Friday, 17 February 2017

Searching for Kiwi at Kiwi North, Northland, New Zealand

For a country which produced the All Blacks, some of the toughest footballers in the world, it seems incongruous that New Zealand's national symbol, albeit an unofficial one, is a 45 cm (17 inch) high, flightless bird which registers about 15 out of 10 on the timidity scale - but there you have it, some things in the world just can't be explained.

David and I are in Northland, the northern tip of the North Island of New Zealand and today we went searching for kiwi. We didn't go looking in the wild - kiwi are nocturnal, shy and very hard to find - but we did the next best thing, calling in at Kiwi North. Kiwi North has a purpose built Kiwi House where Puna and Kapua, the two resident kiwi, live.  Their environment is as close to nature as possible with a carpet of leaf litter allowing them to forage for insects and other food the same way they would in the wild. It even rains - twice a week. Special lighting turns day into night so visitors can see them at their most active.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Huts of the High Country

Fitzgerald Hut

Scattered throughout the Australian Alps are more than a hundred historic huts.  They date back as far as the 1860s. Many were built as shelters by stockmen grazing their cattle on high country pastures. Others housed fishermen, gold prospectors, foresters, workers on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, skiers and bushwalkers. Today they are used as emergency shelters for skiers and bushwalkers caught out in the changeable mountain weather.

The huts are the antithesis of luxury. Most are simple corrugated iron or wood constructions. Very few are easy to get to. They are tucked away in the back country, far from roads and other services. Over many years of skiing, bushwalking and mountain biking David and I have come across a half dozen or so of these huts. With a few exceptions they are a challenge to find and it is always fun when we come across one. We have never camped out overnight so all the huts in this post can be reached in a day's bushwalk or mountain bike ride from the nearest road.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Great Victorian Rail Trail: Australia's Longest Rail Trail

The Great Victorian Rail Trail

Trail - The Great Victorian Rail Trail
Location - Tallarook to Mansfield, Victoria, Australia
Distance - 134 km one way
Terrain - Compacted sand and fine gravel.
Difficulty - Easy to moderate with a few long, steady climbs.
Highlights - Reaching the top of any of the long climbs.
Suitable for - Mountain bikes, touring bikes, walkers and horse riders.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Cycling in Hobart: The Intercity Cycleway and The Clarence Foreshore Trail

Foreshore Trail Hobart
Hobart and cycling are not words which sit comfortably together in a sentence. David insists on taking our bicycles with us almost everywhere we go but even he agreed to leave them at home on our recent trip to Tasmania. Part of the reason was cost. As hard as it may be to believe it costs less to fly bicycles the 12,000 kms from Sydney to Los Angeles than it does to fly them 1,600 kms from Sydney to Hobart. Mostly however, it just didn't seem worth the effort for the one or two leisure cycling paths we were able to find in Hobart. Being neither road cyclists nor super-fit mountain bikers we look for easy, relatively flat, family-friendly, off-road paths - and sadly these are in very short supply in Tasmania's capital.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Heritage Buildings of Launceston, Tasmania

Customs House, Launceston
I have to confess that Launceston was about the last place I expected to find heritage buildings. I am not even sure why we went there. Don't get me wrong, it turned out to be a great destination but when I asked David what possessed him to book us five nights in a cottage just outside the city he didn't seem to have an answer.

It turns out Launceston is known for having one of the finest early Colonial and Victorian cityscapes in Australia with many of the buildings beautifully restored and freshly painted. This week I am going to let my camera do the talking and give you a taste of what you might see if, like me, you find yourself inexplicably in Tasmania's second largest city.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Port Arthur, Tasmania: A World Heritage Convict Site

Port Arthur
One of the most persistent myths which David and I encounter in our travels overseas is that Australia is a nation populated by the descendants of convicts. This supposed ancestry gets dredged up from time to time to explain almost every aspect of Australia's national character. In reality, in a country of 24 million people, just 4 million of us have a convict in the family tree and a lot fewer than that have a convict ancestor who committed a serious crime. The forebears of the vast majority of Australians came here as free settlers. (Click here to read how I uncovered a branch of my own family's history during a visit to Q Station, Manly.)

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Little Penguins of Low Head

Little penguins
It is just after 9 pm. David and I are huddled together at Low Head Coastal Reserve in Northern Tasmania, waiting for the sun to set and trying to gain some protection from the gale-force winds. We are here to see little penguins - sometimes called 'fairy penguins' or 'little blue penguins'. They are timid little creatures and won't come ashore until it is almost dark.

We could have come yesterday. Yesterday was a warm, balmy, windless summer's evening. We could have come tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a warm, balmy, windless summer's evening. We have chosen tonight, for no good reason I can think of. Tonight is cold, very cold, and the wind is whipping through our inadequate summer jackets, making us wonder whether this was a good idea at all.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my readers from Sydney, Australia to wherever you are in the world. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I am taking a holiday from blogging this week but I will be back on Friday the 30th of December.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Where to look for platypus in Tasmania.

After more than an hour walking along the river bank path in Deloraine, stopping every few metres to scan the surface of the water, even I was ready to give up. This was platypus country and we were here in search of one of Australia's most elusive creatures. The platypus is an egg-laying mammal. Along with echidnas it is the only mammal still in existence which lays eggs instead of suckling its young. It has a bill like a duck, a tail which looks like a beaver's tail and the male platypus has a spur poisonous enough to cause severe pain in a human being. The platypus is one of the most unusual looking animals on the planet. It is also cute - seriously cute.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The White Wallabies of Bruny Island.

White wallaby
We came to Bruny Island for the white wallabies. Well I did, David came for me - he isn't a wildlife person. Bruny Island, a small island off the coast of Tasmania is home to a colony of rare white wallabies. I have a long history of disappointment in the wild animal spotting stakes. Just recently I have failed to see whales in Alaska, cassowaries in Queensland and sunbathing kangaroos in Esperance but Bruny Island proved the exception. Within half an hour of arriving we saw two of these beautiful creatures up very close in the bush.