Category Archives: Getting active

Back to Bundjalung country

©Louise Creely

As travellers, it’s easy to focus on the epic adventures and forget that short breaks can be exceptional too. That’s why we went back to Bundjalung country this weekend – to hit the mental reset button… 

© Louise CreelyThe Black Rocks campground in Bundjalung National Park, New South Wales, is tucked in behind the dunes of Ten Mile Beach.

It’s a truly remarkable camp spot, with each secluded site set up with its own fire pit, picnic table and even a clothesline.

It really feels like you’re the only people on earth – especially when all you can hear is the crackling fire and the soothing sounds of the heathland’s nightlife.

Birdlife of Black Rocks

As we soak up the sun in the chilly morning, we’re mesmerised by the vibrant tiny birds flitting among the banksia trees and getting drunk on nectar. Some of the little tweeters even stop long enough for a photo opp! Pure joy right there.

Birds montage 1

So much tweeting going on around our campsite   ©Louise Creely

Sometimes, there are only glimpses of colour and movement. If you blinked, you’d miss the Blue Wren preening his feathers in the safety of a spiny bush, the echidna scurrying across the road, and the honey bee collecting liquid gold…

Bird, echidna and bee ©Louise Creely

A bird, an echidna and a bee – glimpses of you in Bundjalung National Park ©Louise Creely

Along the Jerusalem Creek trail

The last time we walked the Jerusalem Creek trail, we were up to our calves in puddles and mud most of the way – but that just added to the fun. This time, the track is just as stunning – and we don’t need to ditch our shoes. Bonus.

Creek through paperbarks

Twisted paperbarks along Jerusalem Creek ©Louise Creely

© Louise CreelyAlong the way, we pass a bunker built back in the 1930s.

In this and others around here,  soldiers trained to protect Australia when the country was under threat during World War II.

By the 1960s, vast areas of heathland were being cleared – not for farming or logging, but for mining. Rutile and zircon black sands were mined here until 1982. But the heathlands are slowly reclaiming the land.

©Louise Creely

Swampy reflections on the Jerusalem Creek walking trail ©Louise Creely

Oceans of plastic…

The walking trail meanders between the creek and the ocean until they finally meet. This is a truly beautiful place where shorebirds come to rest and raise their young. But there’s a dark side too.

As we walk along the shoreline, I pick up one sea-worn plastic bottle cap – then another, and another. After just 10m, both of us are holding piles of rubbish… mostly plastic.

Rubbish on beach

Oceans of plastic ©Louise Creely

Jerusalem Creek walking trail

And that’s just the beginning. Soon we’ve collected enough to fill our small backpack, and a plastic bag a passing fisherman gives us.

It’s not necessarily wilful tossing – but it does make you realise just how much plastic is circulating our oceans. And it’s heartbreaking.

Finally, we walk the 4km back to camp, carrying our load of plastic waste. Yet, as we walk, we can’t help but be captivated by these wild places – places touched by humans yet somehow triumphant.

Being here is about perspective, after all.

©Louise Creely

©Louise Creely

Read more dragonfly posts about Black Rocks:

Are you ready for a short break?


Mt Allan – false summits, mental games

View from Mt Allan

Mt Allan, in the Conondale National Park, is not the biggest mountain you can climb or trek up in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland. But it is long, and steep, and a little bit tedious.

It’s the three or more false summits that do your head in on this 4.4km climb through the steep hoop pine plantation.

Just when you think you’ve made it, you turn a bend in the path and the trail goes on – and up, and up. In places, if you tipped too far forward, you’d end up with gravel rash on your nose.

But we’ve been coming back here for over ten years. The first time walking this hideously steep trail, I cried. The second time I made it to the top without a whimper and only the mildest of whinges, probably because I knew what I was in for.

The third time, mid-training for Nepal, I climbed to the top then down to Booloomba Creek and to the old Gold Mine, then back up Mt Allan and down to the camping area again.

This time, I’m happy making it to the top, still smiling. EB, of course, has always loved the climb – mostly for the entertainment value I provide I’m sure.

Mt Allan Trail, Conondale National Park

It’s the kind of walk where, on the way down, you inevitably meet cranky or exhausted or slightly desperate walkers on their way up, wanting to know how much further, and is it this steep all the way?

Telling them the truth is no help at all, so we just say “Bistaarai, bistaarai… slowly, slowly” and smile with sweaty serenity. Okay, we’re not that annoying. We do say it’s hard but totally worth it. Because it is.

One foot after the other has been my mantra on every climb here. With the speed depending on whether I’ve been a full-on desk jockey lately or have done some hill walks…

Charlie Morelands camping area, QLD

© Louise Creely

Dare I say, the downhill trek is tougher on your knees. But making it back to camp, with that glowing sense of achievement, is brilliant.

This is my happy place: a glass of pinot noir (or three), a crackling fire, the toc-toc sound of pegs being hammered in, the murmur of voices drifting across the campground, the cackle of a lone kookaburra, a blanket of gorgeous stars emerging as darkness wraps around us.

And EB having occasional hysterics as he re-enacts my facial expressions during the climb.

Troop carrier camper

Taking our troopy camper out for a run… created by Frankie 🙂


The Mt Allan Trail is a Grade 4 track – rough, long, very steep. It’s 8.8km return, with a 9.6m fire tower at the top you can climb for a 360 degree view of the surrounding ranges.

The Charlie Morelands camping area, where the walk begins, has recently been revamped. You can find out more and book camping here. There’s also places to swim and hang out (not in winter perhaps), or shorter walks you can take through the piccabeen palm forest or along the creek…

Charlie Morelands Camping Area QLD © Louise Creely

Charlie Morelands Camping Area QLD © Louise Creely

 


Barcelona bucket-list moments

We’ve been captivated by many fabulous cities around the world. We’re deeply shallow, I know. But Barcelona, you stole our hearts. And you did it so easily…

There’s a lot to love about Barcelona

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria,

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria

Yes, you’ll visit all the must-see places, be awestruck in galleries, channel your inner-chef in city marketplaces, and indulge in Barcelona’s delicious food, wine and hospitality.

But here’s something a little different you’ll kick yourself if you miss – seeing the city by sidecar, a street art tour by bike, wandering the lanes of the gothic quarter at night, and a day-trip by train to the beautiful mountain monastery of Montserrat. Let’s go!

1. Take a sidecar tour of the city

Brightside Sidecar Tour of Barcelona

Brightside Sidecar Tour of BarcelonaGet your bearings in style on this fantastic Barcelona sidecar motorcycle tour.

Sadly, I can’t do the ‘backseat driver’ thing and shout instructions from the side car, since I could easily be wiped off on the nearest lamp post!

First you’ll head up the hill of Montjuic, for great views of the city and harbour.

The day before, when we’d walked up the hill (as you do), we saw six cruise ships jostling in and out of the harbour (mon dieu!).

Then you’ll meander through the streets, along the beach and past Gaudi’s exceptionally innovative and fascinating architectural creations – from Casa Batlló, Casa Milá and the magical Park Güell, to the incredible work-in-progress, Sagrada Familia.

I can’t think of a better introduction to Barcelona, can you?

Gaudi architecture

Where did inspiration for the Star Wars stormtroopers come from? Josep Maria Subirachs’ sculptures on the Passion Facade of course (bottom left). Brilliant!

2. Jump on a bicycle for a street art and graffiti tour

Barcelona is such a busy city, it sounds like madness to jump on a bicycle and head out to the Poblenou area to see exceptional urban artworks and learn about Barcelona’s street art culture. But how could we resist…?

You don’t need to be a street art crazy like me to enjoy every moment of this tour.

Street art on shop shutters in Barcelona

Artist unknown

So why is most of the street art in the city only on the roller shutters? In 2006, some of the world’s strictest graffiti laws were imposed on street artists in Barcelona.

Some ‘legal’ canvases remained, including the shutters of privately-owned shops and ‘painting walls’ where the artists could apply to create their transient works.

But of course, street art is about breaking rules, even if it has gone mainstream, so there are always surprises…

I’d tell you more, but writing notes and taking photographs while cycling are not skills I’ve mastered. Yet. So visit Street Art BCN for all the latest news, artist interviews and more.

#streetartbarcelona

Here are some of Barcelona’s brilliant urban artworks – the smiling fish are by @elpez (other artists unknown)

#streetartbarcelona

A stunning wall by @jorge_rodriguez_gerada

3. Wander the artisan alleys of the Gothic Quarter

Streets of Barcelona's gothic quarter

Artisans in the gothic quarterIn the morning, when the street-art adorned shop shutters are closed, the old town looks sleepy (but never tired). In the evening, it comes into its full quirky glory.

It’s the perfect time to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways where artisans imagine, create and sell their sensational work.

I admit I’m not a born-again shopper, but these small spaces are full of delight and wonder. You’ll go more than once, I promise.

All that wandering works up an appetite, but you’ll find so many delicious places to eat, drink and be mellow tucked away in the laneways. Who needs sleep?

4. Take the train to Montserrat

Monserrat, Spain

Monserrat, Spain

The Monastery of Monserrat is a place you just have to visit.

Especially if you’re EB and you know there are mountains to climb.

Of course, one mountain is never enough, so once we’d had a quick snack, we had to climb the other one.

My legs felt like I’d done a thousand squats… well, stairs.

I digress. Monserrat is a place where hermit monks live out their days in prayer. Sounds like hell to me, but ‘purpose’ takes on many shapes…

Monserrat, Spain

The Black Madonna at Monserrat Monastery

Funicular at Monserrat

Today, the pilgrimage continues – but many are tourists and those coming to touch the hand of the Black Madonna. Created as a wooden sculpture, the Madonna mysteriously darkened over time.

According to Monserrat’s tourist guide, worship in the Basilica is focused around the Black Madonna.

Beyond the truly awe-inspiring Basilica is a boarding school, museum, gallery, accomodation, restaurants and more. And every day locals set up stalls along the main street to sell their delicious produce.

EB loves dragging me up mountains, but if you don’t want to leg-it to the top, a funicular goes almost to the summit for spectacular views and gentle strolls…

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Along the mountain trail…

There’s so much more I’d love to tell you about Barcelona, but I’ve run out of puff. It’s a place you have to be – and immerse yourself in. Just be prepared to fall in love…


Weekly wisdom – live well

It’s too easy to wait until we get really unwell to do something about how well we live:

Eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke – so you never become one.    

                                                            Author unknown

A great reminder – um, if only I could remember where I read it (apologies to the author).

Girl on bike (bronze)

A bronze sculpture in Singapore’s Botanical Gardens


5 great reasons to take the Eurail

Lisbon station - travelling light

At Lisbon station, heading to Oporto…

After a couple of brief train trips, at speed, in Italy and France, I thought we’d lost our minds deciding to (mostly) train it around Switzerland, Portugal and Spain for 10 weeks.

But after an ‘initiation of fire’ in Tokyo’s efficient maze of subways and metro lines, we were well-prepared for our train adventures in Europe. And now we are huge fans…

Here’s five great reasons to take the train – and five tips on doing it stress-free. All aboard!

Reasons to ride

Convenient

On past Europe adventures, we’ve always hired a car and hit the road. Taking a train around Europe just seemed like too much trouble. Who wants to be tied to train schedules and stuck with booking seats, dragging baggage off and on trains – and up and down stairs?

In fact, it’s super convenient and relaxing. This was confirmed for us when we hired a car to drive from Oporto to Estoril – when the hire car people didn’t set up our GPS to recognise the streets of Portugal (read how to fix that problem here). Give me the train anytime…

Relaxing

View from train in SwitzerlandThe best thing about train travel is you can both sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s always a restaurant car if you’re peckish, and the toilets are usually clean (especially on Swiss trains).

There’s no traffic, tolls or fuel stops and you arrive at your destination ready for the next adventure.

Cost effective

It seems expensive to go by train, especially because you pay for your ticket, then you can pay up to €25 (for domestic travel) to reserve your seat for each trip.

But compared to the cost of hiring a car, insurance, fuel, tolls and a GPS – and finding your way around when the GPS has a hissy fit or the fuse blows – then train travel is a pretty good deal.

We had the ‘select pass’ which lets you travel in 2-4 bordering countries of your choice, for a specific number of ‘travel days’. Read all about it here.

It makes you travel light

Knowing you have to be mobile and flexible is a great incentive for lightening your load. So you pack what you’d like to take, and then you take half of it out. There is nothing better than streamlining your stuff (this from me, your classic over-packer) and feeling an incredible lightness of being.

It gets you out of your comfort zone

At first, train travel can be daunting. You’re in unfamiliar territory, you don’t speak the language and, when you arrive at your destination, you have to find your hotel. It helps to have a decent street map (see tips below) and to leave the station at the right exit!

But after you’ve been doing it a few times, you really get into the swing of it – and even enjoy the process.

Tips to keep you on track

Book your seats

Ignorance may be bliss, but not when you jump on the train, find a great seat – and discover it belongs to someone else. You end up standing uncomfortably near the doors, wondering what to do next…

While the guards were friendly and helpful to us two crazy Aussies, we made sure to reserve seats for our next trip each time we arrived at a destination. You can reserve your Eurail seats up to three months in advance, which is my ‘note to self’ for next time!

Fill in your travel document

Before the train leaves the station, always complete the travel details on your Euro-pass, with your name, passport number and (most importantly) the date you’re travelling.

Always complete your Eurail passYes, the guards will check it… carefully. No, never change a date or the information. We saw someone caught out and it wasn’t pretty. It would be hard to swift talk these guards (who have heard it all) when you speak the language, let alone when you don’t. As the hapless couple found to their peril (and a dent in their travel funds).

Travel light

travelling light

Leaving Australia for 10 weeks away, with just our small carry on bags. Can we do it? Yes we did!

The biggest thing I noticed on our train travels was the ridiculous amount of luggage people had with them. I swear some of them were moving house.

The size and weight of their bags made every entry and exit a drama – and I was so glad we travelled light.

It meant we were flexible and mobile – and our backs didn’t cave in with all the lifting.

It’s surprising how little you need – especially in Europe where the women have turned flats and loafers into high fashion.

If you want to spot the touristes femmes, look for women hobbling across the cobblestones in killer heels, while the locals are striding out in their stylish flats looking supremely elegant.

Know where you’re going

After peering at the black & white maps our travel agent printed off for us, we decided there are two types of maps you’ll need:

  1. The train line maps, available at any station, so you know the route and the stops – even though it’s announced on the train, it’s good to keep track so you’re not scrambling to get off at the last minute
  2. Colour maps showing your hotel and the station, so you know where you’re going when you get off the train – and the exit to take. Sometimes you’ll take a taxi, but if your hotel is easy walking distance, it’s great to hit the ground and get your bearings (as long as you’re travelling light!).

Get there early

We only got caught out once in Portugal, when we weren’t prepared for a huge line-up to get onto the train. We missed it and had to wait almost two hours for the next train. Cheap lesson – and we weren’t caught out again. It’s not unusual to see people rushing to their carriage, dragging massive bags, but that’s more like hell than a holiday!


There will always be train-travel skeptics, but we absolutely loved the whole adventure. So don’t be put off – but do travel light and be prepared. Then sit back and enjoy the ride…


The colours of Madrid

© Louise Creely 2017

A different perspective… city view from the Caixa Forum on the Paseo del Prado

© Louise Creely 2017From museums,  art galleries, gardens, enormous monuments and stunning architecture, to delicious food and wine, and welcoming people… Madrid knows how to switch it on.

One of the things EB and I love to do when we hit a new city is to walk. A lot.

So it’s no surprise that hitting the streets with a bunch of like-minded food and wine lovers, and getting the inside goss from a local expert, is the perfect thing to do.

In many of the cities we visit, we’ll book into a foodie and vino tour, just to get a feel for the place.

food-and-wine-tour-pouring-ciderThis time we’re off on Viator’s Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour. Apart from practicing weird cider pouring methods and learning the joys of tapas and Spanish wine on a tour like this, we often pick up tips and tour ideas from fellow travellers and have heaps of fun doing it.

Back out on the streets on our own, we soon discover some favourite places to hang out, like Vinoteca Vides on Calle Libertad (freedom street). It’s the place to be for brilliant wines, switched-on service and a great atmosphere…

With our thing for Asian-fusion food, we can’t walk past Bambubox and we’re not disappointed.

This is Thai food with a delicious modern twist, served by our lovely waiter (now friend) Thao!

Of course, there are so many great places to eat (it is Spain after all), but it’s not just about the amazing food, wine and people (well, it kind of is…).

There are wonderful – sometimes overwhelming – palaces, monuments, galleries, gardens and buildings in Madrid, and it seems that around every corner there is something divine or surreal!

© Louise Creely 2017

Divine glimpses around every corner…

© Louise Creely 2017

serenity on the streets

© Louise Creely 2017© Louise Creely 2017

A heart-warming sight…

© Louise Creely 2017

Green and blue moments

© Louise Creely 2017

Bright and delicious Mercado de San Miguel

Ah Madrid, such a colourful, welcoming and fascinating city. But don’t take our word for it – put it on your wishlist and see for yourself. We might even bump into you there…

© Louise Creely 2017


A splash of colour in Cuenca

Autumn has arrived in Spain – and with it the rain. But nothing can put a damper on the arty, colourful city of Cuenca.

cuenca-view-of-city

To say we are blown away is an understatement. From colourful apartment buildings, to hanging houses that look like they will topple off the cliff at any moment…

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cuenca-hanging-houses

…to incredible art in contemporary art museums, on the streets and in ruins we stumbled across on one of the many walking trails around the mountains (and yes, EB found them all – including those endless stairs!).

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art-in-the-ruins

tulipsEverywhere you look, there are pops of colour – even tulips growing among the weeds.

And then there is our hotel, Parador de Cuenca, suspended on a cliff opposite the city, overlooking the River Huecar.

It was originally the Convent of San Pablo, built in 1523 in stunning late Gothic style.

our-hotel-parador-de-cuenca

Access to the city is across a long suspended bridge that spans the ravine. I know right? Heaven can wait…

image

Okay, I’m running out of adjectives here. And EB is hopping from foot to foot. There are trails to walk (or run!). And a slight downpour isn’t about to stop us!

cuenca-a-bridge


Off-piste in Granada

I know what you’re thinking… but I’m not talking about Granada’s legendary nightlife. Although I’m told there are 60,000 students at the university here. And they didn’t just come for the studying bit (but don’t tell their parents!).

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This is about getting off the tourist trail, high up in the ‘hills’ above Granada, where a network of precarious tracks meander around the steep edges of slopes – and making way for mountain bikers (jealous!) and trail runners is an interesting balancing act.

We started in the historic centre and walked up past Alhambra, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. We thought we’d take a little wander up the dusty track to check out the mountain biking trails.

Three hours later, we’d wound our way up and down steep hills on some breathtaking trails – and discovered the ancient water channel above the Rio Darro.

Built by the original Arab settlers, the network of channels carried a fresh water supply down to irrigate the extensive Generalife orchards and gardens, through to the Alhambra palaces and back into the river system.

2016-10-06-12-21-29-hdrWe followed the water channel for a while, until it came to a private olive grove – with a full-on sprinkler system going.

After running the gauntlet of water jets turning the steep track to a slippery slide, we decided to head back up and find a drier way down the slope.

This involved a bit of scrambling and, of course, a rather inelegant butt slide by moi.

But we finally found our way back down to civilisation, a well-earned snack… and a drink or three.

…because going off-piste is thirsty work.


Turning on the Autumn heat in Lagos

If you love water sports and beach chill time then Lagos, in the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal, is the perfect place to hang out. Especially when the Autumn temperature feels a lot like summer.

First on the list for us was a Days of Adventure cruisy kayaking trip, where a catamaran took us to the kayaking spot… no hardcore paddling involved (poor EB!).

We paddled along the coastline, past the most stunning beaches and into eerie grottos and sea caves.

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2016-09-27-12-47-12Along the way, we passed towering cliffs that looked like they would completely crumble at the slightest puff of wind, and rock stacks crafted by tides and time into shapes like elephants, camels and even the Titanic.

The perfect end to the trip for me was diving off the boat into the deep, chilly aqua-blue waters.

It was sheer bliss to swim away from the boat, relax in the water… and not have the theme music to Jaws playing in my head.

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EB all at sea…

In Australia, the whole shark thing always lurks in the back of your mind (or the front, if you’re a tiny bit neurotic like me), but here you just go with the flow…

Are you up for dolphin watching, snorkelling, surfing lessons or paddle boarding? There’s so many options for getting wet or awestruck here and all easily booked in town or at the marina.

Soaking up the sun at the beach is also de rigueur here – with not a sun-smart slip, slop, slap routine in sight.

Of course, people-watching is endlessly entertaining too.

streets-of-lagos-1All that activity definitely works up an appetite (and a thirst).

It’s time to stop at one of the beach or marina restaurants, or head to the historic town centre.

Inside the town’s ancient Moorish walls you can meander along narrow streets passed a charming patchwork of crumbling, life-worn and revamped buildings and some incredible street art, to chill at one of the many great eating places and bars there.

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The Garden

We loved The Garden, a bohemian-style bar and restaurant with delicious barbequed meat (EB assures me) and great choices for pescatarians and pure veggos.

A short stroll away is the fascinating Mar D’Estórias, where it’s easy to get caught up in the arty retail area and galleries as you wind up each narrow staircase until you reach the Terraço Bar.

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Quick snap from the Terraco Bar

Here you’ll find great food and wine, a relaxed atmosphere and views stretching along historic streets to the ocean.

With only one more day here, we’re off explore more of this delightful town – which will possibly involve me annoying EB as I stop to take more photos of street art.

Assim é a vida.

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I wandered lonely as a cow…

2016-09-11-21-34-03I’m sure that would have been the original version of Wordsworth’s poem – especially if he’d written it in Switzerland.

On our way back down from the stunning Mt Titlis, we jumped off the cablecar at the mountain lake of Trübsee to walk the rest of the way back down to Engelbert (and yes, downhill walking is weirdly harder on the legs and knees than going uphill).

Along the way, the cow-studded hills were literally alive with the sound of … cowbells.

Whether they’re walking or grazing, chewing their cuds or flicking off flies, those bells are full-on ding-dang-dong.

It probably sends them a tiny bit mad, but it’s certainly music to our ears as we make our way down the mountain. Just a brilliant way to spend a few hours in Switzerland…

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View from Mt Titlis

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The path begins winding around the lake at Trübsee

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A perfect place to walk…