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An Evolving Love Affair: Tropical North Queensland Campervan Trip

17 Jul

I have a great affection for Tropical North Queensland that grows with each experience of this unique part of Australia.

Three more visits over the past year have moved it into my top ten places on the planet. Having a sister and niece living here gave me a taste of the insider’s TNQ, but even without the family connection it would have wormed its way into my heart.

This time I organised a two-week winter campervan trip out of Cairns with my two young Melbourne nieces.  This was our three metre high four-berth apartment on wheels.

For the second week my sister, their mum, joined us.

What happens on the road stays on the road, but I think they’ll agree it was pretty special. We sampled life with four kids (five years and under) with my niece and husband on their sugar cane farm, took a day trip with them on their speed boat to Fitzroy Island, hiked and swam at beautiful Behana Gorge, lounged on deserted white sands at Ella Bay, surfed Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, and spotted salt water crocodiles on The Inlet and The Daintree River. 

We didn’t see an actual cassowary in the wild, but the girls had a great day on Agincourt Reef with their mum and spotted nemo, marlin and a moray eel.



Fitzroy Island

Spotted from the speedboat at The Inlet, Cairns.

Behana Gorge


Four-Mile Beach, Port Douglas

There’s a 3.5 metre croc in the centre of this photo taken on Daintree River.

A day on the southern Atherton Tableland reconnected me to mountain wilderness, ancient trees and the pristine waters of the  crater lakes.

The 500-year-old curtain fig tree called Cathedral Fig. A apt spot to reflect on our puny human lifespan.

Bottom breathing saw backed turtle.


After the Melburnians returned home to work and school I spent a lazy weekend walking and swimming at The Esplanade, eating delicious vegan food, and learning about the diversity of Indigenous art at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair.

With my sister Jo walking The Esplanade.

Mozaic sculpture by Dominic John.

Seu Reef Garden by Torres Strait artists from Erub Arts. An abandoned, deadly fishing net, twine, felt and other materials evoke their beautiful reef teeming with marine life and remind us how precious this natural capital is. If you love it you have to look after it.

Historic Art School above and Flying Monkey Cafe below.

More than ever I’m committed to putting my political weight behind efforts to preserve the natural environment here in the north. We can’t stop cyclones but there’s a heck of a lot we can do, sometimes by ensuring we do nothing.

 

Whether it’s stopping the Adani mine:

 

http://www.stopadani.com 

preventing quarrying at Behana Gorge, http://www.cairnspost.com.au/news/cairns/behana-gorge-struck-off-councils-cairns-plan/news-story/b1d43302d2feb146ab56358151477bc8  

 

beating back the planned mega resort and casino ‘Aquis’ at Yorkey’s Knob:

 

https://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-development-approval-for-the-aquis-great-barrier-reef-mega-casino-at-yorkey-s-knob-cairns-1  

 

or minimising manmade damage to The Great Barrier Reef:

 

https://www.fightforourreef.org.au

 

community lobbying can work.

 

One thing I know for sure, politicians are shackled to a short-term view shaped by their own re-election interests, while the natural world operates on its own cycle understood best by the traditional custodians of this country.

Margaret River, Western Australia: Coastal Dreaming

24 Dec

It’s that time of year again, when  iphone and ipad are so crammed with photos and videos they refuse to cooperate. 

We set off tomorrow for another five-months of photo opportunities so I’m busily copying both devices to external hard drives and to the cloud. Yes, I have a fear of losing my photos. Almost the inverse of those indigenous people who believe photography steals their soul I feel mine is enhanced by the memories photos prompt and get anxious when I have to clear the decks.

Before I press delete here is a sample of our days in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, on a stopover back to the east coast of Australia. Coastal WA is a place that always rewards. This was our third visit to soak up its big skies and wild ocean, and sample delicious local food, wines and world class hospitality.

We stayed with Gayle in her Wilderness House. Wallabies grazed in the garden and bird calls woke us each morning.

Pure bliss.

Special mention for Gianfranco of Carpe Diem wines. He makes a wonderful range of Italian-style wines and is a marvellous wine interpreter. He and Stuart feature in a photo below taken at his cellar door.



Weekend Winter Getaway Great Barrier Reef: Snorkeling off the good ship Coral Sea Dreaming 

3 Aug

August 2016 

I’m told people at the end of their lives regret the things they didn’t do more than those they did, reprehensible as they may be.

 

Hence in my 61st year, with the sun just above the horizon, I jump into cold, deep water off the side of the yacht and strike out alone for the reef 50 metres in front of the boat. Of the eight snorkellers on board Coral Sea Dreaming I’m the only one keen to take advantage of an early view of the magnificent underwater aquarium that is Michaelmas Reef, 25 nautical miles from Cairns.

 

I’m a little anxious about being the only one in the water, especially after French crewman-deckie-divemaster-chef Roman (my spotter on deck) says half jokingly about sharks, ‘Just punch it on the nose and swim to the sand cay, it won’t follow you into the shallow water’. I hope Roman’s mother is reading this. Your son has an odd sense of humour, but kudos – you’ve raised a fine human being, he is a kind, capable man and a decent cook.

 

It’s less choppy than yesterday’s two snorkels (at Upolu Reef and Michaelmas Cay) and visibility is crystal clear. I counted 15 fish types in the afternoon but today I lose count there are so many. I have no underwater camera (offered for rent but I consciously opt to commit impressions to memory). Soft and hard corals, anemones, a sea snake and fish of all sizes present in a rainbow of colours, with myriad shapes and designs.

 

Nature has a spectacular palette. Colour combinations remind me of the saris of Rajasthani women; khaki with hints of brilliant aqua blue, stark white with yellow stripes, creamy white with black spots and glorious parrot fish with their shades of blue, pink, green and red-orange. I see more giant emerald-lipped clams than yesterday and, with less current at high tide, I can hover above them to observe them at leisure. One huge specimen wider than my arm span has a large vent hole and I can see right inside its writing innards.

 

I’ve been alone for about thirty minutes and my breathing has relaxed into slow, calming belly breaths. When I raise my head to check my position relative to the boat I’m slightly disappointed to see other snorkerlers jumping into the water. Some of them tend to thrash about and move too fast for my liking. I resign myself to having company but swim further along the edge of the reef where it drops away to a white sandy bottom and am rewarded with a smallish green turtle gliding several metres below me. Young turtle has just woken up (the other divemaster, Kiwi Corey, told me turtles jam their heads into the coral to secure themselves as they sleep overnight) and is moving very slowly towards a sea grass breakfast. I follow him at a distance for several minutes then spot a large dinner plate-sized beige manta ray parked on the coral and stop to observe it. The ray seems to be resting, just the smallest of ripples as the current passes his fanned body. Then he too takes off zooming smoothly over the reef.


 Happy with my sightings I turn and swim back to the boat. The hardest thing (besides jumping from the deck into deep water and swimming alone to the reef) is the swim back in choppy water with the current pushing you along. Grabbing for the ladder carefully and hauling yourself up, all the while being bumped about by waves is tricky. By the third re-entry I have the hang of it and make a more graceful ascent than the previous two efforts.

 A quick hot shower, dry clothes and I’m ready for a second breakfast; my favourite cold baked bean sandwich (I am serious, I share this love with my Father) and a mug of hot tea.

 

This weekend has been a special treat for me, a sailing and snorkeling solo adventure aboard the 52 foot Coral Sea Dreaming out of Cairns marina. Along with my seven brand new snorkel buddies we are four divers and three crew. Our skipper and engineer, Jan, is the owner of the company (with his wife who runs the office and comms). I quickly discover I’m the only Australian-born person on the boat and the majority language is French which leads to some interesting and amusing conversations Roman has to translate at times. That’s Roman on the right, Corey centre and Jan left.

This was my third snorkel experience on the Great Barrier Reef (which is looking really healthy by the way) but my first overnight and I am happy with my choice as I saw four different reef areas. German-born 20 year veteran of Australian tourism, Jan runs a professional setup.



 The motorsail leg from the marina to Upolu took about three hours as was the return, so we had a good length of time under sail (foresail and main making 8-10 knots), however I was disappointed that the motor stayed on the whole time. Even at night the generator hums and vibrates. Much of the beauty of yachting is being immersed in nature so I itch to switch the genny off but restrain myself. 


Word of advice if you are considering doing a trip like this: since the weather can be variable and it’s not uncommon to have 20-25 knot winds with one metre plus waves, as we did, you must prepare for seasickness by taking medication at least one hour before the boat is due to depart and continue taking it throughout the weekend whether you think you’ll need it or not. Half of our group threw up over the side, especially on the outbound leg. For at least two of the teenagers on board I think it spoilt the weekend for them.


Coral Sea Dreaming suits confident swimmers (for snorkeling) and divers (both experienced and recently certified) and has the bonus of offering a night dive. I’ve had my reef fix for the time being but it won’t be long before I’m back. Observing such beauty and majesty has been a thrill. No regrets!

PS: As usual I paid full price for this experience and did not tell Jan I publish a travel blog. If you want a small group, overnight reef experience the Coral Sea Dreaming website is the place to start your research.

Beached: Coolum, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

4 Jan

I write this as I cycle through four loads of washing and drying in the ridiculously hot Deception Bay laundromat situated between a pawnbroker and The Burger Joint with an adult shop and tattoo parlour conveniently located one shopfront beyond. Please don’t think I am feeling sorry for myself. I meet fascinating people in my regular visits to the laundromat and often treat myself to a Chinese reflexology head and neck treatment afterwards just down the road. Twenty dollars for twenty minutes of strong, skilled pressure in all the right places can’t be beaten in this part of the world.

We’re still in holiday mode here and I’ve been remembering my best times at the beach. In my teens I was a ‘surfie chick’. Today that label sounds derogatory but back then it was synonymous with a tiny white string bikini, long blonde hair, an all over tan and a passion for the beach (and surfers). While the sun-bleached locks are long gone, I still love the beach, wear a bikini, probably to some people’s horror, and despite SPF30 the tan remains.

That said, while I’m an ocean person my fella is more of a mountain man. Happily Mount Coolum, one hundred kilometres north of Brisbane, has both in proximity. Instead of Christmas gifts we rented a newish three-bedroom house with plunge pool a three-minute boardwalk from a patrolled surfing beach at Mount Coolum and invited our sons and their partners for the week. Friends came for a couple of home-cooked meals, we relaxed in each other’s company and made the most of the surf and sand at our doorstep. Evenings usually started with a game of backyard boules with cocktails. One was occupied watching recently digitised home movies of our time in Japan and Malaysia in the 80s and early 90s. I guess it’s for the best that our sons’ life partners know the good, the bad and the downright weird of their upbringing.

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Stuart and Cameron explored mountain biking trails and Stuart got back on court with the tennis coach at the Palmer Resort five minutes down the road. He did brilliantly at both. As his Brisbane neurologist said, if Stu takes his medication religously and stays off his Hyabusa (motorcycle) he should live long and well! Tristan was recovering from minor surgery so he and Jenny had a quiet few days. Not a bad idea after their hectic few months of travel and relocating to Brisbane from the UK to start brand new, challenging jobs.

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On a full moon evening we all hiked the forty minutes straight up the 25 million-year-old volcanic dome called Mount Coolum to watch the sun set. The summit has a glorious 360 degree panorama of the coastline to the cane fields, Maroochy River and the Glasshouse Mountains, deep green as far as the eye can see.

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Jenny’s first Aussie Xmas Dinner

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What we didn’t do was eat out. Apart from an occasional take away coffee we all took turns cooking and prepared a joint feast Christmas Eve (or as Stuart has renamed it ‘Family Day’). I’ve never eaten better. We also disconnected from the interweb for the week as the house doesn’t have wifi. I don’t believe anyone missed it what with War on Terror, Monopoly, books and a ridiculously difficult jigsaw puzzle to entertain us.

We’ll be back in Coolum for a few days when my sister Maria and her family come up from Melbourne this month and we’ve rebooked the Mt Coolum house for a fortnight over the coming year end holidays. I’m hoping Mum and Dad can park their motorhome in the driveway for a couple of nights and family and friends can take it in turns to come to stay. We may even remember to take a beach cricket set. Summer 2013 has all the makings of the best Aussie beach holiday yet!
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PS I have nothing but praise for the holiday letting company I dealt with http://www.coolumholidays.com.au Run by locals with a shopfront in central Coolum they are efficient, pleasant and easy to deal with.

On the other hand I would note that since Clive Palmer acquired the Coolum Hyatt Regency Resort recently it’s gone in the wrong direction. It seems to be an extension of his ego with cross promotion of his shipping interests, his classic car collection at reception and the infamous huge animatronic dinosaur on the golf course. While the look is definitely downmarket the prices are still five star, e.g. $5.75 for a flat white coffee and $27 for a basic pasta dish. Unsurprisingly the resort appeared nearly empty at what should be the busiest time of the year.

Woodfordia, Australia

1 Jan

Imagine building a place in green fields and forest where creative people come together to perform, inspire and awaken us to new sounds, sights and rhythms in music, dance, circus, poetry, comedy and visual arts. A place of mutual respect where thoughtful citizens contribute to informed discussion about matters of importance to our planet. A town where you can eat your way through more types of national and regional cuisines than I have space to name here. An environment where sixty-year-old women dress as fairies and walk the streets proudly without judgement. This place exists. Its name is Woodfordia.

For 27 years, first in Maleny and now near Woodford, an hour north of Brisbane, the annual Woodford Folk Festival staff and hundreds of volunteers build in one week a town for thousands of people to camp for the six-day event, or like us visit for days of fun that start at 8am and finish after midnight. This year 113,000 people were at Woodford, making it the 17th largest town in Australia after Toowoomba with 125,265.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed headline international and Australian acts, attended dance workshops, received glorious massages and done my share of people watching, but the most special experiences have been in the discovery of emerging and alternative talents.

Among many Jeff Lang was a revelation, L’il Fi was affirmation and I saw my first main stage performance of Flamenco Fire at Woodford – bliss!

Watching Kate Miller-Heidke has become a tradition. She played Laurey to our son Cameron’s Curly in the year 12 joint school production of ‘Oklahoma’ and I’ve followed her career with keen interest since. She has now performed at twelve Woodfords and moved from the emerging artists’ bar to a fully filled main concert tent. Stuart and I were in the crowded mosh pit with a mix of teenagers and mature-aged folk like us for her Sunday show and I was blown away by how accomplished she is. New songs, engaging patter, strong backing and sublime harmonies, Kate is in her prime and an established international artist.

Over the past two days we’ve seen dozens of musicians, some more than once. Top favourite was Sharon Shannon and her band. The diminutive blonde Irish woman looks like a leprechaun in her red top hat and red high-heeled ankle boots and plays piano accordion like the devil.

Flamenco Fire were spectacular on the three occasions I saw them. We unwittingly sat behind former Australian Prime Minister Bob and Blanche Hawke at the Concert show. Bob and Blanche gave the performers a standing ovation and we could hear Bob whooping when he got excited. Flamenco Fire were sizzling hot at the Amphitheatre as part of the Big Bang lineup New Year’s Eve. Francesca Grima ‘La Chica’ and Simone Pope danced in tight jeans so you could see every move hip and foot movement. The crowd went crazy.

The Indian Kathakali dance workshop was a surprise. In addition to teaching us a simple dance Arjun Raina explained his philosophy of Kathakali, which can be applied universally. According to Arjun to be contented individuals we must be literally grounded. We need to connect to solid earth with our feet or our bellies and emotions will always be swirling about. I can see how centreing oneself, consciously connecting to the ground that supports us to still the mind would be helpful, especially to me in my current gypsy mode. Perhaps that is what Flamenco dance does for me and I wasn’t consciously aware of it.

An innovation at the 2012 Festival is Bill’s Bar named after longtime Festival Director, Bill Hauritz. With intricate white canopies and chandeliers fashioned from curling dry branches lit with white lights it has a small stage and lots of casual seating at tables and bars. Our perfect chillout spot with a beer when the music was mellow.

I must mention the surprise special guest this year. Prime Minister Julia Gillard accompanied by Bob Hawke spoke in Q and A with the Festival Director at the Concert venue on Sunday and officially opened the Julia Creek bridge afterwards. There was nothing surprising in what was said, politicians in public mode spring few surprises, but what impressed me was that hecklers were allowed to voice their anger without derailing the conversation. Everyone present was able to hear the prime minister respond intelligently to questions about the Government’s actions in relation to climate change and the fiscal crisis in the US. After so much incivility in politics this year observing respectful, civil discourse was a blessing.

Thank you Woodfordians and artists for bringing us such joy and hope after a year that was an especially challenging year for the planet and our family and friends. The candlelit three minutes of silence at 11:30pm new year’s eve gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect, give thanks and close the book on the year.

Photo note: the IOS6 upgrade on my iphone wiped out the zoom function on my phone camera. Sigh…

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PM Julia Gillard oprning the Julia Creek Bridge

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Belly Dance Workshop

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Kathakali Dance Workshop

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Mia Wray

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Kate Miller-Heidke

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Asa Broomhall

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Flamenco Fire opening scene of ‘Gypsy Pathways’

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Flamenco Fire

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Simone Pope

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La Chica

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Sharon Shannon and Band with guest Mal Webb

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Bob and Blanche Hawke give Flamenco Fire a standing ovation

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Flamenco Fire Big Bang

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Postcard from Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef

21 Dec

Cairns smells like South East Asia, especially our home of four years, Malaysia. At dusk scented white and red Frangipani flowers mingle with the aroma of coconut curries wafting from restaurants and a salt sea tang blows in off the high tide. I love it!

I resign myself to being bathed in sweat, it’s midsummer in the tropics after all, and enjoy my perambulations around this flat city. Each time I visit Cairns I notice improvements, especially on the seafront, where the Esplanade boardwalk with its BBQs, playgrounds and infinity swimming lagoon mixes and equalizes locals and travellers.

Walking beneath majestic, old palms and lush trees hung with epiphytes I wonder how many cyclones they’ve withstood. Weeping figs shade the paths and sidewalks and grow in nature strips down the centre of the main streets. I count six barefoot men in the first hour. Queensland’s casual dress code is thongs (flip flops), shorts and Tshirt, but in Cairns they dispense with thongs!

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Tourism drives the Cairns economy and numbers are good but the pace of life remains leisurely and people have time for a yarn. I note two new five star hotels with their restaurants and bars on the waterfront. Backpacker accommodation is also thriving but the local newspaper reports young overseas travellers are finding tours and food prices expensive.

I’ve come to see my sister Jo who has lived here most of her adult life. When I left Australia at 20 Jo was only 14. I missed seeing her grow into a woman and the landmark events of her life (as was the case with my other three sisters who were and still are scattered to four corners of Australia). If I’m lucky I now see Jo briefly once a year. It’s not enough. Family becomes more important, not less, over time. Now Jo is ‘Nanny’ twice over with the birth of daughter Jess’ second baby girl last week. If I’m very lucky I might get to see Jess and her two precious girls, Eva 13 months and baby Isabelle.

It also helps that Jo lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world and I could do with some R and R after Deception Bay and an ultimately futile house hunt. The bonus is that Jo is an awesome hair stylist and my mullet has reached the public embarrassment stage. I resemble a refugee from ‘That Seventies Show’.

I hadn’t made any plans for this trip beyond booking an apartment within easy walk of the Esplanade as Jo works full-time and Jess was still in hospital post caesar section when I arrived. Scanning the activities on offer I settled on the river tubing excursion. Floating down a tropical stream over shallow rapids for a couple of hours sounds divine. Sadly the lack of rainfall this summer put paid to that. Until the region receives much needed rain tubing is off.

Next option is a visit to the largest living organism in the world, the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve snorkelled the reef a couple of times before but it’s been a few years. I selected one of the smaller boats that visits both the outer and inner reef. With just 40 people on board getting everyone equipped and in and out of the water is faster. The catamaran Seastar’s crew are all under thirty and totally committed to ensuring we have a wonderful experience. Detailed briefings throughout the day are delivered with larrikin good humour by dive master Anthony wearing his Santa’s helper hat.

Tea, coffee and muffins are on offer during the one hour cruise to the first stop, Michaelmas Cay. A small elipse of pristine white sand, the cay is a bird and marine life sanctuary. Within 15 minutes we’re all in the water. Most people snorkel but a few take the introductory dive and two Brazilians disappear in the zodiac dinghy – must be seasoned divers. Everyone wears an obligatory stinger suit in case we brush up against dangerous jelly fish. None seen all day.

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As I don’t have a snorkelling buddy (required for safety) I join the snorkel tour off the boat led by Johan from Gothenburg, Sweden. I follow his flourescent yellow vest across the sea floor as he points out features of the many types of coral and helps us spot fish. So much variety and so colourful, a psychedelic experience. My favourites are the giant clams with their purple, aquamarine and emerald lips and the parrot fish munching away on the coral. It’s noisy down there!

Ninety minutes later time to climb back on board. Buffet lunch is served as we steam forty minutes to the next mooring spot, Hastings Reef. We repeat the routine of the last snorkel tour, this time trying to spot green turtles that make Hastings their home. One was sighted there but I missed it.

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A cup of tea and some cake kept up the blood sugar levels on the return trip. I napped on deck then started looking for dolphins. After twenty minutes concentrated effort I spotted a black fin and body arcing through the waves far in the distance. It proved to be the lone dolphin of the day.

To my untrained eye the reefs we visited seem to be in fair health. They have an abundance of varied corals and fish and the coral spawned the day before, an event that usually only happens once a year. Each day tripper to the reef pays a $15 reef tax which goes towards reef protection and research. Certainly the Great Barrier Reef is under threat on multiple fronts: illegal fishing, especially the nets that snag and break delicate corals, silt and fertilizer run off, the Crown of Thorns Star Fish (happily we didn’t see any of them) and rising seawater temperatures are all taking a toll.

I fervently hope future generations are able to enjoy the uniquely beautiful Great Barrier Reef as I have. It truly is one of the wonders of the world.

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Besides enjoying some excellent meals with Jo (Mondo restaurant on the waterfront was the best), a visit to the Art Gallery to view the visiting exhibition, Goya’s series of 80 captioned satirical etchings entitled ‘Los Caprichos’, and a little shopping I just chillaxed.

On the morning of my last day Jo called to invite me to accompany her to collect Jess and the girls. Jess was having air conditioning installed in her home in the cane fields of Gordonvale 40 minutes south of Cairns so Jo offered to drive Jess and babies to the shops while the workmen sawed and hammered in the 34 degree Celsius heat.

There is no sweeter thing than a newborn baby, except possibly a bubbly, happy, singing and dancing toddler who seems to have an on/off switch with no whinging or crying in between.

I found I was a bit rusty at baby wrangling but we had an enjoyable outing and even managed lunch in a cafe without mishap. Now I’m on the red eye Virgin flight back to Brisbane watching the densely forested coastline of Tropical North Queensland recede and disappear into cloud outside my window. Can’t say when I’ll be back but I hope it’s soon.

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This the last post for 2012. Thank you for reading. I hope you all have a safe, happy and relaxed year end break. Cheers to 2013 and more travel adventures for everyone!

Photo note: Underwater image provided with the permission of Seastar Cruises.

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Brisbane and Surrounds: New discoveries begin with new eyes

5 Dec

Coming back to the city of my birth I was curious to see what new attractions and developments had popped up in my absence. Four things caught my eye.

One of the first happy surprises was revisiting the fully renovated Regatta Hotel in Toowong http.www.regattahotel.com.au . The Regatta is famous for many things but most interesting to me is that it is the location of one of the most significant early feminist acts. In 1965 two women, Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor, staged a protest there at the ‘men only’ laws for public bars. Refused service they chained themselves to the foot rail of the public bar. The publican wouldn’t serve them as he would have been fined but some sympathetic men present bought them a beer. The police were called and they broke the chains. When the women still refused to leave they were allowed to stay until closing time. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-07/women-chained-to-the-regatta/3874360

It wasn’t until 1970 that law changed to allow women to drink in public bars. I found it instructive to read this timeline for the achievements and milestones for Queensland women. We take so much for granted. http://www.communities.qld.gov.au/women/leadership-and-community/international-womens-day/key-achievements-and-milestones-for-queensland-women

Post the January 2010 flood that inundated her up to the first floor, the Regatta was closed until earlier this year and I began to worry the old girl had been dealt a fatal blow. Far from it, the rebuild has opened up lovely new spaces and kept signature spots like the verandahs overlooking the river where drinkers congregate to see and be seen. The wheel chair friendly entry foyer has old black and white photos of the Regatta Hotel dating from its birth in 1874.

Further along the river I marvelled at the swanky new row of eateries at the Goodwill Bridge end of Southbank. The Stokehouse was the first to open and it’s been joined by several others including Aquitaine and Popolo. I had lunch at Popolo with a couple of former colleagues last week. Popolo brands itself casual, Italian dining and it is certainly a relaxed approach to eating out with all dishes meant to be shared. I like sharing as it keeps the cost down and there is greater variety if you are a group. Everything about the restaurant was spot on and I’d be happy to go back for a special meal. And if money is an issue there is a well maintained lawn to picnic on right in front of the restaurant with the same lovely river view.

I am not a fan of the stark lines of the Goodwill Bridge but I appreciate the convenience of a footbridge connecting Southbank to Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Gardens Point campus. I walked over to see QUT’s new Science and Technology Precinct which officially opens this month. Having seen blueprints of the complex some years ago it gave me goosebumps to see the vision realised. Most impressive is ‘The Cube’ in the main ground floor lobby area which is open to the public. This is a huge multi touch screen interactive display featuring an animated childrens’ game, a sequential mapping of Brisbane during the January 2010 flood event, and a tropical reef underwater world were fish come to nibble at your fingers and you can spin hermit crabs in their shells. Peek inside the cube to see the banks of computers that power the displays.

A bit further away but also by the water are Redcliffe and Deception Bay. The coastal centres just north of Brisbane have the reputation of being boring, full of retirees and people on benefits, but if you haven’t been there recently look again. Redcliffe has undergone significant urban renewal and developments like the five star hotel-apartment complex of Mon Komo overlooking the sea have attracted new business to the area. Both the foreshores of Redcliffe and Deception Bay have been upgraded with pleasant walking/jogging paths, lighting, public art, picnic, chlorinated lagoon swimming pool and BBQ areas. It seems like the perfect place to raise a family and I can see the attraction for retirees as all services and several shopping centres are close by.

Local Councils and public institutions seem to be spending their rates wisely on public amenities that stimulate us and encourage us to get out and get some fresh air, exercise and socialise. Our tax dollars well spent!

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View from the Regatta Hotel

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Rear of Regatta Hotel – fire escapes

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Brisbane’s Jan. 2010 flood depicted on The Cube

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The Cube’s underwater world

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QUT buddies Dom and Sherman

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Redcliffe Pier and foreshore

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Map shows coastal bicycle path from south to north Bayside Brisbane

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Net fishing at sunset