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


Random Adventure #7 - Taking the Train to Tumoulin

1925 D17 Class Steam Locomotive 'Capella' in Tumoulin, Queensland

Over 100 years ago on 31 July 1911, regional Parliamentary representatives invited to the Herberton-Tumoulin railway line opening were too busy to attend according to a local historian.

Exactly 100 years later – and how things have changed!!

Crossing the trestle bridge, Tumoulin to Ravenshoe
So, on 31 July 2011, during a re-enactment of the historic opening ceremony as 1925 D17 class locomotive 'Capella' steamed into Tumoulin 100 years to the hour later. Where ex-Queensland Rail welder and state Member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth was waiting to cut the ribbon!

In a fortuitous blend of serendipity, coincidence and blind luck, Pilchard and I joined the historic ride into Tumoulin from Ravenshoe – Queensland's highest town at 920 m (3118 ft) above sea-level on the Tablelands west of Cairns. Although Tumoulin is higher at 964.7 m (3165 ft) – and thereby Queensland's highest railway station – its height doesn't count in the 'highest town' honours because it's only a 'locality'!

Tumoulin Railway Station sign
Here on the Atherton Tablelands* there's no real clue that we're in the depths of northern Australia's tropics – cool nights are common, and the heat and humidity sometimes found on the coast even in winter is often absent. BUT … this paradise comes at a price as we're not that far from Queensland's highest mountain – Bartle Frere – and Australia's wettest locality – Topaz where aanual rainfall averages well above 4 metres, although it's WAAAY more higher in the ranges!

The final extension of the railway line from Cairns initially constructed to service Atherton Tablelands mining town Herberton, Tumoulin-Ravenshoe is ironically one of only two sections** still operating. And although completed 5 years after Herberton-Tumoulin opened in 1911, it's from Ravenshoe that we depart on this bright winter's day to take part in Tumoulin's centenary celebrations.
Creatures en route to Tumoulin
Spot Paris!
100 years later, it's all changed – the line from Atherton closed over 20 years ago, as has the tourist train from Atherton to Herberton Pilchard and I caught many years ago.

Luckily for us, however, the Ravenshoe-Tumoulin line is now managed by volunteer organisation Ravrail. Their fact sheets and railway line mud map (from which much information for this post was taken) highlight the assortment of regional attractions and a strange selection of creatures we will be passing en route to Tumoulin!

No 268 - Capella
No, not a bushfire!  It's a Steam train!
As the immaculate train climbed upwards over wooden trestle bridges, past homesteads, orchards, forests and a crayfish farm, who would have thought Paris Hilton would have been lurking amongst the native animals? Or that we'd be encouraged to photograph a scenic public toilet??

Almost the most fun I've had for $AUD20, the festive centenary market with railway volunteers in period costume, Aboriginal dancers in traditional dress and fettlers camp gave this trip extraordinary value! But even without the centenary extras the return trip scenery and steam train experience is well worth the modest fare.

Ravrail are to be congratulated for succeeding where governments have failed for a) their contribution to Atherton Tablelands tourism; b) keeping the railway line open; and c) immaculately preserving this marvellous piece of Australia's heritage.

And I'm to be congratulated on my restraint - although my fingers were positively twitching to pull that antique emergency chain, I resisted - in absolute fear of the $10 fine being enforced!
Centenary re-enactment - cutting the ribbon
There's no point expecting a photo of the magnificent scones, jam and cream served by the Tumoulin Railway cafe – they disappeared WAAAAY too quickly for that!! But there's no need to wait another 100 years for them, or even for the next train trip to Tumoulin.

Take this magic railway journey every Sunday at 1:30 pm, or even hire the train for a memorable way to celebrate any special occasion.

The return trip to Ravenshoe – downhill all the way – ended this unexpectedly fabulous day where instead of just a train ride, we became part of this history-making journey!

Ravenshoe Station, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland
* The Atherton Tablelands is also known as the Cairns Highlands, or Tropical Tablelands. I've used its most common name although the highlands region also incorporates the Evelyn and Northern Tablelands

Harry's Dunny ... no, not a real person inside!!
** the other is the far better known and commercially run 'Kuranda Scenic Railway' from Cairns to Kuranda

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A Perfect Day up North Downunder - Cairns, Queensland

Looking south from the Cairns foreshore across Trinity Inlet
My previous post, 7 Days in ... Cairns was a guide for how to EASILY spend a week in this extraordinary part of Australia without repeating yourself.

Fruit Bat, Cairns Esplanade
But what if you've only got one day?

My guest post on 52 Perfect describes just one perfect day in Cairns - Red Nomad OZ style!  Of course that includes a few of my favourite things!  BUT ... no spoilers here - other than the photos!

Why not drop in to and take a look?

Thanx to Alexa, editor for the fabulous opportunity to show a great Aussie hotspot to her readers!!


7 Days in ... Cairns!

Barron River Mouth looking south towards Cairns, Queensland

Cairns is one of the best Australian travel destinations – and I've got the photos to prove it! This laid back city 2000 km north of Brisbane between World Heritage Listed Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, has come a long way from its sugar-cane farming roots to become Far North Queensland's tourist hub.

Cairns from the harbour, en route to Green Island!
Cairns has just as much to offer travellers seeking cheap holidays as it does to those looking for luxury! In fact, the only problem will be limiting your visit – whether it be a cheap holiday or not – to a week!!

Luckily, I've been travelling to Cairns for 20+ years - the time period over which these photos were taken - and Pilchard even longer!  So use our 7 Day Cairns sampler itinerary guide to get you started ...

Day 1: Cairns Botanic Gardens

Ginger flower, Cairns Botanic Gardens
The pint-sized bag-snatcher at the Cairns Botanic Gardens Cafe was probably a one-off. No, really!! The toddler who picked up my handbag didn't take kindly to Pilchard's attempts to remove it from her grubby grasp.

Attracted by the shrieks, her rampaging mother berated Pilchard for making her darling cry, gave the child my bag to play with and turned back to her glass of wine table. With a) child clutching b) the handbag.

Now you tell me. Was it so unreasonable for Pilchard to insist on its return?

Rainforest boardwalk to Centenary Lakes
Sadly, this whole stultifying display of disturbed parenting could have been avoided if only I'd taken my handbag with me to the ladies room ...

Happily, in addition to the Scenic Public Toilet, the large Cairns Botanic Gardens complex is full of distractions, with wonderful displays of tropical plants; several interpretive trails, magnificent butterflies and brightly coloured birds!

View from Loo, Cairns Botanic Gardens
Although 'wild boar' sounds so much more exotic than 'feral pig', they're both equally destructive when crashing through the undergrowth on the mangrove boardwalk through to the Centenary Lakes picnic area. Although I'd rather meet a wild pig than an unsupervised homo-sapiens (juv) allowed to run amok by overindulgent parents …

Spending the whole day in the gardens is easy – the 6.6 km Mt Whitfield trail loop gives splendid views over the busy international airport and Cairns itself. But I'm not sure if the group of school kids led by two young and ever so perky teachers we dodged on the track were a fair replacement for the cassowaries once common in the area.

Day 2: North to Port Douglas

Looking South over 4 mile Beach, Port Douglas
The block of land for sale a few metres below the Port Douglas Lookout platform has the same staggering view. But would that be enough to counteract the 24/7 comings and goings above? Maybe the local residents were on to something when they tried to get the lookout closed ...

Radjah Shelduck, Centenary Lakes, Cairns
The Lady Douglas probably isn't the ritziest craft to cruise Dixon Inlet – but I'll bet she's the classiest! And if you want to take a look behind the scenes of what once was a small fishing village but is now amongst Australia's most expensive real estate, the inlet is awash with wildlife – including crocodiles!

Time it right and attend – or miss, depending on your point of view – the Port Douglas markets, but whatever you do, DON'T miss Mocka's Pies! This FAAAAABULOUS Bakery (come back for the cheese pasty, potato & pea pie, apple, lemon meringue – hell, come back for ANYTHING) has the well-deserved distinction of being our ALL TIME favourite!!!!

Day 3: Northern Beaches

Looking south from Machans Beach, Cairns, Far North Queensland
Although the artificial lagoon, sandy beach and infinity pool are a good substitute for lack of foreshore beach, nothing beats the real thing! And heading north, the real thing is abundant starting about 20 km from the CBD.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo on the beach, Cairns
Spend a day exploring all the beaches; or stay on one beach all day; or take an extra day and do both!! From the unspoiled excellence of Wangetti Beach (below the hang glider launch spot I'll always be too gutless to try) to the ritz of Palm Cove; Ellis Beach between the highway and sea to the fabulous curve of Trinity Beach; Yorkeys Knob cliff and marina to the vast sand flats and rock wall at Machans – eateries, picnic and BBQ areas, walks, birdlife … there's something for everyone!

Take your pick – and if you got it wrong, try again tomorrow!!

Infinity Pool, Cairns Esplanade
Day 4: Esplanade … and Cairns itself

Want a perfect day on the Cairns Esplanade? WELL … my guest post on 52 Perfect Days will tell all!!

But because I'm a tease nice person, here's a glimpse!!

Of course Cairns is much more than its foreshore! There's shopping and eating precincts – yes, a bakery or two – the Visitor Information Centre, galleries, restaurants, museums … do I need to spell it out??

Day 5: Outdoors in the Rainforest …

Snakes, goannas, birds, butterflies, hungover backpackers – I've yet to visit Crystal Cascades without finding something interesting to watch! This popular series of swimming holes on – you guessed it – Crystal Creek buried deep in the rainforest is a water supply access point but walkers can take the track for 1.2 km to the barrier for a taste of REAL rainforest and wildlife. Near the start of the trail, a track – classified as 'strenuous' and 'rough' – heads almost vertically upwards to Copperlode Dam in the ranges far above ...
Goanna at Crystal Cascades, Cairns, Queensland

… and as if to prove it's not all sunshine and serenity in the tropics, the temperature dropped 8º C in the 25 km drive from Cairns CBD up the ranges to Copperlode Dam aka Lake Morris, 365 metres above sea level. And the hot soup that sounded so ridiculous in the balmy, high 20's temperature on the coast was more than welcome in our efforts to counteract the chill wind! It's best to be sober when attempting this steep, twisting track with several one-way sections, and breathtaking (aka 'hyperventilating') dropaways, often being repaired after heavy rain at which time they become 'washaways' … But the stupendous views on each side of the range show just how much unexplored rainforest remains.

Copperlode Dam (aka Lake Morris), Cairns, Queensland
Ambitious walkers undaunted by the steep gradient can attempt further exploration on the 3km track dropping straight down from the dam to Crystal Cascades below …

Day 6: Islands

Frankland Islands, via Cairns
'Tropical paradise' is such a cliché – there's only so much blue sky/clear water/white sand/palm trees you can take, right?

Perhaps. But a trip to the Frankland Islands or Green Island will leave you begging for more, cliché or no!

Trust me.

Day 7: Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway

Despite the jaw-dropping views above the unspoiled World Heritage listed rainforest canopy to the spectacular Cairns coastline, acrophobics* may find the 7.5 km Skyrail cable-car journey from Cairns to Kuranda (or vice versa) 'challenging'.

But luckily, a couple of stops for the rainforest interpretive centre and Barron Falls lookout break the journey and allow equilibrium to be regained before another 6 person gondola – and the next leg!

Yep! That's a road crew repairing the track ... Kuranda Scenic Railway
But is going up the Kuranda Range by Skyrail any worse for acrophobics than dropping nearly 300 metres through 15 tunnels and across 40 rickety bridges crossing drop-away chasms down the super-steep Barron Gorge if returning via the 34 km Kuranda Scenic Railway?

As a recovering acrophobic I unreservedly recommend both trips – just breathe normally into that paper bag while taking photos all the way. And don't look down ...

Well, how quickly 7 Days can pass!

And I haven't even started on heading south to the other side of Trinity Inlet, the Goldsborough Valley, and Gordonvale's Cane Toad World!

Or west to the Atherton Tablelands ...

That's another 7 Days all by itself!!

Stay tuned!!!
Wangetti Beach - looking south from that KILLER hang gliding take-off spot!!

So how about that cheap holiday?

*LATER EDIT - Pilchard and I last visited Cairns in August 2011.  We've developed this 7 day guide based on visits to Cairns totalling MANY weeks over 20+ years!  Photos all taken 2009-2011, except the Kuranda train (1998) as that pic was better than the ones I have from 2010.  But for the doubters out there - it IS possible to have 7 sunny days in Cairns ...

*Acrophobia = fear of heights

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Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #23 - Port Fairy, Victoria

Scenic Public Toilet, Port Fairy, Victoria

Spectacular though the view is from this coastal amenities block on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, there were more important things to do than admire it. And I'm not talking about using the conveniences, either!

Pilchard defends our lunch to the death ...
The goods from one of Port Fairy's TWO fine bakeries were under threat from a gang of marauding seagulls. SO … after assuming the 'bakery-lunch-protection' pose, we hunkered down at the table to eat, the splendid vista of the sea, the boats and the Griffiths Island lighthouse across the bay completely unnoticed.

But after inhaling our substantial lunch and banishing the seagulls, we couldn't help but notice the magnificent coastal scenery that makes the Great Ocean Road one of Australia's top drives. And despite the cold wind whipping through the trees on this November 2011 late spring day, the view through the moisture-laden air was enough to give the camera a considerable workout …

View to Griffiths Island from Port Fairy Conveniences, Victoria
A subsequent wander round Griffiths Island proved the view back to the loo just as impressive – and I'll bet it's just as stunning on a bad day!!

If you'll forgive the indulgence of a double negative, there's not much NOT to like at Port Fairy with its blend of maritime history, impressive scenery, bird migration, and the Kanawinka Global Geopark and Bonney Upwelling phenomena; so we'll be back!

Besides, there HAS to be a next time so we can try the OTHER bakery ...

Griffiths Island lighthouse, Port Fairy, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
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Off the Tourist Trail #8 - Point Pass, South Australia

Looking towards Point Pass at Inspiration Point, Mid North, South Australia

Penniless Australians despondent over their inability to travel overseas to areas of unfettered opulence and baroque magnificence need no longer be depressed about the prospect of never seeing their gilt and glamour.

Lutheran Church, Point Pass, South Australia
In fact, those unable to leave the country for ANY reason – infirmity, criminal record, pteromerhanophobia* or even choice – can take heart that Australia has once again risen to the challenge of providing unique experiences.

Because I'd be surprised if any of the world's pantheon of gilded steeples could claim a more bizarre and unusual location than Australia's stunning contribution at Point Pass**.

Gilded Steeple at Point Pass, South Australia
Deep in South Australia's mid-north, Point Pass is only slightly west of the Goyder line, beyond which land is considered unsuitable for farming.

Just up the road – if 'road' is an accurate description of the steep, stony track held in place by well placed rocks in the washaways – the staggering view from Inspiration Point looks down over this farming region on the plains to the ranges beyond.
Midway between Eudunda and Robertstown en route to larger copper mining town Burra, Point Pass was once a watering point on the overland stock route and a significant town in its own right.

And with many German settlers pioneering the region, this 1870's church and adjoining Immanuel College complex form part of South Australia's Lutheran heritage.

Who cares that the unexpected sumptuousness of glittering metal flashing in the March 2012 autumn sunshine isn't really gold, but comes from the anodised aluminium covering the steeple? One day I may travel overseas and see other examples of this art.

Point Pass Lutheran Church Steeple - ona South Aussie autumn day
But they'll have to work mighty hard to beat this shining spire on that lonely little church in the middle of the mid north plain on the edge of nowhere ...

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* Pteromerhanophobia = fear of flying, according to Wikipedia!

**Many thanx to 'Flinders Ranges and Mid North' by Stuart Nicol for most of the information about Point Pass in this post.


Silver Bullet Sighting #1

The Silver Bullet at rest
WARNING: If you thought the flights of fancy in my last post were the start of a disturbing – or worse, nauseating – new trend, proceed with caution!

After all, attributing personal characteristics to an inanimate object is the worst kind of whimsy. Isn't it?? Luckily, the Silver Bullet isn't an ordinary inanimate object!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First spotted languishing in a Kensington* car dealership, this car immediately grabbed our attention.  A test drive, and we were ready to negotiate.

And here I digress to acknowledge the excellent service - professional, friendly, helpful and patient - provided by Darren, Victor and Adam at Jarvis Subaru Kensington throughout our purchase experience. If you're looking for a new or used Subaru why not see if they can make you as happy as they made us?!
Where next for the Silver Bullet?
In the interests of disclosure I can assure you this is NOT a sponsored post – I just like giving credit where it's due. Although if anyone from JSK ever reads this - feel free to make me an offer!!

After the usual administrative tedium, the car became ours. Its stylish aerodynamic design – SO superior to the newer models that have lost the distinctive Subaru character (see? Told you the post wasn't sponsored!) – inspired us to christen it the Silver Bullet!!

Just so you know, I CAN tell the difference between a person and a car – unlike those who refer to their cars as 'he' or 'she'! So featuring the Silver Bullet in a new series is really just a Red/Pilchard challenge to discover the most far-flung and outlandish Australian destinations to which we can take it!! Or it can take us …

So where will the next Silver Bullet sighting be? Stay tuned!!

*Adelaide, South Australia. NOT London!


Weird Stuff #8 - Beachside Blues

On the Beach, Sultana Point, South Australia

It's not exactly a surprise to find a random sand castle or sand sculpture while wandering along the beach.  Although they're not generally as elaborate as this one!
Whipping out my surgically attached camera for a photo was the work of a moment.  Tragically, getting the photo online took many WAAAAY longer than a moment as it was one of the last photos taken on my old FILM camera before it was honourably retired from active service ...

But how did the final product get so blue?

The golden early evening light had no hint of blue. And the slight chill in the air wasn't enough to turn anything blue either!!  But it'd be difficult to describe the lengthening shadows in the next photo on the film as anything BUT blue!!

Sultana Point, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

In a rare whimsical moment, I wonder if it's a weird confluence of unearthly forces. If the memaid mourns for the loss of her freedom, and the camera mourns because its time has come, maybe the combined intensity of their sorrows could turn the pictures blue?

Or maybe not.

For more blues - whimsical or otherwise - why not join me in visiting Smiling Sally for Blue Monday selections from round the world?!
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