Casual traveller

There are qualidays and there are qualidays. One can involve a dull drive to Wagga to hang out in a beige-infested meeting room, the other can take you to Far North Queensland in June. In June. When frostiness infiltrates the Australian Capital Territory with much the same frequency as declarations of mostly sunny skies and twenty-seven degrees in Cairns. Okay, maybe around eighteen degrees at dawn, but pleasant enough to embrace the Esplanade and marvel. I could have turned around there and then and been content with this trip.

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However, when in Far North Queensland in June it would be rude not to tack on a few extra days in which shorts and sandals can make a comeback. And so suitably attired, I slowly drove north from Cairns towards Port Douglas, stopping along the way for bouts of note-writing and email attending; coffee and lunch, on beachside benches and surrounded by sand and palm trees. Trinity Beach proved a quiet little delight among Cairns’ Northern Beaches, while Palm Cove turned out to be a popular spot where people come to jaunt in chilled-back decadence. As long as they can find a place to park.

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From here the road becomes a scenic gem, hugging the shoreline between the tropical seas and steep-sided rainforest. Sandy coves and mangrove mudflats compete for attention with the jagged green tops marking the northern outpost of the Great Dividing Range, as omnipresent as the prospect of a saltwater crocodile possibly being in that creek you just passed. Let’s not linger long for snapshots.

Nearing Port Douglas, fields of sugar cane squeeze their way into the flatlands between sea and slope. More than human high, much awaits harvest and eventual transformation into cakes which will probably end up in my mouth. Occasionally, narrow gauge cane trains can be sighted fulfilling this prophecy, carriages packed with shredded green stalks, trundling at snail’s pace on the first stages of this complex journey.

Coming here from Canberra is more than about a change in the weather, but a transformation in the very essence of my surroundings. In some ways, driving through this scene feels more of a shock to the system than making the switch from Australia to Europe. A more alien land in the very same country. Not that I’m complaining as this totally tropical vibe sustains through a Port Douglas dusk.

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Some interesting facts about Port Douglas that I learned: the original settlement – already dwindling thanks to a railway connection between Cairns and the prosperous tablelands – got practically wiped out in a cyclone in 1911 and was essentially a ghost town until the late 1970s. Then someone saw an opportunity, silver boats quickly whisked people to the Great Barrier Reef and became the omnipresent Quicksilver operation, a resort popped up with the largest pool in the southern hemisphere and became a Sheraton and – from there – the rest was history. Today, the town retains its resort-heavy heritage but seems to have diversified to the extent that it attracts everyone from the scuzziest backpacker to the most ostentatious billionaire boatperson.

Somewhere along the lower end of that continuum I found myself strolling along the main street early on a Saturday heading to Four Mile Beach. You see, while Cairns may have a railway and a fabulous sunrise, it doesn’t have a beach in the centre of town, let alone a stretch of whiteish sand littered with coconuts reaching towards pristine rainforest ranges. Often on a Saturday morning I find myself ticking off a little exercise around the bushland suburbia of Woden; this weekend things were a little different striding along a beach and a climbing up to Flagstaff Hill. Either way, I was suitably self-satisfied.

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Self-satisfaction continued with the excitement of finishing off some more work with a coffee and World Cup highlights by lunchtime. I celebrated this fact by booking myself on a late afternoon cruise, in which I was hoping to see a nice sunset but really hoping much, much more to see a croc. Three crocs later, the sunset was pleasant enough but – as was to be the fate for the rest of this trip – no Cairns. But the crocs were beauties, at more than arm’s length.

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One final enjoyable aspect of this sunset croc cruise down Dickson Inlet was the complimentary cold beer provided upon departure. A warm breeze, a fading sun, sardonic commentary, three mother fucking crocodiles that would eat your arms off and a Great Northern. Can there be anything more quintessentially Australian? At this rate, I was getting pumped for the Socceroos. Crocs v Frogs, surely no contest.

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Pre-game, the one beer lured me to another back at the marina and this was actually far, far better. The rise in small, local breweries is truly one of the blessings of our age, a price worth paying for excessive beardiness and an inevitably jingly jangly smug git with a guitar singing a pared back rendition of something by Bruno Mars. So if you find yourself in Port Douglas, I can recommend the Doug’s Courage at Hemingway’s Brewery, at a safe distance from croc-infested waters and beard-ridden singers.

Sunday came after the frogs somehow defeated the crocs and things were a little subdued in the streets of Port Douglas that morning…I suspect less to do with soccerballing disappointment and more to do with the efforts of Hemingway’s and others. It was eerily quiet as I checked out the weekly Port Douglas markets which were everything I expected, unfortunately. Seriously lacking in terms of food temptation and offering more than enough tie-dyed hippy shit and rainforest possum poo face balm or whatever. I’m full of incredulity, get me out of here.

What better jungle to escape to than that around Mossman Gorge, within the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest. This is special land, iconic even. Southerners shivering in the cold will have a spark ignited in their eyes upon mention of the Daintree. There are more dramatic gorges, there are more scenic forests, there are more powerful rivers. But there probably isn’t a spirit, an essence, an unfathomable sanctity that can make even tie-dyed hippy-shit haters like me get a little carried away. In the Australian soul, the Daintree is up there with Uluru.

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I find rainforests a contradiction of exquisite beauty and foreboding dread. They are amazing, living things, jam-packed with anything and everything that can claim a foothold in a spare millimetre of earth or air. Ferns eclipse ferns, trees envelop trees, fungus flourishes among decaying hollows, leaves expand to gargantuan heights. Older than the dinosaurs, unchanged in mass but everchanging in make-up. It’s this density, this proliferation of life that can begin to overwhelm; the moody subdued light, the lack of a sky, the oppressive air, the constant soundtrack of insects waiting to bite you. The competing sound of the Mossman River is a salvation, an opening, a way out. As are its creeks and pools which proffer sublime sanctuary among the jungle.

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Leaving the rainforest content, I spent the rest of my time ambling and chilling around Port Douglas and – to be honest – was ready to leave as Monday morning came around. Not because I was desperate to wear four layers of clothing and scrape ice from my car, but I feel I had ‘done’ Port Douglas to death, several times over. It’s not the largest place and time and again I found myself ambling along Four Mile Beach, or heading to the wharf, or seeking out ice cream. Such a challenge to endure!

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FNQ11I took one final coffee and stroll on the beach before embarking on the drive back south, which had a fair share of roadworks interspersed with spectacular scenery. Pausing around Ellis Beach, in this snatch of tropical palm-fringed cliché, it was again hard to fathom that I would be in a different world, in the same country, in a few hours. My poor shorts would be tucked away out of sight again.

This contrast was highlighted by a final, bonus-because-something-else-got-cancelled detour to Cairns Botanic Gardens. Again, so much green, so much life and proliferation of alien, oversized plants, saturated with texture and patterns and colours and shine. It surprised me that I had never been to the excellent botanic gardens here, for such places are a frequent haunt of mine during both holidays and qualidays. Places where you can quickly capture the essence of a region through its unique flora. Places within the middle of a nondescript town or city that can mark it as different, as exotic. And nowhere seems quite as different, as exotic as the warming airs and flourishing lands of Far North Queensland in June.

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Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography

Making moments – 3

Queensland. Beautiful one day, perfect the next. So they say. Which just goes to show how much you can trust those unscrupulous Queenslanders! Full of holes and overexaggerated boastfulness, it’s a kind of fake showiness that you’d associated with a white shoe laden Gold Coast property developer. And while it’s a catch cry urging the rest of Australia and the world to visit, I suspect there’s a bit of self-reflective reassurance going on, trying to quell lingering self-doubt about whether this really is some kind of chosen land.

C1aAnyway, lest I offend several friends, family, prospective employers and the rest of their state, Queensland can be beautiful and at times might be equated with some form of perfection. However, the humidity is frequently disgusting and – on this occasion at least – the marooaaans easily trounced the blues in the rainfall stakes. Meanwhile, the growth of South East Queensland is rapidly turning the area into one very long Gold Coast-Brisbane-Sunshine Coast conglomeration where it seems obligatory to buy an oversized property and a Toyota Hilux. Here, the only koala left is a giant fake blue mascot sitting around watching far too many swimming events.

Thankfully, Queensland is big and there is still space to escape for koalas and tourists alike. Indeed there are, not too far away, spots that remain beautiful which can provide some near perfect moments…

How many waterfalls in Springbrook National Park?

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There are a couple of incredible things about Springbrook National Park. The first is just how close it is to the Gold Coast, which is visible from several vantage points along the plateau. This offers a stark depiction of contrast; among fragrant gums and chirping birds, rolling wilderness journeys to meet suburban sprawl and the jagged teeth of waterfront high rise. Like a pristine glacier delivering its scruffy jumble of terminal moraine.

The second incredible thing is just how many waterfalls plunge off the escarpment here, to the extent that you might just encounter a touch of waterfall fatigue. This can especially be the case if you have travelled up the Waterfall Way and stopped off at Natural Bridge after crossing into Queensland via the beautiful back road. Then there’s lookouts at Purling Brook Falls and Goomoolahra Falls and that’s before you’ve even started walking down a little below the cliff edge.

What other falls could we possible fall for? Well, how about a pair of falls that together plunge into a tropical pool that you can also walk behind? This has to be the waterfall sightseers nirvana? Surely, these Twin Falls represent the climatic conclusion of our waterfall odyssey, a place in which it was easy to linger and fill up a memory card in awe. A place that you’re a bit reluctant to leave, thoughts tempered only by the prospect of some more waterfalls further along the track. And a view or two back to the Gold Coast.

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A golden hour on the Noosa Everglades

The Queensland rain was setting in the further north that Dad and I travelled. Among other delights, this heralded the joy of packing up wet camping gear which was barely drying out in the car as we steered through torrential downpours towards Noosaville. Queensland was far from beautiful, and very far from perfect for embarking on a cruise up the Noosa River and paddle upon the Everglades.

C4I think if miracles exist then we had one, for there was around one hour of dry, relatively sunny weather on that day which had seemed totally implausible earlier on. An hour that coincided with our allotted time in a canoe, gently zig-zagging with the meanders of the water towards Harry’s Hut. While the surrounds were a bit samey and somewhat nondescript (in a jungly, swampy wilderness kind of way), it was an hour of calm, of peace, of harmony with the environment. And above all, recognition of sheer bloody luck.

For as the snags were sizzled and steaks seared, another downpour heralded a return to the norm. And the less fortunate group of backpackers on the tour (some of whom seemed to be mouthier and more deserving of a drenching) were allotted our canoes for the return trip. It turns out that passing them under the cover of the cruise boat was – in itself – a moment that I’ll remember for a while too!

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Destination reached in Cooloola Cove

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After a week of traversing a tiny part of Australia there was relief in reaching Cooloola Cove: a spot to dry everything out and discover covers for ride on lawnmowers; a chance to check the car and change tyres; a soft bed under a proper roof; and, above all, the welcome and comfort from family armed with cheese and wine and no tiramisu.

These were relatively sedate days that were much needed, still dodging showers on land that was new to my feet. And perhaps it was Inskip Point – where the storm clouds just kept out to sea – that offered the greatest bliss on our tour of the area.

C6Just a hefty stone’s throw from the tip of Fraser Island, the soft sand delights the toes more than it does tyres. The rugged natural detritus of storms and tides offers a little intrigue and entertainment. The comings and goings of the ferry – and the potential for vehicles to get bogged down on Fraser – offer even more. Dark shadows intersperse with brilliant sunshine, grey waters become blue, brown sands less brown. Fatigue becomes contentment, and moments to remember form. Moments that are beautiful, even perfect. Damn you Queensland!

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Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography Walking

Making moments – 2

The recent trip north with Dad through New South Wales was blessed with a lack of weather. By that I mean it was astonishingly unremarkable – no cyclones, storms or cool changes – just day after day of largely cloudless skies and warm to hot temperatures. Nominally it was autumn, but there was nothing in the landscape to signify as much.

Nonetheless, we did confront moisture in the clammy, salty air of the coast. Enough to encourage all the bitey insects and make putting up a tent in the afternoon an ordeal in sweatiness. It’s a contrast to the arid air of Canberra and – for all the allure of golden sand and the sapphire ocean – it’s not one I’m entirely comfortable with. Leaving South West Rocks and heading north, I was also tiring of the Pacific Highway; like autumn a misnomer that never fringes the sea. And so, nearing the junction for Coffs Harbour, a road that they’ve called The Waterfall Way acts as that final magnet dragging a metal box on wheels upwards and inland…

Drying out all the way to Armidale

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Apart from a parade of rather lovely waterfalls, one of the more interesting things about The Waterfall Way is the transition in the climate and landscape, from that of lush and moist coastal forest to dry tablelands of eucalyptus and swaying, golden grass. This transition is starkly realised between two memorable spots around fifty kilometres apart.

Dorrigo National Park is all World Heritage Area Ancient Rainforests of Gondwana and at times you feel like you are walking within prehistory. A jumbled canopy of tall trees and filtered sunlight seeps down to an understorey of verdant palms, giant ferns and distorted woody vines. Numerous birds chirrup and chatter largely unseen, apart from the ubiquitous bush turkeys.

Somewhere through the forest, the sound of rushing water becomes magnified and you turn the corner to be confronted with Crystal Shower Falls. A graceful veil plunging into a dark round pool, it is a scene to invigorate the senses, a climax which the rest of the Wonga Walk finds difficult to eclipse. Organic hipster-tended cake picked up earlier in Bellingen provides some relief, before the highlight of a resident lace monitor and final view, in which this most gorgeous of forests sweeps down the escarpment towards that humid, distant ocean.

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B2Up the road at Ebor Falls, situated within Guy Fawkes River National Park, we have reached a land of rugged gorges and wild rivers, decorated with millions of eucalypts and a million more golden everlasting daisies. Indeed, green becomes more golden with the drop in rainfall. The smells and sounds are more familiar: that earthy aridity mixed with the fresh minty essence of the gums; the friendly chirp of a pair of rosellas; the chatter of an old guy named Bert to his wife Sandra. “Well, isn’t that grand.” And indeed, it sure is. It sure is.

Joining the easternmost club in Byron Bay

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Our break inland provided something of a reprieve, spending a night in relative luxury at a campground with ablutions in Armidale, taking in some random fireworks and heading on the next day through the pleasant, rolling landscape of northern New England. It’s no England and no Scotland either, despite what Glen Innes and the numerous signs to Ben Lomond may allude to.

After Tenterfield, we were heading back to the coast as we had a date with a pool in Byron Bay. My first and only visit to Byron was in 2000 and I can’t remember much about it. I suspect plenty had changed since then, even in the tint of my hair. It seems in 2018 there are still lots of fresh-faced backpackers and guys possessing a battered van and guitar desperately seeking their attention. But there are also lots of families and older couples and – even occasionally – a father and son walking up a hill. With fancy beachside cafes and a leisurely parade of SUVs and boogie boards, Byron 2018 struck me as a Sydney Middle Harbour suburb transported north.

What hasn’t changed is the lighthouse at Cape Byron and the much-vaunted most easterly point in mainland Australia. It’s a walk – which I think has been upgraded and much more trodden since 2000 – that has its ups and downs (and bush turkeys), but the views up top are ample reward. And while the lighthouse and ocean and craggy lush hinterland of volcanic remains capture attention it is perhaps the sweeping arc of sand that is Tallow Beach that captures the heart. And captures the very spirit of what Byron is still all about.

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The date with the pool

Okay, so we had camped for four nights on the trot with varying levels of comfort. We had washed in the sea and cooked in the dark. We had valiantly but unsuccessfully zipped zips to keep out the bitey bugs. My own swag mattress is undoubtedly becoming thinner, on a declining trajectory that correlates with my own ageing. Camping may just be starting to lose its appeal.

In this context if I am cataloguing memorable moments then nothing can be more striking than a proper bed, a proper shower, the creature comforts plus of a B&B in Byron. A beautiful, modern, strikingly clean setting with its pool as the piece-de-resistance. Clean water that shimmers in the afternoon light, that soothes the skin, that offers a backdrop for Facetime calls to a dank, sub-zero France. If being back on the coast is like this I could – we could – happily get used to it.

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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

Back on the road

xa01Christmas Day came and went with little fuss; a suitable blend of English traditions (think paper hats, Christmas pudding and rubbish TV) and Australian holiday (cue swimming pools, prawns and rubbish TV). And the next day like millions across both hemispheres, I hit the road to expand my horizons, meet up with others, and curse at the appalling driving ubiquitous across the highways and byways of the land.

My destination was Brisbane and a tad beyond. In the first of three undeniably thrilling instalments I shall take you with me on the journey north. I had determined to go inland, avoiding the ludicrous middle and outer lane hogging of the Sydney motorways and the family-fuelled people carrier congestion of the coast. Yes, I would mostly miss the beautiful cooling ocean but there is a lot to see in the interior of Australia, believe it or not…

Boxing Day mash up

xa02Setting out, the tones of Jim Maxwell narrating the Boxing Day test helped me along familiar ground to Goulburn and then round the back of the Blue Mountains via Taralga and Oberon. I’m not quite sure when the familiar becomes, well, exotic, but I had never been to Hartley before and I wasn’t expecting to see emus along the roadside. Attempting to quell this confronting change, I popped in for some afternoon tea in the cutesy national trust cafe. Devonshire scones with clearly non-Devonshire cream. Sigh. When will they learn?!

The journey proceeded through Lithgow and alongside the expansive Capertree Valley, where my first lookout stop offered a surprising reveal of a sweeping landscape. From here, the final sandstone ridges of the Blue Mountains stand bastion over a green carpet of eucalyptus, and – closer to the road – the occasional green taming of human activity. Apparently the Capertree Canyon is the second biggest in the world after that gargantuan gorge called The Grand Canyon. Which clearly makes it the largest in the southern hemisphere. However, despite this billing, for me, it was a detour too far.

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xa05With the day drawing to a conclusion I had to make haste to my first camp spot, passing through a seemingly deserted Mudgee, and hitting the gravel roads into Goulburn River National Park. Here I surprised myself at how efficiently I made camp, setting up gear which had not seen the light of day for a few years. Yes, the swag was back and loving its natural environment.

xa04With all this travel and excitement it was easy to forget that it was Christmas time and today was Boxing Day. It certainly didn’t feel like a typical Boxing Day, but I paid a little homage to tradition by boiling up and coarsely mashing some potatoes and carrot, serving it with some ham, and adding a few pickled onions and a pile of Branston. This camp stove and esky creation was a perfect amalgamation of English traditions and Australian summer holiday, a supremely satisfying garnish to this first day.

To England, my New England

The next morning dawned sunny and warm, a hot day ahead to progress north into New England. At some point – Merriwa I think – I rejoined a road I had once been on, and the New England Highway steadily progressed towards Tamworth. Some may disagree, but I find this route north to Brisbane more scenic, more interesting than the Pacific Highway, which follows the coast but sufficiently distant from it to rarely glimpse the gorgeousness of Pacific Ocean.

Here, the landscape is rolling and golden and covered in a warming glow. Sun-baked fields and picket-fenced horse studs line the highway, frequently terminating at abrupt rises in the land and wilderness once more. A steady stream of small towns gladly interrupt the journey, adding the interest of random claims to fame, elegant facades, and Driver Revivers. And road signs proclaim only 700kms to Brisbane. I could be there in a tick.

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xa06bBut obviously I stop and detour and make inevitable visits to big things like a giant golden guitar in Tamworth. It’s my third time here but I still cannot resist the allure of such a curious, iconic Australian landmark. The car and I refuel, we park up and make lunch of ham sandwiches and crisps. And, comfortably gathering that road trip rhythm, we set off once more, another hundred clicks up the road to Armidale.

From Armidale I find myself heading south and east…not exactly the direction for Brisbane. But just a little way out of town, farmland gives up and a corner of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is accessible. This is gorge country which – after rain – boasts the promise of waterfalls. In the midst of this summer Dangars Falls is absent, but the deep gorge is clearly less fickle and the campground nestled above it is a delight.

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After setting up with even more surprising efficiency there are a few hours left in the long summer day for a bit of a walk. It is the perfect time of day and – at what must be approaching 1000 metres in altitude – the temperature is pleasant, the walk shady, and possessing only a couple of manageable inclines to negotiate. The final couple of kilometres weave along a ridge high above the chasms carved by Salisbury Waters, leading to an abrupt halt at McDirtys Lookout. It may sound like it’s named after a slang term for a ubiquitous fast food burger chain, but there are no car parks, no neon signs, no frozen cokes in sight. Just a landscape preserved thanks to its inaccessibility and the wild rivers that made it.

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In the Washpool

Day three and already I was making spontaneous changes to my vaguely pre-defined route. Instead of heading up a boring looking road to Glen Innes, the journey took me along a section of the Waterfall Way and then cut across on a quiet, winding road to Grafton.

xa09Along the Waterfall Way I could make a mid-morning stop at Ebor Falls, a site I had previously encountered boasting a couple of quite magnificent waterfalls. Today, they were an inferior imitation of what I remembered, reduced to a trickle and hidden in the shadows from the morning sun. But as road stop rest stops go, there was plenty to savour: a gentle shady walk along the valley rim, pockets of wildflowers and patches of birdlife, the smell of the bush. All under the deepest blue skies.

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It is broadly along the latitude of the Waterfall Way that the first of a number of pockets of ancient rainforest appear; clusters which frequently emerge all the way north from here, up to and across the Queensland border. Dorrigo National Park is the first and has much to adore. But having been there and done that, I was keen to make it to a large swathe further north.

xa11From KFC in Grafton, the car headed through patches of woodland and along the picturesque valley of the Mann River. Rugged ranges loomed, neared and eventually required climbing; like so many roads from the coast to the inland, hairpins and lookouts and massive tree ferns clinging to the eastern escarpment. Atop all this a dirt road led off the highway and plunged into the rainforest of Washpool National Park.

The Washpool walk provided nine kilometres to stare up at giant trees and admire the light through the vivid green canopy. Vines and creepers tempted Tarzan escapades. Humidity sapped and a small waterfall offered only gentle relief while also hastening the need to pee. It was an immersive and captivating rainforest experience but – perhaps after another long, hot day – a couple of kilometres too far in my opinion. Still, at least I had sweated out maybe one piece of southern fried chicken.

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xa13I felt as though I had earned a beer and decided to take one with me on a brief amble to a lookout near the park entrance. This is the benefit of having everything in the car and, um, the beer would provide hydration if I ended up getting lost or bitten by a snake or something, right? Thankfully the lookout was a mere stroll and the satisfaction of that coldish beer on that bench on those rocks in that peace with that view under early evening skies without the prospect of getting lost and having snakes for company was something to cherish.

While the beer episode is up there, it was just about surpassed by waking the next morning beside Coombadjha Creek. This is why you put up with a little discomfort and a lot of phaff by camping. You feel part of the environment, immersed in the landscape, at one with nature. Even if this means enduring the bittersweet alarm call of shrieking and cackling at four in the morning.

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xa15Before breakfast, before packing up, before moving on once more, I could hatch out of the swag and wake up with the world around me. Virtually from my bed a small trail followed the pristine waters of the creek and looped back through a large stand of Coachwood. The sun gradually made its appearance, shafts of light angling through the trees and shimmering through the ferns onto the water. The creek was clear and cool, and after three nights of camping without a shower, it was tempting to bathe. But I really didn’t want to ruin its purity; my mind turned to the allure of the ocean instead.

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Return to a civilisation

xa17Without going into lurid detail I did wash each day thanks to boiling water and the use of a bucket, an art mastered in the trip of 2013 with Jill. Simultaneously I could make a cuppa, grill some toast and prepare my morning sink. Sure, it wasn’t exactly luxurious or even two star, but it allowed me some confidence to mingle a little with civilisation each day and order a morning coffee, buy petrol and ice. Which is exactly what I did in Grafton after descending from the hills that morning.

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Heat had been building on this trip and by now it really was scorchio. I could resist the ocean no more and joined the masses along the Pacific Highway, turning off towards Yamba. Outside of school holidays I am sure this is an easy-going little coastal town. Today a shady car park was at a premium and the wait for fish and chips was half an hour. But it had several beaches lapped by clear and calm water in which to linger. I finally felt that a layer of inland Australia had been cleansed, only to be replaced by salt, sand and – subsequently – fish and chip grease.

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xa20I encountered my first inexplicable traffic jam north of Yamba and speculated that this was being replicated up and down the highway. Still, I only had twenty clicks at a snail’s pace before I could turn off and head to Lismore. Lismore was to herald my proper return to civilisation, something which some people would find surprising in relation to Lismore. But I was to sleep in a proper bed and have a proper shower here, both of which I was quick to enjoy upon arrival. Refreshed and walking Lismore’s unfathomably charming streets, I felt part of normal society again.

Yet after the joy of showering and napping on a double bed and walking a little along the Wilsons River, I felt lost. This habitat, this environment, this standing still in one place felt a little odd. Still with a couple of hours of daylight to spare, I drove out into the lush countryside, through stretched out villages hidden amongst the trees boasting honesty fruit stalls, lefty views, and probable marijuana. To Nightcap National Park, where some falls were missing but where the late sun bathed the forest in gold. Just me and the Subaru, enjoying the last beer from the esky, the final slice of ham. We had come far and – refreshed – we could carry on until the end of days. Or, more likely, until I needed a shower and craved a soft double bed again.

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Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography Walking

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.

Australia Driving Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography

Elements

The problem with travelling around the Pacific Northwest, at any time of year, is the range of gear you need to have on hand ‘just in case’. October especially is the most transformational of months, where one summer day can cling on with a happy warmth and calm, only to be usurped the following dawn by the approach of tempestuous rain fronts delivering the first mountain snows. Shorts and sunhats become wellies and waterproofs.

The joy of travelling around the Pacific Northwest, at any time of year, is the range of weather and landscapes you can enjoy. There appear a seemingly endless combination of elements to experience, even in a compacted space and time. There may be clear calm days on the placid sounds around the San Juan Islands, only a distant whale shattering the glassy surface of water. Further down the coast, chilling winds and squally storms may be thrashing at the sweeping Oregon beaches, delivering driftwood with the salty foam, and sandblasting stooped figures that mingle amongst the shores. Rainforests are shrouded in misty cloud, soaking up like a sponge the contents of the Pacific Ocean, while woodlands of toilet fresh pine offer up sunny glades of grazing deer and dappled riverbanks. Rising up, alpine lakes and meadows of flowers glow in the sun, shadowed by the sky-scraping volcanic peaks of the Cascades, whose heights can quickly draw clouds like a magnet and absorb massive dumps of snow. Beyond their reach, barren desert lands carved with rocky canyons and dusty plateaus stretch away into the east.

E_pumpkinIt was rain that was on the cards one early October morning in Sammamish, a pleasant surburban satellite town east of Seattle. Thoughts of Halloween were emerging, as pumpkins peppered manicured gardens and witches brooms disturbed the wholesome air. The previous day’s joyously warm sunshine was rapidly fading and indoor activity was sensible, hence I headed towards Paine Field, where some of man’s achievements can be marvelled at in the Boeing factory [1]. Here, colossal sheds and colossal gift shops house incredible components and machines and plastic cups with curly straws. Huge underground service channels burrow their way through the complex, sheltered from the fickle elements that are a part of life in Washington State.

A short plane ride or, in my case, a circuitous journey west of here lies the Olympic Peninsula. If Paine Field provides an impressive depiction of what can be done by humans, the Olympic Peninsula is a reminder that nature is equally as showy. At its southerly end, the state capital Olympia has that gracious, fading air of autumn. Grey clouds hover but rain abates; instead leaves fall from the sky like paper planes zigzagging silently on the breeze, congregating into quivering puddles of red, green and yellow. Trench coats and trilbies are not out of place around the parliament, a domed building so reminiscent of capitol hills across the land. Despite being the capital of Washington, it feels like a town on the fringes, out of the way and barely featuring on the national consciousness. An outpost from Seattle and a staging post for the wilderness to the north.

Daylight seems to have barely greeted us as it disappears in the evening, and a night stop close to Lake Quinault beckons. A composite of faded green shades cloaked in mist, raindrops rippling on the water, people and animals in temporary hibernation. A pleasant riverside motel appears somewhat more foreboding in this atmosphere, but it is a refuge in which to shelter under blankets and be thankful that you have a roof over your head and pizza around the corner. A roof that amplifies every raindrop that sweeps in throughout the night, thrown around by the wind and launched onto surfaces with incessant force.

The next day begins no better, as water continues to permeate deep dark spruce forests and transform walking tracks into haphazardly sculpted rivulets. The car now is the refuge, pushing through one final heavy squall on its way to the coast. Here, things are clearer, the wind whipping clouds at great speed away from the sun. But dampness remains the theme, mighty waves of the Pacific driving up the sand and coating endless piles of driftwood with a tidal surge. My feet, caught up between a rock and a hard place, are not escapable from the water at Second Beach, but the sun is now warming and consoling, and a change of shoes is but a short trek away. The end of the world feel at La Push is now contradicted by the bright and breezy elements around.

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Back inland, the light fades and mists once more mingle in between trees. The Hoh Rainforest is a rainforest by name and a rainy forest by nature. I did not see any Hohs. I would imagine it would feel unnatural here on a dry and sunny day. Sponges of moss stifle trees and grow bloated with water. Beards hang down from their branches, and the trees take on a life of their own, like some terrifying monster from a Scooby Doo cartoon [2]. The air has an edge of intimidation to it, a slight feeling that you are trespassing on a very ancient, primeval world. You should take a few photos and leave things be. Otherwise the trees may come and get you.

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Contrast elevates the small town of Port Angeles to a thriving metropolis. Traffic lights and a small city block, supermarkets and docks, a place to feel comfortable for the night. And awaken to a dry start where the sun rises from the east, illuminating Vancouver Island across the Strait. The rising sun does not take long to be swallowed up by a leaden sky, and rainbows form somewhere between the US and Canada, like some symbolic hand-holding hippy statement of peace and free trade. Mountains behind me reach into the clouds, their height cannot be fathomed as they vanish into the sky. But there is a road you can follow that will take you there to find out.

On days of dubious looking weather, Hurricane Ridge does not sound the most appealing place in the world by name alone. But rising from sea level to 5000 feet certainly offers an uplifting experience and one in which you finally come head to head with the elements that have been your friend and foe on the peninsula. Of course, the change in altitude also brings change in vegetation and landscape; mildly undulating pine valleys become steeper and barer, clinging to rocky cliff tops and giving way to alpine meadows. Just after 4000 feet, as life becomes sparser and bleaker, so too does the weather and it is not long, as you climb at a steady gradient, before the car roof kisses the bottom of cloud, and then disappears into it altogether. One less Toyota Prius on view to the world.

I imagine the views from here are tremendous, the ecosystem rare and unique and blessed, a pinnacle within a peninsula so raggedly variedly beautiful. But the elements have indeed been fickle and today, as days deepen into October, there is one final affront: snow. A whiteout of gentle proportions that is at least recompense for the murky vista. A scene from Christmas come two months early, dusted icing covering fir trees, icicles forming at their edges, the satisfying crunch of virgin snow underfoot.

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A visitor’s centre offers shelter from the cold and all the amusement that a 3D contour map and short video film can provide. Which is, for me, actually quite a lot of amusement. The map a chance to at least imagine what it might look like outside, and which peaks lie in which direction. The film a chance to see what it looks like outside, on a far superior summer’s day, where marmots prance amongst the flowers and lucky tourists come to admire the peaks in all directions. But today no magical transformation upon leaving the small cinema, a transformation that had happened a couple of weeks earlier in similar circumstances around Mount St Helens, when the landscape emerged out of the clouds as the curtains wound back to reveal a ravaged peak. Here still nothing.

It did not take long to descend to be in the clear again, but the very tops of mountains stubbornly refused to separate themselves from the layer of cloud. With typically grudging optimism I gave it one more shot, ascended again, and was amazed that things had improved. You could now see about 20 metres into the distance rather than 10. But this was an improvement, and a trend was setting in. Suddenly you could sense cloud formation and movement rather than a uniform whiteness. Elements were changing again. And while the vista did not exactly become cinematographic, gaps formed and meadows appeared, snow started to fade and drip from trees, peaks became visible through the windows of clarity. It was enough to send you off back to Seattle content, pleased that the elements had at least offered up some compromise.

Of course the next day was beautifully sunny again and, from downtown Seattle, across Puget Sound, the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula shone bright. This was not the first dalliance with mountain sightings that had come back to taunt me the next day: Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood and, now, Mount Olympus all giving up little in my presence but shining out from further afield. There was warmth back in the air and the need to discard of a sweater. The elements were once again dictating the terms in this corner of the world. Setting moods and scenes and sartorial choices. Making every hour of every day different. Shaping the variation, colouring the land, enriching the environment. And continuing to make packing a conundrum for those who have the good fortune to visit it.


[1] Where some of the first Dreamliners were coming towards the end of the production line. I had nothing to do with it.

Links

Olympic Peninsula Info: http://www.olympicpeninsula.org/

Olympic National Park: http://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm

Hoh Rainforest: http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/visiting-the-hoh.htm

Quiluete Nation La Push: http://www.quileutenation.org/

Hurricane Ridge webcam: http://www.nps.gov/olym/photosmultimedia/hurricane-ridge-webcam.htm

Specific Pacific Northwest Blogfest:

http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/specific-pacific-northwest-blogfest.html

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