Walking by the Mersey, I came across this stairway to nowhere. There’s a shorter one in Chessington, just a few steps leading to the back of someone’s garden fence.
But this one looks far more interesting. I didn’t climb up, but I think if I did, and went through the little door at the top, I would find myself on the hard shoulder of the M60, Manchester’s Outer Ring Road. How scary/exciting is that!
There are lots of beauty parlours, nail salons, hairdressers, tattooists, body piercers and other related establishments close to where we live here in Northenden. One place I won’t be visiting for my next spray tan is only a five minute walk away.
Actually, maybe I would go, if I wanted to look like Shrek or The Hulk or something.
Our first gig was at Stoller Hall in Manchester. We saw Eddi Reader for the 4th or 5th time in real life, although she did entertain us in our rental cars while we were away. We sang along to all the songs we knew, not so much to the new ones.
Once again, Boo Hewerdine accompanied Eddi, and it was his turn to sing Patience of Angels tonight: fair enough, he did write it.
The support act was Siobhan Miller who we both took to straightaway. And yes, I did buy a CD. Or two.
Our first non-familial visitor arrived: Rosie came up from Surrey for the weekend, and was delighted to be able to sleep on our sofa-bed. Not so delighted with her sleeping partner, a harmless little spider. Rosie and Liesel went out for the day, visiting Lyme Park (sorry I missed it) and Ikea (not sorry I missed it).
We all went to the seaside for a picnic. Formby is our nearest beach: in fact, it seems to be everybody’s nearest beach. We thought everyone went to the Trafford Centre on a Saturday, but no, they all came to Formby today.
Above the beach, I was reminded of a book we had to read at school, Lawn ‘n’ Dune. I should read it again, I can’t remember whether it was any good or not.
From the car park, you walk over the dunes onto the beach. Most people then turn right for some reason, or just plonk themselves down at the earliest opportunity. We turned left and found plenty of space. Yes, we could see and hear other people, but we found a good spot to sit down for our picnic.
I’m not one to complain, haha, but the ridges of rippled of sand on the beach were quite hard to walk on today. I think we all tried to find smoother, harder, easier patches to walk on.
The police officer took her horse for a walk on the beach and, judging by the hoofprints, this wasn’t the first visit of the day.
What a lovely day on the beach, blue skies and warm sunshine with a very subtle breeze.
A pair of noisy, midnight black crows watched while we were eating. When I finished my apple, I was going throw one of them the core, but Liesel wouldn’t let me, even though that’s what it had been asking for.
We re-visited the air raid shelters in Stockport, reliving the blitz. It was colder in the tunnels than outside, so what a surprise when we emerged.
In Manchester, we enjoyed a walk and then a couple of hours in the Art Gallery, until we were chucked out at closing time. Yes, we’ll have to go back and explore some other galleries.
We’ve seen Grayson Perry on TV and heard him on the radio, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of his artwork before. This vase is fascinating and very colourful: I could have looked at it for ages.
Some of the captions have been given a ‘feminist revision’ that make you realise just how engrained is the notion that ‘male’ has always been and still is the default gender.
We found Emmeline Pankhurst as we continued our wander around the city centre.
Today was Manchester Day, an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy everything that Manchester has to offer. Somehow, we contrived to miss everything, the parade, the bike ride, the music, the street food, everything. We’ll make more of an effort next year.
I don’t know how many times we’ve driven up to visit Jenny, observed and ignored the signs to Quarry Bank Mill. Well, today we drove there, a mere 15 minutes from home. This isn’t just some small mill by a stream. It’s a big place, with large grounds, and very good demonstrations of turning cotton into clothing.
Samuel Greg started the business having moved to the area from Belfast. He didn’t want to be in Manchester itself, close to all the other mills, but found this ideal location in Styal.
Yes, his slaves were mentioned as part of the display.
As Boris Johnson is set to be ordained, crowned, annointed Prime Minister, we found an extract from his manifesto regarding the employment practices to which he wishes to return.
After lunch at the mill, which we shall certainly re-visit, Liesel and I dropped Rosie off at the station for her long trek back home.
Meanwhile, Liesel and I rested our eyes for a while, glad to be inside just in time before the rain returned!
The ‘holiday mood’ persists and that’s not a bad thing. We’re back in our own place, yes, but because it’s still new to us, it feels like we’re still Airbnb-ing. We’re exploring the local area as if merely visiting. It makes me realise that once you’re settled, you tend to take your local neighbourhood for granted.
The Trafford Centre is as big as a small country. Most of the shops have no interest for us, but the mall itself is fascinating.
We were looking at armchairs, we know how to have a good time. Not to mention curtains, blinds, other window accoutrements, lamp shades and light fittings.
There were some great photos to be taken, so I’m afraid I was looking elsewhere while Liesel was focussed on the main job of the day.
Yes, we’re in the north now, so it’s only to be expected that on a relatively cold, wet day, the young ladies out shopping will be woefully underdressed.
We thought we were going into an old Egyptian tomb or something but it was only a lift taking us to a whole new level.
Barton Square is partly a building site, but I’m sure it will be lovely when it’s finished. The glass dome promises to let in the light but not the rain.
Again, we ventured into ancient Egypt, a fantastic theme around the centre. It’s just a bit worrying when a young child screams for ‘Mummy’, you half expect a sarcophagus to creak open.
We later met Jenny at Costco where I made sure to get my steps in. Not as fascinating nor as glamorous as the Trafford Centre, of course.
Other than settling in and finding our way around the local area , our main project is getting to know and looking after our two delightful grandchildren.
Martha and William came round while their parents, Jenny and Liam goofed off, I mean, while they enjoyed some quality time together.
Both are very curious about the world. Martha barely stops talking and asking questions. William just tries to take everything apart. But they are both great fun, we are very lucky grandparents!
Liesel and I took advantage of a small hiatus in the late April showers and walked to Didsbury. We stayed away from the main roads as much as possible, venturing along narrow, overgrown, nettle-infested, sometimes muddy paths. We knew we were back in Manchester when we found a shopping trolley nowhere near its supermarket.
Part of me must still be in Australia because when I saw a ripple on the surface of the river Mersey, in the distance, my first thought was ‘crocodile’. No, of course not, it was just a family of ducks.
In Didsbury, I could not resist the temptation to have coffee and cake at a place called FFS. I think it’s a front for something.
The first coffee I ever tasted, mid 1960s, was Camp Coffee: sweet, with chicory. It came as a dark brown liquid in a bottle and was alright, I suppose. At this point in history, we Brits drank tea and Americans drank coffee: that was the law. It was much later that I acquired a fondness for proper coffee, even though, in the UK, it was often over-roasted, burnt, too strong or just tasteless. But during all those decades, I was desperate to be able to send a message by telephone, ordering my coffee, so that it’s ready when I roll up at the café. Well, hallelujah, my dream has come true!
Our sleep patterns are settling down, we’re getting used to the rain but we really want a proper, warm, sunny Summer. One place in Lincolnshire is suffering badly after having received two months of rain in one day. Rivers bursting their banks, sandbags not doing their job. It’s not that bad here in Northenden, but even when it’s not actually raining, it looks and feels like it’s going to start again any minute.
Not only was Sunday Fathers’ Day, it was also the day of the Tour of Tameside 7-mile run. I watched the participants with just a hint of envy but with plenty of admiration.
We watched Martha and William swimming too, always a joy, they are both very competent and enjoy their time in the water.
Three of us fathers gathered together at Jenny’s for the big celebration. Liam, his Dad Alan and I all received chocolatey gifts from our respective offspring. Chocolate. Oh well: the diet starts next month!
We enjoyed playing with Martha, William and bubbles in the garden. Wimbledon tennis championships begin any day now, and we were in training for that too.
Jenny came up trumps again with pies and roast potatoes and vegetables! It was good to catch up with Alan and Una too after so many months away.
Another day, another opportunity to look after M&W so we took them by bus into Manchester. We visited the Museum of Science and Industry where their natural curiosity caused them to press all the buttons, turn all the wheels, move anything that wasn’t tied down. Martha was genuinely surprised and pleased that by turning a handle, she could lift a car into the air. Too difficult to explain gearing systems, but one day…
When we first entered the Museum, Martha pointed out the train. It wasn’t any old train either. Only the original Stephenson’s Rocket, back in Manchester for the first time in 180 years.
Both children fell asleep on the bus home. Liesel and I managed to stay awake but as soon as Jenny took them home again, we slumped.
We’re looking forward to our first musical performance since coming home. Hard to believe that during the ten months away, we only saw a couple of concerts and one theatre show. Next time, we’ll go out more often. Next time!
We’d considered visiting Raymond Island on the way to Bairnsdale but we’re so glad we didn’t. We spent the following morning there instead, far longer than anticipated.
From Paynesville, the ferry ride was so short, we probably could have waded across to the island. But then we wouldn’t have had a car for the slow drive to the far side of the island.
The sea was so calm, perfect for skimming stones. But there were no suitable stones lying around which can only mean one thing: they’ve already been thrown in. This island is in the Gippsland Lakes Reserve area, and the water here is sheltered from the main ocean currents by a series of islands further out from the mainland.
We walked along the beach, of course, trying not to step on any of the jellyfish left stranded on the sand.
The water was so clear, I thought I’d walk to the end of the jetty in the distance, to see if there were any exciting or exotic fish. What I didn’t realise from a distance was that a million cormorants or maybe darters were at home on the far end of the jetty and I was still over a hundred yards away when they decided to take flight.
The exodus began slowly, then the bulk took off. It was interesting to see how long the last, brave few would hang about. I was still nowhere near the jetty when the final one deserted his post.
It’s quite a long jetty and halfway along I began to notice the ammoniacal aroma. I’m surprised the structure hasn’t collapsed under the weight of guano, never mind the birds themselves. But I was rewarded for my stoicism in the face of rank odours. There were indeed a few fish in the water.
It was quite an adventure driving back towards the ferry port and, more importantly, to the Koala Trail. Most roads are unsealed, they all look the same, and as they became more and more narrow, we wondered whether we’d gone wrong. But we found our way back: it’s quite hard to get lost on a small island, really.
The Koala Trail is a well marked path around the developed, inhabited area, facing the mainland. And we were on a koala hunt, looking in the trees, listening out for pig-like growling sounds.
It was a nice, easy walk, with very few other visitors on the Trail. A group of young German girls helped our quest by staring up into the more interesting trees, the ones with koalas in residence.
Seeing this first one was wonderful, of course, at least we’d seen what we came for.
We saw a few more koalas and yes, many were in the Land of Nod.
In fact, there were almost too many to shake a stick at. So I picked up a stick and shook it, for which I received a severe reprimand from Liesel. It was in fact a fallen eucalyptus branch, brimming with juicy leaves and it did, briefly, attract the attention of an erstwhile dozy koala.
We walked the long way round back to the ferry terminal, including along a stretch of very narrow beach.
The soundtrack to this tramp was provided by the thousands, millions, of mussel shells that it was impossible to avoid crushing underfoot. The water on this side of the island was a little more active, but still nowhere near as violent as we’ve seen in other places recently.
We passed by another couple of koalas in a tree in someone’s front garden. And round the corner, in another garden, a flock of rainbow lorikeets and parrots provided a gorgeous, colourful photo opp.
A quick return ferry ride and we were soon back on the road. The obvious place to stop for a coffee, a pasty and an eclair was Stratford which by coincidence is on the Avon River.
We are getting better at knowing when to ignore Google Maps’ instructions: sometimes it shows a right turn, but vocalises ‘turn left’. Sometimes it wants to take us off the main road, the A1, go right, left, right, left, right left and then rejoin the A1. Why? For the sake of a few seconds maybe? And why does it sometimes suggest leaving the route and driving around in circles for the rest of eternity?
Passing by and admiring the countryside, we espied a power station in the distance. Smoke belching. And looking it up, I think it was a diesel powered power station. We never even knew such places existed. I know we need a power supply, but this really was a carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend, as Prince Charlkes might say.
We were leaving the coast behind and heading up into the mountains.
The Star Hotel in Walhalla was built during the gold rush period of the 19th century and rebuilt in 1999, retaining the original façade. We were staying in the Happy Go Lucky Room, nothing as mundane as room numbers here. The view from the verandah was magnificent.
Dense trees growing up the steep sides of the valley behind a bandstand. Perfect.
Walhalla’s population was about 5000 in its heyday. It dropped to 10 and is currently about 20. We met at least 20% of the population over the next day.
The Long Tunnel Extended Mine walk took us about an hour. I put my coat on. It was slightly chilly up here in the mountains, even without the wind. We didn’t go down into the mine, 950 metres deep, and I don’t envy any of the miners that did so. The mine was closed in 1915. From a total of 790,724 tonnes of ore, a mere 25.43 tonnes of gold were produced.
The path along what was once a tram track was littered with fallen rocks. A sign told us not to throw stones down from the tramway on pain of prosecution.
The mist and cloud mixed with smoke from wood fires in people’s houses giving a mystical, ethereal feel to the landscape.
Strangely, we didn’t find the smoke here as offensive as it had been in Malaysia. Folks are just trying to keep warm here, not burning any and all of their old rubbish.
The proprietor of the hotel was also wearing shorts so from that, I deduced it wasn’t that cold, really.
Our evening meal was very nice, very tasty, although I’m not a big fan of panna cotta, moreso since I found out it contains gelatin. The bottle of house Shiraz the spot though. Cheers!
After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we checked out. We were invited back, but don’t leave it for thirty years like some people do, he advised. It’s a great place, and I felt bad that we’d only spent one night here. A couple of other walks would have been fun, and we’d certainly recommend this hotel.
The first surprise of the day was just how cold it was. Wipe the condensation from the car’s windows? Easier said than done. It was ice. Proper, frozen water. It’s now meteorological Winter here and it feels like it. For the second day in a row, I put on a coat.
Unfortunately, the first ride of the Walhalla Goldfields Railway was at 11.00, and that would mean leaving the area much later than we wanted to.
We drove alongside the railway track for a while, as we left Walhalla behind us.
Near Tyers, we saw the power stations again. Yes, there were at least two of them. Thick, belching smoke isn’t that appealing usually, but when it rises to collide with the low clouds, it’s quite a sight.
The first stop of the day was at North Mirboo where we visited the Strzelecki Bakery. That name is familiar because in 2002, I watched a Total Eclipse of the Sun from somewhere near the Strzelecki Track in South Australia. There wasn’t a lot of Sun today!
The clouds were threatening but it didn’t rain. The views were great but by now, I think we both just wanted to reach our final stop for the day.
We passed by Yanakie and a sign welcoming us to Wilson’s Promontory, hooray. I said to Liesel, there’s a couple of emus. She didn’t believe me at first, but we did a U-turn and went to have a longer, closer look. They were just eating grass, not bothered by us at all.
How exciting, to see some wildlife within five minutes of entering the National Park. Then, almost as exciting, we saw the sea in the distance. We’d only been away from it for 24 hours, but it felt a lot longer, somehow.
There was much less traffic now, allowing us more time to take in the views. All you can do really is enjoy the scenery, gape in wonder and take photographs that don’t do justice to the reality.
We’re staying in a self-contained Unit in Tidal River. I finally made it into Cambridge.
It looks terrible from this angle, but there are windows on the other side. Liesel had been driving all day so she was happy to have a sit while I went for a quick walk around Tidal River, the town. Various categories of accommodation are available here but, given how cold it has become, we’re glad we’re not camping. I bet this is a hive of activity at the height of Summer, not so much today.
One thing I’ve noticed all over Australia is the prominence of the War Memorials.
At home in the UK, they’re often out of the way, but in Australia, they’re usually in a prominent location on the main street or, as here in Tidal River, right in the centre of town, close to the Information Centre. This ℹ is a good place to visit, plenty of local artefacts and information.
The first birds I saw were ducks, plain, ordinary wood ducks, I think, no offence intended. There’s a river not far away, plus the sea, so why these two chose to try and paddle in a small puddle is beyond me.
I proceeded along the path in an orderly manner when I was surprised to see a small animal apparently munching on grass. Yes, it was a wombat, and I was really pleased to see it.
I approached slowly and was surprised how close I could get. I crouched down to film him/her walking towards me but at the last minute, he got just a bit too close!
I walked down to Norman Beach just for a quick look.
It felt quite pleasant here, but the clouds over the hill looked ominous. Not surprising, though, as rain had been forecast for the next day.
It was good to see a couple of birds on the way back to our place. I very nearly missed this chap, he’s so well camouflaged.
I think he was eating grass seeds or maybe collecting material for a nest.
These galahs were definitely having a good time pulling up the grass.
Memories of the Great Ocean Road King Parrots came flooding back when I returned to Cambridge and Liesel. A crimson rosella was sitting on the rail of our balcony, dancing, shifting from left to right, from one foot to the other, obviously begging for food. You’re not supposed to feed the wildlife here, but this pretty parrot knows that people means food.
What harm can a bit of muesli do? Nuts and seeds only, we took out most of the raisins and lumps of cinnamon!
What a good way to end the day and to commence a few peaceful days here on Wilson’s Prom. Which for some reason, I keep calling Arthur’s Seat or Arthur’s Pass but we really are at Wilson’s Prom. No idea why my brain is misfiring in that way. The only Arthur Wilson I know is a character in the old sitcom Dad’s Army.
A couple of rolls of thunder and the sound of rain didn’t detract from a good night’s sleep, thank you very much!
We packed and dragged our bags back to Helen’s. We then breakfasted at Sketch, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. Helen took us to the next car rental place before we said our sad goodbyes. Not as sad as usual though, as Helen will be coming over to the UK in a month’s time, hooray!
Helen was delighted that the wine order she’d collected last week at Heifer was duplicated: a delivery was made this morning. So the dilemma is: drink it or return it? Helen did the right thing of course and was punished by having to carry the heavy box down to the post office!
The new car was much newer than the Queenland one, but a little smaller which is ironic since we now have a huge case as well.
And so began our final road trip in Australia, before our long journey home. Manly to Melbourne, mostly along the coast road.
After leaving Sydney and its suburbs behind us, we were able to relax a bit and enjoy the scenery.
Coledale was a nice little place to stop, rugged and rocky.
This sculpture celebrates the life of all-round local good guy, Mike Dwyer. It just invites you to walk round and round and admire it from all angles.
It was quite windy and the sea was crashing onto the beach. Not surprisingly, nobody was on the beach nor in the water.
A little later, we stopped at Wollongong for lunch.
I went for a walk towards the lighthouse but was unable to complete the trek due to my inability to walk on water.
I did make friends with a pelican in the harbour, though. We swapped stories and fishy tales.
Today’s destination was Kiama Blowhole. It was windy enough for a good blow, but the tide was right out, so not much action today. Well, other than everyone walking around trying to keep their hats on.
If being blown along by the wind didn’t convince you of its strength, the white horses out at sea certainly would. Yes, it was windy, but the Sun was out and it was a bright afternoon.
The rock formations in this area are fascinating too, especially the attempt to emulate the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
There’s a large area of what can only be described as a lunar landscape. And in the middle of all the desolation, there’s one small plant, one giant leap for plantkind.
Our b&b in Kiama was called Itchycoo Park so of course I had that song in my head all night.
The wind died down at some point overnight. The brief peace and quiet was disturbed though by a tradesman turning up early to demolish the balcony over our heads as a prelude to Neil, our host, building an extension, with a great view towards the northern Sun.
We returned to the blowhole in the morning where it was performing very well.
Today was Jenny’s birthday. I shouldn’t give away a lady’s age, but this is interesting. She is now 6². I am 8². If you add our ages, you get 10². Yes, we are like the squares on the sides of a right-angled triangle. Very special. That sounds better than saying that our ages now total 100, so I won’t mention that.
Liesel and I went for a walk on the beach at Gerroa. The wind had found us again and our legs were sand-blasted and exfoliated perfectly. Fascinating watching the little sand dunes form and move across the beach, like an old Open University Geography demonstration.
Despite the strong wind and the raging sea, we found a group of hardy souls, actually in the water, trying to learn how to surf. A Surf Skool in the Sea in a Gale.
Berry is a lovely, quiet little town. There are lots of interesting knick-knack type shops. We saw something nice or cute or unusual in most places, even some furniture that we like the look of, but of course, we didn’t buy anything. Except in the toy shop: that was totally irresistable. I just hope we don’t have to go out now and buy and even bigger case to put the new purchases in!
The wind in Berry wasn’t as strong nor as cold, so it was delightful just walking up and down the streets, window shopping.
I found one shop offering Intravenous Coffee, seems like a good idea, so I went in but they just gave it to me in a cup, like a normal coffee shop.
Proceeding southwards on the A1, we were surprised to see smoke in a few places. Just a few, late, controlled fires even though it’s very nearly Winter here.
By the time we reached Hyam’s Beach, a little later in the day, it was a colder breeze again. Neil had told us earlier that Hyam’s Beach claims to have the purest white sand in the world.
Well, it is white and soft and squeaky but I think the authorities at Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays might have something to say about Hyam’s claim.
What else does Hyam’s Beach have to offer? More black smoke over there, a couple of youngsters fishing, plus, at the water’s edge, a young couple reenacting that scene from the film ‘From Here to Eternity’.
But the pièce de résistance was without doubt seeing this cloudbow, which appeared fleetingly just before the Sun set.
The b&b today stunk: someone described it as ‘funky chicken’. It had the smell of an old person’s flat where they never open the windows, overcook all the food, and smoke. This hosts were friendly enough, admitted to smoking but only in the back of the house and they were proud to be cooking up two days worth of stew. Well, I hope they enjoy it because we certainly didn’t enjoy the stench it produced. We drove into Huskisson where we had a gorgeous meal.
Needless to say, we didn’t hang around in the morning for breakfast, we just wanted to get away before all our clothes became infected with the cigarette smoke and the stew grease fumes and the air fresheners that were fighting a losing battle. I just found it unpleasant, but poor old Liesel doesn’t have the most robust set of lungs at the best of times.
A few deep breaths of fresh air and we were back on the road.
To prevent landslides, there are a few places by the A1 (and presumably elsewhere) where they’ve sprayed concrete all up the hill, a common sight in Malaysia. But here, the colour they’ve chosen here is a better match to the background earthy colours.
We stopped at a place called Milton, where the views could be English pastoral scenes, evoking paintings by Constable.
Breakfast at Ulladulla was very welcome. The Sun was out, the sky was blue, hardly a breeze, we found a place mentioned in some of the literature, Native!, and it lived up to its reputation.
Boats in harbours always make me happy and I wonder if this is because one of my very first jigsaw puzzles, when I was small, depicted such a scene?
I had more fun than Liesel did in Ulladulla for which I feel very guilty. No I don’t. I sat in the library writing while she sat in the car looking out for Traffic Wardens, or Rangers as they are called here.
When I reached a stopping point, I went to meet Liesel and was delighted to find this sundial, with its unorthodox orientation and gnomon placement. It told the right time as far as I could tell, taking into account the equation of time and daylight savings, but I could see no reason why it was set up this way. It was erected in celebration of Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988.
Burrill Beach at Dolphin Point has no crocodiles, hooray, no mention of jellyfish, fantastic, so a lovely place to go for a dip, you’d think.
But even without those hazards, the high waves plus the strong winds were far too intimidating for us.
I went for a quick walk along the beach and had the place to myself again. At one end of the beach, there was no wind. One minute, I had to hold my hat on, the next I’m standing feeling the heat of the Sun on my back. Magic.
I tried to make friends with the oystercatchers, but they weren’t interested. I was intrigued by the structure of the beach’s surface here, though: usually you see roughly parallel lines in the sand, whether from waves or from wind.
Yet another reason why I regret not pursuing a geology course at some point.
Burrill Beach has many holiday homes and would probably be a great place to spend more time. But a lot of those homes don’t look out over the sea. There are tall trees in the way. Or, if you’re really unlucky, you look out over the caravan park that is right next to the beach.
Just when you’re thinking, ooh, we haven’t seen any wildlife for a while, we turn a corner in Kioloa and find a field full of kangaroos relaxing.
And if that wasn’t enough, just along the road, we passed by a house with several kangaroos in the front garden. These were not at all timid: in fact, they seemed disappointed that I didn’t offer them any food. But I swear the one at the front rolled his eyes when I asked, “What’s up, Skip?”
It was bright and sunny in Bateman’s Bay too and although we didn’t see much of the town itself, we did find some great sculptures.
The octopus on a buoy certainly drew our attention.
Our final stop tonight was at our b&b in Moruya. On the way, we passed this sign, so now I had another song in my head.
When we entered the premises, we held our breath but, phew, this place didn’t smell too bad at all. And relax!
‘Twas a cold night in Orange. That’s the second time I’ve been able to say that. It occurs about every one third of a century.
In 1986, Sarah, Jenny and I slept in a campervan in a campsite in Orange. It was cold. So cold, there was ice on the windows in the morning. It was our coldest night camping ever.
Today, we woke up to a temperature of 45°F (7°C). A few months ago, we were enjoying 45°C (113°F). One extreme to the other. There was dew on the grass, maybe even frost, that’s how cold it was.
During the nearly two hour drive, we passed a few wallabies and kangaroos wondering why their early morning grass was so crunchy. But it warmed up nicely, the sky was clear and blue, so a good day was definitely in store.
I’d last visited Dubbo Zoo in 1986: a return visit was well overdue.
We arrived just in time to Prowl the Pridelands, to look at the lions. The bus accommodates over 20 guests, but there were just the three of us on this tour.
Four young brothers live and play together, and take advantage of the shadow cast by the bus.
Their parents are in a large, separate area, and they all looked very content. So would we if we could sleep for 16-20 hours a day.
It would be cruel and heartless to pull a lock of hair from a lion’s mane, but that’s exactly what someone has done.
It’s surprisingly coarse and it would have been difficult to untangle the dreadlock into which it had been wrought.
Taronga Western Plains, aka Dubbo, Zoo is very spacious, 300 hectares, so the animals have plenty of room to roam. The disadvantage for us visitors is that sometimes, they’re way over there on the other side of the field.
We hired a buggy to drive around the 6 km circuit. It didn’t necessarily mean less walking altogether, but we were able to visit pretty much all the inmates.
The meerkats were very active: well, some of them.
The zebras and other big animals are behind a moat and a fence that are well concealed until you’re up close, giving the impression of wide open spaces.
In 1986, when we visited Dubbo Zoo, we hired bikes to cycle around. Sarah had 2-year old Jenny on the back of her bike. After a short while, I realised there were no brakes so I rode back to complain, and was told that you have to back-pedal to brake. Obvious. Well, later on, as we rode towards the hippopotamus pond, down a slope, Sarah momentarily forgot how to brake and she and Jenny nearly ended up joining the hippos in the water.
Today, we arrived at the hippopotamus enclosure in style, on four wheels. We listened to the Hippo Talk, haha, no, we listened to a zookeeper talk about the hippos. There is one way apart from the obvious to tell the difference between males and females. A nice, neat pile of poo is probably deposited by a female. Males tend to poo and pee at the same time and get their tail spinning round like a propellor to spread it far and wide. A better metaphor for Brexit I have never seen.
We watched a baby elephant having a nice mudbath followed by a dry dirt shower.
I started singing “There’s a starman waiting in the sky” as we approached the black apes. The sideways text on the sign soon became clearer: siamang.
Two of them were playing on the rope bridge over the water. Later on, one ate a carrot while the other ran off with a lettuce or something. Both kept their backs to us, they obviously know humans would be after their food, given half a chance.
Liesel and I hadn’t seen camels in the wild in the Northern Territory, so we were delighted to see some here. Liesel asked the question so I told her about the two different kinds. Bactrian camels have two humps, like the letter B. Dromedaries have one hump, like the letter D. I was hoping to find a sign confirming this.
The sign just described all the residents here as Arabian Camels. No Asian Bactrians, it seems.
We heard a booming noise. I thought it was the siamang using the echo chamber built into his throat. Liesel thought it was the lion. We never did find out the origin of the slightly spooky noise.
The quokka was cute but we couldn’t approach any closer than from the viewing platform, several metres above.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting outside the giftshop. I was eating my apple and this did not go unnoticed. The ring-tailed lemur over the water was watching me like a hawk. It wanted my apple but I don’t feel guilty about eating the whole thing all by myself, thank you very much.
If we’d wanted to visit Africa, this signpost would have been very helpful.
It was a fun day at the zoo, probably one of the best zoo days we’ve ever had. Not once did we think the animals looked a bit unhappy or stressed and that makes a lot of difference. The weather was perfect, there weren’t too many other people, the buggy was fun to drive and none of us fell out.
The drive back over the hills to Orange was pretty, especially as the Sun began to set.
This photo is being used as evidence that I fell asleep in the back of the car. Well, yes, I did rest my eyes for a minute or two.
As we were in Helen’s car, we mostly listened to her music. So lots of Snow Patrol and Killers. At Liesel’s request, we listened to the soundtrack from the film The Big Chill.
We kept the house slightly warmer tonight, but the floor was still cold, made from some material designed to suck all the warmth out of your feet.
We said goodbye to Trudi, and drove up to see the view from Castle Hill. That’s a high outcrop in Townsville, not to be confused with the school of the same name in Chessington.
We drove, but many people were walking, cycling or even running up the hill. Not a pleasant walk, we thought, with all the traffic. After parking, we walked around, climbed to the highest points, and looked down on Townsville and the surrounding area. The views were stunning, helped by it being such a clear day, contrary to the earlier forecast.
The Summit Loop track at 260m was one of the shortest walks on offer and the only one we completed. Radio transmitters are on top, and they are today’s hazard – no crocodiles, snakes, parachutists, asbestos here, just radio signals out to boil your brain.
We had another long drive today and I think we enjoyed watching the changes of scenery, but less time in the car would be nice.
We drove by Billabong Sanctuary but decided not to stop for koala cuddles.
This was another place Sarah, Jenny and I visited in 1986. The highlight was being chased by an emu known as Gonzo. At the time, I thought it was because he thought I had some tasty emu treats in my camera bag. When the photos came back from the film processor, I realised what was going on. In profile, me and my bulky bag were a very similar shape to an emu. I think Gonzo just fancied me.
Brandon is a nice up-and-coming little place: they even sell videos, now, in one shop.
We stopped in Ayr for breakfast and I was disappointed not to find the Ayrdresser. I thought the speed cameras might be labelled Ayr Traffic Control but the closest we got to that was the sign showing the end of the Ayr Traffic Zone.
Bowen was bypassed so if there were any archery shops selling Bowen arrows, we’ll never know.
As suggested by Alison whom we would meet later, we made a detour to Cape Gloucester. We walked on Hideaway Bay beach which had a much steeper camber than any of the beaches we’ve seen for ages.
The sand was coarser too and there were rocks and coral and many seashells. An interesting beach, yes, but not proper seaside.
I have no idea how that Egyptian pyramid got into the picture. Liesel reckons it’s a small island to the south of Gloucester Island, and she’s usually right.
Airlie Beach greeted us and we looked at the lagoon, visited the booking office and ate at the Hog’s Breath Café, or Hog’s, Australia’s Steakhouse.
Our new Airbnb is up the hill and boasts views of the town, the sea and the mountains, depending on which window you look through. We met Alison and Trevor but their dining companions vamoosed as soon as we showed up: no offence taken.
Here’s the next (and possibly final) episode in the ongoing in-car entertainment saga. It’s not for everyone, so if you want to stop reading the post at this point, no offence taken.
The car we hired in Cairns doesn’t like to play music from my phone, so we’ve been playing the songs through our little portable speaker. Normally we think its acoustics are ok, but with all the background noise in a car, it’s really hard to tell.
The main problem is still that different CDs and other music sources provide music at vastly differing sound volumes. I hope we can find a way to fix this at some point.
Imagine you were having a dinner party and you could only invite people from songs on my phone with titles beginning with the definite article. Who might turn up? A strange collection of folk, that’s for sure. Hundreds of ’em!
The Saddest Crowd
The Emperor’s Wife
The Impossible Girl
The Fool on the Hill
The Lovely Linda
The Lovers that Never Were
The Other Me
The Real Me
The Bewlay Brothers
The Laughing Gnome
The Man Who Sold the World
The Man With the Child in his Eyes
The Maid of Culmore
The Bloke who Serves the Beer
The Only Living Boy in New York
The Little Cowboy
The Poor Stranger
Them Heavy People just miss out an an invitation because the song is the first after the ‘The’s.
The excitement in the car was palpable as we finally reached the end of the Ts and we were eager to plough through the Us, Vs, Ws. Whoa, lots of Ws, many asking questions, Where, When, Who?
A couple of good segues came up by accident. Tomorrow Never Comes was followed by Tomorrow Today.
The raunchy Wake up and Make Love With Me was followed by the innocent Walking in the Air, which made us chuckle.
No Xs, lots of Yous and other Ys
Today was a landmark day, though. We’ve played all the music tracks from my phone, from A to Z. Actually, there were a few before the As even started: punctuation and numerals are sorted before the alphabet.
The first Z was Ziggy Stardust (performed by Seu Jorge rather than David) and we knew there wouldn’t be many Zs.
The final Z song came to an end. Zui-Zui-Zukkorobashi by Hiro Fujikake and James Galway.
But wait, there’s more!
What comes after Z? ÞAð Sést Ekki Sætari Mey, an early Icelandic song by Björk, that’s what! It was playing as we drove past the Billabong Sanctuary, a moment to be cherished throughout the ages. People will probably write songs about the occasion.
Meanwhile, what do we do now for in-car musical entertainment? We’ll revert to ‘random shuffle’ knowing that some songs will never play, but the plan is to download some new music when we get a good enough wifi connection. The request list (from both of us) is quite long.
We had another chat with Judy before leaving for breakfast at Joey’s in Mission Beach. We enjoyed a walk on the beach hoping to see one or two sky-divers coming in to land, but there weren’t any about while we were there. Inevitably there’s a warning sign. If the plants and animals aren’t out to get you, falling humans will have a go.
Yes, I was tempted, a little, to do another parachute jump myself, it would be a great experience over the Great Barrier Reef, but time wasn’t really on our side. Next time, maybe.
There was some interesting wildlife on the beach. Nothing big, so I drew a crocodile in the sand. Millions of small crabs each with their own little hole surrounded by lots of balls of sand from below. Plus one single caterpillar.
On the way back to the car, we found what may have been the caterpillar’s mother, who knows?
On the way out of town, we passed by more of those banana trees with the fruit now ensconced in plastic bags. We wondered whether they were to deter cassowaries rather than insects?
Judy had said not to bother stopping at Cardwell because there are crocodiles on the beach. So we had to stop at Cardwell to see for ourselves. Not one croc. Not even the slightest indentation in the sand that might have been a croc’s footprint.
We passed under several of these ‘fauna rope bridges’ which I’m sure are a great idea, but we’re not sure how the animals know where the crossings are, nor how to use them. From our sedentary position in a fast-moving vehicle, it was very hard to work it out.
Near Rungoo, we stopped at a lookout to look at the rather large Hinchinbrook Island, almost a holiday destination in its own right. In fact, we met a couple who had been there and we directed them to a better viewpoint, the lower one being ruined by intervening power lines.
I heard Liesel say “I have forgotten my teeth” so I queried that statement. She claims she actually said “I have food caught in my teeth”.
Hmm, I thought, that looks good, pies with my name on.
Four kilometres later, we turned right at the traffic lights to find that the place was closed. C’est la vie.
Onwards to Ingham where we took some time out to do some laundry. Luckily, the laundrette was open, very few other shops were. I went for a walk, and I found one coffee shop open.
There’s a pub here that doesn’t sell beer, but that doesn’t matter because we didn’t go. It was probably closed anyway.
By contrast, there were some unexpectedly good photo opps here. Unexpected in the sense that we weren’t really looking out for interesting flora and fauna, it was purely about clothes: wash Ingham and dry Ingham.
If the plants don’t get you and the animals don’t get you and the humans don’t fall out of the sky on top of you, then the buildings will definitely have a go.
Having had coffees and drink Ingham, we didn’t need a Driver Reviver, but what a great idea: free coffee.
We passed an RAAF base where one of their latest fighter planes had come to stop just in time before hitting the highway.
As I told Liesel, the last time I was in Townsville, a third of a century ago, we were driven in, sharing the front seat of a tow truck with the driver. Our campervan had broken down. We didn’t see much of the town on that occasion. But we arrived here today in the sunshine, and headed straight for the Strand.
We saw a dolphin!
Not a real one: it would be cruel, sticking a real dolphin to your garden wall.
It’s election time so be sure to place your cross between two trees.
We thought we’d walk to the end of the pier, which we did, only to find it occupied by people fishing and, at the far end, filletting fish. Not the typical seaside pier, really.
It was good to see so many cyclists, roller skaters, roller bladers and runners using the path above the beach. But we’ve never seen so many dog walkers. All the dogs were on leads, we saw no dog mess, we heard no signs of aggression from any of those dogs.
The Sun was incredibly bright but with a bit of jiggery-pokery, I captured this image. It looks like a nice beach too, although we didn’t walk along it this time. There’s a small swimming area, with a jellyfish net around, but very few people in the sea.
We dined at a Laos/Thai restaurant and again, I couldn’t finish my meal. I think my stomach must have shrunk or something. We found our Airbnb: we’re sharing with a lovely couple, two dogs and a cat. The neighbours have about 43 dogs between them by the sounds of it! They’re taking it in turns to start a Mexican wave of barking.