Japanese Snow Monkeys

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Hot stone massage anyone?

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Nosawa Onsen was the tour we took with ixsmtravel.com to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park which was about an hour away from Nosawa by bus. Some say travel is more about the journey than the destination and at first I would have had to agree: the view from our windows was breathtaking.

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Thick drifts of snow covered the fields

 

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and rivers quietly flowed watched over by the mountains which surrounded us on all sides

Arriving at the Snow Monkey Park, our bus driver had to park a fair distance from the entrance but not deterred we plodded up the hill to the starting point. We all  thought that the two kilometre walk to the Snow Monkeys would be a walk in the park. But  no-one had warned us about just how slippery the narrow path could be. Although we were all wearing proper hiking boots, we all found ourselves slip sliding away as if we were on an ice rink. And I can’t skate!  So we had to go slowly, very slowly for I could far too easily imagine myself turning into a human toboggan, hurtling down the mountainside.

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 Ben showed his exceptional balance and stamina as he carried Huddy on his shoulders the whole way.

Still inching one’s way along has an up side. There was plenty of time to admire the scenery.

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Snowy forest surrounded us on all sides
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And the light breaking through the treetops was lovely

The narrow path eventually led to the  valley of the Yokoyu-River where steam and boiling water bubble out of small crevices in the frozen ground earning the name ‘Jigokudani’ meaning “Hell’s Valley.” But it didn’t seem too hellish to us!

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You climb up from this point to where the snow monkeys make their home. They are very used to humans. Some blithely padded past us on the way up.

It was worth the effort. We saw monkeys frolicking with their babies, monkeys enjoying a dip in the steamy waters and  monkeys scampering up the mountainside.

And one was keeping watch, checking out the tourists. Examining us as we were examining him.

All too soon, our English speaking guide, who was a delightful girl from Northern Italy, asked us to start making our way back.

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From this vantage point, the path seems to go on forever.

After visiting the Snow Monkeys, the tour took us to the historic village of Shibu Onsen. This was once a village that was frequented by samurai, wandering poets and travellers  who, while bathing in the healing waters of the village’s onsens,  took the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Indeed legend says that good fortune will come to those who bathe in all the town’s onsens.

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If you decide to undertake this quest, you are issued with a special card which you then stamp as you visit each onsen.  

In this village, we were able to get a feel for the ‘old’ Japan. The narrow streets were lined by wooden buildings which were hundreds of years old.

There were  interesting shops to explore. Huddy discovered that he loved Japanese biscuits!

There was even a fountain which reputedly bestows good health and long life on those who drink from it. I couldn’t resist. I had to sip. It was  a little metallic tasting but not unpleasant and you never know …

And of course there was a temple to visit as well. By now it was mid afternoon and the temperature was dropping. The arrival of our bus to carry us home was very welcome.

This was a great day out. Try to make room for it on your next snow holiday to Nosawa Onsen. And remember wear shoes suitable for snow and ice!

Japanese Snow Magic

Sometimes the best holidays are those that happen unexpectedly. Kenn and I had no plans to visit Japan until Melissa and Ben asked us to join them on a family skiing  holiday to Nosawa Onsen, a delightful mountain village a couple of hundred kilometres north of Tokyo.

While I love being in the snow, I wouldn’t say that I have a natural affinity for snow sports. I am the only person I know who when they first attempted to ski, fell off a poma. Like a beached whale, I couldn’t move out of the way.  I watched as fellow beginners bumped over my legs, some actually managing air time! I was on my way to becoming a human ski jump when Kenn took pity on me, leapt off the poma and dragged me out of the way! Despite this inauspicious start and muscles I never knew I had protesting loudly,  I  eventually managed  to gain some basic skills  but that was a very, very long time ago. Would I even be able to don ski boots again? I could see a few lumps and bumps on my feet that mightn’t  like being squished and squashed.  And would I be able to slide down a mountain without killing anyone?  Should I even try?

But even if I didn’t ski, toboggan or snowshoe,  a holiday in the snow appealed.  Kenn and I have never experienced a White Christmas so this was our big chance. And I knew that Chris, Steve Kenn and I  would have a lot of fun in the snow with Hudson, our adorable 18 month old grandson. His idea of a comfortable pace on a sled built for two was likely to coincide with mine. We like keeping pace with snails. And I was sure a wonderful, cultural experience awaited us in the land of the rising sun. So I knitted some beanies, bought some thermals  and threw them together with some snow gear and my trusty Scarpa  hiking boots and  before you could say  ‘konnichiwa’ I was on my way.

It is only an eight hour flight from the Gold Coast to Narita airport but we all wondered how 18 month old Huddy would cope. With Hudson on board, the time passed swiftly. He introduced himself to his fellow passengers as he stretched his legs every now and then and without any fuss settled down for  long naps on Mummy’s lap.

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With my dummy and my ruggy,  I can sleep anywhere!

At Narita, we met up with Ben’s parents, Steve and Chris and after a good night’s sleep made our way to Tokyo station where we caught the bullet train north to Ilyama.

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Mmm, this is not a bad way to travel. Springs leave a bit to be desired.
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Such cool trains!

Relaxing in our seats, we watched as slowly the urban landscape gave way to countryside …  snowy countryside. We were a little concerned when messages flashed across the screen at the front of the train carriage warning of cancelled services due to recent heavy snow but luckily for us, we didn’t have to build an igloo for the night for the trusty Nosawa Onsen bus was waiting for us in Ilyama.

Driving into Nosawa, we realised that when they said a lot of snow had fallen, a lot of snow had fallen.

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There are cars under there somewhere!

Melissa had booked us into ‘Address Nosawa’, delightful one bedroom studios. These were very well appointed and centrally located. As well as having its own onsen, the complex had a well equipped children’s playroom and  helpful, English speaking staff.

We couldn’t wait to get up close and personal with all that snow!  Lissa and Ben grabbed their snowboards and disappeared up the mountain while Kenn and I took Huddy out to explore the village. The powder was so powdery!  Huddy nearly disappeared into a drift when his hand disappeared and he stuck his head in to see where it had gone. He soon had snow flying everywhere, creating his own Huddy snow storm. And Poppy didn’t help him at all!

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Wow Poppy, look at how my hand just disappears. I didn’t know I was so strong!

And the village was so pretty.

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The temples  were covered by drifts of snow and
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colourful buildings nestled among the trees.
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mysterious signs

Even the actual cobbled streets were attractive, shiny black speckles edged with snow.

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Beautiful manhole covers, celebrating the Nagano Olympics dot the streets. They are part of the excellent drainage system that allows the village to function after heavy snowfalls.  Huddy loved to stamp  up and down on every one he spotted.  I’m happy to report that they all withstood the onslaught.

And there was a dumpling man on the corner of our street!

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So delicious

But there was more. Nosawa has a great children’s snow park at the base of the mountain. All of us couldn’t wait to see Huddy have fun. Granddad Steve introduced him to a travelator which took them to the top of a small slope. Perched on Granddad’s lap, Huddy  took to sledding like a pro. We took it in turns to slide with Huddy, rediscovering that inner child that lives within. Then we branched out and tried the tubes which skidded down the slope with more speed and less control than the sleds! Luckily,  there was a safety fence!

 Huddy also  enjoyed being pulled around the park on a crocodile

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Yep, this is pretty cool

and didn’t say no to a ride on a blue horse.

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Hey dad, Mum is trying to catch us. Can you go a little faster?

He posed dutifully when asked.

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Hi guys. Make it snappy.

With Mummy’s help, he climbed into the castle and onto the big slippery dip.

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Thanks Dad for being ready to catch me.

And so much more. Needless to say Hudson really enjoyed his first visit to the snow. But for us, there was also  so much more.

We delighted in the food, trying different restaurants and little eateries for lunch and dinner each day. We found an quirky cafe tucked away towards the top of the village which served delicious soup and made a great cappuccino and orange chocolate cake.

A Byron friend had recommended going to Daimon Soba for a nabeyaki udon. After a couple of tries, we managed to get a table at this very popular eatery and indeed,  the udon was very filling. The tempura prawns also looked and smelt amazing!

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I still can’t identify everything that was in this bowl, but it was an interesting combination of textures and flavours.

And never to be forgotten was our wonderful teppanyaki experience on New Year’s Eve where every mouthful was exquisite and memorable. While dumplings are the street food of choice in Nosawa, we found some other offerings to sample.

Sharing wonderful meals with family … a highlight. There were also lots of quirky and interesting shops to peruse in search of that perfect souvenir.

But the mountain beckoned. Steve and I decided to take the plunge and give skiing a go.  I was still worried about losing control on the mountain, so after I hired some boots and skis and on the recommendation of the Address Nosawa staff,  I booked a private lesson with Remy, a french ski instructor. He was confident that our  unused skills would magically reappear under his guidance!  So filled with visions of ourselves gliding blissfully down the slopes, We caught the gondola up to the top and  a new world opened up.

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It looked so pretty. Soon Steve and I were snowplowing here and there and Remy announced that we were ready for a run. While I knew what my feet were supposed to be doing in order to turn correctly, I found that they were very disobedient. Suddenly, to my dismay,  I found myself hurtling down the slope about to take Remy out! Just in time,  I snowplowed to a halt, caught my breath and under Remy’s watchful eye, pushed off again! More snow plowing! My thighs were on fire! It was a tortuous, slow descent. I felt really bad, having dashed Remy’s hopes but fortified with green tea, I completed another run with Melissa. It felt so exhilarating to be there on the powder, in the silence surrounded by silent, snowy trees.

 I loved being up on the mountain, and persuaded Kenn to catch the gondola with me the following morning.

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The village disappeared as we soared towards the summit. We had a lovely time with our cameras

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In the snowy landscape, I could spot Kenn easily.
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A study in black and white
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The food was great in the restaurant, a perfect place for lunch.

After so much exercise, a soak in the onsen was a luxury I’ll never forget. Nosawa is blessed with mineral rich hot springs and the village is dotted with free public onsens or hot baths which are maintained by local families.

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All the onsens were a little different in style from each other

Now bathing, Japanese style is not for the prudish. While there are separate male and female baths, the baths are communal and you are expected to soak in them in your birthday suit.

As I mentioned earlier, Address Nosawa has its own private onsen. So I thought that I would take the plunge there first. Grabbing my onsen towel ( which is about the size of a small teatowel) I undressed and entered the washing area. Luckily, I had the onsen all to myself! Address Nosawa supplied beautiful Shiseido products for guests to use and so I scrubbed, shampooed and conditioned till I gleamed and then gingerly made my way to the hot bath. While hot, I found it not too hot and soaked all the stresses of the day away. Kenn and I were hooked. An onsen or two a day kept the aches away!

There is so much more that I would like to share: our amazing tour to see the Snow Monkeys and our brief stay in Tokyo, but it will have to wait for another post. If you have managed to read this post to the end, thank you for sharing a little Japanese snow magic with me.

 

Condo Reunion: a blast from the past.

Not so long ago, while enjoying breakfast at the Surf Club in Ballina , Kenn and I finalised the route for a week long trip to the Central West of NSW.

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The cafe at the Surf Club is excellent, very reasonable and as you can see has a fabulous view.

We traveled from Byron Bay to Condobolin via Sydney, Leura, Orange, Cowra and Forbes to help celebrate 150 years of Public Education. While it was a very scenic trip (who doesn’t love the country in springtime),  spending time with family and friends who live over 1000 kms away from us, was the highlight. Catching up and reminiscing  about the good times we’ve  shared, the adventures we’ve  had, the things that have made us happy or sad was great. There was also a special bonus: Kenn was invited to launch his second novel, Snow Chains as part of the celebrations.

And so, a few days before the Long weekend, we set off. The Byron to Sydney leg was a little frustrating. Too much traffic and too many roadworks especially between Ballina and Coffs Harbour. Still, we reached Christian and Kelly’s home in Balgowlah Heights with enough time to play with our adorable grand daughters before bed-time and lend a hand the next morning.  Kelly and Christian were getting ready to take the girls on their first camping trip.  While we would have loved to be able to join them, Christian’s pic of Baby Francesca in their tent filled us in on the fun had by all.

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Just love the simple life: just give me my tent and my keys and I’m happy.

While Kelly and Christian headed off to the South Coast, we headed west to the Blue Mountains, stopping in Leura for lunch. The village was awash with blossoms and that almost spearminty green of new leaves on deciduous trees.

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There seemed to lots and lots of tourists trying to capture that perfect shot.
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The banks of Azaleas were lovely as well. Would have loved to have had the time to visit the Everglades. Maybe next time …

A lovely lunch and we were off to Orange where we caught up with my sister Maryanne. We really enjoyed taking her dogs for a walk through the outskirts of Orange but I will admit to some sisterly pangs of jealousy as I admired the lovely collection of spring bulbs in her garden. Tulips! Need I say more?

All too soon, it was time to head for Woodstock via Canowindra along the Cargo road. Travelling this road as the sun set was beautiful: enough clouds  for the sun to watercolour with shades of pink and mauve while the rolling green hills and vineyards seemed to stretch away forever on either side of the road. Magical!

The next day was full of surprises. Firstly, Jenny and I played 9 holes of golf at Cowra Golf Course. It was less of a game and more of a Jenny Dresser masterclass but such fun. Secondly, I ended up enjoying a long lunch with two of my oldest and dearest friends who just happened to be in Cowra that weekend! Serendipity indeed!

Time to head for Condo. We  stopped off briefly in Forbes to meet the latest addition to Kenn’s side of the family, gurgling, cuddly baby Ava before making our way along the South Forbes road to where Kenn’s great grandfather is buried overlooking the river.

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He was killed in a terrible horse accident in 1892
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James is recorded on the side of the grave marker

This little cemetery is very poignant because it’s also where the Fitzgerald children are buried. It reminds us of how difficult life was in those early pioneering days.

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Those poor parents!

Shaking off the past, we arrived at the Condobolin Library to prepare for the book launch.

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The town looks lovely with all the landscaping! 

The Librarian, Theresa and her team had ensured a great afternoon.  So many familiar faces showered us with  country warmth that we were quite overwhelmed and very touched. Some had already read his first novel, Sugarcane Lane and endorsed the general consensus that it’s a very enjoyable read. It was very affirming for Kenn to hear how enthusiastically they were looking forward to Snow Chains and Castles Perilous.

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All the reviews have been great! So proud of Kenn.
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All proved to be very popular. Thanks Condo for all the love and support.

A lively discussion about writing and publishing ensued followed by a delicious afternoon tea. Nothing beats home made scones, jam and cream! I might have had two …or three…  Alas, Kenn was so popular that he missed out on his favourite treat!  I’ve included a snippet from  the Library’s facebook page, which sums up the event.

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Thank you so much Theresa and Bonnie. This wouldn’t have happened without you.

Book launch finished it was time to put on our dancing shoes. We were attending a dinner to celebrate 50 years since the opening of the High School in Condobolin. Again it was wonderful to reconnect with former colleagues and students. Then the music started.  As soon as I heard Steve Still’s ‘Love the one you’re with’, I was back in the past. A first year out teacher dancing the night away at the Golfie.

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And Kenn was in his element singing along with the band!

The organising committee did an amazing job of the whole weekend. We attended the breakfast at the High School the following morning and it was delicious. I wanted to explore the school where I taught for so many years and which my children attended. It was fun to search through the photos in the various historical displays for our children and their friends. They haven’t changed much! The school has grown since I left, a new wing has been added as well as the largest cola I’ve seen. Some respite from the heat for kids in the playground at last. There’s more landscaping and there’s even a learner car!    It’s evident that kids  get a quality education here. There’s much to be said for a country upbringing and education.

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Looking towards the library in the top quad
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My classroom used to be on the right hand side.

Later on, we visited Eryn and Simon Carey’s place on Melrose Hill. They have established a beautiful, very unique garden featuring a breathtaking view of the western plains, so  immortalised by Banjo Paterson in ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. Like Clancy, we saw ‘ the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended’ and could readily imagine ‘at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.’

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This garden features fascinating art sculptures and whimsical retro features like a vintage bathtub and caravan
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How fitting is this for an Outback garden?  Eryn is an accomplished artist who paints and exhibits as Eryn Mullins.  Well worth checking out. 
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Fell in love with the lions. 

Even though, the garden features natives like ironbark and black wattle, there is a beautiful pond area, a little reminiscent of an English garden.

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the goldfish are flourishing
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Lovely formal entrance to the main part of the garden

There are fascinating rock walls and even a boules court.

 

 

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Such a lot of work

Closer to the house, there is a delightful courtyard area which is full of detail and Eryn’s artistic flair.

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So much to enjoy! 
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There was something about the chook that I loved!

 

We could have lingered for ages. All too soon, it was time for the long trek home. Looking forward to returning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darwin Delights

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Darwin harbour overlooks the Arafura Sea, a symphony in blue.

It’s been over a decade since Lyndsay headed north, not north to Alaska but north to Darwin!  Taking  a position as a choral teacher with the Northern Territory Music School turned out to be her perfect job and so she stayed.  Over the years, we’ve traveled to Darwin many times to visit her, discovering and savoring much of what the Northern Territory has to offer along the way. We’ve marveled at waterfalls,  gorges, billabongs and ages old rock art. We’ve been up close and personal with way too many crocodiles and luxuriated in hot springs at Mataranka under the dappled light of paperbark and palm trees. We’ve visited museums, learning more about Darwin’s wartime experiences and the horror of Cyclone Tracy, pretended to surf in the wave pool at the Waterfront and so much more.

Quite simply, Darwin is a delightful place to visit especially in July.  It is always wonderfully sunny and warm, perfect for outdoor pursuits. On our latest trip, we focused on simple pleasures. Admiring Lyndsay and Reece’s new home in the Northern Suburbs and becoming acquainted with  Hannibal, their Siberian husky was paramount. As you know, I love a good beach walk, but it’s always so much more fun with a puppy, especially a big puppy.

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We loved the dog exercise area of the Casuarina Coastal Reserve. The beach just seemed to go for ever and we could see Lee Point in the distance. At the right time of year, turtles hatch here too.

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Reece and Hannibal were having a ball.  Hannibal was very careful in the water. He only wanted to get his feet wet and avoided getting his body fur wet.

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Of course, Hannibal enjoys his creature comforts. The front seat is his domain. Lyndsay, Kenn and I were quite content to be out of the slobber zone in the back seat.

Having bought an older home, Lyndsay and Reece have lots of renovation plans and have begun with the landscaping. This involved serious wilderness clearing and fun with a bobcat or two. The result, a stylish productive garden overlooking the park.  As I savored my morning coffee on the back deck shaded by the gum trees, I noticed that a cricket match was in progress on the oval in the distance. Not the Australian team in training for its upcoming tour to Bangladesh unfortunately but a local team trying to escape the heat of the day by starting early.

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The cricket match is in progress on the other side of the park.

As we were based in the Northern Suburbs, we reacquainted ourselves with the foreshore at Nightcliff. Since our last visit, a new cafe has been built next to the Swimming Pool and has proved  very popular with locals and visitors alike.

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The pool has large sails which keep the water temperature at a pleasant temperature all year round.  Not only is the pool pristine, but what a view! We enjoyed a leisurely swim before adjourning to the cafe for refreshment

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Such a lovely view from the cafe as well. The bean bags looked comfy and I noticed that mums and bubs tended to cluster there.

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Breakfast was delicious. Loved my smashed avocado with poached eggs while Kenn’s breakfast tart almost gave me menu envy. The coffee was very good as well.
We walked along the cycle path to the Nightcliff Jetty and all around were vistas of the sea and the foreshore shaped by big tides.

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Can you believe that we are in a capital city?
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view from the jetty

Lyndsay and Reece were also keen to show us one of their favourite wilderness/camping spots, Tjuwaliyn or the Douglas-Daley Hot Springs Park. This proved to be a great 4WD adventure. The park is located about two hours drive south of Darwin and of course our first stop was the Douglas River.   Here, fringed by sandy beaches, the river splits into two branches for a couple of hundred metres, forming a series of quiet, crystal clear pools.

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Even though it was a public holiday and there were lots of visitors at the Springs, you still felt that you had the place to yourself

In one branch, hot springs heat the water while the water in the other branch is cold. Where the branches come together, the waters mingle. So with a bit of exploration, you can find your perfect temperature.

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The hot spring side of the river is very shallow so wallowing is the order of the day

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The water on the other side is cold but wonderfully refreshing after soaking in the hot water and I was content to float in the shady coolness.
We loved our hot and cold spa treatment. And relaxing under the tall shady trees for a shade bake.

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Perfect positioning: a few steps either side for hot and cold running water. What more could you ask for?

But the park has more to offer than the hot springs. We also visited Butterfly Gorge, further upstream from the Springs. We initially walked alongside the river to where the it widens into a big pool.

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It looked heavenly but ….you never know where a croc may lurk!

According to Lyndsay and Reece, you can usually walk around a big rocky outcrop to explore deeper into the gorge but alas we couldn’t. We didn’t think that this part of the river was absolutely, 100% crocodile free so  were reluctant to wade around to the beach. We retraced our steps and completed the much harder climb to the lookout instead.

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This walk was not what I would describe as picturesque! I was watching for snakes as I negotiated my way between the rocks.

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But the view from the top was worth it!

Back in the Ranger and the home comforts of Darwin beckoned but Lyndsay and Reece had another experience for us to savour: dinner at the Adelaide River Pub. The annual Rosella festival was on; bush food not birds. Having never tasted rosellas, I ate a few while an oldtimer at the bar shared his mother’s recipe for rosella jelly which he maintained was better than cranberry sauce! It might well be, but it would have been a labour of love. You would have to pick an awful lot of rosellas to have enough petals with which to make sauce.

Only in the territory do you come across unique memorabilia. Taking pride of place in the bar was the buffalo who had such a memorable role in ‘Crocodile Dundee”. It was stuffed of course!

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Apparently he had lived to a ripe old age at the back of the pub!

And the meal brought another surprise. The chef was obviously keen to ensure that no-one left his establishment hungry. For example,  Kenn’s chicken schnitzel was shaped like a map of Australia and covered his whole plate burying a massive mound of vegetables. While he made some valiant inroads, Kenn had to admit defeat at the Western Australian/ Territory border. Yep, everything’s big in the outback.

Back in Darwin, we continued to reacquaint ourselves with the city centre. The walk along the Esplanade is not to be missed. The gardens and lookout near the war memorial are especially lovely.

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the War Memorial

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Looking out to sea
But there is always something new! This time we spotted two young men setting up a stall selling french crepes.

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Just the thing for brunch
And we visited Lameroo Beach accessed via a track which branches from the main Esplanade path.

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The path is shaded by some coastal rainforest

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Loved the colours of the rocks which fringed the beach. There was no-one else there and this was in the middle of Darwin City!

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Can never get enough of these colours! 

A visit to Darwin has always included fabulous dinners out. On this trip, our culinary highlight was dinner at the Exotic North Indian Restaurant at Cullen Bay. Seated at a table overlooking the pier, we enjoyed some of the best Indian food I have tasted anywhere. Service was really excellent and the prices reasonable.

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There’s something magical about dining outdoors with good company and listening to the sound of waves lapping at your feet and looking at yachts silhouetted against the city lights

All too soon, it was time to catch the dreaded ‘red-eye’ back to Brisbane. This time, following a family dinner at home, we all went to the 8pm session of the Deck Chair Cinema. Luckily, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’ was showing, a powerful yet moving French film. It finished with more than enough time to make our farewells and get to the airport. It was a great way to fill in time before a 12.30 flight!

It was wonderful catching up with Lyndsay and Reece and we’re already planning for our next Darwin adventure. Familiar places can be so rewarding to visit.

 

 

Vividly alive in Sydney

 

Last week I found myself on the Manly ferry as the sun was setting. I took in the familiar sights of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, relishing the taste of fresh, cold sea air.

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I love that it was beautiful but different from home, for it has been lovely in Byron Bay of late. Perfect winter weather, perfect walking weather.

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For walking along Main beach in the mid afternoon
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and  past the Pandanus palms at  Wategoes
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and  strolling down to the Pass. We’re watching for whales but haven’t spotted any yet.

Even walking around the lake closer to home has been lovely.

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Anyone for a seat?

But back in Sydney, as the ferry steamed towards Manly, all too soon, the sun set and clouds gathered.

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As I watched the moon break through stormy clouds and ripple its light across the harbour, I thought about Uncle Neil.  Last week, aged  92, he passed away. At his memorial service, family and friends remembered a quiet, clever but always loving man who had lived a really good life; a life that like the moonlight,  softly touched so many for the better.

While I mourned the reason for our reunion, it was good to see my city and country cousins. Life is always an adventure when they are around. Travelling back into the city from Sutherland,  I was able to appreciate my cousin Beth’s advanced driving skills at close range. Exiting the Eastern distributor and swinging a right across a couple of lanes into Macquarie St, Beth spotted a park and paralleled parked her 4WD in under a minute. All this in the dark, in peak hour traffic and in the midst of a festival! It was a maneuver beyond my wildest dreams and all under the watchful eyes of a police car which just happened to be parked behind us!

Soon we were making our goodbyes and I headed down Macquarie St to Circular Quay to  see some of the fantastic Vivid lights on my way home. Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas. Beautiful light and laser shows illuminate, interpret and transform Sydney’s urban spaces with a unique creative vision. These lights transform Sydney into a wonderland that is free for all to enjoy. As well there is an innovative contemporary music program.

Earlier, my son Christian and his family had gone to Vivid at the Zoo where young and old alike were entranced by the light sculptures and the laser display.

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I am going to go next year!

So I was very keen to see the Opera House and the foreshore which serves as the heart of the festival. I was not disappointed even though I couldn’t really capture it with my camera phone.

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The Opera House sails was a constantly evolving tapestry
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The jewel colours of the foreshore buildings reflected in the water
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The harbour bridge looks awesome with the lasers. 

But this was a fleeting, family visit. We are definitely going to plan a Vivid holiday next year.

All too soon, I was back on the plane, headed for home. I had a window seat and as I took one last look at Sydney, I thought that it was fitting that Uncle Neil should leave us in the middle of festival such as Vivid, surrounded by light, never to be forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Snowy Mountains in Autumn

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The mountains seem to roll on forever from the top of  Mount Kosciuszko

Autumn is a delightful time of year. Here in Byron Bay, it brings warm sunny days and cool evenings that invite you to snuggle down under a doona. While it is still warm enough to swim in the bay without a wetsuit, it’s the season for beach walking.

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Perfect for day dreaming  while digging one’s toes into soft sand or checking out the rockpools at low tide.

Lovely as Byron is at this time of the year, there is something missing. I can’t walk through drifts of red, yellow or orange leaves and breathe in the scent of wood smoke. I can’t see  avenues of claret and golden ash trees or bright yellow poplars  blazing against bright blue skies or taste the tang of  early morning frosty air.

Road trip time!

First stop was Sydney and a family celebration. Little Genevieve was turning TWO! And there was the added bonus of spending some quality time with baby Francesca, the cutest little nine week old poppet one could hope to meet. Was it really only two years ago that we joined that wonderful club: Grandparents Inc? So much joy!

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There’s just so much to do and  so much to say  and so much to show everyone when you are just two! And look at the awesome cake, my Nanny Hooper baked especially for me.  Life is good!

Birthday celebrations over,  we took to the highway in search of ‘that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains, where we hoped to climb to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko was our first destination. Autumn was all around us as we stopped for brunch at  the Magpie cafe in historic Berrima.

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Fabulous food and coffee in a very picturesque setting. Wished we had more time to spend exploring this delightful little town. And no, they didn’t mistake me for an escaped inmate from the Correctional centre!

After a  short stop in Jindabyne to gather supplies, we were soon settling into our delightful studio at Snowgoose Apartments. From our balcony we watched as the sun began  to set behind the mountain and the mist started to rise. Yep, we were in “Man from Snowy River” country, ready for some high country adventures.

The following morning dawned as perfectly as one hopes a morning will dawn in the mountains. However, we had been warned that the weather is very changeable on Kosciuszko, so we dressed accordingly: walking boots, merino thermals, waterproof jackets, gloves and beanies. Yes we did indeed resemble Yetis out for an afternoon stroll!

Unfortunately the main chairlift, the Kosciuszko express was out for maintenance and we had to take the Snowgum chairlift to the top of the mountain. This meant that our trek to the summit begun with a very, and I mean very, steep 500 metre climb to the beginning of the Kosciuszko walking trail. Bleating like an injured mountain goat, I scrambled over rocks and protruding snow gum roots eventually finding myself looking up at the Eagle Nest Restaurant, ready to begin the real trek!

To protect the delicate, alpine environment, National Parks have constructed an elevated walkway for the 7 or so kms to the summit. It really is a very pleasant, easy climb. We noticed that many of the small streams that meander across the plateau, had frozen over during the night and that there were still tiny delicate flowers and mosses snuggling between the rocks.

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These little streams become the headwaters of the Snowy River

Soon we had to take off beanies, scarves and coats, it was so warm. And there was hardly another person in sight.  We were alone, just us and the mountains and the sky. Coming to a fork in the track, we saw the sign for Charlotte’s Pass. A trek for another day?

Approaching the summit, the views in every direction were fantastic. Although there was no snow where we were, we could see the snow capped peaks of the Victorian Alps to the south.

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It was a symphony in blue

Soon we were at the summit, celebrating with others enjoying our picnic lunch.

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Very happy

An easy downhill stroll saw us easily meet our rendezvous with the chairlift and we enjoyed our half hour descent. The beautiful weather continued as next morning, we enjoyed the river walk which follows the Thredbo River and Golf Course.

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The river cascades over rocks surrounded by beautiful alpine bush
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A gum tree with character.

Following the call of the road, we resumed our trip, stopping for morning tea at Lake Jindabyne.

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There’s a wonderful walking/biking track that follows the lake shore.

Not only was the lake looking wonderful but there were poplars lining the shore.

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Although they are nearly finished, they were still beautiful

Our road trip took us along the Snowy Mountains highway to Yarrangabilly Caves where we stopped for lunch and a swim in the thermal pool.  Again, we would have liked to stay longer.  Caves House, which has very competitive rates, looked very inviting. Although we have explored the caves before, we would have liked to do so again.

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Yarrangabilly creek, enhanced by Google Photos. Always a lovely surprise.
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But I like the original, beautiful Australian bush
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Although the water temperature was 27 degrees, I still thought it was chilly. But we did have this beautiful spot all to ourselves!

The beautiful town of Tumut awaited us. I knew that the town had just celebrated ‘The festival of the Falling Leaf’ so was hoping that the autumn colour I had been hankering for would still be on display. It was! As we strolled along the Tumut River Walk in the late afternoon, I couldn’t have asked for more.

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Starting our walk at Bila Park, the sun glowed through the trees
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There were trees of every shade of red and orange, enough to satisfy a pyromaniac
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And then there was the river
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a golden river
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watched over by willows and river gums.
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As we finished our walk, the sun was setting behind the hills.  So pretty.

But our road trip was not finished. From Tumut, we traveled to Cowra via Gundagai and Young. Here we were catching up with family and friends. We enjoyed a memorable lunch at the Cowra Breakout, a lovely coffee shop located in Macquarie St and perused the lovely shops nearby. Cowra, too is full of autumn colour.

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Lovely food and ambience

A visit to the Japanese Gardens is particularly beautiful at this time of year.

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Spring too, is a wonderful time to visit: the cherry blossoms are very, very beautiful.

That night, we enjoyed a special country dinner. My sister Jenny cooked the best roast lamb dinner I have tasted for ages. It was so tender and so full of flavour that I wanted to be like Oliver in ‘Oliver Twist’ and ask for more! It was of course, Cowra Lamb, a brand that is finding a lot of fans around Australia and overseas.

But all good things have to come to an end. It was time to return home. Usually the thought of the 1000 km  plus drive would be a trifle daunting. But the countryside as we drove from Cowra across the Central West of NSW and the Liverpool plains as we headed north was just stunning. Full to the brim with mellow fruitfulness; shining with the colours of the fall.

Do you love Autumn too?

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Singapore Fling

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The Cloud forest edited by Google Photos

Sometimes, when you least expect it, something wonderful happens. My friend Annie decided to celebrate a special birthday in Singapore and invited us along.  We were delighted to accept and looked forward to a week of fun filled days as we explored this jewel of the East.

Flying out of the Gold Coast airport to Singapore on Scoot Airlines, the new budget offering from Singapore Airlines, was so much better than we expected: the new dreamliner was reasonably comfortable, the service good and best of all, we arrived at a civilised time in the afternoon. A celebratory drink and delightful dinner was enjoyed by all at our hotel, the Pan-Pacific at Marina Bay.

A brief foray into the immediate surroundings brought unexpected delights, including an indoor aquarium constructed entirely from balloons.

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I particularly liked the turtles and Nemo is hiding down the back. This installation was in the Marina Mall. We soon discovered that Singapore is a Mall, Mall World!

But it was  time for birthday shenanigans. Taking full advantage of the beautiful weather, we lazily drifted about the pool and reclined on day beds sipping champagne, while we nibbled the first of two birthday cakes (courtesy of the hotel).

We were resting, preparing ourselves for the birthday feast: the seafood buffet at the Edge Restaurant in the Pan Pacific.

Lobster, prawns, chilli crab, sashimi, prawns, oysters. salmon … what to choose? We took it very slowly, pacing ourselves, savouring each morsel, each of us designing our own perfect combination. A special feature of the buffet were the live food stations. You could just go and request a particular seafood speciality and they would cook it to order and bring it out to you. Magical.

After such a meal, it was time to explore Marina Bay. Singapore’s skyline is amazing and a photographer’s paradise.

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The Helix bridge takes you across to the Sands Hotel and Casino and the Science Museum
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The roof petals of the Science museum served as the screen for a laser light show that lit up the bay each evening.
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Lovely
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Knowing that there is an enormous infinity pool on the top is mind blowing! An amazing structure.

It was lovely to see how children are catered for in these open public places. While we were in Singapore, an inflatable Art Zoo, a kind of floating, giant, jumping castle was installed beside the helix bridge and the kids and their parents had a ball.

We enjoyed walking around the bay to the Merlion park where we found a cafe that was actually open for breakfast.

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Just love all the red frangipani trees. Kenn and Annie soaking up the morning sun.

The views across the bay in the morning light were wonderful.

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We virtually had the place to ourselves. At 9am, the crowds arrived

It was time to venture further afield. Becoming real tourists, we boarded the wacky duck, a remodelled WWII amphibious vehicle to explore Singapore’s landmarks by sea and by land. It was great to view familiar sights from the water but we made the mistake of sitting down the back and much of the commentary couldn’t be heard over the roar of the engines.

And in the evening dusk, as torchlight beckoned and the fire dancers performed, we met some of the residents of the Night Zoo.

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So funny to catch someone taking the same photo as me with the same phone!

Mastering the MRT, we wandered through the crowded alleyways of Chinatown. I was looking for toddler pyjamas.  I remembered how adorable Christian had looked in his pale green, Chinese pyjamas and how much he loved them, so wanted to find something similar for Genevieve and Hudson.  I bargained hard!  And super cute silk pyjamas found their way into my bag. Looking back though, I don’t know who came out on top; the shopkeeper or me … a number of other items suddenly seemed essential … and the shopkeeper was smiling as she took my money.

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Chinatown was street food heaven. Couldn’t believe the feast you could have for a couple of dollars.

We couldn’t resist the novelty of the Gourmet Bus either.

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The food was light but delicious. Perfect for lunch. Great host, informative but not overwhelming.

This was an indulgent way to see more of the city including a quick taste of the Gardens by the Bay where the dinosaurs, who were visiting for the school holidays, said ‘hello’.

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What do I spy with my little eye? Five Aussie tourists …

We returned later that afternoon, to explore the two giant glasshouses and watch the light and sound show in the Super Tree grove. The Flower Dome features plants from temperate, alpine and desert regions of the world. It was cherry blossom time and the bottom floor of the glasshouse was awash in blossom.

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Unfortunately, it seemed as if everyone in Singapore had the same idea as us! People outnumbered the flowers!

I particularly liked the English garden where favourite characters hung out.

And here and there were sculptures created out of natural materials and a 2000 year old olive tree!

But the Cloud Forest was even more spectacular and far less crowded. Here, the Singaporeans have created a mountain complete with waterfall, inside a gigantic glasshouse that you can meander down.

 

It gives a whole new meaning to a vertical garden! You walk around the base of the mountain, pass a garden constructed out of lego to a lift which takes you to the summit of the mountain. There you can  gaze back over the gardens towards Marina Bay.

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Shades of grey in the glooming

There was so much to see as we walked down.

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So many shades of green.

A reflection pool complete with dragonfly,

20170318_203443an amazing array of plants,

framing all sorts …

20170318_203423_001a crystal cavern

20170318_204824_001and a secret garden.

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The plants are real, the crocodile is not.

But the best was yet to come. We found ourselves a spot in the Super tree Grove to watch the free light and sound show. It was wonderful.

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Just a little taste.

Sentosa Island was our destination for the following day. We caught a taxi to the island and used the free public transport to get around.

The luge was on the agenda.  I remembered my previous encounter with the luge in Queenstown, New Zealand. Driving my sled in a suitably safe manner, I was shocked when an overtaking six year old told me, not too politely, to shift it. This time I was determined to find my inner formula I driver.  And I did … on the third and final run!

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Speed demons!

Then it was time for a dip in the South China Sea before a delightful lunch overlooking the sea, complete with Singapore slings.  A cable car ride to Mount Faber followed. A delightful way to see the city.

It was time to say goodbye to the birthday party for a day or so. Kenn and I were lucky enough to spend a couple of nights with our nephew, Ben, his lovely wife Deanna and beautiful baby Lewis. Has it been your experience, that where ever you go in the world, you run into someone from your past? This time, we shared a lovely evening with Kenn’s Aunty Norma and his cousins, Pat and Lynn who hail from Condobolin and Parkes in the Central West of NSW. They were visiting Pat’s son Raymond who coincidentally lives in the same complex as Ben and Deanna.  It’s definitely a small world. It had been over 20 years since last we’d yarned but it seemed like yesterday. Family is like that. Guided by Deanna, we explored the beautiful Singapore river like an expat: Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay and Orchard Road. Beautiful by day and by night.

All too soon, our final day arrived. We visited some of the colonial buildings: the Art Gallery, Raffles, the Museum and Canning Park where we had farewell drinks.

What is your favourite memory of Singapore, the lion city?

Too often, Singapore is seen as a stopover destination – a place to spend a few hours on the way from Australia to Europe. But I think that you need more. After a week, there was so much we didn’t see or experience. On our next trip perhaps?

Rocky Mountain High – Jasper in June

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Lake Maligne as viewed from Spirit Island

Sometimes,when travelling, the weather gods are not on your side! Driving  from Clearwater to Jasper,  on the third leg of our road-trip  we intended to stop and see Mt Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. However, we couldn’t  soak in what is apparently an amazing view as we found ourselves surrounded by thick mist. All was not doom and gloom however for as we climbed higher, we drove out of the mist into the sun and found ourselves surrounded by the awesomeness of Jasper National Park. Nestled in its heart is the charming town of Jasper, where we settled into our own little cabin in the woods, a charming and comfortable lakeside cottage for two at Patricia Lake Bungalows.

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Patricia Lake from the porch of our cottage. It was  cold when we were there, so didn’t try the canoes. I probably wouldn’t have fallen in but you never know …

As we were staying for three nights, we had time to really explore some of this amazing World Heritage area. The management at Patricia Lake Bungalows couldn’t have been more helpful and gave us great advice about walks, attractions, the best supermarket, eateries and how to operate the hot tub. Nothing was too much trouble! There was even a special bottle of wine to help us celebrate a special anniversary.

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A very nice drop! Thank you Patricia Lake Bungalows!

Pyramid Lake and Pyramid Mountain

On our first afternoon, we decided to explore Pyramid Lake. Patricia and Pyramid Lakes are just a few kilometres from Jasper township and are connected to each other and the town by hiking trails. In fact, Jasper has so many hiking trails that you have to prioritize.  Even though we were staying next door, so to speak, we drove to Pyramid Lake to explore the lake via a hiking trail which took us along the shoreline, past the resort and across a small wooden footbridge to Pyramid Island. There we admired the wonderful views across the lake of Pyramid Mountain and its reflection.

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It’s easy to see why it’s called Pyramid Mountain!
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The lake was so clear and still, perfect for reflections.

Back home at Patricia Lake, we enjoyed similar views but the snow capped mountains added a special magic I think.

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Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake

We woke to a cloudy day and decided that it was perfect for exploring. About an hour’s drive from Jasper lies Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake. Although I had read that the upper Canyon could get very busy when tour buses arrive, I hadn’t appreciated what  ‘busy’ meant in this context.  We thought we were relatively early;  arriving at the canyon around 11am.  The carpark was reasonably empty and  we smugly set off  to explore the excellent self-guided interpretative loop trail that follows the upper reaches of the  gorge. We found ourselves crossing the canyon several times, the bridges providing wonderful photo opportunities.

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The water churns along
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carving out caves in the canyon walls
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cascading down waterfalls
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and disappearing into the forest!

By the time we reached the fourth bridge, an hour or so had passed and it was time to retrace our steps, for we wanted to check out Medicine and Maligne Lakes after lunch.  We were astounded by the number of people we encountered walking down, as we climbed to the top. The tour buses had arrived … in droves. Despite the crowds, which at times resembled a herd of wildebeest scrabbling for a spot at the waterhole,  this was a wonderful place to visit and explore. Next time, we would like to allow more time to explore the canyon further, as far as the fifth and sixth bridges perhaps.

Leaving Maligne Canyon, we drove past Medicine Lake to the beautiful Maligne Lake. Everything about this lake is wonderful.  It is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Ringed by snow-and-ice-capped mountains, the 22 km long lake stretches past serene Spirit Island right to the melt-water channels of Coronet Glacier.

We lunched at the Maligne Lake Day Lodge & View Restaurant which had an adequate menu and a fabulous view and then explored the foreshore of the lake, learning about some of the history of the area,  while some of the locals tried to say hello.

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I can see you!

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The path winds past the historic boat shed where there are canoes for hire,
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while the  changing colours  of the lake invite you to linger … and contemplate.

As the afternoon drew to a close, we returned to Jasper where we still had time to wander around, looking for that special souvenir to bring home and enjoy a leisurely dinner in front of the fire,  overlooking Patricia Lake. Bliss!

 

Spirit Island

Morning bought sunny weather, so  we returned to Maligne Lake and took the Maligne Lake boat cruise to Spirit Island.  This boat cruise was definitely one of the highlights of our Canadian holiday. Excellent commentary and amazing scenery made for an unforgettable experience.

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The boats are not so big that they intrude on the landscape or impact the environment in a negative way

On the water, we were amazed by the changing colours of the water.

 

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Is it blue,  blue green, aqua, turquoise, jade ……?

But nothing prepared us for what awaited at Spirit Island.

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 Here it is impossible to take a bad photograph for it is so beautiful where ever you look! 
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An amazing place!
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Even google liked one of my photos and decided to ‘play’.

Alas, our cruise was over all too soon and we headed back to Jasper. Reluctant to let go of the magic, we decided to have a late lunch at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge. There on the deck, overlooking the pool and Beauvert Lake, enjoying a delightful meal and exceptional service, we certainly felt we were living the good life.

All too soon, our time in Jasper was at an end. There was one disappointment. We travelled to Jasper in early June and the road to Mount Edith Cavell was not yet open. Locals had rated this hike as good as the boat cruise if that’s possible, so this too, will also have to wait till … next time.

 

 

The Flinders Ranges in Springtime

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The Chace Range in the Flinders Ranges,  as viewed from Rawnsley Park

Our recent road trip to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia could best be described as serendipitous. Quite by accident,  we found ourselves in the right place at the right time to witness one of nature’s miracles, a once in ten years sort of miracle!

Following extensive and unusual winter and spring rainfall, the dry, red countryside that we expected to find was carpeted with an explosion of wildflowers and greenery. And this carpet was not just here and there, but stretched for hundreds of kilometres, from Nyngan

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Drifts of wildflowers near the Bogan River in Nyngan

to Broken Hill

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blue puff balls as far as the eye could see

and from the South Australian border

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As we drove to each new town in South Australia, there were drifts of gazanias in every colour imaginable!

all the way to the  green oasis of Wilpena Pound in the  Flinders Ranges.

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Open grassland in the middle of Wilpena Pound.

We enjoyed the journey to the Flinders via NSW. Although much of the region was affected by floods with many roads and highways closed, with the exception of a little bit of water over the road on the outskirts of Warren, the Prado didn’t get its feet wet, let alone test out the snorkle. Each town had something to remember it by. In Nyngan we spotted this heritage building.

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Nyngan has been a boom and bust sort of place.

And in Cobar where copper  is mined, a lookout on the edge of town lets you look down into the big pit while the museum and visitor centre is worth a visit. The museum offers insights into the indigenous, mining and pastoral history of the region and the everyday life of the early settlers. In those days, a woman’s work was never done.

 

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I’d need a good hand cream after this and my back hurts just looking at this equipment!

Broken Hill did not disappoint either. We enjoyed exploring the city streets where there were lots of interesting things to see such as ‘The Big Picture’ and the heritage listed town of Silverton where the Mad Max films were made. The sculpture park on Sunset Hill was striking and the sunset beautiful. As well, we found a delightful cafe which had excellent coffee and a fresh menu, always a bonus when you’re travelling.

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Sun nearly gone!

But the star attraction of our trip were the Flinders Ranges. We stayed at Rawnsley  Park Station  www.rawnsleypark.com.au  which has a variety of accommodation options to suit most budgets. We chose to stay in one of their self-contained holiday units which we found very comfortable.

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We stocked up on supplies in Broken Hill and Hawker. After breakfast, we packed lunch to take with us on our explorations , returning for a leisurely dinner each evening. 

There are some delightful walks at Rawnsley Park Station. One that  we completed was the Ferntree Falls Walk. We were fortunate again because the falls don’t always flow, only after rain! And it had rained a couple of days before we arrived!

 

.The following morning we set off to explore. First stop was Wilpena Pound.

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Wilpena Pound from the air! An experience not to be missed.

There is an excellent information centre at the Pound and soon we found ourselves walking along a silver gum lined creek

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These gum trees looked as if someone had spray painted them silver. And they were so tall!

 across bridges

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The creek twists and turns

to the Hills Homestead, the early settlers of the Pound

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A lonely life

on our way to the Wangara lookout where the view across the pound made the climb to the lookout worthwhile.

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It just goes on and on.

Returning to the visitor centre, we had our lunch on the shaded deck while we worked out our itinerary for an afternoon drive. We decided to explore the Bunyeroo and Brachina gorges.

Bunyeroo Gorge is one of the main gorges which runs through the Heysen Range towards Lake Torrens. The drive down the Razorback Ridge to Bunyeroo Valley gives spectacular views South towards the Pound Range.

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Kenn has always wanted to drive this road. Finally got his wish and a couple of watery creek crossings as well.

We then drove north to join the Brachina Gorge road which meanders its way through sharp sawtooth ridges of resistant quartzite. This spectacular gorge was once used as a pass through which bullock teams pulled their loads and is now a favourite picnic and camping area.

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It was awesome to see where we had driven from the air

Early next morning, we decided to do one of the longer walks at Wilpena Pound: the 18.8 km Bridle Gap Walk which takes you across the pound and back.

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The walk captured in bronze

This walk forms part of the Heysen Trail, one of Australia’s Great Walks but it was the wildlife that we saw which made this walk very special. We spotted wallabies and some very friendly emus. For a moment or two, I thought they were going to be too friendly!

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The emus were on the lookout for something to chase: a wallaby jumped along and obliged

I also had fun testing out how waterproof my hiking boots were as we crossed little cteeks and lagoons on the walk. Needless to say, my feet in my Scarpa boots stayed dry. These boots are made for walking!

That afternoon, we explored other gems including the Cazneaux  Tree. Cazneaux was a famous photographer. One of his  most famous images was taken on 1937, of a solitary river red gum tree, near Wilpena Pound which he titled “The Spirit of Endurance”. Like many others, I took a photo of the same tree which still stands today.

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Hopefully, it will still be standing in 100 years time.

There were Aboriginal rock sites to visit and admire,

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just beautiful

lookouts to visit which had vistas over the ABC range and towards the north and  a thrilling flight over the area to enjoy. We considered booking this before we left home, but weren’t sure which flight would suit us best. The friendly staff at Rawnsley and Wilpena Pound were very helpful and in the end we decided on a half hour flight from Rawnsley over the Pound and the Gorges.  It was not difficult to book a time which suited us and our pilot made the experience one to savour. Thank you, Alex!

All too soon, we were bidding farewell to the Flinders Ranges. We returned to Byron Bay via Mildura where we stopped for two nights. This is a lovely place on the Murray River in the middle of wine growing country. Couldn’t resist trying the local drop and bought a couple of bottles home to share with friends. While in Mildura, we went to Sea Lake.

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As you can see, not much to see at Sea Lake except your reflection! We watched amazed as hordes of Chinese girls, dressed in designer clothing walked into the lake and posed while their boyfriends took their photograph in the murky salt lake.  Apparently, when there are some clouds, it looks as if you are walking on the clouds!

A couple of family reunions, an extra 6000 kms on the clock and all too soon we were driving into Byron Bay. Home until … the next adventure.

 

Bluebird days in Vancouver

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Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park
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Rock sculptures on English Bay

Do you ever secretly wonder if a place you are about to visit will live up to all the wonderful things you have been told about it?  Perhaps wonder if the weather will slow you down or keep you indoors when you want to wander, explore or perhaps challenge yourself?  Or perhaps worry that the hotels you’ve booked over the internet will turn out to be bedbug ridden dives instead of delightful gems worthy of a rave review on Trip Advisor? I don’t think that I’m a glass half empty sort of a person, but flying over the Pacific Ocean, on our way to Vancouver, some of these thoughts flitted across my mind.

And when you have had some reservations, how good is it when everything turns out to be so much better than you imagined! Turning on fabulous weather, known as bluebird days, for us, Vancouver turned out to be one of the loveliest, most accessible and fun cities I have visited: a place where the forest meets the sea surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I felt guilty for ever imagining that it could be any different.

We arrived early morning and made our way from the airport to our hotel, The Sutton on Burrard St,  by taxi. Here we met our friends, Helen and Phil, who had arrived a day earlier. The hotel very obligingly checked us in at 9.00am (book in is usually 3.00pm) and after a shower, we were ready to explore our surroundings.We were all catching an Alaskan cruise the following day and after the cruise, planned to spend a few days in Vancouver before heading off on our separate adventures. All up, we spent five days, four nights in Vancouver.

Day One

Vancouver is a very easy city to walk around and to me at least, didn’t seem crowded at all and if you don’t feel like walking, the bus, rail and ferry system is excellent and very affordable. I was stunned to see so many cyclists safely navigating the city traffic, something we don’t see as much here in Australia. Initially, while Helen and Phil went cycling around the sea wall, Kenn and I walked to Canada Place on the harbour where we would be boarding our cruise ship.

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There were signposts on the deck to other parts of Canada. Couldn’t resist – I can’t be the only fan of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ !
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On our way to Stanley Park, along the sea wall, we found the marina.

We then made our way along the sea wall to Stanley Park. Words cannot do this park justice. Because I was feeling a little jet lagged, we only explored the city side of Lost Lagoon, leaving the park for a more thorough exploration when we returned from the cruise. The combination of sun, sea, trees and flowers was intoxicating, much more effective than a double shot latte for lifting one’s spirits after the long flight from Australia.

 

Exiting the park at English Bay,  we munched  on the best hot dogs for lunch, while watching the tankers round the point.

english bay tankers
Bit different from Byron Bay.

We were amazed by the number of locals who were out sunbaking, (though they need to visit Byron to experience a ‘real’ beach), rollerblading and cycling along the promenade. They seemed to exude a real zest for life and the outdoors, which was infectious. I felt healthier just looking at them.

Then it was back to the hotel for  a bit of a rest before dinner in Gastown, a short walk from our hotel. Phil led the way to  pre-dinner drinks at the Black Frog, a very atmospheric watering hole, specialising in local beers and wines while Helen discovered the culinary delights of the Flying Pig for a memorable first Canadian dinner. From our upstairs window, we had a great view of the famous steam-driven clock and the fairy-lighted streets.

PicMonkey Collage gastown

Day Two

What a difference a good night’s sleep makes! Next morning we were up early, ready to explore a little in search of that special coffee and a light breakfast. They take their coffee seriously here and we were spoilt for choice. In the end, we chose a cafe that specialised in Italian coffee and had a cute outdoor dining spot.Then a quick peak at the shops before we made our way to Canada Place ready for our Alaskan adventure.

Day Three

A week passed all too quickly on the cruise and we found ourselves disembarking on a cloudy Friday morning. We caught a taxi to our next hotel, The Sylvia on English Bay. I had chosen this hotel for its position on the Bay, the price and its proximity to Stanley Park. It was really very comfortable, considering that it was rated as a 3 star hotel. We had only a partial view of the sea but our room was large and comfortable and the views from the restaurant and hotel bar more than compensated.

the Sylvia
Our room was on the sixth floor. Hotel has many original features including the lifts.

Luggage stashed, we made our way to Granville Island, a gourmet’s paradise. We took a baby ferry ( these ferries look like they should be in someone’s bathtub) and were there in no time. There was so much produce on display in the food halls that it was difficult to make a choice. Eventually purchasing some artisan bread, cheese and salumi as well as home made soup and new season berries, we found ourselves a comfortable seat on the wharf and indulged in lunch while buskers entertained us.  There were lots of handmade arts and crafts as well for those looking for something a little different to take home.

We spent the afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park. If you love animals and the sea, this is a must see. Every gallery was fascinating but I especially loved watching the children discover the clown fish in the tropical gallery and learning to touch the starfish in their purpose-built environment.

aquarium 1
Nemo is so cute!

 I laughed along with everyone else at the antics of the beautiful Beluga whales, gleefully splashing unsuspecting members of the audience. And what’s not to love about super frisky sea otters?

Another plus for The Sylvia was that it is close to the restaurant precinct along Denman St.  When in a new city I prefer to dine out,  enjoying the people, savouring the scents and the lights of the city at night. We eventually chose a Turkish restaurant for dinner. I should have asked how big were the portions as they were enormous and Kenn and I could have shared. For those who like to eat in,  I noticed that many of the restaurants did take-away which would be cheaper as you wouldn’t have to pay the tip.

Day Four

Another fine day greeted  us. After a very hearty breakfast in the lovely dining room at the Sylvia, we headed off to Denman St to hire some bikes. A ride along the sea wall that borders Stanley Park beckoned us. This is a very easy, flat ride along a designated bike path. Kenn and I were soon zooming on our way. There was only one problem. When I found myself nearly falling off my bike because a delightful bunch of Japanese girls were giggling their way around,  ahead of me, I knew I wasn’t the slowest bike rider on earth anymore. Indeed, I had to master overtaking or topple off!

sea wall
I saw a lot of Kenn’s back on this trip!

Then it was time to really explore Stanley Park. We had lunch at the Tea House Restaurant, not realising that it was an upmarket establishment. They very kindly let us in despite being dressed in exercise clothes. We then walked deeper into the Park. We found our way to Beaver Lake which was covered in waterlilies about to burst into bloom.

waterlilllies
Beaver Lake in late May

 

It’s always interesting, the people you meet on your expeditions. As we were leaving Beaver Lake, I stopped to look at some berries which looked very appealing but which I thought might be poisonous. A young man stopped and told me that they were Salmon Berries and edible! Lucky me! But its a small world. It turns out that he is an iron man, training to compete on the Sunshine Coast in July.

foraging
A tart taste but nice.

The rose garden, as one might expect, was full of beautiful roses, some of which were scented.

Day Five: The Grouse Grind

Today was the day when my fitness would be tested. Kenn and I had agreed to join Helen and Phil on a jaunt to Grouse Mountain. They wanted to walk up the mountain and catch the gondola down, a walk known as the ‘Grouse Grind’ and advertised as being ‘Nature’s Stairmaster’. We used public transport, a seabus and a bus, to get to the beginning of the walk at the base of the mountain. This was indeed a tough climb, 853 metres (2,800) up to the top of the mountain.  But while the trail is not long, (it’s only 2.9 kilometres long) you feel as if you are climbing a steep staircase as the average gradient is about 30 degrees. But it is beautiful walking up through the forest.

grouse-grind-3
Steps and more steps and more steps

It took time and a lot of pit stops … a lot of pit stops. They have a competition in Vancouver to see who can post the fastest time for the grind, I think that I was in a competition with  a few others, to see who could post the slowest time. But a couple of hours later, I was thankfully relaxing in a delightful cafe on the summit, sipping a hot chocolate and perusing a menu full of healthy and hearty food options. After all, I needed to refuel!

But there’s more to do than the grind on Grouse Mountain. There’s lots of wildlife to see: Grizzly bears and birds of prey as well as a lumberjack show. For those who ride the gondola up, there are lots of hiking trails to explore as well. They didn’t really appeal to me for some reason.

grouse bear
The two grizzlies were having a lovely play together.

And then it was time to go down via the gondola and enjoy the amazing view over Vancouver and the ocean.

grouse gondala
Certainly a tram with a view

Making our way home, picking up some Epsom salts on the way,( a long soak in the bath was definitely in order),  we discovered some beautiful old streets in the West End with some delightful architecture. I would have liked to explore these more but you can never fit  everything in.

As it was, the weather had been so ‘bluebird’,  I hadn’t made it to an art gallery or a museum or a  theatre, something I like to do when in a foreign city. But in a way, I think that the beautiful natural environment of Vancouver is what makes this city so special and I’m glad she shared it with us.