Tag Archive | travel

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

Cruising to the Reef

As we skim across the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea aboard Wavedancer I’m filled with anticipation. It’s been more than 30 years since I last visited the Great Barrier Reef and I’m looking forward to spending the day at one of the best known natural wonders in the world.

We’re heading to Low Isles, two tiny islands set in a calm lagoon in the inner reef. Woody Island is a mangrove island and Low Island, our destination today, is a coral cay. Our journey on the Wavedancer, a sleek 30 metre sailing catamaran, takes an hour. We sit up on the top deck and, with the wind blowing sea spray in our faces, it’s an exhilarating ride.

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The boat slows as we near the island. It stays moored in the lagoon for the day and passengers are transferred ashore in little dual-purpose boats. As well as shuttling back and forth, they are used for seeing the coral. With a range of activities to choose from, we decide to stay on board Wavedancer and begin with a viewing of the coral reef in the glass bottomed boat.

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The boats are small and square, with the glass bottom in the centre and seating around the edge. We all lean over and peer eagerly through the glass while our guide skilfully steers the boat, keeping an eye out for special things to show us. We reap the reward for his efforts – giant clams, staghorn and brain coral, colourful tropical fish and even a turtle come our way.

Back on board the catamaran we enjoy a delicious seafood lunch before climbing into the shuttle boat again to go to the island. There’s plenty to do on shore. Many people go snorkelling and swimming, but being a Queenslander and somewhat wimpy as well, I decide the water is too cold and go on a nature walk with the marine biologist instead. We follow a trail through the trees to the lighthouse at the centre of the island. Built in 1878, the lighthouse was the first to guide the way through the inner reef and has been operating ever since.

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P1050222Near the lighthouse is another tall structure; a post with an osprey’s nest on top. We can hear hungry chicks in the nest calling out to their parents, who return from hunting and feed their demanding offspring while we watch.

P1050216When the birds leave the nest and their babies to search for more food, we leave too and head back to the beach. The coarse sand is composed of tiny pieces of coral, plant material and animal skeletons built up over the last 5000 years. We find seeds, cuttlefish skeletons and sea sponges washed up on the shore.

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Too soon, it’s time to board the little boat again and return to the Wavedancer. As we leave, I watch the Low Isles disappear over the horizon. I hope it won’t be another 30 years before I visit the Great Barrier Reef again.

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Boulders and Bushrangers

Tenterfield is the northern gateway to the New England Tableland district of New South Wales. Underlying the area is a layer of blue granite known as Stanthorpe Adamellite, formed after violent volcanic eruptions about 250 million years ago. Since then, weathering and erosion have created a dramatic landscape of granite boulders, huge rocky outcrops and sheltered caves with a secretive past, all within an easy drive of the town.

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The lookout on Mt Mackenzie, half an hour from Tenterfield offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the area. The unsealed road is in good condition and winds through fertile grazing land dotted with large granite formations. Some boulders, bigger than cars, balance inexplicably, while others perch precariously one on top of another. From the top of the mountain, at 1298 metres above sea level, the view takes in the national parks of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, with Tenterfield nestled in between.

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Boonoo Boonoo National Park, 27 kilometres north of Tenterfield, is one of several parks located on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. Pronounced ‘Bunna Boonoo’, the park’s name means ‘big rocks’ in the local Aboriginal language, and the river of the same name makes its way over massive slabs of granite to the cliff edge, where it falls 210 metres into the gorge.

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There are easy walking tracks, shallow rock pools for swimming and plenty of quiet places to sit and listen to the birds or search for delicate wildflowers. The famous Australian poet A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson proposed to his sweetheart, a local girl named Alice Walker, at Boonoo Boonoo Falls Lookout before they were married in Tenterfield in 1903.

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A much more notorious Australian with a connection to the Tenterfield district was Frederick Ward, more commonly known as the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. In the late 1860s he held up mail coaches and robbed travellers throughout the New England area. The rocky landscape, with caves high in the hills, provided many hideouts for the bushranger and the one near Tenterfield is easy to visit. It’s an easy walk up to the caves where he sheltered from the weather and the constabulary. The view from the top of the rocks explains why Thunderbolt chose this place; it’s the perfect vantage point to look down onto the main road, along which the mail coaches carried bounty from the gold fields.

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With a chilly autumnal wind blowing off the top of the rocks it’s not hard to imagine how unpleasant life would have been on the run. I would have made a terrible bushranger!

Deception at the Trick Art Museum

A day trip to Mt Takao would not be complete without visiting the Takao Trick Art Museum, across the road from Takaosanguchi Station in Hachioji-shi. After enjoying the splendid views of Tokyo and Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takao, exploring the mysteries of trick art was a fun way to end our day.

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The deception began even before we entered the museum, with a ticket office so realistic we nearly bought our tickets there. This was just the first of many experiences this afternoon where our eyes would play havoc with our minds.

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We were met at the real entry by a friendly girl who instructed us on using our 3D glasses to get the best out of our visit. Then, with a gracious bow, she sent us off into a realm of trickery and optical illusions. We put on our 3D glasses, turned the first corner and found ourselves transported to the streets of old Cairo.

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Peepholes offered tantalising glimpses of a mysterious world beyond the wall, until we passed through a hidden door and were transported back over 3000 years to the world of ancient Egypt and the time of Tutankhamen.

Danger lurked around every corner, as we balanced precariously over snapping crocodiles, watched as stampeding elephants passed by and hoped the hungry lions would stay behind bars.

In the Ames room and the Mirror room, where all was not what it seemed, our thoughts began to unravel like the wrappings on this Mummy.

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Our entry included a free drink from the vending machine out on the balcony. While some of the choices seemed a little strange, at least the vending machine was not an illusion.

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We relaxed in the autumn sunshine, sipped our banana milkshakes and realigned our minds, while this artist continued his work.

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Wait! Was this deception or reality? It was hard to tell…

Find out how Justin Beaver nearly met his end at the Trick Art Museum!

Konnichiwa, Tokyo!

Welcome to Tokyo, the world’s most populated metropolis. The inner city of Tokyo is home to more than 9 million people while the plainland over which the extended metropolitan area spreads has an estimated population of almost 35 million. The best way to gain a perspective on this massive expanse of humanity is to look from above and there are two amazing ways to get a bird’s eye view.

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Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree are both broadcasting towers, with the added bonus of having viewing floors where the public can enjoy beautiful views of the city. Tokyo Tower, opened in 1958, reaches a height of 333 metres, with observation floors at 150 metres and 250 metres. The much taller Tokyo Skytree, completed in 2011 at a height of 634 metres, has five viewing floors, from 340 metres to the highest viewing point at 451.2 metres, in the Tembo Galleria. It’s best to visit both towers – one during the day and the other at night, to see the city from two different viewpoints.

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Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Skytree

In the daytime, the views of Tokyo seem to extend beyond the horizon. The city is a sprawling mass of structures, some tall and others surprisingly small, interspersed with gardens, parks and sports grounds, cemeteries, temples and amazing elevated roadways. From the Special Observatory of Tokyo Tower, at 250 metres, even the smallest details can be seen, including school children playing lunchtime games in the playground below.

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A night-time view of the city from Tokyo Skytree adds another dimension to an understanding of the city. While Tokyo’s intimate details are hidden in the dark, the streets are brightly illuminated and thousands of lights sparkle across the metropolis, as far as the eye can see.  A leisurely walk around the Tembo Galleria gives a 360° outlook on the entire city.

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And for yet another perspective on this amazing city, stand on the glass floor at each of the towers…and look down!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Twinkle

Small Pieces, Big Picture

Every so often, on the footpaths of Albany, there’s a colourful mosaic tile set into the pavement. Crafted by local school children in a project for the millennium, the tiles are markers along the Amity Heritage Trail. They guide walkers on tour of the old city, past the replica Brig Amity, which brought the first settlers to the area, the old convict Gaol where the ghosts of past prisoners are said to wander, and churches and cottages built as the town began to flourish.

 

Not far from town, at the Albany Wind Farm on Frenchman’s Bay Road, there are more mosaics. The tiles along the Wind Farm Walk depict the seasonal calendar of the Noongar people, who first populated this land. Six annual seasons, based on the weather cycle, dictated the types of food which became available during the year.

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From the earliest inhabitants and the first settlers to the residents of today, these tiles tell the story of Albany – small pieces jigsawed together to create a big picture.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Achievement

On 26 September, 1983 the crew of the yacht Australia II won the elusive America’s Cup, a trophy held by the New York Yacht Club for 132 years. It was a day of celebration and jubilation at the Royal Perth Yacht Club and across the country.

Australia II, with her infamous winged keel, is now on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

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This photograph displayed at the museum shows Australia II in action in the waters off Newport.

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Achievement