Watching the world go by – Friday13th April 2012


We are so much better for a good night’s sleep and the kind of morning that allows a leisurely breakfast in bed and lots of reading. Wifi connections are appalling here, so we abandon our frustration at not being in touch with friends and family, and not being able to catch up with blogging.
It’s colder inside the ‘budget bungalow’ than outside. So we walk all of 10m to the river front, sit on the wooden chairs, drink coffee, and lemonade and read and talk. There are birds to watch too.
Terns dive frequently into the rising tidal river, the oyster catcher has procured an excellent patch of shellfish, which he picks over as fresh water drenches them, pelicans fly majestically overhead, three cormorants sit and idle the time with us, each on their own jetty piles.
Along with the tide comes paddle boards and canoes but by high tide all seems very still. We bask in the sunshine, peaceful and not traveling anywhere!

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Only when the late afternoon shadows envelope our spot by the jetty do we finally move. Out through the town and along the sandy beach. Not quite white here! As we wander further and further from one beach to another we discuss the most apt descriptive title: buttermilk, says John, no, say I, more like white bone china clay.

Perfect! Relaxing, warm. John and I have come to enhance our relationship in so many ways through this long journey. Peace…

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Camp site or shanty town? – Wednesday 28th March 2012


Our last full day with the campervan! I can hardly believe I have enjoyed it so much, or that the time has flown by. Where shall we go today?
Myalup beach is the first stop. High rise sand, banked up against the tide, short waves, azure water… We walk over the sand and stare in amazement. Clearly this is a fishing beach. There is an eager group of fisherfolk, casting their lines. One set have driven their 4×4 onto the beach, parked up by the sea and taken out picnic chairs, where they sit, each with their own line in the sea. All of them over 65 if not 75! These retired people get everywhere!

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Looking on the map, many possible routes suggest themselves with good campsites. The most varied pitches seem to be inland. Just past Harvey, we take a right to the Logue Dam. I’m really not sure why we pitched here, except the owners were so proud that they were on our road atlas and it was really cheap for a powered site.
What a strange place!

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It’s a shanty town of holiday retreats. Caravans have been sealed into place, the equivalent area of cabin has been built onto the caravan and then, in the case of the most prestigious, a grand covered patio has been erected with gas barbecue, and rugs in situ.
These dwellings, triple the size of the original caravan, make up the vast majority of the site. We are so out of season now! There’s hardly anyone in any of these amazing creations.
On the far side of the dam, we could have had $7 per person pitches but we were not certain of the water supply. Anyway, it is different!
John washes down the van, while a flock of parrots come to join us for coffee. They perch on our washing line, our chairs and eat from our hands.

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The reservoir is very low, revealing cracked, hard baked red clay. We wander down and are amazed that the camp owners suggested we swim here. Maybe not!
Despite the bizarre setting, we find we are quite comfortable. I seem to have adapted well to camp life! Who would have thought!

Surf and the kookaburra – Monday 26th May 2012


Just a short way from Hamlyn is Gracetown, made infamous in Australia recently due to a man being attacked and killed by a shark! Happily, we are there before the attack took place and have no idea of such a danger lurking!

The campsite at Gracetown is very empty. There is an ‘end of season’ feel to the region.. However, there are two beaches just down the road, one for surfers and one town beach. We go to look at the surfers. About a dozen try their luck at catching the perfect wave. My son-in- law makes surf boards by hand. They are beautiful things and he has an eye for the perfect line. He would have loved these waves!
We go to the town beach, and laze in the sun. John swims for a while and a couple of hours pass without problem.

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The idea of taking the perfect wave photo has obsessed John for a while and today he adds dozens of shots to his portfolio.

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Apart from spray in digital form, we are also looking for good body boarding opportunities. However, the surf is either too rough or too short. We move on to Prevelli, where there is a lot of choice but the surf is truly up here, despite us looking at 3 different beaches. We could not cope with the conditions and remain safe.

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Braver souls than us throw themselves into the ocean, just for fun. Some are on surfboards, one on a body board and one (!)just plays in the sea, diving through waves that tower two meters above him!

Back at camp, we begin dinner, when I notice a kookaburra, nearby, smashing his beak on the ground as if killing a fish (though I can see nothing in his beak). Intrigued I go to watch him, and he clearly watches me. I slowly step toward him, and he bravely flies towards me.
What do kookaburras eat? Fish! I have none. Meat, maybe. I do have some minced beef. So I offer him a tiny piece. This goes down a treat, and he stays with us eating from the hand for some 15 minutes or so. Indeed, it goes dark, while he waits with us.

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Birds in Te Anau – Monday 20th February 2012


This morning we return to Queenstown centre to post the lovely print to our friends. This becomes a performance which takes a good hour. We need parcel tape, which appears to be very expensive in NZ, and a box for packing and bubble wrap, which is in very short supply in Queenstown! Usually we would expect to get all these at the post office, but we are out of luck and have to traipse round and round to collect all the elements, including a greetings card to thank them.
Having competed this tour of stationers, we return to the apartment for our car and bags and set off for Te Anau.
It’s a pleasant, straight forward journey which takes about three hours. We settle quickly into the Red Tussock Motel, before setting off for a walk around the lake. About 15 minutes from town are cages of various Kiwi birds, including three Takahe and two Kea parrots. Now we saw a wild Kea parrot on our tour to Milford Sound but did not get a photo: too far up a tree, but it was definitely there. And we saw wild Takahe on Tiritiri Matangi island. So we muse over this collection for a while.

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Kea parrots are known to be mischievous; they like to rip apart campers belongings and steal things from tents. These two had ladders and swings to amuse them.

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I’m not sure if the Pukeko had volunteered to join the Takahe in their huge enclosure but it was good to see the two side by side as it were. There are elements which they share, but the Takahe is by far the heavier, indeed flightless bird, and it’s beak is massive.

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The stroll by the lake is very leisurely and it is a pleasant way to end the day.

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But John has a better idea: we mix a bottle of gin and tonic and take two glasses back down to the lakeshore, before our meal. There we see about 100 mallard ducks, waiting! Occasionally some stray over the main road, but mostly the sit and squabble with each other. About 6 pm a man approaches with bags of grain. He feeds the ducks and they gobble the food. Then the all begin to fly, waddle or flap back to the lake for a grooming session and an evening swim.

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Captain Cook and the Coromandel – Monday 30th January 2012


The Coromandel Peninsula was made famous (to Europeans) by Captain James Cook, when he pulled up the Endeavor on a patch of this newly discovered land, to observe the transit of Mercury across the sun. By doing this he helped work out an exact position on his charts for the longitude of New Zealand so that others might find it in his wake.

(for those just dropping into this blog for the first time, John has been reading Cook’s diaries. He can tell you lots, I paraphrase!)

The important bit is that we are now near Cook’s Beach on Mercury Bay and all the road names have reference to Cook’s crew or their mission. Surely there must be a monument? Well, yes, there is. But a very inauspicious one: no more than a slab of concrete to mark the occasion, close to the beach and a small wooden board which gives the bare bones of the story. John is clearly disappointed!

But all is not lost! Up on Shakespeare’s Cliff (Cook named this too, thinking it looked like the Bard!) a slightly better stone slab affair refers to the navigational milestone and offers excellent views.

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There are also gannets, hurling themselves into the sea, spearing fish. They fold their wings at a particular angle to enable them to plunge, maybe even to swim deep into the sea. Their aerobatic display is remarkable. You can see the bubble trail as they dive, and watch them eat their catch as they sit on the water before taking off to dive again. You can also see the shoals of fish move across the bay, desperate to get out of their way. But the gannets’ arial view beats the fish every time.

We walk down from Hahei after finding parking rather a problem, to Cathedral Cove, made famous, I believe from clips of the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe series of films. Perhaps this was the Caspian Sea?
It’s an easy walk but I wouldn’t want to be pushing three young children in a buggy as one brave man does. It takes us nearly an hour from start to destination.
And it is stunning! The arch so wide! A waterfall cascades at the far end of one of the beaches. No wonder so many people have made the effort.

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Back up the stair, we divert to visit Gemstone Bay, a small rocky bay which is, nevertheless, picturesque. And Stingray Bay, although we see no stingrays. There are some lovely red crabs some 10 cm across which amuse us.

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But all this time, even though we have had a fantastic time, with good walking and lots to see, we have actually been waiting: for the tide to turn! We have our shovel, and our old towels, so kindly provided by our host at the Aotearoa Lodge, but the time has to be just right.
And now it is!

We head off for the biggest event in the area.
Hot Water Beach as the tide becomes low.

It’s not difficult to find the correct spot on the long beach, everyone is there. They all seem to know where two hot water springs bubble constantly up through the sand and can be found at low tide. If you get too closets the source, it’s too hot to stay. Your feet burn! So we gather together to create our very own spa pools.

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Even the sea has hot spots! The frustration when a final wave batters our dam down. The fascination to see the hot water bubble through the sand at one or two points. The surprise when you stand on a hotspot! The sense of unity amongst all these strangers from so many far flung places around the globe! They should do something like this for world peace!

Fantastic bird reserve – Thursday 19th January 2012


Tiritiri Matangi – the very name conjures up magic! This is one of New Zealand’s open sanctuaries; an island to help ensure the survival of endangered plants and animals. Whilst the public are free to visit, the numbers of visitors are restricted to about 150 people at any one time. It is possible to stay over night on the island, but our day trip was amazing.
There is only one ferry onto the island which leaves from Aukland and then goes onto pick up from Gulf Harbour, where we began our journey.
It is vital for the protection of the birds that everyone maintains biosecurity, so shoes are brushed of mud, food is sealed to prevent attracting mainland insects (or mice!) and everyone is responsible for taking home their litter. Their website is very interesting.
This biosecurity adds a slight air of excitiment and anticipation while waiting for the ferry. Guides come round and check bags and shoes. Today there are lots of children due to the school holidays, but if it were not this time of year, Lianne and her husband would not be able to come with us. They are terribly knowledgable about bird life…and lots of other things. Lianne also adds her tireless energy and enthusiasm.
It’s a totally wonderful day! The weather is warm and there are enough shady places to stop us burning. The landscape we travel through is diverse, from forest to beach to cliff top. The company relaxed and the bird life amazing.
Sometimes when you visit an area which purports to have lots of a particular wild life, you never see any! Here they put feeding stations which team with life. Even just walking down the tracks birds abound. We are able to practice taking really good shots at moving targets with our cameras!
John got some fantastic shots.

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I loved the stitchbird with its yellow flash, and the saddleback, who, in the sun, can be a beautiful bright auburn (well I would say that!). Tiny wax eye, and robin dart about, almost impossible to take a photo of these!
But, up near the lighthouse we come across the Takahe with a mate. These large flightless birds have enormous beaks and lovely blue feathers.

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Then we see another pair with a chick. How wonderful to see an endangered bird breeding, and the chick looked very healthy! They seemed totally unflustered by our intrusion.
Ok, we did not see a (and some people just ahead of us had seen one!) but for me, this was a perfect day with great friends, seeing amazing bird life.

Port Campbell to Melbourne – 4th January 2011


It’s a long but beautiful drive from Port Cambell to Melbourne following the Great Ocean Road. The stacks and cliffs from yesterday continue for a while but soon give way to a new characteristic of coastal features; low slabs of sedimentary rock, intermingled with sand.

We frequently stop to admire the view, but decide to take the detour to the Otway peninsula, down to Otway Lighthouse. I am so glad we did! This takes you through Cape Otway National Park. The aroma of eucalyptus was incredible. Pine in the heat offers a warm astringent smell, far more refreshing than the dreadful pine disinfectant smell from a bottle! Eucalyptus shares some of these notes but adds those relating to Olbas oil. We simply opened the windows to get our fill!

Suddenly a posse of parked cars alerted us to a koala. So high up, we all had to peer and reassure each other that we might be able to see it! (I share with you now: I could not see it!) just 50 meters later, we stopped again. And then again. Up to 4 koalas in each tree! In all we must have seen 20 koalas – a real photo fest!

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At Kennet River we found another koala, who was walking on the ground.

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But we also see several different kinds of parrot, prepared to eat from the hand.

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At the end of the day we have a duel of photography. Who can take the most spectacular sunset? Judge for your selves!

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The Great Ocean Road – Tuesday 3rd January 2012


So, yes, we did dawdle over breakfast at Quamby Homestead. First time in ages that we were made such a fuss of. Thank you William and Ailsa. But we finally did get going.

I’d seen a sign for Tower Hill Nature Reserve on the route here. The guidebook said if we did not see a koala here, we needed to see the optician. So…

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Our first view of Tower Hill was incredible. The usual ‘lookout’ sign, a lay-by and a few steps between a curtain of road side trees, reveals this prehistoric panorama. Far below less a massive lake, which appears shallow and clear. Yellow ochre patches of week pattern the lake and the surface is covered with patterns of thousands of black dots.

Over your head 20 or more butterfly dance in pairs or trios. In the mid-distance 50 dragon fly hover.

On the far side of the volcanic blast crater, the trees wrap the hillside. But the body of water! It’s massive! Still, massive, reflectingly peaceful and this commands your attention. Those thousands of dots turn out to be ducks! Brown, simple but overwhelming in number. In addition, there are black swan and white egret punctuating the setting.
I can’t wait to get in!

A couple with a motor home pull up and share their map – leading to a conversation about mutual journeys, families, retirement. They show us the way to the entrance.

Once in the reserve, a single road leads us round and almost the first thing we saw was a pair of emu.

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One of which had no qualms about coming right up to the open window. Sadly, I felt compelled to close the window rather than take its photo!

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We walked up the side of the crater, whilst it was only 35 degrees, that’s enough to break into a sweat, yet the geology of the place makes it so worth while.
We met emu, but a koala? We need to visit an optician!

The Great Ocean Road follows a particular rock formation in beautiful tans, coffee, creams, caramel and burnt sienna limestone. It has eroded into amazing patterns.

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It rises up exhibiting its layers as we follow a spectacular cliff top forming a massive plain above.

All along the Great Ocean Road, literally every half mile of so, look outs allow you to pull up, get out and marvel. A series of stacks, arches, broken arches and doors build up your anticipation. We were lucky because we are traveling East towards the famous 12 Apostles landmark, so our expectation was built gradually and each site superseded the last.

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Not only is it an incredible distance of similar geology but the quality of colours, their balance, intensity and clarity are amazing.

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At the end of the day we shared a bottle of wine on the porch of our motel and had a long chat with the owner who had spent the previous three months sorting out his new acquisition. We left him to wander down the street away from the street lights and marvel at the stars.

It really is a wonderful world.

Philip Island – Friday 30th December 2011


Philip Island is about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, and mostly advertised for its Little Penguins. It has so many echoes of the Isle of Wight with town names like Ventnor, Rye, and Cowes. A stern backbone of road with geometric spars create its structure.
Before you cross the bridge, it’s worth stopping to look for pelican. They are fed each day at noon. Today the people outnumber the birds but I’m told that in February and much later out of season, the beach is swamped by them.

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They walk with distinct pigeon toes, seemingly without digits pointing in, so the whole foot seems to be balanced outwards.
Today they are not very interested in the huge crate of fish that has been brought to them. They are juveniles and demonstrate a surly independence that you expect from teenagers.

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Small children beware!

It’s interesting to watch them scoop up the fish, maneuver it head first and swallow, so you can still see lodged in their throat for a while.

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Like shadowy plates, manta or sting rays patrol the shore waiting for the off cuts and, sure enough they get their turn.

At the far end of Philip Island, there is a seal colony. True to form, Australians have built viewing platforms, and a huge visitor centre, complete with indoor observatory – and a cafe!
I did not see one seal but Little Penguins, tired of the limelight and restrictions imposed by the attraction on Philip Island have made their home in borrows along the walk.

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At the extravaganza down the road, photographs are prohibited and bi-pedal observers have to pay for the privilege.

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The coast line is astounding. A particular colour of ice blue with translucent waves rising up on the ocean side. We take loads of shots trying to capture this beauty of nature but we feel don’t quite encapsulate the exuberance of real life.

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Traveling on – Tuesday 6th December 2011


It’s a lot easier packing when you wear jeans and a jumper! Everything fits!

I’m very sorry to be leaving our lovely apartment. It has been a total luxury, set out as a permanent living space rather than just a holiday rental. But we have to leave at 10, although we have the car until 2. We drive to the harbour, to walk the breakwater to Mutton Bird Island.

There are huge concrete blocks alongside, when the cycle comes it should offer some protection. I enjoy peeping between them.

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Out by a rocky protrusion, there are particularly large waves. Wet-suited surfers ride them, jumping off before they are taken too far.
“Look, John! Sharks!” suddenly a fin protrudes close by the surfers. Within seconds it is obvious I am wrong, these are dolphin fins. They swim around checking out the surfers some 50 m from them. Is this evidence of dolphins coming to the aid of humans? If they had been in trouble would they have tried to rescue them? What ever the answers the dolphin slowly make their way out to sea and a long time we watch them rise for air.

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Mutton Bird Island is eye-shaped with a long footpath down its spine. The wedge tailed shearwater come from Indonesia each summer to nest. They burrow into the soft earth and at this time of year sit underground, incubating. Their main predator, the board informs us, are mice and rats, who eat their eggs, and people who leave the path, squashing their fragile homes. I’m not leaving any path. I’m still suffering from the ant bite and snakes and kangaroos encounters.
We see no shearwater, but the views at the summit are spectacular, even in this grey weather. The variation of the seascape, the undulation of the land is poetic and mesmerizing. There are no words for it. John and I just smile knowingly at each other and think, again, how lucky we are.

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Luck does not come into the the final part of our day! The Greyhound came as expected and dropped us off at the appointed stop in Port McQuarie. Down the road to the beach, turn right to the next house. We set off, dragging our cases.

Truly it was miles! It took over an hour and much of it up huge hills. I hardly moaned once, despite the rough ground. Those tiny wheels on our cases should have become red hot. At times I thought my shoulder would dislocate. But we made it. We were so glad to have arrived we hardly noticed the bare cold quality of the house. We would do later. For now we rejoiced we had arrived and rewarded ourselves with a Mexican meal as the restaurant was thankfully in the next block. Hooray!