Category Archives: national parks

Sydney Postcard Picnic at West Head Lookout

national parks, Sydney

We had one guaranteed gorgeous day last week, and in an entirely uncharacteristic burst of motivation, we started planning for it a few days ahead of time. We’d wanted to enact some city slicker autumnal fantasy with an apple picking day trip, but soon discovered that we’ve fairly well missed the season, particularly for picking on a weekday, so we started poking around for another picturesque outing.

Partner-in-Crime honed in on a spot in Ku-ring-gai National Park called West Head Lookout where we could presumably bring a picnic and enjoy a view worth driving for just across from Palm Beach. We’ve done beautiful Palm Beach a few times, but have never seen it from that vantage.

It was a good 20 minute drive from the park entrance ($11 entry fee) to West Head Lookout with a couple of nice scenery glimpses along the way. Once we found our spot, we were immediately smitten.

It amazes me that we’ve lived in Sydney for five years and are still continually able find new spots with views that ought to be on a postcard.

There was a steady stream of people at the lookout area, but it was never crowded (it was a weekday), and no one was in a hurry. I heard Home and Away mentioned by at least three different groups, so that seems to be a good talking point. We found a tucked away little spot where we could enjoy the panoramic view while Hushpuppy had a little space to commune with nature. She quickly set up a “kitchen” with two tree stumps and a few sticks, and then an auto repair business – again mostly equipped with sticks – which kept her well occupied.for a long time.

It was nice to just really take our time with this space, sitting quietly, watching our little elf get blissfully dirty, snapping photos, eating leisurely, and just being together in this special spot. It was the best kind of afternoon, one that lingers on in experience and in memory.

I’ll leave you with some more photos from the beautiful West Head Lookout.





Port Stephens Revisited: In Search of the Sun

food, hikes, national parks

Sydney, as of late, has been often cloaked in a most unflattering garb of cold, grey, rain. Our space heaters hold no hope of doing anything but taking the edge off, and my vitamin D levels have plummeted (literally, I have medical proof of the gloom). North Americans, you can spare me your comments about how many degrees over a hundred it is where you are. I am cold, and I cannot feign interest in your plight any more than you can muster sympathy for mine, so let’s call a truce and take no jabs.

Admittedly, there is little more boring than weather reports from somewhere you are not (just as there is little more galvanizing than weather reports from where you are). So, for the sake of those of you not in Sydney and not nodding your head in painful understanding, I turn the rest of this post to a report on what we did to relieve our suffering, if only for a brief respite.
With our desperate need to change scenery, Partner-in-Crime and I drove ourselves (he drove, I was driven) 3-1/2 hours north to Port Stephens. It would not be much warmer there, but it would be sunny and near the beach. And, for a placebo effect, P-i-C booked us into a resort in which we had a balcony that offered us the opportunity to jump straight into the sparkling pool – had it been many degrees warmer. It was an illusion of tropical retreat, but a somehow comforting one. 
The last time we were in Port Stephens was two years ago, and I was an absolute newbie to Australia. It was also windy, cold and rainy most of the time we were there, so we were happy to see the resort region in the sun. 
Our first stop, as we arrived an hour or so before sunset, was to pull off to the first beach entrance we saw. We picked an unbelievably picturesque and nearly deserted spot. One man on a bicycle was staring intently at the water, and I could not decide if he was friend or foe, but he approached us and pointed out the pod of whales he was watching. We knew we were in the right place and that our frame of mind was about to vastly improve.
I was happy to enjoy the serenity and whales from a stone perch while P-i-C dashed off with my camera to capture every striking detail.
We then located our hotel, discovered out how to operate the heater, found dinner, marathoned some Master Chef and fell into an early night’s sleep.
The next day, our first objective was to find the fish and chips place that I’d declared “the best around” in my naive early days. With many (many) more fish and chips meals to compare, I needed to know if Bub’s lived up to its early hype. We got a gigantic plate that I believe was identical to our last selection and found a set next to the pier. I am so happy to report that Bub’s still holds the title – crunchy, fresh, hot, light batter … it is everything that fish and chips should be.

From there, we visited the friendly tourist information office. I’ve said it before and I will say it again- always visit to tourist information office when you travel. They are an unending wealth of knowledge and cheer and have never steered us wrong.

Following their sage advice, we set off for an afternoon hike in Tomaree National Park, a chance visit with some pelicans, and a most civilized afternoon tea at the Port Stephens lighthouse cafe.
Pelican encounter.
View from our civilzed tea.

As the sun was beginning to call it a day, we drove out to Soldier’s Point and found a quiet park to meet some more pelicans and watch the sun go down. Many beautiful plans were hatched between my partner-in-crime and myself in this glorious setting.

The next day, we checked out of our hotel, found strawberry pancakes at the marina, and then drove to the other side of the bay to Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest. On the way, we stopped for gas at the most wonderful gas station … sort of the opposite of my “giant roadside attractions,” it was more like a tiny, tiny Uluru in the middle of New South Wales. These things delight me. I’m easy to please.
From Uluru, we proceeded on to of course, the tourist information center. A few walks were suggested to us, and we took up the challenge of couple hour-long beach walk to and around the little volcanic mountain Yacaaba. We were blessed with the calmest and warmest day of our long weekend holiday, so perfect conditions for beach walking. The water was pristine and we encountered endless sea shells and fascinating plant life. 

Oh yeah, and I got new sunglasses!
Port Stephens marina is the little speck on the other side of the water.
We finished our beautiful walk just after 3, putting us in that time frame between lunch and dinner when it is impossible to find anything to eat in a small town. A local bake shop, just about the only thing open, offered us half a dozen varieties of meat pies and sausage rolls from under a heat lamp, but we’ve not yet acclimated that far to Aussie culture, so we found ourselves settling for a Subway sandwich back in the shade of Fake Uluru.
We made it home in due course, and found ourselves in an apartment that was significantly colder than the outdoor temperature (a phenomenon I have never been able to understand). The next day it rained again in Sydney, and I could only close my eyes and remember the beach of less than 24 hours before. I expect it to be enough to carry me through the next month or so of winter.

A Sydney Vacation Continues

food, hikes, holidays, national parks

Following the beautiful first two days of our Easter break, Sunday was a bit dreary and culminated in an amazing lightning storm that night. Thankfully, our plans were inside, as we spent the afternoon sharing an Easter lamb roast with Mimi and Joe and their charming British neighbors, whose company we always enjoy.

I made a delicious – if I do say so myself – key lime pie for the occasion. Though Easter is actually in Autumn here, I can’t shake the feeling that it is a harbinger of Spring, and so I baked and dressed accordingly. I have made this key lime pie a few times now, and it never fails, so if you’re in the market for a great recipe, may I suggest this one. And, expat baking tip – digestive biscuits are the perfect substitute for graham crackers. They taste almost exactly the same.

Yesterday, the weather turned nice again, so we weighed our options for outdoor enjoyment, and decided on a drive up to Palm Beach. Last time we were there, we wussed out on doing any hiking, but we were feeling more energetic yesterday, and took the trek up to the Barrenjoey lighthouse.

Lighthouse – top of the hill.

I actually expected it to be a much longer hike than it turned out to be. I think we reached the summit in about 15 minutes (albeit, 15 full minutes of climbing up steps – my gym going is really starting to pay off!). We had a pretty view at the top, and found ourselves a big boulder to climb on and eat our picnic lunch, overlooking the beach.

Lighthouse from the top.
Looking over Palm Beach.

When we went back down, we decided to take a walk on the beach. Along the way, we encountered some other hikers who asked if they were going in the right direction. I sent them on their way with directions, not thinking anything of it, but Partner-in-Crime stayed and asked them where they were from in North America. Turns out they were Canadians from Toronto. I had not noticed their accent at all. It’s funny – I never seem to pick up on North American accents anymore, unless I’ve been talking to someone for a few minutes. You’d think I’d hear it right away, but I really don’t. 

Hiking onto the beach, we saw a few groups of people watching the water, and we realized that there was a pod of dolphins frolicking nearby. I turned my head in their direction just in time to see two of them “surfing” a wave. It was quite the sight, and all the spectators applauded for the dolphins.
We ended up finding a bench to sit quietly on for a long while, and just watch the sun starting to set, sailboats float along, and happy families and couples wander by. 
Though I’m not religious, moments like these certainly conjure feelings of gratitude to be one small part of something so marvelously larger than oneself. On this Easter holiday, I had this beautiful moment to know that I am so blessed.

A Sydney Vacation

national parks, Sydney

Australians do love their holidays. No complaints at all, but it’s a bit funny that a country with 8% church attendance has both Good Friday and Monday for Easter off, whereas in the U.S. (43% church attendance), I never had either day off. I honestly have to believe that this has something more to do with the country’s attitude towards work-life balance than religious devotion. Just observing, definitely no judgement here. Especially since, as I don’t work Tuesdays, I’ve ended up with 5 days off. I’m happy for the holiday, whatever the reason.

As I mentioned before, we didn’t get around to planning any trips out of town, so we’ve been vacationing in Sydney. The advantage, of course, is that we get to spend considerably less money and sleep in our own beds.

On Friday, we decided that our mandate was to use our neglected National Park pass, which is set to expire in May. We took a drive less than an hour south of Sydney to Royal National Park (according to their website, it’s the 2nd oldest national park, after Yellowstone). We took a short hike and picnicked on a track that was primarily coastal, with a little beach combing and a small bit of bushland. Can you even believe this is just 30kms outside the city?…

You can see from these photos that it was an insanely nice day.
Yesterday was almost as beautiful, but very windy. And, I woke up with a headache (actually, I went to bed with a headache that never went away). I sulked around cleaning the house in medium amounts of pain all morning, until we finally decided to get outside. We took the picnic blanket to Cremorne Point, a pretty park one suburb over with a great view of the Bridge and the Opera House for an afternoon of reading on the blanket while watching the tourist jet boats speed by.
At some point, I realized that I hadn’t had a cup of coffee in two days, and decided that was the cause of my headache. Sure enough, a half a cup of coffee later, and I was right as rain. Sad to learn that my addiction is so strong, but at least it was a cheap and effective fix, and I became instantly much more tolerable to live with. 
Our big adventure yesterday was getting all dressed up and spending the evening at the opera on the Harbour. I’m not a huge opera goer, but I always enjoy it when I do go, and to see it outdoors, looking at the water, with a glass of bubbly on a perfect autumn night was just marvelous. La Traviata is on offer for a 3-week run. The story is remarkably silly, but you can’t care about such trivialities. The production is a dream – beautiful voices, glorious costumes, all illuminated by a gigantic faux-crystal chandelier (you must see this video of the building and transport of the chandelier). Oh, and the fireworks. Of course, fireworks, perfectly placed. I do hope that this will be a success and they’ll bring the idea of opera on the harbour back again. It’s the sort of thing that is just so Sydney – the best parts of Sydney. 
Today, we’ve been invited to an Easter dinner with friends. I’ve got my pie on the oven, and am ready for another lovely, leisurely day, Sydney style. 

Tasmania Part Two: Hobart

art, hikes, national parks, tasmania

On the drive from Bicheno to Hobart

Part one of the Tasmanian epic is here.
For the last couple of days in Tasmania, we parked ourselves in the port town of Hobart. We left Bicheno early because it was a Saturday, and we wanted to make Hobart in time to catch the Salamanca Markets, which everyone I asked about Tassie said was a must-do. The markets are relatively large, with a section for crafts and tourist items, as well as a farmer’s market section.  There were plenty of food stands (including, for some reason, the “smallest pancakes” booth) and musical buskers.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why they are so heavily hyped. They reminded me of most craft fairs and markets I have attended in any town. They were extremely crowded, and did have a festive feel to them. I was tempted by some of the Tasmanian wood craft, particularly some beautiful cutting boards, but I ended up walking away with just a jar of honey and a Tasmanian devil potholder (best $5 I’ve ever spent). I was back in Salamanca Place a couple days later, and I can suggest it’s a great spot to enjoy a few galleries and get a cup of coffee or lunch.

After the markets, we did a bit of a wander around town and had our first of several fish and chips experiences. The Tasmanian scallops were so unbelievably good; worth their weight in currency. Downtown Hobart was easily walkable, and I killed a few hours on the beautiful pier and a exploring number of pretty parks.

The next day, I scheduled myself into a tour of the Cascade Brewery. A few months ago, I did the tour of the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis, and I thought it would be fun to compare a little brewery to that mammoth operation. Plus, I was hoping for samples. The brewery grounds are stunningly green and lush, with the imposing Victorian building glaring down from the hill.

My favorite story from the tour was that when it first opened in the early 1800s, the brewery had an open bar for the workers. After awhile, this seemed inadvisable, so they decided that they would only open the bar four times a day. A bell, which still stands on property, signaled to workers when the bar was open. This lasted until not so long ago, when health and safety standards came into effect.

We were, in the end, rewarded with samples. It was a day from a postcard, and I sat in the beautiful garden with my several beers until Partner-in-Crime arrived from the maritime museum to peel me off the floor whisk me off to our next destination.
We headed about an hour and a half out of town to Mt Field National Park, where we expected to be dazzled with wonder at Russell Falls the most photographed falls in Tasmania (or something along those lines). On the way, we had another disagreement with the GPS, whose affinity for dirt roads was becoming rather tiring. But, we made it eventually, and were pleased to find that the falls were a mercifully short 10 minute hike (good for me, after all those drinks). The falls really were quite photo worthy.
We carried on to the top of the falls, and beyond, to see what further sights we could see, and were soon rewarded with a view that struck me emotionally more than perhaps any other natural locale I’ve experienced. Photos do it not justice, naturally, but tucked away in a mossy alcove was Horseshoe Falls. Not even close to the largest or grandest falls I have ever seen, or even saw on this trip, the delight I felt came from the sense I got that I had entered a fairy land. It was cool, quiet, green, with beams of light peeping through the messy forest. There was not another hiker in sight, and P-i-C and I just about melted into the scene.

Dragging ourselves away, we walked on a bit further and found a couple more excellent trails to explore in the park. 

Another pademelon on the Tall Trees walk.
Hiding in the enchanted forest.
Ciao, kangaroo.
We devoted our final day in Hobart to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), a wild child of a museum just outside of town. MONA is a world class museum featuring the private collection of an eccentric local bazillionaire. The collection spans the old (mummies, ancient artifacts) to the new (installation art, film). There are no plaques on the walls, but rather all guests are given an ipod with a GPS system that provides information about pieces that you are near. You might get just a short paragraph (none of the curatorial material tries to explain the art, but gives a sense of things the collectors thought about and so forth) or you might have the chance to listen to a 15 minute interview with the artist. Each one is different and  the level of engagement is up to the viewer. The collection and curation is fascinating and well thought out, and I actually found it to be an exhausting day because there was so much to take in. There seemed to be an overarching theme to the collection that dealt with the human body and mortality, so it is a pretty a dark museum, but not without points of light and a good deal of humor.  
This installation was a wall several stories tall with a device that somehow pulled words
frequently used in the media and dropped them out with water. Crazy.
P-i-C and I sitting on a bean bag sofa on the ground watching a video installation on the ceiling.
Like you do.
With just a bit of time to kill before our flight home, we took a quick drive to the sweet, touristy little town of Richmond, where there are a number of Tasmania’s oldest buildings, and a disproportionate number of adorable B&Bs.

All the way to the airport, and onto the airplane, I tried to tempt P-i-C into staying in Tasmania for another week. Or, maybe finding employment for a year and taking up residence in a cottage with a handful of livestock and a rented dog. 
Strangely he said no, but I know I’ll win him over. 
Hold our spot, cows. We’ll be back one day.


giant roadside attractions, hikes, national parks, restaurants, tasmania

Though it has been a couple of months, and our trip to Tasmania is now a memory with a soft-focus filter washed over it, I still want to share some of my impressions. It was one of the most relaxing and visually enthralling trips I have taken.

Tasmania is an island in the Southernmost part of Australia, and often the source of jokes by mainlanders about it not really being part of Australia or that things are a bit slooooow there. But, enough people had said to me that it was geographically reminiscent of Montana to make me desperate to go. Those are the magic words.

We had five days, which is hardly enough time to scratch the surface, but we squeezed in as much as we could, mostly on the East coast.  To maximize our travel time, we flew into Launceston, rented a car, and made our way steadily south to Hobart, where we departed from.

Our day in Launceston was a bit of a wash, as we started at a local park, which we’d heard was amazing. It was scenic enough, with some nice trails and a gorge, but because we had our hearts set on World Class Amazement, we came away blase. We then went off to try some wineries. It was late in the day, and we only hit about four before the cellar doors were closing up shop. At our final winery, the excellent and quaint Moore’s Hill, we chatted up the owner who suggested we drive on to the nearby Narawntapu National Park, where we’d see some nice scenery. We found the beach and got our feet wet, and then did a short hike for some lovely views.

With a little daylight left, we drove on to our hotel further west in the pretty little mountain town of Deloraine, where we’d stay for two nights. It positioned us to be closer to our next stop, Lake St Clair National Park, and the oft-photographed Cradle Mountain. 
Navigation around Tasmania proved to be a trick: our GPS developed a fondness for long dirt roads and never-built thoroughfares. We experienced our first confusion on the way to Lake St Clair, and turned around lost on a dead-end dirt road an hour out of our way, and without any cell phone reception. Thankfully, we ran into fellow tourists in a camper van who had just come from there, and they set us aright again. Later in the day than we’d intended, we arrived at Cradle Mountain, where we started on a two-hour hike around the lake. In reality, it took us more like three hours because I kept stopping for photos. 

For people who hike on a semi-regular basis, Partner-in-Crime and I have been lucky to have experienced essentially no injuries. In fact, I received the worst injury of my hiking life on this walk. Coming down a hill, I grabbed onto a tree to steady myself, and when I pulled my hand away, I had extreme pain and a huge ant clinging to my ring finger. I later discovered that the ant was a Jack Jumper Ant, native to Tasmania, who stings its victims with one of the most powerful venoms in insectdome. Of course, this being Australia, it could not just be a normal ant, but a life-endangering one. I got into an increasing panic until I was able to somehow coax my wedding ring off my swelling finger, which eventually doubled in size. No lie, two months later my finger is still swollen enough that I can’t get my ring back on (and I’m not just saying that so that I can go to singles bars!). 
Done with the hike, my husband, my giant finger, and I explored Lake St Clair a bit longer. We took a couple of short hikes, the best of which was the Enchanted walk, a moss filled forest with waterfalls and a stream, which lived up to its name.   

We ran into this little guy on the walk, a pademelon, which we learned is a marsupial.

I’d gleaned that Lake St Clair was in wombat-country, and given my little obsession with wombats (I had a wombat figurine in my wedding bouquet, for heavens sake), I was determined not to leave without seeing one in the wild. I am not ashamed to tell you that I spent a good hour stalking all the fields I could find that had – ehem – telltale signs of wombat presence. Dejected, I finally had to abandon my hunt for poor P-i-C’s sanity, and probably my own, as well. Cruising out of the park, we saw a couple people on the side of the road, and oh my, they were looking at a wombat! I almost cried. We watched that wombat graze for a long time, until we noticed that there was another wombat across the street. And then, that wombat had a friend. All totaled, we saw five wombats feeding that evening. I was bursting with wombat joy.

As the cherry on top of an already overwhelming day, I added not one but two giant roadside attractions to my “collection…”
Mikey, the Giant Tasmanian Devil
The Giant Coffee Kettle, Deloraine

The next day, back in Deloraine, we woke up to the most incredible foggy mountain scene outside the window of our hotel. By this point, I loved Tasmania, and could not wait to see what more lay ahead.

We were off to another National Park – Freycinet – which is where Wineglass Bay (another one of the famous Tassie landmarks) is.

Freycinet was overrun with wallabies who were highly adjusted to humans, and boldly begged for goodies in the car park. We did not feed them, but we could not resist having just a small play.

The hike to Wineglass Bay was a challenging three-hour round trip. It is the only way to get to the beach. If I’m completely honest, I didn’t find the payoff to be worth the difficulty of the walk, but in retrospect, I’m always happy to have accomplished a tough hike, so I’m glad that we went.

We had our picnic lunch on the beach in the company of a handful of other hikers, and some terribly friendly marsupial friends looking to share.

We had plenty of time left, and took a further wander around Freycinet, where we found some particularly stunning scenery in the way of dramatic ocean cliffs and colorful coastline. These were some of our favorite views of the entire trip.

That night, we stayed in a pretty little town called Bicheno. We treated ourselves to an incredible meal at a highly recommended French restaurant, Cyrano. The decor was nothing fancy, but the food was divine. The owner personally cooked all the meals herself in an exposed kitchen. I had easily the best lamb shanks of my life. 
We were really rolling in the wonderful in Tasmania.
The next day, we headed out early to spend our last couple of days in Hobart and, as this has turned into quite the missive, I’ll finish the adventure tomorrow.

(Click here for part two)

A Boxing Day Tradition

annual events, national parks, Sydney

Merry Christmas! Or, if you really want to get into the Aussie spirit – Happy Chrissie! And for those Down Under, a Happy Boxing Day to you.

In the States, of course, we do not celebrate Boxing Day, and I remember people there sometimes saying that it was so named because it was the day the you returned your presents. I always thought that sounded silly, so I latched on when someone told me that it was so-called because it was the day the British servants got the day off to celebrate Christmas, so the aristocracy had to eat boxed dinners. That sounded logical to me, and I have often gotten my smugly on and repeated it. Humble pie for me, though, as I learned yesterday, that it probably actually has something to do with charity boxes, but no one really knows.

In any case, one of the biggest Boxing Day events in Sydney is the launch of the Sydney to Hobart sailing race. We missed it last year because we were out of town gallivanting with Ned Kelly. This year I very much wanted to go, but it was supposed to rain, and I didn’t actually want to go that much. When I woke up this morning, it was sunny, so I quickly changed gears, and we dashed off to Middle Head to watch the start of the race.

It was packed there, but we found parking and a little corner to set up our picnic blanket, so that was no problem. Partner-in-Crime is a sailor, so he fielded my steady stream of questions about the race and strategies. He was most amused by the amazing amount of maritime paparazzi present. Many people watch the launch from the water in boats, and there were also loads of helicopters over head. P-i-C races a couple times a month and he said, heavens, there had never been any fanfare like that for his races!

We saw the boats get their positions, and maneuver around the starting mark, which took about 20 minutes in all. They’ll be sailing for two or so more days before reaching Hobart, Tasmania. It can be quite a treacherous race, so I wish them all safe travels and speedy delivery.

Wild Oats XI (last year’s winner) and the zebra boat Loyal were waaaaay out front at the start.
This helicopter swooped in for a better shot. It was nuts how close it got to the ship.
More of the race, with the paparazzi.
On to Tassie.

Jervis Bay – Whale Edition

animals, national parks

The week after we went to Dubbo, we hit the road again for an overnight to Jervis Bay. This was our second trip to Jervis Bay, and it was a treat to find out that we loved the place as much, if not more, than the first time. It had been such a magical place when we first went, I actually felt nervous that when we visited the sites of such vivid memories from last year, that they would not hold up. It had been our first trip out of Sydney, so everything seemed amazing, at the time.

Indeed they did hold up, though, and our experience with our beloved Booderee National Park and the crazy-weird Moona Moona Creek were deepened by seeing them at a different time of year, particularly since it was Winter and mid-week, and thereby very nearly deserted. My favorite part of the trip was sitting on the pristine Murray’s Beach during what photographers would call “the golden hour,” with Partner-in-Crime, a bottle of wine, and not another soul, except the dolphins who moseyed past from time to time.

I won’t say much more about these spots, since I wrote about them the first time, but I’ll share a few photos before I get on to the real adventure of the trip.

Booderee National Park
Booderee National Park
At last, kangaroos on the beach! (Booderee)
If you look closely at the Mama kangaroo, you can see a little joey in her pouch. (Booderee) 
One million crazy little blue crabs. Moona Moona Creek.
Moona Moona Creek.
Life in the cracks, Moona Moona Creek

The main purpose of our trip to Jervis Bay was actually to take a whale watching cruise. It was nearing the end of the season when whales migrate south to north, and can be seen off the coast of Australia. I wasn’t sure if we’d see much, since it was the tail end of the season, but good news for us was that it was an amazingly clear, blue sky day, so visibility was top notch.

From the boat, heading out of Jervis Bay. 

We also lucked out big time because, taking the trip mid-week and outside of school holidays, there was hardly anyone on the boat. On a huge ship with room for 150 or more, there were maybe 20 of us. Prime viewing for everyone.

My fears about not seeing much were for nothing. We ended up seeing nine whales and two fur seals on the three hour tour (very Gilligan’s Island, no?). Basically, once we were out to sea, one of the lookout crew would spot a whale in the distance, and the boat would head in that direction. For awhile, we were chasing some whales that were near a pair of moored Navy ships, and we had to retreat, lest we be seen as threatening the security of Her Majesty.

We did see one whale breach a ways away. And, the absolute highlight of the day came, at the very end of the trip. We’d been following a trio of whales at a bit of a distance right before we needed to turn back for the day, and the captain suggested we could stay where we were for just a couple more minutes to see where they came up. And, holy mother, they came up for air right next to us … practically touching distance. I was snapping away on my camera, but too excited to pay attention where I was looking, so instead of some amazing shots of whales mere feet from me, I got a bunch of pictures of the mast at various angles. Not that I could photograph the best parts, anyway … the sound, the feel, and my deligthed surprise.

Ah well, sometimes these memories must only live in your mind.

Whale breath.

About the only shot I got of the whales near the boat. Could be whales. Could be old tires. Who can say?

A Walk With the Wallabies

hikes, national parks

A few weeks ago, Partner-in-Crime and I decided to splurge on an annual pass for admittance to all the National Parks in New South Wales.

Ever the lovers of all things National Park related, and always on the hunt for lovely day hikes, the incredibly reasonable $65 per car “splurge” was an easy one to commit to.

So far, we have used it for two hikes in the beautiful Bobbin Head National Park. The first day was a pretty and rugged bushland walk, including a surprise waterfall and river views.

For our second hike, we ventured a little further into the park and stopped at the Kalkari Discovery Center, which leads onto a short, paved loop walk. It was quite the easy trek – we did it twice in about 20 minutes – and perfect for families with small children. We saw bush turkeys building a large nest out of leaves and quite a lot of lorikeets and rosellas. The cute gentleman at the Discovery Center told us we might see a wallaby (like a kangaroo, just a bit smaller), so when we spied one a ways back in the woods, we thought we’d really lucked out.

Then, we came around a bend, and right up upon not one, but a whole herd (tribe? gaggle? gang?) of wallabies. They were rather disinterested in us, and let us watch them for as long as we cared to.

Now, there are some places in Australia where it is not terribly uncommon to see kangaroos or wallabies hanging out in your yard or in town, but Sydney is a highly developed city where we’ve done a pretty good job of running the wildlife out with our asphalt, cars, and buildings. So, happening upon these guys in the wild, rather than at a zoo, was an exciting experience for a couple of city slickers. 

All the more reason to support the national parks!

Kangaroo Island and the End of Our Grand Adventure

animals, day zero project, food, giant roadside attractions, national parks, restaurants, South Australia

First thing in the morning on ANZAC Day, we rode the ferry from Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island, a place purported by numerous websites we read to be “magical” and “pristine.” It’s a 45 minute ride from the mainland onto the large island, and we were happy to have sunny and warm weather so that we could sit on the top deck for the ride.

Coming into port, all I needed to see was the color and clarity of the water to know that we’d arrived somewhere wonderful.

Once we had the car off the ferry, we made a beeline to the tourist information office.

May I just sidetrack for a moment to give a hearty plug to tourist information offices? I can’t tell you how often stopping and having a quick chat with one of the lovely staff members has made all the difference in our vacations. Tourist Information workers … I salute you.

In any case, we got our marching orders from the desk, and headed off for a full day of adventures. Kangaroo Island is actually quite large, so we had to be efficient to make it from one end of the island to the other and back again in the paltry one day we’d alloted ourselves. But, we were up for it.

First stop was by my special request, as I’d spied a lavender farm on the map, and thought that there could be nothing but goodness there. Partner-in-Crime was a good sport, even though I don’t believe I know any self-respecting straight man who is happy, per se, to find himself at a lavender farm. The owner greeted us and offered us a selection of tea and/or scones. We settled on a lavender scone, and then got the tour of the grounds, as it was prepared.  There were more varieties of lavender than one might imagine even exist. Poor P-i-C. … I shot a multitude of photos on the grounds while P-i-C stood by, looking bewildered and perhaps a bit emasculated. The lavender scone was fresh out of the oven when we came back from the gardens, however, and any discomfort was quickly forgotten in the warm bready goodness and heavenly clotted cream topping.

Our next stop was the Kelly Caves, where we stopped in for a guided tour. They weren’t entirely impressive, unless you’re really into stalactites and stalagmites. I learned that stalactites are the ones that hang down (I’m sure I learned this in elementary school, but it’s not one of those things that exactly comes up often, so I’d forgotten), and you can remember this, as we were informed, because “stalactites ‘hang on tight.'”

So, yeah, there was that.

Back on the road, we headed off to Flinders National Park, which isthe crown jewel of Kangaroo Island (and also on the complete opposite end from the ferry wharf).
First stop was the Admirals Arch. Now, this spot would be worth seeing no matter what – stunning, stunning ocean views …
… but the real attraction here is the seals. Admirals Arch is home to 7,000 New Zealand fur seals. We got to see – and smell – plenty. At first, they were quite far away, but if you’re up for climbing down (and then up again) a good number of stairs, you can actually get very close to them. There were 20 or more at the spot where we settled. We stood on the lookout for ages, watching them play, fight, and waddle around in the most awkward fashion. (They blend in with the rocks, so you might have to play “spot the seals” in the photos).

After prying ourselves away from the seals, we took the short drive to Remarkable Rocks. Regardless of how silly the name is (it sounds like it was designed to lure tourists), this actually was a fantastic spot. The rocks are made out of volcanic material and are shaped in the most Dali-esque manner. It was a haven for everyone’s inner artist to come out, as just about all of the tourists present were finding unusual new photo ops with the strange rock formations.
(from afar)

While in the park, we also spotted an echidna (he was too fast for a photo … very selfish of him to run off like that, I thought).
Now having driven the length of the island, we had to turn back to where we started. On the way, we attempted to stop at Vivonne Bay, which has supposedly been named by someone with indeterminate authority “The Most Beautiful Beach in the World.” Unfortunately, it is located far down a road which has never been named “The Best Paved Road in the World,” so in the interest of not blowing out the tires on our poor little rental car, we stopped at a nearby lookout for a quick barefooted wander in the sand, and returned to the main road.
We had thought we’d stop at Seal Bay, where you can pay to get up close to the seals, but taking the advice of the Lavender Farm Guy, we decided that we’d had quite a nice enough seal sighting experience, and continued back to Kingscote.
Based also on the glowing restaurant recommendation of Lavender Farm Guy (and re-affirmed by a tour guide P-i-C ran into while I snapped photos who said it was the “best on the island”), we thought we’d eat dinner at a fish place that we were told was “next to the Caltex (gas) station.” P-i-C was on a mission to eat marron, a local variety of freshwater crayfish, so we confirmed that this restaurant carried it, and we were settled. We’d been very conservative on our dining out on this trip, so we decided that we’d really treat ourselves to a great fish meal.
We pointed the GPS to Caltex, and upon arriving, could not see a restaurant anywhere. Except, there was this little fish place that was literally attached to the gas station (like Taco Bells and KFCs usually are). We looked around some more, checked our guide books, and after a great deal of hesitation, decided that we were, in fact, having our special dinner inside Caltex.
OK, fancy it was not, but our hosts did not steer us wrong about the quality. The fish was practically squirming, it was so fresh, and P-i-C was able to pick his marron right out of the case, for steaming as we waited.
The marron was delicious – I thought it tasted a bit like shrimp. Everything we ate at the Caltex, in fact, was delicious. We could not have been happier with our gas station fish. 
(I joke, but this place is actually called Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafood, and if I were back on Kangaroo Island, I’d eat there again in a minute.)
Our final adventure of the day was the Little Penguin Tour. Seeing the Little Penguins is an item on my Day Zero list, so I’d actually booked this a couple months in advance, and was wildly excited. Unlike on Phillips Island outside of Melbourne, you don’t actually see the penguins coming up to shore. Rather, they are already on the coastline, hanging out in little hidey-holes and makeshift houses that the penguin center set up for them. A guide took us around and showed us the penguins with a special red light, which was great for illuminating penguins, but terrible for taking photos of penguins. 
You’ll just have to take me at my word about seeing the penguins … The best sighting of the night was a couple of penguins having a bit of a domestic drama. The male penguin stood outside the little house, showing off his feathers to the female penguin inside. When he tried to get a bit closer, the female started screeching at him, making it clear he was not coming into her humble abode. We got a big kick out of trying to put a script to this little Jerry Springer style penguin interaction.
The next morning was the final day of the trip, and we had to get up even earlier than the morning I’d sneakily forced P-i-C out of bed. As he grabbed a last few precious moments of sleep, I slipped outside the hotel in the still-dark and quietly ate my breakfast as I listened to the sound of the surf and the nearby howling penguins. I loved having that time to myself, as I thought that I was not likely to wake up to penguins crying across the street too often in my life.
We drove back to the ferry wharf as the sun was rising, which was a perfect way to depart beautiful Kangaroo Island. If I get the chance to go back, I will definitely schedule at least three or four days. We hardly scratched the surface. (We didn’t even see a kangaroo!).
On our way to Adelaide, where we’d catch the flight home, we stopped for another afternoon of wine tasting in McLaren Vale. 
At some point that morning, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be looking for giant roadside attractions, now that the Garcias got me started with the Big Merino, so I made P-i-C drive us to Wirra Wirra Vineyards, where they were supposed to have a giant wine bottle made out of wine corks. We I was sad to learn that the giant bottle was “out for repairs.” Thankfully, their wine was excellent, so all was not lost.
The most picturesque spot was across the street at Hugh Hamilton Wines (which we later realized is featured in a cloying commercial for South Australia before almost every movie we see). The wines were decent, the olive oil was excellent, but the views from the round glass cellar door building were the most memorable part of the vineyard.
I had to make a stop at my beloved Rosemount, where I had my fill of fruity, girly wines, and later I lost P-i-C in a cellar door full to the brim with a bridal shower. When I finally found him, he suggested I taste what he was drinking. I told him it tasted like battery acid, and he told me that it was an $80 bottle. I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m no kind of wine snob. 
The best winery of the day was Samuel’s Gorge. Even I could recognize how excellent their wines were. Had we not been flying, I would have brought home a bottle of everything they made.
Full up on spirits, we had just enough time for a quick lunch and brief look at Adelaide. Doing some quick googling on my phone, I set the GPS to a location just moments outside of the city. P-i-C rightly asked where, exactly, I was making him drive to.
“The Giant Scotsman,” I told him, as if that was most natural destination in the world.
Turns out, all was not lost on the Giant Roadside Attractions front. Not only is there a giant Scotsman just outside of Adelaide, but he is the original giant roadside attraction in Australia. 
He sits a bit forlornly outside the Comfort Inn, and I couldn’t really get a great photo because P-i-C would have had to cross a busy road, and I think I’d stretched his patience as far as could reasonably be expected, at this point. So, we got a side angle …
… and P-i-C was wise enough to document what I’m sure you’re all wondering …
(not only is he wearing something under there, but it matches his kilt)
And thus ended our Great Road Trip, which began with the excitement of the cancelled flight drama, ended looking up the skirt of a giant Scot, and features some unforgettable sights and experiences in between.