Winter hiking — in Carnarvon

The Amphitheatre

“Somewhere between the start of the trail and the end is the mystery of why we chose to walk.”  Author unknown

Rock hopping across creeks, tottering on a swing bridge, scrambling up a steep gully, traversing a shale scree slope, kicking up dust in sandy valleys, negotiating boulder lined gorges, walking on narrow ridges, basking on spacious plateaus, luxuriating in the shade of a magnificent forest and sleeping under a trillion twinkling stars. All this and more filled six glorious days on the beautiful Carnarvon Great walk. Yep. I went hiking again.

Long term readers know I am a fan of multi day hikes and have headed into the wilderness on a number of occasions. Our, (my beloved and I) recent hike took place in Carnarvon National Park. We ventured forth on an 87 kilometre, six day independent hike.

View from Battleship Spur lookout

A feature of the National Park is the Gorge. It is literally an oasis in what is classified the  ‘semi-arid’ heart of Central Queensland. Don’t be mistaken, the landscape is anything but barren or lifeless. The countryside of Central Queensland is something to behold; there is a beauty and majesty in its expansive golden hues and resilient plant life. The Carnarvon National park rises from a flat landscape and is strikingly green on approach.

The Gorge itself is about 30 kilometres long and was created in the most part by water erosion.  There is evidence of wind erosion in some areas. The walls of the gorge are white sandstone while the narrow side gorges display hues of red and pink. It’s a magical place, full of history and stunning natural features to appreciate.

Day one of the hike is on the main walking track.  You don’t immediately get away from civilisation but it is a fabulous day. While only 10 km from the visitors area to Big Bend walkers campground, hikers rack up more kilometres with the many side trips on offer.  You don’t want to miss the side trips. We dumped our packs several times to head in and explore the cool, damp lushness of the Moss Garden, the remarkable, ‘washing machine spun’ hollows of the amphitheatre, the dark, protected cavern of Ward’s Canyon and the impressive Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave — both display striking examples of aboriginal rock art; poignant reminders of the heritage of the land.

Day two is when the real fun begins. Firstly, there are no more tourists. just you, your walking buddy and nature. Secondly, hikers experience tremendous diversity over the course of the day. It begins with a walk over a boulder strewn dry creek up a small gorge followed by a scramble up an almost vertical 200 metre gully.  Yes, scramble.  I don’t normally like this sort of thing but it was immensely gratifying once I got the measure of how my 17 kilogram backpack balanced while I was on all fours grabbing onto tree roots, laying away off cliff walls and hauling myself up. It might not have been an elegantly executed ascent but it was enjoyable.  Above, the landscape changes. You are out of the gorge and heading for higher ground. There had been some back burning prior to our hike and the land was blackened, open to the sun and hot.  There are ladders to climb, narrow tracks to follow and a scree slope to negotiate as one heads for the top of Battleship Spur, over a 1000 metres above sea level,  where the view of the gorge below is gobsmacking and the weariness slips away.  The trail continues along a long grassy plateau where, if you are lucky, you’ll see wild Emus running about.  Making camp my mind wandered to the past and images of stockmen herding cattle and making camp, on that very spot, played like a movie behind my eyes.  Gadd’s walkers camp is on an open plain and is a stunning platform from which to watch the sun sink behind the trees and marvel as the sky pricks with thousands and thousands of tiny lights.

I found day 3 tedious. Compared to the previous days it was more desolate and less diverse.  It was exposed and followed dusty, sandy trails.  On reaching the top of a particularly steep uphill section there is a magnificent view of Battleship Spur and the gorge in the distance. The vantage point provided an opportunity to witness how far we’d walked.  It is possible to find shade in spots to rest and revive. A highlight is the suspension bridge that leads to the campsite. There were a number of Kookaburras around camp which came close enough for us to enjoy their proud demeanour.  The river was dry and so we were lulled to sleep by the swish of the wind, high in the trees, rather than gently cascading water.

Day four I imagine will be a favourite for many hikers as they wander through the stunning Mahogany forest. While eating breakfast we were alerted to the flight of red-tailed black cockatoos by their less than melodic screeching. A good signal to start walking. It is hard to describe the Mahogany forest. It’s peaceful, lush, cool and moist.  The trees, silvertop stringy barks, soar overhead while ferns and smaller plants grow below. We decided to throw down a tarp, lie down and take in the splendour around us for an hour. Arriving early to a bush oasis campsite allowed plenty of time for reading and relaxing. A note to potential hikers; you do need to carry toilet paper and a small shovel as a couple of campsites do not have toilets provided.

Day five is a very short day at only 13.8 kilometres and it is tempting to join it to the last day and hike out. It is possible to rise early and make the 29 kilometre hike back to the visitors centre and while I sat reading during the afternoon I felt perhaps we should still be walking. In the end, my love of nature and being away from civilisation supported sticking to the original plan.  Savouring the experience is better than belting out big kilometres and missing the landscape. The track to Cabbage Tree campsite wound through an area of grass trees with towering spikes. They looked like sentinels standing aloft.  It was fascinating and another display of the diversity this walk has to offer.

Having survived a wild and windy night with a significant rainfall we woke to a splendid, misty morning for our descent. From the tableland the trail leads close to the edge of the plateau. There are striking views and if you are lucky you’ll  see large falcons gliding the thermals. Falcons are just one of 173 species of birds in the park. The birdsong along the whole walk is delightful.

The descent is steep in sections, though it’s not all downhill, apparently you have to go up to go down. Wild dingoes can be heard howling in the distance (distance, being the operative and preferred word here).  All too soon signs of the outside world begin reappearing. In the last two kilometres there is a  side-track which leads to a lookout, with views over the mouth of Carnarvon Gorge. It is a popular day walk from the visitors area below. Despite the ‘traffic’ on the trail it is a pleasant ending to an enjoyable walk. The track descends through woodland to Carnarvon Creek and is very distinct with stone steps and a few short ladders.

The Carnarvon Great Walk is the perfect winter hike. It is closed between November and February, the hottest part of our summers.  We walked in the middle of winter and wore short-sleeved t-shirts each day and only donned a jacket in the evenings and early morning on rising.  There are bores or tanks at each campsite as running water is not guaranteed.  All water should be treated before consumption. A hat is a must and a long-sleeved shirt for the open sections will protect you from the sun’s biting rays. It is recommended hikers have experience and be self-sufficient to complete the Great Walk.

We drove from Brisbane to Carnarvon, about a 9 hour drive.  You could fly to Roma and hire a car.  I haven’t investigated tours though we did see tour buses so that could be an option also.  Families love the two camp sites; one for caravans and one for tents, at the base of the gorge.  There are cute little cabins for rent also. There is much to see and explore and something for everyone.

It’s a happy place, even the trees smile

 

Is it a plant or an animal – exploring Queensland rainforests

Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he’s a fungi!
Louis Tomlinson

Rainforests are magical places. There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell. There are giant trees, twisting and looping vines, melodic birds, dank soil, tumbling waterfalls, and rough, fuzzy, hairy bark along side smooth and mossy rocks. Another feature of rainforests that deserves some attention are organisms that are often overlooked. Fungi.

Fungi are fascinating. Being neither plant nor animal, despite sharing some properties common to both, they are recognised in a kingdom all of their own. There are five kingdoms used for classification of organisms: Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Monera (bacteria), Protista (unicellular organisms). Unlike plants fungi do not photosynthesise. Having no chlorophyll they can’t convert sunlight into food. Being unable to produce their own food like other plants they scavenge it, like animals. Another trait shared with animals, or more correctly insects, is the existence of chitin in their cell walls.

Fungi’s role in the rainforest while not terribly glamorous is functional. Fungi recycle and decompose material. Many people don’t realise that the soil in rainforests is quite poor. To ensure rainforests continue to grow in this poor soil fungi break down organic material allowing nutrients to become available to plants for growth. These tiny fungi enable the huge trees to live. Now that’s pretty cool.

To be accurate, there are three basic types of fungi that feed off dead or living flora and fauna. There are Saptrotrophs that break down animal and plant remains so nutrients can be released and taken up by new living plants and animals. Parasitic fungi, on the other hand, attack living tissues and divert their resources to their own use. Mutualists digest wood to help other rainforest beings such as insects and help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. Not glamorous but definitely functional and way cool!

The dampness of the rainforest is essential, as some fungi need it to pump up their cells to keep their shape. Stronger fungi don’t need water for their form but to grow they require a high concentration of water in the wood they digest.

Have you ever hiked in a rainforest or national park and been required to dip and scrub your boots? Often this is because of the way fungi reproduce. They produce large numbers spores; some fungi release up to 200 million spores an hour. These spores are tiny and once discharged can travel huge distances. They are mostly distributed by wind but in the rainforest, the spores of many fungi are eaten and dispersed by insects and animals. Humans are animals. The grooves of hiking boots can carry many spores from place to place and be deposited when the caked on soil dries and falls out. Unwanted or troublesome strains of fungi spore can easily and inadvertently be transported this way.

Of huge importance is that rainforest fungi are not for human consumption. My best advice is to never eat fungi; many varieties can be toxic or fatal to humans. Leave the slugs, snails, cassowaries, rat kangaroos and insects to feast on fungi. Eat your trail mix instead.

Next time you are in the rainforest explore the small magic; look down, pay attention to the fallen trees and stumps. Enjoy the shape and the colour and the arrangement of the fungi on display. They play a vital role in our rainforests.

If you are not quite convinced, I leave you with some fun fungi facts.

  • Without fungi, dead plant material such as leaves, twigs and logs would pile up on the forest floor to form a massive heap as high as the canopy.
  • Some fungi glow in the dark.
  • It is possible there are more fungi than plants or animals.
  • One individual fungus of the species Armillaria bulbosa covers an area of 15 hectares. It weighs an estimated100 tonnes (the same as an adult blue whale), and is thought to be over 1500 years old.

Walk the Australian Alps with me

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

Okay – we don’t have Alps in Australia like Europe but we do have a beautiful Alpine area in Victoria that is the backdrop for a sensational new walk aptly called the Great Alpine Walk. It’s a 655km one way walk beginning at Walhalla and ending near Canberra.  It is estimated to take approximately 5-8 weeks to complete and is graded 4-5, which recommends moderate to experienced bushwalking experience as there are some sections that are unmarked, rough or very steep.

The walk extends across diverse landscapes of forest, alpine grassland, ridges, high plains and, in the right season, snow-capped mountains. It’s a walk full of history. The Australian Alps is the traditional Country of the Bidawal, Dhudhuroa, Gunaikurnai, Jaithmathang, Taungurong and Nindi-Ngudjam Ngarigu Monero peoples and is very precious indeed. There is evidence of white pioneering cattlemen’s huts, logging and the Hydro Electric Power Scheme along the way.

Over use has damaged the sensitive ecosystem of the high plains and for many years conservationists lobbied to preserve the area as national park.  Finally in 1989 a number of small national parks were joined to create the larger Alpine National Park to protect the fragile landscape, flora and fauna.

Over the Christmas New Year period I hiked the iconic Falls Creek to Mt Hotham section of the trail with my beloved.  What better way to welcome in the New Year than in the wilderness, breathing in the fresh air, sleeping under the stars with only the essentials at hand?

This section of the trail is a three-day 37km crossing which links the Alpine resort villages of Falls Creek and Mt Hotham. It’s a very achievable walk and does not require much bushwalking experience. Hikers are rewarded with stunningly picturesque views from the high plains, the breathtaking ambiance of the snow gum forests and the beauty of plains quilted with wildflowers.  Some of the flat lands reminded me of walking in the low-lying wetlands of Dartmoor and the heather moors of Scotland, with the woody heath like shrubs in abundance. I definitely felt comfortable and at home here.

Just a word of advice – sunscreen up; even if it is overcast. The sun on the high plains is strong as are the winds. On day two of the hike there isn’t much shelter to be had so being protected from the elements is important. Don’t think there’ll be a nice rock or tree to pull up under for a lunch break either.  Up there just find a nice dry spot to plonk down and enjoy the expansive landscape.

The two campsites are completely different in their magnificence. Cope Hut campsite is set amongst the snowgums on the Bogong High Plains and near the first hut in the area purpose-built for tourists. In bad weather hikers shelter in the hut, which is actually quite spacious and relatively comfortable. We luxuriated on New year’s eve under a majestic tree, looking out over the blue hued landscape dotted with skeleton like trees – snow-white and bare of foliage. From our perch (all campsites are on platforms, we rose to a glorious day and drank in the beauty that lay before us . Dibbins Hut campsite was reached by a long decent onto a snow grass plain.  We felt very sheltered here surrounded by mountains.  Our afternoon was spent in the shade by the creek fed by the Cobungra River looking across the plains at the grass swaying in the afternoon breeze. It was a very peaceful and as luck would have it we were joined only by one other couple.

A permit is required to camp at campsites and sites are allocated on booking. Each campsite has a drop toilet and we were grateful we’d taken our own loo paper with us.  Water can be collected at the tank at Cope Hut and from the stream at Dibbins.  We always sterilise water before drinking.

The Falls Creek to Mt Hotham walk can be walked in either direction though all the literature we read from Victorian Parks suggested the direction we did it.  There’s a small problem following this advice though. There is a lack of transfer options in summer. Most hikers on the track began (parked their car) at Falls Creek and caught the shuttle, that runs only on Saturday in summer, over to Hotham. Another couple did a four hour car shuttle prior to beginning the walk so they had a car at the start and end of the walk. Wanting to choose the date we began and the direction we walked only one option was open to us, it was a pretty expensive option but where there’s a will, there’s  always a way.  We drove to Hotham and had Brian from the Mt Beauty taxi service collect us and drive us back to Falls Creek. It’s a definite benefit in having your own transport at the end of a walk.

There is so much to discover on this walk.  While I am always delighted by new landscapes, flora and fauna the touch of history was an additional bonus I hadn’t expected. Inspecting the pioneering huts and reading some of the information boards in the early section of the walk was enlightening and added a whole different perspective to my time there. If you plan on going be aware that accessibility is between November and April.  Perhaps if you are a cross-country skier you’d make the crossing in the winter months.

For a sense of what the walk is like, check out the video my beloved made of our time there.  Enjoy!

Visiting the heart of my country

“Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

                                                                       Karin Schuett

I’ve been struggling to put into words the beauty, the majesty, the wonder I experienced on a recent trip to the heart of my country.  I can’t seem to find the right words to describe how I felt, what I saw, heard and touched. My beloved and I often found ourselves in tears at various times such was the all-encompassing  nature of our experience. It’s all locked inside me, I feel it immensely in my very being but can’t quite describe it.

A wise friend of mine summed up my lack of words very aptly when she said that “Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

I cannot profess to understand how the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, feel about their land, but if what I feel is even a tiny bit similar I have a deeper and more profound respect for them, their culture and the land they love so very much.  This place is more than just land, it is a living place, a special and sacred place, a place to be protected and a place to be honoured by all.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are World Heritage areas for both cultural and natural values. The listing of the park in 1994 for its cultural landscape honours the traditional beliefs and recognises it as one of the oldest human societies on earth. Anangu culture is strong and alive today.

Uluru draws millions of visitors a year.  The rock is a sacred monument, one can feel it’s power on approach.  My beloved and I chose to walk the circumference of the rock, a three hour walk of approximately 10.2 kiometres. What an awe-inspiring experience. Every angle, every step was so very different.  The diversity of plant life around the rock, the features of the rock and the bird life were stunning.  We especially enjoyed learning about the ancient beings who shaped the landscape as we walked.  I remember, many years ago, an aboriginal elder told me that wherever I go in this country to ask myself whose footprints I walk in.  This advice has followed me on every journey I make around my country and was especially poignant on my walk around Uluru and then later Kata Tjuta.

Our journey into one of the most astonishing landscapes in the world continued with a visit to Kata Tjuta. This landform is about 50 kilometres from Uluru and again it is a sacred site. Visitors are reminded to be respectful and to stay on the tracks provided.  We enjoyed two walks here; the Valley of the Winds walk; a spectacular steep and rocky walk in places that took us into valleys and creek beds, the views along the way were breathtaking; and the Walpa Gorge walk, a short walk in comparison.  The gorge is like a sanctuary.  It was a cool place between high russet walls ending at a stream. The plant life was rich and varied. Again, we enjoyed learning about the ancient traditions, the significance of the area, the qualities of the plants and how they were used.

More than ever, I have come away with the certainty and conviction that we are all responsible for looking after the land upon which we live. I thank the Anangu people for the privilege and honour of visiting their land.

Hiking the Larapinta

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Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir

My beloved and I recently spent six days hiking on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, Australia.  I sat just now with the intention of sharing the experience with you but I’m stuck. All that will come is a factual account as the words escape me to explain the experience that is locked away, savouring and maturing in my heart, mind and body. It was a walk of some enormity, not in days, or distance necessarily but in awe. Awe for my country, awe for the man I was walking with (my life partner), awe that I, without much preparation, managed to walk with enjoyment and relative ease. It was a time of reconnecting; with each other, our individual selves and with nature. It was an immeasurably personal, spiritual and sacred time that I don’t feel I can justly explain.  I’ll  see if I can share a little of what the hike was like and perhaps my words will unlock and tumble forth as I go.

Part of the Larapinta trail was established in the 1990s, with an extension added around 2002. More recent changes and upgrades have been made in the last several years, so it is one of the newest and very popular long walks in Australia. In its entirety it is 223 km and follows the West MacDonald Ranges. There are twelve sections so hikers can choose to walk the length of the track or sections of the track as time permits. We had six days so we walked three sections from Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm. There are no hiking fees though some camp grounds do have a small fee, making this one of the most affordable walks I’ve done.

We carried food for six days, though food drops can be arranged at several key junctures for those walking further; a handy service considering the weight of packs. My beloved carried our tent, gas stove and majority of our water with a pack weighing over 25 kilograms, mine was about 19- 20 kilos at the outset, though joyously lightened with each meal. Water was plentiful on the track. Tanks were available at each trailhead, though between trailheads we carried at least 8 litres a day. Water sterilisation is strongly advised as the water may be sourced from bores in the drier months. The water we came across in creeks and gullies was not terribly inviting and during the warmer months when there is little rain there would be a tremendous shortage of drinkable natural water.

We walked in our winter, June/ July, the best time for an arid zone hike. The temperatures were around 20 to 22 degrees during the day but my goodness that sun had some sting in it. I cannot imagine the heat in the hotter months, it must be debilitating. We drank litres of water a day and were always grateful for the shade of a tree or rock or a cool breeze during our rest stops. A hat and sunscreen are essential, a long sleeved shirt is advised. I’m used to walking in humidity here in Australia so the dry air was a change and this too necessitated the intake of large quantities of water for hydration. At night the temperatures plunged to single digits, between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius so thermals and down jackets came out around camp.

Each section of the walk was breathtaking; the landscape and its features, the rock, the plants, the colours. We were mesmerised. There had been an unseasonal amount of rain in recent times and so the landscape was green. Where I had envisioned a red and raw earth, stripped of vegetation, we were instead rewarded with an arid kind of lushness. Many wild flowers were in bloom. The colours of these beauties were yellow, green, purple, white and red. Even the leaves of the trees and bushes were stunning in their many shades of green from silver grey through to army green. We crossed plains, hiked up and across saddles, climbed bluffs and plodded down gorges. Many waded through water in creeks, some waist deep, but we managed to find paths around and once we scrambled over gorge walls to avoid an early morning dip in very cool waters.

We camped in some beautiful spots. Ellery Creek campground is accessible by vehicles and so we discovered many family groups with caravans and RVs as well as a few bike riders and a couple of other walkers. Our second night was quiet by comparison. Rocky Gully was a little flat spot hidden away along, well, a rocky gully. We were one of three small groups that night. Here we met a family of three who were walking the same sections of the trail as us, in the same time as us. Day three saw us arrive at Hugh Gorge camp site. This one too was accessible by vehicle but there were only our trail buddies and us for the evening. My beloved and I made our camp on the sandy banks of a dry creek bed where we could look up at the walls of the gorge we were to travel through the next day. Fringe Lily campsite was one of my favourites. On arrival our trail buddies warned us there was a party of women bathing naked in the creek. Avoiding them my beloved trekked further down the gorge, and I mean much further. After a day of walking I wondered why he was adding another several kilometres to the tally and why we were scrambling over rocks and traversing rocky shelves but when I saw what he had discovered I was pretty impressed. Our camp was a secluded spot on a sandy creek bed with high rock walls on one side and rolling hills on the other. We enjoyed watching the reflection of the sunset in a shallow pool nearby. It was an oasis in the desert. On day four we arrive tired and hot at Birthday Waterhole. We did not camp at the waterhole but instead in the allocated campground with just our family of three to share with. Our plot was surrounded by a grove of trees and we were close to the many birds who sang us into the evening and heralded the next day. Our final camp, on top of Brinkley Bluff, had panoramic views.  After making camp quite early we sat with tea in hand and absorbed vast and beautiful landscape before us. We’d found a little sheltered wall to tuck into and couldn’t have been more pleased. It is hard to say if one place was nicer than the others, all were unique and endearing in their own particular way. I love the sense of ease that comes with pitching a tent and cooking on a portable stove.

John Muir says it best, in every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks. This walker is still processing, nurturing and treasuring the experience. I am filled with the joy of sharing every step of this journey with my beloved. I am filled with the sacredness and spirit of my country. I am filled with the wonder of adventure. This experience is so firmly held in the chambers of my heart, in the recesses of my mind and in the fluid movements of my body that I have no need of words to reflect and recall for myself. But as I hoped to share my adventure with you, perhaps, since words fail me, my photographs can explain some of the magnificence of what I experienced, so you too can share the wonders of the Larapinta Trail.

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Gone hiking

On a hike, the days pass with the wind, the sun, the stars; movement is powered by a belly full of food and water, not a noxious tankful of fossil fuels. On a hike, you’re less a job title and more a human being….A periodic hike not only stretches the limbs but also reminds us: Wow, there’s a big old world out there.”
― Ken Ilgunas

I’m off on an adventure to the heart of my country. There’s a trail out there that winds along for 223 kilometres, broken into 12 sections. I’m not walking the whole trail, just a few sections of it. My beloved and I will walk for six days, carrying all we need in our packs. We will sleep with our backs to the red earth and be surrounded, night and day, by the spirit of this amazing country we live in and the spirit of the traditional owners of the land who have passed before us. I’m sure I will have some tales to share when I return.

I think I know what heaven must be like

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“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”  Thomas More

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan

I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.

I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.

I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.

Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.

Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.

Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.

Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?

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Coastal walking, it’s gold.

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When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.  Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve been fortunate to visit several places by the sea of late and I’ve taken full advantage of these visits to indulge with morning walks along the shoreline as well as afternoon frolics. I find the energy of the ocean and a sandy beach satisfies the body, soothes the soul and clears the mind.  It’s hard for me to go long periods of time before returning for more.

After a particularly busy few weeks at work and finding myself unaccompanied for the weekend I went in search of a local walk. My objective was to get out into the fresh air, collect some geocaches and walk for hours. So I hopped onto the geocaching website and found a power tail, by the sea.

I should briefly explain what geocaching is and what power trails are. I was introduced to the world of geocaching about five years ago by my son. At first, I didn’t quite understand how it worked but I was soon hooked once I discovered the places it took me, that it involved getting outdoors and there was a little challenge built-in (I’m a sucker for a challenge). It ticked the boxes for a  fun pastime.

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See those little smiley faces? They represent the caches I found on my walk.

I describe geocaching as being like a treasure hunt. More officially, it is an activity or pastime in which an item, or a container holding a number of items, is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find by means of coordinates posted on the internet. Once you find a cache you sign the logbook inside, get back on the net and log your find. This creates your personal tally. I have, to date, found 771 caches. Caches are hidden all around the world. A power trail is a path with a large number of caches placed within close proximity to each other. Power trails are a fun way to quickly increase your find count.

Back to my amazing discovery. I located a power trail of about 24 caches along the coast, an hour’s drive from home. Perfect! I packed a small backpack with hat, water, phone (to use the GPS system), pen to log caches, camera to snap the view and sunscreen. Then I was on my way.

The walk I completed is part of a longer walk referred to as the Oceanway which consists of 36 kilometres of walking trails and tracks developed by the Gold Coast City Council. These paths meander along the coast, the ocean is not always in sight but you can always hear the crashing of waves and smell the sea spray. I was delighted with this walk and would rate it as one of the best short walks I’ve done.  The walking path led me across sand dunes, through Casuarina scrub and along beachside board walks. Parts of the walk were quite isolated with little foot traffic, only the occasional bike rider and the beautiful melody of birds. It’s an easy walk along graded tracks and trails, perfect for families to bike ride along. I revelled in the variety, the seclusion to hunt for my caches and the space to clear my head without sharing the path with hoards of people. Though it was surreal at times to step out of scrub onto well maintained pathways fronting luxury accommodation and popular beaches. Despite the small sections of peopled track I was able to power along relatively unimpeded.

I am keen to return and complete the full length of the coastal walk to begin at the spit/ seaway and continue across the state border into New South Wales. It’s not a challenging walk in terms of gradient but it does satisfy my hunger to cover distance. I’ve long had my heart set on returning to Scotland and Cornwall to walk the wild and windswept coastlines. In the meantime, I can satisfy my heart’s desire to meander along the coast with this and a few other coastal walks I’ve discovered at home.

I thrive in the world’s wilderness areas and along her coastlines, the lure is almost primordial. Is there a place that calls to you?

 

 

 

Gardening; it’s a tough gig!

The monstrosity

The monstrosity

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself…   May Sarton

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.  May Sarton

It was the silence that woke me. An unusual hush had fallen across the air outside my bedroom window that, at dawn, is otherwise a cacophony of bird song. Lately, the non-lyrical cawing of crows has drowned out the melodic songs of other birds and served as a crude alarm clock for the weary. Even the lush, throaty warble of the magpie has been dampened by the crows cawing.

I’ve had some issue with crows of late.  A month or so ago, while out walking, I came across a ( what’s the name for a group of crows? Not a gaggle, that’s geese, not a flock surely? Perhaps it’s a shroud?) group of crows and I kid you not, I was followed by one of them. It was very unnerving at the time hearing the strong beating of those black wings just above my head, flying so far, stopping to perch, looking away as if it were not tailing me, then taking off in pursuit again as I powered up the street. This crow continued to follow me for a good ten minutes. If I stopped to look at it, he would turn away, stay put a little then continue in his pursuit. I thought it unusual at the time but soon dismissed it until it occurred again, when I was walking a completely different route, several weeks later.

Anyway, what’s this to do with my garden? Well, the crows have descended on the perimeters of my garden like a swarm (actually, it’s ‘a murder of crows’. I just looked it up). Several crows have been making regular visits to my garden. At first they came to drink from the bird bath. No big deal, it’s been sweltering hot. Then I noticed they would sit high in the neighbour’s silky oak tree, scanning the yard. Over the course of a week they became emboldened and sat closer, upon the fence. I noticed it was not just morning visits they would make. Before too long each afternoon they were to be found scrounging around, picking at hard seeds that had fallen from a neighbour’s tree into the yard.  This behaviour puzzled me. Why were they here? What has driven them to my yard, apart from the water and the seeds?

Low and behold, I was sitting at breakfast on the back deck one morning when I heard a rustling. A strange, ‘wrong’ kind of rustling. Upon investigation I discovered a very crafty crow had slipped beneath the netting I had thrown over my fig tree in an effort to discourage possums, turkeys, grasshoppers and the like from devouring my sweet precious bounty. The sheer cunning and audacity of this crow, to find the one small rise of netting to slip under and feast upon the fruit of kings, incensed me.  Not only had this crow foiled my protective borders but it had the bad manners to sample several fruits and leave half uneaten spoils behind. Really? My mother always told me to eat everything on my plate. To add insult to injury they leave calling cards scattered across the lawn, discarded feathers dotted here and there.

The insult added to injury - crow calling cards

The insult added to injury – crow calling cards

Into battle mode I went, redesigning and repositioning the netting to ensure no gaps existed. After several attempts, with armfuls of white nylon and a few laundry pegs, stakes and the like, I managed to construct a monstrosity in my garden. I’m concerned the weight of it is too much for my dear fig tree but I felt confident I could safely leave the premises without concern, assured my fruits would ripen for my table and not the tummies of my black cloaked visitors.

Several years ago, when I first began gardening, I had issues with nocturnal visits from possums that would partake of the herbs, fruit and vegetables in my harvest garden. So up went the walls. One very ‘close to nature’ friend suggested sharing with them but at the time I was determined that the fruits of my labour would not be shared with uninvited guests that I constructed perimeters to protect my burgeoning  yield. My yard now looks quite a shambles. It isn’t pretty by any means and perhaps not too functional either. I realised the possums were the least of my concerns when the grasshoppers descended en mass and began reproducing at an alarming rate and promptly shredding the leaves of the fig, lemon and orange trees, not to mention all the smaller crops as well. You name it, they ate it. Then the pretty little fluttery white moths came and lay eggs that turned into nice little green grubs that munched heartily on my Asian greens, cauliflower, kale and more. How to  overcome these invaders? Does one have to wage a constant battle against these formidable opponents? I know not the answer.

The fortified perimeters in place.

The fortified perimeters in place.

This latest feathered foe has me running from my bedroom in the early hours of the morning giving chase to save my crops. This morning in the hushed silence two plump, glossy crows were feasting upon my blueberries – a little bush I was delighted to see producing a flux of fruit this year compared to the meagre dividend of three round berries of last year. Groggy from sleep and barely able to coordinate my limbs I ran from the house wielding a pink rubber thong and hurled it at the intruders before, pyjama clad, constructing a temporary screen around what is left of the blueberries.
I find myself between indignant fury and a reluctant respect for the craftiness of these feathered ‘friends’. I can’t help but wonder what change has occurred to drive the crows to behave in this manner. I am familiar with crows as scavengers; lifting scraps from bins and picking through rubbish. I had not known them to be connoisseurs  of modern superfoods. So I find myself asking the same questions, year after year, as I puddle about in my hobby garden, trying to raise a few crops for my table, enjoying the time outdoors, hands in dirt, sun on skin, “How does one overcome these invaders? Is it worth the constant battle or should I give in?  Is there a middle ground? Can I wave a white flag and call a truce somehow with the crawling, hopping, flying, skulking opponents who love my garden as much as I do?”

I suspect it’s up to me to find the balance, to make the concessions, as nature is surely stronger than my resolve and far more enduring. I suspect it is nonsensical to pitch a human will against the force of Mother Nature but can anyone tell me, before I go rabid, how I might work with her in this case?

 

Where’s the magic gone?

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
― Roald Dahl

Last year I decided to take a photo a day and post the image. Just anything that caught my eye, stood out, was beautiful or intriguing or quirky. It was a fabulous challenge. Most days the challenge was selecting just one image to share. Why share? I think initially it was to keep me accountable. As time went on people enjoyed seeing the world through my eyes and they started to look for the odd, exquisite and satisfying in their lives too.

At the end of my experiment I had become so habitually used to snapping that photograph that I kept reaching for my camera well into the new year.  In fact, I often still take random photos, though more often I stop and drink in the image before me and really enjoy it, in the moment.

My friend Nick, the Breakthrough Adventurer, recently took me on a half day adventure with a camera. The premise was to seek out the awesome in the everyday. When given certain parameters and actively looking we can find real beauty in the world around us that we might otherwise pass by without a second glance.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hubbub and routine of life. Many people live for their next holiday to get away, explore and enjoy life. For many, the magic is only in the special moments. My view is that there is so much life between holidays why not live each day and find the adventure, the beauty, the magic in the everyday?  Some of us are conditioned to do that, we’ve had practice, or we’ve been forced by external events to see the world differently.  If you need a helping hand might I encourage you to carry a camera. A mobile phone with a built-in camera is handy, portable and oh so convenient. But, there is something intrinsically different when you look through the lens of an actual camera. So, when you can, say on weekends or days when you don’t have too much to carry, opt for a traditional camera. It enlivens the experience somehow.

Magic? What sort of things am I talking about? Well, your kind of magic and mine may differ greatly. Among the things that have  intrigued me recently are

  • seeing a purple balloon float past my ninth floor window
  • a crumpled and discarded black serviette  on a wooden table
  • the sight of our Brisbane wheel being dismantled
  • The patterns of black mesh with young seedlings entwined within
  • a pile of bricks on a building site
  • fungi on a fallen tree trunk, shadows on a wall, the silhouette of trees on the horizon.

For me it’s random, though nature inspires me. It’s the unexpected and unlikely, the discarded and easily missed that rouses gratitude in me.

As you go about your day press that ‘shutter’ to capture the special events or objects you come across. Record the magic in each day. It’s a satisfying and enriching activity. When you have a collection you can review your anthology. You might notice themes, particular colours, textures, places that recur and bring you joy.  You will have created a map of your world. Instead of seeking joy elsewhere or only on special occasions you’ll bring joy into your everyday awareness. Seeking and longing will dissipate to be replaced by a solid peace with what is here and now.

The magic hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s right here, right now, in front of you. Can you see it? Go ahead and look for it.

Happy snapping,

Shannyn