Tag Archive | #closetohome

BYO Birdseed

Close to home #13 Bunya Mountains National Park

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The Scenic Circuit walk at Queensland’s Bunya Mountains National Park is aptly named; there’s a beautiful view of the North Burnett region from Pine Gorge Lookout. But it’s not just the scenery that attracts visitors to this isolated section of the Great Dividing Range.

Fondly known by all who visit regularly as “The Bunyas”, the park is Queensland’s second oldest and home to the world’s largest stand of bunya pines. These magnificent trees tower above the subtropical rainforest at the top of the range. Every three to four years, they produce huge cones up to 30 cm in length which contain large edible seeds called bunya nuts. Although the distinctive pines dominate the landscape there is a wide variety of flora and fauna, some only found in this area.

Our circuit walk begins from the picnic area at the tiny settlement of Dandabah, where small groups of red-necked wallabies gather to graze. In spring and summer, flowering black bean trees attract crimson rosellas.

Once on the walking track we need to be on the lookout, because many of the forest’s inhabitants are timid. We almost miss a motionless eastern water dragon, sunning itself on a log by the creek.

Not so worried about hiding is a male brush-turkey, more interested in attracting a female to his mound of leaf litter than avoiding us.

As we continue along the path, an eastern yellow robin darts along the forest floor ahead of us.

Higher up, bird’s nest ferns hang from tree trunks, and overhead the spreading fronds of tree ferns provide welcome shade.

Not so welcome are the giant stinging trees, their leaves covered with fine, silica-tipped hairs. Even the lightest touch causes pain which can last for days. We’ve heeded the advice on the warning signs and worn our closed-in shoes on this walk, because even dead leaves on the ground can be harmful. Luckily there are no stinging trees close to the path and we move on unscathed.

After a dry winter, only a trickle of water flows over the rocks at Festoon Falls but it’s enough to sustain the lush ferns and mosses clinging to the rock walls.

In the shallow waterholes below we spot large brown tadpoles, half hidden by the dappled sunlight on the water. They will take up to three years to mature into great barred frogs, which live in burrows in the creek banks.

It seems as if all life in the mountains grows slowly; strangler figs take hundreds of years to completely overwhelm their host plants. The walking track passes spectacularly between the aerial roots of one giant fig. The tree is more than 400 years old and the space is all that is left after the host plant died.

The circuit finishes with a gentle climb from the forest floor up the hill to the picnic area.

In the late afternoon, birds gather when seed is put out for feeding and photo opportunities. Regular visitors bring their own birdseed, because small bags from the general store are costly. Crimson rosellas and king parrots compete for attention, while sulphur-crested cockatoos wait more patiently till the rush dies down.

Kookaburras would prefer to snatch a sausage from the barbecues of unsuspecting picnickers.

When you come to the Bunyas bring your shoes, bring some bird seed and definitely bring your camera. You’ll want to photograph more than just the scenery!

Join Jo for Monday Walks

Advertisements

Paving the Way

Close to home #12 Flagstaff Hill

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

At the north western end of Isla Gorge National Park in central Queensland, there is a remarkable example of  mid 19th century engineering – an isolated time capsule preserved in the bush. To reach it, we turned off the highway and headed towards Flagstaff Road. Wide, flat and unsealed, the road goes through private cattle properties. Several times we had to slow down as we crossed cattle grids and passed by stock grazing at the side of the road.

Ahead in the distance, the Dawson Range rose abruptly out of the dusty plain.

Just inside the national park boundary at the top of the range, a narrow walking track led through the bush to the remnants of a hand-made road.

Constructed in the 1860s, the road was used to transport wool from the western town of Roma to the coastal port at Rockhampton. For this 150 metre section up the range, massive slabs of rock were cut by hand from boulders on the site. No cement was used to lay the pavers; they were shaped to fit neatly together, creating a firm surface on the steep slope. Hand-made culverts drained rain water away, preventing erosion and conserving the area. Six men took six months to build the paved road at a cost of £200.

In the early days, bullock teams pulled massive drays loaded with wool on the journey east and returned with supplies for those living in the remote west of the state. The bullockies who managed the teams were highly skilled in the tricky maneuvers needed to reach the top of the hill.

The road was used until the 1930s but, when other sealed roads made the westward journey easier, most traffic was diverted. Today the hand-paved road up Flagstaff Hill lies hidden in the bush, a silent tribute to the men who laboured to build it.

Staying Up, Looking Out

Close to home #11 Isla Gorge National Park

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Running the full length of Australia’s east coast for 3,500 km, the Great Dividing Range is the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Formed more than 300 million years ago,  the range was named for its length and width rather than its height; erosion has worn the mountains to the extent that even Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest mountain, reaches just 2,228 metres.

The Great Dividing Range is a composite of mountain ranges, plateaus, tablelands and gorges. In the far north, the slopes are clothed in the ancient tropical rainforest of Gondwana, while in the south the alpine region is Australia’s winter playground. More than 50 national parks provide protection for much of the range and make its spectacular scenery and unique flora and fauna easily accessible.

In Central Queensland’s Sandstone Belt, one national park surrounds the rugged cliffs and dense bushland of Isla Gorge. There are no designated walking tracks into the gorge and only experienced hikers armed with navigational aids should make the descent. But it’s not necessary to go so far into the wilderness to see the sandstone cliffs and monoliths eroded by the waters of Gorge Creek.

From the car park a narrow path tracks along the top of the ridge, although even here walkers need to take care.

In some places, the escarpment falls away sharply on either side and elsewhere lichen covered rocky outcrops pile up, creating a steep, natural staircase.

At the end of the ridge a sandstone spur juts out, forming a level platform from which the vastness of the gorge is revealed.

The erosive power of water is evident all through the gorge, from the rounded mountain tops to the jagged pillars of the Devils Nest, standing like sentinels on the horizon. Why bother walking down, when the view from the top is as good as this?

Join Jo for Monday Walks

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Rounded

In the Dark

Close to home #10 Boolboonda Tunnel

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Visiting the small Queensland town of Mt Perry, with its quiet streets and single general store, we wouldn’t have known it was once at the centre of a booming copper mining industry. Today around 480 people live in the town, but in the late 1800s a population of more than 30,000 supported several mines, shops, churches and five hotels.

To link Mt Perry to the coastal town of Bundaberg, a railway line was constructed in 1883-84. One part of the line included a 192 metre tunnel, dug by hand through the hard granite of the Boolboonda Range. The excavators worked for two years to complete what is still the longest unsupported and unlined railway tunnel in Queensland.

The railway opened in 1884 and was in operation until 1960, when this section of the line was closed. In 1961 the railway track was removed and the tunnel became part of an unsealed road linking Mt Perry to the town of Gin Gin. Several gates along the way remind today’s travellers they are passing through privately owned farmland; drivers must make sure they close each gate as they go.

The tunnel is wide enough for just one car and, while it’s interesting to drive slowly through with the headlights on, the best way to explore is on foot. It’s wise to carry a torch, as the light quickly dwindles just a couple of metres in.

The darkness, combined with high humidity and warm temperatures, has given the tunnel a second purpose, as the ideal home for a colony of little bent-wing bats. At the halfway mark the arched entrances seem far away, and the rustling movement and constant calling of the bats create an eerie atmosphere.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon with only the bats for company, it’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been when a train loaded with freight came rumbling through this dark and narrow space. That’s probably why the bats didn’t move in until the trains moved on!

Going Up?

Close to home #9 Q1 Tower, Gold Coast

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The Gold Coast consists of more than 70 kilometres of beautiful sandy beaches on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. From laid back Coolangatta in the south to the luxury of Sanctuary Cove in the north, there are plenty of places where you can sit and enjoy beautiful views of this iconic Australian surf-side city.

20160405_155356

To see the wonders of the Gold Coast from a different perspective, you can also go up – to the SkyPoint Observation Deck at the top of Q1.

P1110727

P1110678

From the top of the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest building there is a 360° view of the Gold Coast and the mountain ranges of the hinterland.

North

North

P1110690

South

P1110719

East

P1110692

West

On levels 76 and 77 of Q1, SkyPoint is 230 metres above the broad stretch of beach at Surfers Paradise and at that elevation, you can see up to a distance of 60 km. Even Mt Warning in northern New South Wales, the first part of mainland Australia to see the sun each morning, is visible on the horizon.

P1110682

P1110697

Whether you’re relaxing on the fine white sand or enjoying a coffee high above the beach at Skypoint, the views of the Gold Coast are always superb!

Go Nude With Food? Yes, You Can!

Close to home #8 Stanthorpe

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The small town of Stanthorpe, at the centre of south-east Queensland’s Granite Belt, is a popular tourist destination all year round. More than 12 000 people visit the area during “Brass Monkey Season” over the winter months; cosy chalets and blazing log fires keep the below zero chill of frosty nights at bay. When it comes to summer escapes, Stanthorpe is equally attractive because of the mild temperatures – usually 5 to 7 degrees cooler than the coast with clear blue skies and no humidity. At any time of the year, Stanthorpe’s main attraction is wine; there are more than 50 wineries on the Granite Belt and cellar doors offer tastings all year round. But what do visitors to Stanthorpe do if they’re not into wineries, or they’ve already tasted the wines the region has to offer?

The alternative is to go nude! The Granite Belt Nude Food Trail is a self-drive route that will satisfy the most demanding foodie; nude food is regional and seasonal, with low food miles. There are seven themed routes on the trail, covering 23 local outlets ranging from breweries to butcheries. Whether you have a sweet tooth or a hankering for cheese and chutney, there’s something for everyone.

Sutton’s Juice Factory, Cidery and Distillery, 13 km north of Stanthorpe, is a good starting point for a day of nude food exploration. The factory is surrounded by apple orchards; from February to June the trees are loaded with fruit.

P1030253

The apples are processed onsite and made into cider, brandy, juice and cider vinegar which can be sampled and purchased in the farm shop. At the Shed Café, the menu focuses on home-style cooking with a range of seasonal dishes including their signature dish, homemade apple pie with spiced apple cider ice cream. The waitress takes orders and gives advice at the same time. Her suggestion is to share a slice of pie and she’s right. It’s a generous serve, warm and cinnamon-scented.

P1030247

P1030244

At Granite Belt Dairy Farmhouse Cheese, just a few minutes away from Sutton’s, there are seven artisan cheeses to taste. The cheeses are made from the milk of the farm’s herd of Jersey cows and sold in the dairy shop billed as Queensland’s highest and coldest, with an elevation of 925 metres and winter minimums of -15°C. Even in mid-summer, day time temperatures can be mild. What’s not mild is the flavour of the cheeses, which varies according to the weather and the seasons. Cold weather gives the cows’ milk a more intense flavour while lush pasture after rain enhances the colour of the cheese.

P1030238

Next door to the cheese shop is Jersey Girls Café, serving homemade meals with cheese as the main ingredient. The food miles here are negligible. Cheese maker Karen tells visitors: “If the food in the café isn’t grown on our farm, it comes from the next door neighbours.”

P1030236

One of those neighbours is Castle Glen Distillery, home of Cedric Millar, Queensland’s only whiskey distiller. His whiskey, aged for a minimum of two years and made without additives, is just one of Castle Glen’s beverages. He also produces beer, wine and award winning liqueurs.

P1030265

The showroom glows with a kaleidoscope of jewelled colours when the sun shines through stained glass windows onto the specially handcrafted bottles of liqueur. Cedric’s wife Carol-Anne encourages visitors to taste his products. When asked which drink is her favourite, she ponders before answering. “I do like a splash of soda water with some musk stick liqueur on a warm summer evening. It’s light and refreshing. In winter, I can’t go past the coffee and whiskey crème liqueur.”

P1030259

If beer is the beverage of choice, Granite Belt Brewery, five minutes south of Stanthorpe, is a must on the itinerary. Guests can see one of six handcrafted beers being created in the microbrewery. The craft beers complement the fresh country menu of the Homestead Restaurant where the waitress recommends the Brewers Platter, a four course degustation meal. “Each course is matched with a different beer; even the dessert, chocolate truffle cake with a strawberry and basil salsa, comes with a glass of Pozieres Porter!”

The strawberries in the salsa are grown at Strawberry Fields, five km further south on the New England Highway. From October to May, when it’s pick-your-own season, plump red berries glisten between the leaves of hundreds of strawberry plants. Visitors can fill a basket as they wander, or for those who don’t want to go to the effort of harvesting, the café sells tubs of freshly picked berries and strawberry flavoured treats. Guests can relax on the terrace next to the strawberry field watching others do the work, while enjoying traditionally made strawberry ice cream, parfaits or pancakes.

P1030211 (2)

If there’s time, stay in Stanthorpe for a few days. There are many more places on the Nude Food Trail but it’s neither possible nor practical to try to see them all in one day. Take the opportunity to sample the offerings of a few outlets each day and buy some supplies for later. Then leave with a carload of gourmet treats and your clothes still on – the food is the only thing nude in Stanthorpe.

P1030210

*This story originally appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer Magazine, February/March 2016.

Hidden Talent Revealed

Close to home #7 Painting at Cork & Chroma

That old saying “I can’t draw to save myself” definitely applies to me. My artistic flair is meagre and even my stick figures don’t look good. But after an evening spent at Cork & Chroma in South Brisbane, I might need to re-evaluate my opinion of my abilities.

Cork & Chroma is a paint and sip studio. BYO your favourite drinks, put on an apron and be prepared to reveal hidden talents, guided by one of the studio’s resident artists. You don’t need any prior knowledge to join in. The artist leads everyone step by step through the painting process, demonstrating each technique and offering individual advice when it’s needed.

P1110623

On the Saturday night we visit there are several groups: a hen’s night, a girls’ night out, a few couples and our family gathering of three generations. Blank canvases, full of promise, are set up on our easels. We fill our palettes with acrylic paints, some colours required and others we add as we like. Our glasses are also filled and we’re ready to paint and sip.

P1110617

Our instructor begins by showing us three techniques for using our paint brushes. We start, mixing colours to create the background of our paintings. At first we’re tentative, but as we begin to fill our canvases with layers of paint we relax and by the time it comes to adding highlights we’re much more free with our brushes.

P1110632

My rustic scene takes shape. The window comes to life, there’s light and shade on my pot of gardenias and the bicycle leaning against the wall even looks like it’s ready to be ridden.

As our confidence increases so does our willingness to add our own touches to our paintings. There might be more than 30 paintings of the same scene, but not one is identical to another. In one painting a cat suns itself by the wall and a mouse scampers across the ground in another. In my painting, a window box full of pansies takes centre stage.

P1110648

When our lesson is over, we all gather for a group photo, our paintings proudly displayed as we admire each other’s work. Renoir I’m not, but tonight I’ve created my own masterpiece.

P1110654

*This story originally appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer Magazine, August/September 2016.

Cork & Chroma