Category Archives: Road trips

Surprise platypus encounter

© Louise Creely. All rights reserved.There are times when you really need to knuckle down and get all those urgent things done. But hey, it’s perfect early-Spring weather and a road trip just feels… well, urgent. 

After exploring Toowoomba’s street art (more on that later) and free-camping at Gil Weir near Miles, we’ve arrived at Carnarvon Gorge in outback Queensland.

And if we ever needed convincing we have to explore more of our beautiful country, today was it.

After setting up camp at Takarakka Bush Resort, we went for a wander along the creek that wraps around the camping area.

Darter © Louise Creely

© Louise Creely

The Takarakka logo is a platypus, so I’m pretty excited. I’ve never seen a platypus in the wild.

Whiptail wallaby © Louise Creely

Whiptail wallaby © Louise Creely

We soon come across the ‘platypus conservation area’ signs with viewing benches set up so you can watch for platypus without disturbing them.

But let’s be honest, EB would never make a wildlife photographer. It would require being still for more than two minutes.

So after a brief scan of the water for ripples, I catch up to him striding up the creek!

Further along, we meet a lady who clearly has the gift of stillness (and a comfortable camping chair).

She breathlessly tells us a platypus has just swum right past her, so we wait and watch… and wait.

Finally, undeterred by EB hopping from one foot to the other (doing his best impression of a predator), the platypus surfaces … but promptly disappears again.

Platypus at Carnarvon Gorge © Louise Creely

A brief glimpse… © Louise Creely

We’ve almost given up hope of another glimpse, when there is a rustling in the reeds on the opposite bank. The platypus is actually leaping up the bank to pull down reeds and twigs.

Platypus gathering reeds © Louise Creely

Platypus gathering bedding material for her burrow © Louise Creely

When she’s collected some bedding material for her nest, she tucks it under her paddle-like tail and drags it back to her camouflaged burrow in the creek bank. What an amazing way to start our stay at Carnarvon Gorge. And tomorrow we walk.

Platypus gathering nesting material © Louise Creely

Platypus taking dry reeds and twigs back to her nest © Louise Creely


Fast platypus facts

The duck-billed platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is an egg laying mammal called a monotreme.

Found only in freshwater streams in eastern Australia and all of Tasmania, the platypus has sleek fur like an otter, a bill and webbed feet like a duck, and a tail like a beaver.

But while they look cute and cuddly, the male platypus has a secret weapon – a venomous spur on each of his back feet. The venom won’t kill you but the pain is (apparently) excruciating. A good enough reason to keep your distance!

Meanwhile, soon after mating, the female platypus begins to gather dried reeds and sticks for her burrow in the creek bank…

Platypus nesting © Louise Creely

© Louise Creely


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

 


To Portugal with love

2016-09-23-19-18-18A local station attendant, who was helping us buy train tickets from S.Pedro to Cascais today, asked us what we liked about Portugal the most.

“A gastronomia? O vinho? A  música?”

All of that but mostly the people, we said.

He was pretty-much blown away and was high-fiving us all over the place (we nearly missed the train!).

But that’s the Portuguese.

Take the beach culture. There is nothing uptight about the Portuguese. And I’m not talking about flashing bits here.

2016-09-24-11-11-04In this region, the locals are just comfortable in their own skin. Well, if there are any body image issues, I’m not seeing it.

Yes, there’s Zumba on the boardwalk (and it’s a hoot!). Yes, there are women running (but not an ‘I believe’ tee-shirt or flashy tights among them). Yes there are fit blokes hanging about (but not a muscle-man to be seen).

2016-09-23-12-39-57And down on beach, women of all shapes, ages and sizes (and I mean ALL) are rocking their bikinis. Eat your heart out Botticelli.

Away from beaches and bikinis… more than one local Portuguese creative on our journey from Porto to Lisbon has told us they are good at what they do – but they suck at marketing themselves.

I agree. These people are (mostly) warm and wonderful and creative and talented (and, of course, they make exceptional port and wine).

No, I’m not talking about more tourist buses arriving at monuments (even though there are a lot and they are remarkable).

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I’m talking about who they are and what they create. Time the world sat up and paid attention! Cheers to that!

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Attitude is everything

old-lady-street-artYou’ve got to have a least one of those (travelling) days, don’t you? Well, today was ours. 

After a few days in Porto (a story for another time), we picked up our hire car from Europcar … and that’s where it all began to unravel.

The portable GPS they gave us (at €8 a day) was clearly set up at around the time of the Ark.*

Seriously, it didn’t even register the oldest streets (or the casino) at our destination three hours away in Estoril, near Cascais in Portugal.

Oh, but we did have a dodgy map to show us the way (also an archeological find I’m sure).

Eventually, we muddle our way to our destination.

Our travel agent has booked us into ‘apartment’ for eight days… inside someone’s house. It’s kind-of cutesy, but does a toaster oven count as self-contained? Hmmm

mp900438569Eternally optimistic, we head off to find the Tourist Information Centre to get a map of the area. Except it closed 12 months ago.

At least we located a nice red.

Ah, First World problems. When it comes to travelling, attitude is everything.

And tomorrow’s another day.


* Here’s a tip for travellers: if you’re using a GPS, go to settings and select the country you’re travelling in (in our case, Portugal). Thanks to a tech-savvy Europcar lad in Cascais, our GPS was re-set and now gives us Portuguese streets instead of streets like Barcelona and Seville (go figure), and still gives directions in English. And we’re off! 


Port Arthur then and now…

Copyright: Louise Creely

It’s been two decades since that gut-wrenching day in April 1996 when a single gunman opened fire in a small, relaxed cafe at the Port Arthur historic site in Tasmania. In those moments, he stole lives – physically and emotionally – and forever changed a nation.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The cafe site has become a peaceful place to remember the 35 souls lost and 23 injured in the massacre…

His heinous act kicked off a push for gun laws in Australia, cementing the resolve of the then-Prime Minister Mr John Howard and his government to make the change happen.

Many Australians have never lived in a time when pump action and automatic rifles were on the streets – and could be bought in a corner store with your milk and bread.

While those terrible moments will never be forgotten here, today the focus has shifted back to the convict era and the former penal colony of Port Arthur remains a fascinating tourist destination.

Copyright: Louise RalphEstablished in 1833 as a timber-getting camp, Port Arthur played a significant role in the story of European settlement in Australia.

But long before Europeans arrived, the Pydairrerme people were the traditional custodians of the land, finding food for the body and the spirit in these wild places.

Over time, their pathways became roads and endless bushland was replaced by sandstone buildings created with convict labour.

The Isles of the Dead where over 1000 military, free settlers and convicts were buried between 1833 and 1877.

The Isles of the Dead where over 1000 military people, free settlers and convicts were buried between 1833 and 1877.

While Port Arthur is renowned for breaking many men, some gained useful skills they would take beyond this place into their life as free settlers.

The penal settlement finally closed in 1877 and, while it became the township of Carnarvon for a while, by the 1920s stories of convict days were bringing in the tourists.

Eventually,  the site was renamed Port Arthur and, over the years, the once crumbling buildings have been beautifully preserved, and the stories artfully captured.

On entry to the site, you’re given a playing card and invited to find your character, then follow ‘your convict’ through the twists and turns of their story.

This cleverly designed interpretation brings their world to life…

Copyright: Louise Creely

art of stone…

It’s a fabulous trip into the past, but don’t pass by the natural wonders of this magnificent coastline. Here’s just a taste… and if you’d like to go, it’s a short road trip north-east from Hobart or jump on a Tasman Island Cruise for the perfect day trip. Bon voyage!

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

A stunning example of tessellated pavement at Eaglehawk Neck where the rock has fractured to create a mosaic tile look

Tasmans Arch is all that's left of the roof of a large sea cave, carved out by the waves over thousands of years

Tasmans Arch is all that’s left of the roof of a large sea cave, carved out by the waves over thousands of years

 


Coastal wanderings – Crowdy Bay National Park

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I’ve worked out what it is. I’m a natural woman. Not the Woodstock, flower power flavour of natural (although there have been moments…), but natural in a bushland, beaches, rocky coastlines and wildlife kind of way.

I know there are those for whom ‘natural wonders’ equal five stars and a sea horse swizzle stick in their cocktail, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, I feel the most at home in a national park somewhere.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015It’s where I feel my chest expanding and I can finally breathe – even while scrambling up or down precarious rocky slopes (and that’s saying something when you have asthma!)

We’ve just arrived at Kylie’s Beach camping area in the stunning Crowdy Bay National Park.

It’s a favourite place of ours, even though the beach is particularly windswept today and the water is so icy it makes your feet ache.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant’s writer’s retreat.

Instead of braving the icy waves and strong rip for too long, we head off along the coastal track.

Along the way, we pass the restored hut that was once the writer’s retreat of Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant.

At the peak of the hill, we leave the trail to wind our way down to a rocky, windswept headland.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Here, the waves disappear into sea caves and burst through an arch into an amphitheatre carved by time and tides.

As we enter the impressive amphitheatre, the ground moves with a thousand crabs that swiftly disappear into secret places among the rocks and seaweed.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015Back at camp, a wallaby and her joey feed on fresh spring grass.

The joey looks at us curiously, then nuzzles into mama’s pouch for a milky snack. Eventually, she bats him away and hops off, leaving him to feed on the grass alone.

Above us, a kookaburra perches on a branch, watching us sipping our crispy chardonnay.

It soon leaves to check out other campers who may have meaty treats to share.

A red aphid-like bug lands on my arm… and there’s a black fly in my chardonnay.

There’s a song in that, EB says.

All around us, bush creatures wake to hunt, mate and play under cover of darkness. The roll of distant thunder is oddly soothing and the waning moon is rising.

Ah, this is perfection – and, for me, this takes five stars to a whole new level. Just sayin’…

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015


Hanging out in Port Stephens

Copyright: Louise Creely

The most striking thing about Port Stephens, on the NSW coast, is the pristine beaches curving around each bay and cupping the gorgeous aquamarine waters.

Somewhere out there in this huge marine park are dolphins, turtles, sponge gardens, fish and more. While there are dolphin tours for all tastes, I was keen to get in there with them in their natural environment with Dolphin Swim Australia.

Talk about bad timing – and a reminder to book ahead if there’s something you really want to do on your holiday – the boat was out of the water being prepared for the tourist season. So… no wild dolphin swims for me.

This didn’t phase EB. He was itching to get me up a hill somewhere and, on the hottest day so far (of course), we headed up to the Tomaree Head Summit. There are a lot of stairs and a lot of locals panting up and down them with their earphones firmly wedged in place.

If you like to do more than just sweat up and down hills, the panoramic views are worth the effort.

You can also see the historic gun emplacements and other reminders that Australia was once ready to protect its shores from invasion.

In World War II, this natural harbour was an ideal entry point for hostile forces, intent on attacking the aerodrome at Williamstown and, more importantly, the Newcastle steelworks.

Steel was a vital wartime commodity, so Fort Tomaree was built here in 1942. It was a perfect vantage point, with 360 degree views covering the coastlines, headlands and surrounds.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Port Stephens is a great place for a family holiday, with beaches the kids (and you) will love.

I admit I was a little disappointed at not spotting a single dolphin, even from the headlands.

But we did have gorgeous early morning swims, and lots of walking and cycling. So I’m leaving fitter than when I arrived…and that has to be a good thing.

Next stop… Crowdy Bay National Park. 


Road trip – first stop Trial Bay

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Some of the most surprising places we’ve discovered lately are actually places one of us has been to in another life, another time.

I haven’t visited Trial Bay on the NSW coast for at least 30 years. And I don’t remember it being quite this stunning.

When you’re a kid, you’re into surf, scenery and wildlife. Just not the same kind of scenery and wildlife as now…

This was once my parents’ stomping ground. Their place in the world.

Copyright: Louise Creely

 

For the first time, I understand why they loved it – with its rugged coastline, wild-flowering coastal heathlands and secluded coves, it is one of the true gems in the North Coast region of NSW.

We are in awe as we take the coastal walk from Trial Bay Gaol to Little Bay.

It’s been the first non-travelling day of our holiday and EB has me up at the crack of dawn, breakfast eaten, and cycling into South West Rocks for espresso.

 

 

A short respite and we’re cycling back for a swim, before walking to Little Bay.

Yep, my usually desk-bound butt is feeling it! Perhaps calling this a ‘holiday’ was stretching the point…?

Copyright: Louise Creely

The best thing about road trips, apart from discovering new and amazing places in Australia, is that I always sleep well at night.

But the day is only half done, the tide is rising in the bay and… it’s time for another swim perhaps?

Common Fringed Lily and a scribbly gum...

Common Fringed Lily and a scribbly gum…


Go wild, in a civilised way:

Camping at Arakoon Conservation Area is a great choice if you love nature, coastal walks, pristine beaches and bays, and history – and you like to be a bit civilised too, with showers, toilets and cooking facilities.


Surprise yourself – on the NSW Central Coast

Some of the most beautiful places in the world are the ones not too far from home. Especially if you live in Australia.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Lake Macquarie from Mannering Point

We recently took off on a quick road trip from Kingscliff to the Central Coast. We may have been on a mission, to get to a family gathering there, but we weren’t out to break any distance records.

For us, there’s nothing better than meandering along the east coast of Australia. And no matter how often we do it, we always find something to surprise us.

Port Macquarie

About six hours after leaving the Queensland border, we arrived at Port Macquarie… and we were ravenous.

So our first stop had to be the Zebu bar + grill at the Rydges Resort, for a warming ‘some like it hot’ cocktail (think delicious bev in a chilli-rimmed margarita glass), a zucca pizza and some local talent at the open mic.

Then it was back to reality. No resorts for us. Time to give our ‘new’ escape vehicle a test run (because we’re on a quest to simplify our lives, but more on that some other 60 seconds).

Copyright: Louise Creely

First night moments…

For our first sleepout in the troopy*, we stayed at the Flynn’s Beach Caravan Park, surrounded by enough nature and wildlife to make us feel at home.

It was a crisp night with a little (well, a lot) fewer creature comforts than we were used to – like a diesel heater and a mattress that didn’t feel like a couple of planks nailed together! And it was only going to get colder as we went south (you can stop smiling now).

We usually stop at Cassegrain Winery while we’re here, but even we have our limits. Well, it was 7.30 in the morning when we left Port…

Norah Head

Just over three hours south, we arrived at Norah Head, a little coastal village near Wyong that hasn’t been yuppified – yet.

It was the first time we’d been here, so of course EB dragged me straight out to ‘stretch our legs’ along the stunning coastline and up to the beautifully preserved lighthouse – with a few strategic ‘getting lost’ moments added in for good measure.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Copyright: Louise Creely

The lighthouse was completed in 1903, making the once-perilous shipping lane between Newcastle and Sydney safe at last. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1995.

We were ready to crash that night, in the Norah Head Holiday Park, but the bed was proving a challenge. At least we weren’t reluctant to get out of it in the morning, at the crack of dawn. Again.

Lake Macquarie – Mannering Park

Copyright: Louise CreelyAfter a side trip to Sydney, we arrived back up at Mannering Park Caravan Park. It sits on the edge of Lake Macquarie, an hour north of Sydney.

Twice the size of Sydney Harbour, the lake is the biggest permanent salt water lagoon in the southern hemisphere.

The caravan park seemed like a comfortable place to hang out for a few days, but we were in for a surprise. And it started like this… (cue music)

Copyright: Louise Creely

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Creely On our second night there, when the campground was completely silent (and our warm, now seriously padded, bed was waiting) we decide to take one last look at the lake.

And there before us was the most majestic sight – a huge burnt orange full moon in a charcoal sky, slashed across by inky clouds, casting a truly spectacular fiery pathway across the lake towards us.

We’d never seen anything like it – even EB was speechless.

Meanwhile, I was muttering about phone camera inadequacies, punctuated by ‘wow’ and ‘dammit’.

Note to self: Pack your ‘real’ camera and tripod next time. No, every time. 

Coffs Harbour

We usually stop in at Coffs for breakfast, but this time we decided to stay overnight in the Park Beach Caravan Park. We soon discovered it was a walking distance (in sensible shoes!) to the restaurant strip along the jetty and marina.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Copyright: Louise RalphIt’s a great place to kick back and watch people promenading and the sun setting, and to spot the plume of a passing whale.

It may have been a quick trip without our usual stops in National Parks, but it made me realise, not for the first time, that some of the most beautiful places in the world are the ones not too far from home. Especially if you live in Australia.

*Toyota Landcruiser Troop Carrier