MistyNites

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Archive for the category “Travel”

Baywatch

When I was torn awake by my alarm, I was in two minds whether to get up or not. Staying in a hostel dorm there was almost an obligation to get up having probably woken my roommates up at the same time as myself. But when I’d made the decision the night before to get up early to hike back up Castle Hill at the back of Townsville at sunrise, I hadn’t given consideration for a wave of tiredness and laziness that swam over me at stupid o’clock in the morning. In the end, after some silent deliberation, I hauled myself up and took off towards the hiking trail. It certainly wasn’t a drive for exercise, merely a want to make up for the poor lighting of the night before, but as it transpired the rising sunlight created even more shadows than the falling sunlight had done the night before, and although there were plenty of people on the trail as well as me, it felt a little pointless. Nevertheless, it was a good wake-up for me.

 

After a quick shower and change, I made my way to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. This was one of my must-dos on my trip and it is a popular place to go amongst locals and tourists. I’d done a lot of reading about what to see and how to see it, and had a plan in place to optimise coverage. It was a smooth sailing across, watching Townsville grow smaller behind us. Sailing into the quaint harbour of Nelly Bay, I was quick to hop on the bus to head to Horseshoe Bay, the largest bay and settlement on the north side of the island. It was a surprisingly hilly drive through the bush to get there, but before long I found myself stepping out at a stunning expanse of beach with a little local market taking place. It was a Sunday morning and there were plenty of people milling about. I bought a locally handmade bag as I perused the stalls before cutting down to the sand and walking barefoot along it.

 

It was already very hot, and I was sweating early on as I ploughed the soft sand near the surf. A few other people were out doing the same thing, but the distant end of the beach was almost empty in comparison to the section near the village, and the sand quality changed as the bay curved, making it exceptionally hard work to get traction. It was tiring, and eventually I decided I had walked enough, turning back just shy of the boulders at the far end. In some places in the world, I get the sense of innocence, and either naively or rightly assume that the people there are honest. Knowing I would be doubling back, I had left my belongings some way back along the beach unattended, and they had thankfully been left untouched. Collecting them again, I headed into the village to get some supplies and some lunch. It was a little early to eat, but I was going to be away from the main settlements for some time, and I didn’t want to go hungry.

 

The east coast of Magnetic Island is littered with bays that are linked either by road or by walking track. Ever keen to get around on my own two feet, I planned on spending the rest of the day hiking down the coast back towards Nelly Bay. I had a bus ticket for sections if needed, but I was sure I’d make it back in time for the ferry on my own merit. Rejoining the beach at Horseshoe Bay, the eastern end of the beach had a sign pointing into the bush leading to both Balding Bay and Radical Bay. The shade of the bush was welcome, but I was dreaming about going snorkelling later in the day in one of the recommended snorkelling spots on the island. When the turn-off to Balding Bay came, I took it to pick my way through a mix of rocks and undergrowth, and was surprised to come across a sign stating it was a nudist beach. Undeterred, I kept going, committing to the long track down to the beach, and when I came out onto the sand, I was very glad I had. This relatively small bay was beautiful, quiet and the sea looked calm and inviting.

 

I was quick to spot that it was indeed a nudist beach. To my right I could see some naked people in the water, and a few others hiding out in the shade created by some boulders. They all looked to be in their 60s, but to my left there were a couple around my age who were unashamedly sunbathing in the nude. I’m not particularly prudish, but whilst I’ve skinny-dipped in the past, I’ve never openly partaken in nudism. I wasn’t the only one clothed, with a few others arriving after me that didn’t strip off. There really weren’t many people around, and after mulling it over, I decided that the temperature was too hot, and the water so inviting that a swim was on the cards. I had my swimming togs with me, but figured that as I was at a nudist beach, I might as well join in: when in Rome, and all that. So after stripping off, I strode into the water as confidently as I could. I don’t think there has ever been as perfect sea swimming conditions as there were in that bay. The temperature of the water couldn’t have been more perfect if it tried, the sea was calm, the waves not too large, and there was nothing in the water brushing against my skin to creep me out. It was bliss.

I could have happily stayed in that water all day were it not for the awareness that there was so much I wanted to see, and whilst I’d been in the water, more and more people had arrived at the beach, all of whom remained clothed. A group of young women in their early 20s sat near my stuff and I was acutely aware of the need to walk almost right up to them to get my clothes. I sat low in the water for a while, until I mustered up the confidence to strut naked back up the beach towards them. As I came out of the water, one of the older nudists made a beeline for me. I assume my decision to join in the nudist movement had drawn his attention to me, but suddenly sandwiched between an older naked man and a group of clothed younger women, I felt awkward and quickly started pulling my clothes on, still dripping wet. I think travelling is an extraordinary insight into different people’s lives and I’ve met all sorts of interesting and crazy people over the years. The exchange that took place between myself and the naked man was one of those bizarre situations that can only happen when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. His actions as we spoke made me rather uncomfortable at the time, but now it is one of those funny travel stories that are shared amongst friends.

It was time to move on, and after backtracking to the main trail I continued through the bush speckled with boulders to Radical Bay, an altogether busier beach due to having road access. There were many people swimming, but after the quiet of Balding Bay, I wasn’t fussed about spending much time here. Leading from the back of the bay, the access road cut through bush until a parking bay denoted the access to Florence Bay. This rather large bay meant that the people were spread out enough as to feel quiet and secluded. Families were snorkelling in the water at one end and I toyed with the idea of going in too. I’d read that the next bay round the coast was the best for snorkelling so despite the temptation to get back in the water here, I decided to hold off, instead sitting on the beach for a while enjoying the sunshine and the view.

 

From here, I had to continue on the road which was of a poor quality. It was interesting watching some of the people negotiate the deep ruts and potholes in their little hire cars as I trudged up the hill. The bus had had to climb over a ridge to reach Horseshoe Bay so I’d known a climb was inevitable but in the tropical heat I was conscious not to exert myself too much in case I induced heat stroke. At the brow of the hill though was a gorgeous view down over Arthur Bay. I was eager to get down to it and get in the water, and carefully picked my way down the guttered and potholed hillside. There were many people here, and I had to find a hidey hole to change into my togs before getting in the water.

 

With my snorkel gear, I stuck my head in the water and was quick to spot a weird looking creature in the water. I don’t know what it is called but I’ve seen them on a wildlife documentary before. I was sure they were harmless but the way they moved in the water creeped me out a little and I was quick to move away from it. A second one was spotted so still I moved on. All of a sudden I felt a stinging sensation on my elbow and I swung round in a panic. Although it was out of season, I’d been told so much about the venomous stingers that can be found in Queensland’s waters, and with the stinging sensation building up, I flung myself out of the water. I gave a warning to a woman swimming nearby and she commented that her partner had just been stung too. His leg had a large red mark on it and he asked me how concerned he should be. By now the sting had reached its peak, and although the sorest jellyfish sting I’d ever received, it wasn’t excruciating so I assumed we’d be okay. Just to be sure, I located a group of locals to confirm my conclusion. It was disappointing though, as having held out for this bay after reading about it, I now wished I’d spent more time swimming in any of the previous bays I’d been to.

 

The road eventually climbed back up hill to the main road that transects the island. Just a little from here was one of the main walks on the island which cuts across the hill top to the Forts, the remnants of World War II outposts and lookouts. It was later than I’d planned on being there, and most other people were on their way out. I passed under colourful rainbow lorikeets and with the help of others on the trail I spotted a mother and baby koala hanging out near the track. It was a little disappointing to see some tourists climbing into the trees to stick their camera close up to the baby. There was plenty of viewing points along the walk, and amongst the trees in places, signs noted historical sites of interest. A third koala was spotted further along, and finally at a peak, a circular track loops up and around to give a variety of viewing points over the island. In Queensland with no daylight savings, the sun sets early in the evening, so by now the shadows were growing long and the temperature was finally beginning to drop a little. I took my time wandering around the circuit before rejoining the main track to return to the main road. All 3 koalas had not budged and I stopped to look at them all again on the way back.

 

It was now very clear that there was no way I could walk back to Nelly Bay in time to catch the evening ferry. I decided to catch the bus down the hill to Geoffrey Bay where rock wallabies reportedly came out at sunset to graze on the grass. There was a little wait for the bus, and with the sun falling out of the sky fast, it was already well into dusk when I got off. The best rock wallaby viewing spot was down a road to nowhere, and conscious of the advancing time, I made the decision to forego it, and just follow the coast back to Nelly Bay. The place was deserted as I trudged the length of the beach. I would have liked to have seen it in the daytime, but there just wasn’t enough hours in the Queensland day to cover all of Magnetic Island. At the far end, a boardwalk led round the headland to Nelly Bay, and now in the pitch black, I became aware of fruit bats flying overhead.

Once in Nelly Bay, it was just a matter of grabbing some dinner. On route to a pizza house that was at the back of the village, I came across a couple of what I’m pretty sure were bustards. They are strange looking birds: their bodies the size of a cat, on long stilts and with evil-looking eyes and a sharp beak. They ran scared from me and I couldn’t get a photograph of them. I got my pizza to go and ate it back at the ferry terminal. It was eerie and quiet with no-one else around. Eventually in the darkness, the ferry’s lights appeared out of nowhere, growing larger as the ferry drew into the harbour. Suddenly a flurry of people emerged and we packed onto the boat ready to return to the mainland. Exhausted, I was grateful to sit down. Magnetic Island hadn’t disappointed and although I’d run out of time, I’d had a fabulous day.

 

Back in Townsville, I took a detour to get some much-needed ice cream. Even in the total darkness, there was still a good bit of warmth in the air. By the time I reached the hostel, my feet were terribly swollen. I was eager to sleep though as in my life there is no rest for the wicked. Never one for taking it easy on holiday, I had an early rise the next morning to catch the bus north. The Queensland adventure wasn’t over yet.

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Into the Tropics

It was by now a familiar route as the ferry left Airlie Beach behind and headed towards Hamilton Island, the main island in the Whitsundays archipelago. The sun was shining, the sky and sea were both a brilliant blue, and as with previous days, the humpback whales were around with two spotted on route. The Audi Hamilton Race Week was still in full swing so the marina was once again abuzz and full of racing yachts, as well as an inflatable Super Mario Bros icon and some people in fancy dress. My destination for the day was Whitehaven Beach, one of the regions most-photographed locations, a white sandy shore on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. After picking up more passengers, we set off again to sail through the passage between the two islands, passing one of the humpback whales again that appeared to be dozing on the surface.

 

The biggest of the island chain, Whitsunday Island is covered in a lot of bush, and it was a beautiful sail through the channel and round the headland. After a while, the distinctive white sandy stretch came into view and everyone on board started to pile up to take photos on approach. There was a mix of half-day trippers and full-day trippers on board, identified by a wristband and we were ferried on shore according to our groups. I was there for a full day and this included a couple of walks on the island, so we were divided up further to allow us to be ferried around the coastline as required. After being transferred to the beach and taking in the vista, I was in the first group to go to Hill Inlet, along the coast and around the headland.

 

Despite the clear skies over Whitehaven Beach, the clouds were more built up over the far end of Whitsunday Island so it was overcast when we went ashore. A walk through the bush brought us to a series of lookouts over the tidal sandbar that marks the northern end of Whitehaven beach. This was the much publicised view and even with the cloud cover it was beautiful. The sun broke through for brief moments though giving a mere hint of the brilliant blue water that the view is famous for. Unfortunately the lookouts were quite crowded as most people reached it as part of a group, and everyone was jostling to get the perfect photo. It is the one bugbear of modern travel, as it is often very difficult to escape the crowds these days.

 

We took the path down the opposite side of the headland to the sandbar where juvenile stingrays ploughed through the shallow water. Several people paddled around trying to follow them and a few of the fish were spotted going up a little river. It had completely clouded over by this point, and we only had a little bit of time to kill before we would be picked up and returned to the main beach. A large piece of driftwood was a good prop for photographs, but before long we were boarded back on a small transport boat. The sea was a little rougher under the cloud, and I had an awkward seat on the edge of the RIB meaning I had to hold on for dear life as we sped along the coast, lest I fall in. But the sun was still out at the other end of Whitehaven Beach where I had some free time to explore before the next scheduled walk.

 

Most of the visitors remained around the boat drop-off point, so after exploring around here and taking some photographs, I took myself away from the crowd and headed north. I’m a lover of peace and quiet so prefer to explore on my own and get away from the noise of other people. A recent cyclone had damaged the bush at the back of the beach and a tidal causeway had been created forming a sandbar within the stretch of beach. It was an easy paddle across to follow the sandbar to its end where I plonked myself down on the sand to eat my lunch. It was lovely and hot but the wind meant my lunch ended up being a little sandy. By the time I was ready to head back up the beach, I discovered that the tide had come in and the water that I had paddled across was now thigh-high and had to be waded through. As I was now wet anyway, I figured I might as well go for a swim, and spent half an hour swimming along the coastline before it was time for the next hike.

 

Hardly any of the people I had arrived with were interested in the hike, most people choosing to sunbathe on the beach, so there were just 6 of us that boarded the RIB boat to head round to Camp Beach. The route involved going through a tidal whirlpool zone and there was a good bit of waves to negotiate in such a little boat making for a very bouncy ride. The direction of the wind meant we were surged onto the beach at the end of it and got splashed. I loved this place, and probably preferred it to Whitehaven Beach simply because we were the only ones there. It was secluded, private and all ours. Walking along the beach gave us a good prospect across to Pentecost Island which was the inspiration for Kong Island in King Kong. Just back from the beach was a campsite hidden amongst the trees, and amusingly the camp toilet had no door meaning an alfresco toileting experience looking out onto the bush.

 

We were led on a guided bush walk which was to take us across the island back to Whitehaven Beach. We spotted some skinks and our guide described the many uses that the Aboriginal people have for the local flora and fauna. It amazes me the ingenuity and expanse of knowledge that the Indigenous people have for the land and its creatures. Their culture understands the ecology in a unique way that most Westerners can’t even comprehend. We came across a green ant nest and in a rather surreal experience, were encouraged to pick them up and lick their butts. It was a sentence I never imagined I would ever say or write but by letting the ants bite me and latch on (which was barely a prick in sensation), it was possible to hold the ants still and lick their green abdomens. Aside from the sharp tingle on the tongue, the taste was like limoncello, a zesty citrus taste that the Aboriginals make use of in their food.

 

By the time we made it back to Whitehaven Beach, the various set-ups were being packed up ready to return to the boat. Once more we were all ferried back on to the main boat to head back to Hamilton Island. There was just enough time to take in the white sandy beach before it disappeared around the headland as we headed back to Hamilton Island. Another humpback whale was spotted, this one slapping its pectoral fin on the surface as if waving at us. The sunset that accompanied our return to Airlie Beach was especially yellow, a beautiful end to my Whitsundays experience. Back at the hostel, dinner was accompanied by the tiniest little gecko about the size of my pinkie that sat on the underside of the bench as I ate. A couple of the guys from my K’Gari tour turned up in my hostel dorm and we had a catch up on each other’s respective trips since we’d last seen each other. As most backpackers were plying the same tourist route, it was not unsurprising to see some of the same faces at varying places.

 

I had an early rise to catch the bus north in the morning. I wasn’t feeling on top form when I awoke so was worried about the ride making me worse. I’ve suffered some horrendous food poisonings whilst abroad, including one which resulted in hospitalisation and several months of recovery, and can have a sensitive stomach at the best of times, so I’m wary of a repeat incident whilst travelling. Thankfully the feeling dissipated as time went on and I arrived in Townsville feeling better and ready to go. With the distinctive mound of Castle Hill behind it, I had a good feeling about the place as I got off the bus, but it was exceptionally hot. I was really getting into the tropics now and the temperature was reflecting it. My plan had been to hike up Castle Hill on arrival, when the sun would be above me, reducing shadows for taking photos at the summit, but the temperature gave me second thoughts and when the host at the hostel advised against it, I decided to explore the city at sea level first and leave the hike till the evening when the temperature would have dropped.

 

Townsville’s other great feature is the Strand, a long walkway along the coast with a vista towards Magnetic Island which sits off shore. There was plenty to look at with the marina, sculptures and a collection of beaches as I followed the esplanade towards Kissing Point, and the views inland to Castle Hill and outwards to the island were a constant companion. I had naively thought I could walk to the Conservation Park past Palleranda on the headland, but it turned out to be far too far away and I tend to limit myself to places I can walk to rather than having to get a lot of public transport. In the heat, Kissing Point was effort enough.

 

Being a Saturday, there were as many locals out as there were tourists, and an open-air swimming pool at Kissing Point was being well used. Up the hill here onto the mound was an old battery with the remains of war outposts and a cracking view inland and out to sea. Past the outline of the fort, the path headed back down the hill at the other side from where a boardwalk hugged the coastline round to the coastal entrance to the Aboriginal Botanical Trail, a sculpture trail that circled around a small hill. In the baking sun I admired both the sculptures and the view, whilst being conscious of the time, ever aware of the early Queensland sunset and my want to get up Castle Hill.

 

It felt like a long, although scenic, trudge back to my hostel to change into my hiking clothes. It is possible to drive up to the summit of Castle Hill, but with no transport I set off to the back of the city where the Goat Track picks its way up the slope. Although a little cooler, it was still fully exposed and it was an exhausting hike up in the heat. The trail had more locals on it than tourists, many of whom were jogging up it and putting my fitness to shame. As expected in the lowering sunlight, the long shadows that had formed meant the lighting for photography was not that great, and whilst the view was most definitely worth the effort, I would have preferred to have been up earlier in the day.

 

There were a variety of lookouts to choose from and between those that had walked or jogged up and those that had driven up, there were plenty of people around. From one aspect to the other, I meandered around to the western end where I sat down to watch the sunset. The early timing of the Queensland sunsets meant it was easy to be outdoors to watch it day after day. As daylight turned to dusk, I peeled myself away from the summit and headed back to the city. Round the corner from my hostel there was a neat little fish bar where I had some dinner accompanied by a busker who was pleasant to listen to. Once I was satiated, it was time to retire for the night as I had a long day of walking ahead of me the next day, with one of the area’s biggest draws calling my name.

Exploring the Whitsundays

It had been difficult to get comfortable enough to get much sleep on the 12hr bus ride north from Hervey Bay. I had planned a lot for my 5.5 week Australian adventure with the location for each night planned in advance. Originally I was supposed to be breaking up the journey with a day in Mackay to catch up with someone I knew, however when that fell through, I was left with a day to spare and a conundrum: go to Mackay anyway, or find a new destination. In the end, I cut my losses and opted to have an extra day in Airlie Beach by the Whitsundays. As the bus neared its destination, I knew I’d made the right choice. Airlie Beach was stunning and with the sun shining in a near-cloudless sky, it was the perfect weather too.

 

I was finally on a high after a fantastic day at sea the day before, and despite the lack of sleep, I took no time in checking in, freshening up and getting straight out again. I booked a day trip for the next day and bought myself a return ticket to Hamilton Island, one of the main islands in the Whitsundays archipelago. Sailing amongst the islands of the group was stunning and we passed two humpback whales. I was being spoilt with all the cetacean sightings I’d had by this point and there would be more to come. It turned out I’d arrived during the Audi Hamilton Race Week, a sailing event that drew crowds of sailors, their support crews and the corporate sponsors that came with them. There were are a lot of well dressed people milling around. But despite the heat, I was here to hike and explore the island. The main resorts are linked by a free shuttle bus and most people get themselves around on golfing buggies: they were everywhere. In fact the only cars appeared to be Audi vehicles, all plastered with advertisement for the race week.

 

Nipping first to the resort for a trail map, I then sweated my way up through the bush to Passage Point, passing some skinks and a legless lizard on route. Up on the ridge, the views to the neighbouring islands and over the coastline below were beautiful. Parts of the trail and bush were under maintenance and I wondered how the workmen could cope with the heat which was exceptionally hot that day. Ever aware of being in Australia, I kept a close eye out for snakes as I trudged through the bush to the lookout at the far end of Hamilton Island, but saw none. I had the place to myself for the most part and from here I could see over several of the nearby islands, and aside from the buzzing insects and the occasional sound of a nearby workman clearing away vegetation, it was still and peaceful. It was the perfect spot for some lunch and I was in no hurry to leave.

 

I took a detour on the way back to go to another lookout that overlooked the resort. It really was too hot to hike, and I’ve suffered mild heatstroke in the past from overexerting myself in a tropical climate, so I really shouldn’t have been out there, exposed on the ridge under the relentless sun. But I was intent on making the most of my time there and it was nice to look down on those below me, knowing that I was one of a mere handful of people that wasn’t in the resort right then. The thought of an iced coffee drew me back to society though and I headed first back to the resort, finding it crammed with socialites at a Heineken-sponsored pool party. Catching the bus back over the hill, I meandered around the waterfront, admiring the boats in the marina, sipping on a much anticipated cold drink.

 

The crowd for the return ferry was like a mob and it became obvious that there wasn’t space for everybody on board. We were divided between two different boats, but the one that I ended up on was too big to berth at Airlie Beach now that the tide was low. Halfway back to the mainland we had to do a boat to boat transfer whilst bobbing on the ocean. For me this was all part of the adventure, but I could see some others were a little less pleased about it. But as we got on our way in the second boat, the sun was setting and I indulged in what was becoming a regular occurrence, watching the sun lower and the sky change colour. I had little energy left by the end of the day, and settled on convenience food for dinner and flaking out at the hostel.

 

Thankfully I slept very well but had an early rise for that day’s excursion. My last day in the Whitsundays was to be spent on Whitehaven Beach, a much-photographed part of the region. This was supposed to include snorkelling but the tour company had emailed me a week prior to inform of a change to inclusion and this would no longer be part of the trip. With a spare day following Mackay not coming to fruition, and with a snorkelling deficit on my agenda, I had decided to take a day trip out to a floating pontoon that sits over a coral reef. The reef here belongs to the southern aspect of the Great Barrier Reef and this would be my first experience of the World’s most famous reef. I’d heard a lot about coral bleaching and ecosystem disruption so was intrigued to see what I’d find there.

The boat was packed and with the pontoon being far out past the outer reaches of the Whitsunday island chain, it was another beautiful sail through the archipelago on route. Unbelievably after such incredible sightings in Queensland so far, we saw 13 humpback whales on route to the pontoon. This was truly turning out to be the most successful cetacean spotting holiday I’d ever had. Not only that, but one of the whales breached repeatedly for us, giving us a display and then without warning it appeared right beside the boat and launched itself out of the water, breaching right next to us. The boat was so packed that everyone was jostling for a viewing point, and I nearly missed it, turning round just as it was halfway out of the water and catching the splash and the excitement from those that had witnessed it. It was shaping up to be another incredible day.

 

Eventually though, with the islands disappearing behind us, and with the sea being calm ahead of us, the pontoon became visible and the reef was evident below the surface as we pulled up and berthed next to it. Although it wasn’t the season for them, we were advised to don stinger suits before getting in the water. Snorkelling for me is a mental challenge. I have a fear of drowning and whilst I’m more than happy swimming in a pool, my fear is at its height in the open water. A couple of years ago I had a panic attack snorkelling in the Pacific Ocean whilst in the Galapagos Islands, and although I’m always eager to snorkel to see the wildlife, there is always a varying degree of trepidation when I get into the ocean. But not only was the sea exceptionally calm, the reef was not far from the entry point and I never really felt threatened in the water or uneasy. In fact I was so comfortable, I had a boat chase after me to tell me I’d swum too far away and had to turn back.

 

Surprisingly, the water out here was relatively cold and after an hour of snorkelling I was feeling it. There were plenty of fish around with a steep drop-off at the edge of the reef drawing large and small fish alike. A giant wrasse was hanging around and inquisitive, a trait that is common in this species, and the in-water photographer was giving me commands that I couldn’t understand when one came near, resulting in me looking a little idiotic. But I didn’t care because it was the closest I’d ever been to such a big fish. What was extensively apparent however, was the widespread coral bleaching. I had heard it was bad, but this was a reef that seemed in a poor state of health. The seabed was littered with white and decapitated coral and it was evident throughout the full length of the reef as far as I could see.

 

Following a much-needed lunch enjoyed basking in the sunshine on deck, I headed back into the water for another hour long snorkel. There was plenty of fish activity no matter where I looked and I was even able to find some ‘Nemos’ or clown fish which I hovered above and watched for a while. Again I grew cold, and although it had been the easiest and most relaxed snorkelling trip I’d ever experienced, the temperature and the expansive bleaching made me feel a tinge of disappointment. But after coming out the water, the most incredible thing occurred. I remember watching the movie The Life of Pi in which there is a scene when the main character is floating on the ocean and the sea is so calm it’s like glass. I’ve always believed such a thing impossible, but after drying off and changing out of my clothes, I looked out at the ocean and was astounded to see the sea was so incredibly calm as to look like a glass surface, and with an unusual haze on the horizon it was almost impossible to tell where the sea stopped and the sky began, the two appearing as one. I have never before seen such a phenomenon and I couldn’t stop looking at it. Unfortunately the effect was such that my camera wouldn’t focus properly to take a photo of it, and even when it did, it didn’t represent the effect that the my eyes saw. The vision more than made up for any disappointment I might have felt about the coral.

 

After many hours bobbing around on the ocean, it was time to head back to the mainland. The glass-like surface made for as beautiful a return sailing as the outward trip had been. The whole Whitsundays experience was turning out to be one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. It is a part of the world that I never really thought much about visiting, and here I was feeling like it was the most beautiful place in the world. We even came across another humpback whale on the way back as we negotiated the passages between the various islands. Stopping first at Hamilton Island to drop people off, we continued on to Airlie Beach, where once again the sun was dipping towards the horizon as we sailed. I couldn’t get enough of the sunsets in Queensland and was happy to watch them day after day after day. The fresh air was certainly helping me sleep too, which was just as well with another day in the islands ahead of me.

Finding Happiness in Hervey Bay

For many months now, I have been struggling with the symptoms of, and consequences of, poor mental health. Robbing me of energy, enthusiasm and enjoyment for things that I normally love (including writing this blog), I hadn’t realised how much it was affecting me until this day, nearly 2 weeks in to my 5.5 week Australian adventure. I hadn’t felt my usual flutter of excitement at the airport, and although I had enjoyed many things on the trip so far, my heart wasn’t in it. I’ve loved travelling and exploring new places my whole life, and despite doing just that, something wasn’t right. I’d woken up in a slight grump after a poor night’s sleep thanks to some rude roommates, and an early rise. Downstairs at the front door, I waited and waited for my pick-up that started to look like it wouldn’t arrive. The receptionist was on the cusp of phoning them when they finally turned up, whisking me off the pavement, and moving on swiftly to pick up some others. In no time at all, I was at the marina, waiting to board the Blue Dolphin boat for a day at sea.

After safety briefings and introductions, we didn’t have to wait long to be on our way, and in no time at all, the pace was set for what turned out to be one of the most amazing days of my whole trip. Aside from travelling, I have a couple of other great loves, one of which is spotting cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in the wild. No matter where I go or how budget my trip is, if it is an option at that destination, I will make sure that I can do it. We were barely out of the marina when we spotted our first humpback whale, an unusual occurrence according to our skipper. We watched it briefly before heading off away from the coast, coming across first a couple of bottlenose dolphins but later a solitary dolphin. Then, as we sailed further and further across the large expanse of the bay between Hervey Bay and the tip of K’Gari (Fraser Island), we came across more and more humpback whales.

 

Viewed from a distance and then closer up, over the course of the next few hours we spied 15 humpback whales in various groups. Some of these may have been the same whale moving around below the surface but the sightings just kept coming and coming. At some point the realisation came over me that I was immensely happy, a feeling that had been lacking for the first 10 days of my Australian trip. After the initial sightings at a distance, we had several whales, including juveniles, come right up to the boat and interact with us. I stood up on the highest point of the boat that I could get to initially, before I found myself moving round and round as the whales circled us. They would swim round us and below us, constantly hiding and then showing themselves as we eagerly stood on watch.

 

When one mother and calf got bored with us, it wasn’t too difficult to find more that wanted to interact. We even ended up witnessing what looked like a mating attempt with a group of 5 whales getting into some sort of underwater skirmish that resulted in a lot of bubbles being blown to the surface. It was really hard to tear myself away from the constant whale activity to eat lunch, and even when I emerged from the cabin with a full stomach, I realised that there had been yet another whale swimming around the boat the whole time. I’ve been whale watching many times, including being lucky enough to see humpback whales in the waters off 5 different countries, but I’d never before had such an amazing experience with so many whales. I couldn’t believe what a day I was having.

 

But as if it couldn’t get any better, it did. I’d noted one of the crew sitting on a step-down at the back of the boat whilst we were being circled by a mum and calf. I joined her for a near-surface view of the interaction and then she swapped places with me and I was able to squat down on the lowest part of the boat, within touching distance of the water lapping at the stern. Whereas the main deck area provided enough height to see the whales as they passed right at the surface, as well as just below, whenever the whales swam round the back of the boat, they would surface directly in front of me, and I was able to stick my arm under the water and film them as they swam past. It was the most magical experience I think I’ve ever had with wildlife and I was ecstatic. My holiday mojo was back, and the trip couldn’t have gone any better. With the sun beaming overhead, and the water amazingly calm and glistening on such a warm day, I had a strong urge to jump in the water. Only common sense stopped me, but when they were swimming right underneath me, it was sorely tempting.

 

Eventually though, we had to leave the whales behind, but we’d travelled far enough to make the return sailing a relaxing chance to sunbathe. The tide had dropped, revealing large sandbars that we’d sailed over earlier in the day, and we hugged part of K’Gari’s sandy coastline on route back to Hervey Bay. I was still on cloud 9 when we arrived back into the marina, by now mid-afternoon. I couldn’t thank the crew enough for the trip, and I stayed at the marina for a while afterwards, letting the memories absorb whilst I mulled over an iced coffee. Foregoing the ride back to my hostel, I decided to use the remaining hours of daylight to walk back along the coast.

 

It was a short walk to reach the far end of the long stretch of beach that spans the length of Hervey Bay’s coastline. With the tide out and the coastal shelf flat, there was a wide expanse of sand exposed to walk upon, and I was quick to leave the streets behind and get down onto the sand. One of the distinctive features here was the extensive length of the Urangan Pier, 868 metres (2848ft) long sticking far out into the sea. Near its base, the water lapped at the struts in places and pelicans sat near the shoreline. It was a lengthy walk out to its end, with locals fishing off it in places. This attracted more pelicans and other seabirds, and there was plenty of activity surrounding them as they waited for a bite.

 

With the early sunset in Queensland, the light was already dropping down to create a long shadow as I headed back along the pier to the shoreline. I had planned on walking a good chunk of Hervey Bay’s beachfront, but with the lowering light it soon became clear that this just wasn’t achievable. I stuck to the promenade, walking under trees filled with talkative rainbow lorikeets, and followed the setting sun as the sky turned through shades of red. It was dark by the time I reached my hostel, having stopped for some pizza on the way back. There were a few others milling around the reception area with the same intentions as me. I had been planning on heading north to Mackay on the overnight bus, to spend 24hrs there to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen for 5 years, but after it fell through I was left at short notice with a day at hand. After mulling over options, I decided to take an arduous 12 hour bus journey to Airlie Beach. It was a busy bus of backpackers that set off late at night into the darkness. Like on planes, I struggle to sleep on moving vehicles, even although I had a double seat to try and stretch out. Dozing on and off whilst listening to music, the hours ticked by, and before I knew it, the sunlight crept back onto the horizon, and another glorious day in Queensland beckoned…

K’Gari

I was a little caught out with how cold it was. I had packed an overnight bag the day before and stored the bulk of my belongings at the hostel in Hervey Bay which I would return to after my two day excursion. After all the heat of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast I hadn’t given any thought to my choice of clothing only to find myself waiting for the ferry to K’Gari, or Fraser Island as it is more commonly known, and feeling the goose bumps threaten. It was early morning and the low sun was failing to provide much warmth. I always endeavour to spend ferry crossings out on deck to view the passing scenery but with the biting cross wind as we sailed the channel from the Queensland mainland out to the island, I was forced to hunker down and shelter in the least draughty spot I could find.

 

There was a lot of back burning going on during my Queensland visit, a precautionary burn of dry vegetation to limit the fuel for wildfires during the hot dry summers, and it meant there was a permanent discoloured haze on the horizon. As we drew closer to Fraser Island it was clear that even it was burning to the south but we were heading to the pier at the main resort halfway up the western coast of the island. Disembarking onto the pier there was a mix of people going to work, day trippers and those of us staying a little longer. I had booked a 2 day/1 night tour and clambered aboard the large-wheeled bus that was to be my transport for my stay.

 

In New Zealand where I live there is a progressive move to recognise and reestablish Maori land ownership and culture. Whilst there are no indigenous people, the Polynesian explorers that settled there long pre-date the European explorers that followed and subsequently ousted and conquered. Now though, Maori names and words are in common usage and the language is ever present. In Australia, a land with indigenous people that have lived there for tens of thousands of years before European colonisation, the culture and languages have been suppressed and degraded over time. Like in New Zealand though, there are recent moves to repair the damage, and whilst there is a long road ahead, it was interesting to see that Fraser Island, one of Queensland’s popular tourist spots, had recently been officially recognised by its indigenous name K’Gari and our guide explained that like Ayers Rock returning to the name of Uluru, the island will now be referred to as K’Gari first and Fraser Island second. Judging by the amount of confused faces by both Australians and foreigners when I say Uluru, outside and inside recognition of the name changes will take some time. I guess the journey of a thousand miles is made up with single steps.

K’Gari is one part of Australia where dingo spotting can be successful, apart from the time of year when I was there. Our resort was fenced off to keep the dingoes out and we had to pass through a gate each time we entered or left an island settlement. I spent two days ever hopeful of seeing one, but never doing so. But each day on passing through the gate at the resort, we hit the sand that the island is so famous for and the drive itself was an adventure. The largest sand island in the world has no roads outside of the resorts, only sandy tracks through the trees that need a good set of wheels and an equally good driver. The buses we travelled in were converted especially for this island with giant dune wheels. It was bumpy but fun and I would not have wanted to be in some of the privately owned jeeps that people had brought over from the mainland. The first stretch outside the resort was known as the rollercoaster and at full pelt down the bumpy steep incline I wore a big grin on my face.

After innumerable turns with little signage for navigation, we stopped in the middle of the bush to go for a walk. Our guide pointed out all the trapdoor spider holes and I was the only person in jandals (flip flops) and again I silently cursed leaving most of my belongings behind. Nevertheless, I powered on through the bush till we came out at small Basin Lake, and after that we went deeper into the bush on a long and meandering nature walk. Our guide had left us to take the bus to the pick up spot so the group gradually spread out, not yet forging much conversation with each other yet and I admired the vegetation in silence, trying to spot any wildlife that might be about, but not seeing much. Eventually we caught up with our guide and made it out to a campsite where a delicious lunch was waiting for us. Finally, the group started to chat together, and I was sat next to two English lads who were on an extended overseas break. Without knowing it at the time, I would bump into them again later in my Queensland travels.

 

Another bumpy drive along the sand roads took us to Lake McKenzie, one of K’Gari’s famous sights. It is famous for its pure white silica beaches and on a sunny day both the sand and the water glistened. It was beautiful. Whilst most of my group hung out on the beach, I got out into the water which was strangely difficult to swim in but was the perfect temperature. We spent the rest of the afternoon here and I mulled around in the water and out, exploring the contours of the shore and spotting a bird of prey up above. I could see why this place was so popular, and indeed there were plenty of people there, but it was actually really easy to feel like you had your own little spot of paradise.

 

We returned to Kingfisher Bay resort to watch the sunset. On the west coast of K’Gari, we could see the sun lower over the Australian mainland, and it was a cool and still evening. A little cold, it didn’t detract from the vision of the golden colours dulling into the night. Our spot was next to the pier so the evening ferry was leaving for River Head. Queensland gets dark around 6pm year round give or take a slight variation, and it meant a long cool evening where I felt inadequately dressed. After all the heat of the trip so far, I had left the bulk of my clothes at Hervey Bay. Still, I was able to enjoy an outdoor banquet without getting too chilled, ahead of the second day of the K’Gari tour.

 

It was overcast on the second day as we trundled and bounced out of the resort, down the rollercoaster and across to the east coast of the island to drive 75-mile beach. Like a few days prior on the mainland, this was an awesome beach drive despite the cloud cover. Our first stop was the ship wreck of the SS Maheno. Built in my home country of Scotland, she was used as a cruise ship between Australia and New Zealand, before being converted to a hospital ship in WW1. After years of military service, she was returned to commercial service before beaching in 1935 at her final resting place whilst in tow on route to Japan. A photograph on the Wikipedia site from when she was freshly beached, shows a beautiful vessel that would have been interesting to see in this condition. Now, just a rusted hulk remains, but even this is beautiful in a haunting manner. I love old wrecks, but the tide was swirling around her hull, meaning any close inspection meant wet feet.

 

A further drive along the beach brought us to the Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs produced by mineral leeching and erosion. Parked up nearby was one of a few planes who were using the same stretch of beach as a runway. Eventually, at the far end of the beach, we cut across a small headland to reach Champagne Pools, the only safe swimming spot on this side of the island. A boardwalk led down to them but unlike Lake McKenzie the day before, they did not entice me to get into the water. Instead I went exploring the rock pools, finding crabs and snails within the shallows.

 

I took my time heading to our lunch rendezvous, ever gazing out to sea in search of whales, and sure enough, out in the distance, I spotted a couple of humpback whales. After a delicious lunch, we took the walking track up Indian Head, a small outcrop of raised land. It was a beautiful lookout spot over the beaches either side, and from here we spotted 6 humpback whales in the far distance. Back down the beach, we popped in to Cathedral Beach Campsite as a facilities stop, but outside the toilet block was an impressive-sized Golden Orb spider, both the larger female and the smaller male. Australia has a phenomenal reputation for its venomous and deadly critters, and an impressive number of both spider and snake species. The general rule in the spider world, is that the bigger the spider, the less likely it is to be venomous, so these large spiders were no concern to get up close and personal with.

 

The afternoon was spent at Eli Creek, a softly flowing stream through the bush. We were provided with inflatable rubber rings which made for a very pleasant float downstream from the end of a walkway, out to the estuary where it curls round to meet the sea. I spend a lot of my holidays trying to pack as much in as possible, and don’t often stand still, but every now and again I allow myself that lazy chill time, and tubing downstream gave me that. I floated down the river 3 times before taking a brief wander around the nearby area. On route back to the resort, we stopped at a lookout over one of the island’s sandbars.

 

I was catching the night ferry back to the mainland, giving me time to sit by the pier and watch another beautiful sunset. I wandered along the waterfront as the sun lowered, looking out for dingoes, but still seeing none. After darkness fell, I wandered around the resort, heading first to the large impressive reception of the main resort centre, and the nearby shop before making use of the free resort shuttle to head up the steep hill to where my backpacker wing had been. After another outdoor dinner banquet, the time eventually came to catch the bus back down to the pier and board the ferry. Now in complete darkness, I hunkered down against the cold once more, and by the time I was dropped back at the hostel in Hervey Bay, it was late. I ended up in the same room I’d been in last time, and tried my hardest to be quiet so as not to wake the two other people. Unfortunately, hostels, and also their residents, can be a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve met some interesting and fun people in hostels, but I’ve also shared rooms with many anti-social or downright rude people over the years. At 1.30am, I was awoken by my two roommates having a communal trip to the bathroom followed by a conversation at full volume in German. I assumed they were checking out early, but after about 10 minutes of chatter, they then went back to bed. I did at least catch a bit more sleep, but I had an early rise at 5.30am for another day of adventuring…

Coastal Explorations

When you grow up watching Home & Away, Australia’s soap based around a beach-side town, it paints a picture of the stereotypical Aussie beach goer that is hard to shake even as an adult exploring the real world. Here in Queensland, there were plenty of examples of the bronze-skinned bods with sun-bleached blonde hair to keep the stereotype alive, and I was silently amused when our ride for the morning turned up with a guide looking like one of them. Full of animated chat and with a driving style to match, we were whisked off for our morning tour, heading up the river to Tewantin and beyond to where a cable-driven ferry crosses the Noosa river to the Noosa north shore. It was a short and smooth ride and then it was just a matter of driving across the forested land to reach the access point for Teewah beach.

Spanning 2500km (1553 miles), the coast of Queensland is staggeringly beautiful and there is plenty of choice when it comes to exploring it. Here on the eastern aspect of the Great Sandy National Park, we drove up the 51km (31 mile) expanse of the beach, the ocean sparkling to our right under the orb of the rising sun. It’s not often you get to drive directly on sand, and this was the most epic of beach drives I’ve ever done. The views were incredible, both out to sea and the dunes also, but being in August, we were following the coast during the migration of the humpback whales, my absolute favourite cetacean. I’ve been lucky to spot this species in 5 different countries around the world. They are playful and inquisitive, and always a joy to spot. I knew they would be around but wasn’t thinking anything of spotting them, knowing that in a few days time I was to be going on a whale watching excursion off Hervey Bay to the north. So it was amusing that within minutes of our guide telling us to keep an eye out for them, I spotted the distinctive spout that signalled a whale surfacing to breathe. A mother and calf were heading south very close to shore and we pulled up to watch them for a while. In either direction, the beach disappeared into the distance and surprisingly the beach had a lot of vehicle traffic. Aside from organised tours, it is possible to drive on the beach in a private vehicle provided you pay a fee, and there were plenty of people making use of this allowance.

 

We spotted another pair of humpback whales further up the beach and beyond that a solo whale too, all before we made it to the turnoff near Double Island Point on the spit. It was a bumpy ride across to the bay on the other side of the point, and in front of us, the sand again arced away into the distance. A little along the coast lies the settlement of Rainbow Beach, and we met up with those people who were joining the tour from there underneath the vibrant Rainbow Bluffs. After a photo stop, we convoyed back to Double Island Point where our kayaks were unloaded and we kitted up for a morning on the ocean. I’ve kayaked several times now, both on the ocean and on lakes, and although I always enjoy it, my indwelling fear of drowning always leaves me with a sense of nervous anticipation both before and during the trips. The wind direction meant the sea was relatively calm, and we were quick to get out of the bay and follow the headland.

 

Marketed as a dolphin-watching kayak, we certainly saw some dolphins, but only a small number on two occasions, and both times, they kept their distance and didn’t interact. Like on commercial whale and dolphin watching excursions, we weren’t permitted to follow them, and just sat bobbing on the water’s surface as they passed us by from afar. Continuing along the coast, we kept our eye out for humpback whales. I’ve seen plenty of videos of these 40-ton creatures breaching near kayaks, and I was torn between the desire to see it with my own eyes, and fear of the event causing us to capsize. Despite our luck at spotting them on the drive up the beach, they eluded us the whole time we were on the sea. What we did see was a large manta ray which was unexpected. I saw several of these in the Pacific Ocean around the Galapagos Islands a couple of years ago, including seeing them come flying out of the ocean in a breach-style behaviour. I was excited to see one again, not realising that they inhabited the waters here.

 

On the clifftop above us was the Double Island Point lighthouse, where several people stood at the lookout watching us as well as out to sea for signs of whale activity. By the time we were heading back, there was a bit of chop on the surface and the waves that resulted made it harder to get back round the headland and onto the beach. The water was so inviting though that I wasted no time in heading back in for a swim before it was time to jump back in the van. A little away from our kayak spot we stopped at an inconspicuous patch of beach that on closer inspection was teeming with crabs. The soldier crabs were a mix of blue and yellow, and in spite of myself I offered out my hands to hold some when our guide scooped them up for us to have a closer look. Although 2 legs short of an arachnid, I love to admire crabs but their sideways scuttle and waving pincers has always unnerved me enough to not want to touch them. But these guys had relatively small pincers and they were amusing to watch and felt ticklish in my hands.

 

Back in the van once more, we cut across the dunes to reach Teewah beach once more and immediately after hitting the beach we spotted two more humpback whales and without knowing it at the time, this was the first day of what would turn out to be an incredibly successful spotting season for me. I enjoyed the long drive back down the gorgeous beach just as much as I had the drive north, and was sad to leave it behind when the access point appeared in the dunes to return to civilisation. There was only a short wait for the cable-driven ferry back to Tewantin and in the early afternoon we were dropped off back at Noosa Heads. It was a hot and sunny day, and my partner was not in the mood to do much more, whereas I was keen to continue to explore. Our apartment was not only just a street away from the beach but just a few doors down from us was a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream outlet and it was the perfect accompaniment to a walk along the coast.

Crossing the main road to Noosa Main beach, a pathway follows the coastline to the headland to the east which, once away from the houses, is deemed as Noosa National Park. It was an exceptionally busy trail and the car park at the entrance to the National Park was also full. But it wasn’t hard to spot wildlife even with the heavy foot traffic. A monitor lizard or goanna was rustling around in the undergrowth nearby and after noticing a few people craning their necks upwards, I spotted a koala in a large eucalypt tree near the park entrance.

 

From here the coastal track had a nearly constant sea view and although undulating, was an easy grade of walk to do, although the heat and the strength of the sun meant I was regularly in need of both water and a top up of sunscreen. With a plethora of bays and beaches to choose from, many people on the track were coming back from their sunbathing or swimming spots, whereas I was forever scanning between the sea in search of whales, and the treetops in search of koalas. There was enough bird life flitting amongst the trees and stunning vistas at every turn to make up for the lack of spotting either. I even spotted some bird species that I’d never seen before.

 

From Boiling Point Lookout to Dolphin Lookout and beyond to Fairy Pools, I finally found myself at Hell’s Gate, the eastern-most point of the headland. Here a gorge within the cliff created a swirling rage of waves that smashed off the rocks, and the path turned south towards Alexandria Bay. Up on top of the cliffs, the sun was noticeably lowering, with shadows starting to stretch across the headland. Above me I spied a sea eagle, and below me I spotted some dolphins in the distance. Assuming they were the commonly spotted bottlenosed variety, it wasn’t until later when I looked at my photographs that I realised that they were in fact humpback dolphins, a lesser-spotted and shy species that I haven’t seen since I volunteered in South Africa 12 years ago. I spent quite some time at Hell’s Gate enjoying the fresh air and surveying the sea and sky for life.

 

By the time I reached the sand of Alexandria bay it was nearly completely in shadow. My partner was going to be picking me up from the end of the trail at Sunshine beach, and with the daylight starting to fade, I was quick to walk the length of the beach and rejoin the trail at the far end. It climbed back up onto the cliff tops and was in deeper vegetation than before until finally the expanse of Sunshine beach came into view. On the eastern side of the hill from Noosa, it was in shadow, but I noticed out to sea a lone humpback whale repeatedly breaching. There were some steep steps to negotiate to reach sea level once more and I struggled along the sand searching for the exit point that I needed to meet my partner at our arranged spot. We ate out in Sunshine Beach at a restaurant owned by a previous Masterchef Australia contestant before returning to Noosa for more ice cream.

 

On my last morning in Noosa, we headed over to Sunshine beach for breakfast. I was still feeling the effects from all the overindulging I’d been doing since arriving in Australia, so it didn’t take much to fill me up. With the benefit of a rental car, we took a drive south through the various seaside settlements until the road cut away from the coast. It was yet another sunny day and once more the sea sparkled. This was to be the day that my partner and I separated. He was going to be staying in Noosa for a few more days before returning to the Gold Coast and then home whereas I had another 4 weeks of Australian adventure ahead of me.

 

Back in Noosa, we both followed the coast track to Dolphin Lookout where again the route was busy with people. This time we spotted a kookaburra in the tree, a bird that I love to listen to. I remember as a youngster in the Brownies, a younger version of the Girl Guides, singing a song about a kookaburra, not really knowing what it was never mind being aware that I would one day see them for myself. It’s funny how life turns out. Even having walked the path just the day before, it was still an enjoyable walk again, but with the clock ticking down, we went for one last meal together at the Noosa Surf Life Saving club. Finally though it was time to head to the bus station and begin my Greyhound adventure. A regular solo traveller, I was sad to lose the company of my partner though, but once the bus headed out of the station, I plugged my headphones in and gave way to the soundtrack on my phone.

 

As the crow flies, Hervey Bay is actually not that far away, and by car I could have reached there in about 2.5hrs. Frustratingly, though understandably, the Greyhound bus winds its way between local settlements and as the bus driver has to have statutory breaks, it was a rather arduous drive of nearly 5hrs. On route, we stopped at a service station with a giant kangaroo statue from the Olympic Games, passed several bush fires that had been lit as a controlled burn ahead of the dry season, and as the sun set I spotted some kangaroos at the side of the road. We pulled into Hervey Bay in complete darkness, and I was the last person to get off at the final stop in the Torquay end of town. I walked up and down the street of my hostel confused. Even with the benefit of Google maps I couldn’t find my hostel and had to flag down a local for some help. It turned out the place I was staying had changed names so my booking paperwork had the right address but the wrong building name, something I found a little irksome when I was tired and wandering around in the dark. I was equally annoyed to find out there was little in the way of somewhere to eat. Being a Saturday night, the local pub was more fired up for drinking and did not look enticing and after wandering the neighbouring streets, I was left with the slim pickings that the petrol station offered. First impressions were not that great, but I had an early rise to head off the next morning. Hervey Bay would have to win me over another time, as the famous Fraser Island was next in my sights.

North to Noosa

Despite being 17 years since I left high school behind, I’ve discovered an interest in a subject that I hated at school. It may have something to do with the country I live in or just coincidental but I’m quite fascinated now by geology and how landscapes came to be. The distinctive Glass House Mountains in Queensland, Australia are a collection of domes left behind from previous volcanic activity in the region. I’d spotted them on the drive to Australia Zoo back in 2014 and this time I’d managed to convince my partner to take a detour on our drive north to Noosa. We didn’t really have a plan and weren’t sure what to expect so just followed some tourist signs. The first one we came across we had to off-road it to get to a small car park below a summit walk but my partner didn’t want to hike in the heat so we turned back. Looping round in a circle, we headed up another one which could be driven all the way to a viewing spot at the top.

It was a busy car park when we arrived and we had little time before a few coaches of Japanese tourists arrived and the place became overrun with people. It was a nice view though overlooking the surrounding bush with several of the Glass House mountains visible. We’d spotted a cafe on the drive up and were lucky to get a table on the drive back down as it too was a busy little spot with a beautiful view from their decking. As a trade off for not going to Australia Zoo, we stopped at the local kart racing track for my partner to beat me once again. I was never the best at kart racing anyway but following wrist, back and shoulder injuries I’m even more cautious in them than before. It always takes the alloted race time to get the feel of the track, such that I’m just getting into it when I get called off. Needless to say, I have a 100% record of defeat on the kart track: a record that I don’t think will ever change. If nothing else, I just end up being another obstacle for the better racers to negotiate.

 

Noosa in the Sunshine Coast is a special place for my partner, somewhere he could happily return to time and time again. When we visited in 2014, we experienced the most amazing thunder & lightening storm I have ever seen. Although popular and packed like it’s Gold Coast cousins, it has a totally different vibe to the likes of Surfers Paradise and it’s one of the few busy places I don’t mind. Many places have been ruined by their own popularity but Noosa is not quite there yet. Made up of the collective zones of Noosa Heads, Noosaville, and Noosa North Shore, Noosa is a mix of beach, sea, river and estuary. We were staying in an apartment just 1 street away from the beachfront of Noosa Heads, right by the main street and it was huge. It was also very convenient for one of our favourite hangouts, the very popular Noosa Heads Surf Life Saving Club which overlooks Noosa Main Beach. Aside from providing the obvious life saving services, many of Queensland’s surf clubs also provide eating and drinking hubs and Noosa Head’s club has a great reputation. At peak times, table and bar space is in short supply, but we managed to get a spot to enjoy an evening drink and dinner before wandering along the main street, picking up dessert along the way.

 

Whilst my partner was going to be hanging out in Noosa for several days, I only had 2 full days there before we were parting company. My partner had been keen to take me on an excursion to the Noosa everglades, one of only two everglades in the world (the other being the more famous Florida everglades), so we booked on to a day tour from Noosa Heads. We were both up early due to still being on New Zealand time, so we made the most of the morning light by taking a walk along the beachfront and into the Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve. Just like on our last visit, there was a beautifully crafted sandcastle on the beach, and at the spit, the rays of morning sun streaked across the sandbar.

 

We were picked up by the tour company and driven to the pier up the Noosa river where we were to set off on our trip. Even in August, it was a busy time of year and two packed boats set off together. The Noosa river is well utilised and busy, but even with the heavy traffic, there was also plenty of bird life to see. Initially, it was mainly pelicans and seagulls, but as we left the waterfront villas behind and rounded a few bends of the river, past the pleasure boats and sails, there was a plethora of diving birds, spoonbills, brahminy kites and even an osprey to spot. The river side was an entanglement of mangroves, towered over by a forest of tall, spindly trees behind them.

 

The river opened up into a large yet shallow lake that we ploughed across before re-entering the narrower river channel. Now it felt like we were away from civilisation, the trees packed deep either side of the river, and after crossing the massive expanse of Lake Cootharaba (Queensland’s largest lake), stopping at a campsite to stretch our legs and have a snack, we finally entered the Everglades proper. Here the water changed from the green-blue seawater to the brown tannin-stained fresh water, and there was a noticeable reduction in bird life. There were many people out kayaking but the bush remained thick giving the impression of being far away from everything.

 

The further up river we travelled, the more reflective the water became and as we snaked through the waterway, the reflection of fallen trees cast a magical sight. Eventually we moored at the pier near Harry’s Hut and we were left to wander around whilst our inclusive lunch BBQ was prepared. We didn’t need to wander far to find one of Australia’s large lizards, the goanna or monitor lizard as there were 3 lace monitors (Australia’s 2nd largest lizard) hanging around the picnic area. They drew a lot of attention but also came with a warning as bites from them have occurred which can be quite nasty.

 

After a delicious lunch and more goanna watching, it was time to return to Noosa but the view on the way back was just as beautiful. Again the mirror effect on the upper river system was mesmerising, and once more as we returned to the sea within Lake Cootharaba, the bird sightings started to increase again. We saw as much, if not more birds on the way back as we did on the way up. It was a beautifully cloudless day, and there was much to look at. Returning to the lower river and back in civilisation, the river was still a hive of activity. I love to see young people learning to sail as a normal part of growing up. Growing up myself in suburban Glasgow in Scotland, we got little water exposure and as such I don’t have much confidence in the sea. As with New Zealand, many Australian children spend their childhood swimming or boating on the coast, and as such there is a noticeable difference in water confidence and I find myself jealous of their upbringing.

 

When we moored up, somebody noticed some stingrays in the water and as it was quite shallow it was easy to spot them even with their camouflage against the sandy backdrop. After being driven back to Noosa Heads, I headed out to wander along the beach as the sun set. It gets dark early in Queensland, the sun dipping below the horizon around 6pm give or take, so the sky was turning red as I meandered along the waterfront. By now the sky was full of clouds, so the red glow in the clouds reflected on the moist beach where the waves retreated. Eventually as darkness fell, I joined my partner at the Surf Life Savers Club for dinner and drinks before we retired to the comfort of our apartment. Still unaccustomed to the time difference and with the early darkness confusing our bodies, we retired early once more. In the end this wasn’t a bad thing, as it made us naturally awaken early, ready to make the most of the day. And the next morning we were to be picked up for what would be another cracking day.

Golden Sunshine

I was more upset about saying goodbye to my cat than I was excited about the impending trip. Sometimes when I book an adventure far ahead the pre-trip excitement loses momentum several weeks before and although always glad for a break from the routines of day to day life as a working adult, I spent the prior couple of days in a stressful whirlwind attempting to do everything I needed to do ahead of a long break away. So even at the airport where I usually start to feel the excited anticipation of heading abroad, I was distracted. I had a 38 day Australian adventure ahead of me and I just wasn’t feeling it.

When I’d discovered back in May 2014 that there would be a work-related conference in the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia’s Queensland, I’d made a note of the dates and then got on with my life. When it opened for sale I booked a place, got a cheap one-way plane ticket to the nearest airport and left it at that. The rest would sort itself out later. But what in my mind was originally going to be a 4 day conference followed by a few days on the Sunshine Coast to the north, morphed in my mind to a 5.5wk extravaganza and eventually I had internal flights arranged and an action packed itinerary to fulfil.

In the Gold Coast it gets dark around 6pm give or take all year round and the sun appears to almost drop out the sky at a surprising rate such that as we landed at Coolangatta airport near Queensland’s southern border with New South Wales, I’d commented to my partner that the sun was still high in the sky, only to get through customs, collect our bags and walk outside into dusk. It is incredible. We drove to our accommodation in Broadbeach in growing darkness. For many people, the Gold Coast is all about Surfers Paradise: the loud, brash and in-your-face party and beach city who’s high rises feature in many photographs of the region. I’d visited before on New Years day a few years ago and found the vibe not to my taste. But the beach here spreads for many kilometres to the south and as you extract yourself from the crowds at Surfers, the beach quickly becomes less crowded and more serene. Our apartment was within easy reach of a myriad of dining options in Broadbeach, which is just south of Surfers. Over the course of the next few days I really came to like Broadbeach and would happily stay there again.

 

Whilst my partner got to kick off his holiday there and then, enjoying the region’s beaches, shopping and theme parks, I had an early morning start at the conference, heading off in dawn for a 6.45am start, emerging again in dusk around 7pm. The second day I again had a 6.45am start but finishing this time at a more reasonable 5.30pm, meant being able to make use of the evening. Driving out to the outer suburbs we met with friends and headed to a night market near them called Helensvale Night Quarter. Being a Saturday night it was packed, and having been well catered to at conference for 2 days, it was slightly wasted on me as I wasn’t really hungry. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, drooling over the endless food options, following my nose and breathing it all in. I found some space in my stomach to fit some food including as much of a delicious but slightly sickly cookie ice cream sandwich as I could manage. At the far end of the market was a large barn with a bar and a stage where a reggae band were playing. It was an immensely enjoyable night and one of those places you’d only discover with a local: a real gem. To top it off, the moon was an incredible colour on the drive home, although it was impossible to get a decent photograph of it.

 

A third early start was at least a slight change of pace. Instead of a morning lecture, I was up for a charity run. Not being a runner, I’d signed up for the 2.5km beach walk and after watching the sunrise over Broadbeach, it was finally time to set foot on the beach. Sharing the beach with locals out walking the dog or taking a morning stroll, our group of competitors pounded past the waves as the sky and buildings changed colour with the sharply rising sun. It was simply beautiful. After a day full of more eating and more learning, we met up with more friends near Brisbane. Unfortunately I was pretty shattered by this point and it was all too brief.

 

The fourth morning I took myself back to the beach walking almost the whole way to Surfers Paradise before doubling back. The light was incredible and I noticed with envy how many locals were out for a morning walk or jog. After moving out of my parent’s home in 2006, I started my life of independence living by the coast, constantly walking the promenade or nearby beach. Sometimes I just yearn to hear the sound of crashing waves and I could totally see the benefit of living in such a place. After the closing of conference, my partner and I made use of the main street of eateries for dinner although I was very much feeling like I’d eaten a year’s worth of food in just 4 days. Thankfully it wasn’t much of a walk to waddle home.

 

Whilst for most of the delegates the conference was done and dusted, I’d signed up for a private trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Currumbin to the south of Broadbeach. I have mixed feelings about zoos and wasn’t sure what to expect. At its core the sanctuary has a wildlife hospital where injured animals are treated and rehabilitated. Surrounding this is a large expanse of either walk through zones or fenced exhibits with a myriad of native wildlife. For all that I love about Australia, it is its wildlife that excites me time and time again. I much prefer to see it in the wild so whilst I could see the value of the sanctuary for allowing children to see these critters, it wasn’t for me. However the whole point of us going there was to get a private tour of the wildlife hospital and that was incredible. Seeing and hearing about what work they do was awe inspiring.

 

Afterwards I took a quick walk to Currumbin beach before we were taken back to Broadbeach and finally I could count myself as being on holiday. Having been to Surfers before, there was only 1 thing I wanted to do there this time and that was to go up to the observation deck of the distinctive Q-deck tower. Last time we’d taken a spectacular helicopter flight and from both ground level and in the air, this building stands tall, a perceived giant amongst a skyline of skyscrapers. We took the tram from Broadbeach to Surfers and turned up to discover the entire observation deck was closed for a private function. I couldn’t believe it and struggled to hide my annoyance. In the end, we wandered around in the heat of the day exploring nearby parks and the busy waterfront of Surfers before catching the tram back to Broadbeach. We took a drive up the coast before heading home, enjoying our final meal in Broadbeach.

 

The next day we were headed north. Having been declined entry the day before we headed back to the Q-deck, getting up this time to see the fabulous 360o view from near the top. A little annoyed that the lower morning sun didn’t work as well for photos as the higher afternoon sun the day before would have been, I had to push my petty annoyance aside and get on with enjoying myself. It was hard to stay irked for long with such a view.

 

Last time we were in Queensland, we’d stopped at Australia Zoo on route to Noosa and that had been the working plan this time around too. But I managed to convince my partner to go somewhere different and heading north up the Bruce Highway looking at the immense queues of traffic jammed southbound, we took the Steve Irwin Highway and followed the signs for the Glass House mountains…

Na h-Eileanan Siar – Part Two

It is a strange concept to be amongst fellow countrymen and yet not to understand their language, such is the decline of the Scottish Gaelic. Once a common and widely spoken language (particularly in the north and west), it was bred and beaten out of some speakers as well as replaced for purposes of trade and commerce, first by Scots, and then by English. It hangs on for dear life in places, but aside from a few key words, place names, and the bilingual signage in the north-west of the country, most of the Scottish populace do not speak it, and so generation by generation, it seems almost doomed. As it was, I was in the heart of the Gaelic community, out in the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar). I’d spent the previous few nights based in South Uist, and now it was time to head further north to a new base.

As a lover of the outdoors, there was simply too much to explore in this bilingual frontier on the Atlantic coast off Scotland’s mainland. Although the main trunk road, the A865 carves a direct line north, there were so many side roads leading to beaches and bays and rocky coastline that I was constantly weaving my way west then east in a zig-zagging fashion as I explored these hidden pockets. I was initially greeted by a rainbow through the dark clouds, but eventually the clouds broke apart to reveal some sunshine. South Uist is linked to the island of Berneray by one of a series of causeways that link the island chain. The eastern half is pockmarked with waterways, a cluster of freshwater and seawater. Between the different islands, some of my memories are a little blurred, and I cannot remember which bay or beach was where, but one of the walks I did on Berneray was up Rueval (Ruabhal in Gaelic), the highest point of the island at a mere 124m (407ft). It was hardly taxing but the view at the top over the island and beyond was beautiful. I could still see the storm clouds to the south that I had left behind and the sun glistened on the waterways beneath me.

 

I took a side road to the island of Flodda, a small island with just a handful of buildings and the odd ruin. Back on the main road, more causeways took me to the neighbouring island of Grimsay and then onto North Uist. Dotted between the sporadic houses and farms there was the occasional ruin here and there. Some of them were old cottages or farms, others were of more significance such as the Trinity Temple. Near here was the exposed and wild expanse of Baleshare’s beach, another island reached by a causeway. On a sunny summer’s day, many of Scotland’s western beaches would rival any of those paradise-inducing photographs of worldwide beaches: pristine sand and unspoilt. But for the frigid sea temperature and biting wind that often accompanies these beaches, they are still worth the visit, and often because they will be empty apart from the local wildlife. Under the dulling sky, these places can feel wild and battered, but in fact that is exactly what I love about this part of my homeland.

 

The eastern half of North Uist is again pockmarked with waterways. Taking the A867 towards Lochmaddy, I continued past the harbour settlement to continue on the A865 that circles past these lakes and inlets. At the turn-off onto the B893, I passed houses here and there, nestled near some beautiful beaches, before reaching yet another causeway to take me to Berneray, the most northern of the linked islands. Beyond here is Lewis and Harris, linked by a ferry run by Caledonian MacBrayne. The Lobster Pot Tearoom which was closed whilst I was visiting, has a sign outside which has become quite famous and is a good indicator of the local humour when it comes to the region’s notorious weather extremes. Past Blackhill, I took the road to its end and then it was time to get out on my feet and explore.

 

Cutting first across beach and then through farmland, I ascended the hill of Beinn Shleibhe which although not particularly high gave a viewpoint across to the nearby islands of Boreray, Pabay, Harris, Ensay and Killegray. I saw one other hiker far ahead of me, but otherwise I had the whole place to myself. Cutting down the other side of the hill, I stumbled onto another of the island chain’s beautiful beaches. After following it for a while, there was a natural curve creating a corner, which as I came around it, I was stopped abruptly in my tracks by the sight of an otter running out of the sea and rolling around in the sand. This is the only wild otter I have ever seen, and I was so transfixed and in the moment that I dared not move to take any photographs. To this day, the memory is still a very clear image in my head, and I stood for some time watching it roll in the sand to remove the salt from its fur, and then it duly skipped off up the nearby sand dune. Eventually, I cut up a gap through the sand dunes myself and followed a vague track back to the road where I could reach my car from.

 

Having had a fantastic start to my last day in the Outer Hebrides, I felt rushed in the afternoon to explore the rest of North Uist. Back on the A865, I passed more beautiful sand right by the road where it was clear people took their cars onto the beach. It was tempting but I didn’t want to risk getting stuck. Further on, towards the west, I reached the turnoff to Solas beach. Out on a peninsula, this whole area was beautiful even as the rain threatened to encroach. With sandy beach on both sides, there was plenty of reason to get out of the car and go for a walk. With the hours creeping on and the weather deteriorating, I found beach after beach after beach as I continued on my way, and I wished I had had more time to spend here. Eventually it was time to leave the western coast behind, and after stopping in at the St Kilda viewing platform where I couldn’t actually see St Kilda because of the advancing rain, I returned to the guesthouse I was staying in and had a wander around the farmland and beach nearby as the sun lowered.

 

That night I treated myself to an expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant near Lochmaddy. Driving home in the dark can be dangerous around these parts and I could see why when a female red deer jumped onto the road in front of me out of nowhere and proceeded to prance down the verge ahead of me for some distance before eventually disappearing into the darkness. The next morning I had a ferry to catch and a long drive to the east to reach my home at the time in Aberdeen. I always spend ferry crossings out on deck to watch the world go by and was rewarded by some porpoises riding our wake. Returning to Uig on the Isle of Skye, it was grey and overcast. I spent a large chunk of the day taking detours and side roads round Skye, visiting Waternish, Durnish and then taking the long detour to Elgol across the water from the Cuillin Range. Amidst a break in the grey clouds, the sun shone here and I stopped often to take in the changing view as I retraced my steps back to the main road. Despite Skye not being one of my favourite islands, I could see the appeal.

 

I took yet another detour down the long road towards Armadale. Although a ferry to the mainland leaves from here, I wasn’t catching it, but instead wanted to visit a part of the island that I didn’t think I’d been to before. The area around Isleornsay was especially pretty, but eventually I had to push on. Crossing over the Skye bridge back to the mainland, I reached Eilean Donan Castle, probably the country’s most famous and most photographed castle aside from Edinburgh Castle. That evening, the water of Loch Duich was calm providing a reflection of the castle that sat regally under the grey sky. I stayed at a b&b in the middle of nowhere to break up the journey, and the following day I negotiated the competitors that were cycling around Loch Lomond in the rain. By the time I reached Carr Bridge for a late lunch, the river Carr was in good flow from all the rain that had fallen of late. Beyond here, there was just the familiar drive through the mountains to return home to Aberdeen.

Na h-Eileanan Siar

With around 14,000 years of known human habitation, Scotland has an extensive history. With so many events to choose from, it’s understandable that the school curriculum falls short at teaching an adequate amount of it. When I was at school, most of our history teachings were focused around the first and second world wars, and whilst I’ve extensively travelled my homeland and visited historical sites of interest, I’ve felt that my knowledge of the Scotland of the past has been very fragmented and jumbled. Even last year when I was playing tourist in my country of birth I was made quite aware of my lack of awareness of how the various historical events related to each other. In a book shop in Ullapool, I found Neil Oliver’s book, A History of Scotland, and over a year later I am finally ploughing through it. Whilst the age-old habit of naming children the same as their relatives has made it hard to follow who did what at times, overall it’s left me with a much better understanding of why Scotland is the way it is today. It is incredible to think the differences that could have been if just one or two battles had swung a different way or if one or two key people hadn’t been such a pushover or in contrast so defiant. The fate of the Gaelic  (pronounced Gah-lick) language is one sad example, a fading remnant of a once stubborn independent sector of a once ununited nation.

Reading this, I was reminded of a holiday I took back in 2010 to the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar), a wild and rugged stretch of islands off the country’s west coast where the Gaelic language is holding on for dear life. Living at the time in Aberdeen, I had to drive the whole width of the country just to get to the Isle of Skye, my stepping off point for the Uists. Ask many a tourist (and Scot for that matter) and Skye is often lauded as their favourite of the islands. But not me. I think perhaps because every visit I’ve ever made there has involved torrential rain, or maybe it’s simply that it can’t compete with the experiences and memories I’ve gained on several of the other islands. Whatever the reason, it will never be my favourite Scottish isle, not even close.

 

I ate dinner at Portree in the setting sun and pulled up to my hostel on the hill overlooking Uig in the descending darkness. I’ve stayed in so many hostels over the years that only a handful of special ones stick in my mind, and this is one that has faded into nothingness. I remember nothing of the inside but the next morning under a cloudless blue sky, I definitely remember the view from outside overlooking the harbour below. I had some time to kill before the ferry departed so I took a drive east to Quirrang, a distinctive rocky landscape that featured in the movie Stardust. Despite the sunshine at Uig, this side of the island was cloaked in patches of cloud, lending a dramatic sky to the dramatic landscape. I continued round to the Old Man of Storr, another of Skye’s famous geological features, where I took the path up to its base. Soon though, it was time to return to Uig, board the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry and set sail to Lochmaddy on North Uist.

 

My plan on arrival was to drive the chain of linked islands as far south as I could get and gradually work my way north to get the ferry back nearly a week later. And so I found myself checking into a former old folk’s home that was now masquerading as a hostel, just outside of Lochboisdale on South Uist. It had been raining the whole way down and still it rained some more. I had arrived on a Sunday, a traditionally holy day of rest here in the religious west. Until relatively recently, and against a lot of local backlash even flights to the island chain on Sundays were prohibited and at the time of my visit, businesses closed their doors (a practice long since abandoned in the cities and towns of the mainland) and the place felt deserted. With the wind and rain howling outside I felt like I was in a frontier land, wild and abandoned as it was. Eventually though, I could remain holed up no longer, and geared up with waterproofs and an Ordinance Survey map, I found a local walk to kill some time. I got utterly drenched and met just one other person but as somebody who often craves solitude away from the noise of my daily life, this was perfect. Not put off by the bad weather, I headed up another walking track behind Lochboisdale where the mist and rain swirled around me obscuring my view.

 

The following day gave promise of better weather. I headed south across the causeway to Eriskay, the most southern of the linked islands and parked up in the queue for the ferry. There’s something so endearing about this old fashioned jetty style where it’s first come, first served. I’d made sure I was there early to guarantee a spot on the ferry, and with my car holding my place, I climbed the nearby hill to take in my surroundings and watch the ferry come in. The sun was out for the crossing to Barra and it remained dry the whole day I was over there.

 

Barra is a rather small island but big enough that I was glad to have my own wheels to explore it. I went for a beach walk and passed the beach runway of the local airport, the only airport in the world that has scheduled flights land on a beach, and up to the peninsula beyond where I took another walk. The rugged beaches of the wild west coast seemed positively bustling compared to the quietness I’d experienced so far. There were so many places to stop and stretch my legs. The sky was turning grey as I continued south, taking the turning down a rural road to reach the causeway for Vatersay, yet another island in the expansive chain. The beach here was beautiful and almost empty but the wind was bitterly cold, and with lots to see, I couldn’t stay as long as I would like.

 

Castlebay is the main settlement on Barra and it was so busy I struggled to find a place to park. It was a strange contrast to the rest of the Outer Hebrides, especially as there were even coach parties of tourists here. I didn’t have time to visit the castle on its rock promontory out on the bay (hence the name), and in the end I didn’t stay here long due to the parking problems. I wound my way north up the east coast, stopping often to soak up the view, before taking the ferry back to sunny Eriskay, where I made use of the evening light to explore the coastline around the causeway and the south of South Uist.

 

There was more sunshine the next morning, and I made the most of the morning light to explore Lochboisdale’s shoreline. From there I headed to the beautiful and extensive sandy beach that spans almost the entire west coast of South Uist. It was windy but gorgeous and there was barely a soul to be seen for miles. Exposed as these islands are, the vegetation is low to the ground, exposing everything to the full brunt of the Atlantic weather. With only a handful of hills in the lower half of the island chain, they are a generally low-lying landscape, and with both salt water and fresh water in great abundance, these islands are a bird-watcher’s paradise. There’s also plenty of farmland here, as harsh as the growing would be, and I spotted the distinguishable Highland Cow which is a very hardy species of cattle, as well as the equally hardy Clydesdale horse.

 

Loch Druidibeag contains an RSPB reserve where it is possible to see a lot of waterbirds, and beyond here there was plenty of opportunities to get out and stretch my legs. The apparent desolation belies its beauty and my trip so far had firmly planted this part of the country as one of my favourite parts of Scotland. On a stormy day, I’m sure this place can seem harsh and intolerable, but on a dry autumn day, it beguiled me. It was a struggle to make it far along any road here without finding yet another spot to stop for photographs. There was so much ground to cover. I ventured east to the coastline and further north to the statue of Our Lady of the Isles, a large granite depiction of the Virgin Mary, before returning to Lochboisdale for my final night here. The rest of my trip was to be spent to the north, as equally enchanting and as beautiful as I’d become accustomed to in the last few days.

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