Around Australia: From the outback to the city and the ocean


Having spent a few days in the outback it was time today to return to the city and the ocean. Our motel was just off the highway in Katherine, so we were on our way fairly quickly. Highway One was fairly quiet although we did see our first four tanker road train and there were the inevitable roadworks. Our coffee stop was in Pine Creek at a café where a cat was sitting outside the door ready to greet us. Further on in the town is a railway museum. It was closed when we passed by, but I had a brief look around. Inevitably the gold rush was the reason the railway opened in 1889. It was extended to Katherine in 1917 but never got as far as Alice Springs. When a nearby mine closed in 1976 the railway closed. In 2004 the Darwin to Adelaide line opened which we must do at some point.

There are a couple of locomotives in a shed. As it was closed I had to take photographs through the wire enclosure.

We continued north into a more rocky and hilly landscape. Just after Hayes Creek, the option to divert via the Dorat Road to Adelaide River where it rejoins Highway One. It was even quieter and the termite mounds even bigger. Some were almost 3 metres tall.

We saw some kangaroos grazing in the bush but all too soon we were back on the main road. A sign to a place called ‘Tortilla Flats’ raised a smile. After Mount Dam the water pipe ran alongside the road. Bad signage nearer Darwin meant that we missed our exit but third time lucky we were on the correct road and off to the airport to dump the rental car. Some bizarre rules mean that we could not keep the same car all the way around according to the offices in the UK and Sydney. The woman in the Darwin office thought that we could have had a rolling contract. Anyway, it is pleasant to be car-less for a day and hopefully we can re-negotiate the fee we are being charged which is for those dropping off at a different destination. Whichever car we have, it will be returned to Sydney where we started. One bit of good news is that when we checked into our hotel, we got upgraded to a suite with an ocean view! The following morning, en route to the Botanic Garden, I spotted an Avis office in town. While James went in to switch the car pick up to that office I explored the Catholic Cathedral opposite.


We walked the just under two miles to the Gardens and enjoyed being back in a green oasis after the dry outback.

Unlike the last one we visited, the epiphytic greenhouse was open and gave me some ideas to try with my orchids and some of my succulents if they have survived my absence. After a cold drink at the cafe it was time to walk a little further to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. One of the exhibitions was 66 out of the 300 entries for the Telstra National and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. There were other galleries of art work and I particularly liked some of the linocuts and wood engravings and hope that these will inspire me to get back to my art over the winter.


There were other very colourful works as well as galleries devoted to the geology and natural history, Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day in 1974 which I remember being reported on the TV and some early 20th century history of the Territory. After walking back to the hotel (with a diversion to a cold beer) it was time to relax with the AC on. Later on we found Darwin’s bookshop: Readback Books and Aboriginal Art Gallery. As usual when travelling I have to restrict myself and we bought one novel which we can leave behind when finished. I overheard the proprietor telling another customer that her main business was the art gallery and the books were a hobby. Sunset is later up here but it was so cloudy little could be seen. Today was the autumn equinox and a full moon. However, we could not see the moon for cloud so here is last night’s almost full one.

Around Australia: Noosa to Hervey Bay


Waking early and not having too far to drive today meant we could spend a little more time exploring Noosa before we left. There are so many things to do and ways to explore (boat trips, horse riding etc) but we stuck to walking. The coastal boardwalk to Noosa Heads National Park begins at the southern end of the main beach just off Hastings Street. A few people were already on the beach.

You can also drive to the park if you wish but we were trying to keep up some exercise on this long drive. The path is being renovated so there are some diversions and as it was Sunday there were lots of runners. We reached the park and continued along the coastal path. It goes all the way round to Sunshine Beach which takes about four hours, so we just did a small section. The first part looks over Laguna Bay to Cooloola sandmass which has been building up for 500,000 years and is one of the biggest accumulations of wind-blown sand on the Queensland Coast

continuing past the Boiling Pot

until we reached Tea Tree Bay

It was then time to return to the town, leave Noosa and head back to the Pacific Highway which we joined near Cooroy. Before we did this, we visited Noosa Botanic Garden which is on the shores of Lake Macdonald. It is free to visit, owned by the council and much of the work is done by volunteers. 80% of the plants and trees are native. There were also quite a few birds around.

Back on the highway we had a brief rest and cold drink at the Golden Nugget Road House. There are many signs on the highway exhorting you to stop and rest every two hours, but things have got to a new level up here. A sign said that playing trivia could keep you awake. A little further on was the question: What is Rockhampton famous for? We knew the answer: beef cattle. This was on the next sign. The landscape was getting drier and large cattle farms could be seem as well as pineapples and sugar cane. More traffic was heading south than north. At Maryborough we turned off towards Hervey Bay and found a shady corner in their Botanic Garden for lunch. A white ibis came to see us

and there were several turtles sunning themselves on rocks alongside the water.

Finally, we reached the esplanade and our motel. The beach here is sheltered from the ocean by Fraser Island so the sea is very shallow. Today’s mileage was 131 bringing the total so far to 1214 miles and the temperature reached 28 degrees. Tomorrow the car will be going nowhere.

Around Australia: Newcastle to Port Macquarie


Rain seems to be following us up the coast and was very heavy when we were breakfasting in our Newcastle hotel. Fortunately, it stopped, and the sun emerged as we drove out of town following the Hunter River to re-join the A1 Pacific Highway. The first diversion today was exploring the Hunter Region Botanic Garden which is just north of the city. It is run by volunteers and the garden covers 33 hectares surrounding the visitor centre. There are several walking trails which cover areas such was palms, wetlands, rainforest, succulents, conifers, banksias, rare and endangered plants, grasses and many others.

A boardwalk crosses the swamp and we could hear dozens of frogs but did not see any.

The gardens are also full of birds which we could hear but we only got brief glimpses of some.

Wildflowers grow in the forest areas and nearer to the visitor centre there are collections of bromeliads and orchids although unfortunately the orchid house was closed. Many of the trees and shrubs were also flowering.

After topping up our caffeine levels in the café we hit the road again, heading north and crossing the Karuah River. Shortly afterwards we saw the first koala sign warning motorists of wildlife and then unfortunately, the first dead wallaby by the side of the road. The road continues into more hilly country and crosses many rivers including the Myalla and Coolongolook. Once the A1 reached Kew, we diverted along Tourist Route 10 aka Ocean Drive which runs south of Queens Lake. A side road runs down to North Haven Beach where the tide was coming in.
Another stop was Rainbow Beach near Bonny Hills which is a popular beach and surfing spot but today, out of season, it was very quiet. I am assuming it acquired the name from the multicoloured rocks that lie on it.

Something James spotted while I was beachcombing was this traffic cone on the top of a 50m Norfolk Pine!

Further on the road descends into Port Macquarie. We passed the first camels of the trip – domesticated and standing in a roadside field. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to safely stop and take a photograph. We did manage to replace the windscreen wiper so now I can see where we are going when it is raining. After settling into our motel we walked a couple of blocks to the bowling club which our host had recommended for our evening meal and also given us some discount vouchers. After eating, we emerged to very heavy rain which soaked us on the short walk back. We should not complain because New South Wales has had a serious drought for some time. We will see if the rain follows us again tomorrow.

Finding quiet spots on the Antrim coast


Our main reason for going to Northern Ireland at peak holiday time was to visit relatives before we head off on our trip down under. As usual we took an overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast. A rainbow in the sky promised some improvement in the weather.

We spent the first couple of days visiting family members but then started to get itchy feet so set off down the coast passing the hordes of people visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a Rede Rope Bridge. Our first stop was at the Portanaeevey viewpoint which gives views over to Rathlin Island and the mUll of Kintyre.


Our first destination was Carfunnock Country Park which is north of Larne. It was formed from two country estates and has several facilities for children and young people as well as a campsite. I was most interested to see the garden. This was formerly the kitchen garden of Cairncastle Lodge which was gifted to the local council in 1957 with the estate. By the 1980s it was in decline but grants enabled its restoration in the 1990s. It is now called The Time Garden and has numerous sundials giving GMT, BST and local time.


Heading north again along the coast our next stop was the garden at Glenarm Castle. This was a more traditional walled garden with pleached lime trees, beech hedges and many beds of flowers, fruit and herbs.

There were several sculptures among the plants.

There is a fudge factory in the grounds and the castle, still owned by the local aristocrats is occasionally open to the public. On our last day we popped in to the Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop in Portrush. He has a good selection of Irish books as well as general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

We dodged the showers on one of our favourite beaches at Whitepark Bay. There were a few dog walkers but it was pretty quiet.

The cliffs here are chalk in contract to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. You can often find fossils on the beach, most commonly belemnites (we have several on our mantelpiece) and occasionally, ammonites.
On the path down to the beach you pass a building and some ruins of an old ‘hedge school’. This was for young gentlemen and dates from the 18th century.

The beach is now under the care of the National Trust. There is a Youth Hostel here. Occasionally sheep and cows graze on the grass next to the beach under an agreement. Keeping the grass low, encourages wild flowers. There were some cows when we arrived but they quickly departed when a heavy shower arrived. If the tide is not high you can walk along the beach to Ballintoy harbour. It was soon time to head home again and after another night on the ferry we arrived in Birkenhead dock just as the sun was rising over Liverpool.

Re-discovering Biddulph Grange Garden


Despite it being only a few miles from home, it is over twenty years since I last visited Biddulph Grange. The last time was in the 1990s after it re-opened after restoration by the National Trust although many of the current features had not been created then. The house began as a rectory and was purchased by James Bateman around 1840. Along with his friend Edward Cooke, he began plant collecting and creating the garden. Bateman eventually moved on and in 1896 the house burnt down and so had to be re-built. It functioned as a children’s and then an orthopaedic hospital from 1923 until the 1980s. The gardens became very neglected until the National Trust took it over. The current building is a curious mix of brick and stone. Much of it consists of private apartments with a small portion containing the cafe and shop run by the National Trust.

The garden is divided into several different areas and it would take some time to explore them all. We looked at the Chinese Garden:

and wandered past the section devoted to Egypt and around various small paths and tunnels. I remembered the Stumpery from my last visit. This was constructed in 1856 and is said to be the first in the country. Parts of dead trees and other wood are used to grow plants on and around, a little like rocks in a rockery.

The Wellingtonia Avenue heads away from the house towards a gate which is opened once a year into the Country Park.

You can return via the Woodland Walk. It has several adventure playground items made from wood for children to enjoy.

Near the house there are several terraces and parterres and a dahlia walk. The geological gallery was the old Victorian entrance and houses a display of fossils and rocks collected by Batemen.

Most are reproduction with only one original. This grass planted in an urn on one of the terraces was very reminiscent of Donald Trump’s hair.

As the current hot dry weather continues we retreated to the cafe for a cold drink and some local ice-cream to cool off. Ducks were hovering in the pond outside hoping for some scraps.

There is an extremely well-stocked garden shop with a good range of plants, herbs and trees as well as tools, accessories and decorative items. When the rains return I might return here and select a few more plants for the garden as well as explore some of the areas we did not see on this visit.

Discovering England’s Book Town


Many people are aware of Hay on Wye in Wales and Wigtown in Scotland but I suspect fewer are aware of Sedbergh which now promotes itself as England’s Book Town. It is only six miles from the M6, 10 from Kendal and sits just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The transition is dramatic, leaving the busy motorway and driving along a two-lane road flanked by drystone walls and with hills in the background. It is upland farming country and Sedbergh is a small market town. The town sign said it was twinned with a town in Slovenia which seemed a little unusual. Apparently it featured in a BBC documentary series, ‘The Town that Wants a Twin’ in early 2005 and subsequently was twinned with Zreče in Slovenia. It has a narrow main street with shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants plus a small market on the day we visited. I was quite amused by the spelling mistake on this shop front.

There are six bookshops, the biggest of which is Westwood Books which has two floors and more than 70,000 books. Others combine bookselling with outdoor gear sales and focus on walking books and local subjects (Sleepy Elephant) or craft, fine arts and textiles (Avril’s Books). The Dales and Lakes Book Centre in the middle of the town is a co-operative of dealers and also has some new books, maps, cards and gifts. I added two volumes to my New Naturalist Collection in there. Outside the cherry blossom in the churchyard was wonderful.

The private boarding school and the local state school are the major employers in the town, although some say that is now changing and local small businesses are increasing. In 2015 it was designated a “Walkers Welcome’ Town, sits on the Dales Way: an 80 mile trail and there are many other local footpaths. Like many rural places it had to recover from the devastation caused by the foot and mouth epidemic in 2015. There are many local groups and clubs and a community orchard planted to the south.

Many of the conifers here and in the surrounding area were quite brown and I initially thought this may be some disease but after noticing it mainly on the east side of them, assume it was early new growth that was caught by the Beast from the East storm earlier this year.

All too soon it was time to leave as we had to get back to the M6 via a B road (Slacks Lane)to Tebay. The road runs parallel to the River Lune and also connects with various footpaths. The Lowgill Viaduct is one remnant of the old Lune Valley Railway which closed in 1954. It is an area well worth revisiting when we have a little more time. We might even walk the Dales Way.

Walking in Madeira: Levada do Furado


The original plan for our last day before returning to Funchal was the mountain walk from Pico do Arieiro to the highest peak, Pico Ruivo (1862m). However, the weather was not looking good. It was decided not to make the final decision until we arrived at Pico Do Arieiro, where the cameras could be checked and locals consulted. En route we stopped off at the viewpoint at top of Europe’s highest cliff, Cabo Girao. It is 580m high (the highest cliff in the world is in Hawaii). Unfortunately we could see very little due to the cloud but in good weather, the glass skywalk would give fantastic views below.


After the drive up, past an old ice house, it was clear that the high winds, rain and minimal visibility meant that the mountain walk had to be cancelled. Instead we walked one of the oldest levadas which belongs to the state: the Levada do Furado. It was acquired through a contract signed in 1822 between the first Count of Carvalhal and the Board of the Royal Treasury, for irrigation of the farmlands of Porto da Cruz. Back in a well-preserved section of the island’s native forest, there were flowers like this violet:

and more waterfalls.

In places the path sneaks through narrow passages between the rocks.

However, we soon began to get views over the surrounding area.At Lamaceiros the Levada do Furado ends, near this building dated 1906

A forestry track took us down to the road in Portela.


There was a very conveniently situated bar which made a good resting place and a flower market taking place nearby.

Although we were disappointed not to be able to do the mountain walk we had a pleasant day at lower altitudes.