CAIRNS and PORT DOUGLAS

The lure of the tropics – palm trees, waterfalls, rainforest, rapids… we all have our daydreams. Cairns, in the north of Queensland, Australia, can fulfill them all and more.

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The colours will delight you, both above and under the water, for you cannot go to Cairns without doing a tour to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 wonders of the natural world. Rapidly deteriorating, you had better make tracks if you want to see it at all. We have noticed a decline in the state of rainforests, too, as global warming reduces the rainfall to the area. So get to the Daintree Rainforest on the next day.

 

There are activities for young families and older ones and, depending on the time of the year, plenty of beach or pool space. Tours to the Great Barrier Reef leave from Cairns or Port Douglas and accommodation is plentiful in both. When the children were younger, Cairns was a good spot to stay, as the Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort (part of the BIG4 group) was outstanding. It had transport, bouncing pillows, putt-putt golf, tennis, evening cinema, aqua aerobics, and the list goes on. It is a holiday in itself!

My preference, now, is to stay in Port Douglas, hiring a car if we fly in. The town is quaint and small, with most things accessible by walking about 30 minutes or less. Caravan parks, motels and hotels are plentiful and the scenery picturesque. The local beaches are good in the right season, but check where the rivers are, as crocs are prolific.

The Barrier Reef tours vary in length so do some research to see what you want. Most take a while to get out to the reef, so if you suffer sea sickness, take tablets or if it’s calm, sit out on the deck. You can enter the water using snorkelling gear, as a diver or in a glass-bottom boat and viewing ‘submarines’ often do a quick tour, enabling you to take dry photos and see the waterlife without swimming. There is entertainment, food and wetsuits and gear provided. The only thing you have to work on is not opening your mouth in a wide ‘Oh’ as the fish dart up to you, multi-coloured and -specied. At the time we went, Wally the Wrass was the favourite frequent visitor. A wrass is an extremely large black fish with over-wide lips, that doesn’t eat people. My photos do not do justice to what you will see and experience.

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I would recommend white water rafting for the ‘over 10’,  as it is exhilarating, reasonably priced and gives amazing views. I don’t have any photos, given the nature of the activity and my amateur status, but google the Tully River adventures. Quad bike trails are for anyone and can take you through some nice landscapes.

There is bungee jumping near the Daintree, but I prefer to do the walks through this world heritage site. You have to pass Mossman Gorge and there are beautiful, accessible walks and tracks, here. Both sites have excellent information facilities and at Daintree we opted for the audio tour. Incredibly lush scenery. You will find all sorts of odd seedpods, insects, fungi and wildlife. You can even test the waters in the Mossman River.

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Mossman Gorge has good walkways, suitable for wheelchairs and they use recycled material that will not have an adverse effect on the environment. It is non-slip as well, which is important in the tropics. The Daintree visitor centre is managed by the Aboriginal people of the area and they will let you know what areas are restricted so that the local people are respected.

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A visit to Kuranda by train and maybe the chair lift is very nice for some village charm and a taste of history. The train is an old steamer and passes through great areas, stopping to view a waterfall at Barron Gorge (I think). Relaxing and well-priced, it is a good way to see some of the thousands of species of flora.

There is plenty of colour to be had in the region and its plants.

 

We travelled there in 2005 and 2012 and it is time to go again! There are lovely stops by the water, such as Ellis Beach Bar and Grill, but do be careful, as crocodiles have been seen.

Safe travels. Take a hat and water and your swimming gear.

Dampier, Karratha and surrounds.

Why would you visit a mining area? Why not?

On the coast of the Pilbara region, Western Australia, lies the port of Dampier. It provides a small swimming spot for nearby residents and a large port for tankers moving salt, petrochemical, iron ore and natural gas. Rio Tinto is a big customer and Red Dog made the town famous.

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Despite being small, it plays a big part in the export game and for workers who have come to the mines it is another spot to cool off in the hot climate.  The beach is a pleasant stretch of sand and water with adequate shade. The movie Red Dog brought the local tale of a cattle dog who befriends miners to the cinemas, and the statue has perhaps received more visitors, since.

 

Heading for Karratha, you should take the turn off to look at the Woodside northwest shelf development project. Some great maths is available in the cross section of piping on display and you can look over at the extremely long train loading up with ore; it must be at least a kilometer long.

Across the road from the mining display is a track that leads to an Aboriginal rock art site in Deep Gorge. At the time we travelled, in October 2014, there were no signs or recognition or requests not to photograph. I have heard that the site is now a tourist spot and that the gorge has the largest collection of petroglyphs (rock art) in the world – some 300 000 of them!  I have also learned that the Burrup Peninsula, which holds Deep Gorge, has it in  Murujuga National Park. The path is slippery and rocky, but not too steep or difficult. The Yaburarra Aboriginal people ask that you do not tread on the art, but around it. I must say that the style and forms are only a very little like the art I have seen in Kakadu, and really look as if it is a record of travel and trade. Otherwise, it is almost Kiwi-like.

You don’t get progress without a cost, and there are many monuments in the area, to miners who lost their lives.

Big profits, big hauls and big machinery. Ben Hur to the power of ten. The story of the transportation of the transport is incredible.

We loved Karratha, as a central spot to explore the region. It has beautiful flora and nearby bays, such as Hearsons Cove or Honeymoon Cove Beach near Point Samson, via Wickham. There are rocks and views a-plenty, although a great deal of the rocks are red with iron. Karratha is a large town with big shopping centres, schools and all that you need. We stayed at the Karratha Caravan Park and with relatives, but there is no shortage of accommodation.

Nearby Roeburn has a sad but interesting history and a visit to the old gaol is a must. There is a large Aboriginal population in the town but the history reveals shocking mistreatment at the hands of white people. The information in the gaol and the artifacts are enthralling and a plant shop adjoins, with specimens that can withstand the climate.

A very interesting region.

Safe travels. Take water and a hat.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Burra, South Australia

In the mid-north region of South Australia, which is about 2 hours out of Adelaide, lies Burra. It is a fabulous destination for a day, but there’s plenty to see to warrant staying longer.

It began as a mining town, in the mid-1800s, and supplied most of South Australia’s copper and 5% of the World’s copper for more than a decade. Most of the buildings and houses are original, so this historic town (in Australian terms) is charming and interesting.

We did the Burra Heritage Passport, paying a fee to the Visitor Centre and getting a map and keys to historic sites in the town. This is a kind of self-guided ‘tour’ and took us about 2 hours, covering only about 10 km. There are some shocking tales, of mining families that lived in the river bed, digging their homes into the banks – as miners they knew how to dig into anything – only to suffer illness and death when the rains came and the river bed filled up. Generally it was children and the old who couldn’t survive.

The tunnels under the brewery were educative and in very good condition. You could easily imagine being down there, rolling barrels along, probably in the dark.

The open cut mines were a feature of Burra, the miners having experienced cave-ins in Britain from where many came. It was a good solution to a familiar disaster. The buildings on the mine site are well-maintained and quite beautiful. There are little green bits of copper lying everywhere, for the geologist in you.

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A row of miners cottages remain and are used as accommodation, opposite the river and caravan park. The park was well-located for exploring the town.

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The school was very grand and formidable but I think it is the town hall, now. There is a cottage set up as an historical display of life at the time of Burra’s heyday.

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Visiting the lollie shop, after having a great snack in the cafe nearby, I commented on how the door to the rest of the house seemed to drop down. The attendant told us that the buildings were very well constructed and withstood high temperatures in Summer (40C) and very cold in Winter (around 2C at night), with the occasional flood that entered the room where we stood. The shop was on the banks of the river, but it was several metres above it. Most of the houses are stone, from nearby quarries, and the soil was obviously suitable for houses to be dug out of it and on it, as there was very little cracking or signs of movement. Well, I found it fascinating.

There are a few places to eat or buy food and at least one secondhand store that had such treasures it was hard to walk past. It is a snug town, where you feel that you’re returning home, rather than visiting. I had the impression of being in a valley, despite open fields and arid landscapes.

The Burra Visitor Centre has some good information about the megafauna of the region which became extinct about 50 000 years ago. There are fossil displays in the Council chambers but we didn’t get to see them. Various trails can be taken, too, to explore this aspect and vegetation as well.

We travelled fast, of course, and didn’t stop more than two nights, so we were moving the whole time, seeing things, walking, driving. We would go again, for sure. It is a town just waiting for an historical mini-series!

The Clare Valley is to the West, Broken Hill is North East and Morgan is South East. All good destinations to follow with.

Take a camera, a hat, and water.

Travel safe.

 

Karijini National Park

Deep in the Pilbara of Western Australia, Karijini should not be missed. To view the 2 billion year-old formations, in a variety of colours and arrangements is worth the drive.

We arrived at the end of the dry, when temperatures were in their 40s and the roads were so corrugated that the ranger said he wouldn’t risk a 4WD beyond Dales Gorge where we ‘landed’.

There are a few approach paths but we came from the north, after visiting Port Hedland. It was quite a scenic drive, although a huge number of double semis were using the road en route to Newman, I think.

The Karijini Visitor Centre, managed by the local Aboriginal people, is architecturally unique and attractive. Designed as a snake, I think, it is also built to withstand fire (common in the area) and so different on the inside from the outer approach. Informative and worth a stop, the workers are very happy to give advice and maps.

So, we were restricted to Dales Gorge, but that’s like saying we were restricted to a corner of paradise. There are a few accommodation options – free roadside (see wiki camps) where people we met said it had a great view but no shade, eco lodges, and the small fee Dales camground where we stayed, but having a parks pass I think it was free. There was minimal shade but excellent toilets that had just been installed. Probably a woman thing.

From here it was an easy 10 minute walk to Dales Gorge and the whole Gorge trek takes about 1.5 – 2 hours. This includes Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. The latter two are simply amazing and when I have one of those ‘if I could be anywhere in the world right now’ moments, it is very often Fern Pool. Cool, lush, buzzing with bird and insect life, I think we stayed there for about an hour. The paths around the falls and Fern Pool are excellent and easy.

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Fortescue Falls, with its terraced steps, called us back in the morning, where we decided to have an early swim before heading off once more. There is a warning that if there is ANY SIGN OF RAIN, you are not to walk in the gorge. I believe that in such places when it rains it veritably buckets down and the possibility of flooding/being swept away is very real.

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The heat of the day, with little shade and no air conditioning, made a long stay there not desirable, unless we were to spend the days at Fern Pool. There are stunning pictures of the other gorges and swimming spots that we would definitely have visited if we had a more suitable vehicle, but our two wheel drive wasn’t going to cut it.

There is a variety of wild flowers – mulla mulla being populous. Birds, large ants and goannas all contrast the iron-rich red soil.

Most people head from here to Tom Price and then on to Coral Bay, but we headed for Karratha, much to everyone’s shock.

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We’ll definitely go back to Karijini.

Take good, closed walking shoes as tracks are rubble-strewn and sometimes steep. Snakes are not uncommon but we didn’t see any. DON’T FORGET YOUR HAT AND WATER whenever you leave your campsite. We had a little car trouble and pulled into the service station at Auski Roadhouse, in the middle of nowhere. The mechanic on hand had been there for 15 years, but was originally from within a block of our house.

Safe travels.

Shell Beach

Now, you’d think a beach with that name would excite all the shell collectors, like me, in the world.  Found on the Coral Coast of Western Australia, in the Shark Bay region, it stretches for kilometers in each direction and there wasn’t a soul in sight! Millions, or trillions of unguarded shells.

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But wait! the signs say “please do not remove shells from the beach”. An explanation of the importance of the shells to the ecology of the area is given, so I held back a dishonest urge.

I did not stop from reaching down and filling my cupped hands with the bleached specimens, slowly pouring them through the gap I created. After reading the ecology epistle, I guiltily crunched my way back to the car, squinting at the white carpet reflecting the hot sun.

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Take footwear, a hat and water. As you can see from my entry in the weekly photo challenge – dense, the shells aren’t terribly remarkable. Larger, more exciting samples are all over the beaches in Albany!