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Walkabout Driveabout

Updated: 2016-09-08T14:37:35.554+10:00


Bushfires in Victoria, Australia


Thanks to all my overseas friends who expressed concern over the effects of the horrific Victorian Bushfires on me. My heart is heavy for the people killed, injured and affected by the Victorian fires, but I want to assure my overseas friends that I am quite safe.It is a long while since I added to this blog, but I felt this was the easiest way to let people know. This shows that I am a long way from the action:I am on the coast just above the most Easterly point. On the map I am just below the NSW/Queensland border just South of Brisbane. I'm in the lucky area for the moment, far from both the fires and the floods. It's a big country. Pottsville is 2000km(1250 miles) north of the Victorian bushfires and 1600km(1000 miles) south of the massive floods in Ingham. We have had fires around us here in the recent past, but not so far this year. Australia is roughly the same size as the contiguous US. Victoria, at the bottom of the continent, is where the fires were worst. This map shows why.Victoria's climate leads to good tree growth, with lots of eucalypt forests. But the lush winter growth becomes a hazard in summer when the harsh hot winds come out of the central deserts, drying the countryside. A couple of weeks ago the temperatures started exceeding 40C (104F), day after day, in South Australia and Victoria. Then, with the bush like a tinderbox ready to go, it only needs a lightning strike or a chance spark or a depraved firebug and it erupts. This was many separate fires, not one big one. Then the wind fans the flames, or sometimes the blaze becomes so powerful it creates it's own winds.The problem is similar all the way from West of Adelaide to North of Brisbane within a few hundred kilometres of the coast. This time the major fires were all in Victoria but there are also several lesser fires burning in the other states. To make it worse, eucalypt forests emit oil when they burn, which vaporises and results in "crown fires", infernos that actually burn above the trees and can move at the speed of the wind to ignite anything in their path, well ahead of the ground fire. That is why some towns disappeared with so little warning for the residents. American readers might note that one of the problems in California is that a lot of our eucalypts have been planted in forests there.Unfortunately those who manage our forests and bush tend to forget the lessons of history. I watched Ash Wednesday from my home in 1983 and will never forget it. Black Friday in 1939 was before my time but I learned all about it in History class. I was in the district during the Shoalhaven fires in 2002. I'm a "greenie", a firm supporter of preserving and maintaining Australia's fragile ecology and environment. But there are several different shades of green in the "greenie" community. Too many forget that fire is part of our natural ecology and that this continent has caught fire regularly since long before Europeans appeared here. In fact, some of our flora needs fire to germinate. But some greenies hold protests if anyone cuts down a tree and others deter those who manage our bush from controlled burning in the winter because a few koalas and wallabies may be singed. They forget the past, when the uncontrolled build up of fuel in the bush leads to days like last Saturday. The human toll is terrible and horrifying, but whole populations of native fauna also disappeared that day. I'll stop there. I get too angry and emotional on this subject.Alan[...]

Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest


On the way back from Daintree to Port Douglas the rain got heavier. As we passed through Mossman we noticed a sign to Mossman Gorge; I had never heard of it, so I decided to have a look despite the deluge.The Mossman Gorge is only about 5km, or 3 miles, from Mossman township – but another world away.It is part of the Daintree National Park, which is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage. This Heritage area stretches from Cooktown up near cape York right down to Townsville. We were almost alone; two other cars in the carpark. While wandering through the boardwalks and tracks I met only a couple of other hardy souls braving the weather – that’s the way I like to wander around when I can. At my own pace in solitude.The only fauna I saw was flying; a brilliant iridescent blue Ulysses butterfly, a couple of small brown birds turning over foliage looking for insects. The rain was keeping all the others under cover. I must admit, I wasn’t disappointed about not meeting one of the 8-metre pythons.The strangler fig’s host has long disappeared and the strangler now has to support itself in the fight to reach the light.I protected the lens and camera as much as I could, but many of my photos were spoiled by drops of rain on the lens; however, those that are left still give some idea of the beauty and peace of this magical place. The only noise was the river, bouncing and leaping through the rocky gorge, running hard and fast because of the runoff from the myriad tiny creeks suddenly running with water in the unseasonal rain. The power of the water is hard to describe; these pools are usually still and full of swimmers, but not this day.I departed sopping wet after a couple of happy, slow hours, eventually back to the studio in Port Douglas for a hot shower and takeaway Thai for dinner.Cheers, Alannext: Atherton Tableland[...]

Port Douglas and Daintree


On our fourth day we picked up a Hertz car from the Cairns agency, declined the cheap upgrade because I quite liked the little manual Getz, and headed North towards Port Douglas. For those new to "Blogger", click on any picture to see a bigger version.Just a side note on rental cars. We’ve found in our travels that insurance is often a major pain for rental cars; either the premiums are excessive, or the excesses are ridiculous or the exclusions can catch you. Eventually I found that it was cheaper for us for short-term rentals like this to take out travel insurance, which covered all those insurances and excesses, and gave the bonus of other travel insurance covers for loss of goods and so on. Check it out next time you need a rental away from home, even if it’s not far away. If you think your Gold credit Card insurance covers you - check carefully.We wandered up the coast in no particular hurry, taking side trips occasionally whenever we saw interesting signs. There are a number of coastal communities and resort developments. The first photo is Holloway Beach, not a resort, just a nice seaside community; the next few are Palm Cove – mostly expensive resorts and overseas tourists here.The coastal plain is a very narrow strip as you follow the road to Port Douglas. The large photo at the top of this article is from the Rex lookout about halfway to Port Douglas. It appears that someone liked Mr Rex, but not the politician who opened the lookout.Port Douglas, to us, was a much more pleasant and more laid back town than Cairns. The shot is from the lookout on top of the headland, an idyllic beach.Everything was on a smaller scale. While it is obviously a tourist town there wasn’t the same feeling of "tourist central" as Cairns or Kuranda. We only stayed two nights, but regretted not being able to stay longer. We were in a lovely studio apartment at the Port Douglas Queenslander. The price was great, the studio and facilities were superb, the management were friendly and helpful. The only jarring note was the list of charges for "extras", such as a ban on using the room towels for the pool with pool towels for hire for $6. Seemed a bit petty and dollar-squeezing for a place like that; so did the note of possible extra charges if the room didn’t pass inspection after we left. Ours did, of course, and we had no extra charges, but the attitude dampened our enthusiasm for the place a little. But only a little - we did enjoy our stay.The weather closed in the next day as we headed North to Daintree. The sky was becoming overcast but there were still patches of sunlight. As we entered the cane-growing districts North of Cairns we noticed 2’ narrow-gauge railway lines beside the road, then came across this cane-train. They start harvesting much earlier up here, compared to the Tweed Valley back home. As we passed through Mossman we saw this fascinating tree; I have never before seen so many weird and wonderful trees as I did on this trip; this was just one of them.It was unusually wet for this time of year, but we happened to choose the period when life-saving rains swept across South-East Australia; hopefully drought-breaking rains but it’s too early to say that yet. In the NSW Central Coast and later in East Gippsland, Victoria, they became flood rains.Some of that rain came North. But it’s a bit silly to complain about the rain when that is going on down South – and you’re heading off to view a rainforest; I mean – what else did I expect?It did put a dampener on activities though. So we visited the village, and enjoyed the drive in the country, but didn’t take the boat ride as we heard that the crocs were unlikely to be doing much in the cooler damp conditions. However, if you read the signs you'll see a swim was out of the question, even if George is no longer in the river a lot of his relatives are. The beautiful garden shot was in the grounds of a small shop selling tourist items in the main street.We had a pleasant light lunch in the "Big Barramun[...]

Kuranda Skyrail near Cairns


This was a magic part of the trip. The SkyRail operates from close to Kuranda rail station, up and over the hills and then down to the coast North of Cairns.There was controversy when it was first proposed; consequently it was constructed using helicopters to airlift the pylons into position to cause the minimal possible disruption to the ecology.\If you need to get back to Cairns or Freshwater Rail Stations then mention that when you book and a ticket on a shuttle bus is included. The cars are designed for a maximum of six, but most only had two, three or four passengers so there is plenty of room. The views are simply spectacular. The day had become overcast and gloomy, a prelude to the misty and rainy conditions of the following few days, so my photos don't really do it justice.However, I'll let the photos tell most of the story, with a few notes.There are two stops en-route. At the first, there is a short walkway through the rainforest to views of Barron Gorge and Falls. These are the same falls we saw from the train on the way up from a different viewpoint. Not the thundering roar of Niagara - but beautiful and spectacular all the same.Then another viewpoint as we returned to the cable-car and swept silently up and away from the stopping point.The second stop, unlike the first, is also a change of cables so the cars arriving here return to Kuranda and Caravonica respectively. At this stop there are two features. There is a small but very well done exhibition explaining the science of the rainforest in audio-visual displays and presentations that were full of fascinating detail at all levels; not just kids and tourist stuff but really informative and interesting. Allied to that is an easy walkway with stops along the way to see various features of the rainforest in situ; explanations of the different tres and ecology, the struggle for light on the floor of the forest and the constant death and renewal of the flora. Rangers are available for small guided groups.Returning to the cable-car we then continued further up and over the crest to suddenly come on breathtaking vistas of the coastal plain North of Cairns. The trip takes about 45 minutes over the 7.5km (nearly 5 miles) journey plus whatever time you spend at the stops; as I left Kuranda at 2:30 pm and the bus wasn't scheduled at Carvonica until 4 pm I took my time and enjoyed a leisurely stroll at the stops. And finally the Caravonica station appeared, beside an Aboriginal display centre with tourists being taught how to throw boomerangs in the field at the back. [...]

Up to Kuranda by train


Hello again. First, a small apology. I write this blog in IE7, and I'm finding that despite trying to arrange the pix and text to correlate on Explorer - it comes out different on other browsers such as Firefox and Opera. I'll see how I go with the next one (SkyRail) in Firefox - but for the moment my apologies if it looks a bit disjointed on your browser. Also, this template's gremlins insert a "Read more" at the foot that never works. Ah, well, ces't la vie.OK, back to Cairns:-) The trip up to Kuranda, and back again, is not to be missed when you are in the far North Coast. We went up by the train and I came back by the SkyRail while Lorraine returned on the train.There are booking offices and information centres all over downtown Cairns - but I recommend that anyone booking go to the Rail Statipn at Cairns Central. You get immediate confirmation of your booking and no extra charges. If any concessions apply that's also the best place to make sure of a discount. Some of the cars are set up for luxury customers, who watch the scenery slip past as they sip on a glass of wine. I was unaware of that option when I booked, it's certainly worth considering next time. Note that the chairs face right, towards the window; that's a tip for anyone booking. By far the best seat of the four-across bench seats for viewing on the way up is the window seat on the right when facing forward. The seats are reserved in advance. At this stage, in Cairns, it looked like we almost had a carriage to ourselves. But, when we stopped at Freshwater the train filled from the tour buses and suddenly there were no spare seats at all.Steam Engines were used on the line until about 20 years ago. Steam would have made the trip more romantic - but it used to take 4 1/2 hours then instead of an hour and threequarters with the present two strong diesel/electrics hauling 16 carriages. The train still moved sedately over the winding steep line, so I was happy to be travelling a little faster than the steam days.There is a history of the line here: Cairns Kuranda RailwayAfter reading the history, it's a sobering experience travelling on that line as you see the rugged terrain and the incredible conditions those workers laboured under.One of the first points of interest passed as we left Cairns was the old cemetary as the narrator commented on the railway construction workers buried there. It's now called a "scenic" railway with good reason.It was a grey day as we climbed, but hopefully the pictures will give some idea of the scenery.Kuranda, the village, was a bit disappointing to me. Like the waterfront at Cairns, all tourist traps and souvenirs. The parks were nice, and I was impressed by this tree; later it looked insignificant after seeing the Curtain Fig on the Atherton Tableland. So, after a pleasant interlude at the village over a large beer and bratwurst at the German Sausage cafe, and an interesting few minutes watching the confectioners at work making a peppermint log, my wife waited for the train again as I departed on the SkyRail.Cheers, Alan[...]

The Tropical North


We came to Cairns via a roundabout route as a result of persistent telemarketing. Yeah, I know – they can be a pain. But sometimes, if your hide is thick enough you can use them successfully. A few years back I was called by a mob called Trendwest from the Gold Coast after our first ‘round-the-world trip. A long story short: we went to the presentations, politely said no after the 90 minutes of moderately hard sell, and a few months later used frequent flyer miles to take up the resulting free four nights at the Outrigger in Fiji. I was pleasantly surprised to find it worked – no charge at all.I was surprised to get a repeat call a year later; this time I had to coach the lady from Bangalore to help her "sell" me. I checked with the people up at the Gold Coast and they assured me it was OK to do it twice. So, another 90 minutes of rather hard sell this time, again we said no, and this time we went to New Zealand in early 2006 for four nights. Well, blow me down with a feather, they did it again last year. So off we went again. This time it was two hours of really high pressure salesmanship, moving up the line to the boss when we said no – but we still did of course. Consequently, last week, off we went to Cairns for 3 free nights at the "Tropical Queenslander" which we augmented with a couple more paid nights in Port Douglas and a final night back in Cairns. Would you believe it – after the boss had said this was the last time – they rang again a month ago. I declined this time. I’ve since added my name to the "do not call" list on the web. So, a little about the time in Cairns.We flew up from Brisbane on Qantas; however you can get there more leisurely by rail; I love train travel but the other half isn't quite as enthusiastic; she prefers two hours to 25. This is the Tilt Train at Cairns Station just before departure. We found that the hotel was a bit far to walk to the centre of town for us, so we investigated the local buses. They were great – regular, cheap, and ran into the night. A "city flyer" ticket gave us 24 hours from the time of purchase for $6.30 – great value. $7.70 extended the range to all the outer suburbs.After checking in to the hotel we wandered off into town by bus after a leisurely light lunch at a takeaway food strip in Sheridan Road.I was a bit disappointed in downtown Cairns itself - the waterfront area is basically "tourist central". I suppose that’s not surprising; after all most people go there to go on to the reef or to travel in the district rather than to stay in town. Every second shopfront is a booking agency for reef, rainforest and skyrail/train tours; the others seem to be either restaurants, internet cafes or souvenir "markets" selling fluffy koalas and kangaroos with unobtrusive "made in China" labels on the back.Unfortunately the seas were a bit rough for my spouse, so we didn't get to the reef. However, while investigating the options it became obvious that seniors like I need to read the details carefully - some tours are really aimed at the younger groups for diving and snorkelling, while others are more for oldies like me with glass bottom boats and pontoons. In talking to those who did go out before the seas got heavy, they had a wonderful time. Ah well, next time.Cairns Central is a useful shopping mall at the railway Station, away from the tourist prices of downtown. And when the tide goes out at Cairns harbour - it goes a looong way out! If you are after cheap eats there were some excellent meals available in the "Night Market" food court, especially the Thai outlet there - but the atmosphere is very basic noisy cafeteria. We ate there the first night. The market itself is yet another souvenir outlet. If you are dining more "up-market" many of the waterfront restaurants give 20-30% off if you order before 7pm. You can also use the barbecue facilities on the waterfront parks to cook your own food if you wish to. On our [...]

On the Creek


I posted these pictures of my creek to remind myself to sit here daily when I get home.

Creeks are for lazily swimming in; or sitting or standing by; or fishing in. To think, or not, or to meditate by.

I don't go fishing to catch fish - I certainly couldn't feed myself on the catches I get. But non-fishers will never understand. Fishing is a wonderful way to be by a creek and look like you're doing something practical when you're actually practising a wonderful healing form of meditation.


Beaches Near Home


Not many words this time. I'm a water person. I just like beaches. Ours are rarely crowded, except at Christmas and Easter. These are some of my local ones.


Wooyung:(image) (image)
Black Rocks; it's hard to tell where Wooyung merges to be Black Rocks which merges to be South Pottsville:(image) Towards Cape Byron:(image) Coolangatta:(image) (image)

Cheers, Alan; and I don't know why you can't get bigger pix when you click on them:-(

Murwillumbah and Mt Warning


No matter where you go in Murwillumbah (pronounced m'will-um-bar), Mount Warning seems to be in the background.


James Cook named the mountain, which was visible from sea, on his discovery voyage up the coast - it warned him of Point Danger, which he also named.


It is the ancient core of a volcano and the Tweed Valley forms part of the ancient Caldera more than 60km across. The surrounding hills can be seen from the air to form the ancient shield walls; the aboriginal name for the mountain is Wollumbin - fighting chief of the mountains.


Murwillumbah is a town of about 9000 and was the original district centre for the early settlers. It is still the centre of local government but the coastal towns and villages are becoming the bigger population centres.


Cheers, Alan

To Market, To Market


Before I head off on the trip to the south tomorrow, I decided to upload a few pix of my home region to set the scene. This is the first of a themed group.Market day in Pottsville occurs on the the first and third Sundays of every month. When I first came to town I got involved in all of the local things, as new people usually do - Community Association, Neighbourhood Centre and so on. I've stepped back a little now because of other interests, like travel. A couple of years ago, while on the neighbourhood Centre committee I received a promotion to be garbage and refuse collector after the Markets - I did it for a couple of years but then had to quit when I wandered off around the world; some other lucky guy does the job now:-)It's just a typical country town market - but the range of goods is amazing. There are even spots to park the kids, eat, get a massage, singers, puppets.Small communities at work and play.Cheers, Alan[...]

The Annual Odyssey


In a couple of weeks we'll be heading off on our annual driveabout to the South and back. We spend a week dropping in on family and friends en-route, stay a couple of weeks in Melbourne, then wander slowly back up the East Coast until we arrive back home in late january. The map gives a rough idea of the route - but we tend to wander off on interesting side roads as we travel.

I don't have a laptop, but I'll add bits and pieces irregularly as I get the opportunity at internet cafes and other's computers en-route.

Cheers, Alan

Sentimental Journey - a Lost Railway


Two years ago, they closed my local rail line. I wrote this before and after taking that train for the last time to Sydney. Before.I grew up in the '50s and '60s when air travel in Australia was expensive and rare for our family. I think my only flight was on a DC-something in 1955, before I joined the RAAF in '64 and discovered slightly faster aeroplanes.We were a far-flung family so I spent many nights on the trains in New South Wales, on nearly all of the north and north-western lines. I loved those nights, watching the little stations flash past, or stopping at the "RRR" (Rail RefreshmentRooms) while the engine wheezed and the water and coal were replenished. I spent many christmasses at my Grandparents' house beside the shunting yards at Narrabri, watching fascinated as they re-arranged the wheat, coal and goods carriages.Now the short-sighted state government has decided to close our local line. Local politics would mean little here, but I'm about as angry about that as I can be. But that's a battle I can't win.So tonight I'm off to the Big Smoke for a week or so, for a nostalgic 14-hour ride ride on the Murwillumbah to Sydney line before they let the trestles decay and the sleepers rot.See you all in a week or two.AfterThanks to all those on the group who asked about the little journey to nostalgia. Therefore, a brief trip report on a relaxed week away. Well, it started off brief, and then got Topsy-like.Departed, an hour late, about 11 pm, so missed most of the scenery through the hills. I like watching the little stations flash past: Stoker's Siding, Burringbar, Bilinudgel, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Bangalow (where the palms come from, not BUngalow), Lismore and we've only gone two hours with eleven more to go. It's this section, Murwillumbah to Casino, that's closing.Shared my twinette sleeper with an old Digger returning to Sydney who had gone to Brisbane to march with his mates on Anzac Day (25th April). 90 years old, spry and alert, and diagnosed Type 2 two years ago. Fascinated by my Accu-chek; he'd never seen a meter.Broken sleep punctuated by lights flashing past and the doppler effects of passing sounds. Woke at 2:30 am while we slowly shunted back and forth on the bridge over the Clarence at Grafton as they changed engines and crews. Nothing more silent and still than a river in the half-moonlight. I grew up swimming in that big river, rowing fours and butcher-boats, building rafts, catching bream and throwing back catfish, square-dancing at the Jacaranda Festival. More broken sleep through Glenreagh, Nana Glen (Russell Crowe's farmlet), Coramba, Coffs Harbour, Urunga, Nambucca Heads, Macksville, Kempsey. Woke up properly at dawn as we passed through the misty lush green valley of the Manning River at Taree. Then the quiet farms and hamlets through Gloucester and Dungog, the wine and coal country of the Hunter Valley, Maitland, Newcastle. Spectacular scenery as we passed through the central coast districts and Wyong, Gosford, Broken Bay on the Hawkesbury.Finally, into the urban sprawl of Sydney. Spent the next three days using my ex-soldiers pass to travel on buses, trains and ferries around the town like any tourist. Chinatown, Paddy's Market, Australia Square, off to Manly on the ferry watching all the tourists happily snapping the Opera House and the coat-hanger (then joining them :-). I'm a water person, so also on the ferries again - to Balmain, Hunter's Hill, Parramatta. It's a wonderful harbour. Saw a show at the Darlinghurst Theatre, ate in pubs (no chips please, just salad with the fish, and how rough is the house red ?) and Chinese and Indian (naan bread, no rice:-).Then back by commuter train for two hours to Newcastle for the three-hour bus ride to Forster-Tuncurry on the lakes[...]

Who, me?


I'm new at blogging and just realised my "about me" story was too long to appear on every post. So I'm putting it in here and simplifying the repeating intro. I'm an ordinary Aussie bloke who loves to travel. I did manage to get some glimpses of overseas travel with the RAAF as an Engineer - Keesler AFB Biloxi in the '60s, short trips to Auckland and also nearby islands (Cocos and Keeling, Christmas, Norfolk, Java) in the '70s, but until 2003 I had never really travelled overseas as a tourist. Things like living, raising a family, responsibility – all that humdrum stuff got in the way. So I traveled my own wonderful country.

With the RAAF I probably saw every small airport in Australia, and also most military ones. We covered a lot of the East Coast on a caravan wander for ten months in 1997-98 - from the Yorke Peninsula to Gladstone via the coast and inland to Lightning Ridge and Broken Hill and almost every town in between.

Every year we wander from Pottsville down to Melbourne and back, trying different routes each time if we can.

Later I'll post a few pics and memories from those trips.

But I always had an urge to see the world. One of my sons had managed to wander the USA, East Asia and Europe; I would have loved to have gone with him. Then, in 2002 I discovered that I had more interesting blood than most people and decided that all those years of saving for a rainy day had finished. In fact, I decided that the rain was coming down in buckets and it was time to satisfy that wanderlust. So, since that day, we have been around the world twice and to Fiji and New Zealand between trips. I still wander the East coast of Australia each year, but I’ll always have that urge to see faraway places.

Some may know me from other places too, if this sig looks familiar:

Alan, T2, Australia
Everything in Moderation, Except Laughter.

The Great Raft Race



Held every January, the major cultural and sporting event for the village. Well, not really - I'll upset some adults by saying that - but it sure is if you're under 12 (or over your limit:-)(image) (image)




I'm not a religious person. But, if I ever change my mind I'll probably do it while gazing at the sky. One of the magic things about my home is that I can see both the Eastern sky and the Western sky while lazing in my lounge chair sipping an evening glass of wine. The top view is east, the others are over the back shed.

Life is tough:-)(image) (image) (image)



Of course, although in Australia rain is usually desperately needed, sometimes you get too much of a good thing.(image) (image)

Home in Pottsville



I like my home. I should. I chose it very carefully. I first came to the Tweed Coast as an eight-year-old on a family fishing holiday when Hastings Point was a collection of shacks. Over the years I lived thousands of miles from here, but came back every few years, first with the family, later with Lorraine as the kids grew and flew. Finally I packed up the house in Melbourne and wandered all over the Eastern States, from the Yorke Peninsula to Gladstone on the coast, and inland to Lightning Ridge and Broken Hill for a little under a year.(image)

I was searching for my future home and I ended up coming back to Pottsville on the Tweed coast. Since then, I've wandered the world - and I still haven't found a better place. But I'm just a little biased:-)(image)
It's only a small house in a quiet village. the views are what I see out the window as I type this.


In the aerial view, we are beside the creek, just below the first canal. Unfortunately, the area at the top of the picture is now also housing.