2 is a Magic Number

At the risk of this becoming yet another unnecessarily foodie blog, let me just say how much we all enjoyed the waffles for breakfast: thanks, Liesel!

We went into Manchester where Helen picked up a scooter from Shopmobility, located in and funded by the Harry Potter shop in the Arndale Centre. This is apparently the only non-profit HP shop anywhere: thanks, JK!

Who’s this scary Harry Potter charcter? No prizes, just for fun!

We wandered around the city, admiring the mix of old and new architecture not to mention the humour.

Giving beer a bad name

Helen, Liesel and I managed to lose Steve for a while, but we knew he’d probably catch up with us at Albert Square, the location of the Christmas Market. Lots of food here as well as arts and crafts, and not all Christmas flavoured, which I think is more interesting. We didn’t sample any of the beer though, nor the Christmas punch, even though the stall is very ornate.

Christmas punch

Neither did we go skating on the pop-up ice rink. But I did enjoy watching some very tentative skating for a short while: good to see I’m not the only one who can only go forwards and can only stop by grabbing hold of the rail at the side!

Skating on thin ice

There are a lot of people in Manchester sleeping rough, so how fantastic to find a bench suitable for homeless person to have a nap on.

Petrified rough sleeper

It’s a well-made sculpture, no doubt, but I sense a mixed message here: let’s think about these poor people; and let’s restrict their options.

Helen spotted Steve and called his name across the road. You probably heard her. I do know she’s responsible for causing some avalanches in Switzerland.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We do like a good busker, worth a couple of quid if they’re not ruining one of my favourite songs.

Bob Marley singing Redemption Song

Next day, Helen and Steve, our two guests, went off on their own adventure after Liesel and I dropped them off at the railway station in Didsbury. We broke our fast at Scholars and Saints where I took some photos of their photos and artefacts.

The car from The Prisoner

Later on, I went on a solo walk down to the river and beyond. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, really. Not literally a wild goose, it was more a very timid black heron, I think, that flew further along the river every time I approached shooting distance.

This is as close as I could get to the elusive heron

I’m British so I have a genetic predisposition to whingeing about the weather. But today, it was perfect, lots of blue sky and then, of course, the odd splash of colour was lovely to see.

Flowers, leaves and a bit of microphotography

Our long-term project to get to know the area continues. We finally visited John Rylands Library in Manchester. What a fascinating place, full of old books that you’re not allowed to take out. They restore old books here too. The gothic style of the building gives the impression of a church, hence…

Liesel and fellow traveller at prayer before the guided tour began
Fabulous vaulted ceiling
Light switches

These light switches look like gas taps because that’s exactly what they are. In the early days of electricity, the supply was fitted by gas workers and while they knew about gas taps, proper light switches were still to be invented.

People can’t see in from the street but these large windows, apparently made from the bottoms of bottles, let plenty of natural light in.

Big bright windows
Christmas tree waiting by our bus stop

This week, Grandchild day fell on his special day: Happy 2nd birthday, William!

William with his two favourite balloons, the orange ones

We took him to the Ice Cream Farm near Chester because it was such a lovely, warm, sunny day. I lie. It was freezing, with a bitterly cold, biting wind, straight from Siberia. He enjoys the sand and water play, and for much of the time, we were alone. This is ok, but it was up to us to keep the water flowing and that’s quite hard work: pumps, Archimedes screws, buckets.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his new all-in-one waterproof outfit, maybe we tightened it up too much, but we knew that if he were to fall over in the water, he wouldn’t get all his clothes wet!

William in his birthday suit, sort of
Inspecting the Strawberry Falls

Outside, we let him walk and run around a bit, but I think we were both pleased (and relieved) when he agreed it would be nice to go indoors and eat something. And yes, later, of course we had ice cream, despite the sub-arctic conditions outside.

The Flake didn’t last long

The poor, exhausted little chap fell asleep on the way home, of course, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Good job Liesel was driving, just the same.

While Helen and Steve were visiting other people further afield, I went for a quick walk to the supermarket and beyond. It’s good to see that some folks in Northenden know how to have a good time, but what a mess they left behind

Nitrous oxide capsules: no laughing matter

While Liesel was working for her Alaskan-based friend, I enjoyed another solitary walk, some puzzles, some writing, some radio and some podcasts.

Helen and Steve left for home, so we visited Didsbury for our usual Saturday morning activities. Mine involved lying down and being massaged, muscles stretched, popped, put back into place.

Today, two days after William’s second birthday, we went to his house for a family get-together. We were joined by Auntie Andrea (Liam’s sister) and Uncle Paul with their daughters Annabel and Emily. Papa was here too but poor old Nana, Una, stayed away with her flu-like contagion. Still, three grandparents out of four isn’t bad.

What a beautiful family: thy should be proud to have my genes, apart from the whingeing-about-the-weather ones
What a good blow, William!

His cake depicted characters from the hit children’s TV show Hey Duggee!, which we always enjoy watching on our babysitting days.

It was a great party, with hide and seek, dancing, jelly, balloons and presents; and of course, we all took many photos!

In this week’s edition of University Challenge, our two teams are: Annabel, William, Martha and Emily on the top, while Paul, Andrea, Liam and Jenny are on the bottom row

Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Manchester Museum

I rode my bike for the first time in over a year and I didn’t fall off. Total distance covered: less than one mile, but it’s a start. Later in the week, longer rides were precluded by the monsoon season. A month’s worth of rain in less than a day. Thank goodness we’re on the top floor in our luxury block.

Martha and William are the highlights of the week of course. We might have a small moan when we drag ourselves out of bed early on a Sunday morning, but watching them both in the swimming pool, enjoying it and learning, is very gratifying.

Liam and William in the pool

We all, six of us, had brunch at The Laundrette in Chorlton. That’s a restaurant, not the place where you wash clothes, that wouldn’t be very nice, dropping crumbs on other people’s washing. Liesel and I again realised, we’d never drive as far just to eat out when we lived in Chessington.

Liam’s Dad, Alan, very kindly planed the bottom of the door leading from the hall into our living room. Just one of the unintended side-effects of having a new, thicker carpet installed last week. As part of the decluttering project in Chessington, I’d passed on my plane knowing that I wouldn’t be doing any more serious woodwork. But if I still had it, I’d be planing the door, several days later, very tentatively shaving a half a millimetre off at a time. Thank goodness for experts.

One sunny day, I took advantage and went for a long walk.

River Mersey

I saw and followed the sign towards St Hilda’s church. Somehow I missed it from which I can only deduce that Hilda is the patron saint of invisible churches. Or maybe I just wasn’t concentrating.

My route followed the river for a long way and I was beginning to think how relaxing it might be, out in a boat. Until, that is, I came across some very half-hearted rapids.

Rapids

I kept a list of all the wildlife I encountered, ducks, rats, otters, beavers, deer, moorhens, coots, foxes, bears… and the grand total was a big fat zero. A few insectsbuzzed about, busy doing what they do and that’s it: slightly disappointing.

Fallen tree

After so much rain recently, it looks as though this tree could no longer hang on by its root tips. It slid down the slope to a sad end in the river.

People who know me probably also know that the twelve-year old hiding within this old body often writes a certain three-letter word in the sand on beaches. Well, I am not alone, as this tag on a pillar supporting the M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road shows.

Bumbag

Grandchildren Day saw Oma playing with Playdough, Play-d’oh!, however it’s spelt, but she did let Martha join in a bit too.

Martha and Liesel and Play-Doh

After a nap (William and me), we took a bus into Manchester where we met Jenny for lunch. This was a bit of an experiment, really, to see how the children would cope with seeing their Mum halfway through a working day. Martha wanted to go back to work with Jenny, but other than that, we had a good time. Well, nobody was too traiumatised.

Liesel and I took the children to Manchester Museum, just down the road. Martha wanted to see the dinosaurs while William was more interested in the froggies. Taking pictures through glass in a darkened vivarium trying to avoid reflections of the few spotlights was a challenge. And we weren’t allowed to remove the frogs for photographic purposes either.

Green frogs
Cephalopod

It’s fascinating to see what interests them both and I’m not sure Martha believed me when I told her she had bones inside her just like those on display, just much, much smaller.

Both grandchildren fell asleep on the way back to Jenny’s and after watching the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we went to play in the garden.

Martha is flying

It was her Dad who threw Martha into the sky, not me, I’m not sure I could do that with someone else’s child.

And now, after a long, long break in the proceedings, it was time to finish off the VHS video digitisation project. I’d copied most of the videos onto the PC some years ago but had to make use of a professional service to copy some of the more fragile ones.

Windows XP

Booting up in Windows XP was a delight. Bish, bash, bosh, here’s the screen, you can do something straightaway. Not like Windows 7 or 10 where the disk thrashes about doing who knows what for a long, long time. Ooh, a bit of a rant crept in, there.

The quality of the footage is still very disappointing of course: I was reminded why I’d shelved the project for so long. Playing a newly created DVD on a proper DVD player revealed even more defects. But if I can get some stills from the videos, that will still be of value.

Another morning in Didsbury culminated in a very late breakfast at Greens. We took on enough energy to be able to install more shelves in the flat. We unpacked several boxes of CDs. A ridiculous number of CDs. I reckon if you have CDs that you can’t remember playing at all, or even buying, you’ve almost certainly got too many!

After a month’s rainfall yesterday, we had a gorgeous sunny day today. If it turns out to have been a month’s worth of sunshine as well, well, I think we’ll all be extremely miffed and very disappointed.

To Orange

We woke up in Manly, several degrees further south and several degrees cooler than Queensland. In the morning, after work, Helen and Liesel went to the shopping mall. My invitation is still in the post, so I went for a massage and a walk instead.

A fire engine and several police cars in close proximity plus a few people looking at something: the something was a damaged car. It’s hard to see how a vehicle can be driven fast enough to cause that much damage in the narrow roads of Manly, but Helen assures me it happens all the time.

Grey, cloudy Manly Beach

Manly Beach provided two contrasting views. In one direction, a bit grey and gloomy. In the other, bright blue skies, an image worthy of a picture postcard.

Picture postcard Manly Beach

My second perambulation of the day was arranged to coincide with the ridiculously early sunset time of 5pm.

Early sunset

I was surprised to see so many people still out and about and playing in the sea.

A little bit later

For supper, Helen had baked pies for me. As requested. Pies with Quorn chunks and leeks. I do like pies and it’s been disappointing a couple of times to come across a pie shop only to find it’s not open. Or in some cases, to find that the only pies totally sold out are the vegetarian pies. I like pies and I miss pies probably more than any other single food item. Really looking forward to a pie fest when we get home. Lovely pies, thanks, Helen!

I’ve not watched any proper TV for ages but tonight, we watched the first episode of “Gentleman Jack”, several hours before it was shown back in the UK! Well, we watched half of it. Martha and William called Helen after their swimming lessons and we watched them on a laptop screen rather than a phone screen, both talking, both delightful to watch. William is quite happy to pilfer tomatoes from Martha. He’s quite happy to climb out of his chair and onto the table. He’s 18 months old, in case you’d forgotten.

Liesel and I have suffered a few early mornings but today’s early rise in Manly was really hard.

Adam’s away for work, so Helen’s offered to take Liesel and me away for a couple of days. Our third Aussie road trip on this visit. We left the apartment at 7am, drove through the busy streets of Sydney but, as a multiple-occupied car, we were allowed in the special inside lane for special people.

The city views were enhanced by the odd patch of mist.

Early mist in Richmond

Sydney’s a big city, it takes hours to drive through all the suburbs. And people commute these great distances too, which we all would find so depressing.

We stopped briefly at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens and what a beautiful view over the Blue Mountains. The Sun was out, it was a bit misty in the valleys, there were some Autumnal colours.

Misty Blue

A Japanese artist would produce a much better image than my camera ever could, but it was a sunning view.

We had a quick look at some of the botanicals too, and as usual, a longer visit here is recommended.

Wollemi, a prehistoric pine

This display of colour is in direct competition with anything at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is on right now.

Forever Autumn

The sundial was fantastic: if we had a garden, this would fit right in.

Botanic Gardens Sundial

We stopped for lunch in Bathurst, and this is another cute little place that we need to explore more. The architecture is very attractive, once you look up from the modern-day shop façades.

Bathurst

Helen coped with it very well, but I wondered whether this ‘squareabout’, a square roundabout at a crossroads, which you drive around the wrong way, was designed purely to confuse the slightly less astute visitor.

Squareabout in Bathurst

The landscapes and skyscapes were great to look at: sometimes, we could have been looking at an English pastoral scene, but then you’d see something quintessentially Australian, and come back to reality.

We arrived at Heifer Station Cellar Door where we went on a tour of the vineyard, on a golf buggy. We sampled wines as we progressed, stopping every few minutes while our guide told us about the different grapes they grow here and the different wines produced.

The vines

We tried sparkling, white, rosé and red. They were all good, I recognised some of the flavours but my suggestion that one had a hint of licorice was slightly poopooed! One of the sampled wines was only bottled five days ago.

There are some animals here too, including a petting zoo with a Shetland pony, some goats and a pig. Best of all was the hieland coo.

Hieland coo

We all bought several bottles and if we don’t drink it all, Liesel and I will have to lug some bottles all the way home.

Car on a tree stump

Mount Canobolas is the highest peak in this section of the range. It is claimed that, looking west, there is nothing higher until you reach Madagascar. We drove to the summit in order to watch the sunset. We didn’t see Madagascar.

It was a little bit colder up on top, but the views were good, in all directions.

Setting Sun behind the Central Mapping Authority Geodetic Station
Selfie of the day (thanks, Helen)
Orange sunset near Orange

It became dark very quickly once the Sun set. Helen drove us to our b&b in Orange, stopping in town so we could buy some groceries.

It was a cold house. There, I said it. The floor is made of ice, or so my feet told me. We turned on the heater. A few days ago, we were still using air conditioning. No more. Heat is required. Helen and Liesel both feel the cold more than I do, but it was a bit of a shock coming into this cold storage unit pretending to be holiday accommodation. Brrr.

To Mission Beach

Mossman Gorge is just north of Port Douglas and was the venue for our first hike of the day. There’s an Aboriginal Village between the visitor’s centre and the gorge itself, and we were requested not to walk through. So, along with just about everyone else, we took the shuttle bus service, and enjoyed a much shorter walk.

Small stream

In the rainforest, you’re always on the lookout for something different: unusual trees and other plants, maybe even animals. Sometimes it just looks and feels prehistoric, but it’s always gorgeous. We’re grateful for the boardwalks they’ve installed, it’s easier for us townies, but it means that you are still in touch with modern life, with civilisation and to a certain extent, that’s what we’re trying to get away from.

Mossman rapids

Just one bloke ignored all the warnings and jumped in the water to ruin everyone else’s photos.

Liesel was delighted to walk across the relatively new Rex Creek Bridge. It was a bit wobbly but we all survived.

The challenging Rex Creek Bridge

Normally, there’s nothing special about moss, but this large patch was almost glowing.

Moss, man

Back at Port Douglas, we walked up to the Lookout and along some of Four Mile Beach.

Four Mile Beach from the Lookout

We both commented on how pleasant the temperature was, after being in the heat for so long. One day, we’ll be complaining it’s too cold, I know, but right now, it’s just right.

It’s a nice beach, flat, with perfect sand, but there are three main hazards to look out for. Box jellyfish might come along and sting you. Crocodiles might come along and eat you. Humans might slip off the rocks and fall onto you.

Another warning sign

A small section of the sea was safe to swim in as there was a net keeping the box jellyfish out. Both Liesel and I fought the temptation to leap in.

The safe swimming area

We brushed the sand off our feet and set off for Cairns. The winding road by the coast was great but it was nice when it straightened out for a while.

Liesel pointed and said that that was one job she wouldn’t want to do, and I can see that it might become a wee bit exhausting and even boring and repetitive. Putting plastic bags over the new bunches of bananas before they grow too big, presumably as a pest deterrent. I assume they’re not conventional plastic bags, but allow air and moisture to flow through. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees in fields, different coloured bags making it all look quite artistic. I wonder if we’ll see more sometime, and get a picture?

In Cairns, we looked at the menu outside Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar and there were plenty of nice-looking vegetarian dishes to choose from. We went in and the sign at the door said “Please wait to be seated. Grazie.” Hang on, I thought, that’s Italian, not Greek. Greek would be Ευχαριστώ. As we realised we’d entered the wrong place, we were being shown to a table. We had Italian food instead, the waitress was very friendly but we didn’t ask whether her accent was American, Irish or something else: it was certainly flexible.

While eating, we heard one solitary rumble of thunder, and as it was cloudy, we thought a storm was on its way. We had felt a few spots of rain at Mossman Gorge. But no. We later wondered whether it was thunder after all, maybe it was a jet.

After lunch, we walked along the Esplanade and enjoyed watching birds out on the mudflats. The pelicans were a lovely surprise.

Australian Pelicans

They’re so elegant when they glide just a few inches above the water with barely a twitch of the wings.

Curlew rooting away
Curlew with food plus photobomb

We passed by the war memorial, always sad to see, but the big gun has been out of commission since the 1960s, so the birds are safe.

25 Pounder artillery gun/Howitzer

This chap was standing still for ages, to the point where I wondered if it was real.

Very stationary egret

He had his eyes on something, I was poised with the camera, he didn’t move, I didn’t dare blink, I stretched to relieve a crick in my back and boom, he moved, I missed the moment, but he walked away with a juicy morsel and I’m sure he winked at me as if to say “gotcha”.

Caught something tasty
Yellow-fronted beachcomber

A couple of exercise areas caught our attention, briefly, but we decided to leave the equipment for other people to enjoy. Not that there was a long queue or anything.

Promenade gym

The children’s play area by contrast was fully occupied and we thought these serving suggestions were pretty good.

Playground

Back in the car, as we progressed in a southerly direction, we were treated to two signs indicating “The highest mountain in Queensland”. Well, we thought, they can’t both be right. The two contenders are neighbours. Mt Bartle Frere is 1611 or 1622 m depending on which source you believe while Mt Bellenden Ker is a mere 1593 m above sea level. In any case, these mountains had their heads in the clouds as we drove by.

One of the highest mountains in Queensland

It’s election time in Australia and the radio adverts are the same old same old, but this large mural is hard-hitting in a fun way.

Vote for … somebody

We made a quick detour to Etty Bay, E Bay for short, because it’s famous for the local family, group, herd, whatever, of cassowaries.

Etty Bay

The beach was packed: just one young lady reading or meditating or something. I walked to the far end to use the facilities and when I told Liesel there actually was a toilet and I didn’t need to use the bush, she decided to go too. I said I’d walk back up the hill looking out for cassowaries, and she could pick me up when I thumbed a lift. Hah. The only cassowaries I saw were on road signs. I did find some very tasty-looking red berries though.

Juicy red berries

No, I didn’t eat any, no idea what they are.

Liesel drove up the hill, big grin arriving well before she did. Did you see a cassowary, she asked? No, I replied. I did, she boasted, by the campsite.

Liesel’s cassowary

I was tempted to say, oh please, please, please, take me back, but it was getting dark. The Sun sets behind the mountains and, being still in the tropics, there’s no real twilight period.

Sunset over the mountains

In Mission Beach, we have a room in the house shared with the host, Judy. She is a very friendly, chatty kiwi. She told us there would be no naked people in the pool, so that put the kibosh on my plans. She didn’t need to see one of her guests bending over outside without any clothes on, again. The pool was lovely, though, I just floated around for about 15 minutes, looking up at the lack of stars. It had been overcast for most of the day.

Mick in the pool

You can do a sky dive here at Mission Beach, landing on the actual beach. I wonder? I will if Liesel does…

Return to Darwin

Our second visit to Florence Falls was much more worthwhile. Everyone else is back at work and we took advantage. We even found a parking spot under the shade of a tree and that’s very unusual.

We had a bit of a moan about the lack of wildlife spotted recently, so it was delightful to see some on the early morning drive. Two wallabies crossed the road in front of us but even better, we passed a kite flying at a very low level next to the road, with his breakfast in his claws. Very exciting!

Florence Falls

We walked to the viewing platform and then down the 135 steps to the plunge pool. 135? I made it 168 and even then, I think I missed some when we greeted passers-by.

Where’s Liesel?
Where’s the golden orb spider?

The pool itself was inviting but I was keeping my powder, and my body, dry for later on.

The plunge pool

Before we’d left, a group of young people came down, started swimming, a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, enjoying the echoes.

One of many early morning lizards

Similarly, Buley Rockhole was relatively deserted. We were surprised but very pleased that there was so little litter in either place. There are no bins, you’re supposed to take all your rubbish away, and it seems that the vast majority did so. Either that, or the rangers had done a good job very early.

Buley Rockhole without the crowds

We considered holding a spontaneous jumble sale when we came across several items of forgotten clothing.

Any offers considered

One Dad was having fun with his little girl, encouraging her to jump in from the rock. But, at the last moment, he couldn’t bear to look.

Go on, jump, you know you want to…

Yes, I was tempted to join in here but we had other plans.

Along the road we stopped by Tolmer Falls Lookout. This was a half-hour walk, along a boardwalk well above the trees. Another spectacular view reminding us again just how immense and impressive this country is.

It’s a big, big country alright

The waterfall itself looked relatively small and insignificant in the distance: I felt sorry for it.

Tolmer Falls
Tolmer Falls

As we walked back along the walkway, we saw a couple of ladies looking at photos on their phones. So we just ploughed on right up to them. Thereby scaring away the goanna they’d actually been photographing. We apologised of course before taking our own pictures.

Goanna

What a great day for animals, in the end.

I still needed to pay a couple of bills, so we returned to Wangi Falls to use their wifi. All that and one of the credit card bills was for just 79p.

We had coffee and a sandwich and then, at last, I ripped my clothes off and jumped into the water, shouting and yee-haaing. Well, I went in quietly, one slow step at a time. It was cool and refreshing. Liesel walked to the lookout deck and saw this.

Where’s Mick?

I swam over to her and I couldn’t believe the size of the golden orb spider underneath where she was standing. For the first time ever, I realised how useful a selfie stick might be: you could safely take the spider’s picture from up above.

We encountered one other unexpected sight today. We’ve seen smoke from the road a few times, but today we saw big plumes of smoke and big flames. Yes, a couple of big fires. We wondered where the supervisors were, being sure it was a controlled blaze.

Other than that, the drive back to Batchelor and then along the highway back to Darwin was uneventful.

We’re in a motel for the night. We chose the slighty more expensive cabin at the back, away from the noise of the traffic on the main road. What they didn’t tell us was that we’re under the training flight path of the local RAAF base. We can hear them, oh yes, those jets are loud, but we can also feel them through the floor.

RAAF planes in close formation

Sadly, this is our final night in the Northern Territory and I’m already feeling a bit homesick for the place. I really hope we come back sometime.

Litchfield National Park

After breakfast, I returned to the shop to buy some tissues. It was already quite warm but good to see a blue rather than a cloudy sky.

Here is a picture of the castle in Batchelor Yes, in Batchelor, near Litchfield National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia, a castle.

Batchelor Castle

The original Karlstein Castle was built from 1348-55 in Bohemia (23 km south-east of Prague in the now Czech Republic) by Charles IV, King of Bohemia, Emperor of Germany and of the Holy Roman Empire. At various times, this castle held treasures and relics from the Holy Roman Empire, the Bohemian crown jewels and the Czech crown jewels.

The Batchelor replica miniature was erected by Bernard Havlik, resident of Batchelor, purely from photographs, from 1974-78. It is located in what is now known as Havlik Park.

Our young and good looking friends from the museum said yesterday that a visitor once turned up from the then Czechoslovakia. He lived close to the real Karlstein Castle and he commented that this model was spot on.

Another side of the replica castle

What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. Blue skies. We drove to Litchfield National Park and stopped to look at the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Liesel was disappointed that these constructions weren’t covered in fridge magnets.

The mounds are built by magnetic termites. And no, you can’t attract hundreds of those by waving a horseshoe magnet about either.

These mounds are oriented north-south to reduce the amount of direct sunlight shining on the surface, thus reducing the internal temperature.

Magnetic termite mounds
Narrower than usual

Other mounds are also in the area. The Cathedral Mound is built by a colony of Cathedral termites. What a coincidence!

Colossal Cathedral Mound with little Liesel

It’s an 18-feet tall monolith and it reminded me of an early scene from one of my alltime favourite films, which is now 51 years old.

2001 – A Space Odyssey

It was a very pleasant walk and after a very pleasant drive, we found ourselves at the very pleasant Wangi Falls.

One of the selling points here is the free wifi. We had things to do online. Like tell our host that the oven doesn’t work. Like check that yesterday’s blog had posted on schedule (it hadn’t). Like sync the Fitbit. Like check the bank acc… Oh no. I got kicked off with the message Data Limit Exceeded. I tried with other email addresses but it knew, it knew… Later on, Liesel was kicked off too, Time Limit Exceeded. So, sorry, banks in the UK, I’ll pay the bills very soon, honest.

I had coffee and we had a sandwich, a bowl of salt with some chips in and a slice of cheesecake. That weighed me down quite nicely when I entered the water.

Watching the Chinese group try to order food and drinks was informative yet embarrassing. One lady ordered her meal then walked away. Her friend told her (in Chinese) that she had to pay. Then number two got to the front of the queue before starting to decide what she wanted. The girl behind the counter looked at me with eyes that said “I’m an underpaid café worker, get me out of here.” All I could do to help out was to place my order, clearly and distinctly, and pay without being prompted.

Wangi Falls

It was so refreshing in the water, even with lots of people, noodles and fish. This pool only reopened to the public this week: it’s taken three weeks to be absolutely sure there are no crocodiles in the vicinity after the Wet.

Where’s Mick?

I’m not a very good swimmer and the waterfall was just too far for me to reach. It’s fresh water too, so I was less buoyant than in the sea.

We started on the circular, mile-long Wangi Falls Walk not initially intending to go the whole way, as we’d left all our water in the car.

Wangi Falls
The Golden Orb Sign

The sign told us to look out for a Golden Orb Spider. Well, we found one quite easily, because it was being photographed by a few other people. It’s huge! There were some small, golden normal sized spiders on the web too, but the large one was magnificent. This is one of those rare times when I wish I had a real camera with manual focus. The spider is out of focus in all of my pictures: very disappointing.

Least worst photo of the Golden Orb spider

We continued along the path and up the steps and along the path and round the corner and up the steps to the Treetop view. The higher you climb, the further you see over the Park.

Looking over LItchfield National Park

In the distance here, you can see some smoke, presumably from a controlled fire, known as “fuel reduction” according to some signs we saw today.

At the highpoint, we crossed a bridge over the stream of water that would later plunge hundreds of feet into the swimming hole.

Selfie of the day

You’re supposed to keep to the path to preserve the vegetation and the wildlife but these naughty people climbed through the fence and went walkabout. Liesel asked why I took the picture. Evidence, I said. This is what they looked like before being washed over a waterfall and/or before being eaten by a dingo and/or a crocodile.

Naughty people

It was certainly easier, and quicker, climbing down the steps, but it still required concentration. A little hydration would have helped, of course.

Rocky steps

So, not surprising then that when we next encountered flowing water, we didn’t drink any but we both spontaneously splashed ourselves with it, to cool off. And back down at the bottom, I didn’t need to be asked twice whether I wanted another quick dip. I have no idea how much water we downed when we returned to the car.

On the way home, I sat on a towel so as not to get the car seat too wet.

Lost City

The sign pointed to Lost City. Sadly, the track was 4WD only so we don’t know whether or not we would have found it.

As we approached Batchelor, we saw a car had landed, crooked, on the gravel strip next to the road. Behind it, we saw three unoccupied police vehicles, each from a different police department as far as we could see. We turned the corner only to see a fourth police car approaching. Very exciting, very intriguing. I suspect the driver of the vehicle had run off into the bush and was being chased by Batchelor’s best: a real life 39 Steps. We can’t believe such force would be necessary just because someone parked a bit funny.

The oven still didn’t work, so we fired up the barbecue. Cous-cous with roasted, well, barbecued, vegetables and halloumi. Liesel is a fantastic cook!

We do like to see a bit of colour. But sometimes, a total lack of colour can be just as exciting. The ebony night sky with its myriad stars mesmerised me in the middle of the night. There are trees here that blot out some of the sky, but even so, and even with the annoying motion-sensing lights, the sky was as beautifully bejewelled as I’ve ever seen it. Just too many stars to make out the most obvious of constellations. Marvellous!

When I returned to bed, I tried not to think about number of bites I’d received without realising. It was so quiet outside, no birds, no insects, just the neighbour’s TV gently burbling away. I certainly didn’t hear the warning whine of mosquitoes.

Come breakfast time, the itches had subsided and only a couple of residual bumps showed.

Buley Rockhole is a series of small, round rock pools connected by cascades. It’s closer to Batchelor than Wangi Falls but mostly, we followed the same road. It felt even hotter today than yesterday, although the car’s thermometer suggested otherwise.

Buley Rockhole Cascade

What we hadn’t realised was that today was a public holiday. Everybody was there. Darwin must have been a ghost town.

We had a quick walk but we couldn’t find any shade and even the pools all had too many people in them. Maybe we just don’t like crowds any more!

People having fun and boozing

The young larrikins drinking cans of beers put us off too: just too much jostling and joshing with young families nearby.

The car park at Florence Falls was full, in fact, cars were parked in stupid places a long way back, along the road.

We shall return!

So we went back to Batchelor Museum where the history of the township revolves around the early settlement, farming, World War 2 and the nearby Rum Jungle uranium mine.

One of the first names I noticed was Joe McGinness. Possibly my cousin Joe. His father and my maternal grandfather share a surname and both came from Ireland. I wonder? Something to follow up when we get home.

Joe McGinness

The early settlers tried hard. They grew so many different crops to find out what worked and what didn’t. One of the selling points of the Northern Territory was that it didn’t have many of the expected tropical diseases, not even malaria.

There are stories from some of the airmen based in the area during the war, including Dr Fenton, who we read about in Katherine.

The uranium mine is just along the road and now we know what to look out for should be ever need some uranium ore.

Tobernite

Of course, we’re law-abiding citizens, so we turned our rental vehicle back just as soon as we’d taken this photo.

Restricted area

The local group of lorikeets is either invisible or very well camouflaged. We can hear them, we know which trees they’re in, but we can’t see them. Spooky.