Mossman Gorge

The road to Mossman Gorge from the BIG4 Glangarry caravan park is very good and it took about 20 minutes. We arrived at the visitor center and had to perform some COVID-19 tasks before heading in to the souvenir and information centre, procuring some souvenirs after hard decisions. Many of the items are designed or made by local first nations people and the money raised is ethically distributed.

We took the shuttle into the Gorge, happy to support the Indigenous enterprise of running the Centre and maintain the National Park. They run every 15 minutes and cost $10.50 pp.

The gorge is in the Daintree Rainforest, which is 120 million years old. Unbelievable. So beautiful, and even though its another rainforest, its quite different from those of the Atherton tablelands. This is the third time we have been to the Gorge, and each of the other times we went in the water at the swimming hole. However, today there was a warning and the water was churned and dark, running swiftly over rocks. We also had a close call with wildlife, as a wild boar was ferreting close to the path and we rushed past, hoping it wouldn’t pursue us.

the calm water is decieving – strong undercurrents can sweep you away

There are two walks you can do and we did the longer, 2.4km one, that had small offshoots to it and were there a total of 3.5 hours, including the coffee we had at the end, once the shuttle had returned us.

This is unmissable, with beauty and wonder at every turn.

Take a hat, water and sunscreen. Maybe your camera, too. Only leave footprints!

Port Douglas

There is something about the stretch of water ribboning your drive that is uplifting. We had taken this road a number of times before, but with development it had altered. The day was overcast, and a soft rain would set in from time to time, as ahead a tall mountain was topped with clouds and the water to our right reflected the dull hue of the sky. Somehow it maintained a degree of turquoise, which lessened the threat of the waves rolling right in, to the edge of the road. At some stages, as far as we could see, the water was at our side, round tight bends and narrow, rocky ways.

At last our speed increased and the road straightened, revealing sugar cane on either side and greater rainforest vegetation. We were early, so headed in to Port Douglas and were thrilled to find the same casual ambience, the mix of one-off and practical shops and, there must be a heaven – the markets.

So many wonderful wares that are made by the seller and fresh fruit, balms and one proprietor assuring a customer that his black garlic product would cure her hearing loss. We bought wisely for the most part, then headed to a bruncheon spot and walked the town, with its heritage buildings, sought-after wedding venues and foliage bright enough to doubt it was real.

Big4 Glengarry Park is a 10 minute drive from Port Douglas and beautifully maintained. The sites are large and there were plenty of amenities, except working washing machines, but everyone seemed to manage this. The water activities on offer were perfect for the weather and despite the park being almost full, we didn’t ever feel crowded. This branch of parks are really suited to families and we like that atmosphere.

Once again, stone curlews wailed in the evening, through the night and in the early morning. A nearby camper was visited each day by a family of 3 and they said they had seen the offspring from birth until this, 4 weeks later.

Exploring the town, we walked Four Mile Beach and felt as if we walked the entirety, up and back. Oddly enough, after a refreshing dip, we saw a lookout up the side of the headland and decided to not only do that, but continue what was, in fact, O’Halloran Hill walk and continue along the coast until we reached the park near where the markets were on Saturday.

Excellent views from this walk, back down the beach,

out across the ocean and then to the bay.

The whole place is pretty accessible on foot and on the last trip I walked past the old train station and inlet, only to leanr later that crocs often venture on the road, too. I’m not sure if it’s true, but enough visitors to the region have been gobbled up, for me to have a healthy caution.

We found a funky lunch bar and had vegan icecream at the icecreamery (3 choices!!!!).

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Visit here before it loses it’s charm and beauty. So many things are close by if the town isn’t enough for you. We overheard our neighbours saying they come here every year since retiring 11 years ago and always find something new to see. You might, too.

Safe travels. Carry water, your hat and sunscreen and wear your bathers/togs/swimsuit everywhere.

Cairns and surrounds

For years, Cairns has been a Mecca for those seeking the tropical pleasures of Australia. Set on the ocean, with good access to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, this large city has the capacity to lodge many visitors.

On our recent visit, we travelled via Kuranda, which is a scenic but winding way to go, and headed to the foreshore.

Stopping in at Muddy’s café, they provided coffee and vegan brownie slice before we walked the entire foreshore and saw the lagoon, various playgrounds (some with water parks) and the birdlife on the mudflats.

Many people don’t realise that Cairns is a mudflat and when the tide goes out it is less attractive. Beware of crocodiles along the foreshore and look for boats heading out to the reef along the channel.

Cairns Botanic Gardens was next on the list and it’s incredible, with tiered walks and historical information. We had a map, but spent so long trying to photograph butterflies in the conservatory, that the day proceeded quicker than we did and we only saw about a third of the Gardens.

On leaving, we saw a very unusual tree, with a heavily spiked trunk and blossoms like a cotton field. It explained the tufts of white gossamer that lined the path on our entry to the park and the culprit is Malvaceae, or the silk floss tree, of South America.

I’ve since learnt that the Gardens are divided into three sections, so look into that before you go so that you can prioritise what you see. We headed out early for Kuranda and stopped first at Lake Placid Recreation Reserve.

A popular, picturesque destination, with BBQs, toilets and a playground, we were surprised to see several ‘beware of the crocodiles’ signs, given that many people hold weddings here. My imagination runs away with me.

It was a short drive from here to Kuranda and we stopped at the Barron Falls Railway Station and lookout, having taken the train from Cairns to Kuranda some years ago. The view is pretty impressive and optimised in the wet season, but we don’t usually go then, as it curtails many activities and is very humid. We arrived when the train was in the station, so in time to see it snake away through the forest.

Barron Falls

The train is a wonderful experience, as it is an old train that enables you to have the doors open as you travel, and passes through stunning scenery. Many people return via the chairlift, but there’s also the community bus.

Kuranda scenic railway

The Barron Gorge scenic drive was very pretty and most people, unlike us, were walking or jogging it. At the end is the Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, complete with bridge. As with the Falls, at the end of Winter there was merely a trickle, but the bridge is quite high and beware, as it is windy and not for the faint hearted.

Wrights Lookout afforded sweeping views of the valley before we headed for the town.

Our plan was to go to Kuranda, fondly remembered as a place where the train dropped us off and we drifted among craft stores and local goods. Like many places, 20 years does a lot of damage and we found a quiet commercial centre selling goods from India and Bali, with a few very special shops selling local artwork. The ArtCo-op had glass beadwork, pottery and silk, along with painting and other craft. It was really good and the prices are as you’d expect, with a few bargains amongst the treasure. There are Indigenous goods for sale, but not all are from the area, as commercial products are sold through a kind of co-op, which is Australi-wide, so if you want local goods, just ask.

There are coffee shops (buy local), a supermarket and plenty of eateries, although with Covid so recent the busy multicultural vibe was missing.

Cairns is the best place from which to board a boat and travel to the Great Barrier Reef, but you can see our last trip there, here.

Cairns won’t disappoint. Take hats, sunscreen and water.

Mackay Botanical Gardens

Mackay, pronounced Mack-eye, is about half way along the coast of Queensland, and referred to as both northern and central, as a result. It is a huge sugar-producing area, responsible for about a third of the country’s total sugar. For people who come from a much drier state, the sight of the green fields is wonderful, and when they are set alight at night it’s impressive, if the smell of smoke takes a while to ignore.

cane fields, Mackay region

The very specific farm equipment, too, was fascinating and we didn’t mind when we had to stop and wait while a train went through.

However, when you search things to do in Mackay, the return list is quite brief. Fortunatley, the Botanical Gardens is mentoined, so we stopped there en route to our next destination.

water feature, Mackay Botanical Gardens

The small carpark shouldn’t put you off, as the many ways in, via attractive walking paths, herald plenty of street parking. The entrance is wide and clearly signed, and sunny enough to bring in some local pythons. I wouldn’t have noticed them if people weren’t walking around, casually pointing them out. It appears that they are very common in people’s yards up here.

I think that’s a smile?

You can enter via the cafe and opt for a tour or go straight through to the information board, looking out over the wetlands and letting you know that the Gardens are still in a developmental stage.

the view over the wetlands, and the information board
a pretty array of cups in the cafe

There are two main directions to take, left or right, and we took the right, only to find there were further choices as we went along. Many people were using the paths for exercise and arriving from outside the Gardens. It wouldn’t matter which way you went, as the gardens are very pretty and accessible.

There’s a variety of birdlife and plants and the path is easy and accessible for wheelchairs.

deep into their laughter, heads thrown back

A very pleasant place to visit and lots of shade, but always take a hat and water.

2,3,4 and cross the Nullarbor

Equipped with a new (secondhand) Prado and a full tank of diesel, we wondered how long it would take us to perform that iconic trek across the Nullarbor. It took two days, but we could owe it all to three mulberry sandwiches and four chocolate/raspberry brownies – thanks Jude.

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One section of the Nullarbor

Where you measure this epic journey from is contested, but we used the RAA touring map and the west and east signal points were Norseman, WA and Ceduna, SA.  The upper boundary is the Indian Pacific railway and the lower boundary is the coastline. Therefore, we decided to tour from Perth to Wave Rock, then on to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, before completing the Nullarbor.

Norseman, our starting point, was neat and had adequate facilities for an overnight stop, but I’m not sure if anyone stays there very long.

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en route to Norseman you see salt lakes

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The railway forms the upper boundary of the Nullarbor

The motel room we took was very comfortable, spacious and air-conditioned. Perhaps this is where I mention the 3 sleeping bags and tent, that remained snug in the back of the new car, as the drive had been long and the caravan park had shaded sites with plenty of red dirt, but no grass in sight. We’ll never know if it was level ground.

So what can you expect on the great journey? Lots of straight road, but plenty of well-equipped rest areas, signalled by the blue P signs or others showing trees, cars, maybe trucks and possibly two people, indicating toilets.

They are good places to get out and stretch, change driver, or break out another brownie for a spurt of energy to complete the drive. One had water but that was rare. You can park there for the night but, as the signs say, they are not equipped for overnight stays  if there are no toilets. Contrary to popular belief, there is a variety of foliage along the way and a huge surprise when coming from WA is Madura Bluff, where the flat plain just drops away from under you.

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Madura bluff lookout – enlarge it to see the drop

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Some people attempt to drive by night, but we’ve heard a few stories of the camels, cows, emus, kangaroos, horses and goats that step out of the shadows into your path, requiring intense concentration. So we do between 6 and 12 hours driving a day, alternating roughly every two hours. On this journey we stopped the first night on the Plain at Eucla, almost at the border of WA and SA, and about half way .

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hotel, villa, standard, caravan park.

Eucla is very small although it has been settled since the late 1800s. Edward John Eyre and his exploration team are said to have camped in the area in 1841. For Australia, that is very early for white, or European people to have been in South Australia, the last state settled by non-Aboriginal people.

There is a monument to the people who made the town and an old telegraph station that had me wonder who had the job of fitting the lines and poles in the isolation of the Nullarbor Plain. The standard room took me back to the 1970s but it was clean and the window had a screen, so we could have it open at night. It was also reasonably priced.

The excuse for not camping this time was the gravelly caravan park with no grass and no blow up mattress. There is a restaurant here, a bar and a small shop.

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There are also many fuel stops along the Nullarbor, or notices to tell you how far to the next one. They usually have food and drink and signboards to tell you where you are going and where you’ve been. Some service stations offer repairs. They all have water.

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The road between Norseman and Eucla contains the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, but the scenery does alter, from thick and varied vegetation to ‘treeless plains’.

A breakfast of the last brownies, and no prospect of mulberry sandwiches for lunch, began the second day.  Only a few km took us to Border Village, where the facilities looked somewhat newer and we stopped for fuel and a cup of coffee.

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We left the border kangaroo holding the jar of Vegemite and headed off, stopping at only one of the many lookouts to see the Great Australian Bight. The paths are dirt but wide and we have previously taken our two wheel drive and caravan on these without mishap. The Bight’s rugged sea cliffs are the longest stretch in the world and the longest line of south facing cliffs in the world.

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The Bight is home to more endemic marine diversity than the Great Barrier Reef ( https://www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/great-australian-bight) and is home to more than 36 types of whales an dolphins. However, there is oil deep beneath the ocean and the natural environment could be ruined forever if it is mined. There would be other side effects for the rest of Australia, too, both good and bad.

At some lookouts there are platforms over the cliffs (with warnings) which give you a much closer look, enjoyed every year by whale watchers in particular, and the following photos were taken three years ago at some of these.

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In another blog I talk about the weird things you see on long stretches of road in Australia. Well, on your way to or from Ceduna you may come to Penong, where they restore and maintain windmills. It makes sense in a place where you’d need bore water, but we didn’t find the “Big Windmill”.

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Home was on our minds and there were, after all, no mulberry sandwiches or brownies left, so we took our first big stop at Ceduna, just too late for the hotel restaurant meal we had been discussing, to celebrate our journey’s end.

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Ceduna is a pretty place and large enough to find accommodation, food and every kind of facility. However, the disappointment at not scoring a schnitz was too much, and we pressed on toward home and Kimba. There is another way to go, toward Streaky Bay, which is by the sea, but we had gone that way last time and wanted to compare the road across the top of Eyre Peninsula.

Out came the tent, the beer garden and a great big Schnizzy. In case you’re wondering, that’s a schnitzel in South Australia, very popular from our German settlers. AS pub fare goes, it’s fairly unadventurous, and the waiter asked if my husband would like to have the gravy on the side, just to be on the safe side. I had a superb chicken breast marinated in lime and chili and cooked to juicy perfection. I’d like to think it was a magnificent meal and not the absence of food since breakfast that led to such a good response.

The beer garden afforded a view of the painted silos – wheat silos that had received a pleasant picture.

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The grassy knoll upon which we placed our tent wasn’t quite as smooth as we had thought and we woke to birdsong and joint-ache, but a golden sunrise.

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the farmhouse situated behind our site

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farmland in early light

More long stretches of road, with Iron Knob rising ahead, the Gawler ranges to the left and the Flinders Ranges in the distance. Beautiful driving.

A few salt lakes outside of Port Wakefield

And before we knew it we were home. We live in the north, so this was a half-day’s trip.

So, why 2,3,4?

2 – days to drive the Nullarbor

– hats

– ice packs to keep the cooler bag ready

– drink bottles filled with water

– fuel stops (1.5 tanks used @150L/tank)

– nights in motels

– dinners from a cooked chicken

3 – mulberry sandwhiches

– sleeping bags (two for padding underneath)

4 – chocolate/raspberry brownies to restore energy

 

The weather was pretty mild (around mid 20s) for the most part, so long driving days were possible. I think I would advise someone to put aside 3 days to complete the Nullarbor Plains comfortably. We had anticipated that length. If we had been towing it would have taken longer.  Many  seasoned travellers say that it is faster to go from WA to SA as there is usually a tail wind, rather than the other way, where you have a head wind. I’ll have to research that extensively when I am retired.

There are really nice places to stop, like Streaky Bay and Elliston, beside the sea, in SA. There are interesting sights that we didn’t stop for – Pildappa Rock in Minnipa, before Kimba, for example, which is compared to Wave Rock.

I would have liked to include my Niece’s recipe for the chocolate/raspberry brownies but, incredibly, she won’t share the secret! So if any of you have a good, sticky, slightly tart around the raspberries recipe for brownies, please share it!

Take care over the holiday season.

Remember the hat and water bottles.

Safe travels.

 

 

Wave Rock

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Wave Rock, in Hyden,  is the image that always features in articles about Perth and WA, although it is quite a distance from the city centre (3 – 4 hours) and pretty isolated as a tourist destination, even by Western Australian standards. The advice by any touring posts is to include it in another journey or destination, rather than making it a feature of your day and I can understand why.

The erosion which caused this 15m high granite rockform has been slowed by the small fence on top of the rock, that detours the water to create a reservoir.  I am glad to have seen it and not sorry for the detour in our route, but as an example of erosion,  it can be replaced by less off-the-track or isolated examples, such as the coastline of Kalbarri or Streaky Bay, or the formations near Kimba, to name a few. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but it is also reminiscent of Uluru.

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15m high

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wall of granite

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you can see the short fence wall on the top right

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diverted water forms the reservoir

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just a very short wall, or fence

 

The colours of the minerals were lovely, as was the texture and overall effect.  You can climb to the top and then do a short (150m) or long (850 m) walk. We walked the short distance to Hippos Yawn, nearby, and our day was done.

The yawn is believed to have been caused by salt and graphite in the area, and the fissure is called a ‘tafone’.

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Alan inside the yawn, or tafone.

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melaleuca

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the path begins smoothly

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you can park in the clearing

The paths are good and a wheelchair could easily make it to Wave Rock, although you’d need a 4WD equivalent to get to Hippos Yawn.

The area is populated by melaleuca and colourful parrots, with the only disappointing feature being the little information about the original custodians of the area and what significance they placed on the formations.

We drove through country roads to Merredin, the largest town in the Wheatbelt of WA.  As with many long stretches of road in Australia, we came upon an unusual sight created as a diversion, I believe, by bored motorists. A sign said ‘shoes wanted’ and for about 1km the fence was decorated with an assortment of  sandshoes/sneakers/runners (we have many names for them in Oz). It WAS diverting.

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Take a hat, plenty of water and sunscreen.

Safe travels!

Millions of reasons not to ignore this Warning

 

As Australia drifted northward, 20-30 million years ago, it passed over one of the Earth’s hot spots, causing volcanic activity. Molten material formed the Mount Warning shield volcano and high rainfall created a myriad of streams and rivers which eroded the volcano into its present shape – one of the oldest calderas in the world. Fertile volcanic soil, high humidity and rainfall provided all the elements for the subtropical rainforest to thrive ( some of this reproduced, with permission, from the information board at Mt Warning). It is one of the Gondwana Rainforests and you are surrounded by ancient trees, dripping with moss. I think it is a good candidate for this week’s photo challenge: layered –  from the lava-rich soil, littered with decaying leaves making your ‘twisted’ way up to the tree tops, trickling over shades of green and brown.

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Tweed Heads has long conjured images of surf, sun and excitement. It’s nearness to the Queensland border and Coolangatta make it a popular holiday destination. But I had not known that the Tweed Valley, shared by both New South Wales and Queensland, was the site of an ancient volcano and that Numinbah Nature Reserve is at the base of this layered caldera?

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The Wollumbin National Park, formally Mt Warning National Park, was renamed in recent years to reflect the importance of the lava plug, that is Mt Warning, to the local Aboriginal People, including the Nganduwal, Galibal, Gidhabul, Bundjalung and Widjabal. Many of their Dreaming stories involve the monolith.

There are many walks to choose from and an information booth at the entrance to the park, giving detail, advice and options. We parked at the entrance to the park and walked to the Lyrebird track, which was quite short, but beautiful. The path was firm and bitumised in parts, and we crossed Breakfast Creek and made it to the lookout. If I visited again, I would do a longer walk, but the traditional owners prefer that people do not climb Warning.

I’m partial to walks through a rainforest  – it’s good for everyone, and everything, if we are careful where we tread and what we leave.

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There are excellent facilities – toilets and picnic areas. Take a hat, camera and water. Good walking shoes are not necessary on the Lyrebird trail but would be needed on others. Sunscreen and insecticide are useful, but remember the environment if you decide to dip in a limb.