The European Rhombus – Part 2: Dilly-dallying around Dublin

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With the NC500 complete we had a day of R&R back in the Scottish borders at Fraser and Jill’s place. With an extra day up our sleeves we decided to take in a day at the world famous Edinburgh Festival. The Edinburgh Festival is one of the largest celebrations of arts and culture in the world and each August plays host to over 3000 shows in around 300 different venues. The hardest thing about the festival is picking shows to attend! We decided to pre-book one show and then try and go to a few free shows and then wander around looking at street performers. We ended up seeing a show by Robin Boots called Rockomedy – a series of re-worked rock songs and numerous puns (right up my alley), Luke Closely – a Scottish magician/comedian/jazz musician, and last of all Jimeoin – an Irish Australian who has been around for years, and loves making jokes about things in our everyday lives. All three were very good and we had a great day out. One day doesn’t really do the festival justice but it was a good taster and certainly worth coming back for!

The next day we drove to Glasgow for our flight to Dublin. This was my first experience with RyanAir, similar to flying Tiger in Australia. On arrival in Dublin we checked into our apartment – with Jill and I sneaking in a cheeky half pint at the first pub we passed on the walk to our accommodation – “when in Dublin”, was sure to be an overused phrase in the next few days. We also met with a former work colleague of Frasers who was now living in Northern Ireland and was on her way to Belgium and settled in for a few cocktails, tapas and then some wine and pizza in the apartment. The following day, Pete arrived after a being at a conference in Cork, a reunion of sorts with another member of the original TOS in 2012. We spent the afternoon with the obligatory tour of the Guinness Storehouse before meeting up with Hilary, a uni mate of Serena’s from vet school, for a pint in the evening. After a delectable selection of cheeses, snacks and wine back at the apartment and then bidding farewell to the Murdochs in the wee hours of the morning, it was a sad farewell after another amazing catch up. Let’s just hope it’s not too long between drinks! After a bit of a sleep in, Pete and I had another traditional Irish breakfast and more of a wander around Dublin, taking in Dublin Castle, the food markets (and a breakfast apple juice and whiskey – “when in Dublin”), a few other key Dublin landmarks, and a handful of other drinking holes, with their own flavour of Irish live music and colourful characters. We also met up again with Hilary and her parents, Ted and Valerie, for some more Dublin exploring, a light lunch and a handful of Oscar Wilde quotes, topped off with and a decent steak with a few cocktails to round out the day.

With a final day in Ireland left to hang out with Pete, we met up with a cousin from his wifes side of the family, Janet and her husband Cairan. They kindly took us on a bit of a tour around the coastal area south of Dublin including a drive-by the residencies of a few Irish icons – Bono, Enya and Van Morrision, the latter lived “on the right side of the road”. A swim was tempting but we left that to the locals, who braved the rough conditions that were on show. We also made a stop at Ireland’s highest pub, Johnnie Fox’s, for a cheeky pint. Janet and Cairan then served up a delicious home-cooked lamb roast that their son Rory had kindly put in the oven while we were at the pub. It was then on to Galway via a three-hour bus ride and a very late arrival.

My first day in Galway started early with a lengthy bus trip out to Doolin and the ferry across to Inis Oírr (Inisheer), part of the Aran Islands. The bus driver was a classic Irish ‘comedian’ with all the one liners that I’m sure he has used numerous times, particularly jokes about his wife (“the leader of the opposition”). Nonetheless he was very entertaining and gave a fantastic overview of the history as with drove through a picturesque countryside. The pick of his ‘life lessons’ was “If you can laugh at yourself, you’ll live a long and happy life”. Once on the island I was able to wander around at my own pace with to the castle ruins, the lighthouse, and a large shipwreck of the Plassy. The entanglement of rock walls throughout the island were a tribute to the hard work of yesteryear, and the efforts to which people went to try and make areas arable just to survive. To me the island still seemed desolate but captivating in its own way! It was then back to Doolin via the scenic route along the base of the Cliffs of Moher, an iconic Irish cliff line made famous as the cliffs of insanity in the Princess Bride – among other films. The weather had turned somewhat as we cruised along the coast but rough seas and cloud just added to the mystique of an eerie and breathtaking coastline. On return to shore, and for some people to recover from a touch of seasickness, there was time to traverse the top of the cliffs. While the rain had now set in, those of us to brave the conditions were rewarded with spectacular views. Clearly it wasn’t a turn off for a bride and groom, who had chosen the cliffs were their wedding photos. Also a couple on our bus used the opportunity to get engaged. Our bus driver was most excited, proceeding to tell us how a real Irishman proposes. First you take your partner to the pub, feed her (and you) 4 pints, then ask her “would you like to be buried with my people”. Irish charm…..gotta love it! Speaking of pubs, after a walk on the cliffs, we were then treated to a world famous seafood chowder at O’Connors Pub in Doolin and a pint of Guinness, the perfect combination for the day. As we continued back to Galway through County Clare, we were treated to some more spectacular views of the coastline, numerous 10 pound castles, the desolate rocky terrain of the Burren region and even a pod of dolphins. As we approached Galway the clouds parted and we were treated to a beautiful clear view of Galway Bay, a rarity according to the bus driver.

The following day I spent checking out the Galway township and a meander around the bay. Galway township is particularly popular with tourists, and the various shopping strips are lined with souvenir shops and a variety of eateries. The other fantastic part of Galway was the street musicians and buskers that were on show for the entire day, a number of whom were particularly entertaining. In the evening I took in some classic Irish culture, with Trad on the Prom, a combination of Irish folk music and dancing made famous by Riverdance and Michael Flattley. The whole show was first class, with one of the musicians playing 23 instruments throughout the night. I then had to head back to Dublin for the next leg of my journey, so took the scenic route via Limerick. It was pleasing to find numerous limericks in Limerick! And of course after a visit to King John’s castle and reading about the sordid history of the town, I wrote my own!

      Limerick’s history is strong,

And tales from the past seem quite wrong,

Seems the Vikings begun, followed by King John one,

But none kept their head on for long.

On arrival back in Dublin, I spent another evening with Janet and Cairan before an early flight to Bergen for leg 3 of the rhombus.

My UK sojourn is complete,

Both Scotland and Ireland, a treat,

The scenery was great, and I drank and I ate,

With the many old friends I did meet.

 

The European Rhombus – Part 1. The Scottish Sojourn

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As I departed Melbourne bound for Edinburgh I was excited, yet a little apprehensive about the eight weeks that lay ahead. The trip was a combination of catch ups with old friends, some time travelling abroad on my own (a first for me), visiting some places that were on the to-do list for Serena and I that we never managed to get to, and ticking off a few places and adventures on the bucket list. I’ve termed it my European Rhombus, as it includes visits to Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Italy. First stop was Edinburgh, where I was greeted by Fraser and Jill, along with their newest addition to the family, Hector, son of Fraser (HSoF). We had met Fraser and Jill in Perth many years ago and last saw them in New Zealand in 2013. Prior to this we had the privilege of attending their wedding in Scotland in 2012, shortly before I moved to NZ, and the associated TOS (Tour of Scotland), now firmly etched in the annals of history. TOS part 2, involved a few less members (just the 4 of us) and this time was a camping adventure around Scotland’s answer Route 66 in the USA, the North Coast 500 (NC500).

The North Coast 500 for me,

Now a Scottish iconic must see,

With its breathtaking coast, and rich history to boast,

And of course the odd distillery. 

The tour began with a traditional Scottish breakfast – home-cooked by Jill – on my arrival in the Scottish borders and then a fairly prompt departure north towards Jill’s family farm Mill-lade, Clochan. This included a stop at the House of Bruer for lunch, a steak and ale pie (9/13). An evening with the Thomson clan was a great catch up after 5 years between drinks, including a few new drinks to my list including the Norfolk Nog, a soothing blend of whiskey and baileys, and a “slodgin”, which I then found out was actually Slo Gin….clearly I need to revise my Scottish accent interpretive skills. The next day we were on our way to tackle the NC500, via a stop at Tesco and Aldi for some essentials – pina colada and mojito mixes, white rum and a jar of pickled eggs, that would end up lasting most of the journey and provide the source of constant amusement (mainly to me). Our first stop was Dunrobin Castle, which was home to the Sutherland clan who were central to the Scottish clearances where people were forced from their land, with many killed. Despite their role in this horrible process, there was a distinct lack of detail regarding this in the castle. There was however, a large array of taxidermy that rivaled many natural history museums from all over the world, collected by many members of the family on their various hunting jaunts. In addition, the castle hosts a falconry display where we picked up a few random facts about falcons and owls, but weren’t overly impressed. The highlight was tea and scones, which were delicious.

From here we continued on towards John O’Groats, where we enjoyed the scenery and our first round of classic Scottish fish and chips, with haggis on the side of course. From here we caught a ferry across to the Orkney Islands for our first night of camping at Wheems Organic Farm, accompanied with a glorious sunset. Despite a noisy English neighbour the first night in my brand new Tesco tent was comfortable (once we figured out how to assemble it). After a quick pack up, we took off for a tour of the Orkney Islands mainland. There are some stunning spots on the island as well as some interesting historical points of interest like the Ring og Brodgar, Orkneys answer to Stonehenge. As far as wildlife goes, we were lucky enough to see a short-eared owl and a couple of grey seals, and numerous seabirds around the cliffs at the end of their nesting period. My main interest was to find puffins and so we wandered around the cliffs at Marwick Head, a popular spot for nesting seabirds. The breezy conditions provided the first opportunity for HSoF to don his dragon suit and we were rewarded for our patience in finding puffins!

As we wandered around Marwick Head,

Most rabbits we found were all dead,

But we won’t stop at nuffin’, til we’ve seen our first puffin,

So across the cliff edges we sped.

 

It appeared that our timing post Spring,

Was slightly too late for this thing,

But we weren’t to be stiff, as we glanced off the cliff,

‘Twas a circus of puffins on wing.

After a thoroughly enjoyable day driving around Orkney through all of the various towns – Kirkwall, Twatt, and lunch in Birsay, we took the ferry back to Thurso and our next camping pitch. Again, we had glorious conditions for the ferry, and were treated to some amazing views of Old Man of Hoy. We took the advice of the overly friendly camp site attendant and enjoyed a local Indian meal, and despite the lack of enthusiasm towards life in general by our waiter, the food was delicious. We’re not sure whether the food or the waiter was to blame, but clearly something didn’t sit well with our youngest tour member, who spent most of the night unsettled. As I packed my tent the following morning, I realised that despite relatively calm conditions, the tent had not stood up to the Thurso breeze and a couple of poles had already broken. So we decided to make our first detour back to Wick to replace the tent.

The tent that we’d bought at Tesco,

Not quick to put up, but quite slow,

It had many a bit, and the poles were real shit,

For they snapped with the slightest wind blow.

Breakfast was a local Scotch Pie and burning hot coffees from the local Thurso bakery, and a then a stop at Dunnet Head for more breathtaking coastal views together with a plethora of seabirds flying in and out from their roosts. Dunnet Head is also the home of the Dunnet Head Distillery, a fine selection of gins made with locally grown botanicals by resident ‘botanist’ Hannah, Jill’s new BFF. Rumour has it, that when Prince Charles visits the Castle of Mey, he collects a large array of gins from the distillery and distributes them to his family and friends in the castle – not a bad contract to have! It was then on to Wick and after a fairly lucrative tent exchange we were back on track.

The next leg of the journey took us around the majestic coastline through a few very small towns including Tongue and Bettyhill. We stopped in Bettyhill at a rustic looking café for lunch and were treated to some classic Scottish delicacies – some earl grey tea, fresh scones and that giant sausage. After lunch we continued around the coastline towards Durness, which was our next camping spot at a beautiful site called Sango Sands. As Fraser booked in, we watched a few campers trying to pitch their tents in the gale force winds that had picked up in the late afternoon. We were a bit concerned but managed to find what we thought was a sheltered spot, the right angle etc. Unfortunately, whilst pitching Fraser and Jills tent, our estimates of the wind strength vs pole strength capacity was underestimated and two of the poles snapped. We decided that a safer option – and given that my first tent had already broken in very calm conditions – we would be much more comfortable in a B&B. The forecast was also rather miserable for the next couple of days so it turned out to be the correct decision! We were very lucky to secure a B&B in the area – I think it came down to Fraser’s charm with the ever helpful tourist office attendant. I think the combination of the popularity of the NC500 and the ensuing inclement weather had meant that everything had been snapped up. We ended up in a town called Laid, staying with Hugh, a real local who had his croft (a plot of land) for many generations. Instead of using the land for sheep farming he had replanted trees across his entire property and also used a lot of left over ‘junk’ to provide a playground for visitors. This included strategically placed old shoes that were now being used by birds in which to nest, childrens toys, old clothes, and a range of ‘dragon nests’, purpose built for children’s entertainment. The trees were now well established and had brought in a range of birds that had not been seen in the area for a long time, as well as provided a great breeding ground for midgees. Hugh had also created a large pond that now contained otters. Unfortunately, I spent a few hours searching for them that evening but had no luck.

Durness provided a wide range of activities that we were able to enjoy despite the weather including the Smoo caves, a zipline, award winning beaches, a wide variety of ‘art’ and craft displays including some fascinating artistic creations by a famous German porn star – who we met. He also gave haircuts and massage, a man of many talents. Durness was also home to Cocoa Mountain, arguably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. During our time in Durness we did a couple of hikes and took a trip out to Cape Wrath to visit the lighthouse. The bus driver on this trip spends three months of every year in Stroud, NSW – a place where I spent a bit of time wrangling frogs so we had a good old chat about a place very few people live (or should). The world is a small place! One of our meals was at the local Smoo Hotel, definitely worth the visit with delicious Scotch Haggis Eggs, and scallops with black pudding and a good old fashioned local pub hospitality. Beyond Durness we were treated to more breathtaking coastal scenery, challenging winding and narrow roads, and Fraser’s favourite, the frequent German tourist, who weren’t quite sure how to use the narrow roads and passing points.

This trip happened well north of here,

With Fraser as guide, have no fear,

But he changed his demeanour, when the Germans got keener,

And was no longer tour guide with cheer.

We were then treated to our most scenic camping ground at Achmelvich Beach, with pitches right by the beach. The weather was beautiful again so Jill and I took the opportunity to have a (very) quick dip in the Minch! That evening we took advantage of the campsites own fish and chips shop, and a couple of palate cleansers. We camped here for a couple of nights, and the tents stood up well! Activities we managed to tick off during this stay included a wander around Lochinver and a delicious lunch at Peets Restaurant, a hike out through an area called Bone Cave which is a popular spot for caving and includes Scotland’s deepest cave, and a hike out to view the Old Man o Stoer – more breathtaking coastline and nesting seabirds. Our final day on the NC500 was a big day of driving as we made the team decision to head back to the borders for a couple of nights before we all flew to Dublin. This included a stop in Inverness for lunch as we finally left the majestic coastline and sea that had been our constant companion for the past week or so.

It’s a site that’s admired by most,

And its one about which locals boast,

With its cliff-sides and canyon, the sea, our companion,

It’s the majestic Scottish North Coast.

More photos from the trip can be found in this album:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154641730332212&type=1&l=cbdfccee9b

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To the Kimberley and beyond……..

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Everyone loves a good road trip, and this was certainly a road trip of mammoth proportion. I’m still unsure how we hatched this plan but it all came together as my car left Sydney two weeks before I would see it again, on a mission that would eventually see it travel over 13,000 kms in 6 weeks. My travel companions for the trip were Tamara and Larissa Potter, both of whom I’d met on a Simpson Desert trip last year, and both of whom shared my enthusiasm for adventure and eagerness to find as many amazing creatures as we could. The trip included a five-day journey from Sydney to Darwin (without me – thanks Tamara 😉) and then two weeks from Darwin to Perth and finally, after a week at the International Mammalogical Conference in Perth, a Nullabor crossing, with a detour through the Gawler Ranges. The main focus of the trip was the Kimberley, a place that is considered by many as one of the last really remote wilderness areas of Australia. It’s a place that I’ve been keen to explore for some time after spending a couple of months up there as part of a biodiversity survey team on a large station up near Kalumburu, and also after the cruise around the coastline that Serena and I did in 2015. I figured the easiest way to capture a few key moments from the journey was with a couple of limericks. Just follow the link and I hope you enjoy……..Road-Trip-Blog-July-2017.

 

Six months of Stuff – The Unceasing Adventures of Graeme

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I know it’s been quite some time since I contributed to the blog. It’s been hard to decide whether to keep it going or not but I’ve decided that it’s time to give you all an update on what’s been going on in the last 9 months or so. I know a lot of people commented about our lives being such an amazing adventure and I’m going to do my best to make sure that this continues! Everyday I think about the trips that Serena and I did and had planned, so all I can do is try and make these reality, even if it’s just me.

In the second half of last year I decided it was time to dig my teeth into some field work. After a quick trip to visit WA friends in August, I had my first encounter with a wild Tassie Devil during a week long visit to hang out with Toby down in Hobart. Toby and I met in WA many years ago but he has moved to Tassie to study. We went up to assist with a devil trapping program near Freycinet and managed to trap a tiger quoll and one devil that unfortunately was heavily impacted by the facial tumour disease, very confronting but interesting to see given I’ve heard so much about the disease over the years. Other than the trapping we also visited Bruny Island and completed the quoll set for Toby and I with some spotlighting for eastern quolls. We also enjoyed the typical Tassie array of whiskeys, oysters, wines and cheese, and a spot of fishing or some squids off the jetty on Bruny.

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Tasting the Tassie produce

I returned to Melbourne and we had our first Finlayson camping trip in many many years to Gippsland to celebrate our birthdays (Mum, Jane and I). As there are now additional fur children in the family this was to a dog friendly camping ground down in Gippsland called Tarra Valley which provided plenty of entertainment for all. Despite the odd downpour, it was a fun week and certainly nice to be hanging out with the whole family.

In early October I left Sydney with the desert ecology crew for another adventure to the Simpson Desert. I met a bunch of new people on this trip but also a few familiar faces from my time in Sydney or from the trip I did to the desert in April, including my PhD supervisor Chris Dickman, the labs resident logistician Bobby (accompanied by his two eldest Ashleigh and Cooper) and honours student Tamara. This was a three week trip and was an amazing time in the Simpson due to the large amount of rain that had recently hit the interior. Despite the inability of one of the Toyota Hiluxes to cope with the conditions (long story), this was a fantastic three weeks jam packed with so many animals, stories, limericks, a whole lot of fun, mosquitoes, good company and memories….just what I needed. The desert had definitely come alive with all the rain and the crew on this trip made it a special few weeks. There were too many amazing pics from the trip so check out the album  here:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1124110314292250.1073741857.215607685142522&type=1&l=c2bb5218af

On returning to Sydney I bumped into a Sydney uni friend, Tom, who was doing dingo research out in the Tanami desert and he was still looking for someone to tag along on his next trip….good timing me!! This was a short trip, firstly to Alice Springs, where we collected a range of gear from Tom’s old boss, and then a drive out past Yuendumu (a place where Serena had been to work on a dog spay program during her uni degree) and into the Tanami. I’ve never had the chance to get out to these parts so I was quite excited about the prospect of exploring a new area! The Tanami is one of the last strongholds for wild bilbies and was also where Mala (a type of hare wallaby that is now extinct in the wild) were re-discovered many years ago.  Camping under the stars in the Tanami desert was just incredible, certainly big sky country out there!

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Tanami Dingo

After another brief stint in Melbourne, I hit the road again to join my old sparring partner George, in some monitoring surveys for a wind farm, just near Cooma NSW. The main concern for wind farms in this area is the potential impact on eastern bentwing bats that fly through the area. Luckily at this time of year the likelihood of finding this species is low and thankfully we didn’t find any bats that were impacted by the windfarm. So I mainly just opened gates!

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Nothing like a paddle on the Swan

In early December, after a trip to Adelaide for the day/night cricket test and the obligatory ‘Jude and Mike tailor-made winery tour’ to the McLaren Vale, I crossed the Nullarbor again to join a research trip from Murdoch University conducting bat surveys around the Mt Gibson area of WA led by Diana, a PhD student of a friend from NZ, Bethany who is a wildlife vet at Murdoch Uni. The surveys were to investigate baseline disease levels in the microbats of the region. We visited two sites in the area, one owned by Bush Heritage, and one by Australian Wildlife Conservancy, both of which had some beautiful bushland and lots of bats! We were mainly trapping bats with mist nets that we’d all set up on sunset which made for some fantastic sunset viewing, arguably the best time of the day out in these parts! Both sites also had plenty of amazing birdlife, including malleefowl and major mitchell cockatoos, that features in the logo that Serena designed for our around Australia adventures.

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Bat research in WA

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Bat research team, WA

After a few weeks over west I was back to Melbourne in time for the family Christmas gatherings, some time down in Rye with Pete and Kia from WA, and the usual shenanigans at the cricket on Boxing Day.

Shortly after the cricket I hit the road north towards the NSW central coast to hang out with the Sydney crew at Smiths Lake. Smiths Lake is a university research station and my good mate George from Sydney makes a regular booking here each summer to look for all the amazing critters that inhabit these parts and re-unite familiar faces from various work or study groups that we’ve been part of over the years. The usual is relaxing during the day with a bit of snorkelling or swimming in the lake, and then spotlighting adventures, fairly typical of a collective of budding ecologists.

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Seal Rocks NSW

After Smiths Lake, I spent a couple of nights on the central coast with the McGilchrist/Pfaeffli clan who were staying in Anna Bay and then had a few days of work in the Southern Highlands with George, spotlighting koalas, well it was meant to be but unfortunately we didn’t find any koalas. Highlights included a pair of calling juvenile Sooty Owls, numerous greater gliders, sugar gliders and the red-crowned toadlet, or red capped froglet as it is now known! One night we also had a celebrity visit from our mate Morton who was back in NSW for a break from his work up in the Kimberley.

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A bit of koala research

The next trip was a week on Flinders Island, off the north coast of Tassie with Toby and Nat. I’d been lucky enough to get to King Island the previous year with Serena so was keen to check out the other big island of Bass Strait. Flinders Island has some stunning scenery, and if the weather is rubbish on one side of the island it’s easy enough to escape to the other side. Toby and Nat had sussed out all the cool spots on the island and we had a great week snorkelling, hiking, fishing and camping our way around the island.

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Flinders Island Adeventures

In early February I moved up to NSW to start a job as a team leader with the NSW government conducting surveys throughout national parks using camera traps as part of a program called WildCount (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/wildcount.htm). I’ve mainly been based in Coffs Harbour but have spent time around Armidale, the Byron Coast and national parks and conservation areas right up to the Queensland border and am now based in Sydney. The fieldwork has been to many amazing parks throughout northern NSW with stunning scenery and an array of amazing critters!

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One of the many gorges during WildCount fieldwork

In between I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of trips to the west for weddings, 40ths and farewell parties, a few days back in Melbourne, a trip back to Roxby for the 20-year celebration of the Arid Recovery Project, a few Wallabadah spotlighting trips, catch-ups with friends in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney and some koala wrangling in Gunnedah, so its been a busy few months. I also had a visit from Jane, Ramsey and the family to Coffs, and have spent most weekends doing something fun and adventurous.

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Jane, Chelsea and I at the lookout to Coffs Harbour

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Sunset at Arid Recovery, Roxby Downs

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My favourite time of the day……sunset at Brunswick Heads NSW

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Coffs Harbour….the iconic big thing

 

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Doing my bit for the turtles during WildCount

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Nothing like a good dress up party

So life hasn’t been dull and I am so incredibly grateful to all the support that have had from everyone who has come to visit me in Melbourne, taken me in during one of my interstate visits, provided a shoulder, hung out, drank whiskey with me, or just checked in to see how I’m doing.

The next few months are shaping up to be quite the adventure with a trip through the Kimberleys, and some overseas travel to Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Italy, so stay tuned…..

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Back on the road!

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Kimberley Cruisin’, in Limericks

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CoverI decided that during our recent cruise of the Kimberley coastline I’d aim for a limerick a day, in a different approach to keeping a diary. Well this kind of blew out to ‘a few limericks a day’. When one of the passengers on board found out what I was doing she dobbed me in for a daily reading, and thus “Kimberley Cruisin’, in limericks” was born. Here’s a selection and I’ve included a few photos that try and capture the moment.

The anticipation was high,1Coral Expeditions
As we headed up north in the sky,
‘Twas the trip that for most,
Round the Kimberley Coast,
For ten days on a cruise we’d get by.

The morning in Darwin was bright,
The wind had died off over night,
“What a great day to sail”,
The crew members did hail,
As we boarded our cruise with delight.3 Porthole

The sea on day one was quite rough,
Some people on board found it tough,
Apply named on the chart,
The gulf called “Blown Apart”,
By the crossing we’d all had enough.

The crew they had worked here a while,5 Dave
And clearly had jokes all on file,
Especially that Dave,
Who said how to behave,
When encountering a crocodile.

Kristy’s talk introduced all,
To the sites of the great Mitchell Fall,
Her accent was rich,
From straight over the ditch,
Lacking typical Australian drawl.7 Skipper Nathan

Nathan was captain aboard,
His stories, not to be ignored,
He told of his fate,
When he last crossed Bass Strait,
And not one at the table was bored.

8 King George Falls

As we pulled into Koolama Bay,
We knew we’d be treated this day,
As the gorges were long,
And we saw some dugong!
Under King George Falls we then did play.9 Echidna Rock art

The Gwion was known as Bradshaw,
Of the age, no one can be sure,
Echidnas and fish,
And a wombat…I wish,
Are depicted on all the rock walls.

The food on the Coral was great,
We ate, and we ate, and we ate,
If we kept up the feed,
At such a great speed,
I’m not sure we’d fit through the gate!

The engine room way down below,10 Engine
Has all things to make this ship go,
But ladies beware,
As you head down the stair,
Or you’ll give us the Marilyn Monroe

A chopper was the way to go,
For what was up next in the show,11 Chopper
The flight that for most,
Took us over the coast,
Right up on to the Mitchell Plateau.

Shae did much more than the dishes,
Just give her a handline, she fishes,
On cast number two,
Her dreams they came true,
A whopping great queenfish, delicious!

12 Shae Queenfish13 BBQ

With BBQ feast underway,
And five different meats on display,
With steak, lamb and roo,
And buffalo too,
And the queenfish we’d caught just that day.14 Tracks

On Bigge Island we did some cavin’
As we’d heard that this place was a haven,
His tracks were about,
But he failed to come out,
The monjon, lets hope they can save ‘im.

As King brought his ship to careen,15 Boab
His crew, no doubt far less than keen,
He asked them to stab,
In that big old boab,
“Mermaid”, and it still can be seen.

Up the Prince Regent we flew,
Excitement, like King’s men, it grew,
With the sound that it made,
That iconic cascade,
Oh what a spectacular view!

16 King Cascade17 Croc

The morning began at pre-dawn,
Out looking for crocs with a yawn,
Their eyes shone out bright,
As they glared at the light,18 Rail
And their teeth on display to adorn.

It’s a secretive bird in this tale,
That is tough for a twitcher to nail,
A long yellow bill,
And a trumpeting shrill,
In the mangroves, the large Chestnut Rail.

The sunsets were much to behold,19 Sunset
I’m not sure the views could get old,
For the cliffs to our right,
Changing colour with light,
The Kimberley, I reckon I’m sold!

20 Split Rod

The hike up the rocks of Raft Point,
For rock art, worth the odd sore joint,
Some customs seemed odd,
Like a split through the rod,
The elders pathway to annoint.

The coral reef talk was a squeal,
As the listeners digested their meal,
For as Kristy talked spores,21 Turtle
The room echoed with snores,
And it sounded like snorkelling, for real.

There’s a reef off the Kimberley Coast,
When you visit is sure to play host,
To turtles that ride,
Down a six metre tide,
Montgomery, lets all raise a toast.

These falls aren’t upright, they lie down,22 Horizontal Falls
I can see the odd curious frown,
With the huge tidal flush,
And an almighty rush,
Makes the most unique falls in this town.

The rocky cliff faces we saw,
Were shaped back in times long before,
The layers were moulded,
They were pushed up and folded,
It’s safe to say all were in awe!

23 Iron Islands Rock

Jo was in charge of Explorer,24 Jo
Instructions, no one would ignore ‘er,
She knew all this land,
Like the back of her hand,
And for this we all had to adore her.

‘Bout the crew on board we all do rave,
They all know the way to behave,
But as shifts almost closed,25 Dave and tawny
Odd behaviours exposed,
Especially that host of ours, Dave

They call them the labs of the sea,
They’re as placid as placid can be,
On the back deck this beast,
Gets a fresh hand fed feast,
Those Tawneys, they’re something to see.

26 Tawny27 Boobie

On this cruising game we are newbies,
Unlike some onboard with their rubies,
But on Lacipedes,
All will satify needs,
As the cruise will be swarmed by Brown Boobies.

Broome must be next port of call,
Ten days, kinda seemed rather small,
I hope that my prose,
Will be one day…. who knows,
A Kimberley tale for you all.

Much Kakadu About Nothing

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Where: Kakadu National Park

Hanging out with: The Stracks, the Clifts and Tom and Jas

For many Australians, images that come to mind of the top end are those from our biggest national park, Kakadu. The beautiful escarpments, the picturesque water holes and the beautiful wildlife, all make this place a ‘must do’ on a trip to the NT. We decided to head into the park from the southern end with the first stop at the scenic Gunlom Falls. Like most of northern Australia at the moment, Kakadu is very dry! This makes it easy to do any of the river crossings but sadly reduces the likelihood of those majestic waterfall photos. You would also think that the crocs would be less abundant in the remaining isolated pools but we quickly found out that this is not the case.

Ubirr Rock, Kakadu National Park

Ubirr Rock, Kakadu National Park

After a swim in the apparently saltwater croc-free Gunlom swimming hole and a picnic lunch we made our way to the Yellow Water Billabong for a sunset cruise. It’s always fascinating hearing about how places got their name with dreamtime stories and again we had a local guide who had everyone captivated with his stories. The cruise was a great way to see all the surrounding wildlife, including numerous species of waterbirds, and a ridiculous number of saltwater crocodiles! Also on show were the remaining buffalo in the park, that despite a major cull in the 90’s still occur in the park in reasonable numbers. There are also still cattle and horses that run wild as a remnant of previous mustering in the area. After the cruise we made our way to Jabiru and our accommodation for the next few days at Kakadu Lodge.

A welcome swim at Gunlom Falls

A welcome swim at Gunlom Falls

Crocodiles everywhere!! Yellow Water Billabong

Crocodiles everywhere!! Yellow Water Billabong

One of the stunning features of Kakadu is the rock art that spans stories from thousands of years and our day started by wandering around Norlangie Rock and the beautiful rock art. That evening we took a picnic up to the popular Ubirr Rock and watched the sunset. We also managed to find a couple of the local short-eared rock wallabies, which were super cute.

One of the many beautiful rock art sites at Kakadu NP

One of the many beautiful rock art sites at Kakadu NP

Ubirr Rock, apart from having a rich aboriginal history with rock art that includes a Thylacine, was also made famous by Crocodile Dundee. Sadly our catch up with the Stacks and Clifts had to come to an end and we said goodbye to the Stracks that evening and the Clifts the next day. Who knows where next years catch-up will be?

The clan on top of Ubirr Rock

The clan on top of Ubirr Rock

The next day we decided to see Kakadu from the air – a fantastic way to get a perspective on the ruggedness and remoteness of Arnhem Land, and how much of the place is on fire….don’t get me started on that topic!!.

A wildfire in Kakadu National Park

A wildfire in Kakadu National Park

East Alligator River from the air

East Alligator River from the air

We then met up with another one of the famous ‘frogging’ crew Tom Parkin in Kakadu. Tom and his girlfriend Jas are working with one of the Arnhem Land communities coordinating ranger activities. It was great to hear some of the stories about their adventures hunting and fishing with the locals – we even managed to wet a line at the famous Cahill’s Crossing, where we saw ten large crocs eagerly waiting for someone to catch a large barra or slip over the ledge! There was even one there with a tracker on him from being re-located – the running joke being that no one is game enough to change the batteries! From here it was on to Mary River National Park for a night of luxury at the Wildman Wilderness Lodge and then back to Darwin.

A spot of fishing at Cahill's Crossing, note the crocodile waiting for a catch as well!

A spot of fishing at Cahill’s Crossing, note the crocodile waiting for a catch as well!

The 4th Annual FinStraclift holiday

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Where: Darwin and Kakadu NP

Hanging out with: The Stracks and the Clifts.

For the past three years the Finlaysons, the Stracks and the Clifts have managed to organise an annual holiday together. This ritual has become an important part of our lives because we now all live in different states/countries. The inaugural holiday in 2012 was inspired by the fact that for the first time in history, all six of us were pretty much “unemployed” at the same time.

This year the Stracks and Clifts joined us in Darwin for a winter escape. We had lots of fun with the kids in the wavepool and another trip to Litchfield NP to have a picnic and relax in the cooling waters.

DSCN3105We visited the underground tunnels built during WWII

Darwin tunnell DSCN3053and did a cruise on the river to watch wild jumping crocodiles.

Croc jumping IMG_0579Croc jumping IMG_0555

The holiday also happened to coincide with Graeme’s birthday so we took him on a crabbing and bara fishing charter. Alas, the barramundi didn’t take the bait, but we did take home eight giant mudcrabs which fed us for two days.

DSCN3119DSCN3128

After five days in Darwin we headed to Kakadu NP for more adventures. To be continued…