Landmark Birthdays: Part 2

My final landmark birthday fell in the middle of a triple celebratory 6-month holiday, camping around Australia. It was my 49th birthday (my 50th year), my husband had entered his 60s the previous year and it was our 25th wedding anniversary!  We had just sold our Dorrigo property the previous year and were foot-loose and fancy-free again! Originally, we had planned a 3-month trip to Cape York, finishing with Lawn Hill, but we were having such a great time and all our obligations were being met, so we decided to continue travelling around the rest of our amazing continent. The outlay had been relatively small, as we already had an old Toyota 4WD, which we set up with my patchwork drawers in the back to hold all our provisions.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_1436 We bought a heavy-duty canvas tent, which could be erected in 5 minutes flat (and often was!) and a car fridge, but we already had most of the camping equipment, including an inflatable queen-sized mattress and a light bushwalking tent, not to mention Caroline’s favourite travelling companion, the porta-loo, which kept threatening to fall down on her during the trip!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5101 Our youngest daughter, Caroline, who had just left school and was accustomed to joining us on our anniversary camping trips, came with us, as well as her guitar and a mascot called Nomad (as in Grey Nomad!), an Eeyore donkey from Ross’s favourite childhood book, Winnie-the-Pooh! Here is our intrepid adventurer at Cooktown Botanic Garden on the head of ‘Mungurru’, the scrub python, who created the Endeavour River, according to local aboriginal legend. It was carved out of Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophelum chlorostachys), a very hard wood, from which the aborigines also used to make their spears.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_1838 It was wonderful having our very own travelling minstrel and the perfect way to encourage fellow campers to turn off their radios and listen to some real music! She even entertained a tour group of 18 retirees with Wilderness Challenge’s 4WD safari tour at Jowalbinna on Cape York.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_2687We had some wonderful adventures together from:

Climbing Mt Kootaloo on Dunk Island; visiting relatives and friends in Townsville, Cairns, Herberton and the Daintree; and revisiting Cape Tribulation (see below), where we camped on the beach totally on our own for our honeymoon, all those years ago, and just before the Bloomfield Rd went in- now the place is crawling with tourists ! ;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_1722Watching a rescue of an injured fisherman by the Royal Flying Doctor Service at Musgrave Station, where the road had to be cleared of cattle before the plane could land; and viewing Eclectus Parrots, Palm Cockatoos, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, Double-eyed Fig Parrots and butterflies at Iron Range National Park. The photo below shows a male Eclectus Parrot.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_2486Learning to juggle at Moreton Telegraph Station with Smokey, the support team for Michael Mitchell’s ‘Great Australian Cancer Bush Walk’,  retracing Steve Tremont’s footsteps from the tip of Cape York to Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, along the Great Dividing Range; being attacked by cave bat lice at Captain Billy’s Landing- a very uncomfortable night !; and swimming at Twin Falls;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_3891Singing and playing guitar with other guests round a campfire at Punsand Camping Resort on the top of Cape York ; Feasting on freshly-caught crab the size of a dinner plate at Jardine’s old homestead site (photo above)  and playing guitar on the very tip of Australia- Caroline actually walked to the cape 3 times- the 2nd time to collect Nomad and the 3rd time her guitar (photo below) !

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Driving part of the Old Telegraph Track past huge termite mounds and bustards to the notorious Gun Shot section, environmental vandalism by 4WD at its worst! To give you a bit of an idea, see : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF92zaHtnYc. Needless to say, we did NOT attempt it! We drove up to the cape early in the season and I think a lot of our fellow travellers thought that we were a little bit strange, because we weren’t fishermen nor 4WD enthusiasts and we actually enjoyed looking at birds !!! ; crossing flooded streams and having to wade through potentially-infested crocodile waters to check for depth and dangerous potholes !; and exploring ancient aboriginal cave art at Jowalbinna and Laura, including a tour with Steve Tresize. The cave art below was at the Guguyalangi Gallery at Laura. UNESCO rate the Quinkan region as one of the top 10 rock art sites in the world.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_4823And this was all before my birthday! We camped at Old Laura the night before, and my 49th birthday was heralded by a flyover of hundreds of squawking Red-tailed Black Cockatoos! Such delightful raucous party animals!!!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5186BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5250BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5193BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5227BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5204 Ross gave me a tripod for my birthday, but we decided to reserve the official birthday celebrations till the mid-June, when we were spending a week in a house in Cooktown.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5215

I had a makeshift birthday cake- a crustless slice of bread, smeared with Nutella and lit with 3 matches at Kalpowar Crossing, where we set up camp in Lakefield National Park on the banks of the Normanby River.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5288 We met a lovely couple, Ruth and Dave, from Mornington Peninsula, who were in effect having a pre-honeymoon, as they were married the following year. We shared many interests like archaeology, aboriginal cave art and environment and Ruth also sang and played guitar, so we enjoyed listening to duets by Caro and Ruth.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5602BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5582

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Never smile at a crocodile!

We saw a huge freshwater crocodile sunning on the riverbank and loved our birdwatching at all the billabongs and lagoons. The first photo is Lakefield Lagoon and the second photo was taken at Catfish Waterhole.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5524BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5273Here are some of the birds we saw :

Magpie Geese, with goslings, hiding amongst the Lotus leaves at Red Lily Lagoon;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5494Brolgas feeding on the tubers of sedges;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5500Green Pygmy Geese displaying iridescent, metallic green feathers;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5540Comb-crested Jacanas and their babies crossing lilypads;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5302BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5513White-bellied Sea Eagles (1st photo), Ospreys, Brown Falcons (2nd photo) and Black Kites surveying for prey;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5556BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5638Stately Straw-necked Ibis nonchalantly strolling by dozing crocodiles;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5574Sacred (1st and 2nd photos) and Forest Kingfishers (3rd photo) perched on river boughs;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5321BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5522BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5563Rainbow Bee-eaters, which nest in riverbanks;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6003Black-fronted Dotterels on the dry bed of the Morehead River;BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5641And Pelicans climbing the thermals high in the sky. For more information on Lakefield National Park, please see : http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/rinyirru-lakefield/culture.html.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5689So many birds and an ornithologist’s paradise!!!  But the jewel in the crown was the highly endangered and difficult-to-find Golden-shouldered Parrot. We had tried to find these elusive small parrots at Musgrave Station on our way up and down the cape to no avail ! The manager at Musgrave told us to check out Windmill Creek, where we waited for half an hour- still no luck ! His Auntie Sue (Sue and Tom Shephard, Artemis Station) was the honorary caretaker for these parrots on her property, but she was away at a family funeral! We called in at Lotus Bird Lodge (http://www.lotusbird.com.au/), an expensive resort and prominent birdwatching venue, with over 200 species of birds , whose owner very kindly let us eat our picnic lunch in the cool shade of their verandah and walk around their water-lily billabong.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5788BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5787BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5740BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5849BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5813 We saw huge flocks of Little Corellas, a Black-backed Butcher Bird, a sleepy trio of Papuan Frogmouths (1st photo) and Roger Ramjet, a hand-reared baby Red-winged Parrot (2nd photo).BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5801BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5792 The owner suggested that we drive a further 200m past Windmill Creek and walk in to the termite mounds, in which they make their nests- still no parrots! And then, just as we’d given up and come to terms with never seeing them, we were walking back to the car and down they flew –  a small flock of 8 males and females – grazing on the side of the road, despite all the passing traffic!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5958BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5934BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_5938 So special and a wonderful birthday present (since the birthday was extending over the whole week!), only to be equalled by seeing the first Gouldian Finches of the season (a breeding pair with 2 offspring!) at Mornington Wilderness Resort on the Gibb River Rd, Western Australia later in the year!!! For more information on the Golden-shouldered Parrot, see : http://www.landmanager.org.au/tom-and-sue-shephard-winners-queensland-landcare-conservation-award-2007  and    https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/threatened-species/endangered/endangered-animals/goldenshouldered_parrot.html. Another good site, which also covers Eclectus and Palm Cockatoos, as well as Gouldian Finches is : http://aviculturalsocietynsw.org/_articles/Golden-shoulderedParrot2015.htm#.VzQ1beS2oxI

We had a wonderful week in Cooktown- one of my favourite tropical towns! Here is a link to their tourism site: http://tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/destination/cooktown/.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_1768 It started with the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, which is also the annual Discovery Festival, a series of events held to commemorate Captain Cook’s landing here back in 1770, though really it was to celebrate my birthday!!!  We knew that there would be lots of visitors to town with the camping grounds fully-booked, so we had pre-booked a house underneath Mt Cook for a week, while we waited for the Lizard Island seaplane to be repaired. The weekend started with a 7.30am Can-Can workshop with a troupe called Sassy Catz from Cairns (https://www.facebook.com/Sassy-Catz-Dance-Troupe-266763093482332/). The dancers were fabulous and their costumes very cute and colourful.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdDSCF0403BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdDSCF0417 Because Caroline and I were the only participants, apart from the organizer, they invited us to join them in the Grand Parade through the main street in town. What they neglected to tell us was that they were at the front of the parade, just behind the boys in white, the Barrier Reef Jazz Band, who played totally inappropriate music, to which it was impossible to dance! Afterwards, we had a guided tour of Cooktown Cemetery , where we saw Mary Watson’s grave and learned about the Normanby woman, a fair-skinned woman living amongst aborigines in 1873. We also had a guided tour of the Cooktown Botanical Gardens.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6193BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6176The re-enactment on the Sunday was held in Bicentennial Park on the Endeavour River at the exact spot Cook landed in 1770 to repair his ship after damage on the reefs off Cape Tribulation.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6239BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6250 The cannon, sent to Cooktown in 1880 as a response to a request for military backup against a threatened Russian invasion (!), was fired, then we attended the hilarious Lion’s Club Billy Goat Derby. It was held on a steep street, cushioned at the bottom with hay bales.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6259 Forty intrepid contestants raced a variety of highly creative, home-made carts from bath tubs to Captain Pugwash’s bright pink boat on wheels, driven by a polar bear ‘Bundy Bear’;  a bicycle affair; and the cockatoo-decorated ‘Indigenous Warrior”.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6274BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6273BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6264 We were also very impressed by the Stepping Out sponsor maidens, who negotiated the steep slope in their high heels with great style!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6269We watched the wonderful Hopevale Aboriginal Dancers perform in the Cooktown Botanical gardens and finished the day with a lovely sensual dance by the Shee Sha Belly Dancers, their pastel gauzy veils swaying in the warm breeze and finally, a spectacular fireworks display reflected in the river. I think that it is almost the best fireworks I have ever seen – forget Sydney !!!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6281 Another day, we walked from the Botanic Gardens to Cherry Tree Bay and then up to Grassy Hill, the perfect place to watch the sun setting over the Endeavour River and the Coral Sea.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6346Then, it was time for my official birthday celebration. I reopened a wrapped tripod, as well as a blue polka-dot chiffon skirt, some earrings made out of red seeds, a book on Pioneer Women by  Susanna de Vries and an illustrated music score of a song, written by Caroline, about our trip. Birthday breakfast was delicious pancakes with tropical fruit.

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BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6369 Dave and Ruth, our friends from Lakefield National Park, called in for a birthday lunch- we’d bumped into them unexpectedly when shopping on our arrival in Cooktown. They came bearing bread rolls, tomatoes, blue cheese and chocolates. It was so good to see them and hear all their news. We caught up with them later again in Kakadu National Park, again by accident, and later had a planned rendez-vous in Darwin. We also visited them in their home on the Mornington Peninsula a number of times during our stay  in Victoria.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6376After they left, we drove down to the stunningly beautiful Archer Point , 15 km south of Cooktown, to watch the visiting tall ship replica ‘Duyfken’, sailing south. Such a magical spot in the golden light of the late afternoon sun! The colours were spectacular- red grass,  gold and green mangroves and blue, blue mountains plunging into the sea.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6379BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6389BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6396BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6455 We celebrated my birthday in style at the magnificent Shadows Restaurant in the shadow of Mt. Cook. A superb menu, but so difficult to choose as every meal was divine!  I had an entrée of prawn spring rolls, a coral trout with tartare sauce for mains and a coconut and rum crème brulée for dessert- heaven!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6512BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6502BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6510BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6500While I won’t recount the whole trip, there were two more birthday highlights : a walk up Mt Cook the next day and then our long-awaited weekend on Lizard Island.  I lost so much weight on that trip through hiking up every high point in the heat and sweating it off! For the first time in my life, I had a waist! It was fantastic! I think I need another trip to the tropics!!! Even though it was Winter, I still needed 6 cold showers a day to cope with the heat!!!  We also used the local pool every day – in fact, we were invited to join the local aquarobics group!

Before we left Cooktown, we climbed to the summit of Mt. Cook (431m). The circuit track is 6 km long and takes 3 hours.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6531 We climbed up through open forest with ancient Palm Cycads and Zamia ferns, Kapok Trees and Native Cypress to a rainforest full of Cordylines, Elkhorns, thickets of lethal Lawyer Vines and colourful rainforest fruits on the forest floor. The 2nd photo is the Zamia Fern, Bowenia spectabilis, one of the world’s smallest cycads.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6638BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6562 And then to the summit with its wind-sheared vegetation (including Umbrella Trees and Oak-leafed Fern) and spectacular, extensive views over Walker Bay and Archer Point to the reef, Quarantine Bay and the mouth of the mighty Annan River.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6615BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6625BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6612 We saw Orange-footed Scrub Fowls, Wompoo Fruit Doves, Rose-crowned Fruit Doves and an Osprey soaring in the thermals. Cooktown is very windy, with the trade winds blowing constantly from May to September.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6609BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6557And finally, Lizard Island – what a spot to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary!  We had initially booked a seaplane from Cooktown to Lizard Island, which had the added advantage of landing on the water, right next to the National Park campsite, but unfortunately mechanical problems meant we had to abandon that plan and drive back to Cairns on the Friday to take a flight to Lizard Island,  270 Km to the north, with Hinterland Air instead.  Because of the exorbitant price of the new tickets, we left Caro with friends in Cairns. This is our first sighting of Lizard Island from the air.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6881That Saturday was the best day for flying over the Great Barrier Reef in months and we had fantastic views over the coast, patch and ribbon reefs and atolls. Captain Cook was amazing navigating through all those reefs!  We could even see the high sand dunes of Cape Flattery  to the north in the distance.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6859BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6865BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6890 We shared the tiny 6-seater plane with the pilot and the island nurse in the front seats and another couple, who obviously had a much bigger income and were staying at Lizard Island Resort ( roughly $2000 per night). See: http://www.lizardisland.com.au/About.aspx.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6904BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6905BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7029 We, on the other hand, were paying $4.50 per night in the National Parks campsite on the far northern (left in photo below) corner of Watson’s Bay and we got the entire campsite to ourselves. Now that’s what I call true exclusivity!!! For a map of the island and details about the walks and the island, see: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/lizard-island/about.html.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6901BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7003BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7447BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6982It felt like a long walk from the airport, even though it is only 685m, but we had to carry everything in. We took the 30 minute Pandanus Track over Chinaman’s Ridge, past Pandanus Palms and through a Paperbark forest, over a Mangrove boardwalk and past the ruins of Mary Watson’s Cottage to the sparkling white sands and aqua waters of Watson’s Bay.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6919BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6950BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6963 Mary Watson (21), whose grave we saw in Cooktown, died with her baby son in tragic circumstances in 1881. She was married to a bêche-de-mer fisherman, who was often away and she used to walk up to the highest point of the island, Cooks Look, to watch for his return. Unbeknown to her, the latter was an important ceremonial aboriginal site, where young boys were initiated. A group of Dingaal people came to investigate smoke on Lizard Island and killed one of the two Chinese servants, wounding the other, and a terrified Mary set sail in one of the bêche-de-mer boiling tanks with her infant son and the injured servant. They all died of dehydration within 8 days on the waterless Howick No. 5  island. You can read her diary entries on :http://www.cooktownandcapeyork.com/do/history/mary_watson. Below are photos of an aboriginal midden and the ruins of Mary’s cottage.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7499BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6948BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6978After a long walk up to the end of the beach and past Mary’s old well, we arrived at the camp site to meet its resident silver gull (photo above) and a couple of yachties, Guy and Annika, from ‘Street Legal’, who had been sailing round the world for 10 years and were halfway through their trip! They explained the etiquette of the camp treasure chest ‘Pandora’s Box’, hidden in a wooden barrel at the back of the campground and inscribed with the message : ‘Who be ye that disturbs my slumber, tell me your story and pay my price’! The rule is that if you open the box, you must put some treasure in. The box was already filled with silver goblets, candlesticks and necklaces. Obviously, yachties have plenty of loot to spare, but as light-weight campers, who had to lug everything in and out, we were stumped for a few days as to what we could possibly contribute! The solution dawned on us at the last panicky hour! It was obvious!!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6975BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7467BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6977For our whole stay, clean water had been a major issue! We were collecting water from Mary’s well, but hated the taste of our purifying tablets, so had been boiling the water instead.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7356 Unfortunately, we had neglected to bring in our empty 10 litre water flagons- a big mistake (!) , but we did have our washing up sink, so Ross would trek to the well a few times a day, then return, awkwardly carrying the heavy square tub, filled with water, in front of him. The only receptacles we had to store the purified water were 2 demi-litre bottles of Rosé, which we had drunk on our first night. So, when we were pressed to come up with a treasure, it was as plain as the nose on our face! Water is one of the most precious commodities in the world, especially when scarce, so we filled those two  little bottles with our valuable water and put them in the chest, along with an inspired ditty in the log book explaining the logic, which you can read at the end of this post!! You can see our little bottle on the left of this photo!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7468We had a wonderful weekend on Lizard Island. In Watson’s Bay, we snorkelled over beds of giant green, blue and purple velvety clams (Tridacna gigas), each measuring up to 1.2 m across and weighing up to 230 kg. There were also 8 species of solitary corals (including a blue one) ; 350 species of hard corals; Feather Stars; Sea Pens; Sponges; and a wide variety of colourful fish : Black-and-white Damsels, Yellow Butterfly Fish, Six-barred Wrasse and Parrot Fish. It looked like an underwater forest! Unfortunately, I lost my snorkel on the last day somewhere along the way! Lizard Island is renowned for its fringing reef (photos 1 and 3) and its clam gardens (photo 2).BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7017BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7336BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7350We made friends with the yachties, who were heading for Darwin in July to form a safety convoy before sailing to Indonesia and risking the pirate threat. ‘Kalida’ belonged to a lovely couple, Alison and David, who were home-educating their children, and we also met a charming Norwegian couple called Rune and Eden. The yachties and campers naturally bond together, because both are prohibited from the resort, except for the staff bar. The yachties had commandeered a National Park table and set it up on the beach as a drinks venue for The Lizard Island Yacht Club, where we were invited the first night. We checked out the staff bar on the second night!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7056BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6962Lizard Island was declared a National Park (1013 ha) in 1939, with the addition of other islands in 1987. While known as Jiigurru by the Dingaal people, Captain Cook called it Lizard Island after the goannas, including the Yellow-spotted Monitor (Varanus panoptes).and Gould’s Sand Monitor (Varanus gouldii), which he saw on the island.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any, though we saw plenty of burrows in the sand!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7307BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7358  It is a dry island rather than a tropical one- 60 per cent of the island is grassland. The sheltered south-west side of the island supports an open woodland of Eucalypts, Acacias, Tibouchinas (photo 4), Brachychiton and Kapok trees (photo 3).BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7308BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7105BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7296BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7177

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Umbrella Tree

We walked up huge granite boulders to Cooks Look (359m), so called because this is where Captain Cook looked to find a way through the reefs in 1770. The 2.25 km walk takes 2-3 hours.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7011BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7126 We saw Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, Fruit Doves, Rainbow Bee-eaters and huge bumblebees, but no lizards!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7317BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7353  The summit was covered with beautiful heathland, stunted eucalypts, umbrella trees, orchids and ferns. We met a couple of dive instructors, who amazingly knew all about Dorrigo – it transpired that the couple, who managed  the research station for the Winter/ Spring months, Bob and Tania Lamb, spent the rest of the year in Coffs Harbour and we had mutual friends from Dorrigo! Unfortunately, they are no longer there.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7184BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7183BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7189There were fabulous views over the entire island of Watson’s Bay, Lizard Island Resort, the airstrip and Blue Lagoon.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7151BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7162BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7083BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7153BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7320BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7134On our third and last day, we packed up, dumped our bags at the airport and walked across to Blue Lagoon and the Lizard Island Research Station.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7503

It was established in 1973 by the Australian Museum and conducts research on the coral reef, as well as hosting academics and researchers and educating visiting school and university students. These are good sites to visit : http://australianmuseum.net.au/lizard-island-research-station  and http://australianmuseum.net.au/uploads/documents/31852/newsletter%202013%20web.pdf, as well as an informative introductory video at : http://australianmuseum.net.au/movie/introduction-lizard-island. While we were there, some Texan university students arrived back after scuba-diving (1st photo). The 2nd photo is the station’s research vessel.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7511BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_6946 Tania (far right in 1st photo) gave us a guided tour of the station with our yachtie friends. We saw a PhD project on the effects of global warming on foraminifera, nudibranches and hard coral, but there are so many more research projects.  From research conducted at Lizard Island, up to 100 scientific publications are produced each year.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7513BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7526BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7532BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7549

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Crown of Thorns Starfish and coral reef destroyer!

The yachtie kids loved the tanks of marine creatures, including a Decorator Crab, whose shell was covered with lots of little pieces of Chux.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7563BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7558 It was a fascinating place and if we ever want to return to Lizard Island, there are volunteer opportunities, where board is free in return for cleaning and maintenance duties: see http://australianmuseum.net.au/volunteering-on-lizard-island-research-station and http://australianmuseum.net.au/station-volunteer-program. If you are a qualified divemaster, you can be a research volunteer- see :  http://australianmuseum.net.au/volunteer-research-assistance.

After our visit, we walked to the beautiful Blue Lagoon and Trawler Bay.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7655BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7626BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7618BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7590BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7648

Then sadly returned to the airfield and flew back to Cairns.BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7661BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7667And that was the end of Landmark Birthday No. 3 !  We continued on our Round Australia trip till mid-October with so many amazing adventures and experiences, but that’s a story for future posts!!!BlogLandmarkbirthdaysPt2 25%ReszdIMG_7407

Here is the Lizard Island poem as promised:

 

Lizard Island Ode by a Pair of Very Merry Campers!

We flew from Cairns on a gorgeous day,

Then hauled our packs to Watson’s Bay

And pitched our tent at the camping stove,

Where we soon discovered this treasure trove,

Full of jewels and trinkets gold

And other treasures to behold!

What could we humble camper pair

Possibly add to enrich such fare?!

 

We pondered on this for three days

While snorkelling, walk-ling…never to laze

Beside the beach or read a book-

We even climbed up to Cook’s Look!

But, whenever we ever got a free spell,

We had to go off to the well!

Collecting water was arduous work!

An essential duty we could not shirk!!!

 

We carted and boiled in tiny lots,

Because we’d forgotten the ten- litre bots!

The Aquatabs were horrible!

The water tasted like a pool!

…The final night! And still no clue!

To help us , we imbibed a few!

We needed treasure beyond compare

To match up to these baubles fair!

Then, FINALLY, we had some luck!

Another swig- a brainwave struck!

The treasure that we strove to find

Was under our noses! We’d been so blind!!!

 

The most precious treasure of the lot

Was what we had in each tiny pot!

So, we’ve packaged it in a Rosé bot

And added it to this priceless lot!

The next poor sod with a raging thirst

Will surely open our treasure first!

And please excuse this AWFUL rhyme!

It’s ‘cos we’ve guzzled too much wine!!!

Landmark Birthdays: Part 1

On the eve of my birthday, I thought a post on landmark birthdays was appropriate! My birthday falls on the first day of Winter, which is special enough in itself, and while I enjoy all my birthdays, there have been 3 stand-outs : my 35th birthday in France, my 40th birthday on Lord Howe Island and my 49th birthday on Cape York in Queensland. The Lord Howe celebration was planned, but the other two just happened to be in exotic places, because my birthday fell during our travels. As this post is fairly long, I have divided it into two sections, which I will post either side of my birthday week. I have had such a lovely time writing and researching this post. It has been like having these holidays all over again!!!

The year I turned 35 was a pretty special year, not only because we eventually found our home in Armidale, as well as our country property at Dorrigo, but also because just prior to these purchases, we had a wonderful ten-week holiday in England and France with the whole family. Most of our major holidays have been at turning points of our lives, between leaving our old home and settling down in our new life, and this occasion was no different. We had been renting for a year, all the time searching for our new home unsuccessfully, so we decided to take a break and fulfill that long-held dream of taking the kids overseas.

It was a wonderful experience and even though there was the odd moment, it was fantastic travelling with young children. Because they were so young – all under 8 years of age – we were able to plan a nature-based trip, staying mainly in country areas, and were able to avoid places like Disney World! It also opened many doors to us, especially in France. The French love children and were so impressed that we had brought the entire family from such a long distance away, as well as the fact that I was able to communicate with them in their own language! Whenever we arrived at a new place, the kids would be whisked away by the hosts and plied with hot chocolate and croissants at the kitchen table while we unpacked or we would find them playing upstairs with the owners’ children or reading Tintin books in French.

We had so many amazing experiences from sailing on the Norfolk Broads in one of the original wherries; sitting with the puffins on the cliffs at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory; walking on the Cliffs of Hermaness with the bonxies and tysties; visiting Gerald Durrell’s Rare and Endangered Species Zoo on the island of Jersey, viewing prehistoric cave art 14000 years old in the Dordogne, watching pink flamingos feeding in the Camargue marshes;  and hiking in the Pyrenees amongst wildflowers. I have touched on some of these experiences in my post: My Love Affair With France. See: https://candeloblooms.com/2015/11/12/my-love-affair-with-france/.

BlogFranceLoveAffair30%ReszdIMG_0630BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (85)My 35th birthday in the Limoges countryside was definitely one of the highlights! We’d just spent the day exploring the beautiful potager gardens at Villandry and visiting Clos Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, with models of all his amazing inventions (see photos above), and as we left the Loire Valley, I hinted to Ross at the possibility of spending the night in a château (see photo below) for my birthday, only to be told it was far too expensive!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (86) We drove on and on along the scenic back roads of the alternative tourist route and by 8.30pm, we still hadn’t eaten dinner, nor found accommodation for the night!  In the evening light, we spotted a little chambre d’hôte sign on a tree, just south of La Trimouille. Proceeding down the tree-lined driveway, we discovered the beautiful old Château de Régnier.

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Because it was so late, we decided to enquire about the price , only to find that it was very reasonable and quite affordable! On asking about nearby restaurants, the hostess Anniq apologised profusely, saying that had she known that we were coming, she would have prepared us a meal. She also apologised for the overgrown state of the circular driveway lawn, which had not yet been mown for the upcoming hunt!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (88)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (98) She phoned the local hotel, only to be told that dinner might not be possible because they had run out of bread! I suspect the kitchen may have been about to close! But no problem!  Anniq had a whole loaf, which she sent down with us to the hotel dining room. After a five-minute wait, a surly waitress clomped out and took the bread from us without a word, disappearing back into the kitchen. Not a menu in sight, so no difficult hassles translating menu meals! Out came the bread, now sliced, with a huge bowl of pâté and some sliced avocado. Thinking this was dinner, we bogged into the pâté, only to be surprised by a main course of beef and fried potatoes with a delicious red wine, fresh pears for dessert and then coffee, all without having to make any decisions!!!

Because it was my birthday the next day and also because we were down to our last clean clothes, the’ best’ outfits, we decided to spend another night at the château. Doing the laundry while travelling was always a hassle and I was dreading having to use a French laundromat, but Anniq insisted on washing all our dirty clothes herself in her laundry, set in one of the lovely old outbuildings, and hanging them out to dry in her bat-filled attic overnight.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (99)The next morning was warm and sunny and we had a lovely extended breakfast with lots of conversation and laughter. Anniq was a wonderful communicator and between our dodgy command of each other’s languages, we were still able to make ourselves understood, even discussing quite complex matters!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (100) Ross gave me a beautiful green woollen cloak, which we’d bought in Ireland, and some lovely perfume. Anniq gave us a guided tour of the current château, built in 1820.  The original Château de Régnier was built in 1399 for the Loubes family, but it had been in the Liniers family for 5 generations since 1799.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (115) The château had 25 rooms, 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms and a small, disused, cobwebbed family chapel underneath our room (bottom photo). The walls were covered with an Aubusson tapestry and trophies from the hunt- stuffed birds, foxes, boars and deer. Anniq showed me her shell collection and her own hand-painted porcelain.

BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (101)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (89) - CopyBlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (89)Her husband Charles showed us the stables, laundry, machinery sheds and dairy, all housed in these superb old brick buildings. The bottom photo is of the gatehouse.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (91) - CopyBlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (90) - CopyThe kids ran all day, dressed in their Sunday best and gumboots, in the long grass with the family dogs, two friendly Weimaraners called Hamlet and Jean, and Ibis, a very active, visiting Jack Russell terrier, with whom Chris fell in love. He is in the photo below.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (90)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (92)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (93) After lunch, we wandered down to the creek, from where the château had the appearance of a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ castle!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (95)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (91) I picked a bouquet of Summer wildflowers- buttercups, forget-me-knots, grasses and lots of pink, purple and white wild blooms, as well as a bunch of apple mint for dinner.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (94)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (97) The girls found a baby bird and waded in the creek.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (96)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (102) Of course, Chris fell in and ended up swimming in his clothes!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (103)On our return to the château, Anniq made us a cup of tea with shortbread and we met an English couple, who had discovered this wonderful place a few years ago and now always called in en route to their holiday house in Spain each year. Because they could not speak French and Anniq’s English was limited (although she was attending English classes at night), whenever they called in,  Anniq would invite her neighbour Yvonne, who spoke excellent English, for dinner. Dear Anniq had made a special trip into Limoges to buy me a birthday present, as she didn’t have any spare hand-painted porcelain of her own to give me. She bought me a beautiful china terrine, decorated with French wildflowers, a cherished gift which I still have today. She also gave me a bouquet of her own pink roses- the first of the season.BlogLandmarkbirthdays20%Reszd2016-05-10 16.16.14My birthday dinner was amazing! An entrée of an egg, tomato and lettuce salad; a choice of roast pork or goose with fried potatoes, carrots and peas for our main course with a green salad made by Yvonne; and palate fresheners between courses and a different wine with each course.  The pièce de résistance was the homemade chocolate cake, aglow with candles and served with icecream, followed by a selection of cheeses and coffee. It was such a funny night! Both Brian, the Englishman, and Charles, the proud Frenchman, were very similar in character and neither was EVER going to learn one another’s language! They spent all night slinging off at each other in their own languages and Yvonne and I were very amused by their accuracy and similarities!

It was raining by the end of the night and as Yvonne departed, she invited us to visit her in her 11th century home at Courtevrault Manor the next day. It was amazing! Her bedroom, on the first floor next to the 11th century turret, was situated above a deep dungeon, accessed via a door on the ground floor and into which French soldiers would throw their English captives during the Hundred Years War. The depth and number of skeletons down there was unknown and did not unduly worry Yvonne!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (104)

There was also a 13th century addition with a well underneath and the main house with 11 bedrooms, a stone-flagged kitchen and amazing artwork, including a painting by Raphael. Yvonne was obviously very well-connected!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (105) She had her own gardener, who lived onsite, lit her kitchen fire every morning and kept her and his family in vegetables all year round.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (107) The vegetable garden and herb garden were huge and the flower garden filled with Old Roses and a huge Philadelphus shrub.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (106) There was also a dovecote, a pool and a creek, which ran through the garden.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (108)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (108) - Copy It certainly was an amazing opportunity, not often afforded to the normal tourist and a very memorable birthday!

Five years later, it was my 40th birthday and I wanted it to be equally special! I worked an extra job all year, sorting private mail boxes for Australia Post, in the wee hours of the morning – 4am on Mondays and 6am on the other weekdays. By the end of the year, I had earned enough to buy my coveted Bernina sewing machine and fund an 8 day trip to Lord Howe Island for the whole family to celebrate my 40th birthday. We had always wanted to visit Lord Howe Island. It is one of those very special places, especially if like us, you love nature, the environment, birds and bush walking.  It was listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1982. We took a small plane with Eastern Airlines on the 29th May out of Sydney and, after a 1.5 hour flight, had to circle the island twice until the winds were conducive to landing on the tiny airstrip in the middle of the island. We had an excellent view of Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest sea stack at 551m, 26 km south of Lord Howe , as well as the lagoon and all the island landmarks.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (109)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (110)Before you can purchase your flight tickets, your accommodation must be pre-booked, as there is a limit of 400 visitors on the island at any one time. There is no camping on the island. Because we had the entire family with us, we booked a self-contained apartment at Hideaway Apartments on Middle Beach Rd, halfway up the hill from Joy’s shop. Because there are weight restrictions on luggage, you cannot bring your own food and supplies are very expensive, due to the fact that everything has to be brought in via the Island Trader. Consequently, our diet was fairly basic, until a departing couple of tourists left us the stuff they hadn’t used! There are few cars, so we walked everywhere or rented bicycles for longer trips. It was such a lovely free feeling, cycling with the breeze in your face, past aqua seas and tropical palms, and not a care in the world about cars or traffic!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (111)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (112) We were so lucky with the weather too- sunny blue skies and no rain, unlike the mini-cyclone last week! Here is a link to the official brochure : http://lordhowe.com/files/2014/11/LHI-Holiday-Planner.pdf.

This brochure details the many walks on the island : http://www.lhib.nsw.gov.au/sites/lordhowe/files/public/images/documents/lhib/Tourism/LHI%20Walking%20Track%20Brochure%20-%20July%202014.pdf

and I have also included a map to give you an idea of some of the things we did from : https://www.lordhoweisland.info/travel-essentials/map-2/ Lord Howe Island MapOn our first day, we walked up to Clear Place to get our bearings and had a beautiful view of Muttonbird Island and Wolf Rocks. In the Valley of Shadows, the kids enjoyed playing in amongst the pendulous aerial roots and buttressed trunks of the massive Banyan trees (Ficus macrophylla subsp columnaris), whose long branches extended over a hectare (2 acres). There is also a forest of 40 feet high Kentia Palms (Howea forsteriana), one of 4 species of palms endemic to the island and the world’s most popular indoor palm for 120 years.

BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (121)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (116)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (114) The palm seed industry was started in 1906 with the formation of the Kentia Palm Seed and Plant Cooperative and is a key component of the island’s economy, along with tourism. See : http://lordhoweisland.info/library/palmseed.pdf. The Kentia Palm is a lowland palm. The other 3 endemic palms are :  Curly Palm (Howea belmoreana), another lowland palm, which grows slightly higher up;  Big Mountain Palm (Hedyscepe canterburyana), which grows from altitudes of 400m up to the summit of Mt Gower and Little Mountain Palm (Lepidorrhachis mooreana), which only grows on the summit.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (119)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (120) There are also some lovely specimens of Pandanus (Pandanus forsteri) with their long prop roots on the walk to Boat Harbour.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (118)

At Middle Beach, we came across 16 Landcare members planting 200 native trees for their Big Muttonbird Ground Project, which aimed to restore the natural bushland and nesting habitat of the migratory seabirds : the Flesh-footed Shearwater and the Black-Winged Petrel, both classified as vulnerable on the Threatened Species List for NSW. They were very appreciative of our help and wrote us up in the Lord Howe Island Signal, their local paper.

BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (117)BlogLandmarkbirthdays20%Reszd2016-05-09 12.29.09 - Copy We had lunch on the top of Transit Hill, which has a 360 degree view and was the site of the 1882 observation of the Transit of Venus across the sun. These photos are of the western side of the island: Mt. Gower; Blackburn Island; and the main area of settlement, looking across to the island and the lagoon.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (124)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (122)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (123) We saw our first Emerald Dove here. We loved the birdlife on Lord Howe Island. There are 180 species of birds on the island , which provides breeding sites for 32 species, of which 14 are sea birds and 18 are land birds. A good website to consult on the bird life of the island is : https://www.lordhoweisland.info/things-to-do/bird-watching/nature-calendar-2/ and http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2014/12/birds-of-lord-howe-island . BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (125)Because of its isolation, bird species are often similar, but not quite the same as their mainland relatives. For example, the  Lord Howe Island Currawong has a longer, more pointed beak and totally different call to its Eastern Australian cousin, the Pied Currawong. The Lord Howe Island Silver-Eye is endemic to the island and has a white ring of feathers around its eye. It has a heavier build, larger feet and claws and a longer bill then the mainland Silver-Eye.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (126) The lack of natural predators meant that the birds had little fear and were easy targets when humans arrived in 1788, followed by rats in 1918, as well as introduced owls and feral cats. Their habitat was further destroyed by feral goats and pigs. For information on the island’s extinct birds, see : http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/e137ac48-41b7-4f69-9b60-359a0763c635/files/lord-howe.pdf  and http://www.lordhoweislandbirds.com/index.php/extinct-birds.

The Lord Howe Island Woodhen, a flightless rail endemic to the island, was brought to the very brink of extinction (less than 30 in late 1970s and restricted to 2 tiny populations on the inaccessible summits of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower), but thanks to a successful captive breeding program begun in 1980, they have increased in numbers ( 200 in 1997; 117 in 2001), though they are still considered a highly  endangered species. We saw this woodhen up on the top of Mt Gower. For more information on this lovely little bird, see : http://www.lordhoweisland.info/library/woodhen.pdf       and         http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/TheLordHoweIslandWoodhen.htm.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (128)Then, there are the migratory birds, who return year after year to breed. Lord Howe Island is the only known breeding ground of the Providence Petrel, which arrives in March for its Winter breeding season (see photo below). The island is also the only breeding site in Eastern Australia of the Flesh-footed Shearwater, which breeds in large colonies on the forest floor between September and May. It is the only breeding location in Australia for the Kermadec Petrel and Grey Ternlet and is the most southerly breeding location in the world for the Sooty Tern, Common Noddy, Black Noddy and Masked Booby. The White Tern breeds on Lord Howe Island between October and April.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (127)The Red-tailed Tropic Birds are also Summer visitors, arriving in September from the North Pacific Ocean and performing their airborne courting rituals off Malabar Hill (208m), where we saw them on our second day. Lord Howe Island has the world’s largest breeding concentration of Red-tailed Tropic Birds. They nest on cliff ledges between Malabar Hill and North Head and head off late May back to the North Pacific Ocean.

BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (132)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (130)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (133)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (131)Looking to the  north from Malabar Hill, we could see the Admiralty Islands and to the east, Middle Beach (with Muttonbird Island in the background) and Ned’s Beach.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (115)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (135)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (134)We walked out to Kim’s Lookout, then headed back down to Old Settlement Beach, so called because it was the site of the first settlers in 1833. For more on the natural history, it is well worth consulting Ian Hutton’s website : http://lordhowe-tours.com.au/. Ian Hutton is the island’s resident naturalist and has written many scientific papers and over 20 books, as well as producing 3 videos about Lord Howe. He is a keen photographer and has run Lord Howe Island Nature Tours since the early 1990s.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (138)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (137)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (139)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (140)We had a beautiful day for my 40th birthday! It started with present-giving, including an unexpected bonus, when departing guests left us their food, including bottles of red wine and port! We spent a wonderful morning snorkelling down at Ned’s Beach.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (141)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (142) Lord Howe Island has Australia’s, and in fact the world’s, most southern coral reef ecosystem. Due to its location at the cross-roads of 5 major ocean currents and the influence of the warm East Australian Current, which flows south from the Great Barrier Reef to the Tasman Sea, the island has a rich and unique biodiversity of tropical, subtropical and temperate species, including 447 species of fish, 305 species of marine algae, 83 coral species and 65 species of echinoderms (sea stars and sea urchins), as well as sea turtles, dolphins and whales. There are over 60 world-class dive sites, including the spectacular Ball’s Pyramid, and most of which are only 10-20 minutes off shore. The alluring Admiralty Islands are home to 30 dive sites. See: http://www.prodivelordhoweisland.com.au/pages/admiralty-islands-dive-sites.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (113)We were blown away by the colourful corals, the bright green seaweed, the huge sea urchins and clams and the amazing variety of fish from rainbow coloured wrasses of pink-aqua-green or orange-yellow-green combinations with blue fins, blue double-header wrasses, black-and-yellow striped butterfly fish and purple striped fish to large schools of sea mullet. And that was only an nth of it! For a more in-depth look at the species list for Lord Howe Island, please consult : http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/3ed1e470-6344-4c6f-b8f1-c0e9774ce639/files/lordhowe-plan.pdf.

It appears that there is a video for everything on Lord Howe Island and snorkelling is no exception, See : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZpluoFDqRE. Not so sure about the accompanying soundtrack though!!! Scuba divers might also enjoy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpwCwcBr8J4. The music is slightly better!

My birthday lunch was at the restaurant of the luxurious Capella South, now called Capella Lodge. It was delicious, especially the sticky date pudding, and having just watched the Getaway program on Capella Lodge, I feel extra lucky to have dined there, as the restaurant is now exclusively for Capella guests. See : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtnYMx6ovM.

BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (143)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (144)Through the restaurant windows, we looked straight up at Mt. Gower, our destination for the next day.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (146) We cycled down to the start of the track to check it out and saw our first, very quiet Lord Howe Island Woodhen in the wild. The air looked like it was full of little specks of ash, with all the Providence Petrels being buffeted about by the strong wind. We met an older fellow, Les, who had been in ill health for 4 years with heart problems and  Ménières Disease, a disorder which affects the inner ear and balance, resulting in tinnitus and attacks of vertigo, so we really hoped that he wasn’t going on the guided tour the next day!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (145)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (147)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (150)The hike to the summit of Mt Gower (875m) is considered to be one of the 20  best walks in Australia. It’s a 14km round walk (7km straight up hill and 7km back!). Because of the rugged and often risky terrain, you can only access it with a guide and Jack Shick, our guide, is one of the most experienced on the island, having been a mountain guide for more than 20 years. See : http://www.lordhoweislandtours.net/.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (149)We started walking at 7.45 am, as the walk takes 8.5 hours to complete. There were 6 adults (including our guide) and our 3 kids and yes, Les was there!!! He was determined to prove his doctor wrong, but it did slow things down a bit, especially on our return, and meant that we were often looking after Les, instead of keeping an eye on the children!!!  Luckily, they are an adventurous lot and fairly sure-footed when it comes to outdoor activities. It was such a great adventure for them.

The first lesson was climbing a Kentia Palm. Being a 5th generation islander, Jack was a master, but Chris quickly got the hang of it!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (151)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (152)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (148)Once everyone had arrived, we started on the track, ascending quite quickly to the first challenge of the day- the Lower Road, where we had to don our helmets and follow a rope along the edge of the black volcanic cliff, with a sheer drop of over 100m to the sea below! You can see the ledge in the photo above , as well as photos 1 and 3 below.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (153)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (155)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (154)We came to a clearing at Pandanus-lined Erskine’s Creek , where I surprised a feral mother goat and her two black kids and found a freshly-laid Muttonbird egg.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (158)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (162)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (159) We then walked up through a forest to the saddle and then finally, the Get-Up Place, where there is a rope to help you pull yourself up the incredibly steep slope. Below is a photo of my family with a much younger Jack and Les on the far left.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (157)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (160)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (161) From the summit, there are incredible views out over all the island and the ash-speckled sky is filled with Providence Petrels (Pterodroma solandri) , wheeling and whittering to each other. This photo shows the view to the north over the rest of the island. BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (164) These gentle, trusting birds can be called out of the sky, to land with a heavy thud at your feet and then be picked up and cuddled. David Attenborough has recorded them falling from the sky in this video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgHch5Bg9Jg. It is such a special experience to hold these fearless birds in your hand, a little akin to our experience sitting with the Puffins on the cliffs at the Fair Isles. See : https://candeloblooms.com/2015/09/17/when-the-king-comes-to-tea/.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (166)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (165)The summit is covered with 52 acres of mist forest with Dendrobium moorei orchids in full bloom, elkhorns, ferns and mosses, wet fungi bells, the Little Mountain Palm (Lepidorrhachis mooreana) in red berry, Green Plums (Atractocarpus stipula, the endemic Hotbark (Zygogynum howeanum) with its chilli flavoured bark, the Fitzgeraldii tree (Dracophyllum fitzgeraldii) and the endemic Scalybark (Syzygium fullagarii) with its sharp, deep red fruit, high in vitamin C. The photos below show a mist-covered Mt Gower; a forest covered Mt Lidgbird; and the orchid Dendrobium moorei in full bloom.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (168)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (163)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (167) The vegetation on Lord Howe Island is also very special, with half of the island’s 241 native plant species being found nowhere else in the world. Overall, there are 52 tree species; 24 shrub species; 24 creeper species; 12 orchid species; 28 grasses and sedges; 48 herb species, 56 fern species and 105 moss species. There are at least 100 different types of fungi. For more information about the vegetation, see : http://www.lordhoweisland.info/library/plantlife.pdf and http://lordhowe-tours.com.au/biodiversity/plants/.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (170)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (172)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (169)The high degree of endemism (up to 60 per cent in some groups) is also found in the invertebrate population with over 1600 species. There are 157 species of land and freshwater snails; 21 species of earthworms; 515 species of beetles; 27 species of ants; 137 species of butterflies and moths and 71 species of springtails. As with all oceanic islands, there are few vertebrate land animals, apart from birds. There are only 3 on Lord Howe Island : a small insect-eating bat; a gecko and a skink, both of which are endemic to the island. There are no native frogs or terrestrial mammals on the island.

Even though he is looking a little older than in our photos, it is worth watching this video, produced by Jack, to get a feel for the climb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRkb24DPjE0. We were so exhausted at the end of the day we fell straight to sleep at the start of The English Patient, a film we had not seen and which we had rented out on video at enormous cost, especially for my birthday! We woke up early at 6am the next day to watch it before its return!

We were so stiff and sore and very very tired, so we were fair game for the spruikers and easily convinced to join Ron’s Rambles boat trip around the island!  The boat was overcrowded with 40 people crammed in and the weather rough with a giant swell, so most of us (but NOT Ross!) were very seasick. Still, we did get to see the island from a different angle, but I was pleased to get back on dry land, safe and sound! This jaunty video was taken on a far better day, but will give you a bit of a feel for exploring the island by boat : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXcN2ZhzosM.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (171)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (173)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (175)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (174)

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Ball’s Pyramid by sea

Still sore the following morning,  we had a low-key day : viewing the Woodhen breeding enclosure at Stevens Reserve, swimming at Lagoon Bay and Blinky Beach and visiting Lovers Bay and the rock pools of Middle Beach, where we saw Turbans, Sea Urchins, Nerites, black-and-white Cone shells and coral. We fed the fish at Ned’s Beach: Silver Drummers, Mullet and enormous King Fish. This amusing video will give you an idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NbtNtlYf4U.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (177)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (180)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (179)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (183)We finished with an evening of jazz and dinner at Pinetrees Lodge, the largest and oldest resort on the island , having housed guests since 1895 and now run by the 6th generation of the original family.

Yet to explore Mt Eliza (147m) and North Bay, we cunningly decided to hire sea kayaks, so we could spare our still-sore legs! We had an easy and quick trip down to North Bay with the wind behind us, climbed Mt Eliza and explored the rock pools of Old Gulch, but at 3pm, when we started our return paddle, we discovered that the wind was now against us and it was strong!  We made little progress, so in desperation, we tied the kayaks together then, with much swearing and pushing, we finally inched our way past yachts, amused onlookers and the imminent arrival of the Island Trader, heading straight for us, back to the original beach. It was so good to get home and we’d achieved balance- now, our arms were as sore and stiff as our legs!!!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (182)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (184)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (188)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (187)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (181)We went down to the wharf the next day to see the MV Island Trader (http://www.islandtrader.com.au/) being unloaded.  Owned and operated by the islanders, it makes fortnightly trips from Port Macquarie on the NSW coast and delivers all the islanders’ needs from groceries, building supplies and hardware to cars and furniture, and even a few passengers- though the trip takes much longer than flying!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (185)  We revisited Old Settlement Beach, site of our other dream resort, Trader Nicks, now known as Arajilla Resort. If you had the money, it is so hard to choose between the two : Capella Lodge has the views, but Arajilla, nestled in amongst old Banyan trees, is closer to everything and has a lovely beach!  For information on Arajilla, see:  http://www.arajilla.com.au/ or http://lordhowe.com.au/.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (190)We watched White Terns wheeling in the sky and snorkellers in the Sylph’s Hole, then made our way back to Ned’s Beach to say goodbye.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (186) A Sacred Kingfisher farewelled us at the airport.BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (191)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (189) We flew home that afternoon, having had the most magical island holiday – an unforgettable way to celebrate my 40th birthday!!BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (193)BlogLandmarkbirthdays50%ReszdImage (192)