NEWSFLASH! My book hits the road! Did you miss my Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise 'Downunder Dunnies' appearance? Watch the Video HERE!


Signs #15 - BYO Waterproof Matches ...

Maybe South Australia's Yorke Peninsula is riddled with pyromaniacs.  Or maybe a fire-bug convention is headed for town.  Just maybe the local school hasn't got to the bit about fire and water yet.  Perhaps it's a popular site for shipwreck survivor re-enactments.  Then again, maybe fisherfolk can't wait to cook up the catch of the day.  Maybe there's an overabundance of tempting driftwood not visible in this shot. Or it's a rumoured trial site for a fabulous new 'floating campfire' product.

Or maybe not.

But I can't think of any other reasons why the local council felt it necessary to erect a sign that prohibits lighting fires in the sea!

How about you??


Random Adventure #1 - Isabella Falls, Cape York, Queensland

The Cape York Road
The customary morning rain had finally let up. Even the locals had remarked on this dry season's uncharacteristic wet spell – normally by mid-July they'd have the sprinklers going to kill the dust and save the lawns. But 2010 was an aberration. Of course!

Now the sun turned every drop to sparkles in the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park, almost (but not quite!) dissipating our cabin fever. The only real antidote was to get out and about.

We'd already been to nearby Cooktown.  So ... where to go?  Up the road and round the corner into absolute virgin territory*, of course!

Isabella Falls marks the first of countless river crossings en route to Cape York via Lakefield National Park. This 1000+ km trek** up the Cape where extensive red mud coverage is a vehicle's badge of honour is the ultimate Aussie 4WD adventure – and a pleasure that still awaits us.

But it's not all moonlight and magnolias on the Cape York road – in fact it's more like beer and skittles. 
Isabella Falls

Leaving empties in the fireplace and carving initials on the tree at the Isabella Falls campsite; and driving like you're in the lead on an imaginary road race is apparently de rigueur! Unfortunate pedestrians – and even other vehicles – under the illusion that they're sharing the road may find this 'take no prisoners' driving technique a little disconcerting!!

The spectacularly beautiful setting makes a perfect vantage point to be amazed by the brutally entertaining anarchy that is a tacit part of the Cape York experience.

Low Loader crossing above Isabella Falls

But the pièce de résistance? This low loader laden with a couple of bulldozers navigating the deep and uneven crossing without a) significantly slowing down; b) toppling over the falls; or c) taking out any pedestrians or parked cars!!

Cabin fever?  What cabin fever??

And as an extra bonus, it's the closest we've yet come to Australia's northernmost point!

One day we'll go all the way!!

* absolute virgin territory – where neither of us has ever been before
** depending where you start from!


My Lord Howe Island Triathlon!

*WARNING*: Real triathletes may find this post offensive! Please select another post!! 
Lord Howe Island visitors seeking inertia are likely to be disappointed. Getting from A to B usually involves walking or cycling – and the best island activities are high-energy, hands-on and outdoors based. So after two days of reconnaissance on foot, we extended our range with bicycles – and that's how I inadvertently became a triathlete!

But not a conventional one. 

Callously flouting triathlon rules we started with the cycling leg, broke it into three parts and split the second one with a bakery lunch. Well, wouldn't you? And despite my 28 year cycling hiatus, I still taught other cyclists a thing or two about cycling speed. You'd think the Islanders had never seen anyone cycle so slowly as they whizzed past me, Mills & Boon-man thighs – all tanned and muscular – working their pedals into a blur!! But I guess they'd already seen the magnificent scenery my more leisurely (aka 'snail') pace allowed me to admire ... 
Swimming at Old Settlement Beach, Lord Howe Island

In my defence, my pre-holiday Farm Gym fitness regime suffered several setbacks. A fencing session (post & wire, not epée & en garde) in gumboots on a steep, rocky slope covered in slippery grass went horribly wrong. While no photographic evidence exists to support my 'world's first planker' claim, the slide to the bottom of the hill on my stomach was pure planking in motion ... although planking purists could argue my swift, ungainly descent wasn't actually 'balancing'!

The twisted ankle and bout of flu came later. 

But none of those affected the swimming leg at beautiful Old Settlement Beach, although it would have been much faster (and further!) if not for the distraction of unrelieved views over Mounts Lidgbird and Gower.  

Old Settlement Beach from Malabar Hill, Lord Howe Island

In another desperate act of triathletic rebellion, we replaced running with hiking. Which made this the most challenging leg so far, given a) the bakery lunch taken during the second cycling leg, b) wet swimmers and c) inappropriate sandals. Malabar Hill's steep climb – from 0 to 209 metres above sea level - rewards triathletes (and regular climbers) who reach the narrow ridge without contracting vertigo with a 360° view taking in Old Settlement, the Admiralty Islands, Ned's Beach and – best of all – the wondrous Ball's Pyramid in the distance! And while looking down all 209 metres of sheer cliff to a turtle swimming in the sea below made me feel queasy, the Red-tailed Tropicbirds flying backwards (literally!) and forwards at eye level more than made up for it.
Looking South from Malabar Hill
Descending quickly to avoid the threatening rain, we broke the final cycling leg back along lagoon road to our lodge by a stop at the shop for essential provisions for an evening in. Just as well as it later poured with rain! But it wouldn't have mattered anyway – I was too tired to move …  

For the record, here are my results:

Lord Howe Island Triathlon statistics:
She'll be coming down the mountain ...

  • General handicaps: Planking injuries, twisted ankle, system weakened by flu, spectacular scenery, bakery temptation
  • Cycling legs: ~6km total over 3 legs. Handicaps: 28 years between cycles
  • Swimming leg: 20m (no, that's not a misprint. 'Swim' is a euphemism for 'dip and splash about')
  • Hiking leg: 1.4 km return, from 0-209 metres above sea level. Handicaps: Recent lunch, inappropriate sandals, wet clothing
  • Time taken: All day!!
  • Ranking: 2nd (of two, although the other participant didn't have as many of the general handicaps!)
And if you're thinking it'd be easy to outdo this performance, feel free to give it a go – but ensure you apply the same or equivalent handicaps!! 

Just let me know when my record has been beaten ...


Aussie ABC - D is for Dune!

Sand Dune Survivor, Windorah QLD
  It'll take massive advances in virtual reality to develop a lounge-room based version of 'sand dune sports' – if it ever can be!

BUT for the moment, pretty much the only way to slide down, climb up, frolic in, pose on, admire, photograph or otherwise enjoy the dunes of Australia in their many guises, is to actually visit them.

Coastal Dune Vegetation, Sultana Point, SA
  Yes, I get that Australia's not the only country in the world with dunes, but they're spectacular wherever and in whichever variety they come – as well as providing unparalleled recreation opportunities AND a habitat for local flora and fauna.

My self-drive, self-titled OZ Dune Discovery Tour has already taken a few years – and I've still got a lot of the country to go! But take the tour with me and see what I've discovered so far ...

Looking up - Coastal Dune, Port Rickaby, SA

AND ... looking down!  Pt Rickaby, SA

Outback Dune, Cunnamulla, QLD

Little Sahara, Kangaroo Island, SA

Red and Redder, Outback Dune, Windorah, QLD

Perry Sandhills, Mildura, VIC

Still Life with Pilchard, Perry Sandhills, Mildura, VIC

Carlo Sandblow, Rainbow Beach, QLD

Ballina South Beach, Ballina, NSW

Southern Yorke Peninsula Coast, SA
Spectacular? Of course! But there's a notable and shameful omission - I'm yet to visit the biggest and most spectacular OZ dune of all – Big Red*!

But it's a scary thought, Red Nomad OZ visiting Big Red. Who knows what intergalactic seismic shifts the combination of these two powerful RED forces will unleash on the universe?

Watch this space!!

*Take the link for Carl & Heidi's take on Big Red at 'Australia Daily Photo'


Signs #14 - DUCK!!!

Pterodactyls, Rocs and pieces of Skylab are regrettably long absent from our skies. And apart from the lovely Wycliffe Well, Aussie UFO sightings are rare. And Superman is a myth. Isn't he??

So … the danger of injury from large flying objects falling from the sky should therefore be negligible, right?


Unless you're on Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island Airstrip from East
 The 1 km (~1095 yard) long airstrip bisects the island at its narrowest point. The sea's at its western end, and the road to the island's southern parts squeezes between the eastern end of the airstrip and the sea.

And that means only one thing if you're on that road and there's a plane taking off towards you!



Don't Miss This! Daintree Discovery Centre, Queensland

Looking 23 metres down - the Canopy Tower
The Demon Duck of Doom (Dromornis stirtoni) at the Daintree Discovery Centre is unlikely to cause panic unless you're of a particularly nervous disposition. That's because it's a metal cutout, the real life version having been extinct since the late Miocene period.

Likewise, the Giant Ripper (by name AND nature) Lizard (Megaliania prisca) – facing down this venomous vertebrate (up to seven metres long) with bacteria-laced saliva as its weapon of choice is child's play. It's just a cut-out too, as it became extinct around the time the first Aboriginals arrived. The closest you'll get to it today is the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis), less than half the size at a mere three metres. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view), the nearest wild specimen is many miles away in Indonesia.
Above the canopy - 1998

But what's a few megafauna between friends when a much more highly developed and dangerous animal roams the walkways and forest floors of the Discovery Centre?

The Daintree River - 1998

At it's most hazardous AND scary, this creature can be found atop the 23 metre (76 feet) Canopy Tower, dropping objects both natural and foreign through the trees to the forest floor below. Yes, Homo sapiens can be particularly frightening in its immature form – and a spitwad becomes a force to be reckoned with when dropped from a great height …

Over the crocodile-infested Daintree river, the 'challenging' main road winds through the magnificent World Heritage listed Wet Tropics rainforest that the founders fell in love with way back in Queensland's glory days of unbridled development. How the privately owned centre became an award-winning eco-tourism attraction with cutting edge 'green' technology since opening in 1988 is a masterclass in prioritising and persistence for apathetic, incompetent and inactive governments … but I digress!

Daintree River Mouth - 1998
 The Canopy Tower cyclone rating no doubt provides relief to nervous climbers – but the climb to the top platform can be shaky even on a calm day when a tour group gallops past, as it did on our July 2010 visit. But … it's the journey not the destination for those who take the only opportunity in OZ to experience the unique characteristics of each rainforest level. Although the destination is mighty fine too – it's a different world above the canopy!

As the oldest rainforest in the world – with a high incidence of endemic plants, animals and birds – the Daintree is a valuable scientific resource with secrets still to be discovered. So observing rainforest plants, birds and butterflies up close, with expert commentary provided by audio units along the Daintree Discovery Centre's aerial walkway, boardwalks and interpretive displays is an Aussie must-do!

From the Canopy Tower - Daintree Discovery Centre
 Especially when coupled with the chance to observe the juvenile Homo sapiens at play, unfettered by parental disapproval or social mores ...

PS - Pictures marked 1998 were taken during our first trip to the Daintree. 


Favourite Place #6 - Lord Howe Island, New South Wales

Mounts Lidgbird and Gower
OK, I admit it. I'm shallow.

For a favourite place to make it onto my favourite places list, it's got to be able to deliver experiences I can't have anywhere else. In Australia, if not the world!

And a selection of good bakeries doesn't hurt either …

Stepping onto the 1km airstrip bisecting Lord Howe Island and into a Bali Hai-esque panorama featuring the twin peaks of Mounts Lidgbird and Gower was a splendid start to our April 2011 stay.

And from there it just got better and better.

The Golf Course
 600km east of Port Macquarie, this unique island is a parallel universe – old favourites amongst birds, plants and insects coexist with endemic species, and it punches above its weight with with a disproportionately high number of state, OZ and world exclusives. Hardly surprising, then that the Lord Howe island group was World Heritage listed in 1982!

The lagoon surrounded by the world's southernmost coral reef (and where new fish species are still being discovered) is the only place in NSW where the sun sets over the sea. And the 9 hole golf course, the only one anywhere on World Heritage turf, is in a setting so spectacular I could almost see the point of golf … hitting the ball into the sea in such a place would almost be an honour!

1% of World population of Lord Howe Is Woodhen#
And when a Lord Howe Island woodhen pecks your toes? Well, it IS is a thrill to be had nowhere else in the world … and by not many others.

Down to the last 30 birds in the 70's, the woodhen narrowly escaped extinction through a successful breeding program and its population is now stable at around 300.

Ball's pyramid – at 550m high the world's tallest volcanic sea-stack and 23 km from Lord Howe Island – is visible from a few strategic points on the island.

Claimed for Australia in the 70's by explorer and entrepreneur Dick Smith, it was once the last place on earth for the Lord Howe Island Phasmid - rarest insect in the world. Thought extinct for many years, a breeding program saved this giant stick-insect from extinction when a remnant colony was discovered on Ball's Pyramid. Devastatingly, our sightseeing cruise was cancelled – but that's just strengthened our resolve to return.

Ball's Pyramid from Lord Howe Island#
Tropical island, palm trees, cliché … yeah, sure! But not when the palms are Kentia palms – a Lord Howe Island exclusive, strong contender for world domination in the indoor plants market and the island's major export. Knock off two world exclusives for the price of one by checking out the phasmids at the Kentia palm nursery … three if you spot a woodhen on the way!!

But ... it's not all moonlight and magnolias here in paradise – several endemic bird species are now extinct, courtesy of the colonial practice of importing animals for food and hunting and an invasion of shipwrecked rats. That won't scuttle our plans to return (SOON!), however, as the sound management and conservation practices are balancing the ecosystem to assure the island's integrity. Although bakery sl*ts like us would be lured back by the fabulous baked goods at Humpty Mick's Cafe and Thompsons' Store anyway ...

My arty shot of the lagoon
If this is paradise, I don't care if I never get to me* - but just to show I can be balanced about a place I really like, there ARE some things it DOESN'T have. Here's a list:

Top 5 things Lord Howe Island doesn't have:

1. Public Transport: Walk, cycle, or hire a car – but only if you can drive at 25 kph or less!

2. Cats: All cats, feral or domesticated, have now left the island. Some bird species are showing their gratitude by increasing their populations significantly!

3. Mobile Phones: Clearly not Telstra shareholders, an island referendum voted against them! My care factor? Zero!!

4. Crime: Although I could be wrong about this. We DID see a couple of cyclists without helmets – could this be the start of an unprecedented crime wave???

5. Snakes: WOO HOO! Yeah!! ALL Right!!! Walk without fear in that long grass!!!!

My arty sunset shot!
 And don't think for one tiny instant you've heard the last from me about this magical, wondrous island and my new favourite place - I'll be boring you rigid showcasing its delights in future posts so be warned look out for them soon!!

# Pic by Pilchard
* Apologies to Charlene


Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #14 - Mallanganee, New South Wales

Along with most of the rest of Australia, we've never been to Mallanganee.  Or at least not the actual township. 

The Bruxner highway, linking the New England Ranges Region with the Northern Rivers Region through the Richmond Range bypasses Mallanganee nestled in the valley below.  And, as we're generally en route to either the coast or the New England ranges, we've yet to be lured off the highway.

However, Mallanganee's attractions aren't limited to the town.

Pull off the highway at the top of the range for a view encompassing what appears to be most of New South Wales!  But be warned - the dirt track to the lookout, picnic area AND ... wait for it ... public toilet (!!) is on private property, and isn't really suitable for caravans.

On our first visit to the Mallanganee lookout many years ago, happy, carefree and towing our new camper trailer, we didn't think about a) the rough track, or b) trailer turnaround point.  And once on the narrow track, there was no turning back!  BUT while it ended happily, we vowed never again when towing - too steep, rough and difficult to negotiate!

But in April 2011, for the first time in many years we were finally returning to Mallanganee - without the camper trailer in tow!!  Woo Hoo!!  Time to check and see if the view AND amenities were as we remembered.

As gateway to the Kyogle rainforest region, Mallanganee overlooks some pretty spectacular mountain ranges, forests - and even Mt Warning (yes, I've climbed it), which is of course, the point first reached on mainland Australia by the rising suns rays!!

And of course, all this can be admired from the amenities - if you brave the redbacks, geckos and lizards, that is!!  Once Pilchard had broken this happy news, I decided to cross my legs and carry on ...

But wildlife or no, this little known retreat far above the hustle and bustle of the heavy traffic on the highway is SO worth the marvellous view bridging the gap between mountain and coastal regions.  After all, the conveniences aren't the only reason to visit a place now, are they?

And with any luck, it won't be another 12 years before we admire that view again!!


OZ Top Spot #8 Noccundra, Queensland

Thank god for Kerry Packer*! When his Consolidated Pastoral Company purchased nearby Nockatunga station in 1990, the Noccundra Hotel, part of the lease, was almost certainly saved from the oblivion often suffered by historic (aka 'old') buildings in areas without a critical voting mass.

Outdistancing its surrounding very remote localities (Thargomindah to the east, Tibooburra to the south, Innamincka to the west and Eromanga* to the north), Noccundra is a welcome oasis for outback travellers.

But while the area is hostile – Andrew Hume perished of thirst nearby while looking for Leichhardt expedition survivors – the locals aren't. The refurbished hotel (thank you, Kerry!!) with its own airstrip out the front is open for business so modern travellers need not fear suffering Humes fate!

So what's a nice outback hotel doing in a place like this?

The only original building left from the small town that once serviced the area, there's still a small population to manage the hotel and facilities. How many? 'Approximately four', according to tourist information – is it THAT hard to make a definitive count?! But who cares, when the outback hospitality – and meals! - is so good...

One of the approximate four is the designated pyromaniac – setting alight the contents of the 44 gallon drum bins at the free campground down by the river every afternoon, of course! And despite a 500m walk to the amenities, where a gold coin donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service will buy you a hot shower, the waterholes – what was left of the river in June 2009 before the drought broke – were a haven for birds, and birdwatching travellers!

Oil fields Oil 'Donkey'
Absolute virgin territory***, a short (by outback standards!) drive west past Jackson Oil and Naccowlah Gas fields to our first ever sighting of the iconic Cooper's Creek. We were also lucky enough for a sighting of that other great Cooper's Creek experience – a carload blokes whizzing past, tinnie (boat) precariously balanced on roof rack, and tinnies (beers) in hand intent on the ultimate Aussie male bonding fantasy: fishing the Cooper with two of your best mates!

But … the delights of the Cooper would have to wait! Back at Noccundra, our gidgee wood campfire beckoned – the local pyromaniac being amongst friends – and camped out under a starry outback sky, cooking our stew, watching the flames die down and listening to the great, vast stillness of the Aussie bush who'd want to be anywhere else?

*Australian media magnate
**Eromanga claims to be the furthest outback town from the ocean in Australia!
***Any place neither of us has been to before


Weird Stuff #5 - Mareeba, Queensland

The spectacular Gouldian finches* caged for the breeding program at the Mareeba Wetlands Visitor Centre are great, but there's WAAAAAY more birds to be seen out and about around the lagoon or on one of the walks in the 5000 acre reserve.

So, bins** in hand, we took the Pandanus walk, its varied habitats promising – and delivering – a cross-section of local birds including Black-necked stork (amateur birdwatchers like me prefer the more poetic common name - Jabiru!), Red-backed Fairy wren, Comb-crested jacana, Green Pygmy Goose, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Forest Kingfisher, and a whole family of Brown Quail! FAAAABULOUS!!

But then, through the trees I spied a glint of sun on silver metal. Quite a lot of metal, actually. Was it a picnic table? An abandoned car?? A plane wreck???

Our curiosity piqued, we moved in for a closer look – the scrub successfully obscuring its surreal identity until we were close enough to touch it.

No, none of our guesses were even close!!

It's a mystery (to us, at least) who constructed this monstrous metal gecko - and why! Even more bizarre – why is it hidden away in the bush surrounding this Atherton Tablelands protected wetland habitat??

So ... we admit defeat.  Great photo opportunity that it is, we're stumped!!

Any ideas?

*Go on!  Do yourself a favour and take the link if you don't know what they look like!!
**bins = birdo talk for 'binoculars' without which no self respecting twitcher would visit a wetland!
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