Posts tagged Wildlife

A taste of the Top End

We left Brisbane in late July, and have been keeping fairly busy since then, working, exploring and having fun on the road. I won’t try to write about everything we’ve seen and done since then; that would make for an incredibly long, boring and self indulgent post, and my brain would probably melt down from struggling to remember it all.

We’re now in the Top End, and it’s bloody HOT. After a week or so up the Queensland coast, and then five weeks working at Maronan, a cattle station in outback Queensland, I thought we were beginning to acclimatise. Not so. But more about that later.

Maronan was a pretty memorable part of the trip. Here we worked/WWOOFed, mostly doing gardening and other work in and around the house, as well as occasionally helping out with some of the cattle work on the station. It was a fascinating, and at times, really challenging place to be. After our first week there, the couple who own and run the station unexpectedly had to attend to urgent family business in Townsville, so we were left to mind the place while they were away for a week. Hours after they left, I received news that my grandmother had passed away. I really struggled with this, wanting to rush over to NZ to be with my family, but knowing that I couldn’t really leave the station. It was a really weird, difficult and totally unexpected situation, and took me some time to come to terms with.

The rest of our time there was thankfully, much more enjoyable. I became very fond of the chooks; we cuddled day old chicks, gave some of the hens a haircut, and collected a bazillion eggs.

One afternoon we rode a four-wheeler motorbike and helped take a big mob of cattle back out, after they’d all been vaccinated that morning. Another day, we watched Colin do a ‘killer’ – that is, shoot one of the heifers for meat, and then skin and gut it. A few days later, Oli and I helped to cut it up.

In our time off, we went fossicking for garnets, or went out stargazing with our little telescope. Oli taught me to ride a small dirtbike, starting with laps up and down the big red dirt airstrip, and eventually graduating to rides further afield on the massive property.

But after five weeks in one spot, we had itchy feet again and couldn’t wait to hit the road and see some new things. Darwin was the next destination on our to-do list.

If you’re ever driving from Brisbane to Townsville, or from Townsville to Darwin, expect long stretches of road with bugger-all in the way of scenery. That nothingness is stunning in its own way, but when you’ve lived most of your life in a city or reasonable-sized town, I think that sense of isolation and distance can be kind of scary. On the coast, it’s cane sugar as far as you can see. In outback QLD/NT, it’s acres upon acres of grass, spinifex and the odd willy-willy thrown in for a bit of excitement.

So arriving in Mataranka after the long drive from Cloncurry was like finding an oasis in the desert, and Bitter Springs thermal pools were just what I needed. Crystal clear water, at the perfect temperature.

We made friends with a couple who lived just around the corner from us in Newtown, so we spent a couple of nights hanging out with them before we made our own way up to Darwin. Oli and I decided we had to check out Litchfield National Park on the way up, and were rewarded with beautiful waterfalls, bushwalks and more crystal clear swimming spots.

Obviously, the further north we’ve come, the hotter it’s become. We’re now in Kakadu National Park, and have spent the last few days trying to stay out of the sun. The park is huge, and the landscapes here so diverse, from wetlands to tidal flats and estuaries, stone escarpments to monsoon forests. The place is teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen so many crocs, as well as gorgeous birds galore,frill-necked lizards, a snake, a long-neck turtle, wallabies, and possibly half of the 200 species of flies that can be found in Kakadu.

And it’s a spiritual kind of place. We’ve seen ancient rock art at Ubirr and Anbangbang and learnt about Mimi spirits and local Dreaming stories about how the landscape came to be. Last night at a bush camping spot we sat outside listening to some music and watching the stars, then slept with the back door of the van open all night, so we could feel the cool evening breeze. I woke a couple of times to the sound of animals scurrying around nearby and could see the moon shining down. Just magic.

This part of the trip will stay with me forever. It’s been unforgettable.

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Snakes, spirits and wicked music in Northern NSW

 Just over two months into our trip, and we’re still no further north than Byron Bay – boy we really are taking this trip at a cruisy pace!

We are still hanging around in Northern NSW for Bluesfest, of course, but when we arrived in Mullumbimby a few weeks ago, and realised that our funds were getting low, we decided to do another stint of WWOOFing to try and save a bit of money.

We ended up going to a rainforest retreat, where we helped out with all sorts of work like cleaning and preparing the accommodation for guests, helping with catering for one small group, and lots of gardening and brushcutting (whipper snipping) for Oli. It was a real pleasure to stay and work at Sine Cera; the hosts were lovely and really welcoming, and the other WWOOFers were great company.

The retreat is on a gorgeous piece of property, nestled between dry eucalypt forest on one side, and on the other side of the river, dense and lush rainforest (part of the Border Ranges National Park). The accommodation for WWOOFers here was great – plenty of room, comfy beds, heaps of DVD’s to watch in the evening, and yummy food. The hosts had mentioned to us that some people had sensed or seen spirits around the place, and sure enough, a couple of nights later Oli had his first ghost encounter. And no, he was not on drugs!

It was so special to be able to have a coffee on the veranda in the morning before our shift, and watch the wallabies and their joeys hopping around the place, or just enjoy the spectacular view of the ranges. It was also kind of cool to see a couple of snakes there too, especially Monty, a beautiful python who sometimes lives on the hosts veranda, soaking up the sun and catching the odd mouse or rat.

Anyway, after eight or nine days at the retreat it was time to come back to Byron Bay for our shifts as volunteers at Bluesfest. We applied for this way back in early January, and with each lineup announcement we have been looking forward to the festival more and more.

Doing pre-festival shifts was definitely the way to go – we got to see the whole festival come together, see some of the stages go up, help put up countless market stalls, set up the dining hall, work on decorating the artists dressing rooms, and meet some other really cool vollies. We even jumped up on one of the big stages and had a wander around, checking out the view and imagining we were entertaining the masses. It was weird to know that in a few short days, some of our favourite musicians would be on these stages doing their thing, and the tent filled to the brim with punters.

Now that we’ve clocked up our 30 hours work, we have been given our tickets to the festival and are free to enjoy the whole thing. If the opening night’s performances last night were anything to go by, this is going to be one really memorable festival.

Already, we’ve seen some amazing talent, including Ruthie Foster, Ray Beadle, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Los Lobos. And to top it off, a super long set by Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven, packed with all his old good stuff – including Gold To Me, Burn One Down, Walk Away, Morning Yearning, Glory and Consequence, and heaps more.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s so much more good music to come over the next five days. I feel so lucky to be here, enjoying all of this!

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