Another world…Aquarium des Lagons

Hands up if, like me, one of your earliest career choices was Marine Biologist… Let’s take a trip back to the future in New Caledonia, where fascinating marine life thrives in a pristine environment…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

New Caledonian is surrounded by a barrier reef, the second largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s created a perfect environment for marine life to survive and thrive.

I usually avoid stats like the plague, but these are pretty impressive:

  • 454 marine plant species
  • 1,965 fish species
  • 2,150 mollusc species
  • 4,000 crustacean species
  • 150 types of coral formations.

And that’s not all… There are major nesting sites here for marine turtles, as well as breeding areas for dugong, humpback whales and seabirds.

Of course, the best way to see it is diving or snorkelling. But you can get up close and personal with this mindblowing diversity, without getting your feet wet, at the Aquarium des Lagons…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

It’s not often you get an underwater perspective of critical habitats like these mangroves…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Fishy colour and movement – including eye makeup apparently

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Things that make you go…awww (now anyway) – a baby black-tipped reef shark…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

There are 150 types of coral in the New Caledonia lagoon…some that glows in the dark!

I felt like a kid hanging over the re-created rock pools, full of all sorts of marine wonders…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph Copyright: Louise Ralph

No doubt I also looked like a kid with my face pressed against the glass of the huge aquariums, pretending I was back scuba diving – something I haven’t done for at least 20 years.

Now that’s what I call relaxation therapy…


Striking gold on the coast

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Surfers Paradise from Kirra Beach

There’s a quote I’ve loved since giving up some tired ideas in my thirties…

If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.” (Gilett Burgess)

Confession time… I’ve always avoided Queensland’s Gold Coast if I could, passing through (quickly) on my way to my favourite beaches in northern NSW or heading out into the hinterland which was wilder and calmer…

Not an earth-shattering opinion I admit, but one that grew from a seed germinated when I was just a kid and I’ve never really questioned it.

It started with my friend in Grade 4. She would arrive back at our school in Sydney after Surfers Paradise holidays with her bling-bling parents, proudly displaying postcards and snaps of Meter Maids, the ‘glitter strip’ and crowded golden beaches in the shade of ever-looming high rises.

I should have been awestruck but I was already a confirmed freak for nature.

My idea of bliss was our camping holidays in the bush or at the beach – and the postcard-perfect Gold Coast looked anything but natural to me.

Well, so I thought.

When we moved to northern NSW last year, I didn’t think about the Gold Coast as anything more than another bottleneck on our Brisbane commute. When we got home it never crossed our minds to visit the area.

But recently we’ve been exploring – and I’ve discovered why people love it.

There’s more to this place than the ‘glitter strip’. Yes, there’s always something going on, but it’s not all about glitz and glam.

It has that kick-back feel all year round, the beaches are endless, and it’s greener than I expected.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Coastal walk at Kirra Beach

It helps that most of us, these days, are less likely to cut down every tree or shrub that blocks our ocean views.

And because we are all switched on 24/7, we want to get back to our roots…to remind ourselves there is more to life than busyness. To walk and cycle and run – or just soak up the Vitamin D.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

In search of the perfect wave…off Point Danger

I think I’ve struck gold here, forty-five minutes from where I lived in Brisbane for thirty years.

I’ve just checked my pulse and yep, it’s racing. In a good way.

Who would’ve thought?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

View from Point Danger to Kingscliff


Pétanque anyone? Hanging out in Nouvelle Calédonie

Did someone mention winter? Nouvelle Calédonie has turned on the chill and brought in the clouds especially for us. But who’s complaining, when work is a few thousand kilometres away…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Nouvelle-Calédonie. Perfect one day…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…cloudy and chilly the next (but you just have to walk faster!)

On weekdays at this time of the year, it looks abandoned and a little tired here – a bit like a nightclub strip in the harsh light of day.

Yes, there are signs of life as the cleanup begins for the start of the tourist season in September. But no-one is in a hurry.

It will get done when it’s done. There’s no real drive to lose yourself in busy-ness and you’ve gotta love that!

…and those two-hour lunch breaks, ahhhh. The perfect time to do a few laps of the bay, or keep it low key with a game of pétanque, the French version of boules.

The aim is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (‘pig’). Did I say low key? This is intense stuff and these guys have all the style…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

It’s a little confronting to see so many of the Pacific Islanders hanging out in the street, in parks, under trees. We asked a local if unemployment was a problem here, but she just smiled.

“People think they’re sitting around with no work or money, getting depressed,” she said. “But it’s not like that here. They don’t have ‘nothing to do’, it’s just their culture to be relaxed and happy.

“They don’t want a lot – they have what they need. They’d rather hang out with friends and family. It’s who they are.”

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Our first (and possibly last) selfie – just to prove we did stay still (long enough to take it anyway…)

Some argue that there’s a ‘welfare culture’ side to it, but I like that they don’t feel the need to accumulate wealth or ‘stuff’.

That they prioritise family and the group. That having a laugh and a chat is way more important than having the right house or car…

So we did a bit of hanging-out these holidays – something new for us. By the end of the week, we got the point.

It’s okay not to be always on the go. In fact, it’s pretty fabulous really.

Could this be a new way of life? I’ll let you know when we’re back home…

Meanwhile, I must get us a pétanque set. Just sayin’.

 

 


Switching to island time… in Noumea

Switch your mental clock to island time and your language to French… you are in Nouvelle Caledonie, where the pace is easy, the weather is (usually) warm, and the locals are forgiving of your dodgy execution of their language.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

It’s winter here, although on our first day you wouldn’t pick it. The weather forecast is looking good for our week here, so we head off à pied along the waterfront to get our bearings.

Of course, this takes most of the day. Not because we’re directionally challenged but because (have I ever mentioned this?) EB has no off-button.

At least there are irresistible cafés and bars along the way… and this time I remember not to order milk ‘on the coast‘ with my espresso!

It’s hot, the beach at the Baie des Citrons is full of people soaking up the sun and relaxing in the postcard azure sea, and there is plenty of action out on the bay at Anse Vata near our hotel.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

New Caledonians love their water sports. No, they are fanatical about their water sports. The island is surrounded by the Barrier Reef, so there are no waves.

But there is wind for kite surfing and sailboarding.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

And stretches of ocean you just want to sink into. Or paddle on. Or play in. Or do some relaxed ocean swimming. There are at least ten swimmers stroking back and forth across the Baie des Citrons.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

If you’re not exhausted yet, there is an underwater world to explore and some island hopping to do. But that’s another story…


On your Vespa…

I’m always banging on about life beginning at the edge of your comfort zone… So recently I walked the talk. Well, rode it really.

We’ve bought ourselves a Vespa to take with us on our travels in the Douglas Albert.

It’s a 250cc, so we had to do a day of training and assessments to get our bike licenses.

For EB, this was destined to be a pushover, but I was trembling in my boots… and gloves… and helmet.

Well, I am five-foot-nothing and reaching the ground on a motorbike or scooter is a challenge in itself.

But how hard could it be, I thought. It’s just a scooter, right?

Ah yes, but you still have to do those tricky tight figure eights, lane-width u-turns, slaloms weaving through witches hats at 25kph, full-speed emergency braking, slow rides travelling along a narrow 4m strip at a snail’s pace (designed so you don’t drop your bike in car parks!), road rides and more.

From the very beginning, there was no way I was ever getting that slalom. Except I did, it was brilliant fun, and (girl power) I beat the heck out of the blokes!

Have you challenged yourself lately? Have you been thinking about trying something new, but you’re feeling the fear and stuck on the ‘what ifs’?

I reckon now is a great time to give it a go! Because there’s nothing better than taking on your own fears.

Well, except getting on your Vespa and taking the scenic route…

Ciao!


A wild, chilly day on Kingy beach…

Along Cudgera Creek, stingrays glide past fish doing some weird breeding or feeding pirouette on the creek bottom, pelicans skim the surface like flying ships…

Down on the beach, distant whales breaching, a pod of dolphins fishing, sea eagles on the hunt, indigenous people working their nets…

It’s a wild life at Kingscliff this chilly day. Love this place.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

 


What’s your excuse?

Here’s five for Friday…on Wednesday

Copyright: Louise Ralph

the silver path less travelled…

EB and I are always talking about one day… that mythical time when we take the plunge and go off on our golden gap year to cycle through Europe or travel around Australia.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’) there are so many reasons (excuses) why we can’t shake off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbour

Here are our ‘bowlines’ – maybe you recognise some of them?

  1. Employment – we can’t give up our businesses just yet, it would be too hard to start again or get another job, and we have to keep earning…
  2. Money – we need to pay down debt, sell our properties, eat, save to support ourselves in our old age so we’re not a burden on our…
  3. Family – because being FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) parents and grandies sounds fun and exotic but it’s heart wrenching being away for a long…
  4. Time – because we never have enough of it, our schedules are crazy, it’s never quite the right time, and…
  5. What if… we throw our lives up in the air and it all comes crashing down in a heap, and we can’t rebuild it and we live to regret it.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Regrets. In the end, we would regret NOT doing it, which would define us more than money or business – or existing for our family (who want us to do it, if only so we’ll shut up about it).

So when I look at our list of bowlines (reasons or excuses), they seem pretty lame really.

Even family, because how inspiring would it be to know your parents or grandparents were out there in the world somewhere, living the life they’d imagined?

How much nicer to arrive bearing gifts, and leave while they’re still clapping…?

Perhaps the real questions are: Do you want to keep earning money to pay for a lifestyle you don’t want? And if not now…when?

What’s holding you back from your adventures?


Winter beach escapes…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The tourists have gone, the cafes and shops are quiet, and the camping areas are almost empty except for intrepid grey nomads on their way north to escape the southern chill.

A crisp wind sweeps the beach, where only the locals brave the elements to fish, walk or give their dogs a run.

Surf and sun are definitely big drawcards, but winter is my favourite time at the beach.

When our kids were little, we’d wrap them up  all cozy and warm and we’d go to the beach to play – to search for shells and other treasures, make icy sand castles, brave a paddle, throw a ball, look for dolphins.

Here in northern New South Wales, from June to November, humpback whales are coming and going along their migratory highway. Seeing them breaching and playing just off the beach makes you want to wait forever for each magical glimpse.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

But there is plenty to do around here that doesn’t involve the beach – or practicing your whale whispering techniques.

Try an early morning climb – with that last chain-assisted scramble – up Wollumbin (Mt Warning), the remnant central vent of an ancient volcano and an icon of the region.

Or slightly easier (with goosebumps of a different kind), paddle up the river towards the mountain. Along the way, you’ll see raptors riding the thermals above you. Last weekend, we counted twelve raptors, possibly square-tailed kites, in one breathtaking group…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

If you’re not into chilly water sports or ‘hill’ climbs, there are so many forest walks around here – and so many stories. Like the walk to Protestors Falls on Terania Creek near Nimbin, the birthplace of Australia’s environmental movement in the late 1970s.

Or head down the trail in Springbrook National Park to the Natural Bridge, created over millions of years by water tumbling through the roof of a basalt cave.

For something a little more civilised, the Taste of Kingscliff is a delicious foodie fest in July 2014. We’ve booked in with a bunch of friends for the Long Table feast under the stars, so more on that in July…

Then there are weekend markets, the Mt Tambourine wine trail, theme parks, the Currumbin Sanctuary, places for golfing and cycling, cozy bars and cafes, music, and more.

This is the kind of place where, once you dig your feet in the (now chilly) sand, you never want to leave. For too long, anyway…

 


Curious kookaburras…

You’ve got to love those lazy Sunday mornings when some curious kookaburras come to hang out in your tree… a kooky trifecta!

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…one

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…two

 

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…three

 

 

 


From tagging to masterpieces – street art in Brooklyn

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphIn New York, like so many cities around the world, graffiti or ‘street art’ has risen from the subways to urban spaces, becoming more fashionable, accepted and even collected…

It’s the organic, transitory nature of street art that makes it so fascinating to me. And it has an edginess you don’t get in other art forms.

Maybe that’s because much of it remains illegal, with artists fined and potentially jailed and their work buffed off at a high (and resented) cost to the city.

No surprise then that one of the highlights of our trip was the New York Graffiti and Street Art Tour in Bushwick, a working class district on the north side of Brooklyn.

Our guides Izzy and Mar took us on a fascinating journey into this artform – from tagging to masterpieces and beyond.

TAKI 183 is recognised as the one who started it all in New York City, with his simple signature (tag) attracting the attention of a New York Times reporter.

The story ran in 1971 and TAKI 183 became the ‘father of contemporary graffiti’*

If the street art in this city started with TAKI 183, he did the place a service (although I’m sure many would disagree)! Here are some of the works you might catch in Brooklyn – if you’re quick.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…and some ‘shoeffiti’

We highly recommend taking the tour… and when you’re done, stop into the Rookery in Troutman Street, where the atmosphere, service, food, craft beer and wine really hit the spot. Try their signature comfort food dish Oxtail Sloppy Joe (not recommended for vegetarians!).

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Never let go…

* Read the NYT article here and TAKI 183 bio here


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