THE START OF THE NULLARBOR

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Camels have played a huge part in the history of the Outback and everywhere we have been from the North to the South and now here in the mid west, there have been heroic tales of explorers and pastoralists with teams of camels opening up the country.  Here, in Norseman, south of Kalgoorlie, the animals are honoured  in corrugated iron statues in the middle of the main street of the town.

Norseman is a small mining town at the very start of the drive across the Nullarbor Plain which is a flat, almost treeless, semi arid country stretching 1,100km from east to west.

The town was named after a horse called “Norseman” and belonging to a gold prospector named Laurie Sinclair.  He tied his horse to a tree near his camp one night and noticed in the morning that the horse had been pawing the ground making a hole in which he uncovered a piece of gold bearing quartz. Over the years gold has been mined here – once it was the second richest goldfield in Western Australia and today the Norseman Gold Mine is Australia’s longest continuously running gold mining operation and has been in operation for 78 years.

Beacon Hill Lookout gives a wonderful overview of the countryside around Norseman with 360 degree views.  We drove up and enjoyed a picnic lunch before starting the Nullarbor Crossing.

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Then we began the drive which was take us two days.  Along here is Australia’s longest straight road

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As well we had to watch for native animals and the very long road trains.

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The Flying Doctor uses part of the road as an airstrip in emergencies and we came across several of these.

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About 100km east of Norseman we found our lodgings for the night at the beautiful Fraser Range Station which is a working cattle station as well as providing tourist accommodation in the form of cabins, caravan park and camping grounds. The station is surrounded by the largest hardwood forest in the world.

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We had a cabin which was very comfortable and from which we could watch a glorious sunset and several wildlife visitors – emus, wallabies and lots of birds.

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Taking a walk around the property we came across “Mr Squiggle” the pet camel whose best friend was a young steer!

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And the baby camel was too cute!

We had a station dinner and a nightcap before bed with the prospect of more of the straight road in the morning!

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And this is the gorgeous station garden on this treeless plain.

 

 

 

The Coastal Road To Kalbarri and Perth

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There is something special about being close to the sea – at least for me.  I am in my element when watching the moods of the ocean, the vegetation, coastal scenery and the different lifestyles of the communities all along the coastal stretch.  For a while we are out of the red dust, the dramatic landscapes and rock faces, the vast distances between places – not to mention the flies and the heat!

Leaving Shark Bay we visited the remarkable Hamelin Pool stromatolites.  I had no idea what these were until we visited the Discovery Centre and so we were keen to see what it was all about.  These Hamelin Pool stromatolites are the oldest and largest living fossils on earth.  These are considered “living fossils” and are part of the Earth’s evolutionary history.

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Now part of the Word Heritage Area, a purpose built jetty has been built over these amazing life forms so people can walk and observe without causing damage. This gives everyone has a chance to see what is of great interest to botanists and geologists and give an indication of what the earth may have looked like about 3.7 billion years ago when stromatolites grew widespread across the water.

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Some scientists are now saying that this is what life on Mars may look like right now.

An easier explanation is the following quote:

The oldest Stromatolites in the world are found in Western Australia, and date to 3.7 billion years old. As such, the stromatolites provide a record of local environmental changes. Hamelin Pool in Western Australia is one of only four places on earth where living marine stromatolites exist and the location contains by far the biggest colony on earth. 

Stromatolites which are found up to a metre high are believed to grow at a maximum of 0.3mm per year – they are truly “living fossils”. 80% of the history of all life was stromatolites – for that time, stromatolites were king.

Our next destination was Kalbarri.  This little town on the mouth of the Murchison River is known for its seaside cliffs, estuary beaches, pelicans and birdlife and the National Park nearby.  Once again there are gorges and and natural bridge forms and several scenic walks and climbs for those who are more adventurous.

When I did my first Road Trip all those years ago, there was nothing here except a couple of holiday houses and fishing shacks.  Now it is a thriving tourist destination and very popular with families.  The first thing you notice on driving into the village is the river – which is currently very muddy and so it is easy to see where the river meets the ocean.

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There are sandy beaches close by which are protected by a reef – and the thundering surf beyond is quite spectacular.

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Red Bluff is where ancient rock meets the ocean and the history of this area is interesting.

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The first European people to visit the area were the crew of the trading ship Batavia belonging to the Dutch East India Company who apparently put ashore two mutinous crew members here.  The wreck of another ship – the Zuytdorp – which sank in 1712 is also here.

There is a lovely little walk along the cliff top which illustrates clearly the problem ships would have had sailing into this area.

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At the bottom of the cliff is a trail from the beach leading up to the top and here the contrast between the red rock and the beach is obvious.  This is a popular fishing spot.

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Bird life is prolific and at times, walking on the beach, the only company you have is our feathered friends.

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Another interesting place to visit is Port Gregory and the “Pink Lake” .  This is on the road south of Kalbarri and we were told one should see it in the morning when the sun is overhead.  We were not disappointed.

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The Hutt Lagoon has a pink hue created by the presence of carotenoid producing algae which is a source of B carotene, a food colouring agent and a source of Vitamin A.   There are other pink lakes in WA and hopefully we will get to see more on this “Big Loop”.

History has always been a passion of mine and so a stop at Lytton close by was a must as this was a Convict Hiring Station and there are several ruins and many tales to tell here.

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And finally – not far from Perth we came across an amazing sight – a desert in the bush. This is The Pinnacles – in Nambung National Park and is incredible.

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These are limestone formations and some reach 3.5m.  Some are jagged, sharp edged columns and others are smooth and rounded.  There are thousands of them and they literally take your breath away.

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And my favourite image is this one, of a little resident of the area out for his morning munchies!

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The Road Leads to Darwin

Darwin, known as The Gateway to Northern Australia, is a lovely tropical city.  With so much history to devour, you really need several days here.  Then there are  the world famous markets, festivals, cafes and a thriving arts scene and yet things move at a slower pace than down south and I can’t help feeling this would be a great place to settle for a while.

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For a start there are fabulous sunsets and this one is from the balcony of a friend’s apartment very close to the city.  There don’t seem to be traffic problems and on a drive to the museum yesterday this is what we came across :

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Hardly what you expect to see in the middle of a city!

We walked along the Esplanade and came to The Waterfront area which is both residential and recreational with a big wave pool and swimming lagoon and a park for the kids.

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There are restaurants galore and we settled for a coffee before walking back – with the bonus of a lift to take us back up to the Esplanade thus avoiding the slog of walking up the hill in the heat!

One activity the Darwinites love apparently is the Deckchair Cinema.  This is down by the water and screens films nightly with a bar and restaurant food available if you don’t want to bring a picnic. How tropical is that?!

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Keen to see the MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory) we drove through the attractive seaside suburb of Fannie Bay and past the Botanical Gardens to find the Northern Territory’s premier cultural organisation set in a scenic coastal location at Bullocky Point with a restaurant/cafe alongside with views over the bay. The museum features collections of art from the region as well as natural science, history and culture. There is a lot of local history and there is a huge exhibit featuring Cyclone Tracey which devastated the city on Christmas Eve in 1974.

The collection of animals, insects, reptiles, shells and sea life is huge and it is all presented so well and the exhibits are so real that it is easy to imagine all this outside in the environment.

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This is the little Jacana and babies – we saw several in Kakadu but they are shy and elusive so to be able to gaze upon these without missing anything is a real bonus.

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Some fascinating aboriginal art is presented along with comprehensive explanations and even a desert artist shows her skill with a paintbrush fashioned from the tail hair of a dog – her intricate and steady lines were quite amazing.  Her hand never faltered.

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One immersive exhibition tells the story of the didgeridoo – or yidaki as it is known here. It illustrates the importance of the instrument in Aboriginal life and culture and begins with exploring a stringybark forest to find the right tree and then carving the yidaki and finally experiencing the mesmerising power of the sounds.  The painting on the wood – as shown above – all has significance to the owner, the artist and the tribe.  I actually felt goosebumps at the end of the performance.

And for those who are fascinated by dinosaurs this prehistoric skeleton is that of a giant goose – something I am sure 6 year old Hamish would love to see!

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Tomorrow we will immerse ourselves in the era of World War 2 in Darwin and there is much to see and experience.

The Road continues – Katherine to Jabiru

Katherine was a bit of a surprise. It holds great historical significance to local Aborigines (who make up 60% of the population) as it is where the lands of three tribes – the Dagoman, Jawoyn and Wardaman people – meet and has been an important meeting place for thousands of years.  Sadly the Cultural Centre was closed as it was the weekend but we learned a lot from the guide on the Gorge Tour.

Katherine Gorge – now known as Nitmiluk Gorge is absolutely beautiful.  Apparently “Luk” means “Place” and “nit” means “Cicada” thus the whole area is the place of cicadas.  I have to admit I didn’t hear any but legends abound.

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We had a very informative tour for two hours through two of the thirteen gorges which are of immense significance to the traditional owners, the Jawoyn people as home to the spirits of creation.  Quietly motoring through the first gorge leaves one with a sense of peace and belonging.

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Then we reached a crossing point where we had to change boats as the water level was low.  Here more surprises awaited – ancient rock art.

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Some of the paintings were hard to find until they were pointed out and unlike many sites, these were not in caves but under overhanging rocks so they were sheltered over the years.  The estimate is that they are more than 10,000 years old but that may well change to be older.

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One painting depicted circles which told the people that bush potatoes were growing in the area.  Another showed a figure upside down – apparently he was a sinner who had done very bad things in his life and would be forever remembered this way!

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Huge sandstone cliffs line the river and in places there are sandy beaches and a lot of vegetation.  Mostly freshwater crocodiles live here but in the wet season huge salties come in and have to be removed by the Park Rangers under a special program which relocates them mostly to Darwin to farms.

 

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This is Jedda’s Rock – made famous by the 1950’s film and is about 62 metres in height.

Close to Katherine on the road to Pine Creek is the beautiful Edith Falls – we called in and found the most delightful little park with a large waterhole and a special swimming area – away from the crocodiles!

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Notices are everywhere up here but one thing I have learned over the years is that Freshwater crocodiles are more afraid of us than we are of them and I have swam in waterholes with them – albeit keeping well out of their way!

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There are lots of walks around Edith Falls and they are well marked and very well maintained.  In fact the Park is a credit to the caretakers.

The road to Jabiru is excellent with lush country all around – there has been a massive amount of rain in recent days and so the creeks and billabongs are full.  The road was devoid of traffic and at times we felt we were the only beings on the planet – wide open spaces, beautiful waterholes, no wildlife except the odd young dingo and a huge silence.

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Then we came across “Termite Country” – these have to be seen to be believed.  As they say – everything is larger than life and twice as vivid in the Territory!

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Now we are about to explore Kakadu – or what we can due to the amount of water everywhere.  I think perhaps a flight would be the best way ……..

 

SOUTHERN OCEAN ADVENTURE

Here we were, on Bruny Island, and right at the doorstep of a Wilderness Journey which has been tagged “One of the Greatest 100 Trips of the World” (by Travel and Leisure 2008 Year Book).  Of course, we HAD to do it !  As we were staying in Adventure Bay, the departure point for the trip, we wandered down to the booking office late one afternoon and decided to book for the following day as strong winds were forecast for the day after.

The morning dawned and it was pouring with rain.  Not just pouring, teeming with rain, relentlessly and driving.  Heavy wet stuff combined with wind and a chill temperature of about 8C.  If we had been at home, we would have cancelled the trip and stayed by the fire, or at least indoors.  However, this is Tasmania and the weather changes hourly, so feeling optimistic we set out for the warm coffee shop alongside the office.  The rain continued to pour and the fog set in and I was thinking “this is hopeless, we won’t see anything…”  but I was wrong.  As we set off for the jetty to board the Yellow Boat, miraculously the rain stopped!

The boats are named the 4WD of the sea and are designed to cruise in all weather every day of the year.  They are safe and comfortable and look like a jet boat with zodiac sides which apparently allows for manoeuvrability and gets close to cliff faces and into sea caves.IMG_8808

Once aboard we were given floor length wet weather gear complete with hoods and told to put them on as it was likely there would be spray and it would be cold!  Once that was done the skipper handed out ginger tablets and then told everyone this was an adventure trip – not a luxury cruise – and to expect the unexpected.  Here we are in our glamorous attire:

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We set off out off Adventure Bay, round Penguin island and travelled along the spectacular coastline towards some rocks known as The Friars.  All the while the skipper was talking about the early history of Adventure Bay, of the aboriginals and the early explorers.  The co skipper, a lovely girl called Belinda, then spoke about the wildlife and what we would be seeing.  These included Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals, Dolphins, Seabirds by the hundred and perhaps Whales.

The cliffs were amazing and are 272m Jurassic Dolerite sea cliffs formed 160 million years ago.  Apparently they are among the tallest in the world.  This was awesome. We saw “Breathing Rock” which was a blow hole and quite incredible, went into deep sea caves and passed through some narrow gaps between sheer cliffs which had our hearts in our mouths – the skipper had obviously done this many times before!  We drifted out to the point where the Tasman Sea meets the Southern Ocean and luckily for us it was relatively calm.

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Yes, we went through this gap….

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And this one….

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The Blow Hole

There are giant kelp forests – and many of them.  It was everywhere and is fascinating stuff. It’s a wonder someone doesn’t farm it – but maybe they do.

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We found hundreds of seals basking on the rocks and they were quite unperturbed by our presence.  The smell and the noise they make is something else!

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Note the kelp growing along the edge of the rock and the high tide mark.

There were thousands of birds all with their own habits – the albatross are among my favourite and watching them take off from the ocean, fly around and come in to land is quite fascinating.

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Other birds were nesting on the rocks and clearly had hierarchy !

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We drifted into calm bays and then ventured into the wild ocean and all the while the rain stayed away and the sun even appeared.  It was a magnificent day and one I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who is in Hobart or on Bruny island.

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On the way back – and feeling good!

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The calm of Adventure Bay.

For more information about the tour go to:www.pennicottjourneys.com.au

BRUNY ISLAND – BEACHES, WILDLIFE, SCENERY AND THE SOUTHERN OCEAN

The moment we drove off the vehicular ferry onto Bruny Island, we felt we had stepped back in time.  This is a stunning island and what is more surprising is that it is the size of Singapore in area which has a population of 6 million or so and yet on Bruny there are only 650 permanent residents.

The road to Adventure Bay, where we had booked a house for a couple of days, is well sealed and the drive takes about 40 minutes.  Along the way found boutique produce such as cheese, wine, chocolates, fudge, salmon and a berry farm which was, sadly, closed as it was out of season.  Undeterred we made our first stop at the oyster farm – this is pure heaven for oyster lovers.  Workers were busy shucking as we got there, visitors were guzzling them down with buckets of wine and there were lots of sauces and accompaniments to tempt every palate.

Tasmania 2015 - 5 of 5Next stop was the Cheese Factory – where tastings were offered and the smell of wood fired sourdough bread was inviting.

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On a little further and we found the chocolate and fudge shop – there the chocolate coated coffee beans won out but the choice was endless.

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The scenery along the road is breathtaking and it is rare to pass another vehicle.  Adventure Bay is towards the southern end of the island and we had to pass along a narrow isthmus which, apparently in days gone by, the local aboriginal tribes crossed regularly hunting for wallabies, fish and penguins.  Now there is a well constructed walkway to the top of the hill affording magnificent views but also providing safe passage as this is also a penguin rookery.

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It’s a long climb – but worth it once at the top!

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I was very moved by the tale of an Aboriginal woman called Truganini. A plaque at the top of the hill commemorates her life which was forever changed by the white invasion.  Her tribal connection went back 30,000 years and yet the arrival of white man brought violence and brutality.  At the age of 17 Truganini witnessed the stabbing murder of her mother by men from a whaling ship, Sealers captured her two sisters, Timber getters killed the man she was to marry and she was repeatedly raped by the men, her brother was killed and her step-mother kidnapped by escaped convicts.  Not surprisingly her father was devastated and died within months.

Following the loss of her entire family, Truganini worked as a guide and interpreter for George Robinson who had been appointed by the colonial government to persuade the Aborigines to peacefully give up their land.  Promises were broken, people were exiled and many died of disease of despair.  Eventually, Truganini spent many years at a settlement on Flinders Island before dying at the age of 64 in Hobart.

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It is hard to imagine those dreadful days when today there is peace and serenity everywhere.

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We arrived at the tiny settlement of Adventure Bay and found our house not far from the beach, up on the hill in a quiet little community.  Wallabies greeted us at the top of the drive and then scurried into the bush.

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The house is cosy and it wasn’t long before we had a log fire burning and a spread of delicacies picked up from the Deli in Hobart and local stores along the way, all washed down with fine Tasmanian wine.  A perfect start to our little stay on Bruny Island.

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URBAN WILDLIFE AND MORE

The other day, as I was about to get into my car, I looked up into the tree nearby and found the sweetest little possum with her baby on her back.  I was quite startled as she was very close and was probably as surprised as I was and maybe a little afraid.  It is unusual to find these animals in the daytime and I can only think she was out looking for food and water as it has been so hot and dry of late.

IMG_0084They can be a real pest and we have quite a few around the house.  Scampering along the roof in the middle of the night or every early in the morning they can make an awful noise and many is the time I have (not so) silently cursed them!  However, I love their huge eyes and pink noses so put up with them – not that I can do much as they are protected species now and it is illegal to move them more than 200m. from the property anyway!

That got me to thinking about other wildlife we have around the house.  There are wallabies on the hill around us and they too come looking for water and fresh feed – often they just sit and stare at me, almost willing me to do something to alleviate their problem.

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Then we have the scrub turkeys – and they are always around but recently one actually came onto the balcony, strutted around my pot plants and then hopped onto the garage roof.  This one has a family and I have seen a few babies around from time to time.

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Then, of course, there are the green frogs, which I love and which seem to come back to the same place all the time.  This guy likes the colour of the shirt on the line, obviously and then retires at night to the lamp on the verandah.

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When I don’t see him, I worry that the python has been around.  Yes, we have a large resident python who, I think, lives under a large boulder on the hill behind the house.  One day I found his skin entwined through the trellis of the back verandah…..

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I have seen him a few times but was annoyed one day when I heard the birds making an awful screech and they sounded very worried.  Looking up at the tree, I found a smaller python attempting to rob a nest.

IMG_5899The birds got together and several of them attacked him – being young I guess he didn’t know what to do in that situation, so he slithered off!

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IMG_5905But – the family has increased as just last night, as I went to lock the gate, I found a baby python curled through the slats.

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I love the sound of kookaburras and from time to time they are in the trees near the balcony or on the lamppost on the street.  A couple of times we have had them on the balcony on the island and have fed them bacon or mince but here they just sit and sing.

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We also have a resident goanna – he is quite beautiful, don’t you think?

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Add to that a little echidna, lots of birds as well as the domestic dogs and cats and we have quite a little wildlife sanctuary – and they all seem to get on together!  The most amazing thing is that we are only 3 km from the CBD…..this is North Queensland!

Magnetic Island – My Island Home

Situated just 8km off the coast of Townsville, North Queensland is my “island home”.  The place where we escape on weekends, spend holidays and enjoy the company of friends and family.  Where we indulge in the luxury of reading, hiking, swimming, cooking unusual dishes and where time really means not much.  We can do what we like, when we like.          210711114530magnetic-island

This beautiful island has 23 bays and beaches and much of it is National Park surrounded by Marine Parks with some beautiful fringing coral and sea life.  In winter we watch whales on their migration north from Antarctica and dolphins and turtles abound.

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Huge granite boulders, hoop pines, eucalypt forest and patches of rainforest are found and of course, the resident wildlife is always there ……P1010682 IMG_4524 IMG_4458 IMG_4478 IMG_4850 IMG_8354 IMG_4949 IMG_4869 IMG_4859 IMG_4494Rosellas flock at dawn and sunset and greedily gobble up seeds thrown by residents.  The curlew looks on haughtily but doesn’t dare intercede.IMG_4451One morning a young kookaburra hopped onto our verandah and expected his breakfast – which he got – pieces of bacon which he slapped against the railings attempting to “kill it” before devouring.

IMG_4520 IMG_4515 IMG_4838 IMG_4845There are some beautiful walks through the National Park, including one to the “Forts” – a series of structures which were lookout forts during the Second World War.  This is where you will often see koalas in the wild.  Textures and colours of trees and leaves never fail to amaze me.P1000759 IMG_4854

And finally the sunsets – always magnificent and there is nothing better than to enjoy a sundowner at the end of the day watching the sun sink into the horizon declaring the day is over and a new start awaits in the morning.

Welcome to my Island Home !