Around Australia: Fraser Island


The ferry to Fraser Island leaves from River Heads at the mouth of the Mary River.

We had wanted to visit the island but the sandy roads require 4WD with high clearance and deflated tyres. This meant we would have had to hire one but we also fancied a break from driving. I booked a day tour: there are several, but we chose one with a maximum of 16 people in a converted vehicle which can cope with the terrain. We were picked up from our motel and were soon on the way, spotting a brief glimpse of a humpback whale in the bay. The ferry crossing is 50-55 minutes and then you have arrived on the largest sand island in the world. It has had several names. The first was K’gari, the nearest translation is ‘paradise’. This was given by the indigenous Butchulla people. Captain Cook named it “Great Sandy Peninsula’, not realising it was an island. This was later discovered by Matthew Flinders to be the case. Fraser Island became the name after a shipwreck left behind the wife of Captain Fraser who remained with the Butchulla people for a year before being rescued. Unfortunately her account of her time with them was dramatised, not accurate and may have contributed to their forced removal from the island later on.

We were driven on a sandy track across the centre of the island. It reminded me of being driven across similar terrain in the back of a Landrover with the nurses, on our way to a clinic in northern Kwazulu in South Africa on my medical student elective. Sandtool Sandblow was our first stop at the overlook.

We were then driven part of the way up 75 mile beach which runs along the east coast, spotting our first dingo. Those on the island are pure bred as dogs and cats are not allowed. We also passed what is called ‘coffee rock’ because of the colour but is actually remnants of the nutrient layer in the sand which allows trees to grow. On the beach, this exposed layer suggests that the island once extended further east.

The beach is a highway with speed limit signs and the need to avoid aeroplanes landing. There are two police officers on the island and they will test for alcohol and drugs should the need arise.

We stopped briefly at Eli Creek: a freshwater stream that runs into the ocean.

Further on there were a couple of worm collectors on the sand. The worms are collected and sold at profit to bait shops for fishermen. A good income can be had and licences to dig worms are hard to come by. One only comes available if someone who has one, dies.

A little further on is the Maheno shipwreck which is gradually sinking into the sand. The ship was built in Scotland, used as a hospital ship during the First World War. Afterwards she returned to commercial service and at the end was sold to shipbreakers in Japan but was separated from the towing ship in a cyclone and had to be abandoned.

Before we turned round to head south we stopped at The Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs sacred to Butchulla women.

Our lunch stop was a the Happy Valley Hotel before heading back up with beach with several humpback whales in the distance. We left the beach at Eurong before stopping at Central Station where logging was transported by railway until the advent of lorries. The community has now disappeared and logging stopped in 1991. Instead there is a rainforest walk. King Ferns grow in the freshwater but we were told that the ones in Daintree National Park are larger. The last stop was Lake Mckenzie, a rainfall lake at the top of the dunes. It was too cold for me to swim in but a few brave souls did.

There are places to stay for longer in the resort. Alternatively you can, even if you have no qualifications, stay at the manned lighthouse in the north of the island. It is a weather station so readings must be made and sent off twice a day and you need to take all you need for 30 days as there are no supplies. You can earn $30 per day if that appeals. All too soon it was time for us to leave and the sun was setting as we sailed back to Hervey Bay.

On the Waves: Tobermory to Canna and the Sound of Harris


We awoke to another grey day but as we left Tobermory marina, this shag was sitting on a buoy and a heron was fishing in the distance.

Our boat passed Ardnamurchan Point and the lighthouse. We spent our honeymoon on the peninsula, but all our photographs got lost in the processing. Approaching Canna; Rum. Eigg and Muck were shrouded in the mist. There was a fleeting glimpse of a porpoise and several gannets diving. We arrived in the bay passing a rock with seals and entered the harbour of Canna. It is one of the Small Isles and is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday at low tide by a bridge.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Canna was settled before St Columba (or Colum Cille) is said to have visited the island during his exile in Scotland from AD 563-567 (though this is disputed by some). The original chapel was named after him as is the current one.

The first recorded Norse visitor was Guðmundr Arason, the Bishop-Elect of Holar whose ship en route from Iceland to Norway was blown off-course to the Hebrides on 14 July 1202 and sought shelter in a next to Sanday. There is evidence of what may have been a monastic site or hermitage, more recently known by the inhabitants as a nunnery. The Vikings ruled it for a time before it was transferred to Scottish Crown dependencies in 1266. In 1561 the leader of Clan Ranald, a branch of the Macdonalds, but the reformation and civil war led to it having various owners over the years. While owned by the MacNeills in 1851, the clearances were undertaken and the population census shows a drop in the population from 1841 to 1861. In 1881, the post-clearance population was recorded as 119 (62 of whom were on Sanday). In that year, MacNeil sold the island to Robert Thom, a Glasweigan shipbuilder. Thom carried out a programme of investment, including an oak pier, a footbridge to Sanday, and a Presbyterian Church (though the population remained mostly Roman Catholic). The large church is now a hostel and study centre on Sanday

and a the small Church of Scotland is now on Canna, completed in 1914. The shape of it’s tower has lead to it being called the ‘rocket church’.


In 1889, counties were formally created in Scotland, on shrieval boundaries, by a Local Government Act; Canna became part of the new county of Argyll. However, the Act established a boundary review, which decided, in 1891, to move Canna to the county of Inverness, where Eigg was already. In 1938, Thom’s family sold Canna to John Lorne Campbell, who organised the island as a farm and nature reserve. Campbell lived there until his death in 1996, but donated the island to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981. In the 1970s, local government reforms abolished counties and moved Canna into Highland Region.
There was only a short time to wander along the Shore Road as far as the bridge and no time to climb the hill for a wider view.




In the afternoon we had to be back on the boat to cross the Minch and anchor in the Sound of Harris. Leaving the harbour, we noticed graffiti on the cliffs. This used to be boat names but more recently has been added to by day trippers. Later, we passed the Duirinish Peninsula on Skye with the Neist Lighthouse.

The Minch was not too rough and we were soon in the shelter of the Sound of Harris where the water was calmer. There are several small islands there and rocks with cormorants and shags. A seal popped up several times while we were having our evening meal and another was posturing on a rock nearby. We had an early night as the next morning would be an early start.

On the Waves: Oban to Tobermory


We have visited several of the Hebridean islands over the years but the aim of this trip was to visit St Kilda, an archipelago that lies 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides and was once the most isolated community in the UK. After taking the train to Glasgow and then to Oban, we arrived in the afternoon to find our ship. The Halmar Bjǿrge, is a former Norwegian Rescue ship, adapted to carry twelve passengers and four crew and is operated by the Northern Light Cruising Company who offer a variety of trips around the Hebrides.

Just before we pulled away from the pontoon at 4pm, a speedboat passed us. Our skipper told us that it was heading for the British Virgin Islands, had won some record and was owned by someone from Google.

It began to drizzle as we left the harbour, passing Maiden Island and Dunollie Castle.

Further out, is the Lismore lighthouse.

Lady’s Rock, a skerry (or small rock/island) southwest of Lismore, has an interesting history.

It acquired its name because in 1527, Lachlan Maclean of Duart decided to murder his wife, Lady Catherine Campbell. He rowed her out to the rock one night at low tide and left her stranded on the rock to die. Looking out the next day from Duart Castle he could not see her so he sent a message of condolence to her brother, saying that he intended to bring his wife’s body to him for burial. Maclean arrived at Inveraray with an entourage of men and the coffin and discovered Lady Catherine waiting for him. at the head of the table. She had been rescued by a passing fishing boat. Maclean was later murdered in his bed in Edinburgh some time later by Lady Catherine’s brother.

Later the mist in the Sound of Mull was an abstract grey nothingness punctuated occasionally by a red or green buoy.

On arrival in Tobermory, our skipper informed us that oats had been omitted from the stores list, so he and a couple of crew members set off in the dinghy to find some so that we could have our porridge in the morning.

There was good spell of weather forecast followed by some storms a few days later so the skipper decided that we would head for St Kilda as quickly as possible. We did not have time to explore Tobermory that evening as in the morning we would be heading for Canna.

Iceland Ring Road: a diversion to Hrísey Island

A slightly later start this morning meant we had time to see the sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason down at the waterfront before leaving Akureyi for the day.
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It is a 35km drive to the little village of Árskógssandur where the ferry to Hrísey takes off every 2 hours in summer for the 15-minute crossing. On Sundays and holidays, it must be ordered and the ferry is less frequent in winter. While waiting for it in the harbour we spotted some Eider Ducks, a juvenile Black Guillemot, a Long-tailed Duck and starfish in the very clear waters.
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On the island, we met our local guide who showed us around the small community including the museum dedicated to shark fishing. We were given a sample of dried salt cod which I found too leathery but enjoyed the traditional fish and rye bread lunch. Ptarmigan nest on the island and in summer it is a good place for bird watching with several footpaths you can follow.
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Back on the mainland we visited the first microbrewery in Iceland which began in 2006 and sampled the varieties of Kaldi beer produced there.
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It was then onto a farm where we met Icelandic horses and sheep.
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We were served slices of Marriage Cake which has a crumble-like consistency and is filled with rhubarb jam and were entertained by our guide from Hrísey who also turned out to be an opera singer. We heard a traditional Icelandic song and a rendition of ‘O Sole Mio’. On the way back to the hotel in Akureyi we debated whether conditions would be right to see the northern lights that evening.

The Great Salt Lake

We did not complete the entire Lincoln Highway route in Northern Utah which extends via I84 to Ogden and then turns south as yesterday’s drive was very long. Also, having stayed in quite a few city centres, I was now keen to see more open space and in particular explore the Great Salt Lake. So we based ourselves in Layton in order to be closer to Antelope Island State Park. Today was very slightly cooler with temperatures in the high 70s. Antelope Drive continues west towards Syracuse and then on to seven miles of the causeway to Antelope Island State Park. There was only one car in front of us at the Park entrance unlike the Rocky Mountains National Park we visited a few days ago.
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Heading towards a trail head, we were early enough to see a herd of bison who were moving down the hillside towards the lake where others were feeding.
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We did see a flash of the eponymous antelope but Bighorn Sheep and the other mammals eluded us. On the hillside there were numerous dragonflies and other insects, lizards darting into the undergrowth and large numbers of birds. We stopped at the top of the lowest peak as despite the breeze, it was getting hotter and four more miles on the exposed hillside did not appeal. From there we had fantastic views across the lake towards the mountains. Descending, there were still some people only starting the climb and carrying very little water. We headed to the Visitors Centre where Barn Swallows were nesting and seemed unperturbed by the human presence as they fed their young. I managed to identify some of the flowers I have seen and learnt about the history of the place. Lunch was by the beach where some folks were swimming. A young Japanese boy who had headed off towards the water in bare feet, found the sand hotter than he had expected.
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We then had a relaxing afternoon as tomorrow is another driving day and a new state, although we do gain another hour moving into Nevada.

Third island of the summer: Rathlin

On Thursday we managed to cover several of our passions in one day. Visiting a new place, antique maps, bird watching, walking and beachcombing. On our last visit to Northern Ireland we had discovered a gallery in Portstewart that sold antique maps. The proprietor had said that he had more in his warehouse and to call him on our next visit, so this time we rang up and arranged to meet him on our way to Ballycastle. His warehouse was in the Glens of Antrim and on the edge of Breen Wood nature reserve. He told us that this was the oldest oak wood in NI (although there is another which also makes this claim) and that it has a fairy ring. However, this will have to be explored on another trip as we had a boat to catch. We did buy a small print of ports on the north and west coast of Ireland, which is similar to one I have of ports in the northeast of Scotland and agreed to visit the shop and see some of his older maps of Ireland the following day. A few miles further on we arrived at Ballycastle and after a coffee caught the ferry to Rathlin Island. Surprisingly, we had never been there before despite James growing up in County Antrim and us having visited at least once a year for the last thirty years.

Ballycastle Harbour

The sea was calm and we were soon there and set off to walk to the West Lighthouse and Seabird Centre. The roadside verges and fields were full of wildflowers and at the highest point of the island, is a cairn. The Puffin Bus, ferrying people to and fro passed us several times. At the lighthouse, there are steps down to the viewing platform overlooking the cliffs and stacks, which are covered with birds. Guillemots and fulmars are everywhere and on a grassy slope at the bottom of the cliff are the puffin burrows which they return to every year. We saw some although they were too far away for a good photograph even with the telephoto lens. We had never seen them before as on a trip to Staffa several years ago, they had left the week before.

Fulmar with chick Rathlin

We had our packed lunch, with a visit from a racing pigeon that had flown off course and then set off on the return journey.

Back at the harbour, it was time for an ice cream from Jack whose shack was at the back of his van and then a spot of beachcombing.

Jack the Ice-cream vendor's shack

On the beach I found five tiny coloured periwinkles but was horrified by the amount of plastic waste deposited there by the tide. It was then time to catch the ferry back to Ballycastle and head for home.