They say you only live once.
Actually you only die once…
You live every day.
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.
The Takarakka logo is a platypus, so I’m pretty excited. I’ve never seen a platypus in the wild.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
The 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.
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.
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…
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.
Along 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.
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.
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.
Read more dragonfly posts about Black Rocks:
Are you ready for a short break?
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.
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…
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.
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…
Ursula K. LeGuin
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…
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!
Get 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?
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.
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.
In 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?
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…
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…
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…
While I’m not a huge fan of hop-on|hop-off buses, it’s worth taking one when you arrive in Valencia, on Spain’s southeastern coast, for a snapshot of the city. But you’ll need to get off the bus and take to the streets to really get a feel for this amazing (and dramatic) place…
Science, technology, art and nature merge perfectly in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences – and it’s no surprise this is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
Futuristic buildings house an IMAX theatre complex, a science museum, an arts palace, and the largest aquarium in Europe. To be here is to be awestruck.
Wait, did someone say aquarium? I’m in! There are hundreds of aquatic and marine species at the Oceanogràfic, some in massive underwater towers that represent the major ecosystems of the planet.
But we can’t stay here forever watching those cruising sharks and graceful manta rays, or the cheeky sea lions and sassy penguins… or can we?
What could top the underwater wonders of Oceanogràfic? A walk on the wild side at Bioparc Valencia of course.
This has to be one of the best zoos you will ever visit. It’s so carefully and cleverly designed that the animals seem less hemmed in and more relaxed in their environment.
And you feel like you’re right there with them in the forests of Madagascar, the savannah and equatorial Africa. I could go on (and on), but they speak for themselves really……
Back streets, cobblestone alleys, abandoned buildings – the urban canvas inspires edgy and incredible artwork. It’s definitely my gallery of choice – and here in Valencia I’m in street art heaven. Here’s two of my favourites (more coming soon).
It’s hard to miss Estación del Norte when you’re leaving Valencia by train – but this is one gorgeous station. Opened in 1917, the original porcelain tiles, carved woodwork and lamps instantly transport you to a time when train travel was fresh, exciting – and slower!
It’s a fitting end to our visit, and we leave feeling we have barely scraped the surface of this delightful city. Adiós y gracias, Valencia.
On the day the world was ‘officially’ supposed to end, EB and I took off up the Noosa River on Australia’s Sunshine Coast for some paddling.
There’s nothing like camping and paddling along a gorgeous river, far from the silly-season crowds, to bring back a little perspective. That was the plan, anyway.
Our intention was to camp at Harry’s Hut on Noosa River’s upper reaches, which is only accessible by 4WD or on foot. But height became our undoing.
We’ve been here many times, but this was the first time we’d negotiated the rough track in the Douglas Albert – and with our double kayak on top. We laughed at the distinct possibility that we’d almost get there, then not be able to get under or around a thick low-hanging branch.
Try a fallen tree, propped in the fork of a tree on the opposite side of the road, just low enough to shave the roof of our motorhome (and the kayak with it).
With shallow gullies either side and dusk settling around us, we had no choice but to shrug, do a 25-point turn (okay, slight exaggeration) and head back to the more accessible Boreen Point camping area, on the edge Lake Cootharaba.
We found some privacy beside a paperbark forest, far enough from the camping hordes settled in for the long holidays.
Waking to a chorus of crickets the next morning, we set off to paddle across the lake towards the lower reaches of the Noosa River – and into a haze of smoke from bushfires on both river banks.
Along the sheltered edge of the lake, a sting ray nestled on the sandy bottom, its white-spotted brown body just visible.
Flashes of silver surrounded us as fish leapt out of the water. Now if we’d been fisher-folks…
The egrets we usually see here had evacuated, but a brahminy kite circled above us and darters extended their snake-like necks from safe perches to watch us passing.
The world didn’t end, and Christmas is upon us. Time to eat, drink, be merry – and plan our next trip or three.
Oh and to see if Santa will deliver a light-weight, waterproof, smashproof camera for our paddling, hiking and cycling adventures.
Cheers reindeers, and happy travels,
Lou and EB