My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Castle Hill”

Canterbury Tales

Having spent months recuperating from a back injury, and following a winter getaway to Samoa, there was still another 2 months of 2019’s winter to get through, and I was in need of a pick-me-up to help me through. As much as I prefer the New Zealand summers to those of my native Scotland, every winter, I pine over the lack of central heating and the absence of snow. I remember great dumps of snow and driving through blizzards where I used to live in Aberdeen, and as a result, one of the surprising things I come to miss from home, is those crisp winter days waking up to fresh snow fall. Year after year in Christchurch I’ve found I have to grit my teeth to get through the months of May to September, and so it was important I find something to occupy my days off work and make up for all the lost weekends earlier in the year. I created 2 random lists: a geographical breakdown of Canterbury, and a list of possible activities. Then, with the aid of a random number and letter selector, every weekend, I simply had the Internet pick a letter and number for me, and the rest was up to my imagination to combine the activity and the location.

First up was a scenic drive round to Diamond Harbour. The winter sunshine sparkled on the still water within the harbour and the surrounding slopes reflected through the gentle ripples. It’s a drive that always delights, and there’s so many scenic options to get you there. After stopping at a boat ramp to get some photographs, I headed back via Allandale Reserve where the receding tide exposed a mudflat, much to the delight of a myriad of wading birds that picked away for food. In the time that I spent there, the sun dipped behind the Port Hills and I could see as I headed home that a lot of cloud had moved in over the city. This created perfect conditions for a glorious sunset, and as the sun lowered in the winter evening, the sky turned an incredible orange. In a pre-COVID lifetime when planes still flew regularly, I watched as an Air New Zealand plane approached the airport from above my back garden, framed against a sky full of fire.


A couple of weekends later, I headed inland to Castle Hill Scenic Reserve, a little beyond Porters Pass on the West Coast road. It’s always a popular place to be, and now at the end of July, there was snow on the nearby peaks. It had been a while since I’d last stopped here, but there’s so many options for routes to take through the giant boulder field, and with a few patches of standing water around, there was some great opportunities to catch the snowy reflections. We skirted round the foot of them and round the side, past a boulder which has a graffiti inscription from 1869 on it. There were snowy peaks to be seen on the far side also, and we picked our way through the lower trails before climbing up onto the hillside at the back of the main boulders. A temporary tarn again provided more gorgeous reflections but we didn’t get such a beautiful spot to ourselves for long. With the sun low for the winter months, there were parts of the area in permanent shade and as we crossed one such spot I went flying, landing on my bum, having slipped on a spot of iced-up mud. With the boulders themselves casting a long shadow on the front side, I had to be so careful picking my way back down again so as not to fall flat on my face.


One of the great things about this adventure ‘game’ I was playing was that it led me back to some haunts I hadn’t visited in a while, as well as discovering a couple of new places. With another sunny weekend day the following weekend, my randomly selected region led me to a cute little wetlands on the edge of Lincoln, a relatively short drive outside of Christchurch. I previously worked in Lincoln for a short spell back in 2012 when it was just a little village, but in the years since it has expanded immensely with a plethora of new housing developments spreading out from the original core. The wetlands is right on the edge and was the location for me to practice a bit of macro photography. The waterway itself was still, reflective and surrounded by reeds and other typical plants, but I was on the lookout for flora and fauna that would allow me to practice my photography. As I walked close to the plants at the water’s edge, I found a jumping spider, the only arachnid that I like, and was quick to welcome it onto my hand to try and capture it’s cute little features. It would have been better to have my tripod and two free hands but I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots as it hurried across the back of my hand. On the far side of the wetlands, the shade meant there was some ground frost, and I probably looked a little weird to any passersby as I hunkered down on the wet grass to try and capture the water droplets.


The following day I took a drive to the far side of Lake Ellesmere via a nice cafe I hadn’t been to before, where the map suggested there would be a nice spot to enjoy the lakeside. I was hopeful to sit and do some wildlife spotting, but what I found was a gypsy camping site, and a rather flooded park. There was also no bird life to be seen so disappointed, I started to head through the back roads to come home, only to find myself at a ford. I just drive a little car so I wasn’t keen to drive through the river, and right on the far side were some workers doing some road upgrades, so I especially didn’t want to make a twat of myself by getting stuck in the water. It meant a massive detour to get back to the city, so I decided to make a drive out of it anyway, skirting round to the road towards Little River, but turning up Gebbies Pass and up onto Summit road. The weather was perfect for views down onto Lyttelton harbour and I was once more grateful to have so many beautiful spots within easy reach of the city. I stopped at several of the pull-ins to enjoy the view. I was already starting to get excited about the impending spring but there was still one more month of winter and one more adventure to be had before the promise of spring would come.


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.

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.

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