Category Archives: Wild places & wildlife

Take 5 for Friday

It’s easy to get caught up in capturing the right shot and having the perfect life (thank you, social media). At some point, you might just wonder where the pure childlike joy went.

It’s time to Take 5. So strap on those runners, grab your camera (or phone), and head out the door.

As you walk, take five photos of things that catch your eye, give you joy or just make you feel good.

Take 5 (Aug 10)

It’s not about about being arty. It’s not a competition. It’s about noticing the things that make you happy.

The most important part happens back at home. Look at your photos and write down what each one means to you. Why did it grab your attention? Why did it make you feel good?

Here’s what the pics I took mean to me:

  1. Pandanus palms withstand sea spray, wind and drought and still look great – what’s not to love about such resilience?
  2. IMG_1903This pelican made me smile because it held itself aloof from the other pelicans waiting for the fisherfolk to arrive and clean their daily catch – no begging for this cool customer! Just comfortable in its own – um – feathers
  3. The winter wind was chilly but the salty water was deliciously fresh
  4. You can’t help smiling at Pigface, a creeping succulent that’s a pop of colour among the rocks
  5. Aqua blue water you just want to sink into.

It’s all about taking a trip without leaving your suburb.

Sure, it helps if you live near the beach – but those moments can happen anywhere. Even in your own backyard. Here’s proof from my place…

backyard

Now it’s your turn… Let’s get happy!

 


Coastal wanderings – Crowdy Bay National Park

IMG_0376

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


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


Discover Burleigh Heads

Most of us are pretty adventurous when we’re travelling but, back home, we do the same old same old – and wonder why we’re feeling stuck and uninspired. We’ve decided to discover some of the places that, while not too far away, often remain a mystery. This week, it’s Burleigh Heads, just 10 minutes up the coast from where we live…

Copyright: Louise Creely

One of our favourite restaurants is in the heart of Burleigh. The Fish House is a place where the view is spectacular, the food is always delicious (the fish soup and Patagonia tooth fish are amazing), and the wine list is a journey of discovery in itself.

But we tend to indulge (slowly) then run, so this time we’re going to hang around and see what’s happening here.

copyright: Louise CreelyOur first stop is the Burleigh Village Markets – and what a surprise.

Forget kitschy stuff, these markets are arty, vintage, classy and fabulous. They’re on the first and third Sunday of every month at the Burleigh Heads State School from 8.30am – 1pm. 

I’ll admit I’m a little skeptical about markets, but these are up there with the best I’ve been to – and EB is soon carrying some extra baggage (not something he’s accustomed to…multiple market purchases are a rarity with me!).

copyright: Louise Creely

copyright: Louise Creely

copyright: Louise Creely

copyright: Louise Creely

Copyright: Louise Ralph

copyright: Louise Creely

The markets are a great place to hang out on a lazy Sunday… but there’s only so much ‘lazy’ EB can handle, so we soon join the gaggle of joggers, power walkers, cyclists and fellow wanderers who manage to share the pathway with that ‘coasty’ minimum of fuss.

To our surprise, the pathway leads to the Burleigh National Park. Now there’s something that, in a built-up, high traffic area we’ve driven through often enough, we just do not expect. And it is brilliant.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The path winds up and around the headland, through coastal rainforest where vines hitch a ride up towering fig trees to the sun-bathed canopy, and the sound of thundering surf echoes in the pandanus groves.

Finally we reach Tallebudgera Creek, where we come across gorgeous secluded coves and beaches where the water looks inviting, even on this cloudy, chilly day.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The pathways are wheelchair-friendly and there’s even an assisted wheelchair fishing pontoon…Copyright: Louise Creely

To say we are impressed with Burleigh Heads is an understatement. And we know we have barely scratched the surface…

You can’t always get away for a weekend, but what if you don’t have to go too far for a great experience? What will you discover near your place?


Winter is here

Copyright: Louise Creely

It may be snowing way south of here, but it was another crisp yet balmy start to winter here in northern New South Wales.

Walking along Kingscliff beach at dusk, we saw birds diving like missiles into the ocean… and something else breaking the glass-like surface.

At first we thought it must be a dolphin or a big fish. Then a gorgeous manta ray leapt into the air, executing an elegant full spin before disappearing into the deep blue… only to rise again, spinning like a ballerina, over and over again.

It’s been two years since we saw our first leaping manta ray – right here – and knew we’d come home. There’s just something about this place that steals your heart.

It’s a perfect start to winter. Now, for those wonderful whales passing by…


Walk on the wild side – at Binna Burra

Copyright: Louise Creely

Crisp air, sweeping views, birdsong and a nice red… you can just feel the serenity. We’ve arrived at Binna Burra Sky Lodges, in the heart of the Lamington National Park, for some post-wedding R&R.

Copyright: Louise Creely

But it’s not long before EB is scanning the Binna Burra map to find a long, challenging walk for us to do. Clearly ‘relaxation’ is all in the interpretation.

The Sky Lodges are the newest edition to the Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, a nature-based resort founded in 1933, which still has that retro feel.

The beautiful, self-contained lodges are designed to capture the spectacular views across Queensland’s Scenic Rim, stretching all the way to the Gold Coast and the ocean.

EB may have his walking agenda, but I also have mine. So late in the afternoon we emerge, feeling very Zen, from the aptly-named Bliss Massage, to a mountain shrouded in mist – which soon unwraps a stunning sunset. Copyright: Louise Creely

The next morning, we tackle the Ship’s Stern. To say I’m a little anxious is a major understatement. I haven’t done any serious bush walking since we climbed Mt Gower on Lord Howe Island in 2011 and, unlike EB who’s always exercising and has an active job, I spend most days firmly planted at an office desk.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The Ship’s Stern walk descends into the Kurraragin Valley, past towering red cedar, eucalypts and piccabeen palms, and natural viewing spots where looking down makes your legs tingle.

Along the way, dense rainforest gives way to open forest, with sudden transitions to open heathland. In places, the narrow track clings to the mountain edge and the drop-offs are breathtaking.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Pops of bushland colour…

Copyright: Louise Creely

Go fig-ure

When I’m certain we’re nearing the end of the 19km walk, we come across a sign that proves EB right (again). We’ve just passed the halfway point. Ugh.

But surprisingly, my bushwalking legs are back and I’m ready to take on the 9.4km uphill stretch.

Negotiating massive fallen trees and debris on the edge of the precipice along this section of the track soon makes me forget uphill battles and fatigued legs. There’s nothing like the occasional adrenalin rush to keep your energy levels up.

Nature's hieroglyphics

Nature’s hieroglyphics

By the time we reach the end of the walk, I’m skipping – in an exhilarated, kind-of exhausted and lumbering way. I made it – and with far more ease than I expected.

Yes, EB would definitely have arrived at the finish line sooner, but he was very relaxed and accommodating of my slower pace (what a great husband!).

He wasn’t even phased by my constant oo-ah moments, when I stopped to take photos with my iPhone camera (because I wasn’t about to lug my real one on a walk like this!). Copyright: Louise Creely

This was yet another reminder in my life (how many do I need?!) that when you think you can’t do something, you’re often underestimating your abilities because, most times, you can.

Somewhere along the Ship’s Stern, I decided there are so many things in life I can’t not do…

Which leads me to the ‘real’ honeymoon we’ll be taking sometime soonish.

It may involve some serious cycling training… but that’s another story.

Bridal waltzing, lou and EB style

Bridal waltzing, lou and EB style

A wedding postscript: The rain gods cast their blessing on our beach wedding. But, as some wise person once said, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, then (our addition) splash in the gin and hand it around.

So we took the ceremony indoors, and nothing could dampen our spirits as the night turned into one huge party. It really was one of the best days of our life, shared with our fabulous family and friends.

After 19 years together, raising our blended family, we didn’t expect to feel any different. But we do. We’re primed and ready for getting on with this next phase of our lives… on the flight path.

Copyright: Louise Creely

And he walks in fields of gold…


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