Discovering Australia's hidden gems

Archive for August, 2012

Wildlife Trifecta at Atherton Tablelands


Wildlife Trifecta at Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands is a naturalist’s playground with a huge diversity of plants and animals. It’s home to around one third of Australia’s mammal species and has approximately 400 different bird species, 13 of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Being the nature lover that I am, I am in heaven, and today was exceptional.

Read all about it …

Delightful Platypus!

@ 10.30am

Just went down to the platypus viewing platform on our way out of town and up popped one of these gorgeous little creatures straight away. Pure magic! There is something very special about the platypus that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s more than their uniqueness and novelty, they just seem to exude personality and overwhelming cuteness!

This was the first time I’d gotten more than a glimpse of one. He stayed on the surface for around 10 seconds before re-submerging. We watched him do this for around 5 minutes before a couple of calves nosily made their way down the embankment to graze at the water’s edge, scaring him away.

Interesting platypus facts:

Platypus rely on their good eyesight when on shore, but in the water they close their ears and eyes and rely on sensors in their beek to detect movement and locate their food. They dive under the water to catch it and then bring it to the surface to eat it, which is why you can see them bobbing up and down. And they’re greedy little fellas, eating up to half their own body weight each day.

What an unexpected and delightful surprise to get such a good sighting at 10.30am, when they are generally said to be seen only around dawn or dusk.

Another wonderful wildlife experience. The animals are such a highlight of my trip. The next elusive critter I’m hoping to see is the tree kangaroo. We’re on our way a hunting now …

Beautiful Brolgas

@ 1pm

No sign of the tree kangaroo but we’ve stopped off at Bromfield swamp and are watching the graceful brolgas foraging around the wetlands. They have a very loud and distinctive call that we can hear from the viewing platform. We’d planned to come here in the early evening to see large flocks returning home to their swamp, and we still may, but it’s bitterly cold and windy at the moment. Getting here we travelled along a dirt road shrouded in mist, cut through the mountainside. The surrounding vista would have been spectacular on a clear sunny day, and was pretty impressive anyway, when you could see it through the cloud.

Trifecta – Tree kangaroo !!!

@ 2pm

We didn’t find it personally, but we saw it just the same – adorable!

The cold, grey, drizzly weather meant that we had to cancel our ‘picnic by the waterfall’ lunch plans, and instead called into the cosy looking Tree Kangaroo Café, and I’m so glad we did.

Travellers, if you’re up this way I would highly recommend stopping here. Apart from the food being delicious, with healthy options and varied and unique menu items (homemade kangaroo pie being just one of them), the owner was passionate about the nature here and happy to share his local knowledge. When ordering lunch I asked him for some tips on spotting the tree kangaroos and he promptly took me outside and showed me one sitting in the tree just down from the café. Marvellous! It was a lot larger than I’d imagined; a great big cuddly bundle of fur with a small head and pixie-cute face. His long kangaroo style tail (hence the name) dangled down from the fork in the tree and could easily have been mistaken for just another branch. His excellent camouflage a tribute to evolution, I doubt we would have been able to spot him by ourselves. I got a good look at his gorgeous little furry face through my binoculars.

Ah … mission “Tree Kangaroo” – Success!

Despite our eagerness to set off into the rainforest to track down more of these cute cuddly critters, we found it hard to drag ourselves away from the café, which had a cosy fire, a couple of lounge style chairs, and a DVD on loop showing a variety of local wildlife: platypus, exotic birds, cassowaries, and our friend the tree kangaroo, as well as local natural beauty spots and stunning waterfalls (of which there are many in this area).

Dinner Falls

We also got chatting to the owner who was a wealth of information on the best places to go and how to get there.

I’ve found a lot of the locals up here to be very soulful people who are passionate about where they live and fully appreciate the stunning beauty of nature, in all its forms. I often hear the story told of how they came here for a holiday or were just passing through and decided not to go home!

The Atherton Tablelands has a very different vibe and vista to suburban living. I’m liking it – a lot!


I Forgot How Much I Love Live Music – Wait! No I Didn’t …

I Forgot How Much I Love Live Music …

 Wait – No, I Didn’t!

I’m just realising (yet again) that I let my life roll by, day after day, without the required dosage of musical medicine.

Well tonight I’m getting my fix and it’s the best feel good drug ever.

We’ve driven almost 3000 kilometres, to the top tip of Australia, before seeing our first pub band. Not that our journey’s been completely void of music so far. We went to Byron Bay Blues Fest in April, and I saw an awesome didge/drum band, goes by the name of  “Wild Marmalade,” on the Gold Coast, where I danced so hard, in such a mad, barefooted, tribal frenzy, that I fractured my foot! My adventure activities list was scaled back somewhat for weeks after that, but I digress …

I’ve now made it to the end of the road. Cooktown is literally where the tarred road ends, and it feels like the ends of the Earth  – I love it!

S0 here we are at Cooktown’s Soverign Hotel. We had dinner earlier, the food was excellent and I ate gleefully, engulfed in a 1980’s time warp as Cold Chisel’s “East” played in the background. This will always remain their best album.

As the sun set onEast , the live band came into play.  “Jusfa Kicks” promised everything from the 60’s ‘til now, and they did have a great and varied repertoire.  The lead singer had a set of Eddie Vedder vocal chords and he knew it, so there was a disproportionate amount of Pearl Jam on the playlist which also kept me smiling.

This place had a classic outback Australia atmosphere, and I’d guess it was filled with around 80% locals, so we really got a feel for what it’s like in Cooktown on a Friday night. It felt like being part of a scene from an Aussie  movie, with a high percentage of Aboriginal people and lots of stereotypical characters that you’d expect to find in a small country town. The night got rowdy at times, but never aggressive, and everyone seemed to be having a good time abandoning themselves to the tunes.

After much chair dancing (and air drumming), my insuppressible movements outgrew the limitations of the chair and spilled onto the dance floor. Of course I wished I had gotten out there much earlier.

We chatted with the owner of the local Italian restaurant on the dance floor and it felt good to ‘know’ somebody. We’d befriended him earlier in our stay, after more than one visit to his little pizza paradise.  And then just as everybody was really starting to get into it – the band went home. It’s always the way …

Sitting there tonight and connecting to the rhythm with every cell of my being,  I contemplated why I’ve not yet realised my lifelong dream of fronting an all-girl AC/DC cover band. Bonny Scott perhaps? Hey, it’s never too late! Or is it …?

OK, so my AC/DC days may have past, but I’m determined to find a way to incorporate this wonder drug, this bringer of bliss, this vibration of joy, into my everyday present. I open myself to the magic of music – let me be your servant. ♥

Stay tuned …

Copyright August 2012

Aboriginal Rock Art – A Cultural Experience in Cooktown.

 Aboriginal Rock Art

– A Cultural Experience in Cooktown –

Today we had a taste of Aboriginal culture in Cooktown as we visited historic rock art sites.

We joined a half day tour guided by Aboriginal elder Willie Gordon who gave us a lot of local and historical information as we headed bush.

The landscape was surprisingly familiar, reminding me very much of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney. My grandparents had property bordering the national park and as children my cousins and I would spend many hours exploring the bush, seeing which native flowers were in bloom, and listening to the variety of bird calls. The large flat black rocks were a great picnic spot and play area.

The Cooktown tour today took us past scenic rocky ledges and through narrow gorges as we approached the rock art caves.








In this region the paintings are fine art rather than dot style, and Willie showed us how they make the paint (ochre stone and water) and the brushes, which are feathered pieces of strong reed that is also used for basket weaving.

The Rainbow Serpent

Aboriginal art reflects the surrounding environment – its plants, animals and practical things like tools used for hunting.  But it is also very much about the story behind the art, and a lot of paintings represent Aboriginal mythology.  There are many folk stories that Aboriginals use to explain their natural environment and surrounding landscape, this is referred to as The Dreaming. The story of the Rainbow Serpent would be the most familiar to non-Aboriginal people, and is their symbol of creation.

Art is also used to record significant historical events and to show respect for esteemed members of society. In Aboriginal culture, people of great knowledge who are able to teach others are ranked most highly in society. This painting shows a teacher, with the stripes representing levels of knowledge that have been obtained. The stripes are actually scars formed from the tradition of cutting the skin with sharp pieces of  quartz crystal. Our guide likened it to openly displaying your resume′ on your body.

Other paintings depict sacred locations such as birthing sites.  This picture shows the mother, the baby, and an upside-down male, signifying that the male is out of place in this location. The birthing site also provided people with a connection to place and a spiritual identity, similar to a nationalistic attachment that we may feel identifying ourselves as citizens of our country of birth.

The handprint stencils you see are usually the signature of the artist or a way of marking your place of belonging.

My favourite piece of art represents the Aboriginal spiritual belief that all life is created from ‘the light’, and although there is also darkness in this world, the message behind this artwork is to insert your face onto the body that has the’spirit of light’ shining through.

Shine on beautiful people!

Copyright August 2012

A Dose of Decadence at the Best Bar in Cairns

A Dose of Decadence at the Best Bar in Cairns

It’s with a heavy heart (and a heavier tummy) that I write this post.

My last hurrah at Salt House.

This unique alfresco bar overlooking the Cairns waterfront instantly became dear to my heart, and I have spent many a leisurely hour (or four) here most days since.

Oh, bar of my dreams, let me count the ways I love thee …

Is it your large comfortable day beds bordered by lush tropical vegetation, with a view of the majestic mountains meeting the sea?

This ultimate ‘hang out’ location is mostly open air which lets in the sights, sounds and smells of tropical North Queensland.  Feel the sun and breeze caressing your skin while you sip your impressive cocktail, a sight sensation in itself.

Is it your cocktails that enamour me so?

I must admit, I don’t generally ‘do’ cocktails, but these lovelies were a little hard to resist, and looked so at home on the edge of my tropical day bed. The Kiwi Dream cocktail remained unsurpassed so I had to steal the recipe!  Future dreamy experiences shall now ensue no matter where I’m located.

Could it be the childlike excitement you instil in me in anticipation of scouring your menu every day (yes, it’s the same menu …) for the most delicious bar food I’ve ever had. Once again, I don’t usually ‘do’ bar food, but this stuff is special. Gourmet style bar food without the hefty price tag.

I’m in a constant dilemma between wanting to try every delicious item on the menu, and not being able to go past my favourites. Fascinating how I manage to convince myself that those delightful, crispy edged sweet potato wedges are a health item and therefore quite acceptable to have every day.

The food presentation was nothing less than a work of art, and of course there’s the fun factor of enjoying it whilst leisurely sprawled on my day bed under warm tropical skies, listening to chilled tunes emanating from the centre bar.

Do I love thee for thy musical moments?

Sunday afternoon  they had live music at the foot of my day bed (aka second home). Guy, guitar and great playlist. Toe-tapping tunes every one of them.

[Insert video clip here – if only I had the WordPress upgrade …!]

A blissful way to ease out of the day and into a relaxed evening in Cairns. A melodious sunset on another fantastic day.

Is it the setting sun across the water that makes you so irresistible my dear Salt House? A tequila sunrise by my side mirror-imaging the view.

A soft, gentle light appears at dusk, bathing my day bed with a delicate afterglow. The breeze takes on a chill and I take out a light jacket, having come prepared for extended hang-out time.

The outdoor design of this bar gives it a completely different feel (literally and figuratively) to indoor establishments. Perhaps it could be compared to a deluxe beer garden, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice. To quote my partner,  “It’s an upmarket pub without being up itself!”

The casual yet classy atmosphere pervades day and night. The layout is open-plan, spacious and spotlessly clean with private little nooks for individual groups separated by water moats. Being alfresco doesn’t mean that you’re completely at the mercy of the elements. There are several large sun umbrellas that get constantly shuffled around to provide just the required amount of sun/shade. Of course when the tropical cyclone hits, this place could have its disadvantages.

The day beds were certainly prime position but all of the other furniture was also extremely comfortable and designed for lengthy, leisurely sojourns. A great place for meeting friends or simply sitting solo with your favourite book,  journal, and life contemplations.

And the perfect spot for writing up my latest blog article!

Oh, bar of lofty thoughts, how I love the cerebral gymnastics you offer.

Thursday nights are Trivia nights, which aren’t really very lofty, but certainly lots of fun. No, we didn’t retain our previous trivia glory, but did walk away with a bag of peanuts and a head full of new and interesting trivial facts.

Trivia Room with a View

The views from Salt House are divine. The expansive shimmering Coral Sea back-dropped by surrounding mountain ranges in one direction, and Cairns marina with boats bobbing on blankets of blue in the other. Stay there for long enough and feel the atmosphere change as twilight engulfs you.

So, as the sunsets on an era (the age of Salt House) I feel simultaneously sad at leaving but blessed for having discovered this wonderful place and enjoyed it to the fullest.

Fellow travellers, if you are in Cairns and would love to experience total decadence without a dent in your hip pocket, I would highly recommend a trip (or ten) to Salt House.

Copyright August 2012