Marvellous MONA

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have been back from our Australia trip for about two weeks.  Those weeks have been spent quietly slotting back into a daily routine.  I have been getting a fork into the vegetable patch, strolling around the neighbourhood to spot the small changes that took place while we were away, catching up on a couple of Forest Green Rovers FC games, and recovering from the jet lag.  Once again I feel so relieved that, having retired, I can do all this without the worry of having to catch up at work while negotiating jet lag muzziness.

Though these two weeks, the memories of Australia have lived on pretty vividly.  They are reinforced by each retelling of our exploits down under to friends and relatives.  We’ve had some very good holidays in recent years but our Australia trip was one of the best.

One of the most exhilarating days that we had in Australia was that we spent in Hobart visiting the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).  This was set up by and is run and financed by David Walsh, a millionaire Tasmanian who made his fortune through gambling.  He is passionate about art and giving something back to Tasmania.  Visiting the gallery is free for Tasmanians and it has become a huge tourist attraction.

MONA

Museum Of Old And New Art (MONA)

The visit started on a purpose-built jetty from which Youngest Son (YS) (who paid for the excursion), Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), and I boarded a strangely shaped and coloured ferry.  As we boarded we were invited to load up a MONA app on our phones and, as we started to look through the web site pages, we could see we would be in for a fun time.  This feeling was underlined by the presence of a full size cow sculpture on the boat and seats that looked like sheep.

The journey itself, up the Derwent River, gave us a new, interesting view of Hobart’s industry and huge river side mansions.  Then, as we approached MONA on its own island in the middle of the river, we could make out a series of balconies, walkways and low-slung, rather strange looking buildings.  As we left the ferry and entered one of these I was reminded of Thunderbirds and Tracy Island; it all felt slightly off kilter and unreal.

Inside it quickly became apparent that the bulk of the cavernous space for the art, the bars and the selection of restaurants is carved deep into the sandstone rock of the island.  There are spiral staircases, long corridors, small and huge rooms and, everywhere, fascinating sights.  I loved, for example, the slot machine beer dispenser which took one’s money and took its time to decide whether to dispense a lovely, expensive craft beer or a can of bog-standard Fosters lager.  I didn’t try it but was entertained by the relief or the frustration of others who did.

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Lucky Dip Beer Dispensary

As we moved around, so all the art was labelled, described and explained by the location sensitive app on our phones.  This provided various levels of detail – as much or as little as you wanted – on whatever was nearby.  I experienced something similar at the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert just over a year ago but nothing as slick, comprehensive or amusing as this.

Screenshots From The MONA App

And so onto the art!  Incredible!

The first exhibit, Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris, required application for entry on the MONA app.  When my turn came I was let into a dark room, alone, and made my way around a platform with black water on either side.  In the middle of the room was, on one side of the platform, an Egyptian mummy in its shroud.  On the other side was a CAT scan of the same mummy that presented layers of the mummy progressively so that the mummified flesh was peeled back gradually to reveal organs then bones.  Some of these were damaged and indicated the cause of death and that, plus the irregular drips of water in the silent, dark room, made this lone experience really eerie and memorable.

Perhaps the best exhibit was Artifact by Gregory Barsamian.  I think it was YS’s favourite too.  It was a large bronze head on its side with several portals so you could see inside.  From each portal one got a different view of what resembled a rotating machine with birds, balls, hands, heads and wheels all moving around in sync in a quiet whirlwind of stroboscopic light.  It was riveting but I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing then and can’t hope to describe it adequately now.  It was astonishing and brilliant.

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian (But I Just Couldn’t Capture Any Of The Movement or Impact Of It Here)

That was unsettling but even more so was the tattooed man, Tim.  The gallery has bought the tattoos on the back of this man and he is paid to sit all day, silently and still, to exhibit it.  It raised some deep ambiguity about ownership, slavery and art.

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye Overlooking One Of The Restaurants Cut Deep Into The Sandstone

Other exhibits were also designed to keep one off balance.  Near Artifact was a bowl of water on a chair with a large sharp knife and two red and orange goldfish in it.  It was a simple piece (by Jannis Kounellis) but unnervingly reminiscent of blood in water.

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Another exhibit (Kryptos by Brigita Ozolins) was a room set up as a small black maze with niches holding ancient vases.  When one got to the middle of the maze there was something unconscious that prompted one to look up.  Above was a mirror reflecting my upturned face; it scared the living daylights out of me.

I could go on.  There was the room half full of dense, black oil by Richard Wilson.  There was a grave stone at which we could throw glass bottles.  There was a huge room of tables with moving pellets, stroboscopic lighting, vast noise and hundreds of digital displays filled with alphanumeric characters (Supersymmetry by Ryoji Ikeda).  There lovely set of pieces by an Australian artist called Patrick Hall with opening drawers with recorded sounds, words and inscriptions.  There was a room with smelly hanging bowls linked by tubes and being fed food so that they reproduced the workings of the human digestive tract from start to finish (Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye).  There were skeletons making love, corridors with ever changing wall colours, a fat red car and hundreds of other works of art that surprised, enthralled and unsettled.

Fat Car By Erwin Wurm and Cloaca Professional In Action

It was simply the most engaging and enjoyable art exhibition I have ever seen.  It was huge but my attention didn’t drop once over about 4 hours. I’d love to go back and I recommend it to all.

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

Views Around MONA

 

Perth’s Diverse Hinterland

Our last week in Australia was spent exploring the south western corner of Western Australia.  What struck me as we travelled north, south, and east form Perth was that, even though the scale of the landscape is huge, there is considerable diversity in flora and landscape.

To the north are sparse coastlines backed by gigantic dunes.  The eucalyptus gives way to other tree species and then to heath-like scrub.  The towns on the coast such as Lancelin and Cervantes are quietly dedicated to small-scale tourism and crayfishing.

Sleepy Lancelin, Western Australia; Between Sea, Sky and White Dunes

Sleepy Lancelin, Western Australia; Between Sea, Sky and White Dunes

The famous Pinnacles Desert is inland from these fishing towns and was our main target.  This desert in the Nambung National Park is a marvel of calcified tree trunk stumps.  These were once in a forest that was submerged by dunes and now stand in their thousands across a baking desert.  It is possible to walk among them but fortunately, given the heat, there is also a rough car track through the park and we used that.  Once again we admired the way the Australians know how to present their prized landscape wonders.

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park

We spent four days touring the region south of Perth.  We started with a 4 hour drive to Pemberton, broken by a pleasant stop at Bunbury.  As we drove south, the countryside was initially desiccated and there was a good deal of stressed-looking forest.  Later, as we approached Bunbury, the grassland and forest became lusher.  Where there were vast plantations of conifers, we were reminded of our drives around Vancouver a few years back – but now with the temperature gauge turned up!

Straight Roads And Huge Eucalyptus Forests

Straight Roads And Huge Eucalyptus Forests

Bunbury itself had some on-trend cafes (e.g. The Townhouse) that echoed Perth’s modern restaurant scene and a lovely rocky coastline was nearby.  There, I was so busy taking a photo of the waves on the basalt pillars that I was too late getting out of the way of an abnormally large wave and got a thorough soaking.  Good job the temperature was in the mid-thirties and I dried out quickly; lesson learnt though.

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Maidens Reserve, Bunbury. A Few Seconds Later, I Was Very Wet!

Pemberton is an unremarkable town surrounded by vast tracts of remarkable Karri eucalyptus forest.  I wanted to visit to recapture the magical feel we got from similar forest we saw 18 months ago west of Melbourne. We weren’t disappointed.

We walked through the forests both in the evening when we arrived and then the next morning and, both times, the slanting light through the trees was gorgeous and the sheer size of the trees was impressive.  My only regret was that I failed to pluck up the courage to climb one of the look-out trees that the fire marshals use to spot fires.  Had the enthusiasm of Youngest Son still been with us, I’m sure we would have all gone up for the tree-top view.

It was during our morning walk through gigantic eucalyptus groves of Beedelup Falls forest that we saw a snake.  Unlike when we were on the Great Ocean Road in 2017, this time, it was Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) who had the closest encounter and was within a couple of yards of its basking spot before it moved.  I think it was a moderately venomous short-tailed snake but it slid away quickly before we got an even closer look (which I really didn’t want!).

Beedelup National Park

Beedelup National Park

From Pemberton we went west and south to Margaret River and Augusta.  Here we chilled out among the wineries and breweries (Xanadu, Watershed and, the best of those we visited, Eagle Bay) and took in views of the surf and dolphins along the dramatic and largely empty coast.  Sugarloaf Rock, Prevelly Bay and Hamelin Bay provided particularly sweeping vistas and the latter had the added attraction of a large number of incredible metre wide sting rays patrolling the shallows.

One Of Many Sting Rays In The Shallows Of Hamblin Bay

One Of Many Sting Rays In The Shallows Of Hamblin Bay

Panoramic Shot Of Hamelin Bay

Panoramic Shot Of Hamelin Bay (Actually, It Makes It Look Smaller Than Reality…)

We also visited one of the large caves just inland.  Fortunately, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) overcame her fear of enclosed, dark spaces to see all of Lake Cave. This was smaller than the Cango Caves we had seen last year in South Africa, but almost as impressive.

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Lake Cave

As we travelled around so we passed through little settlements each showing off their specialisms with great pride – Donnybrook is famous for its fruit and had streets lines with lamp posts shaped as apples, Cowaranup has life size models of cows everywhere and another town had a squad of scarecrows on show.  Each community took great pride in their identity.

Unusual Floral Display In Nannup :)

Unusual Floral Display In Nannup 🙂

Further north we visited another of LSW’s old friends – a school friend this time – in Dawesville.  The stories she told of her life since migrating to an Australian farm in the 1970’s were fascinating.  Her very Australian husband was an impressively practical antithesis of my own ability with machines who also had some amazing tales of the sharp end of life and travelling in Australia.

We rounded off that stop over with a wander around Mandurah where a ‘Crabfest’ overlooking a bay bigger than Sydney Harbour, attracted more people than we had seen together in one place throughout our entire trip.  We also diverted to take a walk along Clifton Lake through Tuart eucalyptus woods.  This was interesting for the rare, calcified structures an ancient species of bacteria (thrombolites) produces on the lake floor and also for the chainsaw-like noise the clouds of (non-biting) midges made as we walked through them.  We’d seen a variety of marsupials, birds, reptiles, dolphins and other wildlife on our trip but I didn’t expect to be impressed by midges!

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Thrombolite Structures At Clifton Lake

Our final, and probably hottest day, was spent east of Perth.  Here, the trees species were different again.  A whole chook (chicken) lunch at The Feral Brewing Company was followed by a brief, hot trip to the massive and historic Mandaring Weir.  Then there was a final round of drinks at the historically interesting and now rather trendy Guildford Hotel in Guildford.

Mandaring Weir

From there we departed for the airport and left Australia having loved pretty much every minute of our stay there.  We’ll be back one day.

Bright, Shiny Perth (And Freemantle)

The third city in Australia that we visited, after Sydney and Hobart, was Perth plus its twin, Freemantle, way out on the west coast.  During our five hour flight over the south coast of Australia we got a sense of Australia’s huge scale.  We had previously admired the 9 mile beaches in Tasmania but now we could see we were flying over beaches on the south coast more than 100 miles long.

View Of Perth Centre From Kings Park

View Of Perth Centre From Kings Park

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) had booked us into the Alex Hotel in Perth as the base for our stay in Western Australia.  It was excellent – probably the best value hotel I can remember staying in.  It was central, modern, cool, informal and very comfortable.  The friendly and helpful staff, the buffet breakfast and the honour bar systems in the lounge and roof top seating area were very trusting and relaxing.

Sunset Over The Alex's Roof Top Bar

Sunset Over The Alex’s Roof Top Bar

We were initially disappointed that breakfast was included in the room rate since we had been looking forward to finding the best breakfasts Perth could offer.  However, the breakfast was so good – the fig bread was especially tasty and the coffee was predictably excellent – that we indulged every morning.  These substantial breakfasts plus, I think, the 30 degrees of heat outside, meant that we rarely felt like more than light meals for lunch or dinner.  Not that stopped us sampling the excellent food that seems the norm in Australia (for example at NoMafia, Shadow Bar and Gordon Street Garage).

On our first morning LSW and I walked to Kings Park. This is a 1000 acre site overlooking the Swan estuary and the central business district that contains the botanical gardens and a large tract of native bushland.  It was a good introduction to the plants and, especially, the trees of Western Australia and the views were great across brilliantly sunny, clear air. We flagged after a few hours in the heat.  Fortunately, the Swan Brewery, with its view across the shining Perth Water, is adjacent to the park so planning for refreshments was relatively easy!

Swan Brewery From Kings Park

Swan Brewery From Kings Park

We strolled around the waterfront which is undergoing a huge transformation.  Everywhere we looked the city seemed bright, shiny and vibrant.

Perth Waterfront And Typical Graffiti

Perth Waterfront And Typical Graffiti

The following day we took a ferry to Freemantle, the port out on the coast at the end of the Swan River.  Again, the city was clean, tidy and looked great in the brilliant sun.  The historical buildings were rather more grouped together than we had seen in Perth’s centre and the strips of late 19th century and early 20th century colonial buildings were busy with independent businesses but well preserved.

On The Way To Freemantle

On The Way To Freemantle

High Street, Freemantle

High Street, Freemantle

We visited two historical prisons and the Freemantle Shipwrecks Museum and each held our interest for an hour or so.  The Roundhouse opened in January 1831 to hold those convicted of a crime in the settlement and was used until 1886.  We were fortunate enough to be visiting just as a demonstration was taking place of the Freemantle Time Ball and Cannon.  This was used daily until 1937 to indicate the precise time to sailors off the coast so they could navigate successfully through the islands and reefs.  The cannon was a good deal noisier than either LSW or I expected!

The Roundhouse, Freemantle

The Roundhouse, Freemantle

The Freemantle Convict Prison was built in the 1850s by convicts shipped from England and was then used to house them as they continued to be sent to Australia until 1868.  The building was impressive and LSW was rather taken by the standard prison uniform which was rather like some of her own best outfits.  Over 10,000 convicts passed through the prison and helped build the settlement’s infrastructure.  Some convicts served their sentence and went on through various levels of freedom to be successful outside the prison.  Of course, many did not and the exhibition showed how tough conditions were for the convicts, especially those undertaking hard labour in welded-on manacles in over 30 degrees of heat.

The Convict Prison, Freemantle

The Convict Prison, Freemantle

'The Slops': Convict Uniform

‘The Slops’: Convict Uniform

The Shipwreck Museum was stuffed full of information and exhibits and, frankly, we were ready for another nice lunch (which followed very pleasantly at Hush).  I focused on learning about James Stirling who explored the Swan River in 1827 and made the case to the British government for establishment of the Freemantle settlement.  He is an ancestor of LSW’s brother in law so there was an extra twist of interest in the material relating to him in the museum.

The Shipwreck Museum, Freemantle

The Shipwreck Museum, Freemantle

Back in Perth, we went to the Institute of Contemporary Arts which, apart from a nice looking café and an interesting exhibition by Cassils (a Canadian performance artist), was rather empty.  I also went to the Art Gallery of Western Australia which was more conventionally full of Australian, Aboriginal and European art.  A collection of European sculptures by Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Lynn Chadwick and Antony Gormley) was impressive.

Our last full day in Perth ended at one of Australia’s iconic beaches: Cottesloe Beach.  Here was more sculpture; this time, a temporary exhibition of international, modern sculpture in a collection called ‘Sculpture By The Sea’.

Sculpture By The Sea, Cottesloe Beach

Sculpture By The Sea, Cottesloe Beach

This exhibition, and Perth’s love of the beach, attracted big crowds.  Navigating these was a novelty given that everywhere else we had been on this trip had been very sparsely populated or entirely empty.  We simply retreated to a bar and watched the lovely sunset.  It was a beautiful way to round off our time in bright, lively and seemingly confident Perth.

Sunset, Cottesloe Beach

Sunset, Cottesloe Beach

We used Perth as a base for travel south, north and east in the south-west corner of Western Australia.  I’ll cover my thoughts on some of those journeys in the next post.

Managing the 1%

When Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were preparing for our recent holiday, and while we were on it, we relied hugely on the internet. We used it to guide us on which motel, apartment or AirBnB to rent, which restaurant to try, what sights to see and how to get to all these places. We were even able to continue our routine of doing the daily Guardian Quick Crossword together albeit this was on an iPhone in rooftop bars, coastal cafes or craft beer emporiums rather than with a pen and paper over a cuppa in our kitchen as per our previous norm. Like so many other parts of life, the internet has transformed holiday making.

View From the Great Ocean Road

Gratuitous Picture from the Great Ocean Road (Just Because the Trip was so Marvellous)

Google Maps made it so easy to plot our drive around Northern New South Wales and along the Great Coast Road but it was especially useful in getting us to places we were interested in in the cities we visited. Youngest Son (YS) showed us around most of Brisbane so Google Maps came into its own for us most in Melbourne.

It wasn’t all plain sailing however. For the first day or so there I found myself constantly questioning what Google Maps was telling LSW about which way to go. LSW was getting the direction consistently right using the internet and my Geography Degree sense of direction was getting increasingly frustrated. Finally, on the second day in Melbourne, I worked out that I was always wrong because I had forgotten that the sun was in the north not the south. Doh!

The other main challenge was managing the level of battery in our phones that we used to access the internet for all sorts of purposes during the day. My challenge was particularly acute – though self-inflicted – as I used my phone to keep my position in a couple of computer games up to date and tried to capture Asian-only Pokemon. LSW did allow me to use her remote charger but you can imagine that I got little sympathy. Either way, we both spent much of most days checking battery levels and wondering how long the last 1% would hold out.

I think we will transfer our holiday mode of operation to our next trip to London. Rather than rely on increasingly out of date memory, we will use the internet more to guide us to the best places for breakfast or the top 5 things to see now and so on. That may uncover some surprises even after 40 years of living there.

And I’m putting a remote phone charger on my Christmas present list!

Melbourne’s 3 Bs: Breakfast, Beer and Botanics

At time of writing this, LSW and I are enjoying our last day of our holiday in Hong Kong. It feels remarkable that just three days ago, we were in the midst of a very different culture in Melbourne. We had two periods there either side of our Great Ocean Road trip and (although Hong Kong tops it – more about which another time) we loved Melbourne.

There were a number of highlights including the surprise pleasure of the faded holiday resort area of St Kilda on the bay to the south of the city. It was a little like how I remember Clacton-on-Sea but with an uncluttered pier and penguins (well, we saw one anyway).

Views of St Kilda (Bay, Fun Park and Quirky Shops)

 

The relatively residential areas of Collingwood and Fitzroy where we stayed during our second visit were also charming. Their Victorian terraces with their wrought iron trellises and balconies were particularly alluring, especially when modern, designer extensions to their rears were visible.

Views of Collingwood and Fitzroy

 

But my prime memories of Melbourne are of the outstanding Botanical Gardens, the unexpectedly good craft beers (and numerous rooftop bars to drink them in) and, most of all, the wonderful breakfasts. Cafe Rustica produced my favourites in both the ‘best hot’ and ‘prettiest’ breakfast categories.

The ‘Prettiest Breakfast’ of the Holiday

 

We spent much of each day planning breakfast and drinking holes and talking in glowing terms about the resulting pleasures in execution. Some of this will be reproducible, at least in part, when we get home, but these three Bs – botanics, beer and breakfasts – will live long in my memories of Melbourne.

Melbourne Botanical Gardens and City From Shrine of Remembrance

Rooftop View From Naked For Satan Bar

The Snake

We made a couple of trips inland from The Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne.

From the end of The Great Ocean Road at the attractive and attractively named town of Port Fairy, we travelled back to Melbourne inland via Ballarat, Daylesford and Trentham.

Ballarat is an example of a gold rush town that has seen better days but is now fighting back. Daylesford was a disappointment and with hindsight we spent too long there – probably our first tactical error. Trentham was lovely with great shops, restaurants and walks. One of these provided my first sighting of kangaroos.

Typical Buildings in Ballerat, Daylesford and Trentham

 

Trentham Falls and Kangaroos Near Trentham

There is interesting plant and wildlife, especially unfamiliar and often noisy birds, almost everywhere we have been in Australia. Our trips inland to a couple of waterfalls were particularly remarkable in this respect.

One was located along a long single lane track cut through old eucalyptus forest. The trunks soared on either side like an incredible cathedral nave with tree ferns carpeting the forest floor. In a clearing we had our first wallaby sighting.

Hopetoun Falls and My First Wallaby

 

The other waterfall visit required a steep walk. During this, a brown, lengthy and impressively mean-looking snake crossed the steps a couple of feet away from me. Fortunately, my reflexive step back sent me tumbling into the bank and not down the precipice on the other side of the path!  The snake stayed firmly in my mind for a few days afterwards – especially after I was told it’s the brown ones that are dangerous.

Melbourne is safer!

The Really Great Ocean Road

After our fun in Queensland, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) (actually not so long-suffering these past couple of weeks) and I travelled to Melbourne. From there we hired a car and LSW drove us (ok, she suffers a bit) West along The Great Ocean Road to Port Fairy.

We stopped overnight at Apollo Bay and Port Campbell to break up the journey. In any case, we were frequently in and out of the car to avail ourselves of the well signposted, comprehensively explained and lovingly looked-after coastal viewpoints.

Joining The Great Ocean Road Near Anglesea

Apollo Bay at Sunset

 

As in Queensland, even the easily accessible beaches were clean and empty.

The three days hopping along the coast were incredible. Each stop seemed to surpass the previous in terms of magnitude of spectacle and drama – the latter helped by a steady stiffening of the breeze and a corresponding increase in the surf as we travelled West.

The pictures I could take on my now outdated iPhone cannot do the Great Ocean Road justice. Nevertheless, here are few.

Views Of/Near The Twelve Apostles

Panoramic Shot of Razorback Near Port Campbell

Loch Ard Gorge

London Bridge (Fell in 2002 Trapping 2 Tourists) and The Arch

The Grotto Near Port Campbell

Bay of Islands

The Great Ocean Road is a tremendous engineering feat dating back to the early 20th century. It is also an extraordinary showcase for this spectacular southernmost coast.

LSW and I also travelled inland and that was also extraordinary in other ways. More on that if I manage to find time to catch up with the blogging….

Noosa and Brisbane Roar

Our last few days in Queensland were spent  mopping up a few shop visits, restaurant recommendations and sights in Brisbane, and a trip two hours north to Noosa with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend.

LSW and I also had the honour of being invited to dinner with the parents of one of YS’s best friends, and to see Brisbane Roar play football in the huge SunCorp Stadium. Both evenings were enormous fun and also fascinating in the observation of similarities and differences from the UK.  Certainly the pyrotechnics as the teams came out at SunCorp Stadium are a step up from what we experience at Forest Green Rovers!

Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide at the SunCorp Stadium

Noosa was rainy and, at times, very rainy. Rain didn’t stop play though. LSW was able to get around the touristy town shops, I walked along the coast, we taught YS’s girlfriend Rummy and we all saw dolphins.

View From Our Airbnb in Noosa: Sunrise After Showers

We also saw YS’s proficiency with car and camera. Especially gIven my relative incompetence in driving and in using machines and equipment, I was impressed. It’s always good to see first hand offspring mastering things beyond ones own ability.

YS drove us in the rain to Mount Coot-tha for a panoramic view of Brisbane and then to the Botanic Gardens. There was just time for some more YS camerawork there before the rain closed in again.

YS and Girlfriend on Mt Coot-tha

We said goodbye to YS and girlfriend next morning after another routinely  marvellous breakfast.

Açai Bowl at Nodo Donuts Cafe, Brisbane

This breakfast was at the cafe where YS had first worked when he arrived in Brisbane 18 months ago.  It was lovely to see him greeted by the staff there but then sad to say goodbye to him. YS and girlfriend are back to the UK for Christmas though, so only 8 weeks to a reunion.

North New South Wales

Unexpectedly, we moved to yet another time zone as we travelled south towards Byron Bay from Brisbane. I hadn’t previously realised that time zones varied by Australian state as well longitude. It reduced the challenge of getting up in time to see the sunrises!

The country drives around Bangalow, where we stayed for three nights, were wonderful. Sometimes, if you squinted a bit, the countryside was reminiscent of the emptier parts of England. Then I’d look again and the tropical trees would shake me into realising the differences.

Byron Bay Hinterland Countryside

And then there are the hordes of metre-wide black fruit bats and the ear piercing crescendos of the crickets! We don’t have them in Gloucestershire. Both were jaw-dropping.

Scenes Around Bangalow

The quality of the Australian breakfasts, the  clean sand and sheer scale of the beaches, and the friendliness of all we met continued to be uplifting.

Other highlights from our trip south, for me, included the wildlife (including eagles, pelicans, dolphins and whales) in Byron Bay and on the lovely, almost empty Kings Beach just to the south.


We also enjoyed the quirkiness of Nimbin with its hippies stuck in the 1970s.

Stalls and Shops in Nimbin; Hippy Capital of NSW

 

Nearby, Minyon Falls, a 100 metre drop, was impressive but would have been more spectacular with some water!

That shouldn’t be a deficiency now the drought has broken. We drove through huge storms on the day we returned to Brisbane and then again as we moved north to Noosa.  At least bringing my umbrella hasn’t been a waste of luggage space. Also, I’m glad we are missing out on hurricane Ophelia back in the UK.

Australia: Youngest Son, Brisbane and The Glasshouse Mountains

Our Youngest Son (YS) has been in Australia for almost 18 months now. This is Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW) and my first trip to Australia. It was great to see him and his lovely Northern Irish girlfriend for the first time since he left.

His lifestyle here seems tremendous. Brisbane is up and coming and has some edgy bits. He has forged a new, interesting and apparently thriving cinematography business here (Cactus Juice Cinematography). He has great friends and a car to enable trips to the amazing countryside and coast.

YS and his girlfriend have shown us around West End where they live, introduced us to the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art and guided us to using the river boats to see other hip parts of Brisbane.

Example Local Art at Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art

Also they drove us out to see sunrise from the Glasshouse Mountains. The jet lag meant the very early start was no problem for LSW or I – although there is embarrassing footage of us snoozing in the back of the car on the way back!

In any case the trip was fabulous. The sunrise was great. The ancient volcanic plugs that make up the mountains are spectacular but also, in the case of Ngungun, accessible through a 30 minute, energetic climb. The views all around were spectacular.

Sunrise View Climbing Ngungun, Glasshouse Mountains

View from Ngungun at Sunrise

 

YS and girlfriend were able to scare us on the way down with warnings of animals called ‘drop bears’ that fall onto the unsuspecting shoulders of tourists. This is fiction of course, but we were taken in for a few seconds. Pommie tricking is sport!

Sunrise Over the Sunshine Coast from Ngungun

 

We did much more on the trip, including our first of many visits to a pristine, seemingly endless beaches of perfect sand and surf, and my first açai bowl breakfast.  Great fun and more to come…