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.

qldmay01

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.

qldmay10

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.

Australia Green Bogey Photography Uncategorized Walking

Waterfalls

It was always going to be hard for me to steer clear of a road named The Waterfall Way. Linking the tablelands of Australia’s New England to the mid north coast of New South Wales,the twist and turns down to the ocean are regularly punctuated with a chocolate box selection of falls. The stops from west to east are a story in climate and geography. Commencing in a parched landscape of wild gorges and dry bushland, thin strips of silver white water spill off cliff edges and into unseen creeks. High plateaus offer wild flowers and cool forests through which rivers gather speed and depth to forge their way down steps into deep gullies. Moisture picks up closer to the coast, where rainforests form to offer crystal cascades and lush fern pools, and the water speeds into the coastal plain before mellowing broadly to the sea.

With such excess there is a danger of waterfall fatigue: parking up, strolling to a lookout, taking a picture and hopping back in the car for a short journey to the next stop. In fact, the waterfalls continue north in pockets of rainforest tucked amongst ancient volcanic plateaus all the way up into Queensland. In the wonderful natural surroundings of Springbrook National Park it is as if there is one final grand culmination before water sweeps over the Great Dividing Range and into the horror of a Gold Coast horizon. Plunging pristine water toppling over the edge before being becalmed in a complex of gaudy cashed up retirement waterways.

Tucked away before the Gold Coast looms, in the quieter western side of the park, another waterfall tantalises the traveller who crosses the border by the back way. Nestled within a beautiful green valley is the once more imaginatively named Natural Arch, replete with shady pool and shimmering cascade plunging through a tunnel of rock. It’s midway round a processional loop walk through the rainforest, where sun rays filter hazily through the tree ferns and parrots chirp away in the canopy. On a humid summer morning, the cool shade of the forest and continuous thrash of crystal water is the perfect gin ‘n tonic.

—————————–

What is it about waterfalls that are of such appeal that we seek to recreate them in garden features the world over? On balance they are usually very pretty, from elegant slivers to bubbling tiers and tormented torrents of foaming fury. They are, as much as anything, a break from the ordinary…where a placid river or lake suddenly comes to an abrupt halt and decides to throw itself over a cliff. There is an unparalleled feeling of freshness and purity and, often, invigoration from getting close to gallons and gallons of tumbling water. It can make you feel alive. It can make you want to pee.

The power of waterfalls is compelling and is why they are often best viewed after rain, or sustained snowmelt. Yosemite in May is very different to Yosemite in October. Postcards of massive gushing falls in northern Australia can tell a lie for the trickle that often dwindles in the dry season. In the UK, the weather is usually more reliably conducive to year round falls, with new ones springing up across high streets during supposedly exceptional but all too regular winter storms.

W_wales2013 was one of the better British summers and I felt slightly aggrieved to catch only the tail end of it. Nonetheless it was a balmy 20 degrees or so when I found myself in South Wales towards the end of August, on a different kind of waterfall way. Situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park, this literal tour de force was completed on foot along the Four Waterfalls Walk. For pronunciation lovers out there I can make your day by telling you that this commenced near Ystradfellte and took in a wonderful meander to view (brace yourselves) Sgwd Clwn-gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clwn-gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr [1] and Sgwd yr Eira [2].

It sounds like a trite cliché (hey, who doesn’t love a trite cliché), but each fall (or, I assume, sgwd) had its own style and character. Each one builds to the next and the final stop on the itinerary offers the ultimate white water thrill for not especially adrenaline seeking junkies. For, at the curtain falls of Sgwd y Eira, it is quite possible to walk behind the voluminous mass of water plummeting down, and – for some – to take your dog reluctantly along for the ride too. Inevitably there is plenty of spray and you will get wet, but – well – you are in Wales and you will get wet in Wales sooner rather than later. Why not make it here and take the chance to really appreciate the forcefulness of nature. Why not take your ear drums to the brink, pleading for mercy from the explosive, monumental thrash of the gigalitres of water that descend before your eyes? Amazing.

—————————–

Like Wales, Oregon is pretty familiar with rain, confronted as it is with a moist pacific airstream and climatic battle between deserts and mountains. One early October day in Portland is restricted to bookstore meanderings and coffee shop escapes, ducking out between downpours to make it to the next warming hipster refuge. Traversing wet sidewalks through a tangle of black umbrellas and beige raincoats, the city seems enveloped in the cinematic monochrome of a film noir. There is oppressiveness to the rain, something which is accepted and wholeheartedly embraced by its citizens but causes frustration to time-limited visitors like me. There are only so many lattes to sup and bookshelves to roam.

The next day shows marginal improvement – overcast but dry – and seems as good as it will get for an escape into the wilds. Passing the quite possibly interesting town of Boring, there are no views of Mount Hood to be had, rising Fuji-like out of the farmland and forests of the horizon as depicted so tantalisingly in the Lonely Planet picture. Brief glimpses are snatched beside Mirror Lake, with little reflection other than that internalised in relation to being potential early morning bear fodder. Further sneak peeks appear in the rain shadow of the mountain to the east and, here, the sun returns for a while to transform the colours of the fading autumnal forests.

With Mount Hood now somewhere behind, the road ends at the huge barrier of the Columbia River, carving a broad swathe through the Cascade Mountains and splitting Oregon and Washington States. The river has created a mammoth gorge lined with cliffs north and south. And so, with a large river system, significant rainfall, and high cliffs, there is a certainty of a quite spectacular run of waterfalls.

This particular waterfall way is undoubtedly a more developed road than that back in New South Wales, as dual lane sweeping curves follow the river in what is a dream to drive. Of the frequent cascades, it is Multnomah Falls that offers the most iconic sight. For once it seems a human element, an unnatural structure, has enhanced a natural spectacle. Splitting the precipitous double-decker descents of white water is a pedestrian arch bridge, where humans can run from bears and so effectively offer a sense of scale and perspective. Indeed, even the bears would look small opposed to the streaks of water tumbling from somewhere unfathomably high up in the sky.

W_Columbia

—————————–

Finishing a convenient circumnavigation of the globe here I am now back in Canberra. There are few falls here, other than watery concrete features around the angular constructs of the parliamentary triangle. But in a couple of days I will be going up to Sydney and, with time on my hands, I will make it scenic, detouring to Fitzroy Falls in the Southern Highlands. An old reliable favourite, fed by a reservoir and plunging off sandstone into a gum tree valley. A lyrebird may well be imitating the sounds of crashing water and a strong minty eucalyptus scent will pervade the senses. Again, it will be splendid. Because waterfalls are always splendid. But for now, I must come to a halt and stop this gushing about gurgling water and thrashing torrents, soaked in a spray of swirling liquid currents and dramatic downpours. Because now I really, really need to pee.


[1] For anyone with a customised 2014 calendar Christmas present…this one is the front cover!

A to Z Activities Australia Driving Great Britain Photography Places USA & Canada Walking

Wales tales

Church Stretton. So says a sign on a railway platform midway between somewhere in the Midlands and somewhere in Wales. It has very little relevance to my whole trip apart from the fact that this railway line I have never before taken has stopped briefly in a town that looks so cosily cosseted in the Shropshire Hills that I want to remember it. And perhaps come back and stop and walk atop its hills and meander back through its vales to refresh with a pint of cider in a beer garden of an old stone pub with whitewashed walls and hanging baskets and the noise of contented sheep bleating nearby.

Cwmbran is the station sign at which I disembark, situated in the South Wales valleys and a landscape not without its own hilly charm and abundance of bleating sheep. It can also lay claim to having a supermarket on every roundabout, one of which – Morrisons – is swiftly visited for a few day’s provisions vital for picnic lunches and delicious home-cooked dinners. With me, Dad and Aunty Val, taxi driver and cook, pivotal cogs as ever in creating a fine few days.

Where there are valleys there are hills and it didn’t take long to get amongst them. A drive through a warren of lanes led Dad and I to a spot below a big hill with a Welsh name. This is where I refer to Dad’s Facebook pictures and check what on earth it was called. Twm Balwm, which means top of hill to catapult sheep at English. A short but steep walk confirmed its prominent position for attacking folk, with hazy views over the South Wales coastline, across the Bristol Channel to Somerset and Devon, and north and east back in the direction from which I had come.

Amongst this landscape much water runs and – in places – runs to dramatic effect. The next day, in a corner of the fabulous Brecon Beacons National Park, we followed the course of the Afon Mellte as it made its way from underground to plunge over several rock ledges, each as unpronounceable as the next. Anything billed as the Four Waterfalls Walk is bound to be of appeal, and the falls of (wait for it…) Sgwd Clun-gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr, and Sgwd yr Eira provided a showcase of white water spectacle.

wal02

wal01From our approach at Glyn Porth the cascades increased in drama, culminating in Sgwd yr Eira, a curtain of water that has carved an overhang through which walkers can walk behind water. Sure Jesus, it’s not quite walking on water but it’s the next best thing. The sound of roaring water over your head, spray peppering clothes and camera lenses, slightly dubious slippy-looking rocks, and small dogs reluctantly getting in the way all add that exciting touch of adventure. And hopefully this adrenaline can just about get you back up the hill for a tasty sandwich and the onward march back to the car.

Considerably less exciting is a stop in a fishing shop in Pontypridd, but it wasn’t too long and Dad got a few birthday goodies so all was still well with the world! Nearby though there was more drama of the Winterfell kind, courtesy of a couple of hours in Caerphilly and its castle. This had everything a good castle should with moats and ramparts and crenulations and spiral staircases up lofty towers and banquet halls and dungeons and catapults. Parts had been restored and renovated, others remained ramshackle, which meant you could really get a sense of what it was like back when Welsh people were catapulting sheep at the English and devious plots of intermarriage and murder were being concocted over a feast of wild boar and spicy cheese on toast.

wal03

No such scheming over dinner, though the roast pork was a welcome substitute for wild boar. Extra potatoes could be justified by the walking earlier in the day, but I think so much was eaten that another walk was to be encouraged the following day. Especially after a tasty slice of cake and a passable coffee in Abergavenny in the morning, prior to a different kind of sugar high.

wal04A walk up to the Sugar Loaf involved some notable uphill drags, cutting across unruly bracken and withering woods, and striking out for the top. Up here, the slight sunniness of the valley in which we started was no more, with a windy, cool bleakness emerging with every step. The clouds were scraping the tops of the Brecon Beacons to the north, and only occasional hollows of pasture glowed with the rays of the sun. But this is high summer, and several other people were still in shorts atop the loaf.

wal05

wal06Of course, the views were far-reaching and rewarding, but it was quite nice to have gravity on your side for a while as others battled up. Down steeply at first but then a gentle descent along a ridge and through an ancient wood, emerging out into some kind of civilisation with farmhouses and tractors and manure. Unfortunately on this circular walk the car was still a fair way around the corner and it suffered (as did we) from that final, unrelenting drag.

Still, it was something of an accomplishment with which to finish this short sojourn in South Wales. Well, not quite finish, for there was a rather large trifle to try and finish back at Aunty Val’s that evening. Already it seemed that much had been achieved off my bucket list – roast, trifle, upland walking, history, trips to Morrisons – in just a couple of days. Indeed, Wales offered a well concocted taste and teaser for the crème de la crème, the emergence into a blue sky Devon. I’m sure the main will be just as good as the starter.

Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking