Category Archives: Travel

Hong Kong – the cheap seats

The Yuen Yuen Institute with cauldron for burning incense

After our tour of the gallery parts of Hong Kong it was time to take a look at the cheap seats. We signed up for a tour called ‘the land between’ – meaning the parts of the territory between the teeming streets of Kowloon and the border with China. It’s more generally known as the New Territories. We spent the day with three other people, all elderly folk from UK, who had just completed a holiday in Australia. I was the youngest passenger on the bus, and Pete was a pretty distant second-last. The tour guide, Andy, came across as having a chip on his shoulder the size of a tree. Before we reached our first visit stop, we’d learned he worked three jobs – tour guide, pizza delivery guy, and bartender – 6 days a week, 18 hours a day. Even so, he earned around HK$19k a month – which I thought wasn’t too bad, but he seemed to think was a bit off. The Government collects 15% tax, and then he explained he lived in one room, around 140 sq ft, which had a bunk bed, a place to cook noodles, and a recess for washing. For that he paid a fifth of his net income. I forbore to tell him that although apartments in Australia are generally larger, people pay a much greater percentage of their net earnings in rent, as well as a MUCH larger slice of tax. Hong Kong actually has pretty good social security for those in real need, but the Chinese way is always for people to support themselves. At the moment Hong Kong is kind of independent – although, as we know, the Chinese Government keeps a close eye on who is in charge. The territory will maintain its status as a separate entity for fifty years from 1997 – that is, until 2047. After that? Who knows.

First stop on the fringes of the city proper was the Yuen Yuen Institute, a religious complex incorporating the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist faiths. The place was packed with people practising their faiths, lighting incense and praying.

Offerings for a funeral plane, house, furniture…

Funerals take place here. Mourners buy or bring paper offerings to burn for the dead to use. Items include whole paper houses – complete with servants, cars, and (especially) money. Our guide told us his grandmother, who was obsessed with mah jong, had recently died, and he and his sister had created a paper mah jong set for her as their offering. The temple complex doesn’t have a crematorium – the bodies are taken elsewhere. But people can buy wall niches here where they place the ashes, with a black and white photo of the deceased to mark their place. We were asked not to take pictures of the niches, or of people participating in a funeral. Fair enough. Andy also explained the Chinese zodiac that plays a large part in the temple.

I particularly admired the beautiful koi pond at the temple.

Back in the bus we drove on to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, with views back to the city. I was shocked at the murk down there, much more apparent from this distance. Tai Mo Shan is in a park with hiking and cycling trails, and is very popular on weekends and holidays.

Our next stop was the fortified village of Fanling, owned by the Pangs, one of the five clans in the area. The houses are only three stories high, and packed close together. Each house is owned by a Mister Pang, and there are only 99 houses in the village. There is a spill-over zone away from the village – and I think I’d prefer to live there.

The walled village of Fanling. The pool contains fish and tortoises, and you can glimpse a couple of cannon.

The entrance to the village. All the sreets inside are as narrow as this.

Just inside the entrance is a shrine to the ancestors, and a pair of protective warriors

The spill-over area outside Fanling

The rest of the tour was kind of a country drive. We saw the fish farming villages as we drove past, and the smog-enshrouded towers of the nearest Chinese city just over the border, we stopped briefly at Bridal Falls, a permanent waterfall that’s in need of rain.

Bridal Falls. The story goes that a bride was being carried across the top of the falls in a sedan chair. One of her porters slipped, and the porters and bride all fell to their deaths

On the way back to the city we spied a runway in the valley that looked in excellent condition. It was part of a British military base vacated in 1997. These days it belongs to the People’s Liberation Army. Despite Hong Kong’s need for housing, the accommodation buildings are empty. Andy clearly had a poor opinion of the PLA, muttering comments about 1989.

Fish farms on the Hong Kong side, Chinese Shenzhen on the other

We finished our tour in Mong Kok, heart of Kowloon’s shopping district, where we left our fellow tourists and went off shopping. But first, we needed lunch. We found a row of eateries in a narrow, crowded, street – tiny shops with a few tables and chairs. They say eat where the locals eat, and there were plenty of them everywhere. Menus consisted of pictures of the food with a name in Chinese and if you were lucky, in English – very few people here spoke English. We grabbed a table and perused the menu, looking for something familiar like a stir fry, or fried rice. I don’t remember much on the card, but one offering was beef tendons. Well, they do say Chinese food is famine food. Nothing goes to waste. Eventually we picked out the most expensive dish – a three-beef curry. One of the people at another table recognised our inability to make the lady serving us understand we didn’t want any of the colourful beverages on her chart, just Chinese tea, and translated for us. We expected a nice pot with jasmine tea and little china cups like we get in Australia. We got large mugs of very black tea, but it was drinkable.

The food arrived – a large mound of rice on a plate, and the curry in a side dish, all substantial helpings. The curry had potatoes, so that was okay. The beef… some of it look like well-stewed gravy beef. But some was obviously tripe, and the third component I couldn’t even guess. I ate the potato, and the gravy beef, then settled for rice with gravy. Pete did the same. I’m sure the locals thought we were very odd, and I have no doubt added our leavings back to the pot.

Peter was brave enough to use the toilet at this place. He told me the floor was covered with water, which he didn’t understand until he’d finished. The flush was broken, but there was a bucket of water in the ‘courtyard’ to do the job. Hence the wet floor. Fortunately, I wasn’t in need. Even if I was, I think I would have crossed my legs a bit tighter.

That was lunch done. Now to go shopping. But that deserves a post all its own. Join me next time, won’t you? Oh – and if you like my writing style, why not take a look at my books? None of them will set you back for more than the cost of a decent cup of coffee.

Hong Kong – the better parts of town

Aberdeen typhoon shelter

Our first morning in Hong Kong started off a bit misty, but cleared to a fine day. We joined our guide, Biddy, and a dozen other travellers for a half-day tour of Hong Kong. She rattled off stats like a pro, and I’ll try to remember the most important ones. 245 islands, the largest is Lantau, the next largest is Hong Kong. The islands, plus Kowloon and the New Territories, have a population of seven million. Most of them live on Hong Kong and in Kowloon. Housing is very expensive, but the Government subsidises poorer people – usually in housing estates on the outskirts of town (sound familiar?). Real estate is sold by the square foot. Most people live in apartments, with blocks becoming taller all the time. Biddy lives on the fortieth floor of a sixty-story building.

The crowded boats are not as crowded as they used to be

Our first stop on the tour was the Aberdeen typhoon shelter, where a dwindling number of boat people live on small boats. It’s also the site of the famous Jumbo floating restaurant. I remember having lunch on a tour there in the 80’s. Peter could remember when the little Chinese boats were so close together, you could walk across the harbour from one boat to the next. These days, some of the boats are… um… a bit more up-market, shall we say?

Some people still live on the boats

This isn’t a bum boat

The front of the jumbo restaurant

The back of the Jumbo restaurants isn’t quite as flash as the front

From there we went on to Stanley, one of the more affluent suburbs of the island. Apartments here are expensive, with views across the water. We poked around in the market near the waterfront, bought a very nice leather backpack at probably multiples of the price we could have paid in Mong Kok, and bought a very expensive cup of coffee. Like most parts of Asia, you’re better off going to one of the big chains – Macdonalds, or even Starbucks if you’re desperate (sorry, Americans). Asians don’t make coffee with real milk, so flat whites are just not the same.

Stanley street markets. It’s not busy yet – too early

Hong Kong is trying to preserve some of its past. The Murray building used to be a military barracks set on the site of the Bank of China tower. It was dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on the waterfront at Stanley. Nowadays it’s full of dress shops and restaurants.


Murray barracks and the beach front at Stanley

Next we went up to the peak. Back in the day you drove up the long and winding road to a lookout – just a walled terrace – with panoramic views over the city. The views are still there, but now there are buildings all over the summit, with the best views offered from restaurants, or a (paid) viewing platform. You can buy souvenirs and very expensive ice cream. We’re talking around AU$20. We passed. Biddy pointed out a couple of the large houses nestled against the mountains. You don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out the people who own private houses on the peak would have a bit of money. We were told the going rate was HK$89,000 per square foot. Which means the room in which I’m writing this at c80 square feet = HK$7,120,000 or roughly AU$1,300,000. If you look at that article I linked, you’ll see HK$89k is peanuts.

Hong Kong from the Peak. This was a fine day – that air pollution was a constant. Across the water is a typhoon shelter

It seems Stanley Ho was the first Chinese to own a property on the Peak. He’s a fascinating man, a Eurasian who married a Portugese woman. It’s said on Hong Kong that he had four wives, but our Macao guide told us he had one wife and three very good friends. He’s still alive at 95, and had seventeen children. This Wikipedia article gives some basic information about him. Anyway, back to the Peak. That was where the British colonial masters lived. I got the idea that the Chinese weren’t allowed to live up there, or maybe (until Mr Ho) they couldn’t afford to.

We took the Peak tram down the mountain. It hasn’t changed in its century plus years, but today it’s packed with tourists. Towards the end of the trip there is a very interesting optical illusion which illustrates how the human brain interprets what it sees. There are towers on both sides of the tram line. We KNOW they are upright. They do not lean. But that’s what we see – buildings leaning to compensate for the fact that we are sitting at an incredibly steep angle, which our brain decides is impossible. Peter took pictures, but the camera sees the truth, so I haven’t posted them. Trust me, my brain said the buildings were set at an angle.

We drove past one of the most powerful places in Hong Kong. Or maybe I should say the people who run it have the power. Happy Valley race course, run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is adjacent to the city. Horse racing is the only form of legal gambling in the territory, and the Jockey Club runs it all. As a result, it is fabulously wealthy and owns many other business interests in Hong Kong. One of the more prominent is Ocean Park perched high on a hill above the city. It’s reached by cable car, with fabulous views over the water. I went there in the eighties. We didn’t visit this time. Nor did we visit Hong Kong Disneyland, which is on Lantau Island. There’s plenty of room for it there.

So far we’d seen the more affluent side of Hong Kong. Later in the afternoon we took a short wander around the Causeway Bay area, then took a tram more or less back to the general area near our hotel. The trams are double deckers, following a short route of about nine kilometres long. We expected that would be one line – but there are a couple of branches. One went through a local shopping area, where the residents do their food shopping. Greengrocers, grocery stores, bakers, and butchers all plied their wares from open air shop fronts. Sides of beef hung from hooks and butchers chopped up cuts for customers as the tram, bells ringing, inched its way between meandering shoppers. I would have loved to get back there with a camera, but it never happened.

In the evening we made our way back to the ferry jetties near the CBD to catch a boat for a ninety-minute trip on Victoria Harbour to admire the city lights. A fifteen-minute laser show happens every night, with many of the glittering towers participating in lighting up their edifices. In fact, I think many of them leave the displays to run all night. For today I’ll leave you with photos of the night. They were taken with my hand-held 70D at a very high ISO, but they’re good enough for the internet. (In case you’re wondering, using a tripod would not have helped, because the boat tossed around a bit. The swell – mostly caused by the wash from the many boats on the harbour – was enough for a couple of people to be seasick.)

Everybody has to have an Eye. This one has lit up trees to go with it.

Many boats carry visitors out to enjoy the spectacle

A junk, its red sails illuminated, adds to the spectacle


Hong Kong – then and now

The city and Perth Water from King's Park

The city and Perth Water from King’s Park in Perth, Western Australia. Clean and clear and flat.

We’ve just come back from a week in Hong Kong and Macao. I remember my first visit to Hong Kong in the eighties very, very well. I’d grown up in clean, flat, thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Perth, capital of Western Australia. My then-partner taught at a TAFE college, preparing students, many of them from Hong Kong, for the examination which would give them entry to Australian universities. So when we decided to make our very first foray outside Australia, we went to Hong Kong. In hindsight it wasn’t the best place for such a baptism. A starker contrast to Perth I can hardly imagine. Instead of sprawling suburbia where a two-story house was rare, we flew into a teeming metropolis which resembled an anthill. Towering apartment blocks lined narrow streets, covering every flatish piece of land – of which there wasn’t much. People crowded the footpaths. Washing fluttered from grubby balconies. Scaffolding was bamboo, not metal. Shops selling just about anything huddled together, dwarfed by up-market department stores. Hong Kong island itself was dominated by Victoria Peak, where the rich people live. Even landing at the airport was an adventure.

Kai Tak airport was well known as one of the most dangerous approaches in the world, with the flight path on approach going between those towering apartment blocks and down onto the runway at Victoria Harbour. Even down in cattle class you could almost wave to the people in their apartments as your plane landed. Peter had the privilege of being in the cockpit for one of those landings. Wow. Just wow. Together, we’ve had a drink in a bar overlooking the airport, watching the traffic coming in and going out. Ah. Those were the days. Here’s a few pictures you might enjoy.

Kai Tak closed in 1998, replaced by a huge airport off Lantau, largest of the 245 islands that make up Hong Kong. Guides were at pains to stress that ‘Hong Kong’ includes all the other islands, and also incorporates the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, all leased for a trivial sum by the British from the Chinese. The 99-year lease ended in 1997, and from there, the character of Hong Kong has changed.

Since that first visit in the distant 1980’s I have been to Hong Kong several times, and Pete has been a lot more often than that. For Australians, Hong Kong and Singapore were the usual stepping stones to the rest of the world. The journey to Hong Kong takes about 9 hours, and from there planes leave for Europe. It’s a good place to break the 24 hour journey, especially on the way home when jetlag is an issue, so many Australians have spent a day or two in Honkers, picking up some bargains and seeing the sights. On this trip, Pete and I spent four nights in the city, rather longer than we’d stayed on other occasions. Moreover, this was a holiday, not a business trip.

We stayed in the Harbour Plaza North Point, on the island with views over the harbour. I’m not sure why we got upgraded to a harbour view suite, but we weren’t complaining. The apartment had a kitchen, dining area, sitting room with views across to Kai Tak on Kowloon, a king bed you could have used to host an orgy (while admiring the view), and a well-appointed bathroom. I shudder to think what an apartment of that size would cost to buy. We certainly couldn’t afford it.

Bedroom with view

Dining area. Open door is to bathroom

The sitting room.





It was kind of nostalgic that we could see the end of what used to be the end of Kai Tak’s runway from our suite. These days it’s a port for cruise ships. Since the airport was relocated, the height restrictions on buildings in that part of Hong Kong have disappeared and the suburbs have crept up, and out.

I made a point of taking a photo every day from our sitting room across the harbour.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our city tour and our visit to Aberdeen Typhoon shelter, Stanley, and the Peak. And then the light show from the harbour. For now, enjoy some views of Kowloon from Hong Kong’s North Point.

Kowloon from our suite. A cruise ship is leaving port – maybe for a journey to international waters where gambling is legal.

Early morning on the first day. Sun’s coming up and dissipating the mist. The site of the runway is clearly visible just behind the ship.

By late afternoon the sky had cleared – or at least, as much as it was going to

Next day the mist was fairly thick

The mountain behind the apartment blocks is invisible.

19 – Going home


Taken from a rest area off the road. Rest areas are fairly common in the outback, because of the distances. Councils provide rubbish bins and long-drop toilets for travellers. And often they’re in very pretty places.

Kununurra and Katherine are both large enough to arrive and look for a place to stay, but Tennant Creek is a bit different. It has a large indigenous population and a reputation for unrest. With that in mind, we tried to book online at a place we’d stayed at before, but the online booking services couldn’t finalise the transaction. So we rang the motel. It’s not the only place in town, but we liked the security aspect. When we arrived, the price for the room had gone from $150 a night online to $160. Usually when you book direct the room is cheaper because the motel doesn’t have to pay a booking fee (around $8). This happened several times in our travels. Pete pointed this out to the manager, an Englishman who hadn’t been there very long. But even when he discovered the motel was offering a room at $146 per night on one of the booking services (he didn’t believe us, so he checked), he was adamant. $160. He told us we didn’t HAVE to stay there. I don’t think he quite ‘got’ it. He’s managing a motel in the middle of Australia. The place certainly wasn’t full, and he wasn’t likely to get any more passing traffic. I also heard him turn away a last minute young couple wanting a ‘budget’ room. The thing is, an empty room doesn’t earn money. Also, the place has a bar and a restaurant, so it’s easier to eat in than brave the town. He could expect to get his ten bucks back.

We might have argued, but ten bucks wasn’t much in the scheme of things, so we shrugged and paid. Certainly the rooms had been extensively renovated since the last time we stayed there, but we won’t be in a hurry to go there again. We’d stopped for a very late lunch maybe a hundred clicks from Tennant Creek at Renner Springs – basically a tiny settlement with a pub, a bowser and a caravan park. That’ll be the go next time. It avoids the 25km detour, too.

As it happened, we had a dreadful night at Tennant Creek – not because of the motel, but because the cough I’d had since we left Perth flared up. Neither of us got much sleep. In the morning I suggested we should head for home, and visit the Atherton Tablelands another time. After all, it’s only about 1,500km from home.

So we changed our route plan, going home via Mt Isa, Longreach, Biloela.

But that’s not the end of the story. I almost managed to tick off a bucket list item – a photo of a wedge-tailed eagle.

Wedgies are the biggest eagles in Australia, and they’re quite common all over the mainland. I saw this one eating road kill and managed a few parting shots (as it were)

Undercarriage still down, taking off

Undercarriage still down, taking off

And he's off, getting out of the way

And he’s off, getting out of the way

img_7245That was nice – but on another piece of road, I noticed that unmistakable wedge-shaped tail in the sky – and the bird flew down towards us, then LANDED IN A TREE BESIDE THE ROAD which, of course, we zipped past.  My driver immediately slowed to a halt and turned around. I had my camera ready but (of course) the eagle had taken off, being harassed by a magpie. This shot was taken from the car, when he flew back a little closer, hotly pursued by his tormentor. Oh well. Maybe next year.

And I’ll finish off with a few more pictures of outback Oz.

There's a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here - they're more resistant to ticks. They're originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that's the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren't too many fences out here.

There’s a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here – they’re more resistant to ticks. They’re originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that’s the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren’t too many fences out here.

Typical Kimberley country - flat plains and flat hills

Typical Kimberley country – flat plains and flat hills

Termite hills. In places they're so common it feels like you're driving past a cemetery

Termite hills. In places they’re so common it feels like you’re driving past a cemetery

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Cue "Jaws" music

Cue “Jaws” music

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Well – that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the ride. When we finally rolled into our driveway, we’d done just shy of 14,000km in a calendar month. We left on 28th September and reached home on 28th October. We used 1,190 litres of diesel. Pete added up all our costs – fuel, accommodation, meals, and sundries. It cost us $232 per day for the two of us. Not bad, really.


18 – Across the top

img_6996From Fitzroy Crossing we were basically heading back to Queensland via Kununurra, Katherine and Tennant Creek. We spent the days driving, though I did get a chance to take some pictures.

Up here in the North, it's not just straight roads through endless plains

Up here in the North, it’s not just straight roads through endless plains

There's rain ahead

There’s rain ahead

Coming into town. It's raining.

Coming into town. It’s raining.

After the heat at Fitzroy Crossing, towards Kununurra we drove into a rain storm. It’s that time of the year, before the monsoon. Clouds gather and dump buckets of rain for a few minutes, then move on. In Kununurra that was a great thing because it cooled the air. We were told it was a stifling 39 with high humidity before the rain.

Kununurra exists because of the Ord River dam. In 2013 we took a trip down the Ord river from the dam. It was a terrific ride – well worth a diversion if you haven’t read it before. Go on, I’ll wait…

Great to see you back.

Right, on to Katherine. We did a great tour on Nitmiluk Gorge here last time. If you’d like to recap, once again, it’s worth your while. We have time…

There has been fire, and rain. Already the bush is regenerating.

There has been fire, and rain. Already the bush is regenerating.

Over the border into the Northern Territory. Have a look at the speed signs - end of 80, then a notice that says max speed in NT is 110 unless signed. And up on the bend - it's 130. (130 is generally the max in NT. There's a LOT of empty space and not much traffic)

Over the border into the Northern Territory. Have a look at the speed signs – end of 80, then a notice that says max speed in NT is 110 unless signed. And up on the bend – it’s 130. (130 is generally the max in NT. There’s a LOT of empty space and not much traffic). Until recently there was no speed limit – until a Japanese man crashed his Ferrari at 300kph +. He’s dead, of course)

The mighty boab tree, seen all over the North

The mighty boab tree, seen all over the North

Just - an awesome picture

Just – an awesome picture

Our accommodation at Katherine was… interesting. We stayed at a cabin in a resort. That was fine, we had our own bathroom – but it was outside the cabin. That is, not the sort of place you’d want to stay in if you’re into 2am widdles. It reminded me of my youth, where we had an outside toilet. Especially when it rained.

Next morning we were off to Tennant Creek. We would have preferred to avoid the town, but the drive to Mt Isa is just a bit too far.




17 – Fitzroy Crossing and Darngku


Girrganyi – the black kite

After a two-night R&R in Broome we drove across to Fitzroy Crossing. We didn’t do much in Broome, treating it as a chance to do nothing for a day. After all, we’d had a busy few weeks so far.

We stayed in one of the safari tents at Fitzroy River Lodge. They are what it says on the packet – a canvas tent set over a concrete base. Each tent has its own small ablutions block. The idea is when the monsoon comes, the canvas, beds etc are packed away, the ablutions block is sealed, and the weather does its thing until the water recedes. They’re fine for a one night stay, but it was the end of the season. The shower leaked and the sink was blocked. Pete complained and it was fixed – but one expects better at $180 a night.

5v3a6737This was the first time it was really hot, reaching 39. That’s not very hot for this part of the world where the average maximum is 37.5, but we felt the heat, We sat on our little veranda facing the Fitzroy’s very empty course. Pete read a book and I watched the few birds out in the heat. Big black cockatoos munched on acacias, a handsome little northern kookaburra panted on a tree branch. A kangaroo hopped across the sand banks in the Fitzroy near one of the remaining pools.

We’d decided to go down to Geikie Gorge (Darngku is its aboriginal name), one of the Fitzroy’s permanent water holes, for a short boat trip. It was due to start at 4pm, when the temperature had dropped a little and the sun was sinking. A nice young aboriginal man did the EFTPOS thing with us at the park. (Visitors are not asked to pay to enter the park.) While we waited for the tour to start we read through the displays telling people about the gorge, and some of the aboriginal legends. That’s why I have a picture of a black kite as the header for this post. Here’s his story.

The story of the black kite. And you do see this bird wherever there's a fire

The story of the black kite. And you do see this bird wherever there’s a fire

About a dozen of us hopped onto a shallow draught boat for the hour-long trip. It was a fabulous little tour, best told in pictures.

The gorge from the start of the tour

The gorge from the start of the tour. It’s an amazing place. Some ancient species like sawfish still exist in these waters (remember, it’s fresh water).


The colours are amazing. That white line is the high flood mark


See how the rocks have been undercut? You can see the ripples reflected on the stone. And those lumps of mud are bird houses, little local mud larks.

If you look inside the circle you'll see two little faces

If you look inside the circle you’ll see two little faces. The nests will be swept away in the next Wet – but they’ll build again.


Arty-farty gorgeousness


The ‘dark’ side of the gorge. There are caves all through there, home to many things. The ranger told us a story about two people who went exploring. Their torch died, and they sat down in the dark to take a breather. Until their ‘seat’ moved. It was a 4.5m olive python.


One of the local wallabies came down to watch us glide past


The line of debris towards top left is a fresh water crocodile. They’re harmless (to people). It disappeared in a swirl of water as soon as it realised it had been spotted


Right place, right time. I noticed this kite hunting and managed to get a rather grainy shot of it with its prey in its beak

Last light on the rocks as we disembark

Last light on the rocks as we disembark

16 – Glimpses of the past

Deep Gorge. The piles of rocks are not something left over from mining. They're volcanic rock which cracked when it reached the much cooler surface.

Deep Gorge. The piles of rocks are not something left over from mining. They’re volcanic rock which cracked when it reached the much cooler surface.

The Burrup Peninsula where Karratha is built had a history before the white man, of course. Vicky and I were up at the crack of dawn to have a look at some of the evidence. The temperatures rise quickly here, especially when you’re in a canyon with the sunlight bouncing off the rocks, so we made this visit early.

Water reflects the gold of the sun

Water reflects the gold of the sun. Note the rock pigeons

We were off to Deep Gorge, one of the few places in the area which had relatively permanent water. As such, it attracted the aboriginal people, as well as the wildlife, and the aboriginal people had left their mark on the landscape. Please understand, these are not spectacular rock paintings, and this is not a sacred site. The pictures are of local animals, sometimes of people. I could imagine the family gathered in the gorge, and some of the bored youngsters climbing the rocks to carve their drawings. Maybe some of these are aboriginal equivalents of “John was here 2016”.

As we walked along the gorge, stepping carefully from rock to rock, Vicky explained some of the pictures are quite hard to see, because they are essentially scratchings on the surface. Their visibility depends on the angle of the light, and the keenness of the eye. This is just a small sample of what can be found. Even with these photo, the longer you look, the more you’ll see.

Examples of rock art

Examples of rock art, sometimes in quite inaccessible locations

Later in the day we visited the town of Cossack, site of the earliest white settlement in the area. The site had been abandoned for many years, but now work is in progress to restore the wonderful old buildings and build a tourist area. Situated on the mouth of the Harding River, it’s a pretty spot. We had a wander around, took a look in the fully restored court house and read some of the history.

From the lookout. Cossack is behind us

From the lookout. Cossack is behind us

This big red hopped around the headland on the right of the picture above. I did my best to get a good one.

This big red hopped around the headland on the right of the picture above. I did my best to get a good one.

Restored buildings. LOVE the stone work.

Restored buildings. LOVE the stone work.


Butterfly among the discarded cocoons. It probably just emerged from the one underneath it.

Butterfly among the discarded cocoons. It probably just emerged from the one underneath it.

On the way out to the car I noticed a bush covered with butterflies. I have a standing joke with Peter’s brother about my photos of birds and butterflies – he pretends absolute boredom, so I take a chance to get a picture of a butterfly for him when I can. I didn’t realise until I got home and took a closer look that the bush wasn’t covered with shrivelled leaves – there were dozens of cocoons, with newly emerged butterflies trying their wings.

We had fish ‘n chips for lunch at Port Samson, and that evening ate our farewell meal at the famous Mermaid Hotel at Dampier. Next morning we were off to Broome. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay with Vicky and Bruce. So nice to see some of the more attractive aspects of a mining town feeling the effects of a mining construction boom that’s over. We hope to see them again, either in the West, or over on our side of the continent.


15 – New friends and a stairway to heaven

img_5866The country starts to change north of Carnarvon. It’s more like desert with long lines of red dunes marching across the landscape. The road is excellent – until we reach the road works. It has to happen, though, so we wait in a queue with good humour. I took the chance to take what I think’s a stunning photo.

img_5874aFurther on, low ranges of hills appear. They’re old and scarred, crumbling into the plain, but not in our lifetime. The hills help to hold the water. There are rivers here – obvious, really. Just look for the river red gums.

The trees advertise a river - and if you missed that, there's a bridge

The trees advertise a river – and if you missed that, there’s a bridge

I love the colours in the Pilbara

I love the colours in the Pilbara

Karratha wasn’t our favourite stop in 2013 – but this time we were staying with friends we’d met on a river cruise in Europe. It makes a HUGE difference when you have friends who know the area. Our first evening was a backyard barbecue and lots of talk.

As it happened, our visit to Karratha coincided with a full moon in a cloudless sky, coinciding with low tide. Karratha has an east-facing bay, which means the moon rises – if not quite out of the sea, very nearly. So the reflection of the moon in the water as it rises gives the impression of a path or staircase to the moon.  The Karrathians celebrate this event in the usual way – 4WDs backed up to the beach with the trays down to hold the tinnies and bottles, and the finger food. We all turned up not long before sunset for a convivial drink and a walk in the shallows of Hearson Bay.

Apart from our hosts, Vicky and Bruce, another couple who had also been on that European cruise was also there. It was lovely to see Alison and Phil again – especially since Ali had brought along a bottle of rose she’d bought at one of our stops in Germany. I was happy to help her drink it.

And now for the staircase to the moon.

The sun has disappeared

The sun has disappeared – just. The last light brightens the rocks

And now we wait - enjoying the evening

And now we wait – enjoying the evening

Here it comes - rather later than we though - but hey - good company, nice drinks

Here it comes – rather later than we thought – but hey – good company, nice drinks

And here she is in all her glory

And here she is in all her glory

14 – A gnome memorial and a wrong turn


Lorna's gnome memorial

Lorna’s gnome memorial

North of Kalbarri the land is basically well-disguised desert, with no permanent water anywhere before Carnarvon. At this time of year, it’s quite pretty, though, because of the wildflowers carpeting the ground between the scrub. But that’s all you can say. I went through there once, to the place on the Zuytdorp Cliffs where the Zuytdorp went down. It’s not a long way, but it seemed endless, the four-wheel drive churning up one sandy slope, down again, then up again, then over a limestone ridge, then more sand. It’s hard to imagine a group of Dutchmen stuck in this desolate land. Even the aboriginal people didn’t frequent this area.

Back in 2016, after some time, the road wound its way between some low hills and we spotted a lookout, so we went up to take a look. We found a strange little memorial, a collection of gnomes of various types. It seemed they were originally dedicated to Lorna, who died a few years ago. But we thought the collection had been added to since then. Lorna, it seemed, would have looked from here over what is probably marshy ground at high tide, to Hamelin Pool on the horizon. It’s an interesting place, one of the few places in the world where stromatolites, one of the earliest known forms of life, still grow. I went there before they were protected. I can honestly say I’ve swum with stromatolites.

The highway from the hilltop

The highway from the hilltop

Hamelin Pool in the distance

Hamelin Pool in the distance

The world's most expensive coleslaw

The world’s most expensive coleslaw

Finding accommodation in Carnarvon wasn’t easy, but we eventually booked into a very nice cabin which was part of a caravan park, within walking distance of town. The proprietor had marked a couple of hotels where meals were served, so we went looking. One was too far to bother, and looked closed anyway, and the other offered spag bol at $23.50. Nothing much else was open. A takeaway looked like the go, so we stopped at Chicken Treat on the way back to our accommodation. There wasn’t much choice, so we ordered a quarter chicken and chips each, and a small coleslaw to add some veg. It was pretty ordinary. The chips were soggy, the stuffing wasn’t there, and the tiny coleslaw cost $4.19 – worth its weight in gold. Knowledgeable friends told us later that Carnarvon’s another one of those town where wandering around at night isn’t wise. So maybe that was the silver lining.

img_5806Next day we drove in drizzly weather down to the coast to see the blowholes. The road was bitumen, but our GPS didn’t know much about it. After about 80km we reached a crossroads at the coast and this big sign. It seemed the Sydney memorial was off to the right, and they were past the blowholes so we went right along a chalky unmade road, the sea on one side, what used to be the sand dunes on the other. Once we reached the Sydney memorial we knew we’d made a mistake. We had also reached Quobba homestead, which has a caravan park. Pete drove in and asked someone where the blowholes were. Seems we should have turned left at that sign. They’re four hundred metres up the road. Sigh. That was 40km we’d driven for nothing.

Maybe we should himg_58061ave read the sign more closely, or the leaflet that said the road was bitumen all the way to the blowholes. That little sign on the right has two red arrows right at the bottom. The one on the left says ‘BLOWHOLES 400M’.


The sea sucks back from the cliff

The sea sucks back from the cliff

Then slams back in

Then slams back in

The sound is incredible, like someone sucking in a breath then exhaling

The water surges under the reef and blasts up through the blow hole. The sound is incredible, like someone sucking in a breath then exhaling

This will give you some idea of the height of the blow

This will give you some idea of the height of the blow




13 – Ancient landscape and early history


Fred and his fish

Fred and his fish

Kalbarri is a small fishing/holiday town at the mouth of the Murchison River just a bit north of Geraldton. The first time I went there was with my father and brother, when I was nearly fifteen years old. We went off in the (I think) FE Holden for a two-week holiday through the wildflower meadows of the wheat belt, up to Carnarvon and Shark Bay. Fred and Dad had set up the back seat of the car so it could be dropped down to make a bed, while I slept on the front bench seat. I was younger and suppler then. It was a magical trip. The wildflowers were wonderful, with paper daisies (everlastings) forming a carpet of pink and white and yellow. I remember the strong contrast with the deep red of the earth.

We came across a sign post to Kalbarri by accident not long before sunset. Dad thought we’d take a look, and off we went, down a dirt road. As the sun sank, Dad drove more and more slowly, squinting into the light. Just as well. With the sun straight in our eyes we came across a sharp right turn, down a hill and over a dry creek bed. We managed the rest of the journey and camped for the night.

The road is bitumen now. The right hand turn is still there, but not so sharp, and the creek bed crossings have been smoothed out. The town’s bigger, too, but the river mouth hasn’t changed. There’s a tricky crossing over the bar into the ocean from the river anchorage, and the fishing’s good. Fred caught a big fish on a hand line that morning – much to the chagrin of the Real Fishermen with their expensive rods and reels.

Back to the present. We booked into a motel and went out to look at the sea cliffs. They’re not too awe-inspiring here, but not much further north from Kalbarri they become the towering Zuytdorp Cliffs, named after the ill-fated Dutch merchantman the Zuytdorp, which sank at their base. A large group of people managed to survive the ship wreck – then vanished. You can read a bit about the ship and its intriguing story here.

Kalbarri has a connection with the Batavia, too. It was claimed that two of the ‘lesser’ villains who took part in the murders on the nearby Abrolhos Islands were marooned here – Australia’s first white inhabitants. But there’s some debate, with many believing the location was more likely to have been a little further south at Hutt River.

Next morning, we set off to visit the rivimg_5711er gorges. The Loop and the Z bend are about 25km from the main road. The road is bitumen for a little over half way, then reverts to dirt before the bitumen resumes around the parking area. Maybe instead of employing somebody to collect entry fees they could use the money they saved to finish surfacing the road. Needless to say, it used to be free – and unmade, a wide, sandy, boggy track through the scrub. I did the trip once on a dirt bike, riding through the mist. Ghostly kangaroos popped up to watch me ride past.

The wild flowers in this part of the world are stunning, growing in an area where the sandy southern coastal plain and the red earth of the north combine. It was like driving through a park, with colour everywhere. The weather was pleasant, too. Not too hot, although a bit windy.

Fringed lilies: delicate, beautiful and tough

Fringed lilies: delicate, beautiful and tough

img_5631 img_5714 The gorges in themselves are fascinating. They’re there because the land is (still) slowly rising. The river doesn’t care, it just keeps on flowing, cutting through the rock as it does so. These rocks, known as Tumblagooda sandstone, are very, very old. That’s Australia – an ancient, eroded landscape.

We didn’t make it to Z bend, but we did visit the Loop, Nature’s window and Hawk’s head.

Like all the rivers in this part of the world, the Murchison only flow when there has been rain inland. When it floods the spinifex down there would be covered.

Like all the rivers in this part of the world, the Murchison only flow when there has been rain inland. When it floods the spinifex down there would be covered.

From up here you can see clearly how the river has carved its way down through the rock layers

From up here you can see clearly how the river has carved its way down through the rock layers

The pools are vital for the desert dwellers. There is no water from here to Carnarvon. We saw goats, kangaroos and a few pairs of black swans down there.

The pools are vital for the desert dwellers. There is no water from here to Carnarvon. We saw goats, kangaroos and a few pairs of black swans down there.

Nature's window, carved by wind and weather

Nature’s window, carved by wind and weather

One of the larger stretches of water next to a cliff

One of the larger stretches of water next to a cliff

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