Sunday, September 29, 2013

Starting the coastal walk

There is a really nice shopping area in central Port Macquarie.  This includes both the strip of shops down three intersecting streets and the shopping centre.  As Port Macquarie is very much a tourist town there are an excessive amount of cafes and restaurants.  It wasn't school holidays when we were in Port Macquarie and the majority of the visitors appeared to fit in with our age group (that is grey nomads!) and there were plenty of them around.

One of the popular activities is to have fish and chips on the foreshore and there are a number of specialty fish and chip shops catering for this.  Of course, mention fish and chips and we couldn't leave them out of our weekly menu!  So with the temperature at 28 degrees, and with Penny the dog accompanying us, we drove down to the town centre, parked and headed for one of those popular fish and chip shops.  Were they great?  Well, the chips were lovely but I didn't like the fish variety but I guess that all comes down to personal choice.  Penny was happy to eat my share and Peter said the fish was okay but not his first choice either.  Sounds as though we wouldn't be repeating this outing.

There were a number of pelicans wandering around the grass area - I didn't realise that pelicans were scavengers but these ones certainly were.  In fact a couple were close to eating out of the hands of one couple who were feeding them chips.

There is a statue on the waterfront - it is a life size bronze sculpture of Australia's first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton.  It is a very popular place for taking photographs so we may as well do the same.  After offering to take a photo for two ladies they did the same for us.
From here we began the coastal walk - this walk begins on Town Green foreshore and continues all the way to Lighthouse Beach and is nine kilometres long.  We completed the walk over a few days.  The Town Beach section follows the foreshore pathway out to the rocky breakwall.  Although it was about 28 degrees it was really windy and this spoilt the walk a bit.  On one side of the pathway we had the entrance to the Hastings River and on the other side a caravan park - no wonder there were so many grey nomads in town.
Penny just loved walking into the wind - she certainly enjoyed it more than us!

Along the walkway the rocks are very brightly painted.  Apparently it is a tradition for locals and visitors to seek out "rock" which becomes their personal canvas of memories of past holidays or a tribute to a loved one.  It is now hard to find a rock that has not been painted.  This is a real change from seeing unsightly graffiti and commenced with an art competition in 1995.  It certainly made the walk interesting.

We walked as far as Town Beach - a very popular swimming beach and then made our way back through the caravan park (just because we could and it wasn't anywhere near as windy down off the breakwall) and eventually back to the car.  Our exercise complete for the day and perhaps we had walked off the effects of the fish and chips.

Town beach

Roto House

When we visited the Koala Hospital we also paid a visit to Roto House.  Roto House is within the Macquarie Nature Reserve which comprises twelve hectares of bush and parkland close to the centre of Port Macquarie.  The reserve was established in 1966 with the express purpose of establishing a koala reserve so it is not surprising that this area is now known as a koala corridor and the koala hospital was built here.

Port Macquarie is one of Australia's earliest European settlements and was initially settled as a British penal establishment for secondary offenders in 1821.  The area was opened up for free settlement in 1830 and the last convicts left Port Macquarie in 1847 - if you are a long time resident of Port Macquarie there is a good chance your ancestor was a convict!

Roto House was the home of John Flynn (and Flynn's Beach was named after him) and he was a land surveyor.  His family property was named Roto and was built in 1890 for the princely sum of 667 pounds and is one of the very few remaining 19th century timber buildings in Port Macquarie and was well worth a visit.  There are ten rooms built of red mahogany and has high ceilings, typical sash windows and fire places in six of its seven main rooms. There is a wide verandah around most of the house.

The Flynn family retained permission to occupy the house until 1979 but in fact vacated in 1976.  By then it was quite run down and extensive renovations commenced in 1980 at a cost of $153,000.  It is now open to the public as a local social history museum and is well worth a visit.  Many of the family's belongings and photographs are on display and these provide an interesting account of family life in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Koala Hospital

Very close to where we were staying in Port Macquarie was one of the most popular tourist spots - the Koala Hospital.  This facility was established in 1973 and is run by one full time paid staff member and a large group of willing volunteers.  The hospital can be visited at any time, but we timed our visit for the 3 p.m. volunteer guide.
 The Koala Hospital is not just a hospital to treat sick and injured koalas but is also involved in research. Between 200 and 500 koalas are admitted annually to the hospital for treatment of various diseases, and injuries from road accidents and dog attacks.  The koala are treated with the aim to return them to their original area.  Where this is not possible they remain at the hospital in secure enclosures.  All koala that come to the hospital for any reason are tagged for future identification.

There was a large group of visitors for the 3 p.m. guided walk where the volunteer explained the work of the hospital, the habitat of the koala and the dangers and medical issues that affect koala.  This talk went on for quite a long time, so long that some of the visitors starting wandering off to check out the enclosures. Eventually the volunteer started walking down the pathway through the enclosures and explained how the koala came into care and the reason it has remained in care.  This is what most people wanted to hear!

One particular koala had an eating disorder and did not eat sufficient gum trees and each day volunteers would feed it with a syringe.  This was interesting to see.

The volunteer explained how the koala are named at the hospital - the first name is where they were found and the second name is chosen by the finder and is often their name or something they have chosen.  The whiteboard on show listed all the koala currently being treated at the hospital with their details.
I was disappointed that we did not get to see inside the hospital at all.  We could look through a window and see a consulting room but this didn't give any indication of what was done as it only had a table in it.  However, on the wall there was a photo of the lifecycle of a koala - they are certainly really small when they are first born.  They are apparently just two centimetres long when born and they crawl into the mother's pouch where they stay for 6-7 months and feed only on the mother's milk.  During this time the ears, eyes and fur are developed.  As it grows it leaves the pouch and eventually sits on the mother's back.  They continue to feed off and remain with the mother until the next season's baby is born.  Like the kangaroo, the baby koala is called a joey.  It was certainly interesting to learn more about the koala.
There is no charge to visit the koala hospital although donations are encouraged.  It is also possible to adopt a koala and regularly make donations for the work of the hospital.

It was certainly an interesting place to visit and a great opportunity to see koala up close, which is very hard to do so in the wild.  We were told that the area surround the koala hospital is actually a koala corridor for those in the wild.  Who knows, we just might see some in the next week.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sea Acres Rainforest Centre

We had a leisurely Sunday morning, having breakfast on the deck with binoculars close at hand as the whales were in the bay.  Unfortunately it was not possible to get a photo of the whales but with the use of the binoculars we were able to get a reasonable viewing.  Apparently some 3000-4000 humpback whales pass close to Port Macquarie on their migration north between May and November.  We were lucky to time our visit when it was possible to see the whales on a daily basis.

There are a number of tour companies offering boat trips to the 100 kilometre waterways to see the whales up close.  This sounds wonderful and surprisingly the trips were not too expensive (and in fact the cheapest we have seen as we come down the coast) however those white capped waves are more than enough to put me off.  If we could see the white caps from the deck, and even better from standing on the coastline, imagine what they are like to experience from the rocky surface of a boat.  Not for me and my sea legs.  As for Peter, I was more than happy for him to head off, with the camera, and see for himself and I would happily entertain myself with my book.  But he didn't like the idea of leaving me behind - how is that for love?

As we had driven along the coast road between Port Macquarie township and Lighthouse Beach I had seen a sign post to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre so after checking the internet decided it was worth a visit.  We timed our visit perfectly - their one hundred year celebration and no charge for entry!  As we entered the boardwalk through the rainforest there were volunteers showing various wildlife that are "occasionally" found in the area.  There were a number of snakes and various lizards on show.  One of the volunteers offered to put one of the snakes around my neck but I decided to give that a miss today.  Instead we admired one of the large lizards - sorry can't remember the proper name for it.

We certainly didn't see any of the wildlife on show as we walked the boardwalk - some birds, yes, but nothing else.  I realise that it is difficult to see these creatures from a distance.  We did see some bush turkey so at least we saw something.

Sea Acres is actually now a national park (from 2011) and contains one of the largest, least disturbed and most diverse coastal rainforests in New South Wales.  The boardwalk is elevated and is 1.3 kilometres long (no wonder I thought the skywalk at the Tamborine Mountains in Queensland was short!) .  The actual walk is accessible for all abilities and is wheelchairs and pram friendly.  We only met two other groups walking which was a little surprising one family group and another young woman and her mother who had lived in the area all their lives and never visited - surprising eh but at least they had come now.

The walk was really pleasant and gave a very good opportunity to look at the various trees and ferns growing in the rain forest.  It lived up to its slogan "take the wonder walk".  Part way along the walk the met up with the two ladies and one of them offered to take a photo of us together - often a rare occurrence when travelling.

 Walkway and Us
School and other groups often visit the boardwalk and part way along the walkway there is a wider area set out with seating for talks - a very peaceful spot.  Here there are wood carvings.

We completed the walk, which was very pleasant with a cooler temperature within the forest than the 30 degrees in Port Macquarie that day.  We finished off our visit with a look through the gift shop and then devonshire tea for Peter and a smoothie and cake for me in the rainforest cafe - certainly a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two weeks in Port Macquarie, New South Wales begins

During the time we were staying at The Gap we had received an offer to house sit for thirteen days in Port Macquarie.  As the dates fitted in perfectly for us, we happily accepted and arrived late in the day to care for Penny, a Kelpie and Cleo, a moggy cat.  The homeowners had left early in the morning on their flight to Port Douglas so the animals were pleased to welcome us as that meant dinner!

We soon settled into our stay.  The home was built on a hill that overlooked the bay in the distance and we had a great view from the deck and lounge areas.  Breakfast on the deck meant the company of our two new friends - Penny and Cleo.

We had previously visited Port Macquarie a couple of times but they had always been short visits and we had never really explored the area.  These two weeks gave us time to do this.  Penny was very used to riding in the car, and one mention of the word "walk" and she was pulling on her lead where it hung and was ready to go.  Our initial drive and walk took us to Tacking Point - the lighthouse here is the third oldest lighthouse in Australia.  It was built on a rocky headland about eight kilometres south of Port Macquarie in 1879 and was automated in 1919 when it was converted from wick oil light.  With the automation the lighthouse was demanned from 1920.  The foundations of the keepers cottage are still visible.  Apparently over twenty ships were wrecked in this area.  It is a very unusual shape for a lighthouse with the storeroom attached to the side.  It is only eight metres high and this was considered sufficient because of the elevation of the site.

There is a coastal walk from Town Beach in Port Macquarie and this ends at the next beach to Tacking Point which is called Lighthouse Beach.  The walk is nine kilometres in length.  The coast on one side of the lighthouse is quite rocky (Miners Beach).

On the opposite side a beautiful sandy beach (Lighthouse Beach).  Penny was in her element and loved the opportunity to go for a walk - unfortunately there are no dogs allowed on this beach, and the majority of the others, so we had to give the beach walking a miss.  We understand that there are camel rides available on this beach - the homeowner we were sitting for had originally owned that business but had recently sold it.  The walks are in the morning so certainly wouldn't have the charm of the camel ride we had last year in Broome in Western Australia at sunset.

Lighthouse Beach

Our time in Brisbane comes to an end

Once Sharryn left to return to Wellington I had just two days on my own before Peter returned from Wellington.  During those days I spent lots of time taking Toby for his walks, it was my task to water the gardens and keep the pool and house clean (which I did exceptionally well in my opinion) and of course swim, and relax in the outside lounge area.  Toby was a constant companion and when I was outside either tending to the pool, watering or relaxing he spent his time, with one eye open on me, dozing on his seat.  The days went very quickly and we were now in our last few days before it was time to move on.

Once Peter was home we had just two days to finalise sorting out our gear that previously fitted in the Patrol and now had to fit in the Falcon.  Surprisingly it was too difficult and with the station wagon area, plus the back seats folded down we had everything in.

Thursday, 5th September was time for us to move on - we had thoroughly enjoyed staying in The Gap. Initially we had thought that nearly seven weeks would be too long, but surprisingly the time went very quickly and we would have been more than happy to stay longer.  The fact that we had a beautiful relaxing home, a pool which could be used all year round, a wonderful pet and superb surroundings of course helped this.  Perhaps we will be back on day - we will miss Toby.

So after a final clean we pulled out at around 10 am heading for Port Macquarie which was nearly 600 kilometres south where our next house sit assignment begins.  We do not have any nights in between the two assignments so it was a direct trip down the East Coast, a road we have travelled a number of times.

We pulled into Ballina for fuel and passed "The Big Prawn".  Apparently this icon was originally built in 1989 and was approved for demolition however the community opposed this.  A new Bunnings Warehouse has been built opposite the original "Prawn" site and Bunnings management agreed to shift the prawn the 100 metres or so across a newly developed roundabout and it now sits pride of place for all to see.  Obviously top marks to the community action and the Bunnings management team for making this happen.  The "Big Prawn" certainly looks impressive in its new home.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A visit to Tamborine Mountain

A number of years ago as a family we had holidayed at the Gold Coast and during that time we overlapped our visit with that of friends who lived in Auckland (Gillian and Nick for those who know them) and we had enjoyed a great holiday together.  As there were six of us (Peter and I and our two children Roanne and Cam plus Gillian and Nick) we had decided the best way to decide what we would do each day was for each of us to choose one activity per day and the whole group would attend.  This worked really well for us all and we had some great experiences that suited everyone.  One of those visits was to the Skywalk at Tamborine Mountain.

We had not visited the Tamborine Mountain area since that time but with nearly seven weeks in Brisbane Peter and I had decided a repeat visit would be ideal.  However, the weeks had slipped by and now he was in New Zealand for a little over a week so Sharryn and I took the opportunity for that visit.

I have to say that the actual elevated bridge was shorter than I had remembered.  After coffee in the cafe we entered the bridge from the gallery where it enters directly into the upper and middle canopies of the lush rainforest.

From the walkway we had a great perspective of the height of the trees with their long trunks descending deep down to the forest floor.  The giant strangler fig trees are just amazing.  The signage provides information about these trees.

Once at the end of the elevated bridge the track descends through the lower canopy to the forest floor and the stream running through.  There were a group of young guys taking no notice of signage and had wandered further up the stream rock hopping there way.  They were enjoying themselves but for everyone else they were just a nuisance getting in the way of photos.

We saw a lovely display of rainforest orchids which were flowering.  Although we could hear the birds we didn't see any nor any other wildlife.

There is a free-standing cantilever which soars 30 metres above Cedar Creek which has beautiful views of the valley and the rainforest - however for us it was quite hard to actually see anything as the group of young guys had finished their rock climbing and were taking the vantage point on the cantilever.  They appeared to not understand normal courtesy of moving so others could also see!  Surprisingly I held my tongue and didn't ask them to move on.

We enjoyed our walk - it is well built with no stairs so accessible for those with very young children and also the disabled.  However the price of $19.50 per adult (and $9.50 for each child) seemed a bit steep for a wander in a rain forest.

From here we moved on down to the Tamborine village and enjoyed lunch in a lovely cafe overlooking the Curtis waterfalls and then further on we took a stroll through the village shops.  We finished off our visit with a brief visit a boutique brewery with cheese manufacturing company - the venue also has a bistro and grill and is a popular venue.

From down the hill a little we could see a distant view of the Gold Coast - just a reminder that the coast is not that far from the hinterland.
Gold Coast view
The next day it was time for Sharryn to return to New Zealand - so after a leisurely day doing what we do best (relaxing in the outdoor lounge area, shopping at Paddington and enjoying cake and coffee) it was time to go to the airport and say good bye.  Until next time - I wonder where we will next holiday together?