Heaven’s here on Earth… at Black Rocks

Copyright: Louise Ralph

We went back to Black Rocks in Bundjalung National Park this weekend…I meant it when I said we love this place.

This time we took our kayak and paddled up Jerusalem Creek. It was a gorgeous, although not exactly leisurely, paddle.

While I practice my zen paddling technique upfront, EB makes like an outboard motor in the back.

Somehow it works… well, having a rudder stops us turning circles at least.

Copyright: Louise RalphAnd I get to take photos along the way (with my trusty iPhone in it’s LifeProof case – and no, this isn’t some dodgy promo!).

The isolation, where the creek meets the sea, is simply sensational.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphAnd then there are those endless walks along Ten Mile Beach… where paw prints reveal the nightly wanderings of wild dogs in search of shorebird eggs, and huge bluebottles – some with four-metre stingers – are strewn along the tideline.

We weigh up the odds of getting stung, figure they’re all stranded on the beach, and plunge into the icy water.

Luckily we escape unharmed, in time to spot a mother and baby whale making their way down the coastline along the whale ‘super highway’.

Closer in, three dolphins glide in and out of the waves.

Later, along the walking tracks, wildflowers are bloomin’ fabulous, grass trees raise their flower spikes to the sky and a bee homes in on a solitary flower.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Back in our campground, tiny birds feast on grass seeds and a goanna wanders through our camp, tasting the air with a flick of its tongue.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

It reminds me of the words of a Tracy Chapman song…

“I’ve touched creations beautiful and wondrous
I’ve been places where I question all I think I know
But I believe, I believe, I believe this could be heaven…
The world is our temple
The world is our church
Heaven’s here on earth…”

Copyright: Louise Ralph

 


Blissed out at Black Rocks…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

After a busy week or even a slow one, it’s too easy to head off to the usual short-break destinations. So a few weekends ago, we went somewhere we hadn’t been before. Funny how a simple change can reveal yet another favourite place in the world. In a National Park of course…

Black Rocks campground in Bundjalung National Park is a hidden gem, with a stunning coastline, fabulous creek and coastline walks, a pontoon on the creek for paddlers, amazing birdlife, and super-private campsites.

The campground gets its name from the black rocks (also called ‘coffee rocks’) along a rugged coastline. The rocks are soft, crumble exactly like coffee grinds,  and have been eroded by wind and sea into spectacular formations…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Espresso anyone?

Copyright: Louise RalphWe’re hooked and ready to explore. After downpours in the area the day before we arrived, we discover  the Emu Loop trail is a chain of ponds. Well, puddles really.

But we get to be carefree kids again, splashing along the trail.

There is something primal about it. You feel more connected to the earth… especially when you occasionally find yourself ankle deep in mud.

The next day, we ditch our shoes again for the six-hour Jerusalem Creek walk, alternating between thongs and bare-foot wading.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Along the trail, the vegetation is amazing – from rainforest to paperbark swamp to coastal lowlands to open grasslands.

We walk to a chorus of frog calls, with gorgeous birds adding in the high notes – and sometimes diving into the puddles in front of us to snatch a bug-snack…

A family of kingfishers are a flash of spectacular teal and russet, lorikeets sip nectar from flowering bottlebrush, a whistling kite soars overhead, and tiny birds are startling streaks of colour in constant motion among the branches…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Along the trail, there are signs of life. The slithering snake tracks are there too, on sandy parts of the trail, reminding us to watch where we put our feet.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…who goes there?

At the end of the track, the creek meets the sea. Here, migratory and resident shorebirds rest, feed and breed in peace.

There are pied oystercatchers, little terns, beach-stone curlews, sandpipers and two tiny mysterious birds whose little black legs are a blur as they run back and forth along the water’s edge.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

… some tiny mystery waders

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…and a pied oyster catcher

Copyright: Louise Ralph

‘Peppa’ the Ozpig… nice

Later that night, we are two blissed-out campers. You can have your posh hotels and even your cozy B&Bs.

There is nothing like sitting in front of a fire (our fabulous Ozpig), under the stars and the swish of the Milky Way, with mysterious rustlings in the bushes, miles from civilisation.

Okay, okay, we are sipping on a rather smooth pinot noir.

There are some civilised things you should never give up…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

 

 


Snakes alive… on Amedee Island

Copyright: Louise Ralph

There’s a lot to love about the trip to Amedee Island on the Mary D. Swimming with resident green turtles is a major highlight in a totally relaxing day.

But I just couldn’t go past the snakes – well, without nearly stepping on one.

I’d just taken some photos of the awesome lighthouse, rising up in the perfect light against postcard cloud formations. Turning to catch up to EB, I only just caught sight of something slithery at my feet…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

It’s not like you can miss something this dramatic. This black and rust striped Tricot rayé (Striped sea snake) and several snakey-mates are curled up along the pathway and very close to my feet. Nearby, there are blue and black-striped ones.

These gorgeous sea snakes are more venomous than cobras but totally chillaxed! Which is pretty lucky considering I am totally distracted by nature, and tend to not pay attention to where I put my feet!

Later, walking along the beach, a gorgeous specimen slithers past on its way to a shady spot among the rocks…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

These shy, reclusive creatures still have lungs, so they come onto land to hang about and digest their food (usually fish and eels), then head back into the sea to hunt at night.

Fascinated as we were with them, there is so much to do here – a glass bottom boat, a trip out to the reef, snorkelling, swimming, island fare and entertainment, or just wandering around this peaceful island…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

But seriously, those snakes…

copyright: Louise Ralph

 

 

 


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?


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