Around Australia: to Kalbarri and the Coral Coast


On the way back to Highway One from Denham there were a lot of wildflowers, but it was far too windy for flower photography. The overnight wind had brought a lot of cloud in. We did spot this raptor with a roadkill wallaby who was not too bothered by us passing by.

After coffee at the Overlander Roadhouse we saw the turn-off for the Butchers’ Track which was the track the camels used to bring the wool into Hamelin. We were soon back in farmland but with cereal crops rather than cattle. Our lunch stop was at a rest area by the Murchison River near the Galena Bridge. The older, lower bridge is still used by the local road to the rest area and campsite and the highway passes over the newer one. The old bridge was submerged in the flood of 2007. On the river were ducks, coots and a darter with a lot of flies in the air.

At the Kalbarri junction the scenic drive to Northampton begins. At first the road is on the plateau at around 200m altitude and after a few miles, enters the Kalbarri National Park. It then descends to the shore at Kalbarri where we spent the night in a quiet motel.

Kalbarri sits about halfway on the Coral Coast where the Murchison River Gorge reaches the sea. Our day began with a walk along the beach and then the pelican feeding which takes place from 8.45 to 9.15am every day. It has been going on since 1974 and is now undertaken by volunteers. They ask for a donation to cover the cost of the fish and the surplus is given to local good causes. Before the volunteer arrived, pelicans had started to gather in anticipation. They are Australia’s largest water bird.

Gulls were also hanging around hoping to catch something, but they were going to be out of luck.

Nine pelicans in all were there as the breeding season is now over.

Afterwards, we drove up to the National Park. There are several trails and lookouts over the gorge. We chose to do the short walk to Window Rock, one of the most popular.

There is a skywalk under construction at another outlook with a café and wheelchair access. This should be complete in early 2019. On the way back to town the wind had settled so flower and plant photography was in order.


Back in town we had coffee and a browse in the Book Nook, the bookshop near the shopping arcade. They stock secondhand books, accept donations and will give you some credit to spend in the shop if your donation will sell. They also have internet access. We donated two books and bought one. The coastal road continues south past several outlooks. Eagle Gorge also has a 1km walk to a secluded beach and the start of an 8km coastal trail. Further on we come back into farmland and then towards Port Gregory, the road runs alongside Hutt Lagoon. This was named Pink Lake by explorer George Grey in 1839. The pink colour is due to carotenoid-producing algae and is best seen in the middle of the day when the sun is high. It was even reflected on the clouds when we sawit. There is a large commercial plant on the lagoon shore and a mine nearby so there is only one parking place unless you take the side road to Port Gregory.

Past the lake we saw our first sheep since starting out.

The coastal road ended in Northampton, a town established in 1864 which is proud of its heritage. We then continued on to Geraldton. Yesterday we covered 230 miles and today 237 so out trip total is now 7,079.

Around Australia: Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing


Before leaving Halls Creek this morning, I got a photograph of the cows on top of the local supermarket. I had noticed them the day before, but it was too busy to get a parking spot. The cows are testament to how important the beef industry is to the local area. The town holds a rodeo every July. Wikipedia said that in 2016 a mining company was exploring setting up in the area to mine iron ore. A population explosion was expected, and several stores and fast food businesses were planning to come to Halls Creek. There is no obvious evidence in town two years later, that this has happened. We did pass a small mine west of town on the highway but too quickly to see who or what it was. Halls Creek is on the edge of the desert and much of the land alongside the road is flat grassland with a few bushes or trees. Later on, some rocks did appear near the road and other escarpments were visible on the horizon.

Our destination was Fitzroy Crossing. The Fitzroy River (known as raparapa to the indigenous community who have inhabited the area for 40,000 years) has one of Australia’s largest catchment areas: 90,000 square kilometres. It has 20 tributaries and the water can rise up to 26 metres over the old crossing in the wet season. The area has flooded numerous times in the past and the town of Fitzroy Crossing was founded to enable an adequate crossing to be constructed. The first bridge was built in 1935 and the modern one in 1970. Today there was only a little water in the river but as it was hot, some of the locals were swimming.

Before checking into our hotel, we drove up to Geikie Gorge which is accessible with 2WD although one stretch has some pretty bad pot holes. One company and the parks service run river cruises in the gorge but today these were limited to 8am and 4pm which did not really fit in with our schedule. At other times they are hourly. There are some walking trails but as the temperature was the highest it has been so far on the trip at 39 degrees, we limited ourselves to a couple of the shorter ones and a peep over the water at a boat ramp.

I did solve one mystery here. The Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri) grows in the gorge. I had seen the yellow flowers on bushes and wondered what they were but had not seen any close up. Here, there was also an explanatory notice. The flowers turn into a pod which later splits to reveal the kapok. The indigenous Bunuba people (who call the plant Wanggu), weave the kapok with human hair to make thick belts called wanala. They also eat the tubers.


At the hotel I solved another mystery. On the east coast we had seen bushes or small trees in gardens and parks completely devoid of leaves, but the top of the branches had been pruned. Further north leaves and flowers have opened and they turned out to be rhododendrons. As a result of the flooding the town Fitzroy Crossing moved a little further away from the river. Our hotel had photographs of the most recent devastating flood in 2011 in the restaurant. Fitzroy Crossing has the oldest pub in the Kimberley Region dating from 1897: The Crossing Inn. It is still right down on the river bank as is the Pioneer Cemetery. The Inn has some indigenous art on display.

In the last couple of days, we have driven 220 and 215 miles bringing the total to 5541 miles.

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.

Walking in Madeira: Ponta de São Lorenço Peninsula

As we landed at Funchal, one of the flight attendants said that it was the first time she had been on a plane that had landed on its first attempt. We had had a 100mph tail wind so had arrived 25 minutes early but did not experience any of the gusts of wind that Madeira’s airport is renowned for. These often lead to landings having to be aborted and re-attempted. Apparently after the third failed attempt the plane has to divert to Lisbon. The runway has been extended and now projects over the sea supported by concrete columns. Funchal is named after ‘funcho’, the Portuguese word for fennel which it is said, was abundant when Zarco landed here in 1419. Madeira means ‘wood’ which is somewhat ironic as the first settlers began burning and ultimately completely destroying the primeval forest and indigenous flora and fauna. Much of the current flora has been introduced from all corners of the earth.

We had dinner that evening in a restaurant specialising in local food. Dessert was strawberries from the restaurateur’s farm. On our way out, we noticed that the local cats and dogs were gathering, ready to eat the scraps they are given. Walking along a cobbled street back to the hotel, we passed lots of street art including these examples on a derelict building.

The following morning after passing through Machico, (the first place Portuguese explorers landed in 1419) we stopped at a viewpoint on the coast.


Feral cats were hanging around hoping for food. Just before we left, a local woman drove up and began to feed them.

Our first walk was an 8km circuit involving climbing the equivalent of 119 flights of stairs on the Ponta de São Lorenço National Park peninsula. By the national park centre, we spotted several canaries but none of them stayed still long enough for a photograph. The volcanic geology gives rise to many scenic views although it was very windy. It was busy, but it was a Sunday and in the Easter holiday season.




Afterwards we drove inland west to Porto da Cruz which is the first eastern town on the north coast. We had a tasting session of a local fish like tuna (Gaiado Seco) which is salted and dried in sand. It was served with olive oil, tomatoes and onions with bread. The sugar cane mill, ’Engenhos do Norte operates between March to May. In the 15th and 16th centuries Madeira was a major producer of sugar which was known as ‘white gold’. The current distillery makes rum. They have a machine used to pump fresh sugarcane juice up to the fermentation tanks which was manufactured by Jones Burton & Co of Liverpool. Another piece of machinery was made in Oakland, California.

Further on, Faial has a hill 598m high called ‘Eagle Rock’ where ospreys nest.

Nearby we had a madeira wine tasting session in a cellar, sampling 12 year old and 19 year old samples. Returning to the road we passed several people (some in national costume) returning to the church following the blessing of a house which often takes place after Easter.

The new road passes through the longest tunnel in Europe which is over 3km long. New road construction and tunnel building has expanded in Madeira in the last few years and has improved communications and transport. However, there is a feeling amongst some, that it is going too far. Our destination was Santana, our base for the night. It is renowned for the traditional thatched A frame houses in the area.

The weather was now deteriorating. The jet stream has diverted further south this year leaving northern Europe with a much colder spring but wetter weather occurring further south, including Madeira.

To the Rockies and Boulder

The lincoln Highway may have only passed through Colorado for two years between 1913-1915 but we could not resist a detour to the mountains. We left Denver early as all the commuters were heading into the city. Our aim was to get some walking done in Golden Gate Canyon State Park before it got too hot. One of the winding roads up into the mountains reminded us of a previous trip to Corsica when we rented a gîte in a mountain village up a very similar road. On the way up a fox crossed the road in front of us with its prey in its mouth, presumably to feed cubs. Further on some deer were just off the road. We arrived at the park as it was opening and set off on one of the trails. It led uphill in a forest of mostly pine but with some spruce and aspen. There were lots of wildflowers on the ground and we heard several birds but I am not familiar with American birdsong.
Pine Golden Gate Canyon State Park 7 July 2016-1
Forest Flower Golden Gate Canyon State Park 7 July 2016-1
Back at the Visitors’ Centre, some children were feeding the trout in the pool there, which is fed by the Ralston Creek. We headed back to the road and then joined the Peak to Peak Highway towards Nederland.
Peak to Peak Highway 1  7 July 2016-1
We were in need of coffee before that and stopped in Rollinsville at the Stage Stop. It is a bar, restaurant and music venue it seems and you can even take your dog on to the upstairs patio.
Stage Stop Rollovillle 8 July 2016-1
The next stop was Nederland where we found a spot by the covered bridge and local garden to have our picnic lunch. Driving through Boulder Canyon took us into the city where we wandered downtown until it was time to head to our B&B. There were so many street performers it was like Edinburgh at Festival time. It also has the highest concentration of used bookstores in the USA. One book and music store we wanted to look in said that it opened afternoons and evenings but I am not sure what time their afternoon started as there was no sign of life when we stopped by. While having an ice-cream, we watched a House Sparrow steal a scrap of food from the ice-cream seller’s cart. It seems that as in Australia, someone thought it was a good idea to introduce European birds in the 19th century. The citizens of Boulder have purchased land around the city to make a green belt and prevent further expansion and generally there seems to be much more care for the environment here than in some of the places we have passed through on this trip. After checking in and freshening up, tea in the garden we headed into town for dinner. When I was with a group trekking in Ladakh and we were stranded by floods with injured people, stranded hikers of various nationalities and traumatised villagers to deal with, someone commented that whatever was happening, at 5pm the Brits sat down and had a cup of tea. Dinner was a curry at the Sherpas’ Adventurers Restaurant where we watched the staff scare away a squirrel that was trying to steal fruit from the tree over their courtyard. That is an animal that has gone the other way to the sparrow. The American Grey Squirrel has squeezed our native red squirrel into only a few places and in my garden the grey squirrels steal bird food, unripe cherries from the tree and have even chewed the lead flashing around the chimney on my studio. When we were on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State a few years ago, James commented that the squirrels were a bit skinny. I pointed out that this was the native animal’s natural physique and that the ones in our garden were extraordinarily well-fed.

Driving to Denver

We had breakfast this morning listening the weather reports which were full of storms and tornadoes further east and fires in Elko County where we are heading later. As we left North Platte on R30, all the firework stalls were selling them off half price. In Sutherland we found another mileage fence. Our mileage to Frisco will be a little more than that on the fence as we are diverting down the Denver loop, exploring the Rocky Mountains and the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
Mileage fence NE 5 July 2016-1
In Paxton we were diverted onto the interstate for a few miles because of roadworks and also had a new experience: Chihuahua in the road. We are used to sheep and cattle escaping onto the road but this was a new one. One of the locals was trying to catch him, somewhat unsuccessfully. We were now definitely in ranch country and saw cowboys on horseback rounding up cattle.
California Hill NE 5 July 2016-1
California hill, just to the right of the road in this photograph was on the waggon trail to California and Oregon between 1841 and 1860. So many travelled this route as the terrain restricts other ways and deep ruts are still visible on the hill. We crossed into the Mountain Time Zone and near Big Springs we switched to R138, still alongside the railway and the South Platte River. After entering Colorado, we fancied a coffee in Julesburg but the first place we saw was shut and looked as if it was out of business. The Old Ford Museum was also closed but we peered in the window at the vintage car and other items inside. It was looking as if only the essentials were open: the pharmacy and the liquor store. James popped into the liquor store who directed us to a coffee shop round the block. The towns in this area do not announce their population on their signs but their altitude. Sedgewick which we passed through is at 3,500ft. I am still adjusting to measuring altitude in feet and not metres. Near Sterling we passed a huge recycling centre suggesting Colorado might be more advanced than some of the other places we have passed through. In the town we picked up a few essentials and the woman on the checkout asked where we were from and then told us that she had had people from Denmark in the day before. Further on we passed two huge factory farms, the first with hundreds of cattle and bison, the second with just cattle. Lunch was on the green at Fort Morgan where families were picnicking in the sun. Some children were setting off fire crackers left over from 4th July celebrations. Nearer to Denver the mountains at last appeared ahead. As we had gained an hour, we diverted to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and wandered about looking at plants, insects, anthills, the odd bird and prairie dogs. A better time to visit would have been earlier or later in the day but that was not possible. While I was taking photographs, James was watching lightning over the mountains and then we continued the last few miles into downtown Denver.
Flower in Wildlifer Refuge CO 5 July 2016-1

Nebraska

The Union Pacific Railway and the River Platte were our constant companions today, driving through Nebraska. The long freight trains were still running despite the Independence Day holiday and just as back home in the UK on a holiday, rail repair work was going on. Another similarity to our bank holidays was the cloudy sky and some drizzle as we left Omaha. The Lincoln Highway leaves the city by R6 (passing through a community called Dundee) and then heads back up to R30 on R275. Here we could see signs of recent heavy rain with pools of water in the fields and irrigation machines standing unused. I overheard a local say that they had had 2 inches last night which was very welcome. Just out of Fremont there were rusting old motel signs by the road and anti-abortion posters which we had also seen in western Iowa. We passed through Rogers (population 95 and the smallest town so far) where for the first time on this trip I had no signal on my phone. Further on, we then crossed the Platte into Columbus and had brunch at the T-Bone Truck Stop. There were no trucks there today, just a few locals.
T bone Truck Stop 2 Columbo NE 4 July 2016-1
There was a speedway circuit nearby but nothing happening there today. We had at last started a gradual increase in elevation, with each town we passed through being a little higher above sea-level. My first view of the Great Plains was from a plane. I had been invited to give a talk in Santa Barbara in 2002 and having not been further west than Chicago before, was very keen to watch the landscape changing below. Our next encounter was on the California Zephyr which takes 2 and a half days to get from Chicago to Emeryville CA. I remember the excitement when an incline and a curve appeared in the track after miles of a straight flat line through the cornfields. Today, the sun appeared just before Grand Island. In the town, Kermit’s Car Wash were trying to sell fireworks and someone in a frog outfit was outside trying to entice customers in. We had another break in Cottonmill Park on the west side of Kearney where people were fishing and boating. It has a prairie reserve which you can walk or ride through. Hundreds of insects were buzzing in the grasses and feeding on the flowers and I saw a red bird which I think was a cardinal bird.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
Flowers Cottonmill Park Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
We now had prairie grass instead of flowers by the road and in Cozad, crossed the 100th meridian. I saw a raptor being mobbed by smaller birds but this was such a quick flash above the road that I could not identify them. Before our stop in North Platte we kept seeing persistent mirages of water across the road ahead and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. We were now in rolling hills with horses in the fields and the saw the first sign for a ranch. Our route also coincides around these parts with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and the Pony Express. Tomorrow we are taking the Lincoln Highway loop to Denver.