tried to find new ones and point them out, right up to the Ranger Station.

We had booked our campsite and, as it was absolutely chocker-block, only managed two nights in the overflow camp. This provided a toilet and access to bore water that had to be boiled before drinking. It’s worth mentioning that both this campsite and the main one, Dale’s campground, were showing as full in the online booking but some people don’t turn up, so if you see plenty of free spots, it’s worth asking at the visitor centre or the ranger who does the rounds each night, particularly if you want to stay longer. At the visitor Centre, we got some information about the state of the roads, and discussed what we wanted to achieve in two days, getting good advice and tips, before making our way to the campground and selecting our spot, near the water tank.

Wanting to make the most of the time, we set off on the dirt track for Kalamina Falls that afternoon, where the road was far worse than we had anticipated, with deep corrugations and sand, upon which we slid, until we reduced the tyres to 28.

The carpark went down to the falls on one side and a walk on the other. We met a couple a bit older than us and they had done both, saying the walk was demanding and took them about 2 hours or more of hard work. It was getting late in the day and Alan isn’t keen on long walks, so we did the waterfall. We were surprised that after a one minute downward climb, we were at a stream, with bracken water that looked like lumps of soft manure floating in it, so we went to the fall, where the water was running and it nested in a small grove, where Alan climbed up and under it to have a soak.

the reflection of the trees hides the ‘ floaties’

From here the return journey to where we began was quicker and then on to Dale’s Gorge, that we remembered very fondly from 7 years ago. The path has been formalized with concrete and there is a huge metal stairway taking you from the lookout to the falls. There weren’t many people swimming at Fortescue Falls, but plenty around and we decided to go the extra 600m to Fern Pool. It was quite different, with the platform gone and signs that it might have burnt down. We liked it better now, as it was more open, but the tree canopy was gone and so less birds were there. The pool looked so much bigger and you really notice the rock formations now and ferns hanging in the crevices. We had a very soothing soak and it is still one of the best places we know, with great memories and good feelings.

We’d planned an early start the next day and so we did, taking off on that grueling road again, only twice as far, first to Weano Gorge and two lookouts, and then to Joffre Falls.

At the carpark we saw a dingo, skulking around and clearly looking for scraps, as it came quite close and approached most of the people there.

The gorge was easy to enter and had tall, stratified red walls that lined the river. It wasn’t very deep but was clear so could have been suitable for swimming. The path was pretty easy with only a few wet patches that weren’t  slippery, and some loose stones. At the end there was a lot of rubble that was ok to climb up but I thought it would have been slippery as a downtrack. 

Weano Gorge had an easy trail that took less then an hour, and we began it at the beautiful end, within the gorge, finishing on a dry path to the carpark, but one which was lined with wildflowers, so it wasn’t unpleasant. The sun was warming up by that time, so I’m glad we went early.

The layers in the wall were explained in a sign at one of the lookouts. Millions of years ago it was an ocean floor and as layers of sediment built up, mainly consisting of silica, and iron oxide and silica, it pushed the water out. The natural tectonic plates created the twists and turns in the walls. We thought the colours looked like chocolate and caramel icecream and the layering meant that, as large blocks cracked and fell away, what you have are piles of squares. It’s absolutely geometric.

The lookouts were not far from our starting point and although one was closed following recent heavy rain, the other allowed us a glimpse into Oxley Gorge. Such a deep gorge, carved in the same way, and seeming to go on forever.

Thinking that perhaps all of the grading was easier than implied, we made it to the start of the Hancock Gorge and began the descent, hoping to see enough of the gorge to take a cheap pic and call it a day. It was not to be, and I could see one of those deeply descending stairways and people coming up, looking well and truly tuckered out. We both pulled out of going further and enjoyed the wildlife as we returned to the car.

A 20 minute bumpy ride back the way we had come took us to Joffre Falls. The lookout is about 100 m of slightly downhill loose stones, and when you get to the suspended platform you can’t help but exclaim. The waterfall and pool of turquoise water is completely invisible from such a short way above and the water courses down a long, deep gorge. We could see people on the other side of the gorge, taking what appeared to be 500 steps directly down, into the water. Some made it through a sandy gap to the base of the falls, which looked a little fresher in my opinion.

Can you see the person on the bottom right, making their way along the ledge, towards the narrow gap?

It didn’t look very far or difficult to the top of the falls, so we took the path and, sure enough, after a steep but short scramble down the red rubble path, we were able to walk 30m on flat, rounded rocks to the top of the falls and the gorge. What a great view of the rock layers, gorge and water source.

Surviving the return corrugations, that afternoon we were off to our favourite place in Karijini – Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool and we swam in both, taking our time and sitting in the shade or sun, on the rocks, and enjoying the moment, as it might be another 7 years before we are back.

Back at the campsite, we sat in the shade, a warm breeze blowing, and people came to the water tank that we parked beside, to fill their tanks. The bees, which constantly hover there, keep them company, until the moths come at sunset. The wildflowers and birds are fabulous. It’s been a good visit and we will be back.

Head west, all people, and see the world. But take your hat, plenty of water and apply sunscreen.