My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “August, 2013”


As much as I love travelling, if not more so, I love whales and dolphins. One of the great things that travelling has allowed me to do is to pursue my dream of seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild. I have seen several species of each in various countries, and for once I’d like to focus more on the photographs and videos I’ve obtained of these glorious creatures. Below is a list of all the cetacean species that I’ve seen in my life. Unfortunately I don’t have photographs for all of them, or indeed have good photographs for all of those that I do have, but I’d just like to share my love of whales and dolphins.


This is the species of dolphin that I have seen the most. They live in many parts of the world’s oceans, and I have seen them off the coast of Scotland, South Africa and New Zealand. They are playful and inquisitive and can be found in varying group sizes. I have autopsied a few that washed ashore in South Africa.



ECUADOR – 2015:




These shy dolphins are normally not very acrobatic but I was lucky enough to catch on video a rare moment when one jumped out the water. They normally hug the coastline, and I saw a few pods of these along the coast whilst in South Africa in 2005.





This is my favourite species of dolphin: I love the hour-glass pattern on their body, which makes them look beautiful. I was lucky enough to see a massive pod of these in the deep ocean water off the coast of South Africa in 2005. Unfortunately, the sea was so rough and they travelled past the boat at such speed that I did not manage to get any photos of them.

SCOTLAND – 2016:

Accompanying a feeding humpback whale and some white-beaked dolphins, it was a pleasure to see this species in the wild again.


New Zealand – 2020:


HECTOR’S DOLPHIN (Cephalorhynchus hectori)

These are one of the smallest species of dolphins, and they are highly endangered. They also live exclusively off the coast of New Zealand, and I have been lucky enough to see them several times across the years that I’ve lived here.


DUSKY DOLPHIN (Lagenorhynchus obscuris)


Unfortunately I was suffering acute sea sickness on the trip that I saw these guys in 2013 (for the full story, read here) so getting a decent photograph went down my priority list.


Thankfully, I was able to witness these agile dolphins in New Zealand waters once again.


HARBOUR PORPOISE (Phocaena sinus)

Whilst on the ferry between North Uist and Skye in 2010, two islands off the west coast of Scotland, the ferry was followed by some porpoises that enjoyed the waves. I was too busy enjoying watching them frolic and play to take any photographs. Since then, I have seen the odd individual on a couple of boat trips off the west coast of Scotland in 2016.


WHITE-BEAKED DOLPHINS (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Whilst searching for humpback whales off the west coast of Scotland in 2016, these guys joined in the feeding.


KILLER WHALE (Orcinus Orca)

CANADA – 2002:

I was lucky enough to see 3 super pods of Orca, an estimated 200 animals, off the coast of Vancouver Island in 2002. It was an amazing experience, and they are truly beautiful and mesmerising creatures. I am firmly against the keeping of these creatures in captivity, and it breaks my heart to know the treatment that has been endured by some individuals. The movie Blackfish is a real eye opener to their plight. I can still remember bobbing around on the Pacific Ocean surrounded by Orcas as far as the eye could see. The photographs are the good old fashioned pre-digital kind which require to be scanned onto the computer so they will follow in due course.

ECUADOR – 2015:

I wasn’t expecting it, but I was utterly excited to get a brief sighting of these amazing mammals. Look closely, and I promise there are two dorsal fins there!


COMMON MINKE WHALE (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

I have only ever seen 1 minke whale in the far distance whilst on a boat off the west coast of Scotland in 2006. It was too far away to get a decent picture.


HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

The majestic humpack whale is my favourite marine animal, and my favourite species of whale. Again, I have been lucky enough to see them multiple times and they are the species that I’ve seen offshore from the most countries, in both hemispheres. I was even privileged to take part in the autopsy of a humpback whale that washed ashore in South Africa.







ECUADOR – 2015:

This mother and calf were an exciting surprise on a snorkelling trip in the Galapagos Islands.


SCOTLAND – 2016:

It is not that common an occurrence to see humpback whales off the coast of Scotland, but for several weeks, the sightings were very regular indeed.


ICELAND – 2016:

Witnessed on a trip from Husavik, in the north of Iceland, this is the furthest north on the planet that I have been.



I saw so many humpback whales off the Queensland coast whilst heading north from the Gold Coast to Cairns. Of all my humpback sightings, the trip off the coast of Hervey Bay in Queensland was the most amazing experience with multiple whales spotted and several coming so incredibly close to the boat.


SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALE (Eubalaena australis)

These strange looking creatures come into sheltered bays to give birth to their calves. This has allowed me to view them several times, and I was witness to several of them in South Africa and whilst in Argentina, I saw a mother with a white calf. I have found them to be very inquisitive whales, and they often seem keen to come near the boat and investigate. On one trip in South Africa, a juvenile bull whale practiced his courtship with the hull of our boat, rolling over and touching his fin to the hull.





More typically seen off the south-west coast of New Zealand, I was utterly blessed to see a mother and calf cruising in a bay off the coast of Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island.


BRYDE’S WHALE (Balaenoptera brydei)


With a similar body shape to Minke whales, these are very shy whales, proving very difficult to find. I managed to see one almost by chance when assisting on a research trip in South Africa 2005. It spent little time at the surface, and moved around so much that I was unable to take any photographs of it.



SPERM WHALE (Physeter macrocephalus)

This is the largest species of whale that I have seen, finally seeing a couple in 2013 both from the air and from the sea off the coast of New Zealand. They remain on the surface only to re-oxygenate their blood prior to long dives down into the depths of the sea in search of food. I loved getting to see all of the whale from the air, but unfortunately, the trip out to sea was the same trip I saw the dusky dolphins, so the experience was rather marred by the sea sickness that I was suffering from.


Terra Australis – Tasmania

Before I’d ever wanted to go to New Zealand, and before I’d ever wanted to go anywhere on mainland Australia, I’d long wanted to go to Tasmania. I don’t remember where the want came from, but I think because of its similarities to Scotland, but yet in a seemingly exotic location, I longed to see the mountains and lakes and forests that I had seen in photographs. So it was never in question that I head to this island state on my first trip Down Under. Having finally acclimatised to the lower temperature of Melbourne, I had been keeping an eye on the weather for Tasmania prior to my departure, and it was averaging single figures. In reality, September was barely blooming into spring, and the further south I travelled, the lower the temperatures would be.

It was a spectacular view on the plane into Hobart, flying over bays and rocky shorelines with farms and rolling hills behind. Looking towards the city of Hobart, the clouds shrugged the top of Mt Wellington, hiding the peak from view. It looked cold, and I could see occasional specks of white snow near the summit as the clouds lifted and fell. I was intrigued to see how I’d get on with my hire car. Despite learning to drive and spending most of my driving life in a manual, since moving to New Zealand I had quickly got accustomed to the laziness of driving an automatic. However it was getting the car started that caused most of the issue. Having been pointed in the direction of the vehicle and then quickly abandoned by the rental staff, I was left unable to start the car. I felt like such a blonde eventually having to dig out the manual after trying everything obvious that I could think of. Eventually getting it going, I proceeded to stall the engine as I tried to leave the car park.

I had no real idea where I was going. I headed into Hobart but had nowhere in particular to go. I was keen to get up Mt Wellington as I always like gaining a bit of altitude to get my bearings, but the summit was still shrouded in cloud despite the sun shining everywhere else. I headed to the harbour, and parked up at Salamanca, an area famous for its weekend markets. I spent a couple of hours wandering the nearby streets and harbour front, breathing in the sea air, and then finally the clouds appeared to lift. I raced to get to Mt Wellington, a long and windy road out the back of the city, and was startled by the amount of snow on the ground as I climbed higher. The temperature gauge on the car dropped down to 1oC and it started to snow as I reached the summit. This was so different to my start in Sydney just a few weeks before, and I wasn’t quite equipped for this cold snap. Opening the car door it was immediately slammed shut in the horizontal gust of wind that was whipping around the top. The clouds moved swiftly, and there were a few light snow showers whilst I wandered around the summit taking in the view. I could see down the coast to the top of Bruny Island and across Storm Bay to the Tasman Peninsula in the far distance. It was a fantastic view, but I was freezing, and I could only bare so much of it when I wasn’t wearing enough layers. I headed next to Mt Nelson for an alternate view of my surroundings, then Sandy Bay for a quick walk along the shoreline before doing a quick tour of Queen’s Domain.


The great thing about visiting in the low season was that I got to enjoy dorm rooms to myself on several occasions on my Tasmania trip. Whereas I had stayed in YHA hostels on the Australian mainland up until now, I got the opportunity to experience several independent hostels on my Tasmania trip. After getting a night on my own for the price of a dorm, I set off on the long drive to Mt Field National Park. For most of the drive, the road followed the Derwent river upstream before cutting into forestry. Despite leaving Hobart in clear weather conditions, it was cloudy and spitting rain when I reached the park. I had already purchased my National Parks pass which was my golden ticket into the myriad of National Parks across the State, and it was a valuable purchase.

It was a short walk through the forest to Russell Falls, a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall that was in reasonable spate. The viewing platform was receiving spray from the falls and there were plenty of spots to view the falls from. Following the path up the side of the waterfall and upstream was another smaller waterfall. Continuing on from here was a walk taking me through the forest, and it was here that I saw my first Tasmanian Pademelon. A marsupial, they are like smaller versions of wallabies and kangaroos, but they have evolved separately due to their geographical isolation. Although very shy creatures, I ended up seeing lots of them over the course of my 10-day trip, often startling them whilst out hiking. Many of the trees in the forest were massive and there were some really ancient eucalypts amongst them. It was a reasonable 2-hr hike in a circle past yet another waterfall, before looping round to the car park again. My map showed several lakes with more walks deeper into the park, but the road was a dirt track and with the rain, it was too muddy for my little hire car and after skidding around a corner whilst trying to climb the hill, I carefully turned the car round and headed back to the information centre. I was rather disappointed, and wishing that I had a 4×4, as I had planned on spending all day in the National Park and seeing much more than I did, but in the end, with the clouds still hanging overhead, and a light rain still falling, I reluctantly headed back to Hobart much earlier than planned. I continued south through Hobart and as far as Huonville before turning off the main highway and taking the coastal road back to Hobart via Cygnet and Kettering. It was a beautiful coastline and there were several places where I cursed the lack of stopping zones to allow me to take photographs.


The day I left Hobart behind it was one of those glorious days where the gorgeous blue sky is cloudless and the sun is visible all day. It was windy in places which kept the temperature relatively low, but I felt like I was off on an adventure. I had a long drive ahead of me, crossing the harbour bridge heading east and following the Tasman Highway which crossed both land and sea to Sorrell, where I joined the Arthur Highway, heading towards the Tasman Peninsula. The Tasman Peninsula is separated from the mainland by a man-made canal at Dunally, and from here the highway cuts across the land to Eaglehawk Neck, the narrow isthmus that marks the narrowest part of the peninsula. From here to the peninsular tip is an area of great historical importance. Port Arthur further along the peninsula was a large penitentiary where many of the first immigrants lived, either as an inmate or as a guard, or family member. The isthmus was heavily guarded by dogs to prevent escaped convicts reaching the mainland of Tasmania, and the place is steeped with stories and fables about the escape attempts on land and sea of several convicts over the years. The dog line was a very successful deterrent at keeping the prisoners on the peninsula.


Before crossing the isthmus, I took a detour to a viewpoint overlooking Pirate bay, the eastern bay of the peninsula. The coastline was beautiful and the sea looked so calm and inviting. Crossing Eaglehawk neck, I took a brief walk on the beach at Pirate Bay before heading round to some local blowholes; areas where the rocks allowed the incoming waves to splash underneath and spray to burst up through holes in the rocks. The tide wasn’t quite right to see them at their most spectacular, but there were several places where the sea had eroded giant holes in the ground which was impressive. The peninsula had 2 huge draws for me though, and I was pressed to get to them. The first was in Taranna and I was excited to pull up at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre. I had no true idea of what these creatures looked like, and I didn’t know a huge amount about them other than some vague knowledge that some disease was threatening to wipe them out, but I was determined to learn more. I arrived just in time for the bird show where I got to see a Tawny Frogmouth, a creature that I didn’t even know existed. There were many other creatures there too, and there was a walk-through kangaroo enclosure which was my first real chance to get quite close to some red kangaroos. There was also a walk through enclosure for wallabies, but I made sure that I was at the Tasmanian devil area in time for their feed. They are really amazing creatures, about the size of a domestic cat, but quite noisy and unfortunately they are succumbing in dramatic numbers due to man-made issues such as road kill, but more severely due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a disease that appeared out of nowhere in 1996 and causes severe aggressive tumours that not only kills the host through starvation but also spreads to other individuals with ease. Due to the geographical near-isolation of the Tasmanian devil population on the peninsula, thanks to the narrow isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the local population remained disease free, and several rehabilitation and wildlife parks around Australia are breeding secure populations in an effort to build up numbers again. There have been several successful reintroductions to the wild of devils in other isolated areas such as Maria Island National Park to keep them separate from known diseased populations. I am fascinated by the little creatures, and enjoyed watching them tear apart some meat whilst the keeper told us all about them.


Eventually though, I had to press on to Port Arthur. It was a large site with various ruins of the old penitentiary and its associated buildings and I arrived with a few hours to spare before closing time. The entrance price included a sailing in the bay to visit a couple of islands where the boys were imprisoned, and where the convicts and staff were buried. It was quite sobering to listen to the stories of failed escape attempts, and to the conditions in which the convicts lived. The wives and families of the guards and prison staff were also very isolated on site, and again there were stories about their miseries. All in all, it sounded like a rather depressing place to be in its heyday, a stark contrast to the beauty of it now on such a stunning coastline and especially on such a sunny day. After a brief guided tour of the grounds, I spent the last while before closing wandering the grounds in contemplative solitude. With the coming of dusk I realised I hadn’t arranged anywhere to stay. Again thanks to being low season, I got a cabin to myself at the local caravan park. It was freezing cold though, but it felt a million miles from anywhere being nestled in the forest, and I had a fantastic evening in the communal kitchen talking to a group of friends that were on holiday from Newcastle, New South Wales and were travelling around Tasmania together. They were a great laugh, and I enjoyed the company immensely.


I took the long way back to Eaglehawk Neck, following the coast to the tip of the peninsula and round in a circle, stopping in a few places to see the jagged coastal cliffs, and various inlets and bays. I enjoyed some more time at Pirate Bay and the beach near Dunally before heading onwards and upwards. It was a long drive back to the main road north which ploughed through the interior before cutting back to the coast at Orford. It was a detour that added a lot of distance to a route which geographically was not that far away as the crow flies. The beach near Orford was my first chance to see Maria Island across the Mercury Passage. The National Park on the island was my goal for the following day but on arriving at Triabunna, I was told that the weather conditions expected put the trip in doubt. I could only cross my fingers and hope that the weatherman was wrong. I had no mobile phone coverage for most of my journey up the east coast of Tasmania, having discovered that only 1 network works there which wasn’t the one I was with, and with no internet or television, I had no way of monitoring the weather. It meant I had to take each day as it came, and in some respects, that was fine by me. I had arrived in Tasmania with the only plan being to reach the departure airport on the designated date, and everything else I made up as I went along. Wandering around the riverside at Triabunna that afternoon I got to see my first pelican, another animal that I had wrongly assumed would be everywhere along the Australian coastline (and rather sheepishly admit that Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo led me to believe they would be all over the Sydney harbourfront).


The morning did not look hopeful. It was torrential rain when I pulled up at the harbour, and I sat in the car watching the fishermen preparing their boats to go out. Amongst them was the boat to Maria Island, and I was pleased to discover that the trip was still going ahead, but it was a rough crossing. With the wind blowing straight across the passage, it was very choppy, and some ladies at the back of the boat struggled to keep their stomach contents down as we slammed into wave after wave after wave. It was still very grey when we finally landed, but at least the rain had stopped. Equipped with a map of the island, and determined to hike to the island’s highest spot, Bishop & Clark, I set off at a good pace. My fellow passengers were all planning on sticking around the coast, and I soon left them behind as I started to gain altitude. Reaching the tip of the island I could just make out Freycinet National Park in the distance, sticking out on a peninsula north of me, and wandering around the rocks on this exposed coastline I could see various fossils of shellfish. After climbing the first hill which was grassy and exposed, the track disappeared into the forest and I lost my view of the coast, but also the summit at times. I had a deadline to get up and back for the return ferry, so I wasted little time pushing on. It grew cloudier and darker as I continued on, and finally coming out of the forest, I was presented with a steep scree of boulders to negotiate for the final section up to the top. It was uncomfortable under foot, and exhausting, but eventually I arrived at the exposed pinnacles of rock that mark the summit of Bishop & Clark. It started raining not long after my arrival, and with the clouds closed in, the visibility narrowed, and as the wind whipped my face I grew cold.


The hike down passed without event, but as I reached the clearing at the end of the forest, the sun began to burst through, and I happened upon a scraggly looking wombat out mowing the grass on the cliff edge. With the now blue sky and bright sunshine, the island looked so beautiful, and I could see further along the coastline of the mainland. I cut across the island through the forest and bumped into a wallaby mother and joey as well as startling a Tasmanian pademelon, before coming out near the harbour again. By now it was such a calm day, the sea settled, and it was lovely to sit and enjoy the sunshine whilst waiting for the boat to appear. There was no time to hang around at the other end though. On my return to Triabunna, I got straight back on the road again, looking for my next rest spot, the road travelling inland for a large stretch before meeting the coast again at Mayfield Bay. By this stage I was directly across Great Oyster Bay from Freycinet National Park which looked beautiful in the lowering sun.


After finding a last minute place to stay in a near-empty hostel in Swansea, run by a very chatty and friendly host, I was pleased to wake to a gloriously sunny day. It was cool to begin with, but by the time I’d driven beyond the head of the bay with Moulting lagoon at its northern edge, and circled back down to Coles and into the National Park itself, I got out of the car to a comfortable temperature. The car park was packed, and there were plenty of people out on the hike. There was a wallaby acting as a car park attendant, milling around the cars, contemplating everyone as they passed. My goal for the day was to see the infamous view of Wineglass bay, one of the State’s most photographed views. The view was well worth the climb, and I joined a crowd of people at the viewing area, all hustling to take photos and soak in the view. Sometimes I can get carried away with my camera, and forget to experience a place with my own two eyes, as opposed to through a viewfinder, and this was a view that I had to remind myself to just sit down and take it all in. I have seen so many places in my life where I just can’t find the superlatives to accurately describe the beauty of it. I find myself using the words stunning and beautiful a lot, and at times I am frustrated with a lack of vocabulary to really do some of these places justice. The east coast of Tasmania as a whole was mesmerising, and beautiful, and I felt so at peace there. I felt isolated but yet comfortable in the wilderness of it all, and I swiftly fell in love with this state, loving my time here the most of all three states that I had visited. I was enjoying the freedom of having my own transport, the carefree life of having no solid plan, and soaking up the escape from my digital life, enjoying one of those rare escapes from mobile phones and the internet.


After descending down to Wineglass bay, and meandering along the beach for a while, I left the relative crowds behind to take the long road back to the car park. The southern half of the peninsula is really only accessible as part of a multi-day hike, so I could only view it from the narrow isthmus that separated Wineglass bay from Promise bay. It was amazing how protected the former was, but on passing the lagoons and topping the sand-dune to descend onto the beach on the latter, the wind smacked me in the face with the painful blast of sand particles at high speed. My bare legs also bore the brunt of it, and it was an uncomfortable walk to the end of the beach. As much as the view out to sea was amazing, I was grateful to reach shelter again and get back into the forest. I caught another wallaby by surprise on the path through the forest, and eventually came out on a more exposed section looking back onto Great Oyster bay, before finally returning to the car park. The same wallaby was still preening herself next to some cars, but this time I got a pleasant surprise when her little joey poked its head out of her pouch. I never got sick of seeing marsupials on my trip to Australia.


After a brief respite back up the coast, I cut across to the east coast of the peninsula, stopping first at Cape Tourville lighthouse then Sleepy bay. Both places offered a differing vista of the Freycinet coastline, and the various inlets and islands that littered the coast. The water at Sleepy bay was so turquoise and the rocks bright orange due to the mineral content. The colour contrast rendered a unique and vibrant landscape that I could have stared at in awe for hours. Cape Tourville was quite exposed and the wind seemed quite strong here. I could see the entrance to Wineglass bay from here, and the sea seemed so calm, a trick which I’m sure belied its potentially deadly nature. The coastline was so rugged and exposed, that I’m sure an accident here on these waters would not have a good outcome. I was reluctant to leave Freycinet behind, and contemplated staying in Coles for the night, but whilst I had no set plan, I was certainly keen to squeeze as much of the island in as I could in 10 days, and with several hours of daylight ahead still, I opted to press on north. Coles was so far off the main highway, that it was a good run just to get back to the main road again. At Bicheno I stopped to view a blowhole, which even arriving against the tide was still impressive, and from here for most of the route north, the road hugged the coast and I marvelled at stretches of white sandy beach against the deep blue sea, calmly lapping on the shoreline. I stopped several times just to breathe it all in, and inhale the fresh sea air, and stretch my legs, enjoying the moment. The east coast felt like home to me and I was so happy there. Scamander came and went, and eventually, in the late evening, I found myself in St Helens, an area which quickly became my favourite part of the whole island, and a place that I could imagine moving to in another life.


St Helens is a small settlement based at the innermost point of Georges bay, and is a common starting point for forays into the Bay of Fires region. It has a cute little marina, and across the bay to the east are several sections of shoreline littered with pelicans. I first took the road round the eastern shore of Georges bay towards St Helens point where the sun beat down on an amazingly calm Tasman Sea, and I enjoyed the solitude taking the coastal walk to a series of small beaches. It was so peaceful, and I was accompanied only by the sounds of insects and the lapping waves on the shore. It was utter bliss. I spent some time watching the pelicans on the way back to St Helens before taking the road up the west of Georges bay to the end of the road near The Gardens, at the bottom end of the Bay of Fires. There were so many staggeringly white stretches of sandy beaches at every turn, and as far up the coast as I could see. This region was popular, and I didn’t get so much peace along these beaches, bumping into several people every time I found another beach to walk along. It didn’t detract from the view though, and I loved it here, fully appreciating its popularity. On the way back, I detoured to Binnalong bay where a large lagoon meets the sea. It was another popular section of beach, and I passed a little time there before moving on. The beaches here were just spectacular.


Heading west towards Launceston, I detoured off the main highway to pass through Pyengana, the location of a lovely little business which included the Holy Cow cafe, and onwards to Saint Columba Falls. I had the most amazing ploughmans lunch at the cafe, sitting out in the back garden staring out at green fields and hills under a beautiful sunny sky. Some way along the road was the turn-off to the falls, and there was quite a few people there already. It was an easy walk to the falls, but the positioning of the sun when I got there cast most of the falls into shadow, and looking up risked blinding me, so on that occasion they were better viewed from a distance than from up close. Luckily, just down from the car park was a break in the tree line which allowed just a view. Continuing on the drive through forest and then rejoining the state highway, I was surrounded by rolling green pastures and hills for most of the way before finally descending down towards Launceston. I spent the evening at the marina watching the sun set before returning to the first crowded hostel I’d seen since leaving Melbourne.


Setting off early, I got lost trying to find the road I wanted once I’d left the city behind. I ended up on the road south to Hobart when I was wanting to head west, and I lost a bit of time looping round and back tracking. I found myself on a mission, passing quickly through Westbury and stopping only briefly at Deloraine for some food supplies, before pushing on. In the end, I pulled in at Mole Creek Caves with time to spare. The cave complexes at Mole Creek was something that I’d only read up on a couple of days before, having not been aware of them prior to my trip, and I was very glad I took the time to stop there. I went first to Marakoopa cave, with a relatively big tour group, and we got a decent amount of time to wander between the different chambers with their various features and marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites that spanned the gap between cavern floor and ceiling. There was a very pretty area known as the garden where there was a collection of these mineral growths clustered together, and another larger structure referred to as the organ. As a lover of the natural world, I am always in awe at these kind of places, and especially when you know that you are looking at structures that have been growing for hundreds of thousands of years. The highlight for me was visiting King Solomon’s Cave. There were only 5 of us on this tour, making it automatically more personal, and the cave was more compact which suited the smaller group better, but it was the guide that really made the tour. I’ve never before seen a guide so passionate about his subject, and he clearly loved sharing his knowledge about this cave and caves in general. The mineral formations in this cave differed in colour due to the mineral content in the seeping water, and there were even fossilised bones protruding from the cave wall in places. As our guide told us, there simply wasn’t the funding to look into what sort of animals or creatures the fossils belonged to, so they remain a mysterious part of the cave’s distant past.


It turned out that myself and the other four people on my tour were all heading to the same destination, albeit on different days. The family from Newcastle in Australia were taking the kids to see some snow, and they asked me to report to them what the conditions were like to know if it was worth the drive. As it turned out, I had no mobile phone signal when I got there so was unable to pass on the news. The drive through Mole Creek-Kaast National Park and beyond was spectacular – pure isolated wilderness with fantastic views once I got out of the forest. My little hire car did well on the inclines, as I negotiated the passes that took me through the hills that grew higher and higher the further west I went. Eventually, in the mid-afternoon, I arrived and immediately I felt like I was back in Scotland in the Cairngorm National Park. Here I was on the other side of the world at Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park looking out across a similar landscape with similar vegetation and a smattering of snow, and I stepped out the car and got goosebumps. It was freezing cold. I got a cabin with ease, getting the whole building to myself, and set off for a walk around the various paths that criss-crossed the entrance-way to the park. It was the sight of the wombat that reminded me that I was indeed in Australia and not Scotland, and later I saw a few Tasmanian Pademelons. Due to melting snow and some recent rain, the rivers were in spate, and the waterfall near the information centre was a thundering torrent of tannin-coloured icy water.


As the sun lowered, I headed back along the road slightly to the nearby Devils@Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. In the warmth of the building, we got told all about the devils and the local area, and then one of the keepers brought in a Tasmanian devil for us all to touch and stroke. He was so well behaved, cuddling into the keeper whilst everyone waited their turn to touch his soft coat, and when it was my turn, I stroked his back and he let out a little sneeze. Considering just a week or so ago, I’d never seen a real devil, I had now seen loads in just a few days. After the talk it was feeding time, and as the sun set, we watched the various groups of devils being fed and fighting with each other over scraps of meat. In one of the enclosures I was so excited when out from under a wooden log came a little baby devil for its share of the food, before it scurried back into the darkness to enjoy its prize in peace and solitude. These little creatures amaze me, and I really hope the efforts with the conservation initiatives can help bring this species back from the grip of the horrible facial tumour disease that afflicts them.


Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is all about hiking. There are multiple day walks as well as a multi-day walk that traverses the park, and despite the cold, I was eager to get out and enjoy it. I parked at the first car park on the road to Dove Lake and set off across a boardwalk through low vegetation and across a stream before reaching a sparse forest area. There were snow patches everywhere, stale and crispy under foot, but despite the snow on the ground, the sun shone overhead, and I warmed up quickly. Following the side of a stream as it meandered up towards its source, I eventually came out at the end of Crater Lake, an expanse of water surrounded on all sides by steep slopes, truly in a crater. The path climbed up the eastern slope bringing me out high above the lake and with a view ahead to the lookout where I was headed, and Lake Lilla and Dove Lake to my left. When I reached the summit lookout, the top of Cradle Mountain was shrouded in cloud. I hunkered down near some rocks for shelter, and enjoyed a snack stop with the company of a currawong who kept a close eye on me whilst I ate, eagerly hoping for some free food. I was there so long that I got to see the clouds pull back and managed to get a better view of Cradle Mountain. I was so well nestled into the lea of the rocks to shelter from the wind, that I hadn’t realised how hidden I was until several people got a fright after I greeted them on reaching the summit, and they spun round to see who was talking to them. Many people were just out for the day, but I chatted briefly to 2 guys that were starting out on the Overland Track, the multi-day hike over the summits. The path that I had taken to get myself there was the first section of the track, and it continued from the lookout spot across the nearby summit and round to Cradle Mountain itself. I watched them go, and had a slight pang of jealousy as I briefly reminisced on my days of free camping back in Scotland.


Eventually, the cold got too much to stay there, and as I stood up, I realised how crowded the lookout had become with various groups of people sitting around the rocky top. I was glad that I had gotten the initial solitude, and I set off on my own back down the path I had come up. Halfway down, I took a different path that brought me down to Wombat Pool, and circled round to Lake Lilla before joining the Dove Lake circuit track. It was a short walk from there to the Dove Lake car park where a bus load of tourists had just emptied, and the path from the car park to the lake was crammed with them all trying to take the same photograph. I was eager to leave the rabble behind, but it was such a nice day that even the circuit track was busy, and I was constantly coming across people, and on a few occasions had to wait my turn to take some photographs at a couple of sought-after viewpoints. Despite that, I loved the walk, and I took my time, soaking up the view and the atmosphere. Every time I stopped for a snack, out of nowhere would appear a currawong, eagerly awaiting some scraps. On my lunch stop I got some human company and it was nice to have a chat and share stories. At the top of the lake, the path brought me nearly directly under the summit of Cradle Mountain which was now clear of all cloud cover, before looping round to head back towards the car park, down the western shore of the lake. On this stretch, I was almost directly below the lookout that I had been up earlier, and at times I could make out figures moving about on the ridge, framed against the blue sky. Back at the little boat house on the shore of the lake near where I had originally joined the track, I again enjoyed some solitude to soak in the last view of the mountain before leaving. I was sad to leave it behind, and silently added the Overland Track to my list of hikes for the future. I rejoined the track past Lake Lilla again, and this time split off on a different route which took me back through a different section of the same sparse forest, and then out onto the low cut vegetation and back to the boardwalk. By now, the shrubbery was littered with wombats munching away, and I left the park with a smile on my face, tired but satisfied.


I rejoined civilisation on the north coast at Burnie, and followed the coastal road back east through Penguin and Ulverstone before reaching Devonport as the sun set. I nearly couldn’t find the hostel I was looking for, and had a brief moment of panic about trying to find accommodation in the dark, when at last I found it. It was a converted hospital, full of ‘long termers’, the phrase that is used for backpackers that have work, and are therefore hanging around for a while. It was far from the flashest of places to stay but it did the job just fine. I didn’t hang around in Devonport long. It is the arrival point for the ferry from Melbourne, but it really held no interest to me, and after a brief side trip for a walk around the Bluff Road area, and onwards to Port Sorrell, I continued my trek east back towards Launceston. I decided to explore another National Park, and took a long detour to visit Narawntapu National Park on the north coast. It was quite out the way but it was a lovely region and had more wombats than people there which made me immensely happy. There was a lovely walk around a lake full of birds, and then across a plains where there were kangaroos and wombats milling about munching away in the sunshine. There were times where the path wasn’t well marked, but I managed to suss out the way to go eventually, stopping at times to watch the roos bouncing away from me, or eyeball them back when they stood on their hindlegs to watch me pass. Aside from the young roos, there were also a few young wombats which on asking at the park office were estimated to be about 2-3 months old.


The Tamar river is a 70km long estuary passing from deep inland, through Launceston, and eventually opening onto the Bass Strait on the north coast. I joined the main highway down the Tamar Valley near Beauty Point, and followed it south towards my final stop, the city itself. There were a few view points on the way, but I was a little saddened to be heading back to city life, but more so because my trip was quickly nearing its conclusion. A little outside of Launceston is the Tamar River Conservation Area, a wetlands and conserved waterway created by the river and a few islands that sit within it. It was a lovely walk to stretch my legs, and there were plenty of birds to see, including finally managing to capture a photo of a Superb Blue Wren which were strikingly blue, and despite seeing them often, they had up to then evaded my camera lens. Eventually pulling into Launceston, I took a late afternoon stroll along the naturally created Cataract Gorge before heading back into town and the busy hostel.


Launceston is fairly compact but quite endearing. The marina formed on a sheltered section of the Tamar river is pretty, and there are several parks and walks in the area. I spent the morning wandering through the city streets and found myself at City Park where I was surprised to find a monkey enclosure. They had been a gift from a foreign nation, and I stood for a while watching the macaques grooming each other and playing on the ropes. They seemed so at ease with an audience. After a food stop, I headed back up Cataract Gorge, getting to experience it this time without the afternoon shadows, and I followed the river up to the basin and this time continued further. The rocky river bed created multiple rapids and small waterfalls along the way, and the path gave differing perspectives of these as I trudged along. Eventually I came out at an abandoned power station, and here a bridge allowed me to cross the river and head back to the basin area. I had lunch with a peacock wandering between the tables, and just across the flower bed, a wallaby mowed the lawn oblivious to the reams of tourists taking its photograph. It would be the last wallaby I would see on this trip, and indeed to this date, nearly a year later.


I made the short drive to Launceston airport the following morning and boarded the plane back to Sydney. On getting off at the terminal, I smiled at the sight of the actor who plays Alf Stewart in Home & Away waiting in the departure lounge to head off somewhere. I briefly toyed with the idea of badgering him for a photograph, and then decided to leave him in peace, walking away in search of the international terminal and my flight home to New Zealand.

Of the three states I visited, Tasmania was by far my favourite. Granted I had the time to explore more of it than the other two which I’m sure swayed my opinion dramatically, but that one island has everything I could ever wish for: peace and tranquility, hiking, beautiful coastlines, and wildlife galore. Several of the locals I spoke to made a similar comment: that they felt like the luckiest people in the world to call Tasmania their home, but that they also wanted to keep it as a secret as they enjoyed the tranquility without the mass of tourists. As someone who likes my own company and who likes to experience nature without a bus full of tourists bearing down on me, I can totally agree with that sentiment, but at the same time I am keen for people not to overlook this magical place. Like the people that tour New Zealand in 3 weeks and think they’ve seen it all, Tasmania is massively overlooked by the thousands of tourists who visit Australia and think that a trip to the Great Barrier Reef counts as ‘seeing Australia’. It’s definitely worth the detour, just don’t all turn up at once when I’m there…

Terra Australis – Victoria

I had expected something more exciting than what I got. Having taken long cross-country trips in other countries, I had somehow presumed that the countryside between Sydney and Melbourne would be immensely dramatic and beautiful. In reality, it was 12hrs of a mix of rural and urban landscapes that were nondescript and forgettable. The sky was blue as we travelled across New South Wales, but slowly the clouds drifted in, and as if knowingly, became very dense around the state border with Victoria. After several hours, I questioned why I hadn’t flown. The train pulled into the outskirts of Melbourne in darkness, and after failing to get my bearings, I was thankful that I didn’t have to go far. Getting off the train at Southern Cross station, I merely had to round a few corners to catch the bus out to the airport. I checked into the motel, and waited, and waited. Finally I got the call I was waiting for: my partner and his friend had arrived, and we could start our holiday together.

Picking up our hire car, the 3 of us wandered around the streets of Melbourne in search of breakfast. Renowned for its food options, we eventually settled on a pancake parlour downstairs on Bourke Street. Filled with fuel for the day, we set off on the long drive to Phillip Island. Travelling with 2 blokes that were keen on motor racing, it seemed inevitable that we should head to Phillip Island where the Grand Prix circuit was. As it turned out, right next door was a miniature version of the track for go-karting, so we signed up and waited our turn. I’m not very good at go-karting. I certainly like to think that I am better than I actually am, but aside from the 2 women who were clearly scared of everyone buzzing past them, I was effectively last of the main group of competitors. I was gutted, especially because my partner likes to remind me how terrible I am at it. Further along the island at the western tip is Nobbies centre where there is a seal viewing platform. It was overcast, and cold compared to what I’d been used to in Sydney, and the seals were on a rock offshore, making them difficult to see. It was too early to view the penguins coming ashore so we headed back towards Melbourne and our city-centre apartment.


Melbourne was noticeably colder than it had been in Sydney, and the weather hung cloudy and grey over the city the next morning. The 3 of us took a wander along Flinders Walk which followed the north bank of the Yarra river west from Birrarung Marr Park. I was struck immediately by the strange and colourful artwork and statues that popped up across open spaces in the city. The city had a totally different vibe to Sydney, and it oozed culture. After stretching our legs, we packed into the hire car and headed first west, then south round the expanse of Port Phillip Bay, skirting Geelong and joining the Great Ocean Road at Torquay. Torquay is infamous for its surfing culture, and the streets and waterfront were busy with people. West of here, we stopped at Bell’s Beach, the filming location of the final scene for Keanu Reeve’s surfing movie Point Break. The surf was up and everywhere we looked people were riding the waves. We spent a little time at another beach just round the coast before heading west to Anglesea.


On negotiating the final corners en route to Anglesea, we found ourselves amidst a mass of cyclists. They were on the road, parked at the side, and filling the town’s cafes. There was little place to stop amidst the crowds, so we pushed onwards, the road hugging the coast for large sections. At Airey’s Inlet, we stopped to visit the Airey’s lighthouse. A proud lighthouse, it stood tall near the rocks being battered by the rough sea of the Bass Strait. It was a pretty, well maintained lighthouse, and it was only a year later, after reading an article that I realised that this was the lighthouse from a children’s television programme that I had loved growing up: Round the Twist. I have no idea how popular it was in its native Australia, but I know that in the UK it was a hit: half an hour of silliness based around a haunted lighthouse that could create all sorts of chaos for the family of inhabitants, a single father with his three children. Looking back at photos, I can indeed see that it is that lighthouse, but at the time, the surrounding vegetation and buildings which were missing on the programme, hid the history of the place. For my partner and his friend, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t know the connection at the time, as I would have probably begged to stay longer, taken more photos, and generally made them cringe whilst I ran around singing ‘have you ever, ever felt like this? Like strange things happen, are you going round the twist?‘ As it was, we had a lot of kilometers to travel, and not much time to do it in, so we pressed on.


The road continued to hug the coastline for some time, though we could see some rainclouds closing in ahead of us. It was still relatively grey behind us, but up ahead, it was looking distinctly black. At Devil’s Elbow, after a brief respite to take in the view, the road curled inland and looped back on itself before hitting the coast again. Lorne came and went, and the road kept going as far as we could see, curling along the coastline. The rain clouds grew closer, but even without the sunshine to brighten everything, the coastline still appeared very dramatic and very beautiful. Passing through various settlements without stopping, we finally took a breather near Kennet River. I had read that this was a good place to go looking for koalas and we headed up a dirt track behind the local caravan park. Looking up into the trees, everything looked dark and grey amongst the grey sky backing it all, and it was difficult to make out anything. We followed the road up the hill, and got a surprise when a wallaby jumped around the bushes, then eventually a koala was spotted. It was well camouflaged, but after getting an eye for them, on the way back down the road we saw loads. We had driven past many on the way up without seeing them, and now they were everywhere. Mostly, they were sleeping, but every now and again, one would move around amongst the branches, and I got giddy and excited for finally seeing them in the wild and in their native habitat.


The last section of our long drive for the day continued amidst intermittent rain showers. We managed to get somewhere to stay in Apollo Bay, a lovely motel just across the road from a gorgeous expanse of beach. The boys settled into an afternoon of watching motor racing on the television, whilst I went out exploring. I’m always at my happiest by the sea. There’s nothing I love more than to pound the beach whilst the waves crash in next to me, and get lost in my thoughts and drift a million miles away. After the last rain shower that we had driven through, the sunshine finally broke through, and I walked the beach towards the boat harbour in sunshine. But just as I approached the boat shed, from nowhere appeared another lot of rain clouds and the heavens opened and dumped a ton of rain down on me. I got soaked. My partner rushed out in the car to come and pick me up, but I was quite happy wandering around, so I made my own way back to the motel. On my return after drying off, we took a drive to the Cape Otway lighthouse. Unfortunately, after winding along the long road to get there, we arrived after closing time, and couldn’t even get near the lighthouse, viewing only the top of it in the distance through the bushes. On the drive back to Apollo Bay we found lots of koalas overhead in the trees, and we spent some time watching them lazing about in the branches.


The following day we backtracked slightly to Skenes Creek to take the inland road to visit the Otway Fly. It was a long drive through immense thick beech forest, a stark contrast to the openness of the ocean road that we had followed until now. The Otway Fly was a relatively unique experience: a walk amongst the canopy of the forest giving a bird’s eye view of the trees and shrubbery below. There was also a dino walk detailing the species of dinosaur that have had fossils located in the region. Not long before there had been high winds blast through the region, and littered amongst the forest path was evidence of those trees that had succumbed to the pressure. Several months after visiting this place, a similar treetop attraction opened up in the South Island of New Zealand. Having visited both, the Victorian one is definitely the one to visit.


Rejoining the Great Ocean Road heading west, it remained inland for some time, finally swinging back towards the coast at Princetown where we stopped for lunch. Our first afternoon stop was near Gibson Steps, a viewing area which allowed us our first view of the sea stacks that make this coastline famous. The sea was relatively calm, but with no protection from the brunt of the Bass Strait, it is easy to see how rough seas shape this dramatic coastline. A little further along the coast is one of the area’s most famous and most photographed views: the 12 Apostles. I’m terrible company at famous sites: I’m obsessed with photographing things from every perceivable angle in the hope of getting that one photograph that amazes everyone. Mostly I just bore people who are subjected to looking at my holiday snaps, and I annoy whoever my travelling companion is. This may account for why I enjoy travelling on my own because then I can carry on with my hobby to my heart’s content. Thankfully my partner and his friend managed not to get too annoyed with me, although I did concede a little bit of ribbing, but like many places I go to, this was somewhere I’d seen in magazines and travel sites for years, and I was enjoying soaking up the essence of being there myself.


The afternoon was pressing on, and every few kilometres there was yet another reason to stop on the road, so my partner had to put his foot down and limit our rest stops. We parked up at Loch Ard Gorge and had a wander round the clifftop walks there, viewing more sea stacks, and I climbed down the steps to the beach within the gorge. We had a quick break at Port Campbell and continued on west to London Arch (what used to be London Bridge before the section connecting it to the mainland broke off a few years ago). There was a seal hauled up on the beach having a snooze, and further along the coast in the Bay of Islands region there was a plethora of long-beaked corellas. They were nesting on the cliffs of the numerous sea stacks that littered the coastline. Eventually, in the lowering sun, we reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, turned onto the Princes Highway, and reached our final destination of Port Fairy.


We had a lovely little cabin near the Moyne River and there was a beautiful sunset which I watched whilst wandering back from the beach and marina. The following day, we crossed over to Griffith Island which is attached to the mainland by a man-made walkway. This has created a couple of canal-like structures to allow a marina to be built, and allows access to the island which is a bird sanctuary. I had read in our guidebook that the island was also home to a small colony of swamp wallabies, but the vegetation was so thick that I looked in vain. Halfway round the island, the boys were walking ahead of me when I spotted one off to their left. They completely overlooked it and I excitedly called out to them. The wallaby simply regarded us for a while before sitting back down, and it was clear to see how well camouflaged they were when sitting down. We saw a couple more from a distance on the return leg back to Port Fairy, and then there was the long drive back to Melbourne.


My partner flew back to Christchurch early the next morning, and I left his friend to spend some time with his sister who lives near the city. I took a train to Frankston, and then caught a bus out to the Mornington Peninsula town of Sorrento. It was a lovely drive for the final section, and Melbourne looked so far away, barely visible across Port Phillip Bay on the distant horizon. After finding my accommodation down a back road, I dumped my bag and headed back into town and across the peninsula to Ocean Beach. Whilst Sorrento itself had been so calm and quiet, the wind was whipping up waves to slam on to the expanse of the unsheltered Ocean beach, facing onto the Bass Strait. The tide was in, meaning that I could only walk some sections of the coastal walk that linked the tip of the peninsula to Ocean beach. It was a wild and rugged coastline similar to what I’d seen along the Great Ocean Road, battered by the immense storms that can rage off the Bass Strait. It is a notoriously treacherous stretch of water, and I could see why. I followed the coast as far west as I could until the tide stopped me, then I backtracked and headed east until I came across a road that took me to Blairgowrie, the next town along from Sorrento. I cut back across the peninsula to the sheltered beach that faced onto Port Phillip Bay, and slowly made my way back to Sorrento. There were gallahs everywhere, a bird that I associated with the tv soap Neighbours, and I was amused to see so many of them feeding in the parks.


Whilst I was in Australia, one of the AFL players John McCarthy had tragically died by falling off a balcony at a hotel. Coming from Sorrento, his funeral was held in his home town, and on the day I was leaving, the town centre was closed off to allow a procession to pass through before his funeral service. I ate my breakfast at a cafe waiting for the bus, and everywhere I looked were fellow players who I’m sure were famous, but I had no idea who they were. Everyone wore black, and looked sombre, and there was a hush over the locals as they passed by. The bus dropped me back at Frankston station, and I again caught the train into Melbourne, checking into my hostel, and quickly jumping on a tram to St Kilda. Having loved another tv series shown in the UK, The Secret Lives of Us, which was set in St Kilda, I wandered around the streets and the beachfront, looking for places that seemed familiar. It had been several years since the programme had last aired, so nothing jogged my memory. It was a nice waterfront to walk around nonetheless and it afforded an alternate perspective of the Melbourne skyline which I could really appreciate for the first time. There was always some clouds overhead during my stay which seemed to grey the buildings somewhat. It was never going to have the harbour-front allure of Sydney, but there was certainly some charm in the place, and wandering along the Yarra river as the city lit up produced another stunning view of the place.


The weather couldn’t make up its mind for much of the rest of my stay in Melbourne. Clouds of varying density circled above, and threatened rain, sometimes following through with the threat. I spent a day wandering around the south aspect of the city, heading first along the south bank of the Yarra river towards the Botanical gardens. I spent some time wandering amongst the beautiful gardens and lakes, before following the King’s Domain down towards Queen Victoria gardens. Following the river downstream I decided to go up the distinctive Eureka Tower for an up high view of the city. Melbourne CBD is a tightly packed meshwork of streets and alleyways, with an overwhelming modern design to many of the buildings. However on closer inspection, nestled amongst these highrises are some surprisingly old fashioned buildings, which juxtapose with their modern neighbours. The Eureka Tower itself I felt jarred somewhat in the skyline, a rather odd looking building that stuck out like a sore thumb. Having said that, it did act as a handy directional marker when negotiating the criss-crossing streets of the city, and at its base I was amused with the giant bee sculptures that were crawling all over the walls of the building at its entrance.


The following day I had arranged to meet an old university friend at the Melbourne Show. It was a massive affair, immense barns full of livestock for judging, reams of fairground rides, food stalls, and shows and performances occurring at every turn. One of the things that summed up the craziness of the place was the sight of a man playing a guitar on the back of a bull at the entrance, and in one of the massive food halls, I made friends with a giant banana. My friend had 2 young girls, and it was interesting to experience it all through their eyes. Granted, the youngest one was too little to be aware of what was going on, but the older one who had been born in the Caribbean, was fascinated with the livestock. Time passed quickly but eventually it was too much for the little ones, and their mum took them home. I hung about for a few more hours to watch the night shows of stunt motorbikes and fireworks displays before catching the tram back to the city.


It was an early rise for a day trip to Wilson’s Promontory National Park. At over 200km away from Melbourne, it was a long drive, but I had joined a small tour group and we got about getting to know each other as the hours passed. It was showery as we approached the National Park, but we made a stop to see some kangaroos. There was an emu wandering about the shrubs as well, and the kangaroos were hunkering down against the weather, so they were relatively hidden from us. Further along the road, we made a stop in order to take a hike through the forest and up to a rocky viewpoint. On a good day, we would have soaked in a spectacular view along the coastline and out to sea. As it was, we got rained on at the summit whilst we ate our lunch, and the low cloud denied us of an extensive view. Nonetheless, it was still possible to see how pretty the place was and as we headed back down the track to the van, the sun broke free and stayed out for the rest of the trip. We walked down to Leonard Bay and enjoyed a stroll along the beach as the wind blew in from the sea. By now the clouds had lifted, and we could see Great Glennie Island in the distance offshore. At the far end of the beach, we followed the path up onto the rocky peninsula, and cut over the headland towards Tidal River. Tidal River itself is essentially a large campground that nestles on the southern bank of the river of the same name. The walk took us along the north bank upstream where I saw my first kookaburra. I love the simple things that make me happy like spending time out in nature and seeing wildlife that I’ve never seen before. On crossing the bridge over the river we happened upon a wombat out for a late afternoon stroll. He went about his business of mowing the grass nonchalantly, showing little care for the group of people stood around him photographing him from every angle. We stayed with him until eventually he crossed the path and disappeared under a bush. I was chuffed; it was my first wombat. Little was I to know that I would see scores of them over the coming days. We got a final wander along another of the beaches in the area before boarding the bus for the long drive back to Melbourne in the dark.


I spent several evenings in Melbourne sampling the amazing food that the city has to offer. There is simply too much choice. I had one of the most amazing Greek dishes ever at a restaurant in the Greek quarter where the owner insisted I get myself a Greek boyfriend (ironically my ex is Greek!). Another night I was undecided which style of food I wanted so I wandered through Chinatown only to find a Vietnamese street market down an alleyway. Every stall served a different food, and after eating one of the offerings, I worked my way down the whole alleyway, sampling the food at each stall. It was all so mouthwatering and to die for. The alleyway was packed with people squeezed into doorways and crammed against the neighbouring buildings waiting for and eating the delicious food. Another night it was the Italian quarter that was picked for dinner and during the day I wandered past cafes crammed full of people. It was unbelievable what was packed down some of the alleyways.

Eventually though it was time to bid Melbourne farewell. I had an early flight to catch to Hobart on Tasmania for the next leg of my Australia trip, and I was excited to be heading off to a place I’d dreamed about visiting for years.

Terra Australis – New South Wales

The more I travel, the smaller I feel; like a tiny grain of sand in a vast desert. Sometimes, when I am travelling long distance or visiting somewhere new, I imagine my location in my head and then I can zoom out like on Google maps, and picture myself as a little pin on a map. It gives me a sense of how small I am to the world, and it adds a degree of thrill to my journey. Arriving at a destination that I have seen in photographs for most of my life, and just being there and feeling it all, is a large part of why I love travelling – the butterflies and the grin that I can never hide from my face makes all the months of saving up and waiting worthwhile.

It was just like that the day I stepped off the train and saw the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour bridge in front of me. The sun had shone for my arrival in Australia, and I found myself in the centre of Circular Quay surrounded by the bustle of locals and tourists alike. I was staying in the Rocks area of the city, at a hostel which consequently became one of my favourite hostels ever, the relatively new YHA. The view from the rooftop balcony overlooked Circular Quay with the Opera House standing guard at the Quay entrance, and the Harbour bridge to the side. I could never get enough of this view.


I set about getting myself on a boat, and headed out through the harbour heads into the Pacific Ocean in search of humpback whales. We sailed down the coast past Bondi beach which was barely visible on the coastline as we turned further out to sea, reaching about 10km off shore before coming across 3 male humpback whales. At this time of year, in September, the whales were migrating south towards the rich Antarctic waters for the Southern summer. The mothers and calves follow close to shore for relative protection, whilst the males stay further out to sea, near the east Australian current. I know that I will never get bored of seeing these creatures, no matter how many times I come across them, and they gave us quite a display of lunging out the water, breaching, and tail slapping. We spent a long time with them, bobbing about on the ocean before heading back, passing below the Harbour Bridge into Darling Harbour before heading back to Circular Quay. Whilst Sydney’s CBD is nothing spectacular, this city to me is all about the long stretch of waterfront, and I took to spending my evenings wandering around the waterfront, soaking up the atmosphere of glorious vibrancy.


Under a glorious blue sky, I took the ferry to Manly on the north shore. Manly straddles a peninsula at the eastern margin of Sydney harbour, with the sheltered bay to the west, and the openness of the Pacific Ocean to the east. I followed the coastline round the peninsula, past Little Manly Cove, Spring Cove and out into the Sydney Harbour National Park. Whilst walking through the bush, I came across a Bearded Dragon. They are a fantastic lizard that are very popular as pets in the UK. As a vet with an avid interest in the more exotic patients, I have seen plenty of them in my clinic over the years, but like many things, I was ecstatic to see a wild one, and watching it shuffle around in the undergrowth, made me sad to think of all those captive bred lizards that don’t get to experience this lifestyle.


Eventually the route swung back towards the beautiful, but exposed, stretch of Manly beach, and I joined the crowds once more. Cutting back through the main streets back to the ferry terminal, I continued west this time, following the coast through North Harbour Reserve, Wellings Reserve and into another section of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Away from the streets of suburbia, it was peaceful, though oppressively hot, and I was getting quite thirsty. I trudged as far as the Spit Road bridge, hoping to find somewhere to eat, only to find nothing apart from a park bench, so after a brief respite, I began the long walk back to Manly to catch the evening ferry back to Circular Quay. The sun set as the ferry headed off, and we approached the main terminal beneath a beautiful red and yellow sky.


One of the things that I had wanted to do in Sydney since first finding out about it, was to climb the arc of the Sydney Harbour bridge. I headed to the check-in station early with the sun beaming above me and barely a cloud in the sky. However, between checking in, going through the briefing, getting kitted up, practicing our clipping on technique, and actually getting out onto the structure of the bridge, the clouds had rolled in and a breeze was picking up. It was still a pleasant walk amongst the lower girders of the structure, looking out to the traffic and boats below, and to either side of the harbour vista. As we climbed higher onto the outer arc, the wind speed was picking up considerably. It was still sunny enough for our official photographs, and I enjoyed the view and the climb immensely. By the time we reached the summit with the Australian flag flying proudly, it was gusting 82km/hr, and as I posed for my triumphant photograph, the wind threatened to take me off my feet. The return journey was made difficult by the crosswind whipping at us from the side, drumming into my ears, and forcing me over to one side as I negotiated the descent step by step. The noise had become quite painful in my ear, so I was glad to regain the relative shelter of the lower girders. The wind continued to pick up, and the clouds became denser as the day wore on, so I was definitely lucky to have gotten up when I had.


The Royal Botanical Gardens sits immediately east of the Opera House. Following the promenade round from Circular Quay, I got up close to the Opera House, and was nearly blown away. Literally. The wind was whipping up across the water, and when I turned the corner, out of the protection of the building, it blasted directly in my face. With it came the overcast sky, and there was occasional drizzle as I wandered through the gardens, cutting up and down various routes, eventually coming out at Woolloomooloo Bay. One of the penthouses across this bay is reported to be owned by Russell Crowe, and the eateries on the wharf seemed very upmarket. As I walked along the edge of the gardens, I was surrounded by sulphur-crested cockatoos. These were another species that I was more used to seeing in captivity as pets in the UK, and I loved watching the flocks of them screaming above the streets of the city in the evening, coming to roost in the trees above my head.


One of the peculiar things about Woolloomooloo Bay is that there is a block of apartments that have a publicly accessible roof garden. The path leads out from the Botanical Gardens, over a bridge, and along the roof of the building past flowers and bushes, and even up to a little viewing platform at the far end. Heading into the city itself, I delved deep into the busy streets of the CBD, and wound my way south towards Central Station. From there I took the soon-to-be-removed monorail to Darling Harbour and spent my evening there enjoying ice cream, and taking a wander around the compact aquarium. Rounding off the day was a trip to the State Theatre to see one of my favourite comedians, Bill Bailey. I was so excited when I discovered that my trip to Australia coincided with his World Tour, and I was exhausted from laughing so much by the time the show finished.

In the early hours of the following day, I caught a taxi back to Central Station, and jumped on a train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains National Park. After the heat of Sydney, I got a bit of a shock at how cold it was when I got off the train. I hurried to dump my backpack at the hostel before pounding the brief streets of Katoomba town, and out the other side to Echo Park. The Three Sisters is one of the most photographed, and therefore recognisable natural features of the National Park, and when I reached the viewpoint at Echo Point I was not disappointed. Immediately below me was an impressive canyon, covered in dense bush, with the iconic Three Sisters just off to my left. I was excited to discover that there was a trail leading out onto the first of the sisters, and then down a very steep collection of stair cases to nearly the bottom of the canyon. The view was amazing, although often hidden by dense bush, and on reaching the bottom, I headed west on the Federal Pass, surrounded by dense trees, and under watch of the myriad of parrots that flew in flocks above me. The route eventually brought me out at a memorial for an old mining system that used to be there, and after a brief walk through the exhibit and trail, I took a ride up the canyon on the world’s steepest incline railway, bringing me back out at the top of the gorge. By this point, the sun had shifted in the sky, and I had a differing perspective of the Three Sisters. It was an easy walk to the same viewpoint, and having noticed some waterfalls marked further round on the map, I decided to keep hiking. Staying up high this time, I passed by the Three Sisters for the last time, and hiked on the Overcliff Track first to Leura Falls and onwards to another waterfall even further east. I found myself in a part of the track that had been devastated by a bush fire, benches charred, wooden steps disintegrated and the remnants of bush blackened and crumbling. It was an eerie sight. Eventually, as the sun was preparing to set, and the temperature dropping, I cut back towards the streets of Leura, and dragged my aching feet back towards Katoomba for some much needed sustenance.


Full of enthusiasm for exploring the beautiful outdoors, I hopped on the train to the nearby stop of Wentworth Falls. I had been given a map and some advice on walks in the area the day before by an enthusiastic woman at the information centre at Echo Park, and today I was following her advice. I’m exceedingly glad I did, for this day was one of my favourite days of my whole holiday. Cutting through Wentworth Falls itself, I headed straight for Wilson Park and Darwin’s Track which followed a path through native bush alongside a stream as it built into a river, passing little waterfalls and pools on the way. It was a long walk, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at the end of it. Eventually though, the bush opened up before me to expose a large canyon, and I found myself at the top of the Wentworth waterfall looking out on a grand vista of thick native bush carpeting the canyon floor, and steep canyon walls on either side of me. I instantly felt tiny and insignificant, and for a moment I stood silently taking it all in. There were quite a few tourists waiting around to take photos from the top of the falls, and after I had my turn, I headed off on the National Pass track. This track involved a steep descent down the side of the canyon, skirting the waterfall itself, to a ledge roughly halfway down. From here, the track cut over the water at the base of the first section of the waterfall, but above the second section. It then hugged this ledge for some distance, providing a most spectacular view for a most spectacular hike. It was a busy trail, multiple people taking the path in either direction, and I even came across a little marsupial at one section. All around were flocks of loud parrots, mainly cockatoos, both sulphur-crested and black. Eventually the track brought me to another waterfall, and from here, it climbed back up to the top of the canyon where I took a nature walk through the bushland before heading back along the ridge-top to the falls, and back through the Darwin track to the train station. It was an epic hike in what felt like wilderness, despite the amount of other people there.


Another day, another train ride, this time to Blackheath where I walked through the edge of town to Govett’s Leap, another spectacular lookout over another stunning vista of canyons and bush. I managed to get about 10 minutes of peace at the lookout before a school bus arrived, and a whole class of teenagers bustled out and took over every inch of viewing space that there was. I left them to it, and headed along the Pulpit Rock track, passing above Bridal Veil Falls towards Evan’s Lookout. A little back from here was the start of the Grand Canyon walk. As I started the descent, I met a few people on the way up. None of them had done the full walk, they had all gone down to see the view from the canyon floor and were coming straight back up again. They commended me on doing the full hike and I wondered several times on the way down if I was letting myself in for something extreme. Aside from a few rock scrambles in the river bed, the walk itself was not too difficult. But it was through thick bush, and it went up and down so much that it was tiring, and after a while, just a little bit tedious. Unlike the previous day’s hike which had rewarded me with a fantastic view at every turn, there wasn’t much to see here but trees, and there was little bird life to keep me company. The canyon twisted and turned, and I began to wonder if I had underestimated the time the walk would take me. Eventually, I came round a bend to find a woman beginning to strip off her clothes. I quickly alerted her to my presence, and she went bright red as she turned to see me. It turned out, there was a group of people ahead that were going canyoning through the river, and she had separated herself so as to change into her gear. They blocked the pathway with their equipment, but everyone welcomed my presence and we passed pleasantries as I squeezed past them to continue with my hike. They gave me the most welcome news that I was nearing the climb back up to the top. Back at the canyon top, I followed the road a little while before heading up a dirt track to join the Breaside walk. As the shadows stretched, and the temperature dropped a little, I came out at the top of Bridal Veil Falls again. Heading back to Govett’s Leap, I enjoyed some more time at the lookout before following the Pulpit Rock track to join Popes Glen walk back into Blackheath.


It was an early start back to Sydney. The train was crammed with people heading into the city, and when it reached Central station I thankfully didn’t have far to go. My hostel this time was attached to the train station, but it was stuffy and the window to the dorm room opened into the train station itself, so it was easy to hear the goings on of the busy platforms. On arriving, I was immediately absconded by an exiting backpacker who was looking for someone to look after her surfboard whilst she went elsewhere for a few days, to save her carrying it. Hostel life and backpacking in general involves a lot of trust and open mindedness. I’ve had some bad experiences in hostels before, from cold and damp rooms, to stolen food, people having sex in a bed across the room, noisy snorers and rude roommates who refuse to acknowledge your existence. It’s all generally part of the experience. But on the good side are the shared travel stories and tips, someone to keep you company, and the genuinely nice people that you meet. When no-one else would help out this girl, I agreed to look out for her stuff at the hostel and let her back in at the end of the week to get her things back before her flight home.

That first day back in Sydney I quickly headed back to my favourite place: the waterfront, and hopped on a boat over to Taronga Zoo on the north shore. I have mixed feelings about zoos. Whilst I appreciate that they allow people to see animals that they would otherwise never see, and potentially educate them about them, as well as offer breeding and conservation programmes, I’ve spent too many visits at too many zoos cringing at the cramped enclosures and depressed-looking animals within, pacing back and forth, back and forth. I had heard mixed information about Taronga, so I headed there with trepidation. From the ferry terminal there is a gondola ride up to the entrance building, and this swung above one of the elephant enclosures, giving an unusual perspective of these creatures. Having been duped into the typical tourist folly of expecting to see koalas and kangaroos at every turn in Australia, it was my first chance to see these native creatures in this country. Having seen them in other zoos in other countries, I was a little disappointed with the irony of needing to go to a zoo in their native country to see them too. Whilst the zoo suffered from the same space restrictions as other zoos, meaning that there were several of those moments of cringing next to an all-too-small enclosure, there were several areas where the occupants appeared to be catered well for, and in all, it did rate as one of the better zoos that I had been to for a while. I was disappointed that the giraffes were not on display as I had hoped to be able to hand-feed them, but I happily spent several hours walking round amongst the immense crowds in the immense heat, all the while getting a varying view out into the harbour, and back towards the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. In fact, it is often joked that the zoo is on prime real estate with regards to their harbour views. The one thing that made the whole entry price worth it though was the bird show. I sat down at the back of the mini-amphitheatre, looking across the harbour to the Opera House with no expectations, and was pleasantly taken aback by the antics of the birds and some rodents. The handlers deftly sent the birds flying through the gathered crowd to gasps amongst the audience, and I was outwardly grinning at the surprising display that the handlers had trained them for.


On yet another ferry from Circular Quay, I headed east to Watson’s Bay on the south shore. It was another blisteringly hot day, and after a delightful breakfast in a little cafe along from the ferry terminal, I headed across the isthmus to the eastern shore and the bluff that took the brunt of the Tasman Sea. I followed the clifftop south through Gap Park and Signal Hill before heading back, and cutting through another part of the Sydney Harbour National Park to Camp Cove. Camp Cove is a beautiful, though popular, stretch of beach, and there were plenty of people swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. I paused there for a while to rest my feet before following the tip of land round past a nudist beach to an old gunnery and lighthouse that used to protect the harbour entrance. It was quite windy here, being so exposed to the ocean as it was, so I didn’t hang around long before heading back to the ferry terminal.


Whilst the evenings at the Rocks had been spent enjoying the view from the rooftop, and enjoying the vibe round the waterfront, the area around the train station left a lot to be desired. It was a good hike south to a mall for some food each night, and the nearest cinema. The immediate area around the train and bus station was rather drab and devoid of anywhere decent to go. The cinema was rather poorly designed, with no tiers to the rows, meaning that anybody sitting in front of you blocked a large portion of the screen. Having sat through the direness of Kath & Kim-darella (where else would you watch an Australian-made film, but in Australia?), missing half the picture probably wouldn’t have been a bad thing.


Having climbed the Harbour Bridge the week before, I had received a voucher for reduced entry into the Pylon Lookout. One of the 4 pylons on the iconic bridge is open to the public as a museum to the construction of the bridge itself. At the top is a lookout offering a different perspective of the bridge itself and the busy road that passes across it. I can never get enough of the harbour vista, so for me it was another opportunity to get my camera and photograph the same things from a slightly different angle as before. By the late afternoon, I headed to the Westfield shopping mall to head up to the viewing tower. I hoped to get up to the top in time for the sunset, so I (among others), was monumentally pissed off to discover that we had to sit through a stupid 4D movie before being allowed up the tower. What was worse, only so many people could fit in the theatre at one time, which meant there was a queue for the pointless movie, and despite the pleas of another man near me in the queue, there was no skipping this section. He too was wanting to be at the top for sunset. To add insult, after standing through the movie, and getting wet, I slipped on the wet floor on my way out and landed hard on my butt. The usher saw me do it, but said nothing. He assumed that I was fine because I walked out, but I was irked by his lack of customer service. I was also rather peeved to get out of the lift at the top to be greeted by darkness. The sun had set, and there was very little light left in the sky. We had missed the sun setting. I hung around for a while, watching the city light up below me, but with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge hidden behind other buildings, I could have been anywhere.


My last day in Sydney was overcast, and gloomy. I took the ferry over to Luna Park which was closed, and headed along the harbour front round Lavender Bay and onto Berrys Bay. It was yet another alternate view of the city’s most famous landmarks, but I was really just killing time till my friend finished work. One of my university friends had moved to Sydney shortly after graduating, and this was going to be the first time I’d seen her in over 7 years. We had arranged to meet up to walk the Bondi to Coogee cliff top walk, but by the time I arrived at her local train station it was torrential rain. She took me on a road trip around the south harbour suburbs, including my first and only view of Bondi beach, albeit in the rain. It was fairly deserted, a far cry from all the photographs of crammed sands and surfers riding waves that adorn many holiday brochures and websites. I was impressed with the view from her apartment which looked back towards the Harbour Bridge, and she introduced me to some of the best ribs I have ever tasted. When her husband returned, we all headed out for dessert, and I was introduced to the world of Max Brenner. Max Brenner is a cafe-come-chocolatier who offers every possible chocolatey indulgence that you could think of. It is pure sickly sweetness in both liquid and solid form. I both loved it and felt sick with it at the same time.


After being driven back to my hostel, I said farewell to my friend, and settled in for my last night in New South Wales. The following day, I boarded an early train bound for Melbourne, eager to get there to see my partner who was flying in from Christchurch. I had a long 12hr train ride ahead of me, so I settled in for the long haul.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: