Madagascar: Antananarivo to the rainforest


The UK had TV programmes about Madagascar in the months before we left which could have left the impression that it is a green island with much wildlife. The latter is certainly true but flying over it reveals the Red Island with clear evidence of the deforestation that has happened since the first settlers arrived and the silted-up rivers in the dry season. We landed in sunshine and were taken to our hotel to meet up with our group. The island has been separated from Gondwanaland for millions of years and over 90% of the wildlife are endemic and not found anywhere else. It is the fourth largest island in world but also the fifth poorest nation. We left Antananarivo on a Sunday morning via RN 2 which was still busy with a lot of trucks as it is the main route to the port of Toamasina. There is also a railway line (narrow gauge and dating from the 1930s) which is only for freight. The most common form of transport for passengers is the taxi-brousse; a minibus with luggage piled on the roof.
Just outside the city centre brick making and laundry were being carried out by the River Ikopa: scenes which would be re-visited all over the highlands.


Occasionally, it looked as if all the fabrics in a home including curtains and carpets were being washed. Our guide told us that when someone has died, all the fabrics in the home are washed to remove the evil spirits/death. This tradition is less frequently practised now. We had a distant view of Tana with the Queen’s Palace and the first church on the hill.

Further on near Moramanga was this sign:

The Malagasy Uprising was a nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar and lasted from March 1947 to February 1949. Political efforts to achieve independence for Madagascar had failed and spurred on radicalised elements of the Malagasy population, including the leaders of some militant nationalist secret societies. On the evening of 29 March 1947, coordinated surprise attacks were launched by Malagasy nationalists, armed mainly with spears, against military bases and French-owned plantations in the eastern part of the island concentrated around Moramanga and Manakara. In May 1947 the the French began to counter the nationalists. They increased the number of troops on the island to 18,000, mostly by transferring soldiers from French colonies elsewhere in Africa. The French military forces carried out mass execution, torture, war rape, torching of entire villages, collective punishment and other atrocities such as throwing live Malagasy prisoners out of an airplane (death flights). The mausoleum is on the site where more than 120 nationalists were executed. Before we reached Andasibe, we stopped at Peyrieras Reserve which cares for amphibians and reptiles. They have Nile Crocodiles and a number of lizards and geckos I am in the process of identifying.


Later in our trip, we saw some of them in the wild. After a night in Andasibe, we hiked around four miles in the nearby National Park which preserves some of the 1% of the original forest that remains. In the rainforest it rained, heavily at times, leading to some of the park guides saying that this did not usually happen until November. October is usually dry and hot. We saw the five species of lemur in the park but I did not get photographs of them all.

The Indri is the largest and its call can be heard 2km away.

We also saw several species of birds, most of which flew around too quickly to photograph. One notable tree is the Travellers’ Palm which acquired its name due to the collection of water where each leaf meets the stem, providing a drink in hot weather.

In the afternoon we visited Vakona Reserve which comprises Lemur Island and a crocodile reserve. It is owned by a French national who came to work in the now defunct graphite mine. He then set up the reserves which provide rescue for lemurs sold as pets (hence they are habituated to humans) and has one lodge in operation and another being built.

We returned to our hotel as we had an early start the next morning.

Round Britain: Fortrose and Rosemarkie


The Ward Lock & Company guidebook to Northern Scotland published sometime after 1948 begins the chapter on the Black Isle by pointing out that ‘The Black Isle is neither black nor an island’. The peninsula is around 23 miles long and 8.5 miles wide. Re-connecting with our coastal tour we crossed the Beauly Firth by the Kessock Bridge. I have a memory that when the bridge was being constructed (it began in 1976 and opened in 1982), building started from each shore but the two sides did not match up or connect properly initially.

It is around 20 years since we were last here. Across the bridge we took a B road to Munlochy and then continued through Avoch and on to the campsite by the beach which stretches between Rosemarkie and Fortrose. It looks over to Fort George on the other side of the Moray Firth which we visited in June.

Rosemarkie is the older of the two towns: a monastery having been founded there in the seventh century. They were united by royal charter in the 15th century. The following morning we walked into Fortrose, stopping by the cathedral ruins. Work on the cathedral began in the 13th century. In 1572 after the Reformation, William Lord Ruthven was given the lead from the roof and it is said that Oliver Cromwell’s army removed stone and timber in order to build a fortress in Inverness in 1653. The cathedral bell clock still rings.

The nearby chapter house became a court with a prison below.

After coffee we walked down the west side of Chanonry Point to the lighthouse.There is a whole network of foot/cycle paths around the Black Isle.

Fortrose Bay is sheltered by the point and was very still.

The Black Isle is home to the only resident population of bottle-nosed dolphins in the North Sea and the point is said to be the best place to spot them but we did not see any that morning. Walking back along the east side on the beach to the campsite, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon before heading back to the point later in the sunshine. It was very busy as a shuttle bus runs from the town centre. Numerous seabirds were feeding offshore but still no sign of any dolphins. The footpath back towards Rosemarkie was lined with wildflowers gone to seed.

However, this harebell was among the few still flowering.

We walked 7.1 miles today and tomorrow it will be time to move on.

Round Britain: exploring Spey Bay


Ever since we walked the Speyside Way in 2012, I have wanted to return and explore Spey Bay more. The campsite here is run by the local golf club. The last time we saw it there was nothing between it and the sea but there are now several new houses between the golf course and the beach with another section yet to be completed. This may have been where the old hotel was situated. In World War II troops were based in the Richmond and Gordon Hotel here and an airfield was built nearby at Nether Dallachy. The hotel burnt down in 1965 and a replacement was built but is no longer here. Spey Bay has Scotland’s largest shingle beach. It is situated on the eastern side of the estuary opposite Kingston on the west. We arrived late afternoon and the after the showers ceased, had a wander on the beach.


Later I returned to see the Summer Solstice sunset.


On most other beaches there are notices asking you not to remove stones but there are none here and in the morning, I saw some people filling large shopping bags.

You can sometimes see Bottlenose Dolphins and whales offshore but today all I could see were birds. At least the crazes for padlocks on bridges and stacking rocks does not seem to have made it here yet. Salmon fishing has probably carried out on the River Spey since prehistoric times. In 1768 a fishing station was built at Tugnet but all that remains are the ice-houses built in 1830, the largest surviving in the UK. Only a third is visible above ground.

The fish were stored here before being shipped out. The last salmon was landed in 1991 and the nearby building is now the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s Scottish Dolphin Centre. A local high school project begun in 1988 and completed in 1991 with sponsorship and assistance from local sculptors and stone masons created a number of mosaics and some sculptures.

Across the river is a nature reserve. We saw a heron, swans and various ducks from the opposite bank.

We walked down the section of the Speyside Way to the viaduct (another remnant of the Beeching cuts) and into Garmouth on the other bank.


The Speyside Coffee Roasting Company is based in the local hotel – they roast the Brazilian beans and grind as required. It certainly tasted good and I bought some to take home. We also spotted an information board for the circular 95-mile Moray Way. It is comprised of some of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Deva Way. It might be on for us to do at some point. As we turned to return to the campsite it was getting more overcast.

Around Australia: Melbourne to Wollongong


We awoke to black skies and wet roads. Unfortunately as we left the city, the rain returned. I had decided to take James to Healesville Sanctuary to see some of the wildlife we had only had brief glimpses of on our trip so far. We arrived just before opening time and tried to spot animals and birds who were trying to stay dry. It was quite a contrast to my visit 14 years ago on a sunny day when emus came to the fence and the dingoes were lying on the rocks soaking up the rays. The emus were hiding as were the dingoes and there was no sign of the platypus.



On the way back towards Highway One with the Yarra Range in the clouds, we passed an appropriately named sideroad: Rainy Hill Road. After being in the city it was a pleasure to be back in the hills surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees. We stopped for coffee at Pakenham where a thunderstorm cut the electricity off in the café briefly. There is a secondhand book exchange in the shopping centre and I found a couple of books by one of the Duracks which were recommended by our friend in New South Wales. Interestingly the hotel here has a big sign outside saying that there are definitely no pokies here. A little further along the highway we stopped for lunch at Trafalgar. The train stops here and the old station house now houses a pop-up arts and crafts shop. It has been part of a state programme to re-use redundant railway buildings. It needed a bit more TLC though as grass was growing in the gutter. The next part of our journey was almost like home: a traffic jam due to roadworks on the road on a holiday weekend Friday afternoon. It did not delay us too long and we settled into our motel at Lakes Entrance before the forecast gales arrived later in the evening. It was still windy in the morning and all the water birds were sitting on the edge of the water as it was too rough to feed in it. From the lookouts it did not too rough.

The next morning we got back on the highway and stopped for coffee in the Bushaware Café in the General Store near Cabbage Tree Creek. The cicadas were deafening and speaking to the owner, I learnt that they only come for two weeks every year. There are 200 hundred species in Australia and the noise can reach 120 dB, enough to damage the human ear.
The sign was being repaired. 100km or so further on, we crossed the last state border on this trip and were back in New South Wales. At Eden, the Whale Festival was on and it was very busy. This part of the coast is known as the Sapphire Coast: this is the colour of the sea, nothing to do with the gemstone.

We continued on Highway 9 to Merimbula, where we met up with a friend and walked along the boardwalk at the edge of the water.

There were a number of birds: a Barn Owl with an injured eye, Black Swans and a Yellow Thornbill. The café was shut – in Australia they often shut in the afternoon.



We then visited Bournda National Park which has a walk to a cove,

And lots of kangaroos hanging out.

On Sunday morning we left and continued on the coast road from Tathla to Moggreeka inlet and after a drive uphill, to Cuttagee Beach on Barragga Bay.

We stopped at Bermagui for coffee and then re-joined Highway One towards Narooma. The road winds upwards in the forest and then down to Camel Rock Beach.

with the mountains behind.

The Highway then passes between Dromedary Mountain 806m on the left and Little Dromedary Mountain which is too low to have its height measured on my app. There are a number of small interesting towns on this coast. Mago, a gold mining town dating from 1850 there are a number of craft shops and cafes on the street and it was very busy. At Milton, there was a long queue of people waiting to get into the theatre to see Calendar Girls. Narooma has a lovely situation on the inlet. I could spend longer in them all. Before we arrived in Wollongong, we diverted to Jervis Bay to look at Hyams Beach which claims to be the whitest beach in the world.

At Shellharbour we took the quieter and slower B62 to our hotel as the Highway was very busy with people returning to Sydney. Our mileage over the last few days was 658 and our total before our last driving day is 11,492.

Around Australia: Warrnambool to Apollo Bay


It is 14 years since I was last in Victoria and James has never been here. During my Churchill Fellowship in Melbourne I had driven some of the Great Ocean Road one weekend but had not had time to go beyond Port Campbell so we decided it was worth diverting from the Highway and spending some time on the coast. As the road leaves Highway One it passes a huge cheese and butter plant and a Cheeseworld shop. The B100 zig zags through dairy farmland down to join the coast at the Bay of Islands.

Further along is the Bay of Martyrs

The Grotto

and London Bridge. One span collapsed in 1990 leaving two people stranded who had to be air-lifted by a helicopter.

We also stopped at the Arch where there is some limestone graffiti.


and the Port campbell outlook.

It was definitely coffee time by then and there are several cafes in the town. I spotted the motel I had stayed in 14 years ago which has had a revamp since. Beyond Port Campbell is Loch Ard Gorge.

The busiest spot on the coast is at the 12 apostles. This group of rocks only acquired this name in the 1960s when it was thought it would attract more visitors. The last time I was here there was not visitors’ centre, subway to lookouts and a large car park, just a few pull-offs at the roadside. We saw a fox hanging around as we turned into the car park. James spotted a chauffeur-driven car with an Australian flag on the bonnet and a police car. We wondered who was visiting. Having managed to avoid being in the same city as Donald Trump and Harry and Meghan, we now found ourselves at the same attraction as Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime MInister. There was only one policeman and some guys in suits we assumed were security as well as the press. We were amazed at the little security: tourists were wandering all around and some one could easily have taken a shot from the back.

We occupied ourselves looking at the views and avoiding selfie sticks. Fortunately drones are banned. There was a snake crossing the path to the lookouts but he was sliding into the undergrowth by the time we got there.


By the time we were ready to go, Mr Morrison had departed. Our next stop was at Castle Cove outlook.

There is also a Great Ocean Walk which is 100km, shorter than the West Highland Way. As it runs through a national park you have to book your campsites in advance. It runs from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles.
At Princetown the road goes over inland through the Great Otway National Park. I enjoyed being among trees again. We drove to the Cape Otway Lighthouse but you have to pay to go around the whole station or go on a guided tour. I just wanted a peek at Australia’s oldest mainland light, built in 1848. I had to be content with a peek from the walking trail. On the way back to the Ocean Road I saw one koala snoozing in the top of a tree and another kangaroo hopped across the road in front of us. Soon we had reached Apollo Bay and relaxation time. 120 miles today and the total is now 10,277.

Around Australia: Adelaide to Kangaroo Island

We left Adelaide southbound down the Fleurieu Peninsula. The Mount Lofty Range runs down the centre with vineyards along the roadside. We passed McLaren Vale and then took a detour to Sellick Beach where we grabbed a coffee from the store that sold everything.

The beach was quite busy with people walking, driving and cycling as the tide was out. A little further down the coast is the Nan Hai Pu Tuo Buddhist Temple with a large statue. There was a major building project underway, I don’t know whether they are extending the temple or building retreat accommodation.

Before we reached Cape Jervis to catch the ferry, we stopped at the Hobart Memorial Lookout.

Part of the 1200km Heysen Trail runs from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor (70km). To do this section you need to be self-reliant and only camp at approved sites. I noticed from the map that there is a Balquhidder River and campsite so someone from Perthshire has been round here. The ferry journey across Backstairs Passage to Kangaroo Island only takes 45 minutes, so we were soon on our way to our accommodation in Emu Bay.

We passed a sign to Brownlow, so I could have been almost home. Our cabin had distant views of Emu Bay so the first thing we did the next morning was to go for a walk on the 5km of white sand. Some of the area above the high tide mark was fenced off to protect the nesting plovers.

The next part of our exploration of Kangaroo Island, the third largest island in Australia, was to take the South Coast Road. There was a cycling event on and most were travelling in the opposite direction to us. We stopped for a coffee at the junction for Seal Bay and two cyclists were in the café. They told us that they were all members of ‘Cycling South Australia’ and were on the last of seven days on the island. Just as we were leaving I noticed Kylie the local koala who lives in the trees around the café. I saw another in the trees by the road going down to the bay.

Down at Seal Bay Conservation Area is a Australian Sea Lion colony of around 100 animals. About 40 were on the beach when we visited.


We also spotted an Echidna on the slopes above the bay, but it was in the bush and I did not get a good shot. I saw one on the road near Port Campbell 14 years ago but do not have that picture with me. On our way to Flinders Chase National Park we passed Little Sahara where you can go sand boarding on the dunes. At the National Park we first drove down to Cape du Couedic, where there is a lighthouse

and a coastal walk to Admirals Arch which has stalactites hanging from the roof and where there is a fur seal colony.


Back on the road there is a turnoff to Remarkable Rocks: granite rocks that have been shaped by the weather and sit 75m above the ocean. The orange colour comes from lichens growing on them.


The National Park has several trails, campgrounds, more remote lighthouses and some other accommodation. It covers most of the western end of the island and the roads are unsealed. We would have liked to explore more but completed our circuit of the island so that we could get organised for our departure the next day. We covered 174 miles today. Our trip total is now 9,871.

Around Australia: Esperance to Norseman


Before leaving Esperance, we had a look at the old tanker jetty which is starting to fall apart.

Then we drove up to the Rotary Lookout which gives views over to the islands and the west beach.


Highway One runs north to Norseman with the railway alongside it for most of the way. Interestingly Google Maps only shows the main roads and no detail of the rest of the town e.g. streets, businesses etc (Eucla as well, although it is even smaller). They have obviously not got out here despite the fact that we are not in the Amazon rainforest or the remote Himalayas. Fortunately, maps.me is a good satellite app for smaller places, roads and footpaths. The surrounding landscape here is agricultural with huge cereal fields, occasional livestock and several large mills. Esperance port ships grain and minerals which are the two large industries in the area. Feeling my caffeine levels dropping, I was looking for somewhere to top them up. Nothing was open at Grass Patch.

At Salmon Gums the roadhouse was open but the hotel was closed and up for sale. There are many small and large salt lakes but closer to Norseman woodland appears and we entered the Great Western Woodlands, the largest intact tract of temperate woodlands on the earth. Bromus Dam is a rare fresh water lake. It was created to service the early steam trains and around dawn and dusk there is a good chance of seeing wildlife. We heard some birds and got some fleeting shots. There is parking and picnic tables around the dam.

A little further on is a side road to Dundas Rocks. These are rock formations and large boulders lying on the ground and there is a campsite beyond them. I found a painted rock on some of them. This craze had been going locally for a while before we left home, but this is the first one I have seen here. I am not participating so left it where it was.


The rocks are south of the site of the abandoned town of Dundas. It was founded in 1893, a year after gold was discovered nearby. However, in 1894 gold was discovered near what is now Norseman and after a while, Dundas withered and died. As most of the buildings were timber there is now hardly anything to see of the buildings but there are a few street names, some interpretation boards, and you can drive the Dundas Coach Road heritage trail.

Legend has it that a horse called Norseman pawed the ground and a piece of gold-bearing quartz lodged in his hoof. There is a statue of him in the town centre and one of the roundabouts has corrugated iron camels on it which are a tribute to the camel trains. As in other places, the main street had to be widened to allow them to turn around.

I was chatting to one of the locals and told him that Moffat in Scotland has a sheep statue. He pointed out that Norseman is not twinned with anywhere so maybe that is something for them to explore. Gold is still mined north of the town and there is a huge waste heap on the hillside called Phoenix Tailings Storage Facility which is 40m high and holds 4 million tonnes of waste and was built between 1935 and 1977.

Some eucalyptus trees are beginning to grow on it but there is too much salt and they will not really get established until that has all been washed out. Before we checked in we drove up to the viewpoint at Beacon Hill and walked the short 865m loop which gives views over the land surrounding the town.

It was then time to check into our motel and get ready for the big drive tomorrow. Town is pretty quiet and there are quite a few vacant buildings. As we had our evening meal in the local bar (served by a woman from Lincolnshire) a few workers did come in for a drink and meal. Today’s 134 miles brought the trip total to 8,262.