A birthday in Byron Bay

From the Gold Coast we travelled down to Byron’s Bay. This is a small beachside town that is known for its laid-back approach to life and its alternative lifestyles and therapies.  This made it an excellent place for us to celebrate Joy’s birthday in a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. 

It was named Byron Bay by Captain Cook who drew up the navigational maps for much of the Pacific in his three voyages around the world in the 18th Century.  Many of the names he used to define his early maps of the coast line are still in existence today.  Byron Bay for example,  was named after his Naval Office John Byron, who helped navigate and draw up the maps of Australia, New Zealand and many of the Pacific Islands.  He is the grandfather of the perhaps more famous, poet, Lord Byron.  

The weather was not exactly kind to us during our stay, so although we did visit the beach, the sky was ominous, and we had rain for most of our stay.

Beach

 

We stayed in a tree house, not exactly by design, but more to do with the quirky nature of the accommodation we chose. A tree house sounds romantic and of course if you look at the picture here, the room looks quite lovely.

Tree house

 The reality was an outside toilet and shower that were accessed via external stairs, that were not easy to negotiate during a heavy tropical storm which we had for the two nights we were there. It’s part of the ups and downs of travel, so you take the rough (and sometimes the very rough) with the smooth.

External stairs

We still managed to have a lovely day on Joy’s birthday.  She got a great card in the post, which certainly was apt, given where we were.

Joys Birthday

 In the evening we went to an all-vegan restaurant called The Beet, http://www.thebeet.com.au/ which served up delicious plant-based food. 

Vegan Feast

Although it’s the beach that everyone associates with Byron Bay, we decided to visit the Crystal Castle in the Hinterland.  It was up in the hills and offered spectacular views and probably the world’s most impressive crystal collection.    The sheer size and scale of many of the crystals was hard to fathom.  These Smoky Qartz Geodes are 5.5 metres tall. That is a lot of crystal!  

Crystal garden.jpg

 Below it is a beautiful Rose Quartz spiral in front of a Buddha Statue.  It was very serene to walk in that space.

Crystal spiral

One of the more far-out things we experienced  was a session on plant music.  A synthesizer was connected to different plants and then the most amazing gentle chimes were heard.  Apparently it varies according to the plant, which plants are nearby and whether they are in the mood to play.  I kid you not!  If you are interested, you can find out more here:   http://www.musicoftheplants.com/en/

Crystals are reputed to have many qualities, which vary depending on their mineral composition, bringing harmony and balance to our emotions and our physical body. We certainly felt very chilled by the time we left the place.  Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

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Brisbane to the Gold Coast

Brisbane sign

From the tropical paradise of Hamilton, we flew to Brisbane.  Although it is the third largest city by population, it has an easy going atmosphere and is very pleasant to walk around.  It was hot when we were here, at about 33c.  Brisbane is the gateway to the Sunshine Coast to the North and the Gold Coast to the south, but does not have any beach of its own.  However they do have a man-made beach on the South Bank of the river, which is a very good imitation when you can’t get out of the city.

Beach park

 The architecture here is a mixture of old and new.  This Brisbane Arcade is an Art Deco beauty and the imposing building below it was once the treasury, but is now ironically a treasury of a different sort, since it operates as a casino. 

Brisbane arcadeTreasury casino

One of the highlights was visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary nearby.  It has been going for over 90 years and was one of the first set up in Australia to protect wildlife. We got to see more of the wonderful Koalas, who take cuteness to a whole new level.  How many can you spot in this group photo?

 

 

We were also able to get up close and personal with the Kangaroos.  Some had been born at the sanctuary, but many were rehabilitated after road accidents.  It’s distressing how many of these wonderful creatures you see as road kill as you drive around the country.

 

A nice touch was being able to feed the wild Rainbow Lorikeets in the afternoon.  Dishes of food were brought out and you just had to hold it up and they would flock over and land on the dish.  Here’s a  close up of this beautiful bird.

Lorakeet close up

 Some of the surprises were the Tasmanian Devil, who is a handsome chappie.

 

We also met the Wombat. He is a chunky fellow and hard to describe, but somewhere between a pig and a rat gets close to it. Unfortunately like so many of the native species he is very nearly extinct, the cause of which, as you can see from this very troubling sign is loss of their habitat over the years.

 

One of the other creatures we saw was a Cassowary.  This is a native bird, a bit like an Emu, but very different in habitat and behaviour.  It is also an endangered species with many threats, including feral pigs, dogs, cats and humans.  The bright blue head makes it very distinctive and it is a fearsome fighter if it finds itself or its young threatened.  The male bird incubates the eggs and then rears the chicks for another nine months. No glass ceiling in the Cassowary world!

Cassowary

 

 

We also found these little dragons walking around all over the sanctuary.  They are wild and can be found all around the area.  This little fella kindly posed by his sign, so we could find out all about him.

 Water Dragon

It was very sobering, meeting so many endangered species at the sanctuary and seeing the destructive effects of human settlement on the habitat and populations of some of these magnificent creatures that would have roamed this world for thousands of years before we came along.

 Next stop was the Gold Coast, which is a fabulous stretch of golden sandy beach.  It was torrential rain during our stay, so no swimming in the ocean for us on this occasion.  We got to walk around, got sand blasted by the powerful winds and found a fantastic vegan restaurant for lunch.  I was also pleased to see that they had named an Avenue in my honour.

Mary Ave

 

 

 Next stop Byron Bay.

 

 

Whitsundays – Australia’s tropical paradise

From Uluru, we arrived in Hamilton after six hours of flying and an overnight stop in Sydney.  What we arrived to could not have been more different than the Red Desert.

Airport

Hamilton is one of the Whitsunday Islands, a group of isles located in the Great Barrier Reef on the North East coast of Australia.  It is a stunning location and feels like an exclusive exotic hideaway.

The island itself is very small at about 3.5km by 2km, but that does not stop it from offering an airport, a quaint harbour town and a number of resorts.  We stayed at the main hotel, Reef View and this was  the view from the room.

View from room

 The island is owned by the Oatley family and run by one resort company (Uluru resort was similarly owned by one management company).  You might think that this might lead to lax standards, given that it is effectively a monopoly, but it was in fact the opposite was true.  Standards were very high, all staff were excellent and the facilities second to none.  The island tries to be car free (or at least very few), so the transport of choice for many are the golf buggies that are available for hire.  We used the free shuttle bus which does a full loop of the island within about 30 minutes, so you can see we are talking very small.

We caught some lovely sunsets at One Tree Hill where there is a great bar to sip a cocktail (or mocktail) as the sun gently fades.

 We also did a bit of sunbathing for one of the days (something that we rarely do) and found it to be hot, hot, hot.  It was about 31c, but at 85% humidity it felt a lot hotter.

 Islands view

The wildlife and bird life continues to be wide and varied here.  We had plenty of the Sulphur crested Cockatoos around as they flocked around the hotel and were very good at spotting an opening to a hotel bedroom and causing chaos.  There were signs all over warning guests to close windows and not to feed the little darlings. We had one come and visit us on our balcony, just in case there was something on offer.

 Cockatoo balcony

The other bird we met for the first time this trip was the Rainbow Lorakeet.  The bright plumage of the bird is spectacular. 

Rainbow lorakeet

It made us wonder what is the difference between a Lorikeet and a Parakeet – or a Parrot or Cockatoo for that matter. Well they are all a species of the parrot family.  Parakeets and Lorikeets being the smaller sub species.  The key difference between the two is that Lorikeets are pollen and nectar gatherers and have a tongue designed to do this, where as Parakeets are seed eaters. 

We also visited the Wild Life Park which is a sanctuary and educational centre for Australian wildlife.  It was our first close encounter with Koalas which are the most cute little animals you can imagine.  They move slowly and sleep for up to 22 hours per day.  They are extremely fussy eaters, only eating the freshest leaves off the Eucalyptus tree.  They are also extremely specific about which Eucalyptus leaves they will eat, as there are many species, but they will only eat one of eight native species of  the tree.  Hamilton was hit by a major Cyclone in 2017 which devastated the island.  The Koala’s were safe in their cyclone-proof housing, but all of the leaves were blown off the eucalyptus trees on the island.  As they won’t eat leaves that are not attached to branches they had to be flown to the mainland to ensure they had a regular food supply, until the food supply on the local trees could re-grow.   

 

 

We also met some Bush Wallabies which are very small and quite curious as you can see with this little one who was wondering what I had In my bag.

Wallaby bag

It was a unique and enjoyable experience on the Whitsundays and we would love to return to this charming island again.  However it’s onward and upward now as we fly on to Brisbane.

 

 

Uluru, aka Ayres Rock

We spent three days in the red desert, exploring the ancient and sacred aboriginal sites of Uluru (which European settlers named Ayres Rock) and Kata Tjuta  – pronounced Ka-ta Chuta (called Mount Olga by settlers). 

Uluru view

There are so many things that hit you when you arrive in the dessert, but one of the things that struck us both was the sense of peace.  The aborigines talk of the special silence of the place and yes, it does have its own brand of silence.  You can also see from the picture above, that it is surprisingly green.  There is a lot of bushes and grass growing in the area.  It had also had some rain a couple of weeks before our visit and that made everything green up.

The land was taken away from the Aborigines (Also known in their own tongue and Anangu) in the mid 1950’s, as the area held fascination for Australian settlers. But we did not appreciate quite how sacred this place is to the Aborigine people and how sacrilegious this unplanned development and the climbing of these ancient rocks was to them.

It was handed back to the aborigines about 30 years ago and is now held in trust, where both aborigines and modern Australians work together for conservation and planned development. The land holds special significance in aboriginal culture, linked as it is to their stories of creation and their strong beliefs about women, men and the nature all around them.

We had so many magical moments here.  We spent three days capturing sunsets and sunrises that brought tears to our eyes. On one of the mornings, our guide Mike played the Didgeridoo whilst the sun came up.  It was mesmerising.

The lesser well-known Kata Tjuta is in the same national park.  In the Aborigine tongue it means many heads, and you can see from the shape of it, why it is called that.

Kata Tjuta

We took the relatively short walk into Walpa Gorge in the early morning light.  It was a deep ravine and surprisingly for the desert area did have some water and a shallow stream inside.

Kata Tjuta Gorge 2

 

We also visited the field of light.  This is an art installation by Bruce Munro which has over 50,000 light stems that light up the land in front of Uluru, during dusk and dawn.   We were up and out by 5am to catch the glow of the lights before the sunrise.  It’s hard to capture that on camera, so you’ll have to use a big of imagination when you look at the images below.

Field of light group

 

We went for a short bush walk in the 35c heat.  The full circuit of Uluru is 10km, so unless you are a little bit mad, or super charged, you are not likely to try that one in a hurry.   We did enjoy visiting the cultural centre and doing a shorter circuit around the base of Uluru.

Little man in uluruUluru shadows

 

Little man had to be careful as he did not pack his sunscreen, but he did pop up a couple of times.  Can you spot him?

 

A weekend in Melbourne

We had a weekend in Melbourne and it is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city.  We arrived by car in the rush hour and it was the usual challenge picking your way through the streets of an unknown city to get to your destination.

We were lucky that we were at least able to park outside the hotel, drop off our bags and then return the car to the car hire depot. We were staying near the university, so lots of young people in the area.  Melbourne is a big city with over 4.7 million people ( so not far off the size of Sydney at 5 milliion) and has over 100 different ethnic groups.  Apparently it has the largest Greek population in a city outside of Greece and the largest Italian.  There are large Asian influences from across the Asia Pacific region also well represented here.

The city makes bold statements with its architecture.  It has well preserved older buildings, such as these below.

Old Group 1

 But the architects really shine through with the modern buildings.  There are interesting colours, shapes, sizes and finishes all over the city, with the harbour area being the newest of the developments.

Modern Group 1Modern Group 2Modern group 3

 It is a very easy city to get around with free trams in the city centre and an extensive network to get you out to the suburbs.  We did not go far, but did explore St Kilda’s beach area near by.

 We found some interesting and unique sights such as the All Vegan vending machine.  A definite first in our experience.

Vegan vending

 In Melbourne Central Mall, we also saw this KitKat store, which has elevated the humble snack to cult status, with different flavour options, chocolate coatings and even toppings. 

 

One of the other novelties that we saw as we walked around was a furry bottom sticking out of a tree hollow.  When we looked closer the tree had about five furry balls dotted around different hollows and the crook of the tree. They were fast asleep and took no notice of the noise we made as we clicked away and took pictures.  We found out that they are brushed tailed Possums. 

 Furry bum

 

 

Possum

Brushed Tailed Possum by ewasp.com.au

 

The second picture is a stock image to show you what they look like, but we have not seen any more than the sticky out bottom so far.  They are a common occurrence in Australian parks and also in houses, where sometimes the possums take residence in the loft and cause all sorts of havoc at night.  I don’t suppose they would be so cute in that case.

So now we’ve tasted Australian’s second city, we’re looking forward to visiting its first – Sydney in a couple of weeks time.

 

The Great Ocean Road

They say that the Great Ocean Road is one of the sights not to be missed when you visit Australia, so we decided not to miss it.

Panaoramic

This was the last couple of days of our road trip from Adelaide, to reach Melbourne and they were right, this was an experience not to be missed.  There are many ocean roads around the world that are stunning, and we’ve been on quite a few, but this has to be right up there with the best.

Not because of the white knuckle ride around hair pin bends with steep cliff edges dangerously falling off into the wild ocean waves below.  There was a bit of that, but it was more for the breath-taking rock formations that are visible from designated stops. 

We were lucky that on our days the sky was cloudless, the sun was hot and the sea was a vibrant aquamarine colour.  This then is made even more dramatic as a backdrop when you set it against the sandstone formations jutting up from the sea bed, or stretching out from the shore.

There are so many little coves and hidden beaches that it’s hard to remember them all.  Each stop is even more stunning than the last.

BeachCove

 

The most iconic amongst them is the Twelve apostles and it is the one featured in many of the brochures for the Great Ocean Road. If you try to count them, you will find them coming up short.  Some have already crumbled and broken off and returned to the sea bed.  But for some reason the eight apostles does not have the same ring to it.

Twelve Apostles

 Twelve apostles other side

Talking of things falling down, one of the formations is called London Bridge.  True to the song, London Bridge has fallen down.  What used to be a double arch bridge, is now a little island with a single arch, separate from the mainland. The bridge fell down into the sea in the early 1990’s, but luckily no one was hurt. And although it is still called London Bridge, it is a bridge no longer.

London Bridge.jpg

Our final stop before reaching Melbourne was the lovely city of Geelong.  This is only an hour from Melbourne but still has a distinctive feel of its own.  It was here that we managed to have a fantastic lunch at an all vegan café called Dolly’s sister.  We also went to the waterfront to see the pier.

Geelong pier

 We could go on and on about this country and we have hardly seen any of it yet.  The wildlife and the birdlife is extraordinary and deserves its own blog post, but for now we wanted to share these cheeky chappies, that are wild, numerous and very bold.  Think of them like the seagulls that pinch your icecream at Brighton beach.  They are both a type of cockatoo.  The white one is known as a sulphur crested Cockatoo and the pink one’s are called Galahs.

 

We also saw these birds, always flying in pairs at a great height and we have not seen them in any towns or urban areas.  We think they are Carnabys Black Cockatoos, which are a large bird preferring agriculture or coastal regions.  

Pair of dark b irds

 

 Little man did not come out for the Great Ocean Road.  He said it was too hot. Next stop Melbourne.

 

 

On the road to Port Fairy

We left Adelaide for a five day self-drive to Melbourne.  The first half of the trip took us up to the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley.  This is the renowned wine region of Australia and it has some big producers, such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacobs Creek.  We popped in to the visitors centre of the latter, and the sign was about the most exciting bit of the experience. It still felt nice to be at such an iconic brand and know where the wine is produced.

Jacobs creek.jpg

Whilst in the area we visited the Whispering Wall.  This is actually the wall of a dam, which forms an acoustic bowl.  The effect is that you can talk to someone the other side of the dam in a whisper and they will hear you. In the picture below, Joy is at the other end  of the damn.  We tested it out and without raising our voices could be clearly heard.  Very cool.

Whispering Wall

We stayed at Tanunda for our first night which is a pleasant town at the heart of the valley, which is more than can be said for our motel.  Suffice to say we won’t be rushing back there.

We stopped in Robe a pretty fishing village on our second night, which has two light houses.  This is the more modern one, which is quite a striking design.

Robe lighthouse

The next day we headed to Port Fairy.  On the way we stop at the stunning blue lake, at Mount Gambier.  The lake is formed from a Volcanic crater over 6,000 years ago and the rich minerals bring out this stunning blue colour each summer.  In the winter, the lake is fairly standard grey, so the change in colour is quite striking.  Believe me, there is no filter on the photo below.

Blue lake

As well as the amazing lake, Mount Gambier has two large sink holes, both of which have been transformed into beautiful sunken gardens.  Here’s a picture of the larger of the two, Umpherston.

Sunken gardens mt gambier

Our final stop was the very picturesque town of Port Fairy.  Here we stayed at a pleasant hotel right in the middle of town, which has many historical buildings.

Port Fairy .jpg

At sunset we went to Fraser Island the wildlife reserve at the end of the town.  Here we were promised sightings of Wallaby’s and we were not disappointed.  These smaller cousins of the Kangaroo are more active at night when they graze on the grassland and plants in the area.  They were not too bothered by us humans being around, but did not come too close either.

Like much of the coastline in this area, it has proved a very treacherous terrain for mariners to navigate, so there are plenty of lighthouses.  Here is the one on Fraser island, light up by the beautiful sunset last night.

Port fairy lighthouse

Little man has been feeling a bit shy lately, so don’t worry about him lurking around anywhere, as he is not.

The next bit of our journey brings us on the Great Ocean Road, so you’ll hear more of that very soon.