Monday, 18 April 2011


Sunday 10 April: Another sprawling Australian city with a few old colonial gems amid the glass-fronted business district. The large city hall is in a state of refurbishment but the Greek Revivalist Shrine of Remembrance squats delightfully above tree lined Anzac Square which leads to the old, but still in use, post office. On the river front, shrouded in high-rise office blocks is the Land Administration Building. Crossing Goodwill Footbridge in pouring rain I head for home through the badly flood-damaged South Bank Parklands.
Tuesday 12: Also damaged by January's severe flooding, the City Botanic Gardens still have a magnificent range of trees, many originally planted to ascertain which timbers would grow well and survive termite attack in this new convict outpost. The multi-rooted fig trees, bunya pines and jack fruit trees are just great. A rainy afternoon in Queensland Art Gallery is also great, with Aboriginal art, a recognisable Russel Drysdale - another poor outback family - I just love the pom-pom slippers. There is also an atmospheric 1960s gallery and European works including a Picasso nude and, my favourite, Burne-Jones's Aurora (1896), a Pre-Raphaelite beauty heralding in dawn with symbol chimes in Oxford, England.
Wednesday 13: Sloping upwards north of the railway station are the well-kept and colourful gardens of Roma Street Parklands, a real inner city highlight with many little Water Monitors dodging between the flower beds.
Friday 15: A dominant factory just west of the city centre is the Castlemaine-Perkins XXXX Brewery. I choose the AU$35 tour (no photos) which includes four beers and a barbecue. We see a few historic displays and some amusing old TV adverts before walking under rows of large 'fresh' and 'bright' beer silos in this industrial scale brewery. I've been on brewery tours before - Fuller's and Young's in West London, Gales in Hampshire, and Guinness in Dublin, so I'm surprised to learn that cheap liquid-cane sugar is added to the malt mash - surely this waters down the flavours of the natural malt sugars? I'm even more surprised when the young guide suggests mixing their Guinness-style black porter with coke to 'improve' the flavour. "No way" is my reply, I think the brewers would agree. A surprisingly good seller which Castlemaine will now market year-round is their new low carb Summer Bright Lager (4.2%), a light sweet quite drinkable option. The XXXX Bitter (4.6%) is pretty tasteless and the lighter XXXX Gold (3.5%) is just bland. None of these come close to any of the ales on offer at the small Sky Blue Brewery in Cairns but, dominated by strong smokey-roast malt overtones, Castlemain's James Squire Porter (5%) is exceptional, a real treat, more please.
Saturday 16: Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) has plenty of interactive stuff, mostly aimed at kids and it's jam-packed full with them - I'm off.
Photos of Brisbane.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands

Wednesday 6 April: From Cairns the 9:15am executive-class Tilt Train (85th mode of transport) swiftly swaggers it's way south to Proserpine station in the heart of sugar-cane country where a network of black molasses freight lines criss-cross the roads. This is also the stop for the Sunshine Coast's Whitsunday Islands, it's raining heavily.
Thursday 7: Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays where all manner of craft set sail for the islands, from party boats and bouncy ocean rafts to sturdy catamarans and elegant tall ships. I would love to sail the islands on a tall ship but the seas are still too rough to enjoy. Arlie's man-made lagoon and waterside boardwalk are pleasant enough distractions during periods of sunshine but the wind is still high.
Saturday 9: With the sea conditions still rough out on the reef I opt for the reasonably stable fast catamaran ferry (85th mode of transport) Eye Spy out to the pleasant resort of Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. Two large pools sit above the beach and from One Tree Hill there are good views over the neighbouring islands and the mountainous nature reserve to the south. Sadly, taking the even more stable Fantasea II back to Shute Harbour on the mainland, I realise the Great Barrier experience will have to be savoured on another trip.
Sunday 10: From an insect infested Proserpine station I catch the comfortable overnight Tilt Train south to Brisbane.
Photos of Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Daintree and Cape Tribulation

Saturday 2 April: Rain and strong winds in Cairns made for a murky sea with high swells, so I decided to wait until Cape Tribulation for a Great Barrier Reef trip. There is no public transport north of Cairns and no sealed road north of Cape Tribulation, so I'm part of a two-day minibus tour of the Daintree area with a day off in Cape Tribulation, hopefully for a Barrier Reef boat trip. At our breakfast stop there are White-lipped Tree Frogs then we are on the Daintree River spotting baby 10-month old Crocodiles before looking at strangler figs and ancient woodland on Marrdja Boardwalk. Three scientists are here catching fresh-water Moray Eels to fit with tracking devices. They have netted three today, a good toll considering only one is working while the other two are on Crocodile watch. Sunday 3: Seas are still heavy so there no reef trips today. Instead I take a walk into the rainforest and back along the beach. "Don't cross the river too low down or high up" I'm breezily warned "too low and the stingers will get you, too high and it will be the crocs." Despite the heavy rain (it is after all a rainforest) it's a good and thankfully uneventful day.
Monday 4: We return to Cairns via Alexander Range Lookout with views over the mouth of the Daintree River and beyond, then stop at Mossman Gorge before crossing the river on the Daintree chain ferry (84th mode of transport), then proceeding to Port Douglas with it's little wooden church.
Photos of Daintree and Cape Tribulation.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Tuesday 29 March: What little there is of Cairns beach is not only muddy and unappealing but Box Jellyfish, Bull Sharks and Estuarine Crocodiles all lurk menacingly beneath the murky waves. The solution is a popular man-made salt-water lagoon on the pleasant wide grassy esplanade designed for joggers and keep-fit enthusiasts. My comfortable room in the YHA, just opposite the station shopping mall, overlooks the hostel's tropical courtyard and clover-leaf shaped pool, nice.
Wednesday 30: I take a day trip on Kuranda Scenic Railway and the journey proves to be better than the destination. There are great views back to Cairns, forward to Stoney Creek Bridge and downward to Barron Falls. The locomotive is hand-painted with a colourful Carpet Snake and Kuranda's little station is pretty too but the town is a disappointing tourist trap of shops and other expensive 'attractions' - cuddle a Koala anyone?
Thursday 31: Masked Lapwings and Cockatoos inhabit the waterfront esplanade which, after a few miles, leads to Cairns Botanic Gardens, northeast of the city. These are great and Friends of the Gardens volunteer Norma gives us a fascinating tour of the flora. There are giant bamboos, ancient cycadaceae and platinum ferns from Queensland, large green-striped pods on a Central American cacao tree, an impossible to climb spiky-barked tree and a caroline ivory-nut tree, both from South America. The ivory-nut tree from Peru has a proliferation of beautiful snake-skin like fruit about the size of a plumb with a stone, which when carved, is a good imitation of ivory. The big hard fruit of the tropical American cannonball tree give it it's name while an ivy-like plant nearby has a name impossible to remember. Also in bloom are pretty six-petaled flame-like apocynaceae and several heliconia, one with a little Sunbird probing for nectar, all looking incredibly artificial. But, stranger still is the intricate bloom of the Southeast Asian white bat plant and some of the flowering plants in the fern house - thanks Norma. I finish my day watching gold-fish racing in The Woolshed.
Friday 1 April: Walking along the Botanic Garden's Rainforest Boardwalk of ferns, palms, figs and lilys the paperbark trees are, to me, the most striking. I end my time in Cairns in the Blue Sky Brewery where beer samplers are served in six-glass paddles - smoked wheat beer, stout, smooth cider, wheat beer, creamy India pale ale and a pilsner - all delicious so several pints follow.
Photos of Cairns.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Sydney to Cairns

Saturday 26 March: The Country Link XPT (Express Passenger Train) is late but the salmon wellington dinner makes up for it and we arrive in Brisbane at 7:30am Queensland time the next morning for breakfast.
Sunday 27: At 8:55am the more robust looking Sunlander service heads northwards again, past more sugar cane fields than you can wave a bottle of Bundaberg Black molasses rum at, to the modern station building at Cairns.
A few train and window photos from Sydney to Cairns.


Thursday 24 March: This is going to be a walking day so from Sydney's Circular Quay I board the regular commuter ferry to Manly Wharf then head north to Queenscliff and down to the pretty bay at Freshwater. From here I navigate west along Manly Lagoon to Spit Bridge before taking the Manly Scenic Walkway, through Sydney National Park and past Dobroyd Head, hoping to be back in Manly before dark. It's a great walk but as dusk falls I'm still 5-miles short of my destination and the dark woodland is rustling with nocturnal creatures hungry for food - visions of excruciatingly painful deaths enter my mind. First I photograph a Long-nosed Dragon which instead of running away turns round and tries to attack me. Then a Tawny Frogmouth, rock-still on a post, brushes my arm - the bushes are now alive - bugger photography - I'm off at pace, relieved to reach the streetlights of Manly intact.
Photos of Manly.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Wednesday 16 March: The first thing that grabs your eye is Sydney Harbour Bridge quickly followed by the Opera House. I'm staying in the new Sydney Harbour YHA with great views from the rooftop terrace across the harbour and city, ideal for a sundowner of fine fruity-red 'cleanskin' or a beer.
Thursday 17: The Royal Botanic Gardens are fantastic: White Ibis strut their stuff, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos poke around and flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets fill whole fruit trees. There are also spiders but filling the canopies of the larger trees, their leaves and bark stripped bare by sharp claws, are huge Grey-haired Flying Foxes who steal the show at dusk. The hostel has a $5 barbecue on the roof terrace so I opt for the Kangaroo steak, now I've eaten an animal I still haven't seen. The evening's entertainment is a light-show across the harbour which uses the opera house as a screen, what a spectacular way to end the day.
Friday 18: My passport is now full and I need to organise a new one. The British Consulate tell me it will cost AU$304 (about 200 GBP), more than double the price at home, for 48 pages, plus I will need two strictly-sized passport photos, one endorsed by a British citizen of some standing who has known me for two-years or more, and it will take four-weeks as it has to be mailed to New Zealand for processing. I only know one British citizen in the whole of Australia who fits the bill and he is certainly of some standing, but can prop-forwards write in joined-up English?
Saturday 19: An yellow eco-friendly gas-powered no.170 Forest Hills bus (82nd mode of transport) takes me to the leafy Northern Beach suburb of Belrose and chez Boyle. A rainy weekend at the Boyle family home is fascinating for me. A stylish suburban house, it has a large family-living area like a dance-hall with rooms above and around, a garden with fenced pool area and, of course, a triple-garage leading to a cul-de-sac with no pavement - as in most of Australia the car is allowed to rule here. Despite the drizzle John takes me for a spin in his new twin-seater Mercedes-Benz Kompressor 2000 Roadster (83rd mode) past Scotland Island and patches of National Park to Collaroy surf-beach strip where slightly-deranged surfers brave the now driving rain.
Sunday 20: Brunch by the beach is a Sydney institution and I soon discover the caffeine-fix of a small long black (a black coffee to you and I) in Ash's Table cafe at nearby Manly beach. In the afternoon, John comes to my rescue. Prop-forwards can write in joined-up English and, after a first attempt, I gratefully have a passport photo endorsed by a Brit of suitable social standing who has known me for forty-five years no less. John and Liza are good hosts and we wash down a home-cooked meal at the family table with a fine red. It's wonderful for me to see familiar happy faces after travelling for so long and it's great to relax in such comfortable surroundings even if it is a bit of a strain coping with the family-fast English-language banter of Alistair, Daniel and Georgie, it's been a while since I've had a multi-facet conversation with people whose first language is English. Photos later, hopefully in bright sunshine, when I return the compliment. I wonder if there's a MacDonald's nearby?
Monday 21: A waterfront walk to Darling Harbour and the Maritime Museum, then back to the city centre for lunch and over the bridge to Luna Park in the afternoon, is a good day out.
Friday 25: The Museum of Contemporary Art is disappointingly closed for renovations but the Australian Museum is a delight including terrifying interactive displays of the many of the creatures that can inflict agonising pain before they kill you: venomous land, sea and tree snakes, Redback Spiders, Blue-ringed Octopus, various Scorpions, Saltwater Crocodiles, Sharks, Box Jellyfish, tiny but lethal Irukandja jellyfish, Scorpion Fish, Numb Rays, Stone Fish and many more. This is all with no mention of such things as dengue fever, Ross River fever, cyclones, flash-floods, freak waves and rip tides, what an extraordinary country to choose to live in!
Saturday 26: I just love Grace Crossington Smith's The Curve of the Bridge (1929). I don't usually like inaccurate paintings but this one in the Art Gallery of New South Wales rocks. She uses heavy parallel sky brushstrokes to emphasise the weight of the bridge which sits on short delicate white pylons. But it's Scottish Modernist architect Thomas Tait's massive fortress-like stone pylons that actually hold the elegant span in place. Russel Drysdale's works depicting desolately poor outback families and deserted worked-out towns are also atmospheric. Sidney Nolan's Burke (1962) and First-class Marksman in the Ned Kelly series are equally desolate depictions of early colonial life in Australia.
Photos of Sydney.