Sad/glad to be home

We are now back home in Sydney enjoying the delights of long showers (although not too long due to water restrictions), a flushing toilet and a king size bed.  On the other hand the concept that the adventure is over brings pangs of nostalgic sadness each time I think about it and the upcoming novelty of returning to work and the buzz of city life is tempered by knowledge that this novelty will probably soon wear off and the daily feelings of anticipation and excitement for the attractions of the road are now a thing of the past.

Anyway, while all good things come to an end, this does not mean it’s the end of good things – there will always be more, especially if you have the right frame of mind.  Sydney is a beautiful city and a great place to live and we are very fortunate to be able to live here and still have enough left over to afford regular holidays in the future.

The final 500km down to Sydney from Coffs Harbour, was punctuated by a stop in Cooranbong which is about 100km short of Sydney then a final night in a caravan park on the northern beaches about 20km from the CBD.  We planned the first stop to allow time to give Keddie a final good clean at a nearby car wash facility as it had proved impossible to find a car wash in Sydney that was high enough to fit our caravan.   The last night’s stop was to give the caravan a good clean on the inside in a pleasant environment and where we could have the air-conditioner running (rather than trying to do it on the side of the road while it bakes in the sun).

These last two days weren’t exactly a holiday and it seems we didn’t take any photos of us cleaning the van – although in hind-sight we should have done so.  However, I did have the excitement of seeing a new species of bird in Cooranbong – a musk lorikeet, bringing the total for the trip to 384. Here is the full list with photos: Bird List.

musk lorikeet
Musk lorikeet

To wrap up: after 408 days, driving over 46,000km (towing 36000) we have seen some amazing sights and visited some beautiful spots – but the amazing thing is that there are still vast tracts of the country that we did not get to visit.   I would say that you need 2 to 3 years to see the whole country at the pace that we were travelling.  Some of these areas we had visited on previous trips (like the east coast of Queensland, Cape York and Tasmania) however there are still a few blank areas on the map, so while our next holiday might be overseas (just for the change) it’s good to know that there are still places in this wonderful country left for us to see and we also visited many areas on this trip that we already plan to see again – in a different season to see the change.  S

Finally, if anyone else is considering doing a trip like this, we can offer two simple, but valuable words of advice:

“Do it”. S

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of social media, but I wanted to do this blog while we were away, for my Mum. I wanted her to be able to see us wherever we were as I knew I would not have a phone much of the trip, due to our love of remote places. What I didn’t know is how many people would be interested in what we were doing and where we were going and though it has been a lot of work, writing about places we have found interesting has also made the trip more rewarding. I learned a lot about many things out there on the road.

I want to thank the people who we have met along the way and the ones who let us know how much they enjoyed our travels. The people were as interesting often as the places. I also want to thank in particular Glenda, Helen P and Warwick who we felt were on the back seat with us! You made us laugh. I will cry when we sell the caravan as it has been such a lovely home but look forward to our next adventure-whenever that is! But for now it’s back to reality! M




Coffs Harbour

We left Byron Bay and are slowly heading down the east coast towards Sydney. We drove through burnt out areas left and right of the pacific highway today. This is the first sign of the fires other than smoke that we have seen. We stopped at Mullaway beach for lunch and a swim. The water is still warm enough for us thankfully. We are camped at a beautiful camp spot for the next few nights near Coffs Harbour. We are camped in a horse paddock overlooking a dam and it is gorgeous here. We are glad that with this being one of our last nights “on the road” that it is such a beautiful spot. M

Coffs Harbour hills horse paddock camp
This is our ‘U Camp’ called Sunnyridge. Last week there were fires on the distant hills in this photo. Up the hill from us is all bush, so we would not want to be here in a fire!
horse paddock camp Coffs
Steve relaxing in our very own horse paddock after the drive down from Byron.
horse visitor coffs camp
This is the view out our window now. These guys are a bit cheeky though. They have tried to eat bits of the xmas decorations and tried to go off with one of my shoes in the night. They smell much nicer than cows and have much more personality.

But it’s not all fun and sitting around drinking cocktails and bird watching. When we arrived we took some inside photos to advertise the caravan to sell.  Steve’s photos make it look great but we have looked after it and it really does look in near new condition! We have yet to properly wash it too! M

Kedron inside view bedkeddie inside view bathroom washerkeddie inside view kitchen sinkkeddie inside view dinette

We headed into Coffs to do the walk out to Muttonbird Island. We didn’t see any Muttonbirds just pigeons pretending.

feral pigeon coffs breakwater

pigeon pretending to be a mutton bird
This guy was eyeing off the Muttonbird burrow
muttonbird island coff harbour panorama
View back over Coffs Harbour from Muttonbird Island with the smoky hills behind
lookout muttonbird island coffs
The look out to sea of the end of Muttonbird Island
Bindarri nat park swim spot
Near our camp was Bindarri National Park with a pocket of old growth rainforest that was very beautiful. You needed high clearance four wheel drive to get in there and we drove into a picnic spot with a beautiful swimming spot. There was a very strong smell of smoke as we swam and then we heard helicopters going back and forth over our heads. We decided we had better get out of there. There must have been a fine on a nearby hill as the park was closed the next day.
end of the skywalk dorrigo nat park
We spent the morning up at the Dorrigo National Park. This is the view from the Skywalk which looks out over the World Heritage listed rainforest.
cat bird dorrigo np
A cat bird seen on the Wonga walk
white throated treee creeper
White Throated Tree Creeper

crystal shower falls 2

steve behind crystal shower falls
Steve behind Crystal Showers Falls on the Wonga walk

crystal shower falls from behindgrey gerygone

black swan at the bellingen swimming hole
We stopped in the little village of Bellingen for a quick swim in the town swimming hole on the Bellinger River while geese and swans looked on.

Next we headed to Urunga on the coast to do the boardwalk walk over the mangroves. We didn’t see any new birds but it was a pretty birdy town.

urunga boardwalk
Urunga boardwalk
olive backed oriole
Olive Backed Oriole

female golden whistler

yellow tailed black cockatoos
We were looking for Glossy Black Cockatoos but only saw about a million Yellow Tailed Blacks
beach from hungry head urunga
The view from Hungry Head
urunga beach
Looking back to the end of the boardwalk and Urunga Beach. The beaches up here are beautiful and there is hardly a soul on them.
scarlet honeyeater
Scarlet Honeyeater
brush cookoo
Brush Cuckoo
wompoo pidgon
The threatened Wompoo Pigeon has got to be the prettiest pigeon ever!
wood duck sculpture
Wood duck sculpture on the walk around Urunga


royal spoonbills
Royal Spoonbills at the Urunga sewage treatment plant

Today we drove through more burnt out areas on either side of the pacific highway near Taree. The signs on the highway were melted so you couldn’t read them. It looked terrible and scary for the houses that were only sometimes a few hundred metres away from the fire blackened dead trees. M



The Byron Wetlands

The Byron Wetlands are part of the so called Byron Bay integrated water management reserve.  While it could be more coarsely referred to as the Byron Bay sewerage works, in truth, when you are there it is easy see why they are an award winning example good resource management as they have created a wonderful natural habitat for local fauna and flora – birds in particular.   Apart from an unobtrusive industrial processing centre in one corner, the place is more like a park with a number of lakes and swamps interspersed with walking tracks.   Access is by prior arrangement with the council, but it is free and restricted access ensures that the birds do not suffer the continual harassment from dogs and children that they would otherwise endure in an open reserve.

I spotted 5 new species of bird at this site maybe 6 – not bad for two hours of bird-watching with 377 species already on the list.

wetland reserve map
The map shows how water from the sewage treatment plant is then directed to a series of ponds.  In contrast to other sewerage treatment works, which tend to have a series of uniform ponds, in Byron each pond has been set up with a subtly different habitat and as a result each attracts a different set of birds.
sewage treatment
Here the treatment plant can be seen behind one of the lakes that has been constructed as an open marshy area with deep channels attracting ducks, swans, crakes etc. Also it was amazing all this did not smell like a sewage treatment plant!?

In this area we spotted Baillon’s crake (top left), and a swamp harrier – both new birds for the trip.  Also black swans and Australasian grebes.  We saw some spotless crake here too – unfortunately the views were all too fleeting to get a photograph.

sewage ponds
This more shallow lake had a gradual incline resulting in a transition from grasses to lilies, where birds like the golden-headed cisticola and comb-crested jacana below liked to hang out respectively.
fairy martins and mud
The previous night’s rain created some mud that these fairy martins felt was perfect for mud nest construction.   So even the service roads have created an attractive habitat for some birds!
lillies at the sewage works
Some ponds were fringed with melaleuca (paperbark trees) which attracted another variety of birds…
olive backed oriole 3
… such as this olive-backed oriole
white cheeked honeyeater
White-cheeked honey-eater.  Also a new bird.
leaden flycatcher male 2
A male leaden flycatcher briefly emerged from the melaleuca thickets to pose for this photo.
owl box
An owl box in the swampy melaleuca zone.
tawny grassbird
We heard tawny grassbirds on a few occasions.  They normally like to stay concealed, but I managed to get a sly photo of this one.
Other ponds were constructed with muddy shallows that attracted waders like this black winged stilt and Lathams snipe below.

lathams snipe 2

red knot 2
There were also plenty of red-kneed dotterel, black-fronted dotterel and sharp-tailed sandpiper.  The bird on the left might be a red knot.  It was noticeably lighter than the sharp-tails around it and it also remained behind when all the sharpies suddenly flew off together.  While this would make it a new bird for the trip, I can’t be sure, so unfortunately I won’t be counting it.

Byron Bay

We have always loved the north coast of NSW around Byron Bay, so thought it would be nice to spend a few days around Byron and catch up with an old university friend who moved up here many years ago. It was now Dec, so thought a bit of Christmas cheer on the road would be in order. M

decorated car
No tree to decorate so thought we would do what you see farmers doing in the outback. They decorate their bull bar or their mailbox, as often it is impossible to see their houses from the road.
wolongbar u camp
We camped at a lovely ‘Ucamp’ in Wollongbar called Parker’s Place. It is on the grounds of a wholesale nursery that has made a special area to camp next to a creek, that makes you feel like you are camped in a botanic garden. It was so lovely and peaceful we stayed 6 nights!
eastern rosella parkers place
There were plenty of birds in the trees around us like this Eastern Rosella
superb fairy wren
The Superb Fairy Wren was not far away
lismore xmas tree
We went into Lismore to the Richmond hotel to meet friends for a lovely dinner and a walk around town afterwards. This is Lismore’s town xmas tree. It is made of recycled material with a solar powered reticulated water pump watering the plants. Yes those are old jeans at the bottom.

At Flat Rock near Ballina we were pretty excited to see 4 new birds and a few old ones!

wandering tattler
Wandering Tattler
curlew sandpipers
Curlew Sandpiper
common tern and little tern
Common Tern and Little Tern
common tern
Common Tern
sanderling 2

We went for a nice coastal walk in Broken Head Nature reserve which has an area of coastal subtropical rainforest or littoral rainforest. Originally, the area between Byron Bay and Lismore contained the largest area of tall subtropical rainforest in Australia. This 75,000 ha forest was almost totally destroyed for agriculture in the latter part of the 19th century. Today only isolated remnants like this area remain so they are like little gems of bush. We walked past the The Two Sister’s rocks to the lookout over Smith’s beach. We then walked down down to Smith’s and around the rocks and found our very own beach to have lunch and a swim. M

three sisters at broken head nature reserve
The Two Sisters
broken head smiths beach lookout
Looking down towards Smith’s beach at broken head Nature reserve. We walked around the rocks in the background and found our own little (keep your swimmers dry) beach to have  lunch.
nudie beach lunch spot
A lunch spot under the pandanus near Smith’s Beach. The ocean temp should never be cooler than what it is here! I think Sydney will be a shock for us now.
limpet island
The gorgeous Limpet Island rock 

After reading about the voyage of the Kon Tiki” a few years ago, I was keen to go to the Ballina Naval Museum to see the raft from the Las Balsa’s Expedition which went from Ecuador to Australia in 1973. The original expedition with Tor Heyerdahl in 1947 was supposed to prove that a western migration across the Pacific from the west coast of South America took place. The success of the trip never completely convinced some anthropologists of this. Even without the science I thought this trip was fascinating! Las Balsa’s voyage was led by Vital Alsar and was twice as long as Heyerdahl’s at 8,600miles. M

balsa raft poster
The museum showed this movie which was actually a documentary shot by one of the men of the voyage and interesting. 
balsa raft newspaper
They were supposed to land at Mooloolaba but strong southerly currents carried them down the coast to Ballina. HMAS Labuan followed the rafts south from Brisbane where 2 trawlers helped two of the rafts into the Richmond River. The third was abandoned at sea. The Ballina raft is made up of the best of the other 2 as all were in bad shape in the end.
balsa raft 2
One raft was so water logged coming in that is was abandoned. 
balsa raft 1
A side view of the raft with the wooden toilet bucket that hangs over the side. The sails were made of canvas. You can see where the balsa logs were eaten and rotting. 
balsa raft diagram
The rafts were made entirely of wood fastened by wooden pegs and sisal ropes. These were being repaired all along the voyage. The balsa logs had to be cut from female trees at the time of the full moon as these trees have a higher sap content. This ensured the rafts would be the most resistant to saturation by sea water.
huge goanna
We found this huge Lace Monitor climbing a tree in a another small area of rainforest near Ballina. It looked like it had just eaten something and could hardly get up the tree.
forest kingfisher
While looking for 2 other new birds in this reserve we ended up seeing only this gorgeous new Forest Kingfisher
cattle egret
The area near where we stayed were mostly cattle properties or macadamia farms. We are always amazed how Cattle Egrets don’t seem to be afraid of being stepped on, sometimes walking in between their legs!
poo fairy sign ballina
Sick of stepping on domestic animal poo we loved this sign on the Ballina breakwater walk. Go Ballina council!
masked lapwing chick
A Masked Lapwing chick near the Ballina breakwater.
great egret ballina
Great Egret

The second big prawn on this trip. We decided the Ballina prawn was a much better prawn than the Exmouth Prawn. Just look at the little legs and eye detail  on him! Sorry Exmouth!

byron bay beach
Byron Bay main beach is nice but we swam up at “the pass” all the way around the other end.
wategos beach
Watego’s beach on the walk up to the Byron bay lighthouse.
tallow beach
Tallow Beach from viewed from the lighthouse.
cape byron
In Western Australia we went to Australia’s most westerly point so now we are at the most easterly at this point in Byron Bay.
The Byron Bay lighthouse
evening market
Here we are at the night markets where we ended the day after birding and walking and swimming. You can always find a butterfly a crystal or a dream catcher at the markets!


Lamington National Park

After picking up Keddie in Brisbane with it getting a clean bill of health from Kedron ready for the next trip, we continued south for about an hour and set up camp for 3 nights in a little town called Canungra.  From here we did a couple of day trips up into Lamington National Park, which protects an area of upland rainforests.  Although some forestry had commenced in the area in the 1860’s, it has been protected since the 1890’s before all of its old giant trees had succumbed to the logger’s axe.  It is truly beautiful to walk among these giants and the rich birdlife that lives in them.

cows and feet
While we enjoyed our nights in the Noosa apartment, it was good to be back in Keddie and wake up to views across a little stream with dairy cows roaming about.   Here in Canungra they had actually run out of water a few weeks ago due to the drought and they were having to bring water in by truck.  Fortunately about 2 weeks before our visit they had had some good rains so the river was flowing again and the place was already nice and green.
oreillys king parrot
Camping is currently not available in the park (and the road up was a bit steep and narrow to take a caravan anyway) however there is accommodation at o’Reilly’s, a guesthouse established in 1926 on the edge of the park.
lamingtons at lamington
While visiting Lamington National Park, it would be wrong not to sample the cake with the same name.  Apparently both the cake and the national park are named after Lord Lamington, the governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1902.    Although it looks misty, the views are actually obscured by smoke from the bush fires burning on the east coast of Australia.  Even though the nearest fire to us was over 50km away, we could hardly see more than about 300m.
eastern whipbird 2
The birds near o’Reilly’s are quite tame.  Even the eastern whip bird, which is normally very shy, was quite happy to stand in the open and pose for a photo before continuing to scratch through the undergrowth.
lamington walkway
A canopy walkway was built in the 1988 – the first in Australia.  Unfortunately, being there at noon was probably not the best time for birds, however it was great to be up in the trees.

At one point a ladder takes you further up one of the giant trees to a point over 30m from the ground.  From the top we could see out across to the villas at o’Reilly’s, but little further.

male regent bower bird
We also managed to spot this regent bower bird from up in the canopy.  Not a great view, but for a twitcher – good enough to be a confirmed sighting.
up strangler fig
Here we are looking up the inside of a strangler fig where its host tree has died leaving a hollow network of roots behind.

LHS:  Looking up another hollow tree – this time just a hollowed out trunk with a hole in the crown.  RHS: I was struck by this beautiful sight while looking back out of the entrance to the hollow tree – I simply had to take a photo.  S

More magnificent old trees in Lamington National Park.

Golden whistler and satin bowerbird

lamington lbj
As cute as they are, I find these little brown hopping jobs so hard to identify – maybe it’s a red-legged pademelon.  Suggestions/corrections are welcome. S
view from lunch spot
After a couple of hours walk in the steamy/smoky rainforest, it was great to have a refreshing dip and lunch. 
elabana falls
Elebana falls drops into this beautiful infinity pool.  At about 20 degrees the water was cooler than that to which we had recently become accustomed.  But being so beautiful I just had to go for a swim… twice… then go back the next day for another swim.  S
border track panorama
A panorama taken on a bend of the Border Trail – named because it goes up to the border of Queensland and New South Wales.  The walking trails in Lamington were built during the Great Depression. Their solid construction with banked up dry-stone work designed to follow the contours on the steep slopes with no more than a 1 in 10 gradient is quite remarkable.    At times the slopes exceed 45 degrees and they feel quite precarious, but they were obviously built to last.

Two new birds for the area: white headed pigeon and crested shrike-tit

Some other birds (seen before elsewhere): large-billed scrubwren; green cat-bird; eastern spinebill; logrunner.

antarctic beech
A magnificent antarctic beech tree – a remnant of the gondwana rainforests that now grows only in the high forests above 1000m at these latitudes.  The conditions in this area today are no longer suitable to allow these trees to reproduce through pollination, but they continue to survive through coppicing, where new trees grow from the stumps of dead trees as can be seen in this specimen.   The rootstock of some of these trees is said to be up to 5000 years old.
smoky view
Looking south into New South Wales.  On day two the smoke had cleared a bit, but visibility was still limited to about 10km.  Normally one would be able to see out to Mt Warning, and on a clear day even out to the ocean.

Some more beautiful waterfalls.  Chalahn falls on the left and those on the right did not even feature on the walking trail map.







Brisbane and Noosa

We left Keddie with its makers for a few days to get a service and a bit of a spruce-up to sell 😦   Yes in a couple of weeks our trip will be over and we will be adjusting to “normal” life again.    While there we took some time to look around Brisbane and head up to Noosa for a couple of nights in the space and comfort of a serviced apartment.

The Brisbane CBD with its eponymous river.  Each time I visit there seems to be a new 60+ storey skyscraper.  S
christmas fig
Christmas decorations in the Brisbane CBD Botanic Gardens.

Some lovely old Queenslander style houses in Hawthorne, an inner eastern suburb of Brisbane.

botanic garden bats
Bat statues in a fig tree in the Mt Coot-tha botanic gardens about 5km west of Brisbane CBD.  In Sydney they sometimes play loud music to discourage bats from roosting in particular trees.  In Brisbane, it seems just having statues of bats playing music is enough.
giant water dragon
It was interesting to see this water dragon looking quite comfortable at the feet of this giant statue.  Or maybe it felt protected from bird attacks.  

We also did some city bird watching.  No new species, but got some nice photos of this channel-billed cuckoo and an Australasian grebe.

noosa cruise
On a cruise on the Noosa River.  We were still just north of all the fires, so we still had a nice blue sky.  This was about to change.

Some birds in Noosa: bar-tailed godwit and scaly breasted lorikeet.

bored husband
Noosa Marina offers several eating options as well as shops selling collectibles – things you buy on holiday then wonder why.   They seem to have a bit of a sense of humour about the shopping appeal too.   Ironically it was me that walked away with a purchase in the end: a new hat.  S

Dayboro (sorry more bird stuff)

Inching our way closer to civilisation we stopped for two nights near Dayboro – a quaint country town about 20 minutes drive from the outer suburbs of Brisbane.

We camped at a ”youcamp” about 6km out of town and did an early morning bird walk at the nearby Juff’s crossing on the North Pine River followed by a day trip into d’Aguilar National Park in the hills behind Brisbane.

top knot pigeon

Top-knot pigeon – first seen in Conondale, but got a closer view in Dayboro

rose crowned fruit dove
The first excitement for the day was seeing 4 new species of bird bringing the total for the trip to 370.  The first: a rose crowned fruit dove, which conveniently sidled into a gap in the canopy.
barred cuckooshrike
Then some barred cuckoo-shrike flew past and stopped in the riverside casuarina
scarlet honeyeater
Scarlet honeyeater were darting about high up in the trees.  It was hard to get a good photo with the harsh back-light.
varied triller
Lastly I picked up a varied triller.

After breakfast we headed up the d’Aguilar range to do some walks in the mountain rain forests.  It was very hot and dry and we saw no new birds, but it was pleasant in the shade of the trees and vines

Strangler figs and vines starting to envelop their host trees.

ol got tree
Evidence of old growth logging from yester-year.  The holes in the trunk are from where the lumberjacks would insert planks on which to stand while making the main cut 2m above the ground. 

More birds at dAguilar: black faced monarch, rufous fantail and green catbird.

Late that afternoon we drove up alongside Lacey’s Creek, which is supposed to be a good spot for birds.  However, it was bone dry with very little bird activity.  However we did come across this disgusting scene of a dead cow being eaten by goannas.

    On a more pleasant note, we got a nice view of a king parrot and a huddle of stubble quails heading back to our camp site.

That night we retired early to prepare for the shock of returning to the big smoke.  For the next couple of days we would be battling Brisbane traffic and staying in an inner city hotel while we have the car and caravan serviced.