Work and fun in the West

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Street art in Freo…

The first two things I noticed when I arrived in Perth, Western Australia, was how this city has come of age since I was here almost a decade ago – and the delicious dry heat (bliss for my asthma that chucks tantrums in the tropics).

I’m here for work so, after long days immersed in health and safety systems, I’m ready for a drink and looking forward to EB arriving for the weekend.

Meanwhile, I amuse myself people-watching in the Pan Pacific hotel restaurant. Dotted around the room, commuters like me sit alone or with co-workers, smart phones and iPads ever at the ready.

I take a sip (a long sip) of my pinot noir, but refuse to even take mine out of my bag – smart technology is easy to hide behind, but you miss life in the process.

Like the Japanese family who come in, do a polite ‘who sits where’ dance, before settling in their seats… then immediately get up to explore the buffet.

Or the business lady on her own who manages to simultaneously devour juicy prawns and incessantly check her iPad and phone, all without making a complete mess of herself. I manage to drop stuff on myself even when I’m concentrating :-/

And over there, two businessmen talk about risk assessments at a mine, crunching the numbers, and getting another beer. Mining is big business in Western Australia and the reason this city has taken off.

Freo markets

Freo markets

It’s a long week and I’m pretty excited when EB arrives on the midnight flight.

The next day, we hire bikes and cycle around the Swan River circuit. In all that dry heat, with not a hill in sight, and a bit of wildlife to see, it’s a great ride – even if my handle bars did drop down suddenly when I braked hard!

Then we jump on a train to meet EB’s family at our favourite place here – the eclectic port city of Fremantle, 30-minutes from Perth.

This is the place to head for if you love boutiques and galleries, buskers and bands, markets, great places to eat, and micro-breweries to hang out at, like the Monk Brewery and Kitchen.

Oh and put Margaret River wine region, Esperance, and Broome on your list. We have – for next time.

There are moments when we think we could (almost) live here. But I could never bitch about cycling up hills again, and where’s the fun in that?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

More street art in Freo

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Streets of Fremantle


A dragonfly’s fear of flying…

Copyright: Louise Ralph‘On the flight path’ isn’t exactly the best blog handle for someone who absolutely hates flying.

When those engines are cranking up, I just know something bad is going to happen.

When the safety procedure starts and nobody is paying attention, my body is going cold and my hands are getting clammy.

And if we hit a bit of turbulence, well there’s no point telling me to pretend I’m on a roller coaster. That never works (especially NOT on a roller coaster).

EB reckons I’m the safest person to fly with – because I mentally hold the plane up the whole way. Yes, even on the long-haul flights.

For a ‘dragonfly’, I’m not a natural flier…

But there are things I do love about flying…when the neurosis settles to a manageable level and evacuation isn’t an option.

I love the hours of disconnected freedom – where I can’t go anywhere or do anything except be right there.

I can watch movies, read, write or doze off without guilt. I get fed and watered without lifting a finger.

And when I finally land, I’m excited to be wherever it is I am (and only partly because I’m on terre ferme).

I even feel refreshed. Which is kind of weird. Then again, I am a dragonfly with a fear of flying.

The only way is up…


Retro gold at the end of the road…in Woolloongabba

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Canvas – delicious ambience, share plates, alco bevs and wall art. BYO friends. Perfect.

The G20 is coming to Brisbane, bringing with it a little madness and a lot of security exercises.

It’s the perfect time to step into the retro enclave at the end of Logan Road near the famous ‘Gabba…

It has some of our favourite places all in one street. We love Canvas, with its delicious ambience, share plates, alco bevs and wall art. BYO friends and you have perfection.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The Crosstown is a place you, well, cross town for. Always a pleasure..

Meanwhile the Crosstown is, well, a place you’d cross town for. Always a pleasure…

For a little vintage shopping or browsing pleasure, start at Absolutely Fabulous. The sign on the door says it all: Prepare to shop (you’ve been warned).

Move onto Lavish for ‘interior styling and home staging’ (I love a good tagline).

Or slip back into the rockabilly and pin-up couture of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s at That Shop.

 

If you’re feeling the music in you, visit the beautiful Ilja Grawer Double Bass to Violin shop.

Or if you’d rather slip into some lycra and peddle your heart out, Planet Cycle will get you going.

But wait, there’s more…gorgeous antiques, a very cool bridal bazaar, and more fabulous cafes and restaurants.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

And next weekend, you can join a street celebration of food, music and eclectic wares at the End of the Line Festival. Seems like the perfect time to kick back and absorb the retro atmosphere in one of Brisbane’s secret treasures.

Might see you there…


Born to be wild…

Copyright: Louise RalphI first thought of the title for this post when we were riding on our Vespa into Yamba, in northern NSW, from our camp spot on the Clarence River.

There we were in our very Italian helmets, leather jackets …and shorts. Born to be wild and all that.

But then we went for a relaxed Sunday paddle – in gale force winds, against an outgoing tide, on an expanse of choppy water that was more like a harbour than a river! It all seemed a little too hard really, until…

As we paddled along in the welcome shelter of an island, two fins emerged near our kayak. Then another baby-sized fin popped up. Then a big, darker fin. Copyright: Louise Ralph We edged in closer to watch the four dolphins cruising and playing in the pristine water…so close, we could hear them communicating with their distinctive whistles, chirps and clicks. Copyright: Louise Ralph Copyright: Louise RalphAs we approached a fishing boat, the dolphins sank below the surface and disappeared.

Later we passed dozens of darters roosting in the trees and, even though we tried to be silent, they weren’t about to stick around as a highly-suspect yellow beast passed nearby.

On the island’s beach, a pair of stone curlews – one snuggled in a hollow on its eggs and one standing guard – watched warily as we passed in the distance.

A challenging, but brilliant day on the water, watching creatures born to be wild. No leather jacket required.

Find out more about the pristine coastline, magic Clarence River, and village charm of Yamba here


Africa dreaming…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Watching the sunset from our back deck in Australia…dreaming of the wild night life on the African savanna.

I bumped into a colleague last week at a conference, as you do. She’d just returned from South Africa, and was literally bouncing after self-driving around Kruger National Park and staying in various camps along the way. Jealous? Of course.

My mother is South African. I’ve wanted to go there as much as she’s vehemently wanted me not to. With apartheid in full swing by the mid-1950s, she’d left with her new husband (my dad) without a backward glance.

But all our ‘Aussie’ South African friends tell us it’s a stunning place to visit…

I’m pretty sure Kruger National Park would send my crazy wildlife lovin’ brain into overdrive.

I hear the south of Kruger is the game-rich area, with Skukuza, Satara and Lower Sabie the best camps to stay in. In the north, Oliphants is another favourite camp for travellers and a great area to see oliphants… I mean, elephants.

Right now, spring is coming to an end, so it’s a great time to visit (I wish). In November and December it’s the rainy season but this is when all those cute babies are making their delightful entrance into the world.

You can find out more about Kruger here, and all about the seasons here.

I did have a giggle at this wildlife-petrol station connection on the very useful Kruger Park Self-Drive Guide site:

“… the landscape is a fabric in which all the birds, plants and wildlife are like interwoven threads. Look for the points of connection. There are petrol stations at all the major camps and workshop facilities at Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi.”

Um, okay.

The World Expedition cycling tour along Route 62, west from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, has also always intrigued us.

I’m told the wineries are something else too. According to the Wine Anorak, the wines are “often nicely poised between the new world and old world styles”. Can’t say I really know what that means, but I’m willing to find out!

Copyright: Louise RalphFor now though, we’ll have to content ourselves with gazing at the sun setting from our back deck in Australia.

It looks a little like an African Savanna (if you squint)… except the roaring in our ears comes from passing passenger planes, not lions. And down in the valley, there are golf carts, not elephants.

C’est la vie.

You can’t have everything. But a little armchair travel is good for the spirit, don’t you think?


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 its 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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers