Tokyo: Senses Working Overtime!

A week doing next to nothing in Fiji turned out to be the perfect preparation for what was to follow: ten days in Tokyo! The contrast could not have been any greater. On arriving at Narita Airport in Tokyo we braced ourselves for our first challenge, the Tokyo transit network.


However, with typical Japanese organisation and efficiency we followed the coloured line painted on the floor that took us from the Airport to the Rail Station and with a little help from a guard found the fastest route into the city without too much difficulty. On buying our tickets we had our first experience of Japanese rail precision. We asked when the next train to the city centre was due: “in four minutes from Platform 1…a two minute walk” came the reply indicating that if we walked with purpose and without deviation or hesitation we would arrive at the platform with two minutes to spare. As long-suffering users of what can loosely be called the British Rail system, we aren’t used to an unquestioned confidence in a train timetable let alone any expectation of trains either arriving on time, or even existing. No such worries in Japan. Over the course of our time in Tokyo (and beyond) not a single train, of the dozens we have taken, were a minute late departing or arriving. Apparently the arrival of a train more than a minute late is treated as a customer care disaster with profuse apologies issued, including a pre-printed note to hand to your employer explaining your late arrival for work.

One of the consequences of a superb (and extremely fast) rail service is that we were able to combine sight-seeing in this astonishing city, with day trips far out into the countryside. This ability to balance extreme urban with relaxing rural makes Tokyo one of the finest places we have visited on our travels.

This contrast was exemplified within the city on our first venture out when we mixed the urban jungle of Shibuya and Harajuku, with the quiet and reflective atmosphere of the Shinto shrine and gardens of Meiji Jingu.

Shibuya is famed for its neon and its diagonal crossroads over which thousands can walk when the pedestrian lights turn green. It’s a mix of Times Square and Oxford Circus – on steroids.

Shibuya Crossing

Having negotiated it safely and promising ourselves a night time return, we headed for Meiji Jingu which abruptly offers a sedate and green environment in stark contrast to its noisy neighbours.

Torii Gates

A long sweeping, gravelly avenue takes you through huge Torii Gates, past a colourful display of Sake barrels that are donated every year to enable Sake offerings to be made to the deities enshrined at Meiji Jingu.

Barrels of Fun

There are gardens galore where you can take diversions deeper into the park, sneaking further away from the crowds. We headed to the main shrine areas where we found people writing wishes on small pieces of wood and hanging them up in the hope that their wishes will be realised by the Shinto gods. It did cross our minds that we should lodge a request for the mighty Albion to stay in the Premier League next season, but decided this was neither appropriate or feasible, even for the great Shinto Gods unless one of them was prepared to sign on as a centre-forward.


The shrine itself is a really impressive concourse and building where we enjoyed the unexpected bonus of seeing a wedding procession move slowly past led by a priest wearing the most extraordinary clogs.


As if to emphasise the two sides of Japan – ancient and modern – we then made the very short trip across the railway line to Harajuku, the epicentre of Tokyo’s alternative fashion culture, and came across another remarkable statement in footwear..and indeed everything else wear.


Singing/wailing away happily she was the perfect welcome to the crazy area of Takeshita Street: you go for retail therapy….. and leave needing a lie down. However, you can get some pet therapy by popping into a Shiba petting store where you can stroke these gorgeous Japanese canine icons – so cute and dainty that you really want to smuggle one out in your shopping.


Trains, trains, trains

Our first day trip out of the city was into the countryside, temples and shrines of Nikko – a favourite jaunt into the mountains north of Tokyo, made so accessible by the Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) that whizz you to and from destinations in speed, style and comfort.


We aren’t train geeks by any stretch of the imagination, but we couldn’t help but get excited watching different Bullet Trains pull up at Ueno Station …they just look so good!




and even Hello Kitty trains!



Nikko hosts the Shinkyo Bridge which acts as a gateway to the parks and shrines. On its own it looks beautiful – but although you can walk over it, it doesn’t actually take you anywhere and it’s rather spoilt by the road and heavy traffic that runs alongside it. Getting a good shot of the bridge takes some rather careful photography and cropping!

Shinkyo Bridge

There are a series of lovely shrines at Nikko that include ornate carvings that leap out at you with their intricacy and colourful design, including three famous monkeys…


and dramatic dragons..


However, it may be that we’ve become slightly jaded and “templed-out” because the area we enjoyed most at Nikko was away from the temples up at Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Here a long line of Bhudda’s decorated with red hats and bibs line a relaxing walk along the gorge.


There is a tradition that you count the Bhudda’s on the way up and on the way back, and you will always be one out due to the so-called “ghost Bhudda”. We tried this – well, Sam did it as I get too easily distracted, and sure enough there was one more on the way back than out.


It’s a very restful walk, especially after Tokyo, and even the crowds at Nikko’s temples!

Gorge at Kanmangafuchi Abyss

On returning to the station we found another masterpiece of train design sitting on the platform. Unfortunately this wasn’t the train taking us home, but it was such a pleasure to look at…isn’t it wonderful to see high quality design and public transport combined.


Just behind the driver’s cabin is the plushest and most high class viewing lounge we’ve ever seen on a train, talk about luxury train travel…



Parkrun in Tokyo has been going for an even shorter time than our new running habit, so it felt extra special to find out where in Tokyo it takes place and work out how to get there. As it’s an 8.00 am start in Tokyo and we had a 30 minute train journey across the city it was quite an early start for us, but it was worth it not only to add Tokyo to our list of parkruns but the locals are incredibly fun and friendly, asking about our travels and what we thought of Japan.

Maybe the Two-Fingered Salute means something else in Tokyo!

Despite being tired, hot and sweaty we made a detour on the way home. I’m a big fan of the film The Third Man and had read that at one of the metro stations the famous film tune is played when trains leave the platform. Sure enough Ebisu Stations’ chosen music – known as Eki-melody – delivers, although it sounds as though its being played on a steel drum rather than a zither: sacrilege!


Senso-Ji and Asakusa

In theory Senso-Ji is a old and venerated shrine that attract tourists and worshippers alike to its site in the bustling neighbourhood of Asakusa. While all of that is true it does get slightly overwhelmed by the fantastically busy and colourful markets that surround it, making it another ideal spot to visit, people watch and immerse yourself in Tokyo lifestyle.

Senso-Ji Shrine in the distance

Many young women and men wear kimono’s in this neighbourhood, adding to the evocative atmosphere…although you won’t find authentic Geisha girls here.

Kimono Kool

…along with weird and wonderful food stalls that sold all sorts of treats that we weren’t tempted to try!

Fish on a Stick Stall

..but eventually hunger got the better of us and we did stop for lunch at a restaurant and enjoyed our first proper sushi since arriving. We plumped for some delicious raw mackerel and spent the next 30 minutes reacquainting ourselves with the art and etiquette of eating with chopsticks.

Holy Mackerel Batman!

To round off our visit to this wonderful neighbourhood a very polite demonstration wandered by that loudly announced the marchers love of dolphins and whales. There were no leaflets distributed or petitions to sign, so we couldn’t be sure if this was about conservation or admiration. Whichever, it was typically good natured, enthusiastic and honourable which seems to be a Japanese hallmark.

Love Protesters

Mount Fuji

Our second day trip out of the city is an absolute must: Mount Fuji. Once again the rail system delivered us to our destination with effortless efficiency. Given that we were officially in rainy season, and its great height, we had been warned that we might not see much of this Japanese icon. On arrival we feared that the brief glimpses we were getting of the peak, as dramatic as they were cloaked in cloud, might be as good as it got…


Remarkably, however, as the day drew on the cloud lifted and we made our way to Lake Kawaguchi where we were told there were the best views of Fuji. Sure enough we were able to marvel at this magnificent sight.

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

With the clouds rolling by, the mountain seemed to be constantly changing character and we even had the bonus of watching a water-skier flashing past on the water with the mountain as a backdrop – what an incomparable setting. There are a few things to do in the Five Lakes area including a pleasant cable car ride and a multitude of museums, but we found wandering around looking at Fuji from different angles couldn’t be beaten by any of the other attractions.

A Busted Flush and a Flustered Bush!

We really need to talk Japanese toilets. First they delight you – is there anything better than plonking yourself down on a heated loo seat? It’s a treat you can routinely look forward to in Japan. But just as you’ve got comfy your eyes stray to the toilet control panel and instructions….and the torment begins. Which button to press, and how to start and more importantly stop the damn thing.

Toilet instructions: this one was relatively straight forward!

During a thoroughly enjoyable guided electric bike ride through Tokyo we stopped for a quick comfort break. Sam suddenly shot out of the toilet looking decidedly “flushed” and very wet! Apparently she had started randomly jabbing at the buttons by the toilet which caused a geyser like jet of water to shoot up between her legs, soaking her clothes. Our honourable Japanese guide discreetly avoided asking why her t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms were now soaking wet and clinging to her.

A few other strange things happened on the bike ride. We came across a group of people dressed in Super Mario gear driving Go-Karts ON THE ROAD ….

The Ultimate Go-Kart Track!

…and at the beautiful gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace we witnessed an enraged security guard wielding a large stick and shouting angrily at a tourist (Chinese we believe) who had the temerity to step beyond the boundary line de-marked by his green and white bollards. It was rather scary and put a bit of a dampener on the picturesque setting.

Simultaneous Equation: Chinese Tourist x Small Angry Man x  Large Stick = Big Trouble

….and we were treated to a display by an origami grand master whose skills seemed to be fading: he was all fingers and thumbs (ho ho).


After hearing we were English, he made Sam an English rose with a few quick moves of his fingers and voila – a perfect rose.


The whiff of weirdness is another one of Tokyo’s attractions. We have to admit that the last thing we expected to find at the top of Tokyo’s very impressive Sky Tower was a Hello Kitty exhibition…


…but you can’t help but enjoy the moment and pose. For some reason Kitty looked extremely angry and sinister in this shot, which given her outfit seemed an odd pose to strike. Normality (that is a relative expression in Tokyo) was restored when Sam sat with the feline wonder…


Everywhere you turn in Tokyo seems to present you with another unexpected and amusing, larger than life sight that leaves you scratching your head and fumbling for your camera….

I Cant Explain #1

The 20k e-bike trip around the city, involved much cycling on the pavement – the norm here – which necessitated a lot of swerving around pedestrians, but it was great fun, especially having the boost an e-bike gives you.

Sam looking good….before the toilet incident

We were the only two on the guided tour, so had the benefit of a guide all to ourselves, taking us off the beaten track to Tokyo’s backstreets and lesser knows areas. It culminated in a great sushi lunch where our guide politely pointed out the correct etiquette of eating Japanese food. Yes, it is ok to slurp and burp your way through the menu!

Under the calm surface of the soup lurked all sorts of fish parts! Yum….

It turned out to be a far better way of seeing the city than by river. Sadly you don’t get to see very much of any interest pootling along the Sumida River – unlike in other major cities, it just doesn’t work in Tokyo. Indeed the most interesting sight is the boat itself which has been designed to look like a bullet train.

Bullet Boat

Neon Nights and Tokyo’s Dark Side

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without the sensory overload that Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara deliver in spades.

Shinjuku Street Shot

Akihabara was our least favourite as we aren’t computer game or comic geeks for whom this neighbourhood must be nirvana. However, the most disturbing aspect of Akihabara are the girls working on the street dressed in schoolgirl outfits ostensibly to entice you into restaurants and cafes for food, music and conversation. However, at best these “maid cafes” are the thin end of the wedge that will see many of these girls finding themselves working in the sex industry. There is an unhealthy interest in dating adolescent girls (known as JK girls) in Japan, and the bizarre infantilisation of young women in cartoon imagery and in reality. It’s all rather grotesque and strengthens the country’s reputation for misogyny. While in Tokyo a news feature reported Japan’s (male naturally) Labour Minister saying high heels for women at work were “necessary and appropriate”. What a shameful thing for anyone to say, let alone a Government Minister.

Shibuya and Shinjuku by night are extraordinary sights, with day-glo colours filling the night sky and your senses.


Our favourite find was Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku, a narrow alleyway flanked on both sides by tiny crowded bars and eateries, bursting with life and tourist camera flashes.

Shinjuku Alleyways

We managed to squeeze our way into one of the bars that had maximum seating for eight. Crammed in against a well-stocked bar (which was bigger than the seating area) we spent a very happy hour enjoying a beer and incredibly cosy atmosphere.

Possibly the world’s smallest bar!

Given the lack of space it was very difficult to find an angle to capture the bar properly in a photo, but here is another example of the intimacy of this fantastic little alley.

Tiny Eatery

We returned to Shibuya’s crazy intersection by night to find it even busier, with several hundred people launching themselves across the crossing at the same time. It’s not clear if people actually want to get somewhere when they cross or simply want to experience the sensation of being carried along by and towards a pedestrian swarm! At no point during these night time forays into the bustling hotspots, or indeed anywhere else in Tokyo, did we feel unsafe, intimidated or sense the need to be extra cautious. It feels like a very safe place to be a foreign tourist.

I Can’t Explain #2

Calmer Kamakura

Our final trip to the pretty town of Kamakura ended up being a bit of a wash out as for the first time on the trip we felt the brunt of rainy season. It wasn’t heavy, but instead misty rain that seems to get you wetter than a downpour and gets right into your bones. Armed with brollies we made our way around the cluster of shrines and temples coming across an archery centre by chance…

Kamakura Archer

…and a beautiful Japanese Garden beside a Bhuddist Temple..

Japanese Garden Tranquility

Delightful as the temple buildings are, it was one of the ceilings that really caught our eye with its striking design and colour.

Crazy Dragon Ceiling!

Intriguingly we came across a site that used to provide protection for women escaping abusive husbands at a time when divorce was not possible – a sort of ancient women’s refuge. These grounds were beautiful and it remains a venerated site, with Bhudda providing a serene presence among the flowers.

Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall


Tokyo is everything you hope it will be and so much more. A wonderful mix of old and new that can overwhelm at times but offer respite and reflection at others. We were fortunate to have such a relatively long stay, but felt we had only started to scratch the surface, and as with any great destination it more than satisfies your appetite for adventure and wonder, but leaves you wanting more. Perfect.

Top Travelling Tips

If you plan to spend time travelling in Japan, even if its just Tokyo and its surrounds, its well worth getting a Japan Rail Pass. These give you free travel on the JR network throughout the country, including the incredible Shinkasen (Bullet Train) service. We found them incredibly convenient and good value. They can be bough for one, two or three weeks – but must be purchased before you arrive. So it pays to plan ahead. The pass doesn’t cover all rail networks, of which there are dozens, by the JR network is very comprehensive and we only used other networks a handful of times.

The other must-do is downloading the Train App: Japan Travel by Navitime. An excellent App that helps you journey plan in real time with full confidence on the times quoted. It helped us plan trips in the cities and all over the country with no difficulties.


Next Up: It’s a Japanese Triple Header: Kyoto – Hiroshima – Osaka.


Bula Bula! Welcome to Fabulous Fiji

By our usually verbose standards this is going to be a relatively short blog. Our last few weeks in North Queensland were relatively hectic, so we’ve spent a week in Fiji doing very little beyond staring at beautiful beaches and sumptuous sunsets.

Sunset on Sonaisali Island

As we were drawing to the end of our Australia trip, and contemplating a return to England we both wanted to make sure our travels ended with a bit of a bang, not a whimper so Sam came up with the glorious cocktail of Fiji, Japan and Hong Kong!

We met a delightful Fijian, called Pranesh, on our flight to Nadi who told us that we would quickly get used to hearing “Bula” the Fijian greeting. Sure enough we heard “Bula Bula” constantly welcoming us over the next week. As we only had a week in Fiji we decided to stick to the main island, Viti Levu, otherwise we’d have spent all our time in transit trying to access some of the country’s 500+ islands.

We spent a couple of nights just down the road at Sonaisali Island which was a thin sandy peninsula accessible by a short five minute boat trip – that was as close as we got to Island hopping in Fiji!

Ferry across to Sonaisali Island

It was a chance for some downtime and sitting by the pool contemplating….well contemplating nothing at all really, just relaxing – which is the effect Fiji and it’s very laid back people have on you.

Quintessential Fiji photo

We did have a burst of activity, keeping our running going. Sam wisely opted for the air-conditioned gym and treadmill, while I pounded the grounds of the hotel sweating buckets in the humid heat. My red-faced beleaguered puffing plodding figure elicited smiles of pity and disbelief from the Fijians I passed and I’m pretty sure I heard some suppressed guffaws of laughter.

After a couple days “acclimatising” it was time to collect our car and hit the road (that turned out to be an apposite expression). Apparently a lot of tourists visiting for just a week arrive at Nadi and don’t go much further than the all-inclusive resorts on the west coast at Denarau Island, but our plan was to circle the Island making four stops in total.

We had mentioned this to Pranesh during our flight and he said that it would be a great way to see the island. I asked if a SatNav/GPS would be wise and he chuckled – there is only really one main road that goes around island – about 500km in total. In the south section it’s Queens Road and the north Kings Road – so we had no excuse if we got lost (which we did of course).

Our route: Nadi – Pacific Harbour – Suva – Volivoli – Nadi

We’ve hired a lot of cars on out trip and I always arrive at the desk braced for a hard sell of extras, especially exorbitantly priced excess policies (always buy your own beforehand – so much better value). However, in true Fijian fashion there was no pressure, just a helpful guy who sorted things out quickly and we were off on our way anti-clockwise from Nadi to Pacific Harbour.

To be honest, we were surprised that we didn’t get the excess policy treatment as although the roads in Fiji aren’t especially busy, the condition of them can at best be described as variable!

The immediate impression we got when leaving the airport was a return to our experiences of South-East Asia – a similar climate and a much poorer country than we had been used to in Australia. However, it doesn’t have the same vibe as S/E Asia. It doesn’t have the frenetic pace of places like Vietnam, it’s not in your face or high-tempo in any way, and crucially it looked very clean, especially on the beaches which are obviously key to the tourism economy.

Not long into our journey we were pulled over at a Police Check. A charming young officer asked for my licence and noted we were from England, with everything seemingly in order he smiled, handed back the licence and said “Blessed Day” while waving us off. As we’ve recently been binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale, his comment did remind us of the dystopian horrors of Gilead, which felt odd in the tropical surrounds!

As running tracks go, this was one of the best

Pacific Harbour is on the Coral Coast and is something of a magnet for divers and snorkelling. The scenery and beaches here are exactly what you imagine when you think of Fiji: quiet (remarkably quiet), picturesque and unspoilt.

We managed to drive past our hotel three times before spotting its very modest sign and soon found ourselves sat on our balcony admiring the adjacent river and marina area full of a mixture of luxury yachts and smaller boats that take you to dive spots. A number of these go to spots where Reef sharks can be found, which are said to be plentiful in these waters.

The view from our balcony

Unfortunately, snorkelling trips from the hotel weren’t running on the days we were there, however, on chatting to one of the hotel staff we discovered that you don’t need to travel far to find colourful sea-life.

We took a kayak across the river and walked a short distance along the beach to find the perfect snorkelling spot just yards from the shore.

Pacific Harbour Beaches

Here a mixture of brightly coloured fish could be found darting about and there was just about enough water (if I kept my tummy taut!) to float about without grounding on the rocks.

Snorkelling at Pacific Harbour

Pacific Harbour and the Coral Coast area on the south coast was one of the highlights of the week – more beautiful and accessible coastline than in Nadi (or to follow in Suva) and it would have been lovely to stay here for a bit longer.

Sam doing her Bond girl impersonation

However, after a couple of days it was time to move on to the capital Suva. As we drove along the Queens Road we enjoyed the views of the coastline that we were hugging, but you really have to keep your eyes on the road – not for other traffic, but the potholes. Things never got as bad as our Sumatra experience which was like driving on the surface of the moon. The problem here is that every now and then the road surface improved markedly and was smooth and untroubled lulling you into a false sense of security. I can’t recall how many times I said to Sam “I think the worst is over now” when out of the blue a crater would appear necessitating wild swerves and equally wild swearing. For the most part we successfully negotiated our way around the holes, however, there was one I didn’t see and the sound and feeling of the front wheel crashing into the pothole was horrendous and I was convinced the least we would have was a flat tyre, but it could be a lot worse. Happily robust German engineering prevailed and on inspecting the front of our VW there was no discernible damage. Panic over we gingerly made our way into Suva, although not before hearing a bizarre grating noise under the car that had me convinced that the exhaust had fallen off (it hadn’t). But just when you start panicking and feeling sorry for yourself there is always a sign to remind you of how relatively unimportant your worries are…


Now we have to be honest about Suva and say that it’s not the most beautiful place. Compared with other capitals of the world it probably fares quite well for looks, but compared to the other beachside paradises to be found on the island, let alone Fiji generally, then it’s a bit of an ugly duckling. Having said that it still provides a stunning sunset view…

The view west from Suva

We were booked into the Grand Pacific Hotel, a magnificent old colonial building that had hosted many a glamorous visitor such as Noel Coward back in the day, fell on hard times but has since been lovingly restored. In fact so much so that it recently hosted a visit from a pre-sprog Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

The Grand Pacific Hotel – it’s grand and it’s on the Pacific

It’s always nice to have the opportunity check out first hand where our taxation is being spent by the Royals and we can confirm that Harry and Megan would have been extremely comfortable.

A Pool with a View


Suva isn’t really a beachy place so we checked out the pretty local botanical gardens nearby and the remarkably small Fiji Museum. This had very little to recommend it until we came across a small area tucked away in the museum that had artefacts and stories about ancient Fiji beliefs, practices and witch doctors. Fascinating stuff to see and read about. Along came christianity and Islam to put paid to those old mystical ways, but not before a missionary or two met a grisly end.

The Clock Tower beside Fiji Museum

For all the grandeur of the hotel and the faded colonial charm of Suva we weren’t sad to leave it and head for our final stop at Volivoli, near Rakiraki (both so good they named them twice). As we journeyed to the north coast the scenery grew a bit more rugged….


Volivoli really is quite remote and after turning off the Kings Road, we made our way along a track dodging potholes, children and various livestock to find our resort. Having parked up and checked in we wandered down into the grounds and adjacent beach.


What we found were ridiculously stunning views of palm, sea, islands and crystal clear water which like Pacific Harbour acts as a base for local diving and snorkelling trips.

Mini-marina at Volivoli

It’s difficult to exaggerate how beautiful this stretch of Fiji is. Everywhere you turn makes you gape in wonder at how perfect and unspoilt the view is.

X marks the spot

We took the opportunity for another dip to snorkel, but as we walked down steps that take you into the sea we found lots of colourful fish swimming about the steps, so much so that we ended up spending more time looking at them sat on the steps than we did in the water.

Three steps to heaven

Our last few hours in Volivoli were spent of the hotel balcony drinking an ice cold local beer watching yet another stunning sunset over the Pacific.

Volivoli Sunset

It was the ideal way to sign off on this wonderful week in Fiji. Apart from our circumnavigation of the island and a bit of swimming and snorkelling we didn’t really do very much, but that’s exactly as it should be in Fiji. Put your feet up, enjoy the heartfelt hospitality, and drink in this superb tropical paradise.

Next Up: Turn It Up To 11: It’s Tokyo!!


Awesome Australia: Six Months Of Amazing Adventures

After six months in Australia we have left this incredible country for the tropical delights of Fiji, and it’s time to reflect on our experience. Rather than a rehash of our itinerary we thought we’d run through some of the things that delighted us, some which left us slightly bemused and others that are just plain interesting. They are in no particular order and we aren’t telling you which fall into those three categories.  However, we should say that the verdict on Oz is overwhelmingly positive. This is a truly great country that has so much to offer.

Superb Sydney

We’ve been salties on this trip, sticking to the coastline starting in Perth and wandering down to Margaret River and Albany in WA, before hopping across to Adelaide. From there we traversed the coastline east and north all the way up to Cape Tribulation with just a couple of gaps. We haven’t seen any of the interior, Northern Territories, Alice Springs or Uluru, all of which will have to remain on the “to do” list, and gives us a great excuse to return – which we definitely will.

Twelve Apostles


We’ve seen a lot of beaches in the past twelve months. Many of the places we visited in South East Asia are held up as “must-see” or bucket list destinations for any self-respecting traveller who loves the feel of sand between their toes. But let’s be absolutely clear about this – they don’t hold a candle to the beaches we have visited all over Australia.

Eagle Bay W.A

We aren’t talking the headline grabbers like Bondi, Manly, Glenelg or Noosa either. It’s the unheralded ones you discover that overwhelm you with their beauty: pristine water; next to no one on them; not a scrap of litter; and not a hotel or avenue of sun-beds and loungers in sight. Archetypical Aussie heaven.


House and Pet Sitting

We will never be able to thank our friends Deano and Leesa enough for putting us onto the idea of house and pet sitting our way around Australia. It completely changed our thinking on how to traverse the country and in doing so opened up a new way of travelling and experiencing Australia. Living like a local in a neighbourhood, saving oodles of money on accommodation and being able to self-cater, spending time with some absolutely gorgeous animals and meeting wonderful people whose homes and pets we had the pleasure to take care of.

Xena in Cairns

We ended up doing sits from Fremantle to Cairns, with Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane, and Maryborough in between.

Max at Freo

We started off with mad Max, the crazy and lovable nine month old Kelpie, and finished with Xena, a gentle giant Great Dane. But our favourite two were sheepdog Harley in Adelaide – our morning walks on the glorious Grange beach were the perfect way to start each day.

Harley on Grange Beach, Adelaide

…and Sprocket a weimerarner from Nudgee Beach, Brisbane. A swimming marvel who rang a bell with her nose when she wanted to go outside. She was our pacesetter as we ran around Boondall Wetlands and caught the running bug.

Sprocket on the Boondall Wetlands Walkway, Nudgee Beach, Brisbane

We only had one cat to look after – Leo in Maryborough, who was so easy to care for that we really felt we should be working harder.

Leo in Maryborough

There seems to be a very strong house / pet sit culture in Australia and with really slick, simple to use websites it took us just a week between registering our details and landing our first sit.

Sprocket – sunset at Cleveland Point

Wonderful Wildlife

It doesn’t matter how often you see a kangaroo, you never get bored of them. Even over five months into a trip we got excited spotting one lounging on a lawn on Daydream Island in the Whitsundays.

Margaret River Roo’s

Inevitably they are the poster boys/girls of the wildlife, with the Koala probably coming a close second. These gorgeous creatures are starting to become threatened and an Australia without Koala’s would be unthinkable. They were flourishing on Raymond Island though and we delighted in seeing so many of them amongst the Eucalyptus trees.

Raymond Island Koala

We saw few snakes and spiders – just enough to remind us that they are around, but not enough to have us nervously watching our every step. The two surprises for us were wombats – they are HUGE balls of furry gorgeousness….

Wombat at Mount Cradle

Less lovely, and something you certainly wouldn’t want to try cuddling, are cassowaries. But they are magnificent creatures, who along with the crocodiles of northern Queensland seem to maintain a modern-day link with a pre-historic past. Just don’t go too close to either of these!

Cassowary wandering into someone’s Mission Beach garden

Dolphins, devils, dingoes, wallabies, pademelons, penguins, pelicans, possums (heard, not seen), monitor lizards, wild pigs…the list of weird, wonderful Aussie critters goes on and on.

Pelican’s on The Coorong

We aren’t twitchers, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the colourful birdlife that routinely fly by – although there were a few times we could have strangled one or two with their early morning alarm calls.

Unidentified Bird on Hamilton Island

Gawd Bless You Ma’am!

For reasons we can’t understand the country still has the British Monarchy as Head of State and the Governor General. Guys/girls, when are you going to cut the apron-strings? You are a proud, fantastic, independent nation tens of thousands of miles from the UK,  you are even in a different hemisphere for God’s sake! And let’s be honest, we are a bit crap right now!

A Climate To Die For

It seems to be stating the bleeding obvious that the weather in Oz is wonderful, but it really is worth repeating. During the summer you can feel the warmth right through to your bones – as Poms there’s no better feeling than gently cooking on a day in mid-December. After S/E Asia it was a wonderful dry heat rather than oppressive humidity, although reaching Cairns quickly reminded us of what living in a tropical climate is like.

Magnificent Maggie Isle

And with a bit of careful planning as Autumn sets in in the south and temperatures start to dip towards a shocking 20 degrees… can start to head north to maintain that year round summer feel. Not that it was wall to wall sunshine. Melbourne gave us a bit of everything, Sydney got a bit soggy, and we saw snow in Tassie!


Well…. what can you expect from the nation that has given us Neighbours, Home and Away, and The Sullivans. The fare is pretty meagre and is very UK content focussed. You know things are dire when you are looking forward to watching an episode of “Call the Midwife”. ABC seemed to be the only channel offering any in depth current affairs / political analysis. Having said that when we got more into the sticks i.e. Queensland, there were some toe-curlingly hilarious adverts on local TV channels where the marketing budget must have stretched into literally tens of dollars. This is when the Netflix subscription really pays off.

The Outdoor Life

With the the climate comes a culture that is all about the outdoor life – especially the beach and the sea, and a lot of the Aussies we saw make the most of it.

Melbourne Kite-Surfing

It’s fantastic seeing so many people from the very young to the very old swimming, surfing, sailing, kayaking….giving off this great vibe of healthy physical activity.

Boating on Mandurah

One of the most charming examples of this was watching a large group of young school-children being taught to surf on the beach at Lorne – what a fabulous classroom! We  are so envious of weather that breeds such an active and fun-filled lifestyle, and we loved our time messing about on the water, a particular highlight was sailing a mini-catamaran on the Swan River in Perth.

Catamaran on the Swan

….and our paddle-boarding has come on leaps and bounds – entirely the wrong description for an activity that mostly involves standing still!

Up the creek with a paddle…and a dog

The novelty of being able to enjoy open-air cinemas is something we will never tire of or fail to appreciate. Watching great films curled up under the stars with a beer in hand remains a treasured memory.

Melbourne Rooftop Cinema

Pubs (not)

Aussie pubs, with a couple of honourable exceptions we experienced in Sydney, just aren’t proper pubs – not in the way we know and love them in the UK. More often than not they are part bookies, part hotel, with too many screens showing too many Aussie Rules Football games. Odd.

Terrific Tasmania

Although we said we wouldn’t list the places we went, an honourable mention must go to this wonderful diverse island. From the moment we drove out of the airport at Lonnie we felt a different atmosphere. Tassie has it all, scenery, wildlife, history, and culture including one of the very best art galleries in the world.

A MOMA Moment

Understandably many travellers with limited time head to Melbourne, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef, so Tassie remains a bit off the beaten track. But during our visit we sensed that real efforts are being made to draw more visitors to this corner of Australia and it really is worth the effort of spending at least a week, but preferably longer here.

Cuddle at Cradle

Anger is an Energy 

It’s fascinating to see the struggle the country is having on the future of coal mining. An industry that flies in the face of a climate change movement that is getting louder and more youthful; but employs so many people, particularly in rural areas where there appears to be no Plan B for communities that would probably die without it. Ask any two Aussies about their views on the proposed Adani mining project and you would probably get four opinions. It feels as though the time has come to make a real leap to sustainable and clean energy,  but at the moment that step seems to risk political suicide. Our abiding memory on climate change was experiencing 48 degrees in Adelaide: interesting for about five seconds, after that it was not fun.

We noticed a strong awareness and celebration of the history and legacy of indigenous people, especially on the east coast. More controversially the growing number of people protesting Australia Day which they rename Invasion Day was interesting to witness on 26th January. With the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival due to be marked in 2020 expect to see more acrimonious demonstrations and divisions on this increasingly contentious view of history.

Town Planning / Architecture

A strange mix. Sadly a lot of the smaller towns and main streets comprise of low rise, unimpressive, bland development with no character. Big, garish signage dominate the streets with no thought to appearance or aesthetic appeal. One characterless settlement just merged into the next. The big cities – especially Adelaide – did offer some lovely respite from the uniformity, with its impressive Victorian city centre.


Melbourne also has a wonderfully atmospheric centre and grid system, that is really attractive with stylish arcades and impressive buildings.

Flinders St Station

On a smaller scale Fremantle is full of historic buildings that have been conserved and act as a lovely contrast to the modernity of Perth.

Freo CBD – gorgeous buildings and buzzing

Maryborough was also exceptional but unlike bustling Freo suffers from too many vacant retail units in its CBD.

Maryborough CBD – gorgeous buildings but on life support

Of course there are architectural gems that stand out, with Sydney’s combination of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Harbour and Botanical Gardens combining to create one of the iconic urban settings of the country, and indeed the world.

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Stunning Scenery

Brutal rugged landscapes, windswept isolated coastline, towering volcanic mountains, sumptuous valleys, gushing rivers and waterfalls, dense pre-historic forests, vibrant coral-reefs, mysterious mangroves, inexplicable sand islands, incredible lakes,….do you get the picture?

Dunalley Beach, Tassie

Yes, it is an enormous country so you would expect a fair share of wonder, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. The variety is astonishing…and we didn’t even get to the interior!

The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains

We don’t have the vocabulary to do the scenery anything like the justice it deserves and we hope the pictures we have posted in our blogs go some way to communicating the awe we regularly experienced as we traversed the country.

Blue Lake, Mount Gambier


We had the bad / good fortune to watch the 2019 Australian Election campaign unfold. As Brits we accept the we are currently sitting in the most fragile and brittle of glasshouses and throwing stones at politics elsewhere is really inappropriate. However, the Aussie Election campaign was shocking for its negative campaigning, especially by the Coalition who only seemed to have one policy – tax cuts benefitting the wealthy. Other than that it was full on negativity about the opposition expansive (probably too expansive) policy agenda. All of which was enthusiastically regurgitated and exaggerated by the Murdoch dominated media.  Worse still are the emerging right wing populists who seem to find succour in Queensland. Katter, Hanson and Palmer all represent the horrible face of politics in Australia. You have to pity the Australian public who have to put up with compulsory voting every three years: a shockingly short Parliamentary term. How does anything get done…..yes, I think we all know the answer to that question.

Where did you get that hat, where did you get that hat?!

Bob is big on immigration. He represents the Kennedy constituency in Queensland which is slightly bigger in area than Spain (!) and has a registered electorate of 107,000 people (that isn’t a mis-print – yes 107k). It really sounds overrun to us Bob – can’t swing a cat without hitting an immigrant. Our experience of Kennedy was that there are more banana trees and sugar canes than people. Pauline meanwhile runs with the deeply profound strap line “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking“.  I think that probably tells you all you need to know about the modestly named Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

The People

As a huge cricket fan I have had quite a fixed view about Australians…which are not entirely complementary. I have to confess to experiencing unreserved schadenfreude during the ball tampering scandal and the sight of Steve Smith blubbing on TV. Despite these deep rooted prejudices shaped by the likes of Waugh, Warne and Warner, we have to admit the Australians are an incredibly warm and sociable bunch. Friendly welcomes were received wherever we went. Genuine sympathy was offered when the subject of Brexit came up, with Aussies sharing our bewilderment at the self-mutilation of our homeland. We suspect there was some element of relief as well, with the UK drawing unwanted limelight away from the political fratricide soap opera in Canberra. The parkrunning people of Maryborough should get a special mention for their enthusiasm and general loveliness – great ambassadors for their wonderful city.

Maryborough Park Runners!

Fantastic service is the norm and we were especially blessed by the people we met at the AirBnB’s we stayed at and the house sits. Nothing was too much trouble, folks were always keen to share ideas on where to go, what to see and genuinely wanted us to see their country in the best possible light. It was all rather heartwarming. Of course all of the above will become a distant memory the moment the first ball in The Ashes is bowled this summer and I start foaming at the mouth at the sight of Smith and Warner.

Optus Stadium, Perth


Thankfully we jettisoned our original plan to see the country from a van. Discovering house-sitting quickly put paid to that idea. When not sitting we AirBnB’d our way around Australia. With only two exceptions the quality and vfm was outstanding.

Our AirBnB View – Mallacoota

We met friendly hosts who went above and beyond in making our stays comfortable. Generally we stay in self-contained AirBnB’s, but where we stayed in the same home as hosts we found that many had such large places that we were as good as in our own place with en-suite facilities. A special mention must go to Lorna in Robe….a perfect AirBnB host and home. Being treated to wine and chocolates on arrival was rather special.

AirBnB Cabin on Raymond Island

Thank you Australia, you have been one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

Next Up: Tropical Paradise in Fiji

Into The Wilds: Far North Queensland

Danger: FNQ!

When it comes to warnings about the risks of nature, Queensland certainly pulls out the stops! In our previous blog on Maryborough, on the States’ Central Coast, we mentioned the threat of wild dingoes and err…killer cones on Fraser Island.

Of course there are dangers throughout the country with snakes, spiders, sharks and riptides to name but a few. However, Far North Queensland takes danger to another level. In addition to all of the above you have the proliferation of crocodiles for which FNQ is famous; a multitude of unpleasant Marine Stingers; sea-snakes; toe nipping mud-crabs; the astonishing and terrifying Cassowary; wayward Coconuts of ill intent; the venemous Gympie-Gympie Stinging Tree (we aren’t making this up!); and Bob Katter, an equally poisonous populist politician whose views and values have been carbon-dated back to medieval times. These were the ones we came across, and we imagine there are many, many more we remain happily oblivious to.

Palm Cove Beach: A typical local warning sign

Port Douglas and the Daintree Forest

After flying up the coast from Brisbane to Cairns we picked up our umpteenth hire car and drove north towards Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a lovely spot and is very popular with tourists on account of Four Mile Beach, which became our latest running track….

Run Sam Run!

….and a busy town that had a real buzz about it and possibly the most picturesque Chapel in Australia.

St Mary’s Chapel, Port Douglas

More importantly though, Port Douglas is the ideal jumping off point for a trip up into the stunning Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, up in the north easterly corner of the country. The trip to the Daintree Rainforest feels like journeying back to Jurassic Park.

Daintree Rain Forest Canopy

A wonderful set of walkways and a tower take you through a verdant jungle full of palms and ferns. The view over the forest reveals a sea of shades of green

On the floor of the forest

Thanks to my brother Dirk we had become aware of the remarkable but illusive Cassowary, a prehistoric looking bird with striking features but with a fearsome reputation as one of the most dangerous birds in the world. One recently killed a man in Florida slicing through arteries with its fearsome claws. Full size males can stand 2 metres tall and there are warnings about what to do if you meet one and it becomes aggressive – back away slowly and calmly. Unless mating or chick rearing they are solitary creatures searching the jungle floor for fruit.

Be Cassowary!

As a result it was a real mixture of excitement and fear when we saw one appear close by on one of the forest boardwalks. They are bizarre and look as though they’ve been put together with a random set of left over parts from other animals. Although similar to emus and ostriches they are quite unique and despite the striking plumage your eyes are drawn to those huge dagger like claws. Over the next hour we enjoyed a few sightings and fearless Sam showed remarkable calm to record the cassowaries wandering by. They are likely to be more aggressive if they are male and with chicks. Fortunately we seemed to have a close encounter with a smaller female. A meeting with an intimidating full size male was to follow later in our travels.

The Daintree Rainforest spills down onto the coastline and the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, with more beautiful stretches of sand and mysterious mangroves at Cape Tribulation. With the heat, humidity and lush jungle landscape it really did feel as though we were back in South East Asia.

Beach at Cape Tribulation

Of course no trip to FNQ would be complete without seeing crocodiles. There are croc warning signs galore by beaches and rivers but spotting one randomly is quite rare…unless you’ve done something very silly and they’ve spotted you first! For some reason German’s have been fatally disposed to not heeding warnings and all the  signs now include an “Achtung!”

Croc on the banks of the Daintree

Having ridden our luck with the Cassowaries we decided the best way to see crocs wasn’t to goose step into the sea while singing “Deutschland Uber Alles” but jump on a boat tour on the Daintree River where a trusty and experienced guide would hopefully spot a few for us. Sure enough we soon found a few lazing on the river bank.


They are terrifying. Our guide ran through their extraordinary senses when monitoring prey, the speed they accelerate when attacking (35kmph), and of course the bone-crushing pressure they apply with those astonishing jaws and teeth. It’s little wonder they are top of the food chain.

Another excellent local diversion is Mossman Gorge, with more boardwalks, bridges and jungle walks that take you past the fast flowing river and craggy gorge….

Mossman Gorge in full flow

…into the jungle where we stumbled upon another unexpected wildlife sighting: a wild pig snuffling away in the ground.

Wild Pig!

Apparently there are lots of these pigs in the jungle and some make the treacherous swim across the Daintree River to “Pig Island” but many don’t make the short crossing instead providing the crocs with a rather tasty bacon snack.


Cairns saw our seventh and final house / pet sit of our Australian travels, and we went out with a bang looking after a Great Dane called Xena and Rio, a temperamental parrot!

The Great Great Dane Xena

Xena is a gorgeous gentle giant who loved her cuddles and just wanted to laze around in our company. She did enjoy playing in the garden and with a dog that size you need to be quite careful to avoid her flattening you – she isn’t the most graceful dog in the world as this slow-mo of her trying to catch a ball shows

Despite the enormous difference in size, it was Rio who was the most bossy of the two by far. While docile Xena happily dozed away, Rio would squawk loudly demanding  food and attention. Much to Sam’s horror I developed quite a rapport with Rio by having extended conversations with my new feathered friend which mostly involved my blasting out a series of high-pitched whistles. Rio seemed to appreciate my efforts.

The main tourist attraction in Cairns is the Skyway, a series of cable car journeys that take you high into the mountains that tower over Cairns to the village of Karunda.

Going Up!

Here there is a strange mix of authentic aboriginal stores and goods, along with a surprising number of Chinese retailers! From Karunda you can either take the cable car back down or jump on an old vintage railway rattler that takes an hour and a half to trundle down the mountain – obviously we went for this option.


It’s quite an amazing feat of engineering, with the track wending its way down the mountain through countless tunnels that were excavated with the help of a lot of explosives, several bridges, and turns so tight that you could see most of the train up ahead.

Around the Bend

Wongaling Beach

Okay, try saying Wongaling without bursting into The Wombles song – no, we couldn’t either…for three days we intermittently sang the theme tune to a kids programme as we made this our base in the Mission Beach area – a very easy going backpacker kind of place that enjoys a vast stretch of sand, but it’s only the small netted off area you can safely swim in the sea – a real frustration when you see these super beaches.

Swimming Net at Mission Beach – low tide

Inland from Mission Beach is the small town of Tully in which you can find an enormous gum boot – this is rural FNQ after all – and if you feel so inclined (we didn’t) you can go inside it and climb to the top to view the uninspiring town centre. However, we are doing Tully something of a dis-service. Tully sits under what we in the UK would definitely consider mountains, and seeing tidy residential streets with the mountains for a backdrop looked slightly surreal.

Not a bad view out of your window

Better still a short drive from town is Alligator’s Nest a freshwater lake with no nasties to contend with and gorgeous clear water that you could drink without getting any salty aftertaste. Unlike the sea however it had a really cool edge to it, the waters having come down from a high altitude. Despite appearing calm, a strong undercurrent soon took you downstream quickly if you didn’t swim against it.

Tully does have a major claim to fame….and it’s not the giant Gum Boot. A week after our visit it was hosting the White Water Rafting World Championships upstream at Tully Gorge.

Upstream River Tully

We drove higher and higher into the gorge stopping regularly to scramble down the riverside to see the roaring River Tully. We doff our caps to the crazy folks who launch themselves downstream carried along by the swirling torrents through the jagged rocks and boulders.

River Tully Rapids

It took about an hour to get to the Gorge and it was interesting to drive through acre upon acre of agricultural land that comprised of huge fields of either sugar cane or banana plants. You cannot overstate how important the agricultural crops are here and how few people there are.

The Banana Bunch

Mission Beach turned out to be Cassowary central with signs everywhere warning of them in the vicinity. We saw a pair at South Mission beside the road. Having got quite close to them up in Daintree we pulled up, got out of the car and took a good look at them.

You looking at me…?

Unfortunately it was at this point that they also took a good look at us and we saw just how big a male Cassowary is – close to 6ft – muscular and intimidating. We quickly abandoned the “stay calm and back away slowly” advice, instead we both screamed turned on our heels and legged it back to the car locking ourselves in from these angry birds!

Look at the expression on that face!

Magnetic Island
So what is it that attracted us to this beautiful small island? Well it’s a great alternative to Townsville which you leave to get to “Maggie Island”. Small enough to drive around in less than an hour it has great beaches and a series of snorkelling spots.

Everything you need to know about Magnetic Island in one photo…..

We found Horseshoe Bay and spent a couple of idyllic days on the beach carefully positioning ourselves in the shade of palm trees but not directly beneath the flight path of Coconuts that sway high above unsuspecting sunbathers waiting to commit grievous bodily harm, or worse.


We didn’t brave swimming outside of the beach nets despite assurances that the Stinger season was over, and when I went out to sea on a Paddle Board I have to confess that even the remotest chance of jelly fish saw me “engage my core” and maintain perfect balance for an hour’s paddle around the bay – funny what you can achieve with the right motivation!

An upright kinda fellow…

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays
The longest stay on this drive was at Airlie Beach which we would use as a base for our travels into the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef. After two sun-filled days on Maggie, we hit really poor weather. On our first day at Airlie it rained so much and constantly that it became an “admin day” – a very necessary evil when travelling long term. Emails were dealt with, future accommodation researched and booked, blogs written and published. I even sorted out my consultancy accounts and tax – that’s how much it rained! These are the unglamorous but wholly necessary days that travellers rarely mention but are incredibly important to a successful trip.

With a slight improvement in the weather the next day we explored the coastline at Hydeaway Bay and Dingo Beach, both quiet and picturesque spots where we had next to no one for company.

Wild Hydeaway Bay

On our last trip to Oz, a few years ago, during the horrible return crossing from Rottnest Island to Freo, my nephew John recommended ginger for sea-sickness. We have religiously followed this advice ever since and it’s worked (thanks JC!). So with tummies full of ginger bear sweets we coped admirably with the choppy journey to Whitehaven in the Whitsundays. The crossing was quite rough in parts which saw waves crashing overboard and soaking us.

We can “insta” with the best of  them!

Here you find the archetypal white sands and turquoise sea of the reef. It looks too good to be true, and despite the tourist Insta-frenzy there is more than enough space to explore and escape the posing hordes.

A view from the lookout on Whitehaven

We combined this trip with beach time and snorkelling where we got to see the coral of the Great Barrier Reef for the first time. Normally we get really excited by the incredibly colourful fish when we snorkel, but here it was the coral itself that was mesmerising, looking like it was breathing as it moved in the sea currents. Sadly no pic of this as the Go-Pro was lost several weeks ago (see Adelaide blog for that disaster!). So here is another of Whitehaven Beaches.

Whitehaven Beaches

The next day we boarded the ferry to Hamilton Island, another small isle that acts as a hub for trips to the outer areas of the Reef. Here transport is by golf buggy only and we spent the day traversing the island admiring its wonderful views..

High on Hamilton, looking out to sea

..glorious bird life…


…and finding more reasons not to go into the water:


Airlie Beach Park Run

Our running continues apace… a very pedestrian pace but I’ve taken the bold step of joining a Running Club… I say “Running Club” it’s more of a non-running club: The Derek Zoolander Centre For Kids Who Can’t Run Good. With no restrictions on entry other than a love for all things Zoolander and a complete inability to run, this is the Club for me. Club tradition has it that on seeing a photographer at a parkrun event members should try to “pop a z” at the camera, creating a Z with your hands in homage to our idol. Sounds easy? When you don’t run good having the wherewithal to create alphabet hands shapes is really quite difficult as evidenced by my shocking effort below.


This wasn’t the only mishap of our run as Sam managed to get lost, run up a hill totally unnecessarily and wasted even more energy abusing a parkrun volunteer for not guiding her in the right direction. I regret to say there is no photographic evidence of this incident. It was, however, a lovely setting for a run adjacent to one of the local marina’s.

Abel Point Marina

Our last few days in Australia saw us travelling back up the coast to Cairns, but we did manage a stopover at Alva Beach, a very far flung spot with a huge wind blown sandy bay and spit that had a wild, untamed feel to it. It was such an unexpected find and end to our FNQ road trip, another example of the seemingly endless wonders this country has tucked away if you are lucky enough to stumble on them.

Moonrise during Sunset on Alva Beach

We loved our time in FNQ – it has so much to offer beyond the obvious attraction of the Great Barrier Reef. We plan to return as we want to see more of the Reef. It’s not a place we could live though. To have those gorgeous beaches teasing you, calling you to come in and try the water when you know you can’t – it’s impossible. Just take a look at this sign on the dangers of Marine Stingers: “victim may stop breathing and rapidly lose consciousness” …..”a dreadful feeling of anxiety and ill health”. Thanks, but no thanks!

Fearsome Stingers


Next Up: Our Australia Round Up



Maryborough: Queensland’s Heritage Gem

Maryborough represented a bit of change of pace for us on our tour of the east coast of Australia. This would be our longest house/pet sit in a city slightly inland, rather than the beach locations we’ve been used to. However, a bit of relaxing downtime was called for after our action-packed tour of Tasmania.

It’s a three hour drive north from Brisbane and on arriving at Maryborough on Saturday lunchtime we were immediately struck by two things: how pretty and interesting the city centre architecture of Maryborough is; and that there appeared to be no one there, with no shops open….rather like a zombie apocalypse film set, minus the zombies. We found the local tourist information centre and to our relief they explained that everything closes at lunchtime on a Saturday. As they politely guided us out of their Centre in the magnificent City Hall (they were also closing) we were directed to one of the cafes that remained open for a delicious lunch.

Maryborough’s grand City Hall

One of the many quaint things that immediately strikes you about Maryborough is its pedestrian crossing lights….

Mary Says Stop…

…that pay homage to the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers whose home town this was…

Mary Says Go!

They are one of many delightful Poppins themed features that crop up all over the city centre, including an excellent life size statue of the legendary nanny…


Our housesit was in an absolutely gorgeous traditional Queenslander house (timber construction, raised on wooden stilts, and huge verandah) where we met Jane, whose home and cat (Leo) we would be looking after for four weeks. Jane was a lovely host who treated us to dinner on the night we arrived, and gave us loads of tips and recommendations on what to do in Maryborough and beyond. Suitably enthused, we launched ourselves into Maryborough life, going to its excellent Brolga Theatre to see two National Theatre recordings from London: Alan Bennett’s ‘Allelujah” and Shakespeare’s Richard II; an evening soiree at the art gallery; attending the local cinema club; Park Running; and regularly checking out the Thursday morning market where we discovered the sticky delights of Custard Apples – yes “apples” that taste of custard! As for Leo, having looked after several dogs, chucks and rabbits on previous sits, he was the easiest and least demanding of the lot. Spending the day doing his own thing and curling up at the end of our bed at night purring away happily. He does have a very disarming stare though…..especially when he greeted us at 5.30 am with this look!!

Look into my eyes….

Maryborough has a rich history and at one point was vying with Brisbane as the capital of Queensland. Its growth from 1847 onwards was based on its port on the Mary River (the only river in Australia that flows north into the sea), and the influx of colonial immigrants in part attracted by the gold rush taking place to the south in what became the city of Gympie, and mining to the north. Timber and sugar industry developed, however in time it became a centre of manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding and train engineering.

Mary River from Queens Park

During the high point of these labour intensive industries Maryborough thrived and the City features images of the “5 o’clock whistle” when the working day ended and the streets were engulfed by workers riding home on their bikes or to one of the many hotels for refreshment. It must have been quite a sight.

A Typical Scene From Maryborough’s CBD Streetscape: lovely building but no people

With this interesting history, the centre of Maryborough is a goldmine of fascinating architecture that sits beside thoughtful and whimsical street art and sculptures, an entertaining eccentric mural trail and other relics from the past, alongside a beautiful park and the river.

Environmental Health never really changes

The great shame of it is that there are so few people around to appreciate the city centre, and worse still, a large number of the shops are empty. Maryborough is a city centre crying out for investment and a regeneration plan that makes the most of its remarkable assets.

Maryborough’s Post Office

City centre retail revival has faced three fearsome foes, two if which are all too familiar: the inevitable growth in online shopping, and the development of out of town shopping centres. The latter is an own goal and is particularly galling as when you visit the local one a majority of the outlets would comfortable fit in the empty units in the city centre. There is another major threat painfully familiar to Queenslanders: flood. There is plenty of history to show the extraordinary flood levels the City and its centre has suffered in the near and distant past.


There are several tours of the city available delivered by incredibly knowledgable guides who clearly have a passion for Maryborough that they want to share. The guide is dressed as Mary Poppins – naturally! In addition there are self guided tours that take you to dozens of sites, and another that guides you to all of the murals.

One of Maryborough’s Wonderful Murals

It’s hard to imagine many other cities of the modest size of Maryborough taking so much trouble to celebrate and show off its past. Turn another corner and something else pops up to intrigue and delight you such as a display of retail advertising lovingly collated from Maryborough’s heyday.

Advertising of Yesteryear

Anzac Memorial.

Our stay in Maryborough coincided with Anzac Day on the 25th April. There is an excellent Anzac Memorial in the city commemorating the forces, with detailed displays on the Gallipoli and WWI campaigns.

Part of the Anzac Memorial Walk

An excellent walk with panels and commentary, is complemented with superb sculptures that make the display both informative and a moving tribute.

Anzac Memorial

It’s also the site of the cenotaph and on learning that there would be a Dawn Service we woke up early to attend the first of days three services, starting at 5.30 am. We were amazed at the turnout, with hundreds of people attending what was a moving service as the sun rose.


It’s not possible to overstate the importance of this day in the Australian psyche, especially in a city like Maryborough that is so connected to the past and the members of the community who have served the Forces, including the first man on the beach at Gallipoli, Major Duncan Campbell, immortalised by a statue at the memorial.


Fraser Island 

One of the “must-do’s” in this part of Queensland is a visit to Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island and a World Heritage site. It’s a fabulous mix of sand dunes and rain forest all of which can only be traversed by four-wheel drive. After bumping along the track from the ferry onto the island we made our way along a short stretch of sealed road until our driver gleefully announced that that was the end of the comfort and we suddenly found ourselves bouncing up and down sandy tracks, on our way to out first stop for the day: Lake McKenzie

Lake McKenzie

This must be the strangest and most beautiful lake we’ve swam in. It’s a freshwater lake that sits on a sandy bed, high up on Fraser Island. The water is pure rainwater and it’s prevented from draining away by organic matter that has created a seal. The sand is pure silica and produces astonishing colours as well as a very soft feel on the foot.

Despite the unquestionable beauty of this lake it is quite intimidating. After wading into its shallows you can see a steep shelf where the water drops away dramatically into dark depths. This creates the different stripes and shades of blue you can see in the picture above and below.

Lake McKenzie

Very sadly, just two weeks before our trip to Fraser, two Japanese students went missing at the Lake. Initially it was thought they were lost in the Bush that surrounds it. With light fading the search was resumed the following day when they were both found drowned in the Lake. Quite how this happened – especially given the apparently tranquil setting with no tide or rips to worry about – remains a mystery. It certainly makes you think twice about respecting the water regardless of how gorgeous it looks.

Fraser offers great contrasts and from the Lake, after more kangarooing along sand routes, we went along a rainforest boardwalk where we were presented with another natural risk…falling Kauri cones!

Achtung – Killer Cones!!

Here the forest felt distinctly ancient with species of palms and ferns dating back 300 million years. To add to the prehistoric atmosphere, a large monitor lizard duly scuttled into view…

Posing for the camera – a Monitor Lizard

From this vibrant and lush setting we made our way to the Fraser Island Highway….or as its otherwise known 75 Mile Beach as we careered along the sand yards from the ocean. This was wonderful and like so much of Fraser Island, a unique experience.

75 Mile Beach is official highway where the rules of the “road” apply, albeit with some flexibility to take account of the prevailing tide, and its nothing if not versatile doubling up as the runway for the local light aircraft….

Fraser Island Airport Arrivals & Departures Lounge

Remarkably the drive on the beach and the aircraft aren’t the main attraction here. Instead the impressive remains of the Maheno Shipwreck take that honour. The Maheno has a special place in Australian history having been involved in the Gallipoli campaign and subsequently used for target practice by the airforce in preparations for WWII. Given all the natural beauty of the Island its odd that this large rusting relic is such a major attraction, but in a way it’s the contrast of its decrepit state against the gorgeous sand and lapping waves that make it quite mesmerising.

Maheno Shipwreck

Having said that, when you turn away from the Maheno and look along the beach you just have to stop and stare at the jaw-dropping magnificence of this coastline. It really is quite overwhelming.

75 Mile Beach

One of the Island’s most famous and notorious inhabitants had been conspicuous by its absence during our trip – the Dingo. We’d just about given up hope of spotting one as we made our way back along the sand when one suddenly slipped into view stalking an unsuspecting sunbather.

Achtung – Dingo!

They certainly have a sense of menace about them and once the sunbather spotted it, she joined a nearby family for safety in numbers, and the dingo moved on. With no dogs on Fraser Island the local dingoes are the only pure-breed ones in Australia and they remain a source of controversy. A week after our visit a 14 month old toddler suffered a fractured skull when two dingoes grabbed and dragged him away from his family into the bush before he was saved by his father who heard his screams. On the local media there followed discussions of culls and the importance of campers staying in safe areas the dingoes can’t access. The incident was another reminder that so often in Australia you are the visitor in the territory of wild and dangerous animals.

Never turn your back on a Dingo – unless you’re Usain Bolt

After our dingo sighting, time was tight so our 4W Driver decided to take a short cut back to the ferry port. This involved going along a relatively unused route (which really is saying something by Fraser Island standards) and a journey that felt as though we travelled as far vertically as we did horizontally such was the undulating condition of the track. There was certainly no danger or dozing off and it made the crossing back to the mainland feel quite serene as we enjoyed another glorious Australian sunset.

Return from Fraser Island

Maryborough’s Museums

As you would expect from its heritage, Maryborough is blessed with a handful of excellent Museums. We especially liked the Bond Store Museum with its interactive displays, one of which was like operating the HG Wells Time Machine. Press a few buttons, push a lever and years click by in front of your eyes until it stops and a film plays to correspond to that year – so simple and so much fun.

However, our favourite museum in Maryborough is Brennan and Geraghty’s Store, a shop that is heritage listed and was saved by the National Trust. Dating back to 1870, this store looks as it did over 100 years ago, with paperwork and records found onsite that are over 140 years old.


As you step into the store it is truly like stepping back in time. Run by brothers-in law Brennan and Geraghty, it managed to hit a century of business before it closed in the early 1970’s. The store was left with old products and artefacts in situ and has been lovingly conserved by the National Trust and a great band of welcoming local volunteers who now staff it. Every item is from the actual store, and nothing has been added or removed.


It’s a bit off the beaten track in Maryborough but well worth the effort of finding and spending an hour or two marvelling at the products, fixtures and fittings. Maybe a reflection of the diet at the times but there seemed to be an extraordinary number of constipation related wares on sale!


Beach Report

An Aussie blog wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory beach report and photos. Although not directly on the coast, Maryborough is a good jumping off point for some great stretches of sand. Twenty minutes up the road is Hervey Bay with its huge sweeping beach – but it has to be said, far from the softest sand we’ve enjoyed (to be fair we are talking world class sand as the benchmark).

Torquay Beach, Hervey Bay

An hour south are the wonderfully named Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach, the latter being a top beach option.

Rainbow Beach

Our favourite was Bargara Beach near Bundaberg about an hour north. A really lovely spot with enough surf to make it fun and interesting, and a super little beach-side cafe. Bargara was meant to be a brief stop before we checked out Bundaberg. Thankfully we swopped that arrangement around as we found Bundaberg to be a bit bland.

Baragara Beach

Towards the end of our stay we ventured a couple of hours south to Noosa Heads. This is a much larger and more well-established resort. Forgetting it was Easter Monday we went there expecting it to be reasonably quiet – it wasn’t. Instead it was choked with horrendous traffic. We briefly saw a very busy beach with great surf, but it wasn’t for us. We have got spoilt by quiet deserted stretches and the likes of Noosa, Manly and Bondi are not for us – the backpackers and surfers are welcome to them. Instead we headed to another beach on the Noosa Heads peninsula and found the Aussie beach calm we so relish on Sunshine Beach.

Sunshine Beach – Storm Warning

Wildlife Sanctuary’s: Hmmm…

Sometimes a wildlife sanctuary is just that, a place of protection and recovery for animals that have been injured or mistreated in some way who can’t go back to the wild. At Fraser Coast Wildlife Sanctuary they seemed to get the balance right in most cases, especially their roo’s and reptiles. Here it was possible to get very up close and personal with snakes…

Time to stay very still!

… and kangaroos who are being well cared for by passionate staff. There is something very magical about hand feeding kangaroos, but you do have to watch them nibbling your fingers!

How adorable – the ‘roo is cute as well.

Having said that it wasn’t always clear why so many birds were in cages, but on balance we felt this was a well run Sanctuary with its heart and head in the right place. Sadly, we couldn’t say that for the Dolphin Centre that operates from Tin Can Bay, which was a dispiriting experience. Admittedly, we may have been slightly prejudiced by one remarkably rude volunteer who helps to run this experience. Here every day between 7.00 – 8.00am you get the chance to see and feed Humpback Dolphins. Much emphasis is placed on the dolphins being wild and the Centre operating in accordance with Government regulations by not over-feeding them. However, it feels rather cheap and exploitative, and to our mind a really successful day would be none of the dolphins turning up, having caught all they need to eat in the wild. No stars and no pics for this – it’s one of the few things on our trip we regretted doing.

Park Run!

Remarkably Sam and I have managed to maintain our new running habit (thank you Chris and Julianne for inspiring us when we were in Sydney). Our extended stay in Maryborough gave us the chance to finish our Couch to 5K programme (which by the way we can’t recommend highly enough) AND complete our first ever Park Runs! Having found where the local Park Run takes place, we used this as our training circuit every other day. Up at 6am to beat the heat, it is a beautiful spot, and I always enjoy seeing a golf course when I’m running (Sam, less so).

Maryborough Golf Course

The first week we attended Park Run the organisers asked if there were any visitors and having owned up to being from the UK we got a lovely cheer, as we did the following two weeks, although as one of the locals pointed out, if we came to any more we would be considered locals as well.

No longer Park Run virgins.

The people we met at Park Run, and indeed at every event we went to in Maryborough, were incredibly friendly. Everyone seemed to know Jane, whose house and Leo we were taking care of, and were pleased we had come to visit their city as part of our travels. For us it was a delight to spend four weeks off the beaten track living like a local in a fascinating corner of Queensland where the modern history of this part of Australia is cared for and celebrated with zeal and heart-felt passion by its community. A real treasure.


The end of our Australian Travels: Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef

Tasmania: Australia’s Emerald Isle Part 2

Our blog this week is the second instalment on our time in Tasmania. If you haven’t checked out Part 1 you really should, because it’s got some great information and pictures of this mesmerising island – we would say that wouldn’t we – but its true!

Salamanca Market

A Saturday morning tradition in Hobart is a trip to the famed Salamanca Market – another one of Hobart’s top attractions. We’ve been to countless markets on our travels and it’s probably fair to say a lot of them have been quite low end in products and pricing. Salamanca Market doesn’t fall into that category. It has an excellent mix of stalls that makes it feel trendy, upmarket and exciting. It showcases local products and every stall seemed to sell unique, handmade products.


It’s a great place to browse, people watch and indulge in some tasty food. On two separate stalls the authors of two travel books were talking about their experiences and signing books. Live music from great acoustic guitarists added to the ambience, and every now and then something quite odd, such as the man reading the first sentence from every page in a paperback before tearing that page out and starting on the first sentence of the next page. It all takes pace in a lovely setting, close to the waterfront and with Mount Wellington towering above.


As we ventured from the Market to the quayside we came across a familiar sight from the Brighton Festival – the Speigeltent. It was hosting events for the Arts Festival and Sam popped in to see if it was the very same one…..and it could be. Apparently there is more than one, and this one has been to Europe – which was good enough for us.


The Market area is busy and bustling, but just a few yards alongside it, is a glorious escape from the crowds – St David’s Park. Here you cannot help yourself reading the tombstones of the original colonial settlers – “First Fleeters” as they are often referred to. Some came to a rather adventurous end…


…and we were surprised and delighted to find a fellow Brightonian memorialised in the Park..


Mount Wellington

Constantly looming over Hobart is the rather intimidating and brooding sight of Mount Wellington. Our friends and Hobart locals, Julie and Den, treated us to what we imagine is a local Hobart tradition – a spin to the top to look down on the capital and countryside beyond. It’s a twisty route to the top but when you get there the reward is breathtaking; this is in part due to the near freezing temperatures at the peak….


….but it’s more to do with the astonishing panorama, which includes an eye-level view of the clouds passing by.  This was the first time we had seen the mountain free of cloud and we were thrilled and chilled to experience it.


After a thoroughly agreeable lunch at the local Cascade Brewery, Julie and Den treated us to another spectacular vista, this one from the home of their daughter Kim who lives in the countryside just outside Hobart. It has to be the greatest back garden view we’ve ever had the privilege of seeing.


We had such a lovely time with Julie and Den, and it was hard to believe that we had met them for the first time just a few days before. Occasionally you meet people who immediately feel like old friends and they made our stay in Hobart extra special and memorable.


Richmond is a quaint spot just a twenty minute drive from Hobart. Its main attractions apart from the generally pleasant village bonhomie is the picturesque bridge that has the claim to fame of being the oldest in Australia having been built in 1825.


Naturally the bridge was built using convict labour. Legend has it that a hard task-master overseer pushed his discipline to far…and found himself pushed too far as well – over the bridge onto the rocks below where he now haunts the arches….allegedly.


Richmond also has an excellent old gaol that has been really well maintained. It’s very small – a speck in the convict punishment and rehabilitation system compared to Port Arthur – but fascinating nonetheless as buildings and records have been so well preserved. There are some tiny cells and the records show that the lash was liberally used when prisoners stepped out of line. It makes for a good half day detour from Hobart – but no more than that.

Ye Olde Richmond Lettere Boxe – I have a thing about letter boxes!


Heading To The Wild West

Leaving Hobart early afternoon meant that we didn’t have the time to make it to the West Coast of any of the “larger” towns on the way. Instead we booked an AirBnB in Ellendale a 2/3 hour drive. Our host had warned us to get some food on the way as there wasn’t much in Ellendale. I failed miserably to take this advice and on rolling into this tiny settlement we spotted its one shop and bought a meal consisting of a lump of cheese, a tomato, two packets of crisps and a bag of liquorice mmmm……wholesome!

To call Ellendale a settlement is stretching a point, it’s a few houses, a shop, cemetery and the road running through it. It truly is in the middle of nowhere. Things got stranger when we met our AirBnB host, a slightly eccentric but very funny and sociable harpist (is there any other sort?). As the rain eased off we had just enough daylight for some sightseeing and our host recommended popping down to Mount Field National Park where a short walk would take us to Russell Falls, which given the weather and time would be deserted.

A carefully cropped picture of Russell Falls

We found the National Park in no time but were surprised to see the car park rammed full of cars and motor homes. On making enquires to someone who looked official (he had a walkie-talkie) he told us that filming was talking place for a new TV thriller series that is being shot all over Tasmania.


On reaching the waterfall we found a film crew beavering away preparing for a scene involving a dead body wrapped up in barbed wire at the bottom of a waterfall – what a way to go! The poor actor in her blood stained dressing gown had to lay in the water as the shot was prepared, dry ice blasted into the ravine and a drone took off to get shots of the suitably dramatic setting.

We were told to take no pics of the scene….

After the initial surprise of stumbling across all of the activity it became clear how slow, and painstaking filming is. So much for having the waterfall to ourselves!

With the light fading we headed further into the park and made our first sighting of snow for a very long time, with dramatic snow-covered mountain tops looking down on us. It made for a very striking and awe-inspiring sight.

Snow-capped Tassie Mountains

That night was the first time we’ve needed to use an electric blanket for which we were very grateful. In the morning we were treated to an exceptional breakfast – pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt. I asked if the raspberries were local? “Local! Local!” shouted our host, “they are from the bloody garden” she continued excitedly, before apologising – “that’s the first time I’ve ever sworn at a guest’. She was great value and it’s a stopover that was fully in keeping with the the wonderfully off-kilter character of Tassie.

The Wall

When discussing our trip west with Julie she recommended popping into The Wall in the Wilderness – an art gallery with a difference. Here the artist Greg Duncan is sculpting from wood images of life in the Central Highlands……..on panels of wood 3 metres high and one hundred metres long. However, it isn’t the quantity that is of interest here, it is the quality of wood sculpting which is quite incredible in its detail and design. To find this astonishing gallery in the wilds of the island was fantastic. There is a very strict “no photos” policy at the gallery but please do look at the images on the galleries website: The Wall

The Wall is a work in progress, which means there are sections that are partly completed, showing the rough sections of work underway, and others where outline sketches have been started. This makes it an even more satisfying spectacle, being able to see the stages the artist is going through to reach his end goal. It couldn’t be more different from the MONA and it was great to experience this contrast which has a stronger focus on a traditional handcraft and subjects.

This is a serious space. Along with the “no photography” requests there were stern warnings about misbehaving children that bluntly advised that they would be expected to leave forthwith if they stepped out of line – how refreshing.


Our journey onward took on a more melancholy atmosphere as we drove through old mining and mineral towns whose glory days are long gone. Places like Queenstown, Zeehan and Rosebery all felt like stepping into the past from which the future looked at best uncertain. In that sense they are interesting, a snapshot of places that sprang up and were mined until they became unviable.

Iron Blow Lookout: a mix of the natural and man made

Queenstown did have one redeeming feature however, some wonderful folks in the town have managed to preserve and maintain its original cinema – the Paragon Theatre – which in the town’s boom years attracted premiers of new films.


It’s still showing classic films (Casablanca on the day we were there) and you can take a self-guided tour around the theatre, imaging how vibrant it must have been in its heyday.



After Queenstown we made our most westerly point on Tassie, the lovely port town of Strahan which reminded me of Westport in Mayo – but with a lot less pubs!

Strahan Quay


There is a beautiful clear light in Strahan that seems to make the place glow, and a calm about it that makes you feel all is well with the world. It has a sense of wellbeing that you want to bottle and carry around with you. It might have been no coincidence that storms had taken out local wifi and we found ourselves without any social media for our stay there: unconnected with the virtual world, but very connected with the real one.

Strahan’s Old Police Station

Cradle Mountain

That sense of connection with nature and the countryside increased tenfold as we approached one of the most lauded and iconic sites in Tasmania (and Australia) – Cradle Mountain. We had been warned about the slim chances of being able to view it at all, but our luck was in and from the distance we began to glimpse the majesty of this mountain.


The Cradle Mountain National Park is a vast area so on arrival we had to pick the main highlights to investigate, particularly Dove Lake which sits shimmering beneath the peak.


Unbeknown to us the Park also boasts of large population of wombats and it wasn’t long before we found one snuffling around on the grass totally unperturbed by our attention and admiration. We were stunned by how large Wombats are having imagined them to be much more possum-like in size. In reality they look far more like a furry pig! They are very cute and seem quite contented going about their business which mostly seems to involve eating vegetation.


Cradle Mountain offers a multitude of treks which vary from short walks to full-on hiking for days at a time. Beautiful boardwalks take you through meadows, while other tracks run alongside rivers and streams. It really is a stunning setting and we felt incredibly lucky to see it on such a clear and crisp day.



We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from Cradle Mountain to our final stop on Tassie’s north coast – the wonderful town of Penguin, which is every bit as charming and quirky as its namesake. On entering the town you can’t help being amused at seeing the Penguin Fire Station, the Penguin Railway Station, Penguin Meals on Wheels and our favourite, the Penguin Library which looked like the Tardis…


However we did come across one rather alarming shop sign…


It’s a cracking little town with a fabulous beachfront that adds to the feel-good factor here.




About an hour or so westwards along the north coast is Stanley, and its famous “Nut” the large geological protuberance that rises above the town.

Stanley Nut – Cracking!

If Strahan was the west of Ireland, Stanley had a real feel of Cornwall about its beaches..

Stanley Bay

Exploring Stanley we came across the home of Joe Lyons – the only Tasmanian to become Prime minister of Australia. His family home was humble but the view of the bay was wonderful.


In Stanley we came across a timely and moving reminder of the brutality of colonialism in Tasmania. With all of the incredible beauty and magical atmosphere filling your senses its easy to forget how this land was taken from the indigenous people…


Our time in Tassie was over, having flown by. Despite it’s proximity to the mainland, Tasmania really does feel like a unique place. If you ask locals whether they describe themselves as Australian or Tasmanian, its always the latter. It has its own feel which is amplified by the landscape, flora, fauna and atmosphere. Describing Tassie as our mini-NZ trip isn’t fair to Tassie (or New Zealand). It has its very own character and atmosphere making it quite unlike anywhere we’ve seen in the southern hemisphere. There can’t be many places that offer so much variety in terms of stunning sights and fascinating history on a relatively small island. That it remains off the beaten track adds to the joy of discovering its treasures. It’s certainly starting to appear on travellers radars and with so much to offer if you get the chance to visit take at least a week and preferably longer to make the most of this remarkable island.

Next week: A Return to Queensland and the heritage gem of Maryborough. 

Tasmania: Australia’s Emerald Isle Part 1

We are talking Tasmania for the next two weeks. We tried and failed miserably to fit it all into one blog but there is so much to say about this incredible island. Its got it all: stunning diverse countryside; a fascinating colonial history; tales of gruesome bushrangers and convicts; two of the best art galleries in the world; weird and wonderful wildlife; breath-taking mountain-top views; meeting wonderful new friends; ghosts galore; deserted mining towns; and discovering a dead body at the foot of a tumultuous waterfall. If that doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will!

When our time at Brisbane came to an end we had a period just shy of two weeks before a house and pet sit further up the coast in Queensland. Thinking about our options Sam had the inspired idea of jumping on a plane and spending the time in Tasmania, or Tassie as the locals refer to it!

Having spent far longer in Australia than we planned, our time to get to New Zealand during the summer had run out, so we decided that Tassie would be our “mini NZ” trip. It wasn’t on our radar at all but we are so pleased to have visited this remarkable and unique place.

Our Tassie Trip Map


Arriving in “Lonnie” we picked up our hire car and drove out of the airport, straight into beautiful green countryside and quiet roads. As we pottered along we both commented on how much it reminded us of Ireland (albeit a good deal drier), which wasn’t the last time we would make that comparison over the next twelve days – especially when it did rain!

Like a lot of Tassie, Lonnie is a very hilly city and we found ourselves staying in a lovely hilltop AirBnB – great for rolling into town, but a killer on the way back, especially after downing a few Boag’s, the local brew. Despite our new commitment to running we couldn’t face going up and down the hills, so instead found a small square that we spent thirty minutes criss-crossing in a successful bid to avoid any semblance of a slope.

Launceston is Tasmania’s second city, although its centre is a bit tired and as we were to discover later in the trip, it’s a distant second to Hobart. However, you don’t really go to Tassie for the built environment, it’s the nature that calls you and we spent the best part of a day at Lonnie’s main attraction, the Cataract Cliffs.


Access into this stunning park area was developed in the 1890’s, with pathways and bridges provided to ensure superb walks and glorious views of the gorges.


With peacocks wandering around and pademelons hopping about it is a visit that is quite enchanting. Having said that, there was something slightly hair-raising about the vintage  “ski-lift” journey that takes you across part of the gorge. It’s not the most stable ride although the very sedate pace and unfolding vistas made it a bit more relaxing.

After exploring the walks, nooks and crannies of the Cataract Cliffs we jumped in the car and circumnavigated the River Tamar that runs through the city into the north coast and the Bass Strait. In contrast to the gorge, here the scenery is flat and serene, and information boards along the route tell of wonderfully grisly stories of escaped convict outlaws – including cannablism: check out Alexander Pearce’s story   – who terrorised the authorities. We visited Brady’s Lookout, named after the “Gentleman Bushranger” Matthew Brady – Tassie’s very own Ned Kelly….with table manners.  On learning that the Governor had offered a reward for his capture, Brady responded in kind, offering a reward of rum for anyone who could deliver him the Governor! Brady’s cunning and good luck eventually ran out in 1826 when he was captured and met his denouement at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Brady’s Lookout

We finished our day back at the gorges with a cliff side walk, strapped into safety harnesses and clambering along a rickety rope and timber bridges getting great views of Lonnie – when we weren’t looking down to make sure of our footing!


East Coast to  Bicheno and Freycinet

Heading east out of Launceston toward the coast we were treated to winding roads through thick forests with occasional reveals of the landscape ahead as we got higher. Another example of the remarkable variety in Tassie. The names along the coast reflect the efforts of French explorers who navigated the waters on the east coast.

Looking East

Slowly but surely the weather turned greyer and wetter and reminded us of being back home in the UK. We had hoped to see the wonderfully named Bay of Fires in all its natural beauty, but with the rain setting in it was a bit of a damp squib and we made for our next stop in Bicheno to admire its famed blowhole.

Our AirBnB was directly opposite the beach and the blowhole – a brilliant location made even better by its proximity to a delicious lobster shack! The next day we took a chance with the weather and went to Freycinet National Park, lauded for its views and beaches. The route involves committing to quite a long drive on to a peninsula and having to retrace your steps. Despite the weather it was worth the extra driving as it’s a very atmospheric place especially with the clouds draped over the bays and mountain tops….

Freycinet Coastline

….and the crumpled rocks along the coast that have a strange red / copper hue to them rising out of crystal clear almost turquoise water, all of which makes for a slightly unreal unworldly experience – a delightful sensation you repeatedly get in Tasmania.

On the beach at Freycinet

Sadly the mists prevented us from seeing the iconic Wineglass Bay, so named….well you can guess the rest. However, this is the chance you take here, some days Tassie reveals and revels in its gorgeousness, other times it’s a bit more coy. As if to illustrate that point in spades a few hours later as we started to near Port Arthur we came across the astonishing sight of Dunalley at low tide. We’ve never  seen so much beach and so much sky at the same time, truly jaw-dropping.

Dunalley Panorama

Port Arthur

Where to begin with Port Arthur. Tucked away in the south east corner of the island Port Author is a UNESCO world historic site hosting the remains of one of the largest penal settlements that dates back to the 1830’s. After falling into disrepair when transportation came to an end and buildings were broken up, damaged and left to ruin, it has been rejuvenated by fantastic renovation and conservation work.

Port Arthur – Main Building

The site is enormous covering several buildings, substantial grounds with ornate gardens, lakes and nearby islands including the Isle of the Dead: the final resting place for over 1000 convicts and colony staff.  Port Arthur has a strange and eerie feel to it that creates a slightly chilling institutional atmosphere while being incongruously sandwiched between green rolling hills and a beautiful bay.

Looking Back From The Bay

With a catchy mission statement of  “A machine to grind rogues honest” it’s not difficult to imagine how tough conditions must have been for the convicts – especially the repeat offenders who found themselves in the punishment block in tiny solitary confinement cells where a practice of total isolation and silence was designed to break their spirit…. and often did.


On arriving at the site we had a spare twenty minutes before boarding a boat for a tour of the bay. A guide suggested we take a look at the Memorial Garden that honoured those killed at Port Arthur. We assumed that this was a reference to staff and/or convicts, but were shocked to discover that the Gardens honour the thirty five innocent victims of Australia’s worst mass shooting which took place in April 1996. We both felt quite ashamed at not being able to recall this atrocity. We subsequently discovered that there is an unwritten rule that no one speaks the name of the perpetrator, and that the incident fundamentally changed Australian gun laws by introducing far greater controls.


The Garden is a sombre and peaceful remembrance to the victims and their families. The massacre is very much in the consciousness of the Australian people and a couple of weeks after visiting Port Arthur it was back in the headlines when the appalling One Nation Party was caught out seeking fundraising assistance from the NRA in the States with the aim of softening Australia’s gun laws shaped by the atrocity. One can only hope voters remember this act when they go to the polls in May.

Eaglehawk Neck

Close to our BnB (which included a bizarre diorama of convicts building a railway – that was a first) we made our way to the wonderfully named Eaglehawk Neck for a bite to eat and a beer. Our landlady recommended checking out the local natural phenomenon on the beach – the tessellated pavement.


Sure enough a strange set of geological circumstances that we don’t have the intelligence to understand let alone describe have created a peculiar rock platform with an appearance and symmetry that looks manmade but is entirely natural. It’s not going to get anymore technical than that, so here is another picture…..

The Tessellated Pavement of Eaglehawk Neck – try saying that after five Boag’s!

One of the things that is really noticeable in Tassie, compared to the mainland, is the amount of roadkill on the sides of the roads. All sorts of creatures, but particularly wallabies it seems, suffer collisions with traffic. In turn this has created a threat to the Tassie Devil who feed on carrion. Attracted to the roadside feasts on offer, the Devils themselves get hit. As a result measures are being taken to move roadkill away from the highways to help protect Devil numbers. We have to be honest and say that there is nothing very endearing about the Tassie Devil – the Bogan of Australian wildlife (its the teeth that do it). As they are nocturnal we didn’t get to see any in the wild and didn’t want to see them in zoo’s or wildlife centres – so we had to make do with being aware of their presence.


Taking the road sign advice we motored back from Eaglehawk Neck slowly in the dark, creeping along with the full beam on. Sure enough an animal that we weren’t able to identify ran in front of the car. Thankfully we were able to stop and then watched bemused as the animal stared at us mesmerised by the headlights, it then seemed to do a pirouette and finally scuttle off to sanctuary. We didn’t hold much hope for the longevity of that critter.

Hobart: MONA

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart is quite an adventure,  an attraction that brings people from all over the world to Tasmania. There can’t be many galleries that offer their very own catamaran ferry to take you to its grounds…


..which are set in its own vineyard…


MONA  is very much an experience and one that deserves several hours to make the most of its remarkable collections. Finding all of the displays in its labyrinth of rooms, doorways and levels is part of the fun. Despite covering every er….nook and cranny we never did find the famed wall of vaginas! However, there is so much on offer here it overwhelms the senses with dazzling displays that mess with your mind, perception and, yes taste. We could fill an entire blog with pictures and thoughts on MONA, so here are a few examples of the extraordinary art on show starting with the tattooed man –  Tim  – who sits on his plinth for six hours a day. When he dies his skin will be “removed” and displayed….


….a perfect huge sphere in one of the restaurants that can be entered for an intense  sensory perception experience…


…a jet of water that forms and fires out the most common words being used on the web at that moment…

…..the ever changing Light Tunnel…


….the genius of skeletal x-ray stained glass


..and this remarkable room where you are let in one by one. From above and when you first enter the room the “black” looks like a black painted void – then as you adjust your senses you realise that the “black” is actually crude oil filled shoulder high reflecting the light from above – as you might imagine the smell is intense and the effect amazing.


This eclectic selection barely scratches the surface of this fabulous collection. We spent the best part of a day at MONA and loved it. It is in your face and certainly some of the exhibits are gut churning, but it’s fun, challenging and makes you want to come back for more, a cultural highlight of our travels.

Hobart: Barney and Frankie

Having decided to travel to Tassie we checked out house sitting opportunities and were fortunate enough to land a five day sit looking after a Terrier called Barney and a Beagle called Frankie. They were a hilarious couple, very playful and mischievous, but obedient and great fun to walk.  Little Barney is one of those dogs that starts a commotion by yapping furiously at much larger dogs and once satisfied that it’s all kicking off, he will scamper off content with the mayhem he has created in the local dog park.

Frankie and Barney: an irrepressible double act.

Hobart also afforded us the opportunity to meet up with Julie and Den, relatives of Sam’s sister Sandra. Unlike other friends and relatives we’ve hooked up with on our travels we hadn’t met Julie and Den before and it was such a great pleasure getting to know them, enjoying their wonderful hospitality, benefitting on advice on where to go and being taken to some breathtaking sights……all of which we will cover in the second part of our blogs on tremendous Tasmania.

Next Up – Tasmania Part 2: More Hobart, the Wild West, Murder in the Waterfall, Cradle Mountain Wombats and PPPPenguin Butchery!




Beautiful Brisbane With A Super Sprocket

Our trip along the South and East coasts of Australia from Adelaide to Brisbane have had two unforgettable canine bookends: Harley, the wonderful Australian sheepdog in SA and Sprocket the gorgeous Weimaraner in Brisbane, Queensland…..


When we were first arranging our Brisbane house/pet sit, in the coastal neighbourhood of Nudgee Beach, the house owners Chris and Paul told us that Sprocket loves to swim in the creek at the end of their garden and will swim/run along the bank with you if you take a kayak out. In addition, when Sprocket wants to go outside she would trot to the back door and ring a bell using her nose. It sounded too good to be true – but it wasn’t…and it was even better than we could possibly have hoped for. Everything Chris and Paul told us about how lovable Sprocket is, was true! Fun, obedient, playful and a joy to walk, with endless energy and inquisitiveness. We knew within five minutes of arriving that this was going to be a memorable few weeks in Brissie.

Helping out with travel planning

As we’ve said in previous blogs, house-sitting does take you off the tourist trail and we would never have discovered the delights of Nudgee Beach but for the house sit. A low lying area where the sea retreats for what seems like miles at low tide revealing acres of mudflats and sand, that is fully submerged when the tide rolls in, up the river into the mangrove-like  Boondall Wetlands and the creek that backed onto our new home.

Exploring Nudgee Beach

On viewing the creek I did have to check with Paul about the Croc situation…Paul assured me that they aren’t this far south in Queensland, although there is a healthy population of pythons nearby and Bull Sharks in the sea! As if to prove the point that the creek harboured no ill will, he threw a ball into the creek that was quickly followed by Sprocket launching herself into the water to retrieve it. If Sprocket could swim in the creek we could follow her lead and kayak and Paddle Board in it.

Paddle-Boarding with swimming Sprocket

As promised she was a great companion as we made trips up and downstream. With her life-jacket on she doggy-paddled serenely from one side of the creek to the other where she would climb up the bank and belt along it until there was no gap, then she jumped back in the water to swim to the opposite bank. When she was swimming we caught up with her, as we paddled along, but as soon as she made land she shot off. However, she had a really endearing quality that stopped us from worrying about losing her. If she ever got to a point where she was out of sight, such as a bend in the river she would stop and wait until she could see us before charging off again.

What a beauty

This lovely habit along with her bright red jacket made keeping an eye on her much easier. Quite where Sprocket got the energy to run, swim, climb banks and hunt around in the mangrove undergrowth god only knows, but we were always pleased to see her crash out for a good long snooze when we got home – huge fun and Sprocket properly pooped was a wonderful recipe.

We quickly adjusted to Queensland time, up at 6.00am to make the most of the daylight and set off to the Boondall Wetlands for a morning walk with Sprocket before the day got too warm. The wetlands has an excellent boardwalk that meanders through the trees and waterways that change mood constantly with the tide. A really atmospheric place that we loved visiting.

Sam and Sprocket on the Boondall Wetlands Boardwalk

It also became the spot for our new commitment to fitness. Sam made the decision that we should try the ‘Couch to 5K’ running course, after being inspired to give running a go after chatting about it with Chris and Julianne in Sydney (both regular Park Run runners). Earlier in our trip we had been doing a High Intensity Training programme but that came to an abrupt end when I thrust one of my bare big toes into a kerb in Sumatra, shunting it a centimetre or two backwards into my foot (… was every bit as painful as that sounds!) With my toe feeling better and a new pair of running shoes bought, we made that Boardwalk our running track, although with Sprocket on the lead there were times when I felt as though I was being dragged around (…fast forward eight weeks and as I type I’m recovering from finishing my first Park Run).

Mystical Boondall Wetlands

Following on from our good luck in seeing shows in Melbourne and Sydney we discovered that Brisbane has a great arts scene and we managed to get tickets to see dance legends Orbital at an intimate venue – The Triffid. The Hartnoll bros were on top form crashing through a great mix of old classics and new numbers. They still wear their trademark torch-specs that make them look slightly alien, and we still don’t understand exactly what it is they are doing/playing on stage, but there was a lot of the usual twiddling of knobs that delivered a fantastic sound and set.


In stark contrast we caught the Arctic Monkeys a few days later. Our initial surprise at getting tickets for such a top act was explained when we walked into the cavernous Brisbane Exhibition Centre – it was enormous. The downside of being able to get tickets was the sterile atmosphere, a venue which made even the much maligned Brighton Centre seem quaint and homely. The stage set was bizarre, reminding me of Sheffield City Polytechnic’s library in the early 1980’s, a place where I spent many an unproductive hour. Now as a Steel City band that may have been exactly the effect they were after….but I seriously doubt it. Things got stranger and distinctly Spinal Tap as the large illuminated hexagon sitting high above them started to move and make its descent downwards toward the band, to what purpose who knows? That said amid the atmospheric vacuum and stage weirdness there are of course those amazing songs and Alex’s undeniable charisma, both which saved the day.

With Orbital, the crowd were about our age and there was a fair smattering of grey hair amongst the leather jackets. Not so with Arctic Monkeys –  they definitely have a more youthful following!

A week later we had the chance to see the unique and irrepressible Eddie Izzard, a man who is sickeningly talented – seriously, who does stand-up in English, French and German, (apparently an Arabic show is scheduled) runs daily marathons and takes up long distance sea-swimming! In what may be his last tour before seriously embarking on a political career (another string to his bow) Eddie was his usual surreal self, taking the audience and himself to places you could never predict. Eddie campaigns for our local MP at home and having met him on the campaign trail back in the UK we have an extra special fondness for him.

It was great seeing these shows, but we always felt a pang for Sprocket back home and enjoy ourselves as much as we did, it was heart warming to get home and be welcomed by such an overwhelming, joyful and enthusiastic greeting.

Sprocket in her chair – full on relaxed mode!

We took a few trips into the centre of Brisbane itself, seeing it from the river that runs through the city, which provided great views and a good insight into its history.

Brisbane City Centre

Although there are some interesting buildings and colonial history it’s doesn’t have the same feeling of grandeur that Adelaide has, the architecture of Melbourne, or the iconic buildings of Sydney.

Brisbane river

However, it does have a buzz about it, especially on its Southbank where beautifully greened walkways….


…sit alongside probably the best public swimming pool we’ve ever seen – with the artificial beach than runs along the river bank and overlooks the city centre. It really does look like something out of a five-star resort….

Southbank Swimming

We decided that we would get to know the city better by taking a self-guided tour that took in the key architectural and historical places of interest. The was the plan. The Queensland climate had other ideas. Although officially being autumn when we got to Brissie the temperatures were consistently in the high 30’s. As a result we only achieved about half of the walk before we wilted and retreated into a tea room for some air-conditioning, cold water and pastries to recover – mad-dogs and Englishmen/women.

We did see some interesting sites before our surrender including City Hall (excellent air-conditioning)…

City Hall

The Old Windmill (no air-conditioning and at the top of a bloody hill – well it would be wouldn’t it). The oldest surviving building in Queensland dating back to 1828 it was built by convict labour. Unfortunately for the convicts the prevailing winds rarely generated enough energy to regularly turn the sails, so it became a convict powered treadmill, used as a means of punishment. A curious reminder of the City’s history.

The Old Windmill – built and powered by convicts

After the Windmill we strolled back into the city centre to admire the magnificent Anzac Memorial.

Brisbane’s Anzac Memorial

Chris and Paul had left us with loads of tips on places to see including those where we could take Sprocket. The first of these is a Brissie tradition, up to Mount Coot-Tha to look  down on the city and its surrounds.

Brisbane from Mount Coot-Tha

It’s a fantastic view of the city, with great walks into the woods where Sprocket enjoyed sniffing about.

Better still was a trip a short way along the coast from Nudgee Beach to neighbouring Shorncliffe, where we found a great flat coastal walk punctuated by cafes where we made regular pit-stops on account of the heat. Along this strip there are some lovely traditional Queenslander houses.


….all of which makes it a very pleasant and wholesome place to visit.  As the tide went out we were able to walk back along the sand, and check out Shorncliffe Pier that shoots out into the sea.


This was such a perfect day out, getting loads of fresh air and exercise, while messing about in the sea with Sprocket.


We had noticed some really striking sunset colours in the evening sky and after checking out recommendations for sunset locations in Brissie, headed off to Cleveland Point which boasts a cute wooden lighthouse..

Cleveland Point Lighthouse

In the left-hand edge of the picture above you can see Sam and Sprocket at the table where we enjoyed alfresco fish and chips, including a rather nice grilled cod for Sprocket – that went down very well and very quickly. We spent the next hour watching a fabulous light show from vivd yellows and oranges as the sun dipped…

Sam, Sprocket and Sunset stunning reds and pinks after it had set. A wonderful spectacle that was very special to watch at our leisure.


There are quite strict rules on where you can takes dogs with National Parks generally being out of bounds, so we reluctantly left Sprocket at home when we went off to the Glass House Mountains in the Brisbane hinterland area. These rugged volcanic mountains were named by Captain Cook in 1770 as he sailed north up the east coast due to their likeness to the glass making foundries of Yorkshire familiar to Cook. I think he used some creative licence…

The Glasshouse Mountains

We had left it far too late in the morning to climb up one of the more accessible mountains. Like anything involving a modicum of effort in temparatures in the mid to high 30’s, if you don’t start it soon after sunrise, forget it! Instead we found a great viewing point for the mountains and a Rainforest Park to wander through that provided very welcome shade and our first encounter with Pademelons, the smallest of the kangaroo family. They hopped about happily, quite untroubled by our presence. Thankfully there is just about enough ‘roo/wallaby about the Pademelon to distinguish it from looking too much like an over-sized hopping rat.


An interesting example of the efforts of Brisbane to use some of its otherwise abandoned wharf areas, is the Eat Street Markets. Located well outside the city centre on an otherwise slightly desolate area sits a street market that springs to life at the weekends.

Eat Street Markets

Vibrant, full of colour and punters it takes you a little while to realise that this fantastic market is in fact a collection of shipping containers skilfully designed, organised and decorated in a way to create the impression of a bustling downtown market area. Very simple, very effective and very good. Eat Street offers every conceivable food option to cater for multi-cultural tastes. Craft stalls, live music, shows, children’s entertainers and great views of the river all help to create a buzzing atmosphere; and judging by the numbers when we went along it’s hugely popular. It seemed to be another example of Brisbane making the most of its resources to create a fun environment and experience.

Eat Street Market – on the inside

Maintaining our strict minimalist policy on the shopping front we failed to buy anything for ourselves, but on coming across a container filled with treats for pets we couldn’t resist getting a bag full of doggie sausages for Sprocket!

At just shy of three weeks our sit with Sprocket had been the longest during our travels at that point, but the time had flown by. Staying at Nudgee Beach had been a very special experience, one that we are going to remember as one of the highlights of our trip. It was so lovely living like a local in this fascinating neighbourhood with its creek, wetlands and ever-changing beach. However, the star of the show was Sprocket, such a wonderfully lovable dog who it was very hard to say goodbye to.

Low tide on Nudgee Beach & Sprocket chasing a ball for the umpteenth time!


Next Up: Fantastic Tassie


The Great Ocean Road Trip

Originally our travel plan for Australia was to hire out a camper van and travel around the coast – with the probable exception of parts of the Northern Territories. (Given Sams’ fear of this area after watching the movie Wolf Creek too many times!!) The romantic idea of life on the road was quickly jettisoned for a number of reasons. The thought of spending hours in a small metal box in temperatures regularly over 30 degrees wasn’t hugely appealing. We both don’t have the greatest backs in the world and figured sleeping on a camper van mattress for several weeks might result in a lot of pain and a large and prolonged chiropractors bill.  Finding the right places to park up, especially in the cities, also felt like another hassle that could spoil our time in Melbourne and Sydney. The likelihood being we’d be stuck on the outskirts in a trailer park when we wanted to be in the hustle and bustle of these amazing cities. Being 50+ flash-packers, not backpackers, means we just aren’t cut out to rough it very much anymore. Instead, the combination of house sitting, AirBnB and a decent rental car proved to be far more appealing.

We picked up our car in Adelaide and headed south on the first leg of our drive that would see us motoring along the coast all the way to Sydney over the course of the next few weeks.

The Great Ocean Road is one of, if not the highlight of any Ozzie road trip. It’s quite a drive from Adelaide before you reach it but these less heralded strips of coast offer a great deal of pleasure, beautiful small towns, wonderful hospitality, wildlife and cracking coastline scenery – hence the barrage of photos in this blog.

Driving south from Adelaide we reached the Coorong National Park – a seemingly endless stretch of quiet sandbars, lagoons, and dry salt lake beds creating wide open barren spaces and a strange isolated atmosphere. It has a Hollywood claim to fame being  the setting for the film “Storm Boy”.


Although there was very little traffic and few people around to share the Coorong experience, we weren’t alone, with large gatherings of pelicans on the waters.


Seeing them so close up makes you realise what a bizarre bird they are with their giant bills dominating their features. However, they glide with such grace, with an astonishing wingspan. With rather less grace, Sam managed to capture me with a rather unfortunate pelican appendage while I was adopting a pelican pose…

The Pelican Briefs

Our first stop was the lovely town of Robe on what has become dubbed Australia’s “Limestone Coast” – it seems the tourist marketing people just can’t help themselves when it comes to branding and badging. With the school holidays over and the first signs of summer waning, Robe was very quiet and extraordinarily windy. The beaches looked great but it was far too blustery for a dip.

Robe, South Australia

After an overnight stop in probably the best AirBnB we have ever stayed in (not often you arrive to be greeted with wine and chocolates!), we headed off the next day immediately taking a detour to the even smaller town of Beachport. One of the pleasures of a leisurely road trip is looking at the map and picking random places to pop in and take a look at just because you like its name. Beachport has a huge jetty that provided us with a bracing morning walk that blew away the cobwebs and had us struggling to remember the searing heat of Adelaide.

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Sam drinking in the morning sun on Beachport Jetty

Mount Gambier was our next port of call, partly because it was the largest town on this stretch of the route, but also due to its famous Blue Lake, which the blurb assured us was bright blue. It’s easy to be cynical about these boasts, the biggest, best, tallest, oldest etc.  but for my money Mount Gambier really isn’t doing its Blue Lake justice – it really is the brightest blue lake we’ve ever seen. The lake sits in a volcanic crater and it apparently turns a bright turquoise blue overnight during November and stays that colour until March. It’s one of those sights that is so remarkable it looks slightly unreal, and you have to keep looking to convince yourself it really is that blue. After some double takes a smile creeps across you face and you think “yep, that’s worth boasting about – that is the bluest blue lake ever”. A road with several viewing points circles the lake and every time you jump out and take another look it repeats the trick of astonishing you.

Mount Gambier’s Blue Lake….no filter needed!

On the second night of our trip we stayed just outside the improbably named Port Fairy, close to Tower Hill Nature Reserve. Our AirBnB hosts advised that we would probably see a few Koala’s in the reserve – which filled us with excitement – but the first encounter we had was with a couple of Emu’s that were roaming around oblivious to our attentions.


After wandering around various trails in the reserve we hadn’t seen any Koala’s and were resigning ourselves to having to wait longer to see some of these adorable creatures in the wild – which is of course when we finally found two, snoozing away in Eucalyptus treetops. Almost as evocative as the Kangaroo, the Koala just looks like it needs to be hugged – although with the claws they have, that probably isn’t the best idea. Unlike many Kangaroo’s, Koala’s are great subjects to photograph, rarely moving a muscle.

Koala action shot…..

Our third day would see the start of the Great Ocean Road proper, making our way out of South Australia into Victoria. We started the day by visiting another recommendation off the tourist trail (an advantage of AirBnB – getting locals top tips), a rocky secluded beach tucked away just beyond the western end of the Great Ocean Road – Childers Cove, which we had all to ourselves – the only time we were going to experience that feeling all day as most tourists heading from the east in Melbourne don’t stray much beyond the Twelve Apostles and its neighbouring sites.

Childers Cove – not easy to find, but worth the effort

We headed west and started making the obligatory stops at what are the crown jewels of the Great Ocean Road: Loch Ard Gorge, London Arch, and the highlight, Twelve Apostles. You know you are nearing these attractions as helicopters buzz into view, whizzing passengers along the cliff line for what must be a tremendous view. The other tell-tale sign was the growing traffic and heaving car parks that left us wistfully thinking about the solitude we had left at Childers Cove.

Erosion in action – London Arch,

There is no question that the scenery is ruggedly beautiful, showcasing the power of erosion that is reshaping the coastline and ultimately has and will continue to wear away these iconic rocks.

Loch Ard Gorge

We had a feeling of deja vu as our visit coincided with the Chinese New Year, and hundreds of holidaying Chinese tourists making their way along the Great Ocean Road in fleets of coaches and mini-buses.

Twelve Apostles

Having travelled from the west we reached Twelve Apostles reasonably early in the day and before the day-trippers from Melbourne could get there. Nevertheless it was very busy and by the time we had wandered around, taken in the awesome views and slipped out of the car park it was starting to feel a bit over-run.

Looking West From the Twelve Apostles

Our last stop along this section of coast was a winding drive through the forests Great Otway National Park to its lighthouse – one of the most southerly points of mainland Australia. This is a bleak unforgiving spot, and the gale force winds that hit you as you step out on to the balcony of the lighthouse feel a million miles from the heat on the beaches of W.A. and Adelaide.


Our AirBnB experiences on our Oz trip had been excellent up to this point, however, that was about to change. The omens were not good as we drove through the popular resort of Apollo Bay and the rains came down. Nowhere looks great in the drizzle and Apollo Bay reminded us of Blackpool on a cold grey wet February afternoon – thoroughly grim! Our accommodation was a few miles further on in Wye River in what was described as a former monastery set right on the coast road – it sounded great and had an appealing name “Seacroft”. It wasn’t!!  As we entered our hearts sank at the sight of portacabin type accommodation and communal mixed sex toilet blocks. “OMG, we’ve been banged up” I said to Sam. We walked along a grim concrete pathway to our “cell” and I couldn’t help repeating the opening lines of Porridge: “Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court. You are an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences: you will go to prison for five years.”

Thankfully our sentence was only to be one night – the punishment handed down for the crime of gullibility: believing rave reviews on AirBnB from previous guests who presumably had subterranean expectations compounded by acute myopia. We glumly surveyed our room and its generous helpings of dust and peeling paintwork. The mattress had clearly seen better days and as soon as we hopped on it from either side we both rolled to the middle as it sagged under our moderate weight.

At first light we tried to complete discrete ablutions in the toilet block and promptly hit the road. Mercifully the sun was back out and we started the next stretch of the Great Ocean Road, our mood lifted by the wild gorgeous beaches…


This is where the road hugs the cliffs alongside superb beaches and crashing surf – stunning views combined with rally-like bends as you weave your way along the hillside, with one “wow” moment after another. This felt like the heart of the road trip and it’s difficult to recall a more impressive scenic drive.

The Great Ocean Road approaching Lorne.

This tremendous drive was made even better by pulling up at Lorne – a place that is everything Apollo Bay isn’t (think Brighton vs Blackpool). Stylish, great shops and restaurants, quaint buildings and a buzzing beach filled with children learning to surf – a thoroughly wholesome place where we had a lovely healthy breakfast followed by bit of retail therapy and a dip in the sea.

A well kept Lorne

A short drive inland took us to Erskine Falls – another beautiful detour that further endeared Lorne to us. We really wished we had stayed here rather than at HMP Seacroft, but you occasionally have to take the rough to cherish the smooth.

Erskine Falls near Lorne

All too soon we were rolling into Angelsea and the official start/end point of the Great Ocean Road. Here we made a quick detour to see the famous local golf course that is inhabited by kangaroos..

Angelsea golf roos

After a final night in Queenscliff, part of the promontory of Port Phillip Bay, we started to make our way to Melbourne. This is another pretty and relatively un-touristed part of Victoria that was recently featured in the TV series “The Cry”, – a neat journey bookend to “Storm Boy” in Coorong.  Before reaching Victoria’s capital we stopped off to check out Geelong (still don’t know how to pronounce it) which was the largest place we had seen since Adelaide. Geelong has a potentially lovely pier part of which is inexplicably used as a car park – which is a real shame as the front is picturesque with a nice mix of old and new. Geelong is famous for its colourful wooden statues which can be seen all along the front that hark back to its seaside and seafaring past which adds to its sense of fun and frivolity.

Geelong Lifeguards

After five days driving and four nights we had completed a leisurely drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, including the Great Ocean Road itself. It’s certainly a trip we would recommend, and if you have time investigating the western end into South Australia is worth it. The Great Ocean Road itself feels as though it has two quite distinct characters. You can’t fail to be impressed by the coastal scenery of the Twelve Apostles area, it is striking and it lives up to the hype. However, be prepared to share this experience with hundreds of other sightseers slowly shuffling around the viewing points and searching for a space in rammed carparks. The drive in this section doesn’t routinely offer sea-views, although the forests of Great Otway National Park does compensate for that. The drive just north of Apollo Bay to Angelsea is superb. There isn’t a single iconic scene to pick out here, but it delivers sheer driving / sight-seeing joy with the added bonus of delightful Lorne – do stop here if you have the time.

Top Travelling Tips

Despite our one mishap on this part of our journey, for us AirBnB remains a far better experience than hotels. Warm greetings, the personal touch, great insider tips on what to see, where to eat, and of course great value for money. We’ve stayed in some beautiful homes in fabulous locations. Once in a while things go a bit pear-shaped, but that’s usually down to not spending enough time researching options.

Next Up: Melbun & Miriam Margolyes

Mercury Rising in Stylish Adelaide

It would be fair to say that our trip to Adelaide didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. Arriving at our hotel very late after a three hour flight and “losing” two and half hours travelling east from Perth, the receptionist seemed to have trouble finding our details. I passed her my phone impatiently showing the email from Agoda confirming the booking. After glancing at it for a moment or two she passed it back to me and politely suggested I scroll down on the email. Following her instructions I read with horror the phrase “we apologise but on this occasion we cannot confirm your hotel reservation”. I immediately changed tack from affronted customer to sheepishly asking if they had any rooms available – which luckily they had, for about double what we thought we were going to pay! It took eight months for this type of cock-up to occur, so that isn’t too bad.

Despite being one of Australia’s largest cities, Adelaide seems to have a slightly tarnished reputation, being seen as slightly dowdy, old fashioned and out in the sticks…..Sadelaide?. Even locals talked it down a bit suggesting that there wasn’t really much to see or do. We have to say that this was not our experience. Adelaide is a beautiful, vibrant place with tons to see and do in and around the city.

Another Plus for Adelaide – Trams!

On arrival the Adelaide headlines were all about the weather, the temperature topping 40 degrees  on our first day, and reaching a ridiculous record breaking 47 on the second, so we ventured out with some nervousness plotting a course through the city centre from one air conditioned location to another. In doing so we marvelled at the architecture that has been protected so well in the city, from civic building to the iconic Beehive Corner that helps to create a sense of history and stylish gravitas.


The City’s bustling Central Market offered another welcome diversion from the heat, full of life, colour, smells, fruit and veg we couldn’t identify…..and people with lots of body art …Tatadelaide? (Editors Note: that’s enough Adelaide puns!) Given its world famous vineyards, it wasn’t surprising to see lots of different grapes on offer at the market.


Day two presented a real challenge for us as we had to check out of the hotel, and kill several hours before we headed off to our house sit late in the afternoon, negotiating a day that was to be the hottest we’ve ever experienced and the hottest on record for Adelaide. About 800 metres away was the City’s Library and Art Gallery – which came highly recommended to us. We set off, stepping out of the hotel into an oven (we now have a vague idea of what it feels like to be cremated), aiming for every spot of shade on offer between us and our destination. This included contorting our bodies to fit the shape of even the slimmest of shadows while waiting at traffic lights. With fellow pedestrians doing the same we must have looked like an anguished mime flash mob, manically dispersing to more shade as soon as the green man appeared. The heat was breathtaking as we slowly made our way along the street occasionally stepping into its full glare before stepping into the sanctuary that was the library. This isn’t just any old library, in keeping with Adelaide’s historical swagger it contains the Mortlock Wing, a gorgeous interior of dark wood surrounded by shelf upon shelf of books that probably haven’t been opened in decades. In the tradition of all good libraries it also had people pretending to study in it.


We cooled down and enjoyed excellent displays, including one on the history of the establishment of colonial South Australia – as a free State rather than one based on convict labour – becoming a self governing colony in 1856, and in 1895 being one of the first places in the world to grant women the vote and the right to stand for election. There are always two elephants in the room when you start to look at Australia’s colonial and constitutional history. The treatment of its indigenous Aboriginal people, and the ongoing role of the British Monarchy represented by the Governor-General. It was interesting to see the demonstrations on Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the landing of the British fleet. The demo’s have rebranded it “Invasion Day” with the slogan “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land”. We certainly noticed a lot of  recognition of Aboriginal heritage when we reached Melbourne. The sense is that the numbers challenging the current Australia Day is growing, whether it will change the date and meaning of the Day remains to be seen, but it’s a fascinating example of how history and its legacy is being reviewed and challenged here and elsewhere.

Housesitting Harley

Our second house/pet sit in Australia was in the neighbourhood of Seaton Park, west of the city centre and just a ten minute drive from the long strip of pristine beaches that border the City. We had just over a week looking after a gorgeous Australian Sheepdog called Harley and a couple of rabbits (Peter and Asta). We immediately fell in love with Harley, funny, playful, obedient and very, very intelligent, we knew our time with him was going to be a delight.

Dog Walking Paradise

We started every morning with a long walk along the beautiful beach at Grange, much quieter than its more famous and busier neighbours in Glenelg and Brighton to the south. Harley had boundless energy chasing balls that we threw for him left, right and centre – he must have walked and run 10 metres for our every one. He did have a slightly inconvenient habit of dropping his ball in the sea making us wade in to find and retrieve it before hurling along the sand again – it seemed to be his way of maintaining a balance of power with his new best friends. With a face like that it was very hard to tell him off….


The long morning walks on the sand were an idyllic way to start the day, and given the heat, the best time to get out. We miss our greyhound Ruby terribly, so having bursts of dog sitting is a great antidote, especially in such a perfect environment. As well as miles of sand, Grange Beach had a jetty that was great for sunset watching.

Under Grange Beach Jetty

…and boasted a glorious Victorian three story terrace built in 1884 and the only one of its kind on the Australian coastline.

The Marine Terraces at Grange Beach, Adelaide

Drowning not waving

When not out walking with Harley we managed to see a number of sights in and around Adelaide, with two very contrasting days looking for dolphins. On the first of these we signed up for the classic “go swimming with dolphins” offer. What could go wrong: taking a magnificent catamaran out of the harbour at Glenelg..

So far so good…..

…donning our wetsuits, masks and snorkels and heading into the St Vincent Gulf. Sadly, out at sea the water did not look like the picture above, in fact it was really quite choppy. After about 45 minutes of kangarooing about on the boat our guides spotted a school of dolphins and got us ready for our encounter.

Looking the part…..

However, this was not going to be a gentle floaty snorkel with Flipper and his mates. Instead, we were to launch ourselves into the ocean and hang onto a large rope trailing the catamaran (without a life jacket) and listen to instructions on the whereabouts of dolphins while partly submerged. As I type this I can’t believe we actually jumped into the sea. Things started badly, inadvertently hitting the rope as I jumped in I managed to rip the mask off my head….twice! Eventually we were both in the sea hanging on to the rope for dear life – our main concern at this moment was not whether we saw a dolphin, instead focussing our efforts on not drowning. Sure enough a guide saw an emergency signal from one of the “swimmers”, a life buoy was thrown out and a few seconds later I saw a bedraggled Sam slowly pass me in the water being towed back to the safety of the boat. This was health and safety of Indonesian proportions. Despite this traumatic start and partly out of a morbid curiosity to see if my life would pass in front of my eyes I jumped in for a second time and found myself hanging on to the rope a long way from the boat.

Second from the end, head down contemplating my mortality,

It was a strange mixture of exhilaration, seeing dolphins dart about below us, and abject terror being in the ocean with only the strength in my tiring arms keeping me attached to the boat. Of course seeing the dolphins was great but what I really enjoyed was hearing the strange sonic ethereal noises they make as they communicate with each other. I’m no expert on “dolphinese” but I think one of them was pointing to me and saying to his mates “I’ve got that twats’ mask”.  Here is a bit of footage from the safety of the boat….

In complete contrast we spent the next day serenely kayaking around the Port Adelaide estuary. Here you can gently paddle among eerie shipwrecks that despite their dereliction intimidate as you get close to them:

Port Adelaide Estuary Shipwreck

..and gingerly work your way into the mangroves through small openings into an overgrown maze of watery routes that quickly befuddle your sense of direction, with the only sounds being the splash of your paddle on the water and the occasional thud of your head hitting a low hanging branch.

Here the Estuary dolphins gently glided by, a welcome change to the adrenaline fuelled panic 24 hours earlier. It was another example of the astonishing range of waterways Australia offers. It’s far from being all about those perfect sun-kissed beaches and the variety makes exploring this fabulous country constantly fun and invigorating.

Estuary Dolphin

Deutscheland Uber Alles

One of the most popular day trips from Adelaide is into the rural and rustic Adelaide Hills, where the city quickly yields to bush and offers panoramic views of Adelaide and the ocean beyond from the summit of Mount Lofty

Looking Down on Adelaide

It makes for a beautiful scenic tour, every now and then hopping out at a vintage looking store to stock up on refreshments where the welcome is so warm and friendly.

A Good Old Fashioned Store

A short deviation from the Adelaide hills takes you to the slightly bizarre historical village of Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest German settlement which dates back to December 1838 when 52 of the founding families of Hahndorf arrived from Germany. Given my heritage this was a trip I was looking forward to and it wasn’t long before we got into the spirit of things, marching down the high street and behaving in a suitably Bavarian manner.

No excuse for this…but it gets worse…
……Rather pleased with my legs in this shot

Kitsch doesn’t come close to describing Hahndorf. It’s quaint and quite endearing, but surely there is a limit to how many shops can sell cuckoo clocks and frankfurters.

Much further south on the unpronounceable Fleurieu Peninsula is Victor Harbor a great little town that is connected to Granite Island by a long walkway. Here the scenery is rocky, jagged and wild – and when you look south from the island you realise there is nothing but sea between you and Antartica. We didn’t get to see any of the penguins the Island is famous for, but we did enjoy the unexpected works of art that have been installed at the top of the Island.

No…we don’t know what this is either

The views from the Island back to Victor Harbor are stunning. It’s a perfect day trip and we subsequently discovered that we were lucky to visit it when we did – a few days later the roads in and out of Victor Harbor were cut off by bush fires.

Victor Harbor Bay

Our travels around Adelaide continued to offer so much fun and diversity from watching the incredible efforts of the competitors at the Australian Open Water Swimming Championships on Brighton Beach, to snuggling under blankets in surprisingly cool temperatures at the Adelaide Moonlight Cinema in the Botanic Gardens to watch The Favourite, complemented by our daily walks with Harley – we felt very lucky to be experiencing so much in picture perfect Adelaide.



Our experience of Glenelg had been tainted by the dolphin experience, so on our last night we returned there to walk along the beach, enjoy the sea lapping over our toes and watch a beautiful sunset. No trip to Adelaide is complete without a Glenelg sunset.

Glenelg sunset …note the low budget flood defences in the foreground!

Our time in Adelaide had come to an end, and with it a very special part of our travels. Saying goodbye to Harley was terrible and we consoled ourselves with the thought of more wonderful doggies and house sits to come in our journey across Oz. As for Adelaide – don’t listen to any naysayers, this is a wonderful city that offers something for every taste and interest. We can’t wait to have an excuse to return. Our sadness in leaving was tempered by the thought of the journey ahead – the Great Ocean Road trip to Melbourne.

Top Travelling Tips

It’s been a while since our last TTT’s and will be obvious from our Adelaide and Fremantle posts.  We would recommend investigating house/pet sitting. As well as getting the opportunity to indulge a love of animals you get to stay in lovely homes free of charge – a big help when it comes to budget management – where you can self cater (you really can get very tired of hotel food) and live like a local getting off the tourist trail.