Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crete is beautiful! All rocks and mountains and very blue sea. I'm relaxing, reading, swimming, hiking, and planning forward journeys. Far too busy to sort and post photos!

Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm back in London after a week in Yorkshire, where the sun continued to shine, but it was much cooler than in the south. Now we have typical cold weather again: around 15C with grey skies and rain yesterday. Fortunately I'm leaving for Crete on Tuesday. Once I'm settled again I'll get my Yorkshire photos sorted and post up some of the most interesting ones.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

London in May

Lancaster Walk, Kensington Gardens

London is glorious in May! During the whole of April I was checking the weather reports for London: it was cold and rainy day after day after day, and I left Melbourne drowning under sweater, fleece jacket, and rain jacket all piled on to avoid excess baggage charges. I arrived on the 1st of May clearly bringing the down under climate with me - we've had nothing but wonderful warmth and blue skies since I set foot again on British soil.

Notting Hill window ledge

For my first week in London I stayed with an old school friend, Helen, in Notting Hill. If you've seen the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts film, yes, that's where I was staying! The book store from the film does actually exist, just a couple of streets away - and when I walked past on Saturday morning tourists were busy taking photos of each other outside the entrance.

Enjoying the sun in Kensington Gardens - Kensington Palace, former home of Princess Diana, is in the background.

I met up with a friend from Bukavu, Natalie, who has also finished up her contract, and is visiting Britain before returning to the USA. We picked up a salad lunch at the Whole Food Supermarket in Kensington High Street and ate on the grass in Kensington Gardens, enjoying the fabulous weather along with many others. I spotted some people on the palace roof and quickly snapped them; I had no idea why they were up there, but the photo shows some interesting gold ornaments on the roof:

Kensington Palace - roof detail

Later we walked through Kensington Gardens and found it quite appropriate to come upon the Speke memorial, having followed in his footsteps, more or less!

Speke Memorial, Kensington Gardens

The wisteria is in bloom, along with many other flowering trees and plants, and looks divinely extravagant!

Wisteria-covered house, Kensington

Churchill Arms (a pub, flying the Irish flag!), Kensington

Sunday, May 04, 2008


I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

Dorothea Mackellar 1908

It's taken me a long time to get this blog page up - for my first two months in Australia I didn't touch the blog, and once I was in the mood I began having problems with Blogger; it's taken literally days to upload all the photos. Since I have a good internet connection and I've ruled out computer problems, there must be something going on at the Blogger end of things. Very frustrating indeed!

A quick review of March and April: arriving in Melbourne I found that the stopover in Hong Kong did nothing to alleviate jetlag. For over a week I was asleep and awake at all the wrong times and hungry whenever it was mealtime in both Melbourne and Amsterdam, i.e. most of the time! For several weeks I was kept busy with visits to doctors, a knee operation for a torn cartilage (still not fully recovered), spending time with family, and meeting up with old friends. My travels around Australia on this visit included Geelong and Torquay to the south of Melbourne, Sydney, and northern Queensland (Cairns, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation) - my first time up there.

Torquay, a surfer’s paradise south of Melbourne, near Geelong, where I spent several days over Easter with old friends from East Timor.

Ayries Inlet lighthouse near Geelong, on the Great Ocean Road

Melbourne is burning up under a seven-year drought. Front lawns have been replaced by sandy areas with a few tufts of yellowing scrub. On hot days (temperatures getting close to 40 degrees Celsius) curtains are drawn, shutters and blinds closed, and occupants stay indoors in the dark sheltering from the oven heat. And then, from one day to the next, cold air swoops up from the Antarctic and the temperature drops 20 degrees and I’m once again complaining about how cold it is in Melbourne.

Last year when I was in Melbourne I visited Healesville Sanctuary, home to koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and many other animals unique to Australia. Here are a few photos – after all, no blog entry on Australia would be complete without them!

Large grey kangaroo

Pygmy Wallaby: kangaroos and wallabies come in a wide range of sizes and type; some of the wallabies are so small they look like large rats; there’s also one that lives up in trees, the tree wallaby.

Some of the kangaroos and wallabies in the parks become quite accustomed to people…

This kangaroo has a “joey” (baby kanga) in her pouch

Wombat: much loved animal, though less well-known outside of Australia.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

There’s a thrill to crossing Sydney Harbour that never fails to catch my attention. The iconic sight of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House across the water, seen in so many photographs around the world, always make coming to Sydney an event to appreciate and savour.

Sydney city skyline seen from the Greenwich ferry

This time I stayed a week, house-sitting for my brother and sister-in-law who took off to Tasmania to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary. I was left in charge of two young internet-addicted teenagers, a friendly labradoodle called Cody needing an awful lot of exercise and a thick furry cat who never responded to the name of Coco. And a fabulous view of an area of the upper harbour called Lane Cove, at Greenwich. Walks with Cody took me on wooded paths by the water’s edge and to small parks from where I watched boats and ships of all sizes, from tiny row-boats to luxury yachts to Liberian-registered oil-tankers, coming and going around the harbour. From the house, too, I could sit happily on the terrace and watch all the water-borne activity below my perch.

Kookaburas abound in the trees around the harbour, and the early morning chorus is filled with the sound of their distinctive laughter. Quite a change from the birdsong elsewhere!

From Sydney I took a flight up to Cairns in tropical northern Queensland, and from Cairns a bus took me one hour further north to Port Douglas. This is a holiday that I’ve been thinking of taking for several years, and it’s one of those “once in a life time” activities – because it’s so expensive up here! Which is why I ended up staying in a rather noisy “backpackers” lodge rather than getting a small self-catering studio, which, for a single person, would be considerably more expensive. Although Port Douglas is more expensive, I would advise just about anyone to avoid Cairns at all cost – it must be the tackiest seaside resort anywhere on earth.

Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Port Douglas is known for its wonderful long beach, which at low tide is wide and welcoming for beach walkers. In the late afternoon individuals, couples, friends, and families walk along the beach, some with their dogs, some walking the entire length of the beach, and some taking a gentle stroll. At the furthest end of the beach, near where mangroves begin and a creek works its way towards the sea, there are crocodile warning signs. The other main danger during the months of November to May are the stinging jellyfish, known here as “stingers”, which can leave you hospitalized or worse.

Four Mile Beach from the hill

This still being “stinger” season, even though few are about, meant that when going snorkeling we had to don nasty bright blue nylon stinger suits from head to toe, making each and every one of us look quite ridiculous. Northern Queensland bears many resemblances to Hawaii, but when you throw crocodiles and stingers into the mix Hawaii comes up looking a little more inviting!

Estuarine crocodile (the more dangerous type) at Rainforest Habitat, Port Douglas

7-year old freshwater crocodile at Rainforest Habitat (note the mouth firmly taped, even though this type is not particularly dangerous)

Croc tail

The Rainforest Habitat at Port Douglas is a small zoo with three different habitat areas featuring creatures specific to this region, especially a large variety of birds. The most famous and most endangered bird in the area is the Cassowary.

Cassowary at Rainforest Habitat

The Cassowary is a large, flightless bird that can also be found in Papua New Guinea. Driving up to Cape Tribulation early one morning with friends, we came across an adult cassowary with a chick at the side of the road and excitedly took as many snaps as we could before they disappeared again. Such sightings are rare, so we felt quite pleased with ourselves!

Cassowary near Cape Tribulation, the chick is the brown blur in the foreground. Apparently it’s difficult to tell the males and females apart, though the females are slightly larger, and although the female lays the eggs, it’s the male who then has the job of caring for the young.

Cape Tribulation and Daintree Rainforest

This is a stunningly beautiful part of Australia. Forest-covered mountains form an impressive backdrop to the Coral Sea, where the Great Barrier Reef awaits divers and snorkelers from around the world. The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world (older than the Amazon, and much more accessible!) and along with the Reef has been designated as a World Heritage site. It’s the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites exist side by side. Once the logging stopped (thanks to a bunch of hard-working hippy activists in the 70s) people became much more environmentally conscious, and forest activities today are done with an eco-friendly attitude.

"Danger Mouse" (aka yours truly) jungle surfing!!

I got talked into “jungle surfing” (it didn’t take much!) – which involved getting strapped into a harness and hooked up to fox lines, then swinging from tree platform to tree platform, Tarzan style. I had to take a few deep breaths before sliding off the platform and allowing myself to glide an awful lot of meters above the forest floor. I couldn’t decide if it was scarier to be on the high platform fastened around a slender tree-trunk or swinging down the fox lines held on by a metal hook. Not for those with a fear of heights!

Jungle Surfing

One of the platforms

With my jungle surfing buddies, Gordon and Brett from Sydney

This all takes place high up in the forest canopy. It’s worth taking a walk around the forest at ground level first to gain an appreciation of height and what’s happening on the forest floor.

Daintree Rainforest

Aside from the more spectacular activities, it’s also possible to enjoy well-designed boardwalks through the forest, either with or without a guide.

Here’s a large sunbathing lizard (there must be a fancy name for it…) we spotted while taking a walk.

Roy, a leading member of the local Kuku Yalanji tribe whose home is the rainforest, giving a guided tour at Mossman Gorge.

Local kid taking a dip in one of the many creeks in the Daintree. Places like this are croc free because the water is too cold for the crocs.

The larger Daintree River, on the other hand, is home to plenty of crocs:

Ferry over the Daintree River, with croc warning sign

Young turtles sunbathing at Mossman Gorge

A 1,000 year-old strangler fig at Mossman Gorge

The most common bird around here is probably the lorikeet, a small, colourful parrot often found in pairs and in large flocks of up to 60 birds. At dawn and dusk they gather in trees around town and make a screeching racket so loud you cannot hear anything else. The pairs always seem to be squabbling, and when they fly they swoop and dive amazingly fast.

Lorikeet at the Rainforest Habitat

Another less-commonly seen bird is the Eclectus Parrot. The male is green, and the female is red. They look so different that they were originally thought to be two distinct species.

Male (green) and female (red) Eclectus parrot, Rainforest Habitat (with thanks to "Anonymous" for the correction!)

Other sights around Port Douglas:

The Port Douglas marina is the starting off point for many boat trips to the outer Great Barrier Reef – a 2-hour trip by motor-boat – and to closer places such as the Low Isles (inner reef) and near-by creeks.

One of the boats headed out to the Great Barrier Reef in the morning

There isn’t much of note around Port Douglas with regards to architecture – it’s mostly modern resort developments and a few older “Queenslander” houses built on stilts (and remarkably similar to houses in Hilo, Hawaii); however there’s an attractive small church that has been relocated to a delightful spot near the shore:

St Mary’s church, Port Douglas

and one old hotel:

Court House Hotel, Port Douglas

Last but not least, I strongly suspect that there are some contentious issues in local politics (probably related to development):

Marker at Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Clearly this is no longer a Congo blog. I’m looking for a new name. Since I’m probably going to be traveling for a while I thought “Nicky’s Itchy Feet Blog” might do. Any other suggestions? I could just begin a totally new blog, as some people have done, but I like continuity, and would prefer to keep this site. Apologies for giving you so much to look at all in one go! I’ll see if I can do better at keeping up on a more regular basis.