When life closes a door, open it again.
It’s a door, that’s how they work.
Just an hour’s drive from Hobart, following the beautiful Derwent River, is one of my favourite places in Australia. Mount Field National Park. It’s the perfect place for a walk – from a leisurely stroll to stunning Russell Falls, to an epic trek around the Tarn Shelf.
On this icy day, we take the middle ground – a short, but fascinating walk on the Lady Barron Falls circuit, past Russell Falls and through the tall trees walk. It takes about 2.5 hours and there’s a few stairs in there to get your heart rate up – and it’s worth every step.
It’s amazing what you notice when you really look. All that’s missing here is a couple of fairies flitting around. Wait, what was that?
Oh. It’s EB. He’s found a set of stairs to drag me up, so he’s a bit excited. Only 248 of them (yes, I counted). So much for strolls through fungi fairyland.
Prepare to be incredulated (is that a word?). The Tasmanian swamp gum is the tallest flowering plant in the world. The tallest recorded in Tassie was 98 metres, so the Mount Field ones are shorties really. 70+ metres short…
As they grow, the lower branches break off, leaving a sleek trunk reaching ever-skyward. They’re so fascinating I got a sore neck just staring up at them.
There’s a strange beauty even in the fallen giants. From the earth they rise, and to the earth they return…
There’s nothing quite like nature to lift you up and bring you down to earth.
After all that walking, slipping into the Derwent Estate and Stefano Lubiana wineries on the way home is the end to a perfect day. Cheers.
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
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…
Some wisdom from the Vikings this week – and it’s great advice. Because what’s gone before is a lesson, and what’s here and ahead is potential. Yours.
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?
… because if you’re anything like me, you’re doing this right now!
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!
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…
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Yes, 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).
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.
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:
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…
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.