How to 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.  (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170509194434.htm)

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.  (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/09/dna-confirms-aboriginal-culture-one-of-earths-oldest)

SO much more. Research, research or just ask.

WATER WATER WATER and a hat. And your camera!

 

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Growth and decay – earth cycle

For this week’s photo challenge – Earth, I have chosen a photo from Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, en route to Russell Falls.

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There are so many World Heritage forest sites in Tasmania and I think we visited them all. So many photos to choose from that represent Earth. In the end, this one was the first to come to mind so it will be the one. The open trunk on the right is so tall I could stand in it. Prolific bird life and magnificent falls at the end of it, that I can’t help including here: it would have been my second choice.

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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.

 

Security

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These baby swallows are unmissable and are featured in a number of people’s shots from Coral Bay. Despite the beauty of the bay and the abundance of sea life right at the water’s edge, these birds nest under the eaves of the toilet block and I can’t find their proper name but they just say ‘security’ for this week’s photo challenge. If you go there, and you really should, you’ll find them quite happy to have their photo taken.

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!

Unusual rocks #4 – The Pinnacles

We stopped in the small, picturesque seaside town of Jurien Bay, Western Australia and went via Cervantes to The Pinnacles. It was an easy half hour drive.

In Nambung National Park, The Pinnacles are a limestone formation that reminded me of stalagmites in the Naracoorte Caves, South East South Australia. However, these upright structures emerge from the red and yellow sand like props left over from a science fiction movie. It’s a little eerie!

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The entrance to the arrangement is clear and you can follow the path by car, being careful to watch for those who have chosen to go by foot. The biggest hazard is definitely those taking photos and the busiest times are sunrise and sunset as, once again, the  colour of the rocks and the environment comes alive with the sun-washed hues.

Some are rounded and small, others tall and jagged, reaching as high as 3 metres. Made up of shells, they are millions of years old and a reminder of when the sea came in that far. Indeed, the coastline in the region is idyllic, with turquoise water and sandy beaches, starkly contrasting the desert that is The Pinnacles.

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Another spot to remember the hat and water!

Safe travels.