NEWSFLASH! My book hits the road! Did you miss my Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise 'Downunder Dunnies' appearance? Watch the Video HERE!

Friday

Aussie ABC - A is for Alice Springs!


Looking over Alice Springs to Heavitree Gap, Northern Territory

Standley Chasm, Central Australia
All roads lead to Alice Springs - as close as a fart in an outhouse to the centre of OZ!  It's not the country's official geographic centre – but go on!

Have a look at the map of Australia - how do you find the centre of THAT?! 
 
But exact centre or not, no town defines OZ quite like Alice Springs - aka 'The Alice'

This town at the centre of Central Australia is a microcosm of Australia's quintessence, and is therefore worthy to introduce my Aussie ABC – the archetypes of awesome, amazing Australia (some more great 'A' words in case you hadn't noticed)!

Glen Helen Gorge, Central Australia
While many Australian landscapes look completely unlike those in and around Alice Springs and Central Australia, I'll bet that if someone says 'Australia' to you, images of this region are what you'll more than likely first think of.

Especially the REDS of gorges, chasms, rocks, earth and sunsets ...

... and the rugged Outback ranges ...

... and the endless blue, Blue, BLUE (mostly) cloudless skies ...

... and the distinctive Central  OZ desert landscapes that you'll always recognise even without a caption!

HHHMMMmmm... perhaps that makes the whole area too much of a cliché?

Or maybe not.

Lets take a tour to see what some of the Alice's different aspects look like!

Giant Ghost Gum
Alice Springs Desert Park
An oasis in the desert (courtesy of the Great Artesian Basin), see its unique natural wonders for yourself - regional birds and other fauna at the Alice Springs Desert Park, and local plants and wildflowers especially adapted to arid land life at the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.  And of course you can't miss the amazing landscape - it surrounds you wherever you go...

Descendants of the original indigenous inhabitants, Afghan cameleers and white settlers rub shoulders with grey nomads and tourists from all over the world - and the rich indigenous cultural heritage is showcased throughout the town and region.

Storm clouds gather over the West MacDonnell Ranges via Alice Springs, Northern Territory
 
The Alice Springs of Neville Shute's classic novel 'A Town Like Alice' is almost a character in its own right. And since my first visit in the early noughties, I've been addicted to its eclectic mix of cultures, landscapes, flora and fauna – and it's within cooee of even more unique Australiana (aka 'oddities')!

Mt Sonder, West MacDonnell Ranges via Alice Springs, Central Australia

Head from Alice Springs in ANY direction and you'll see what I mean. For example: Kata Tjuta (and of course Uluru) to the south west. 'Dinky' the singing, piano playing dingo at Stuarts Well to the south. Rainbow Valley to the south east. And of course, due north to the Devils Marbles and Wycliffe Well – self-proclaimed UFO capital of Australia.


Trephina Gorge, East MacDonnell Ranges via Alice Springs, Northern Territory

You've just got to love a place that's adapted so well to its harsh environment that the annual Henley-on-Todd regatta is cancelled if there IS water in the river! Or with restaurants that combine usually unrelated cuisine types!  It was in the Swiss/Indian restaurant (no longer operating) where a staff member once mistook me for a man – the dim light, perhaps?  Or should I just rethink that androgynous haircut … And it's possibly the only place in the country - if not the world! - where you can stay in the 'G'day Mate' caravan park!

Ochre Pits, West MacDonnell Ranges via Alice Springs, Central Australia
 
Of course there's WAAAAY more to Alice Springs than this – museums, parks, Indigenous heritage, lookouts, art, waterholes - so if you're looking for the definitive exposé of this fascinating region, my Aussie ABC isn't it.

But if it's left you wanting more of the laid-back Central Australian vibe in and around (arguably) Australia's most intriguing town, do it the easy way and let the My Adventure Store travel experts show you around!

West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory


Rainbow Valley, Central Australia (pic by Pilchard)
Want MORE of my take on TOP Aussie Town Alice Springs and Central Australia?


 

Tuesday

Signs #10 - So there!

At first glance, this sign in Far North Queensland's Atherton appears to be a fairly standard 'No Parking' notice.  But is it really?  A few deviations, slight, but immediately detectable by your sign-junkie-sleuth MAY show something more sinister...
  • Generally, a no-parking area would be signed 'No Parking Anytime'.  Note the difference! 
  • Available times or other instructions are normally listed underneath - as they are here - but are a little different to 'normal' instructions (you may have to enlarge the shot for a closer look)
  • AND ... not least is the strategic placement.  This doesn't appear to be the usual metal pole used for official signs ... 
Spooky, huh?!?!
What does it all mean??  Buggered if I know!  But here's a multiple choice questionnaire - put your favourite response in a comment below!
  1. The town of Atherton is the closet renegade signmaker capital of Australia, if not the world!
  2. It's a competition.  The first person to a) notice and b) report it and c) in the most creative entry wins a prize! (I'm kinda hoping it's this one ...)
  3. The track from the Hallorans Hill lookout that wends down through a weird crater, and emerges at this sign is a portal into a parallel universe.
  4. Disgruntled locals are making a statement that viewers, including hapless travellers and the local council, just can't ignore!
  5. The sign directs UFO traffic out of Atherton enabling Wycliffe Well to maintain its proud heritage as UFO capital of Australia, if not the world!
  6. The nails contain a deadly poison that will subtly do away with the tree - this way no one will suspect why the tree died ...
  7. It's a modern art installation.
  8. None of the above!  Put the REAL answer in your comment below!!
On second thoughts, I'm not too sure about the parallel universe theory - the superb goods at the FAAABULOUS Atherton Bakery surely couldn't have been replicated by aliens!  If they were - well, all I have to say to that is 'Beam me up'!

PS  Apologies for the poor picture quality - this is what happens when one is trying to be surreptitious about taking pix in a dark, eerie spot with dim eerie light!!

Friday

Off the Tourist Trail #4 Pentland, Queensland

We needed warmth NOW. We'd left the cold south a few weeks ago, but hadn't yet hit the tropics. You KNOW you're not warm enough when even the thermal pools feel cold …

The solution? Head further north – and QUICKLY!

Our map (no, I DON'T mean 'GPS') showed a road heading north from Blackall, up through historic Barcaldine to Torrens Creek, one of 5 small towns* on the Overlander's Way between Hughenden and Charters Towers. And apart from a few km of gravel at the far end, sealed all the way! Sweet!!

We thought we'd hit paydirt on this deserted (only 6 other vehicles) and scenic (passing through 2 national parks**) inland superhighway – until we reached the dirt! Dirt? Hah! 35 km of the worst bulldust roads we'd ever driven on! But still … not only did we save 2-3 days on going round the looooong way, we had the added bliss of warmth! Travelling several hundred km further north in one day hadn't been for nothing ...

So … where to bail up, lie low for awhile and return the car and trailer to their natural colour?
Then we thought of Pentland, only a short distance east from where the dirt superhighway emerged onto the REAL road! We'd driven through it in 2009, amazed by the magnificent wildflowers of the White Mountains National Park - and the Pentland wetland (aka 'swamp') at the back of the town gave it the edge over Torrens Creek. Before you start wondering what kind of people think a swamp makes a place MORE instead of LESS enticing, think birdwatching!!

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Pentland – you're in good company with (at a rough estimate) many millions of Aussies – and (I daresay) Oprah! Sad, when it's a great place to spend a couple of days in a real Aussie small town.

The Pentland caravan park is one of those wonderful quiet country parks with everything – and on our June 2010 visit, was only $22 per night for a powered site! Bargain!! And within walking distance of the town's services and attractions, including art gallery and historic Norwood police cells.

The next day, trailer de-red-dusted and washing on the line, we wandered down to the swamp wetland for a closer look A glorious spot, the extensive waterway was loaded with birds including Comb-crested Jacana, Magpie Goose and Cotton Pygmy Goose – unruffled by the young lad leading a cow along the verge. I'd also mention the hundreds of Whistling Duck in the distance, too far away to identify as either Plumed or Wandering subspecies …

And back at the caravan park for lunch, so warm we actually had to sit in the shade (!), Great Bowerbird swooped and cried around us, waiting (vainly) for stray morsels to fall. As if!

The Overland Way passes through the spectacular White Mountains NP – and one of the best wildflower displays this side of Western Australia. Although limited (god knows why), there IS public access at Canns Camp Creek campground, the Burra Range lookout and a short, flower lined walk down a fire trail to the creek – although it's moot whether the latter is an 'official' visitor access point …

Returning to Pentland from viewing the breathtaking wild and remote vista from the lookout, an odd little bird, not destined to be roadkill today, scuttled across the road in front of us! What was it? Although pretty unlikely (wrong habitat and known distribution), I desperately wanted it to be a Plains Wanderer (how cool is that name?) but expert Pilchard didn't see it clearly enough to identify preferring (thankfully, I guess) to actually watch the road when driving!

Although unlikely that we'll nearly skittle the same bird in the same spot a year or two down the track, it's just enough to make us return to Pentland one day on the off chance! Yes, we have an active fantasy life …

Till next time!!

*Prairie, Torrens Creek, Pentland, Homestead and Balfe's Creek – all (other than Homestead) with Caravan Park/ hotel/motel accomodation; and all with other facilities such as stores, fuel, pub etc. Go on! Have a stopover!!
**Forest Den and Moorrinya, if you care!

Tuesday

Chainsaws of the Sky

I'm going to slap the next person who tells me how peaceful living in the country must be.

Peaceful, huh?? Yeah, nothing much disturbs the equilibrium in the country!

Like the other night. The open window directly above the bed didn't just let in the cool night air – the weird sounds of the night came streaming through too!

'What's that noise?' I hissed, nudging Pilchard with my elbow.

'Huh?' he murmured, rousing slightly, then rolling over to return to sleep. Just like a man! But I digress …

'I hear something!' I persisted. Another nudge in the small of the back and he was awake. Of course the sounds had stopped.

'I don't hear anything.' he mumbled, predictably! Just like a man!! But I digress...

The burnouts up at the corner stopped and the cars roared past, drowning out all other sounds for a moment. Then … peace and quiet reigned. Or would have, if not for a smorgasbord of unidentifiable noises.

Pilchard was having trouble identifying which one I meant.

Was it the possums rampaging over the roof like a herd of manic, tap dancing baby elephants? They HAD to be possums – the alternative was too scary to contemplate! Although the feral cats were giving them a run for their money. A distinct 'meow' and another thump on the roof. Were they fighting the possums?

Duelling owls – Southern Boobook and Tawny Frogmouth - hooted and boomed their way into the night, while a disturbance in the force set the ducks on the dam quacking and flapping. Restless ewes bleated, unable to find their lambs in the night. Yeah, once they're ALL awake you'll find YOURS!

Frogs croaked in the fountain and the mosquito's unmistakeable dentist-drill whine hovered round the bed. And if I listened really carefully, I could hear the pitter patter of countless tiny gum blossom caps pinging onto the roof, ready to be scrunched underfoot and turn to dust.  Oh joy.

Then a smaller, scratching noise. That's what I'd heard. Sadly not yet in death throes from total toxic overload, a rat inched its way down the chimney towards the please-god-lethal-this-time stash of rat bait. Wondering why we're deliberately luring rats inside? Well … the bait isn't just lethal to rats, and call us crazy, but we didn't REALLY want an array of random dead birds and animals around the house in the morning.

Although if the cat chose to kill and eat a loaded rat, there wasn't much we could do ...

Now I'd identified the strange noise, maybe, just maybe I could fall asleep!

But then, even more dreadful than the other noises, we heard it. A hideous banshee screeching and shrieking broke the dawn in two as it swooped down closer and closer, so loud it precluded all rational thought – let alone sleep. Leaves, twigs and small branches rained from the trees all around and the air shimmered with sounds of mass destruction.

Yes, the 'Chainsaws of the Sky' had arrived.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo is an agent of evil magnificent bird! Ask anyone - except us!! As the 30-strong flock circles above for what seems like hours each morning, we fantasise about wreaking vengeance and violent death. But sadly, there's not enough toxic rats to go round.

Although, to be fair, apart from the morning, evening and any other time of day or night they damn well please, they're pretty quiet!

Pet owners (!) speak of above average avian intelligence - and we are forced to agree. They know EXACTLY when we're not guarding the fruit ripe enough to destroy by digging through to the nourishing kernel inside. And their devil spawn offspring – the dastardly, defective, demented love children of a hedge trimmer and a Dalek – learn to chainsaw use their beaks by nipping off young, tender shoots – often fatal to the tree. Unless there's anything else around they can nip off at the base - like corn, from which there's no recovery.

Are they Australia's most omnipresent bird? Lately, they've been everywhere we've been – but maybe they're just tormenting us by following us around?!

Sadly, I can't claim the epithet 'Chainsaw of the Sky' as my own having first seen it HERE where the wonderful Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge thousands of kilometers from me describes disturbingly similar behaviours.

A sadly apt description, I fear I'll be using a lot more as my Australian Adventures continue!  Maybe I'll get some peace and quiet on the road, 'cos it sure ain't happening here!
Happy travels!!

Saturday

Only in OZ #10 - Fort Bourke Stockade, Bourke, NSW

Surprisingly little is known about Fort Bourke Stockade, the only defensive fort in Australia, but this has been no barrier to building a lifelike facsimile near Bourke, in outback New South Wales.

Although its a) true dimensions; b) exact location and c) the building materials used in its construction are not recorded, this tiny stockade is apparently a replica!

Built in 1835 by early explorer Major Thomas Mitchell, historical records contain a few allusions to the short lived stockade, named for New South Wales governor Richard Bourke.  The town of Bourke was subsequently established nearby on the Darling River (yet another example of gubernatorial sucking up by explorer Charles Sturt).

Driving through the Darling river floodplain on our June 2010 visit to this historic fort, its then recovery after some good rains following many years of drought meant the Darling backwater on which it is built was full.  The small size of the fort isn't just due to its 'replica' status either - it apparently WAS really that small - although there is little to confirm this either way.  But now, both position and size put it under threat as the floodwaters from Queensland drain into the Murray/Darling basin - a significant agricultural area covering over one-seventh of the country.

Northern readers who may be making mental comparisons with other famous frontier stockades like Fort Knox, for example, would do well to take a closer look at the top photo!  Yes, that really IS a normal sized human being you can see behind the slabs!!!

And while the details are sketchy - well, OK, pretty non-existent - it IS apparently the only one of its kind in Australia!  And although we don't know what it really looked like, was made of or where it was, we can 'imagine' these things from the 'replica'!! 

Governor Bourke would be proud of his fine legacy today - his name features in Australian slang phrase 'Back o' Bourke', used to describe anywhere very remote from civilization!

As a historic river port, there is much to interest visitors.  Attractions include the nearby Gundabooka National Park, old wharf and restored paddlesteamer 'Jandra' - and these, along the 'Back O'Bourke' Exhibition Centre just may keep you there for several days!

Oh, and did I mention the superb (and also historic) Morrali's Bakery?!?!?

But for us, Fort Bourke Stockade was the standout - where else but OZ would you find something so unique and bizarre?

Tuesday

Signs #9 - Happy Campers!


Either that, or campers with WAAAAAY too much time on their hands!  This rocky greeting was sighted just after the October 2010 school holidays - so perhaps it was a bored kids project!!

In a mystery location somewhere between Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges in South Australia's Flinders Ranges National Park, the sign is a tragic reminder of the effects of the ageing process on memory and other faculties - neither Pilchard nor I can recall exactly in which campground we saw it!

And yes, while it's just a simple Aussie welcome, the cross bar of the 'H' looks like a reasonably difficult engineering feat to achieve with only rocks and bare hands!  Maybe this is why it doesn't say 'HELLO'!!

On our next visit we'll identify (and write down!) the exact location - that is, if it hasn't weathered away!  Or if we can remember what we were looking for ...

Sunday

Don't Miss This! Barossa Valley Double Delight, South Australia

For a few minutes of the most pleasure you'll ever have, take a $25 teaser helicopter flight over South Australia's Barossa Valley!  Arguably Australia's most famous wine region, the valley was at its green and abundant best when we took the plunge (sorry, bad choice of words) on a fine, calm day in October 2010 – with Barossa Helicopters, (based down the road from Lyndoch) offering joy flights opposite the Lyndoch Bakery. Which, incidentally, is one of the finest German bakeries it's been my pleasure to encounter! But I digress …

Given these conditions, the flight was so great that despite being a nervous flight-height challenged helicopter flight virgin, we're already planning to take a longer flight sometime soon!

AND … if you want to prolong your few minutes of pleasure (and who doesn't?) continue on to nearby Chateau Yaldara!

Current owners McGuigan Wines transformed the old chateau built by Barossa pioneer Hermann Thumm into a tasting room and larder.

But be strong – head towards the creek and to the marvellous Café Y (at right below), take a window seat and let Nick, Mary and Ilias take care of you for lunch!

If you're lucky, the pizza oven will be fired up – but whether it is or not, the meze platter for two is among the finest meals I've had anywhere, despite having to share it with Pilchard! And NO ONE shares the magnificent kataifi for dessert ...


Of course if you feel a day in the Barossa is incomplete without visiting a winery or ten, you should be able to find at least one of the 73 cellar doors and 150 wineries in the region …

So why limit yourself to just one day?!?!

PS LATER EDIT - I've had a few queries about the low price.  Please note this was a 'stand-by' rate deal - the helicopters were on display opposite the bakery (as above), and offered a 'drop in deal' quick 3-5 minute flight to either whet your appetite, or scare you rigid!!  Obviously, a 'real' flight is going to cost more - with the current website price (click HERE) showing at $69 per person for a 10 minute flight with 2-3 people (and other deals for more time/money).  As both Pilchard & I were commitment phobic heli-virgins, we thought we'd see if we liked it first.  Happily (or sadly, depending on whether or not you are us or our bank manager), we liked it so much we'll do another, longer flight some sunny day ...

Thursday

OZ Top Spot #5 - Kanyaka Ruins, Flinders Ranges, SA

What happens in a world where resources are divided equally, with equal opportunity for developing and managing them through good times and bad, and with an equal chance of success or failure?

No, I'm not paraphrasing 'Imagine', writing the manifesto for a great big new mining tax or plotting a new version of 'Monopoly'!

But visit the Kanyaka Station ruins in South Australia's Flinders Ranges – and instead of a utopia of natural justice, you'll see the tyranny of equality first hand!

On the sometimes dry, desolate wasteland of the Willochra Plain, the ruins are what's left of a station that in its heyday covered 365 miles² and ran 41,000 sheep. A popular rest stop between Quorn and Hawker on the Blinman mines route, the owners even built the 'Black Jack' hotel nearby to cater for the many travellers demanding hospitality.

So how did this large, magnificent station become a large, magnificent ruin?

The risk settlers took in the marginal country way beyond the Goyder line – named for the Surveyor General who surveyed the line beyond which farming was generally not viable – paid off when times were good. But the many ruins that make this area so photogenic also show how often the risk failed. However, despite many threats to viability - lengthy droughts, labour availability and poor government advice (yes, difficult to believe, isn't it?!) – fortunes were made! Kanyaka station rode out the killer drought of the 1860's, even increasing in size.

What could possibly go wrong now?


Remember, this is marginal country. The Surveyor General has indicated land above the Goyder line unsuitable for wheat farming. Kanyaka is prospering – and an increase in size means an increase in employment. Size is strength in this arid land – the dry sheep equivalent means carrying capacity is pretty low out here!

You are the government. What do you do? Well, the solution is obvious, isn't it?? You resume the Kanyaka pastoral leases for subdivision into much smaller wheat farms, of course! No, seriously!!

This 'policy' offered a 'solution' to a growing demand for farming land, allowing more settlers a slice of the pastoral action and satisfying critics of a leasehold system that favoured the 'rich'. In short, a mighty victory for equality!

Well, you know the outcome – the ruins speak for themselves. Kanyaka's cut-down acreage allowed both pastoralism AND wheat farming to fail in equal measure – as they also did on the remaining subdivisions, all now unable to benefit from economies of scale.

And thus was equality finally achieved!

Sunday

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #10 Evans Head, New South Wales

Strategically located at the Razorback Lookout Picnic Area in Evans Head in Northern New South Wales, the views from these amenities would HAVE to be among Australia's most spectacular!

From the outside, that is...
Inside the facilities is a VERY different story!  Or at least it was during our November 2009 visit when they appeared to have been used as shelter during a storm.  And what do you need when you're sheltering from a storm in a public toilet?  Why, fire of course!! 

Some damage had been repaired on our August 2010 visit, but the absence of locks still made for easy exit and ingress.  TOO easy!!  Holding the door shut or standing guard while others go isn't quite how I envisaged spending our visit...


But, looking north towards Ballina, south towards Bundjalung National Park or west to Evans Head itself makes it all worthwhile.  And east?  Well ... you ARE just looking out to sea, but the keen-eyed just MAY spot a whale!  Or two!!

But hell!  What's a little air, water and fire damage to a seasoned earth-sign Aussie traveller?  Anyhow, who visits a fabulous spot like this to spend all their time in the loo?

No one, I hope!  SO ... because doing one's business is so unappealing in these conveniences, and one therefore spends more time outside enjoying the REAL attractions, we actually owe the vandals our thanx!  Don't we??

Happy 2011 travels!!

PS  HOT TIP - while you're there, don't miss the mighty fine Evans Head Bakery!!
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