1577 kms to go

It’s entirely natural to reminisce about holidays, to #tbt, to revel in the sights and sounds granted by being at leisure. And once home, to miss the adventures, the freedom, the thrill of discovering new places and experiencing a certain degree of randomness along the way. Casting my mind back to January – and a road trip return home – such rose-tinted sentiment is tangible, readily available to grasp.

There seems to be an added dimension of fond reminiscence surrounding this trip though. It was as if it took place in a different age, before the world got a real dumb deal; a time when things were not quite as barking mad, when there was still some value placed on logic and reason and fact, when the majestic pinnacles of the Warrumbungles were less likely to be obliterated in a twitterstorm. Thank goodness I got to see them – and more – on the return to Canberra…

Farewell pineapple paradise

xc01A couple of days on the Sunshine Coast had delivered only intermittent milky doses of sunshine, with homely patches of drizzle persisting throughout my final morning. An obvious light in the dark was the Big Pineapple on the outskirts of Nambour. A possible former plaything of an ex PM and Treasurer of Australia, I felt this was a perfect way to say goodbye to the Sunshine Coast and a suitably symbolic start of another long drive through the heart of Australia.

South of here, along the Steve Irwin Way, are the crikey strewth craggy lumps of the Glasshouse Mountains. I had hoped perhaps to go for a walk, but a dense shower and the constraints of time put a scupper on that. Instead a brief stop at a lookout to watch the cloud graze the jagged edges of rock, and a scurry to the car as it moved overhead and deposited its load was the order of the day.

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I decided to circumnavigate Brisbane, heading inland through Woodford, Kilcoy and loosely following the valley of the Brisbane River. Here, it was an insignificant trickle compared to the wide brown water beating a course through the city. At Esk the summer made a splendid return, providing the setting for an exemplary chicken sandwich-making lunch stop.

I was heading towards the New South Wales border and had entered a region promisingly labelled the Scenic Rim. Curious as to how much this was tourism marketing exaggeration, it didn’t take long to ascertain that, for once, this was not fake news. Distant views of extinct volcanic peaks became closer, the green and fertile landscape opening up as the car climbed the curving ribbon of highway to cross the divide. At its apex, Main Range National Park offered one final taste – on a brief jaunt – of the majestic rainforest that had been a significant feature of my trip.

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Beyond the rainforest, the road ambled down a valley through what appeared to be a rich vein of farmland. This continued to Warwick, which was a pleasant, well-heeled kind of place, suggesting the surrounding farmland does indeed possess significant richness. From here orchards and vineyards cluster around Stanthorpe, at the heart of the Granite Belt.

xc04Pausing at Stanthorpe the rain had returned and I made use of mobile coverage to assess the likelihood of getting soaked while camping. It was touch and go but I opted to camp a little south in Girraween National Park. This was unlike a Queensland in any of the brochures…cool, cloudy, a little dank. Clusters of giant boulders dotted the landscape, sitting within short and stubby forest and forming natural terrain for pools of water to form.

Here, in Queensland, just a few miles from the state border was a striking replica of Namadgi National Park in the ACT. Weather and all. The granite boulders a symbol of home, the coolness a familiar relief. But – pinching myself – the reality was of another thousand clicks to go, and the impending ordeal of losing an hour tomorrow.

The road

xc05I was definitely the first person to leave the campground the next morning, cognisant of a long day ahead and jumping forward an hour into New South Wales. A lonely road led to Glen Innes, the only memory of which I have is of waiting ages for a coffee and then discovering, driving out of town, that they had decided to put sugar in it. This clouded my opinion of Glen Innes, and driving through the next town of Inverell, I wish I had stopped there instead.

I was back on little used country roads, cutting a smooth swathe through fields of wheat and passing over desolate ranges coated in eucalyptus. I was making a surge to Narrabri, hoping to get there as quickly as possible for lunch. But lunch came quite late (and, inevitably, in KFC), after a few diversions slowed my progress.

Crossing a bridge into Myall Creek, the name registered in my head for some reason. Maybe it was in A Country Practice or had a Big Thing or was the birthplace of some famous Aussie cricketer who sent English wickets cartwheeling towards the Nursery End? If only. Sadly, heartbreakingly, it was the scene of slaughter, as white invaders massacred 28 Aboriginal men, women and children who were camping peacefully on the Myall Creek cattle station in 1838. Even more sadly, grotesquely, such occurrences were not rare. What distinguished this was that for the first time – the only time – white men were arrested, charged, and hanged for the murder of Aborigines.

xc06Today, it is a quiet place of solitude and reflection. The chirping of birdsong persists despite searing heat and baked earth. A simple, memorial walk exists, a swirling red path providing points of information and remembrance. There is talk of healing, of coming together of ancestors, of deep remorse and some kind of hope. A hope that, eventually, love does trump hate.

Myall Creek seems a long way from anywhere. The nearest town of Bingara has a sleepy charm; it’s the kind of place I could be tempted to sup an ice cold schooner in the pub, surely the beating heart of the town. But I head on, closer to the incredible peaks and volcanic plugs of Mount Kaputar National Park. I have a fondness for this spot, which effectively heralded the happy start of an epic trip in 2013. Back then it became a surprisingly good replacement for the Warrumbungles, which had been decimated by bushfire. But now, four years later, I could finally cruise past Mount Kaputar and see how much nature had recovered.

In the bungles, the mighty Warrumbungles

xc07Entering Warrumbungle National Park, it was pretty clear that a fire had ravaged the area; blackened trunks of trees lined the steep slopes and the road produced a patchy, lumpy ride where the tarmac had no doubt melted. Up one of the hills, some of the buildings of Siding Spring Observatory had suffered damage but the telescopes survived. Well, thank goodness for that…we can still scope out future worlds to inhabit when Fake Lord Emperor Pussy Grabber destroys this one.

But this land is a resilient land. Just under four years and further into the heart of the Warrumbungles, the green explosion of new growth is abundant. I was looking forward to exploring it more in the morning. For now, time to make my bed in the delightful surrounds of Camp Blackman and enjoy the added attraction of running water and hot showers.

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I was the first person up the next morning again. This was deliberate and well worth it, for I was embarking on a pretty long walk and it would be hot. Returning to the car park towards the end of that walk I passed numerous people coming the other way. Of course I said hello, g’day, howzitgahn but my mind was saying things like good luck you fools, shouldn’t have been so lazy this morning should ya.

xc09With benefit of doubt perhaps they were not doing the entire Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk. Maybe they were just doing the first part, which was gentle and followed the course of a mostly dry creek bed. This would be a rather fine walk in itself, for it is such an elemental, earthy landscape in which to linger. I wasn’t expecting such enchantment here, such homage to the rugged environments further inland, closer to the desert. There was a bit of Flinders Ranges crossed with The Grampians about this place. Two of my favourite ever spots blended into one.

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xc10The other benefit of starting early was to witness the early rays of sun graze the hilltops and glow through the tree trunks and branches of the bush. I think the angle of an early sun also helped to illuminate some of the spider webs formed between shrubs on either side of the path, requiring a little stooping and contortion to avoid. Being a pioneer has its downsides and I guess if I was later in the day many of these webs would have been smashed by hapless walkers that had come before.

xc13Inevitably after a couple of kilometres the track climbed, with a steep but nicely constructed path giving way to endless metal steps. This was taking me up towards the Breadknife, so named because of its sheer sided slopes and thin pointed summit thrust into the sky like a scene from Crocodile Dundee in which Mick shows some New York Hoodlum a proper knife. Up close, you couldn’t really see it, but, eventually, when the trees fade away and the rocky floor of the Grand High Tops themselves are underfoot, the knife is there, just one of many rocky crags and rounded lumps rising up from an incredible sea of green.

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“Call that a knife?” was the current expression that was going through my head as I sat and ate some cold bacon sandwiches premade from the night before. I didn’t say this out loud, because two other hikers soon joined me in admiring the view. Distant to the west, beyond the sweep of green was a flat, yellow expanse that would extend to – well – Perth? Behind, further rocky mounds and eucalypt forest reached to the horizon; a horizon I would be heading towards later in the day.

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But first, descent. It wasn’t too bad, apart from a few larger rocky steps somewhat deformed and eroded into that gravelly stuff that is treacherous underfoot. Luckily I stayed upright, apart from the numerous times ducking under spider webs again, some of them occupied by things which are probably perfectly fine but Australian and therefore potentially deadly. Such was the profusion of webs in the shadow of the Breadknife, I grabbed a stick and waved it up and down in front of me. For a moment I felt like Harry Potter, but this particular wand had a success rate of something like 25%.

The largest, ugliest, potentially deadliest spider sat low over the path, guarding the final section of the loop back to the metal steps. I started to take a photo of it and it looked at me as if it didn’t really like being in pictures. So I stopped. Wary, I assessed any alternative routes but to the left of me, a scrubby, rocky drop and to the right a cliff face. There was nothing for it but to crouch as low as possible, scramble quickly underneath and avoid looking up.

xc16Further down the trail I encountered a young lady throwing rocks at another occupied web. It was one I must have ducked under a couple of hours earlier. She looked terrified and said as much. In trying to comfort and reassure, I told her it was probably the last of them and moved promptly on. She scarpered under the web to continue her walk while I went to look at a deadly snake. Pausing at a little wooden bridge over the dry creek, a beautiful Red-bellied black meandered along the rocks beneath. It was quite mesmerising, until it disappeared out of sight, when it became a snake that I couldn’t see and therefore significantly less appealing.

Come to Warrumbungle National Park, to experience an epic, timeless Australian landscape and to appreciate its friendly animals. Actually, do come. I loved this place more than anywhere else on my trip. Good campgrounds, great walks, beautiful country. And only six solid hours from Canberra…so I may return!

Old country for no men

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xc18A couple of hours and I was back in more familiar country. Dubbo is one of my token regional research towns and I had a sense of déjà vu checking into a motel with a plastic cow on a pole out front. But still, a motel, with refurbished rooms, air-conditioning and a king-sized bed. After my morning adventures, what better way to appreciate this scenario than nap.

I was still a little weary as the evening emerged, so randomly stumbled upon the comfort and cooling refuge of the local cinema. Star Wars and a natural blue raspberry Slush Puppie in a cinema in Dubbo. It was like it was 1985 again.

xc19The next morning, after obligatory buffet breakfast, I set off on the final stretch of road home. It was a day in which there was little of note. As a commemoration of all things road trip I made a spontaneous stop at a place called Peak Hill. Here I went on a little walk along the perimeter of a big hole in the ground, previously mined for gold. While gold sounds glamorous, it was a hot and dusty walk with countless flies trying to go up my nose and the pervasive smell of urine in the air.

xc20South of here, Parkes had a more pleasant aroma, decent coffee, and was positively bustling with the prospect of Elvis coming to town. Or thousands of Elvises (or Elvi?) all dressed up for the annual festival, starting in a few days. If ever you needed an encapsulation of randomness this was it. Seeking quirky Elvis sights, many shops were filled with posters for upcoming Elvis impersonation gigs, and a couple of murals were dotted about the town. One, I was informed by a very enthusiastic lady, lit up at night and projected videos and played songs out loud and everything. I should come back tonight she said. I got my coffee and moved on.

From here, more familiar names like Canowindra, Cowra and Boorowa passed by. All surrounded by a gentle landscape of golden wheat fields and occasional strips of bushland. It was a placid, smooth, easy ride where the only real highlight was the prospect of falling asleep at the wheel and creating a massive fireball visible for miles around. A frozen coke kept me going to join the Hume Highway and bypass Yass. The Hume Highway! Yass! This is practically home.

xc21Of the 4,232 kilometres covered on this trip to Queensland and back there were around 50 more to go. Past Poacher’s Pantry where a pre-Christmas lunch lingered in the memory; across the state border and back into capital territory; a roundabout and empty dual carriageway through bush towards home. The city of Canberra is here somewhere, but I could still be out on the open road, in the middle of nowhere. Suburbia and never-ending apartment construction does finally emerge. There are supermarkets in which to replenish supplies, and, crucially, stock up on hot cross buns for Easter.

It is January 9th and with a cup of tea and hot cross bun I am relaxing at home. It is always nice to be home for sure. The ready availability of a bed and shower are not to be underestimated. However, there is that slight disappointment in the air of a good trip finished. With summer still in full swing and the prospect of extensive work minimal, there are still days ahead which could be holiday-like. But they will be comparatively static, comfortable, predictable. Well, at least until January 20th 2017.

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If you really enjoyed this endless waffle or have more time to kill while you should be working or doing something far more productive, check out the other two parts of my Christmas and New Year trilogy. Like Star Wars, only less something something something dark side.

Part 1: Back on the road: Canberra-Mudgee-Scone-Tamworth-Armidale-Grafton-Lismore

Part 2: Sweaty New Year: Ballina-Nerang-Brisbane-Stradbroke Island-Sunshine Coast

Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography Walking

Sweaty New Year

Happy 2017! We made it, and what a year it promises to be. Among the highlights there’s the spectacle of a new President making Americans grate again, the joy of figuring out what the bleedin eck you are actually going to do now Great Britain, and the potential for Plymouth Argyle Football Club to slip from a promotion spot into play off misery. In spite of this I’m sure there are plenty of good things to look forward to though, like Plymouth Argyle winning promotion. And cheese. Cheese will still feature. It will also be the hottest year in history, so get your swimmers and thongs on people. The world will turn into an eternal Queensland. And wouldn’t that be just, well, bananas.

To Vegas

xb01In Part 2 of my holiday travels (Part 1 is here), we return to Lismore where I slept the night in a proper bed and once again cherished the presence of a shower. I sorted out my car just a little, grabbed a coffee and then went to see a great big prawn. As you do. The prawn is in Ballina, and so is the ocean. Not that they put the prawn next to the ocean; no, it’s more at home in the Bunnings car park, warily eyeing off the sausage sizzle. Nothing could be more Australian and it brings a tear to my eye.

Fortunately, Ballina also had an English presence to prevent me from transforming into a drongo with a mullet, singlet and ute. Caroline joined me for this part of the trip and onto Brisbane for the New Year. The first impromptu stop was Thursday Island Plantation just out of town and I can’t imagine too many drongos head this way for a tea tree fix.

xb02Pausing briefly around the border towns of Tweed Heads and Coolangatta, I decided to head around much of the Gold Coast and enjoy the lumpy patch of verdant paradise that is the hinterland. We crossed the border back into NSW and changed time zone heading up and down to Murwillumbah. Surrounded by fields of sugar cane, half of this year’s yield was in my iced soft drink from KFC in the town. After which we zoomed onwards and upwards.

Cresting the road it was back into Queensland and – just a little further on – Natural Bridge. I think I came here a couple of years back and forgot my camera. It was quieter and cooler then, and there were fewer tools with mullets and singlets walking down slippery steps in thongs. Oh well, it is the summer holidays I guess. And the falls do tend to appease any minor irritants.

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From here it was down to Nerang and back on the main road. A main road with motorway services and everything…surely worth a stop for Anglo-Australian comparison. And fuel, to take us past the suburbs, across the river, and into the midst of the city of Brisbane.

Here is New Year

xb06We were staying in a rather pleasant apartment in the CBD, with a bit of river view that was to come in handy for New Year’s Eve. The river was a frequent feature of our ambling, crossing over to South Bank, strolling alongside the Botanic Gardens, heading over to the air-conditioned awesomeness of GOMA. You could see its brown waters from the top of Mount Coot-tha, and you could encounter them at close quarters on the CityCat ferry, travelling under the Story Bridge to New Farm. In fact the river was almost as pervasive as Max Brenner; Caroline keen to get a fix or two before heading back to England, and I happy to tag along.

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Much of this was familiar ground and, to be honest, is far more pleasurable to experience in the less humid yet still low to mid-twenties winter; that period of the year when locals laughably wear scarves and eat soup! Yet at the end of December, sweatiness was unavoidable, flowing down backs and probably finding its way into the Brisbane River. Dripping en masse during New Year’s Eve fireworks, watched in a family friendly manner at 8:30 along the riverbank and, more comfortably, from the balcony at midnight.

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New year, new places. Starting with a drive to the shores of Moreton Bay at Cleveland. And then on a ferry for a pleasant ride to North Stradbroke Island. Or, to make things simpler, Straddie.

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xb07Ah, island life. A time to kick back and relax. Or wade in stagnant pools with hundreds of kids, or queue endlessly for ice cream, or take a big f*ck off truck onto the sand and ruin the wild ambience. This is what was happening all around, but we still managed to kick back and relax a little at Point Lookout. Before queuing for ice lollies in the world’s most humid shop.

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Straddie is another one of those places that would be even better in winter, when the holiday masses are at school and the humidity is less fearsome. It certainly has spectacular ocean beaches and striking coastal scenery, some of it possibly still untouched by every four-wheel drive in Queensland.

xb10A taste of what this would be like came at the end of the day, with the sun lowering, a breeze providing relief and a quiet satisfaction milling about the beach near Amity Point. In slanted sunlight kissing sand golden, you could innocently wade in the water happy, only to discover dolphins surfacing mere metres away. Before disappearing as abruptly, leaving only fond memories and countless blurry pictures of ocean on your camera.

If it goes on like this, maybe 2017 won’t be so bad after all.

Tuesday Night Fever

Did you know the Bee Gees from the Isle of Man and Manchester who probably spent most of their life in the USA are Australian? Yes it’s true, and they spent some of their formative years in the bay side suburb of Redcliffe. In places, you can see the English likeness, with an elegant pier and a waterfront walkway for genteel promenading. The weather today, too, is akin to a drizzly summer’s day in Bournemouth and, like England, there are hardy people bathing in the lido. Despite being quite cooler, sweatiness lingers.

xb11Still, this drizzle is nothing compared to the deluge the previous evening. Sat contentedly eating some Japanese food in the city, we were somewhat oblivious to the torrent of rain that had decided to unleash itself on Brisbane. Only emerging did we witness instant rivers flowing down the mall and citizens racing precariously across streets in their unsuitably thonged feet. We made it back to the apartment, but even with the protection of umbrellas there was considerable dampness.

xb12So as grey as it was today in Redcliffe, at least you could walk outside without fear of being drowned. And there are always the Bee Gees to brighten things up. It seems the canny council in Redcliffe has recognised the potential cash cow of this association by constructing The Bee Gees Way. Linking two streets, it captures people walking from the car park to the scattering of restaurants by the seafront. More than a woman walked by the pictures, words and videos telling you of their time in Australia and beyond. I guess your willingness to trek out to Redcliffe to see this display may depend on how deep your love is for the hairy triumvirate. I can take or leave them, but I found The Bee Gees Way curiously distracting.

For Caroline, on her last night in Australia, could it get any better? Well, maybe if the World Darts Championships Final from the Ally Pally was on when we got back to the apartment. But – inexplicably – provincial basketball appeared. Alas, we’ll have to make do with a final visit to Max Brenner for some chocolate indulgence to round out the trip.

Sometime Sunny Coast

A leaden morning farewelled Caroline at Brisbane Airport and it was time for me to chase the drizzle up the coast. I thought about stopping and having a walk somewhere within the Glasshouse Mountains, but you could barely see the things. Randomly I drove to Bribie Island, just for something to do, taking in the Floridian waterways and pausing for a coffee at Woorim Beach. In the grey it was more Skegness than Sunshine State.

xb14Arriving in Buderim, I made the best of the weather and tried to have a nap. While it was of limited success, the rest refreshed enough for a walk in Buderim Forest Park. Here, the dampness had the effect of illuminating the tangles of rainforest, a grey backdrop to semi-tropical vibrancy. Glistening boardwalks peppered with fallen russet leaves; lustred green foliage and ferns dusted silver with water; and bubbling cascades and falls given impetus by the weather.

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xb13I was only going to stay the one night on the Sunshine Coast, but my weather-induced weariness and the prospect of heading back to the swag tempted me to linger for one more. The extra day was drier, and the sunshine even emerged on occasion. This made the walk up to the top of Mount Coolum somewhat more hellish, but I felt like I had achieved something and could spend the rest of the day eating and being lazy.

Given this was as far north as I would come, and I was about to head back inland, I felt the need to indulge in a ceremonial wade in the ocean. Mooloolaba granted me this wish, the ocean cleansing my feet and ankles and even my legs. That was perfectly sufficient; beyond that, bigger waves and potential sharks. I had done what everyone does in Queensland in the summer holidays. Now I could leave and commence my less conventional trip back home.

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Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography

Drop bear bushwalk adventure beach and waterfall honey monster tour

Ah work. It pays the bills. And sometimes it allows you to wake up on the Gold Coast on a Friday morning after a heavy night of taxable labour; to gaze over the cluster of Sim City towers toward an undulating Pacific, where a reluctant sun tentatively heralds the start of the day. It proffers one of those buffet breakfasts that demand an unfeasible stack of bacon, and impels a walk along the shoreline, barefoot in sand, into the agreeable caress of the ocean.

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Fairly or not, the Gold Coast has its critics, but let me tell you, having grown up on a council estate in Southwest England where highlights of childhood involve watching the lamppost out on the street flailing in lashing gales and horizontal rain, there is a lot to be said for an ambient climate and carefree air. And while I would never wish to have grown up here instead (yes, really), I do not mind being on the Gold Coast the morning after the night before, thank you very much. And with that happy thought and a rinse off of sand, I promptly escaped to Brisbane.

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On this occasion Brisbane was a mere stopover to the less golden but sunnier coast up north. A weekend in a masterly constructed holiday home nestled into the hills of Buderim, surrounded by the morning cacophony of birds and the silent industry of bees. A weekend to spend with an old friend – Jason – and a new one – Cheryl – embarking on surf club breakfasts and Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Jungle hikes. First up: the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, where we hopefully won’t be required to drink our own urine for show.

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Coming from a Canberra dried out all yellow and brown (and anxious for the survival prospects of my plants while away), the Hinterland was a relative Devon. Rarely do I encounter such undeniable lushness in Australia, lovingly arranged into tumbling green fields and succulent gardens. Stretching along the ridgeline of the Blackall Range, towns like Mapleton and Montville ooze weekender charm, overburdened with incense but – on the upside – generously populated with cake.

qd04This comfortable civility dissipates quickly once away from the main road; national parks host waterfalls and rock pools and scenic views over jungle. Tracks weave through palms and strangler figs and giant feathery ferns. Snakes and spiders probably hide. While the crowds loiter all the way down to pools and falls at Kondalilla National Park, beyond the swimming spots, the jungle is almost all yours. Yours and a couple of fellow pioneers, hoping to steer clear of Drop Bears and survive on rations of emergency salt and vinegar crisps and deodorant. We made it, and went to eat cake to celebrate.

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In the jungle, the blue skies are shielded, the sun only penetrating the perforated layers in the treetop canopy. Blue sky is always there, but it’s often not on display. I think that is some kind of metaphor, strategically placed. With the afternoon progressing, the expanse of Southeast Queensland was happily basking under blue skies again, with the phenomenal Glass House Mountains piercing the air. From here, at Mary Cairncross Reserve, they are tantalisingly alluring, and you wonder which one you may well be able to climb, next time around.

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For now it is the dash to sunset, made more complicated by the stupid habit the Earth has of tilting on its axis. Like the transition from single storey beach shack to glass fronted condominium, Mooloolaba is now the place to see and be seen. The sun dipping in the direction of soon to be repossessed fibreglass dinosaurs coats the gentle bay in the warmest, golden light. People gather under the branches of trees, upon manicured grass and cosily crammed into picnic tables and benches. Corks pop, sausages sizzle, children run carefree in that manically possessed way that they sometimes do. Strollers amble, runners pound and kayakers paddle out as shark bait. It is relaxed and serene and I wonder again whether the people around me realise just how lucky they are.

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qd09The return of the sun the next day prompted the usual screeching, warbling, cackling and occasionally tuneful singing of the Buderim birdlife. It is a struggle to sleep in and I was more than ready to escape down the road into Buderim Forest Park for some early morning exercise. While others decided to jog, I was content enough to engage in spells of brisk walking punctuated by abrupt stops for Instasnaps. A kilometre in, the falls came as a surprise. I mean, I knew they were there, but I wasn’t actually expecting much to be falling. And while it was hardly a deluge, there was something aesthetically pleasing about Buderim Falls that was absent at Kondalilla yesterday.

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After the falls three burly locals passed me heading in the other direction back to the bottom car park. Eventually, I decided to chase them, conscious that they were driving me out of here. Visions of headlines in the Buderim Slacker materialised: ‘Pommie Found after 8 Days Ravaged by Drop Bears by Man Walking his Pet Lizard’. And so it was that for the first time in a long time I – what do they call it – jogged. Trail running no less (sounds more adventurous hey) and I actually quite liked it. I mean, I would choose to cycle over run any day, but at least with this you had the fun of negotiating occasional boulders and creeks and the omnipresent likelihood of spraining an ankle. Obviously it was all in vain, but thankfully three burly locals have a habit of cruising Buderim looking for wayward tourists and returned to pick me up.

Feeling virtuous I was quite happy to find that the breakfast provided at Maroochydore Surf Club was in buffet form. Layers of rubbery bacon ensued (if only these surf clubs could invest as much on food and service as they do pokies and glass windows), but this provided ample fuel to go rather more upmarket at Noosa.

Now, I have some doubts that the Noosa tourist board would declare their little haven the ‘Jewel of the Sunshine Coast’. Not because it is nothing other than a sparkling, glistening, extravagantly expensive diamond; but purely because of a wish to disassociate with the working families, plebs and bogans cropping up south of here. Indeed, they might want to start closing the gates and patrolling the waterways in paramilitary costumes and a trumped up sense of importance. Like some kind of Border Force or something.

qd12You see, the tourist board have been so successful that Noosa is brimming at the seams on a warm, sunny Sunday lunchtime, jammed with locals and foreigners alike. Parking is in the lap of the gods, but boy, have they got some of the prettiest parking spots around. The beach is – well – busy for an Australian beach, but admittedly it is a rather pretty beach. And even the national park, which shelters Noosa from encroachment from the south, is bustling with a steady stream of backpackers, families, joggers, and adventurers most of whom are, of course, exceedingly pretty. It is, undoubtedly, a very pretty place, and a requisite on a two day drop bear bushwalk adventure beach and waterfall honey monster tour.

qd13Like all of the most accomplished tours though, the best is saved for last. No tour is complete without a visit to a twee little spot providing lovingly crafted local produce and quirkily endearing owners. Honey Bear Honey of Buderim is not yet on the tourist itinerary, but with a bit more blue sky and a 10% cut it could well be. Look, I’m even promoting it on this blog for goodness sake, reaching tens of thousands of people (if I am lucky). So I implore you to come see the bees, taste the honey.

Finally, a sugary buzz was no doubt helpful in another last minute scramble to watch the Sunshine Coast sun depart, at which point this area is known as the Moonshine Coast, clear as day on the streets of Caloundra. I’ve been up this way a few times and so am practically a local, but had never been to ‘Clown Town’ before. I guess it’s a bit like Mooloolaba, in that everyone gathers around five in the evening beside the water, on the grass, along the benches waiting in anticipation for the deafening high pitched screaming of thousands of rainbow lorikeets in the Norfolk Pines.

qd14Some might go on to watch the sun disappear, over the apartments and occasional jagged plugs of the Glass House Mountains. Many linger in the warm air, sedated by sparkling wine and a sense of being the luckiest people on this planet; making the most of it all before heading back to work; living each day as if it is your last. Sensible, because, in this splendid corner of Queensland, you never know when a Drop Bear might strike.

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Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

Winter warmers

There are plenty of ways to warm up during an Australian winter. Koala soup; scenic coal-fired electric blankets; just living practically anywhere apart from inland uplands, exposed southern promontories and frigid deserts. Only in the bleakest of places does a winter bite, the bleakest of places and Canberra.

QJun01Yet even within touching distance of the capital’s shivering legoland suburbs you can work up a sweat and work off a sweater. Climbing seven hundred metres or so, rising from the valley mists into a blue stratosphere, toward the crown of Mount Tennent. A steady grind with the sun on your back, the consequences clear in the comfort of short sleeves. And warmed all the more by vistas providing a positive effort:reward ratio so critical to the success of a good tramp.

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Meanwhile, back, again, in Queensland the effort required for such warmth is negligible. Brisbane may experience a fog but it barely lingers. It is quite comfortable – actually very comfortable indeed – to sit beside the river and eat a slab of cake alfresco. This place has been a second home of late, but despite this being my fourth visit in the space of a month I still cannot acclimatise sufficiently like the locals to wear a scarf without feeling entirely fraudulent. Fare thee well Brisbane, you have been good for my core temperature and bank balance, but your City Cycles are terribly uncomfortable.

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One more week of work to go, one more week to go. That was what I was telling myself walking over the craggy hills and gentle sands of Magnetic Island. But, being on that island, it was hard not to think that I was on holiday already. I believe it may be down to the palm trees by the beach, or the strip of outdoor cafes at Horseshoe Bay, or the one road linking a few small towns in which most other people are on some kind of temporary or permanent holiday. Even the presence of backpackers adds to the mood that the only thing for it is to swing in a hammock.

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Possibly because Brisbane was not warm enough, work brought me north to Townsville, handily coinciding with a weekend in which to kill some time. So I grabbed the ferry across to the island and spent a wonderful day or two upon its shores. Saturday may have clouded over, but there was ample time to gently reacquaint myself with tropical forests and colourful birds, the briefest of sunsets and the longest of beers. Acclimatisation into that hammock holiday-minded state.

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QJun07But it was the Sunday that was super, cloudless throughout, though with a morning freshness that made the walking all the more pleasurable. Commencing with a wake up coffee by the beach in Horseshoe Bay, it was over one hill to one fine beach, over another to the next, and onward and upward to lookouts galore. A substantially energetic loop walk that topped out around The Forts – a series of wartime installations plonked atop the forest in a tasteful rendition of Plymouth city centre style concrete. Obviously here because of the commanding views, but the koalas didn’t seem to care whether the Japanese were coming or not.

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Qjun09With the satisfaction and accomplishment of a walk complete, a late lunch of salt and pepper calamari beside the water will suffice thank you very much. Oh, and ice cream, of course. I am feeling like I am on holiday after all. So much so, that as Sunday dwindles and the prospect of Monday creeps up, I do not want to leave. The late sun glows and dips and fades and the stars and moon twinkle as blue turns to black. Yet still I am comfortable in shorts, and with another end of day beer in hand.

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Happily Monday brought some drizzle and the transition back to work was reasonably comfortable in Townsville. But there was an abrupt decline in its standard as I re-located south, to Dubbo. On the plus side though this was not as bad as I expected, but then I expected little. The people were nice, I found a good coffee, and squeezed in a pleasant riverside walk. But I was ready to get out of there and, temporarily, get home.

Qjun11And so, the climatic rollercoaster finally shifted into Sydney, for one night only and then onto Canberra. Sydney was putting on its sparkling look-at-me face, demonstrating a pretence at winter that is misaligned with the comfort of not needing a coat. I was even able to brave an ice cream, sadly. Canberra, meanwhile, had its morning shroud of cold and cloud, but cleared to its best fresh hue of blue. One more week, one more week of keeping warm, and then a northern summer will bless me again.

Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

Queenslander

Ask an Australian to say “Dirk Drongo is making his debut for the Maroons” and you will realise you are indeed in Australia. The fact that Dirk Drongo is making his dayboo for the Murowns will not only secretly appal the smug little English teacher lurking inside of you, but you will also wonder why this is front page news on the Courier Mail. Apparently, it’s all to do with a game of rugby or – preposterously – football as it is called. Not the FIFA type of football in which you kick a ball at an open goal only to see it diverted by a mysterious sheik into a pit of money built by exploited foreign labour. No, the rugby league type of football, in which scandals are much more unsophisticated affairs involving parties on balconies that somehow always seem to get out of hand and end up with contrite media conferences in which apologies are made for any offence caused.

Having spent a substantial amount of time in Queensland recently it was a relief to escape a few hours before the Murowns played the Blues in something called State of Origin. It was possibly the only relief, because Queensland appears to be quite beautiful this time of year, decorated with clear blue skies and radiant, twenty degree-plus warmth. As a couple of nights of minus five await, and the citizens of Canberra adorn themselves as if on an expedition to the Antarctic, my spirit is lifted by the thought of Brisbane on the horizon once again.

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qldmay03While locals will vehemently disagree, it is quite possible to live in Brisbane without a jumper. Mine came off emerging from the plane, although I did put it on again one morning, just to appear less of an outsider. Meandering around amongst the city towers and along the river, a touch of summer lingers forever: clusters of dark green foliage dwell under a weight of blooming extravagance; sweat is apparently still a thing here; and the official State costume of thongs and boardies can be easily detected in the outdoor swimming pools of Southbank.

There are of course many upsides to this, and one of them is ice cream. And flat whites that remain a pleasure to sip alfresco. Sure, some overzealous cafe owners may have blasted on the outdoor heaters so that you too can relive those heady summers of Marble Bar, but the coffee is at least of reasonable metropolitan standard. It seems to taste blander than that in Canberra, but then maybe I just don’t know the right spots…always a first world curse of first world business trips.

qldmay02A good spot with or without coffee is GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art. Probably without coffee, because that would have been condensed into an essence of cold-dripped Columbian syrup and daubed on the walls to spell out a series of Japanese characters that make no sense whatsoever, but have deep, deep, meaning, hmmm. Still, I love the building in which such work sits, and there is something immensely satisfying in cloaking your laptop bag for an hour and transitioning to a world away from depth interviews and strategically coloured bar charts.

qldmay04Moving down now a cultural gear or ten, it is on to the Gold Coast. One could argue that the height of culture in the Gold Coast is the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet on the 71st level of a tower in Surfers Paradise. But here dwells the Australian dream on steroids, and many people lap it up like State of Origin players and…well…steroids. Here, you can live in a big white house in a gated community on a reclaimed island, be woken up at 5am by a cacophony of lorikeets and get all your tax minimisation forms done by seven. Then you can go for a power walk by the beach, enjoy a weak soy latte, and engage in a round of golf at the Princess Palmer Palace Retreat and Country Club Theme Park. Later, after listening to a radio station called Hot Tomato, it is quite possible to head out as the shadows of towers infringe upon the sand, surfing in your very own paradise.

qldmay05I have always said I don’t mind the Gold Coast and I still think that way. I’m sure my inner Brit arrives here and sees a stretch of white sand, a modern and affluent city-cum-holiday resort, with good food and reasonable coffee. I love nothing more than an all-you-can-eat challenge, a power walk up Burleigh Heads in guilt, and the pronunciation of tomato on Hot Tomato driving back. And, of course, more than anything, it really does seem to be twenty-four degrees in winter.

qldmay06Away from the surfers there is still a paradise. Towers and condos and gated communities drift away and roads rise into a hinterland. Side-stepping villages of token tweeness mixed with essential oils, Springbrook National Park stands guard over the landscape, one lofty remnant of a massive, ancient caldera. Stunning lookouts? Check. Plunging waterfalls? Check. Rainforest? Check. Bitumen? Check. Good walking trails? Check. Still with proximity to coffee, cake and ice cream? Check. Funny rat-like marsupials unlikely to cause significant damage as you drive down the hill at twilight? Check.  Springbrook is probably one of the best national parks I have ever been to, and now twice in my life.

qldmay08I would happily go back a third time, and then I would actually remember to bring my proper camera. You see, these travels in Queensland have been for business which came to be mixed – thanks to clever scheduling and a will to make up time on weekends – with pleasure. But I travelled with business in mind and today’s blog is brought to you in conjunction with the iphone 6. It has a good camera…hell…it’s a great camera considering it is one tiny little part of a slender and stylish lifestyle enhancement device ((c) Apple Marketing 101). But it cannot make waterfalls flow ghostly ribbons of white.

Neither can it do justice to the best of all lookouts, which is aptly marked on the map and road signs as Best of All Lookout. But then any camera would struggle with the scale and grandeur (not to mention the shade and light complications of 4:30 on a winter’s afternoon). I came here before in 2007, the lookout stubbornly shrouded in the clouds. Today, not one fouled the sky, allowing the late sunlight to project its glow upon Mount Warning, and a chill to emerge in the shade to prepare me for a return to Canberra.

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qldmay11The Gold Coast airport was but a twenty minute drive from where I was staying, but I detoured a few hours. With a flight later in the day there was one other branch of Springbrook to revisit. Again, part of the joy is getting there, again blessedly on bitumen, but winding around west of the escarpment and into a valley of the dinosaurs. Lush and green, it’s an alternative route across into New South Wales, the border a genuine high pass which throws you up and over into the verdant Tweed Valley. It is a landscape that, beyond cane and bamboo and no trespassing signs, one cannot help but suspect is dotted with marijuana.

qldmay12A natural high just before the border is Natural Bridge, which again is best captured with a proper camera on a slow shutter speed. Nevertheless, the walk through rainforest is of agreeable length while the falls – plunging down a hole in the rock and out through a cave – cannot fail to thrill. In the valley, in the shade, it is again quite cool and Canberra feels closer.

Over in New South Wales, Murwillumbah sits amongst the sugar cane and feels a lot less glitzy than the Gold Coast. There seems to be good coffee on offer and a fine brownie to keep me going, not laden with local produce – apart from sugar – as far as I am aware. Following the Tweed back to the coast, the tower blocks and marinas soon again emerge, and that lost world, that lost valley of earlier seem all the more remarkable in contrast. And with contrasts clear, like the light and dark from the Best of All Lookout, it is time to put the jumper back on and head south.

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Great divides and sunny coasts

Wagga Wagga. Ballarat. Dubbo. Albury. Bendigo. Rockhampton. Geelong. Bunbury. Mount Gambier. These are the recurrent regional research towns, in which there is sufficient population to extract a small selection of locals to talk about everything from the design on a bottle of shampoo to the delight of doing tax. I have been to each and every one, mostly for business but sometimes for pleasure, and now and again for both. Until this past week though there had been a noticeable absentee from the list, and, as if hearing the crucial number in a game of bingo, the Queensland town of Toowoomba delivered a full house.

Qld02Toowoomba is a touch inland from Brisbane and, with a sizeable population over a hundred thousand, benefits from good road links, appreciated in the rush that I somehow managed to contrive one working afternoon and evening. It rather dramatically emerges atop the Great Dividing Range, perched on a plateau over this somewhat ill-defined chain of ridges and hills which meanders along the entire eastern fringe of Australia. Thus, the edge of one side of town is adorned with tabletop views as fingers of parkland and bush thrust into the lowland expanse of the Lockyer Valley, cut by hairpins of highway and – because we are in Queensland – no doubt teeming with spiders, snakes, and snag-stained singlets.

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The emergence of the town is quite sudden; one minute you are chugging up a protracted series of bends through the bush and then, as soon as it levels, suburban concrete and commercial highways spread out west. I suspect it could almost be the modern equivalent of reaching Machu Picchu, with a city that is shielded from view until traversing a final mountain ridge. Once crested, the ancient civilisation of the Supercheap Autans fills intrepid travellers with awe, as the sun sets over the Darling Downs.

Qld01Away from its edges, the remainder of town could easily be Wagga or Ballarat or any other regular research regional resort. There is a city block with some familiar and some uniquely local stores, a typical amalgamation of elegant turn of century buildings and functional blocks. A giant mall draws shoppers from the older town centre while between the two a strategically placed drive-thru Maccas casts its magnet on the alloy wheels of ute-borne bogans and the iron fillings of schoolkids. Amongst this, one small alleyway has been transplanted from Melbourne, adorned with street art and beards making coffee. I stopped by there twice.

Leaving Toowoomba with a decent coffee and mushroom-focused breakfast, I had a free day to return to Brisbane and decided to take a different route back down. First stop was the small village of Hampton, from where I attained necessary booklets and maps from the tourist information centre. Nearby, Ravensbourne National Park, offered some scenic views of the fairly lush and productive countryside of the region, and the first of several mixed rainforest-bush-type ambles.

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Heading down to the town of Esk, the road continues in the picturesque Brisbane Valley, fringing the immense Wivenhoe Lake. It was this massive body that bulged with too much water a few years back and released its content into the Brisbane River, causing flooding all the way down to the coast. This was responsible for awful scenes, in which Kevin Rudd – then deposed as PM – waded gleefully through shallow water in his boardies to deliver an empty box of mixed metaphors and cringe-worthy superlatives to despairing locals. Today things were more sedate, though the occasional flood marker and rough strip of tarmac indicated that flood damage is always a risk.

Qld06Above the floodplain, more ranges rise on a very winding and sometimes precipitous alternative route to Brisbane. Crossing through D’Aguilar National Park with a touch of je ne sais quoi and foux du fafa, the road takes in several beautiful viewpoints, patches of subtropical rainforest, and sleepy wood-bedecked villages. Of course I stopped at the viewpoints, and partook of a decent walk through forest near Mount Glorious. Ferns, palms, fig trees and fungus were signals of something a little moister and a touch exotic; a setting in which snakes probably hide to wait for ill-footed southerners, and ants are poised to nibble on fleshy toes. Mercifully, I made it out there alive, accompanied by the rumble of thunder and the sweat of ridiculous humidity.

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Plunging down away from the rain, the national park ends and immediately Brisbane suburbia grips. There are parallels with the emergence of Toowoomba, as traffic clearways and junctions and shopping malls spring up, traversing The Gap and Ashgrove and a very different kind of Red Hill. The CBD appears, the Brisbane River crossed, and a reminiscent friendship blue sky laksa is taken for old times’ sake. Afterwards, more traffic and concrete and now lights stretch on north, before the city finally gives up, and the motorway allows a speeding up towards the Sunshine Coast.

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From experience I know it is not always sunny on the Sunshine Coast. A now somewhat distant Christmas in particular sticks in the mind. Recently, cyclonic remnants turned fields into mud and streets into streams. This weekend, however, the region was true to its name.

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Indeed, it was rather warm. Not drastically higher in temperature than Canberra but with added humidity and night-time sweatiness. Mornings were a bit fresher, meaning that coffee and brunch was not out of the question. But building heat later in the day was more conducive to iced coffees and cold beers, and some relief beside the ocean. In this regard, Coolum Beach at least sounded the part. Certainly, the noticeable sea breeze was causing significant chop on the water and taking some of the perspiration away. Most soothing though was a wade through the ocean itself, as sand and water and feet met in perfect harmony for some brief entanglements of bliss.

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Qld10The last thing I would want to do in this weather is run. Swimming would be okay I suppose, if you could cope with the oversized waves and not get dragged under by sharks or stung by jellyfish or hit by a wayward surfboard. Cycling might be fine too, if you can mainly stick to going down the nine hills plunging from Buderim, breeze flowing through Lycra, and refresh with an iced latte afterwards. But running doesn’t seem to come with any benefits. Nonetheless, thousands of people decided to engage in all this and more in the Mooloolaba Triathlon, taking place on a perfect, breezeless thirty degree Sunday.

It was hard work, conquering breakfast and then standing by the road, seeking shade, occasionally clapping and snapping and still questioning why on earth you would be doing this when there is a beautiful beach and ocean you could surely be having far more enjoyment out of. I guess there is admiration, but not a logical one because the endeavour seems so senseless. Strangely and surprisingly though I quite enjoyed watching some of the triathlon, and took satisfaction in encouraging all sorts of sweaty bodies towards the top of their final hill.

Qld11Needless to say, following all this frivolous activity I had a nap and then an iced coffee in the afternoon. A little bit of work accompanied the iced coffee but the iced coffee just about made that all okay. It also generated a bit of extra energy to do some exercise myself, though more of the sedate sunset walk type than the extreme ironman sweatfest. With daylight fading early, particularly as Queensland are backwards when it comes to moving clocks forward, the signs are of seasons changing. And indeed, on the shores of Mooloolaba, still gently wading through warm waters as the halo of twilight captured the skies, I felt as though this could be the last dose of real summer. It may soon drop below twenty-five degrees and Queenslanders will soon reach for the scarves. And for me, research days in the freezing fog of a Ballarat or Wagga winter are closer to realisation.

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Totally (un)tropical taste

Turns out Sean Bean was right before he had his head chopped off all that time ago (very old spoiler alert!). Winter was definitely coming. Genius prediction, much like Mystic Meg predicting someone with the letter A in their name will win some unspecified amount of money on the lottery. Of the same level of insight as the Australian Prime Minister telling us that conflict is not just about goodies v baddies but sometimes baddies v baddies, bang bang you’re dead nah nah nah nah nah.

Yes, winter has come, though still a temperate south of the wall kind of winter. Chill morning fog and darkness before five. A fortnight long cold which cycles between varying levels of mucus and ear blockage and throat irritation and is happy to never quite go away. Slow cooked beef and tom yum soups and the occasional hot chocolate to soothe things down. A time when images beamed at crazy hours of the night from northern – or indeed equatorial – climes are a somehow compelling, comforting companion.

tv01As Brazil shakes its booty, the tropics are never sexier. So it was with a tinge of disappointment that I rocked up in Townsville, north of the Tropic of Capricorn, to find a fine imitation of a wet weekend in Morecambe. Even the locals were aghast and – predictably given a ‘chill’ 19 degrees or so – wrapped up in cardigans and these strange and rare things known as trousers. Crazy weather they said. Climate change they uttered. Wahhhh you’re from Canberra you’re mad I could never cope with that I like the warmth and being near the sea and lolling around too much they exclaimed incredulously.

tv03So what to do on a wet weekend in Townsville? Trudge along the ever fine esplanade in your waterproof and realise that maybe you should buy some new shoes that don’t absorb quite so much water. Marvel at the views of Magnetic Island which emerge in between cloudbursts and drizzle fronts. Attempt to have an alfresco coffee as wind sweeps in sideways rain. Soak up the Great Barrier Reef, presented in aquarium form, and battle with thousands of kids to look at a faaaaaaahkin shaaaaaaak.

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By Tuesday (when I had work to do) the rain had stopped, and then Wednesday (the day I left) it was back to sunny skies. This meant that – while an excursion across to Maggie was now off the cards – I could at least get out a little, and savour just a smidgeon of that tropical taste. I climbed Castle Hill, invariably described as a pink granite monolith and plonked right in the middle of the city. Just like Rio, I thought, as I clambered up the many, many steep and arduous steps to the top. No giant Jesus at the summit, but some fat guy in shorts was there. He had driven up on the road, to marvel at the views still submerged under a mackerel sky.

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tv05I was pleased to exercise, just so I could eat guilt free on the waterfront; indeed, I think the eating side of things was the most satisfactory part of this tropical foray. The sun managed to accompany a delicious lunchtime salt & pepper calamari salad on Tuesday and a sweet corn pancake and bacon brunch was the perfect gap filler until my flight home on Wednesday. I squeezed in a coffee or too, some soggy fish n chips, and, right near the end, a beachside gelato. The tropics had returned, the sexiness was back.

tv06And with just an hour or two to spare I could take those idyllic palm tree beach shots, and capture the fragrant green tinge of a city lumped around hills. I could walk in shorts (yes shorts!) along the very excellent Strand – a perfect seaside promenade punctuated with eating and drinking stops in between sandy bays. I could pretend, should I wish, to have had a sublime tropical getaway and delete all the pictures of rain on my iphone. I could happily linger until September.

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tv08But then, returning towards my hotel and a taxi to the airport, a snake came up to me and said something like, “Neil, you don’t want to stay here. The air force planes are too noisy. The coffee could be better. There are sharks. And mosquitoes just waiting to eat your succulent English blood. Backpackers will overwhelm us, plus there are people obsessed about some stupid annual rugby league match. Oh, there are some snakes too. They might not be as nice as me.” Sage advice, insightful predictions. And so I scampered off to the airport and wee wee wee wee all the way home, all the way home to winter.

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