Locals like to abbreviate Far North Queensland as FNQ. The distinction between Queensland, and even North Queensland becomes more apparent the more north you travel. The landscape shifts quite rapidly from wheat and cattle country to paddock after paddock of sugar cane and banana plantations once you leave Rockhampton. Some of my favourite discoveries were made during a road trip up to Port Douglas with my brother.
1: Paronella Park
I lived in Central Queensland for my whole childhood and I had never heard of Paronella Park until this trip. Touted as Queensland’s number one tourist attraction, it was all over the travel brochures from Townsville north. So we went to check it out. Basically, a Spanish guy called José Paronella fulfilled a life long dream by building (by hand) a castle near Mena Creek. It’s fabulous. And the more of his story you hear, the more magical it is. If even half the stuff the tour guide told us was true, the guy was a deadset legend. I highly recommend you check this place out if you are heading up north.
I’ve always known cassowaries were awesome. The original angry birds. One of my main goals on this trip was to find a cassowary in the wild. And keep a respectful distance. We had an eye out for them the whole time but were told that Etty Bay was the place to look for them particularly, with some birds even frequenting the beach alongside tourists. On our way to the beach, we spotted some people randomly pulled over on the side of the road and our cassowary radar went to high alert. We pulled over next to them and lo and behold, they were watching a juvenile cassowary walk around beside the road. He seemed pretty calm and thought the local lady who had also stopped to chat had some food so we ended up pretty close to it. Yikes!
Port Douglas was the first time I really went snorkelling. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef. Due to time constraints, we only went to one of the inner reef sections, which was not as vibrantly coloured as I had hoped. It was still pretty cool though and the actual process of snorkelling was actually way more fun than I thought it would be so we weren’t disappointed. I could have stayed out there way longer. Once you get use to the breathing, it’s really peaceful and relaxing to block out the world with your head underwater and watch all the ocean life swimming around. On a later trip, I made my mum and dad go snorkelling for the first time at Ningaloo Reef and it turned out to be one of my mum’s favourite things too. We could barely get her out of the water.
4: Johnathan Thurston
As a Queensland rugby league supporter, JT was always one of my favourite players. Travelling through Townsville though, we soon realised he is more like the Messiah of FNQ than just a rugby league player. Wow. We went just after the Cowboys had won their first premiership. The theme of the advertising at the time was basically to have a giant picture of Johnathan Thurston with just the word “Believe” written underneath it. They do love their league and he is one of the best players of this era. His influence even stretches as far north as Port Moresby where I saw his face selling “gutpela rais” on billboards (among other things). I wouldn’t be surprised if they crowned him King of North Queensland at some stage. Pretty sure he already has the keys to the city of Townsville.
It’s sad to admit that our “Languages Other Than English” programs in Australia in general quite sorely miss the mark. Most Australian students come away from their formal education with a bare bones knowledge of a random language they have little interest in. Traditionally, this would have been a European language such as French, German or Italian. These days, schools have started to see the benefit of learning the languages of our closest neighbours and trade partners – Asia. Still, I am often astounded by the level of English that most international visitors to Australia have (and they’re usually apologising for it). I can’t help but think how useless we would all be if we had to visit their country.
Some experts would say this is due, in part, to our isolation. That being surrounded by English speakers, and only English speakers, our ears are so attuned to it, we struggle to pick up other languages. We also are missing the motivation to learn other languages as the chances of us finding ourselves in the situation where we have to use it is very minimal. In other continents, residents find themselves in much closer proximity to languages other than their own, they are more likely to need it and have greater motivation to learn it. Apparently.
At any rate, I’ve always loved learning languages. At school I mainly had the opportunity to learn French. My first primary school only offered French from Year 6 onwards. We dabbled a little in Bahasa Indonesia for a few terms in my next primary school (I can kind of count, greet people and name a few objects). I also elected to learn a local indigenous language, Central Arrernte, at my first high school but our teacher wasn’t a native speaker and we didn’t get beyond a few nouns and cultural experiences before I switched schools. Then it was back to French. I really liked it but in my later high school years, a pretty heavy academic schedule didn’t leave room for LOTE classes. The school I work at now teaches German and I’m involved with a few South Sudanese families, so occasionally I pick up some phrases via osmosis!
My grandma also had an interest in various languages so the extent of my practice after school was to write her letters in French, relying heavily on the use of my old texts and a French-English dictionary. I didn’t even keep that up after a while and it wasn’t until I was about to travel to Paris that I thought too much about it. A friend warned that “People in the countryside can’t speak English very well. People in Paris can, but won’t.” I was freaking out a little but figured that armed with greetings and “Parlez-vous Anglais?” I would manage to get around as most tourists seemed to.
In fact, my written French far outstrips my conversational French and was quite helpful in reading signs and information so we got around quite well. I found most places, being tourist attractions had staff that spoke English very well (much to my relief) and I managed a few stilted sentences in French. Some places we went, we were openly greeted with, “Hello, how can I help you?” We asked one girl how she knew we spoke English and she said, “It’s the look of panic on your faces when you’re about to talk.” I think that was accurate. In fact, my French is probably better than I give myself credit for and I know what I want to say, but I’m too scared to actually put it out there. Mainly due the fear that the other person will respond with something that I don’t understand or can’t respond to.
The experience however, brought a greater appreciation for French and a fresh passion for language learning in general. If I got the chance to go back to France, I wanted to be able to have a conversation with people without the fear. Listening to other people who spoke multiple languages (polyglots), it seemed that an important aspect of language learning is immersion. Obviously in Australia we don’t get to visit other countries quite so easily so I used some different methods. I watched French TV shows and films, downloaded French music, read some French children’s books as well as working through some basic French courses and apps.
What I really need is what I’ve heard called a “language parent”. The idea is that when we learn our native language, we normally learn it from our parents. Someone who cares about our progress, that we’re comfortable with, who doesn’t belittle our mistakes and speaks to us on our level (using words they know we already understand). Effective language learning as an adult also benefits from this kind of relationship. I think this will help me get over that initial panic of conversing in French and allow me to progress more rapidly. Any takers? Haha!
Recently I’ve diversified my language learning a little. While watching French TV shows, I stumbled upon a few Spanish ones that I really liked. That was fine for a while, but eventually I found myself wanting to watch seasons that were yet to be subtitled in English. I tried to convince my Mexican friend to translate them for me, but she just said, “Learn Spanish! Be trilingual!” I decided to give it a go. I found there are many similarities between French and Spanish so it cuts down on the vocabulary that I need to learn. Grammatically, I think it’s easier than French too. It still needs a lot of work though!
As mentioned in a previous post, I accidentally started watching Korean dramas too. There are plenty of subtitles for those, so the need to actually learn the language is not as urgent. After a while, I started to pick up on some phrases from the shows and some of the music I downloaded subsequently though and I am curious to learn it. I’ve never had to learn another alphabet before so that interests me and I’ve added it to the list of languages I’m working on. My Korean friend also pointed out you miss a lot of the intricacies of the dialogue when you rely on the translation.
I think that’s a big part why I love about learning languages. Language and culture are so intrinsically linked. There is a greater depth of understanding of other people and other cultures gained when you learn their language. The origins of certain phrases, the formal and informal modes of addressing people, what they find funny, what they find important, these are all things you pick up when you learn and research the use of another culture’s language. I find that so interesting. When I work with young people from different cultures and hang out with their friends and families, I often find myself as the only person in the room who can’t understand the conversation. It can be unsettling, but I kind of love it at the same time. I love being able to learn about other cultures and if I can pick up a few new phrases along the way, all the better. Who knows how many languages I’ll have added to my list in the end!
Until recently, I didn’t know this was one of my favourite things. I just happened to be scrolling through Netflix one day and stumbled upon a hidden gem. There was a show called “Strong Girl Bong-Soon”, a name I recognised somehow from some invasive Facebook advertising, I think. Anyway, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go.
What have I been doing all this time? How did I miss this? I loved it so much. Strong Girl somehow manages a blend of comedy, drama, romance, superhero and crime-thriller genres all at once. As my introduction into K-Drama, I’ve yet to find anything that tops it for entertainment value and it seems to be one of the best-rated series in all the sites I’ve come across. I love all the special effects and sound effects that make it seem like a live-action comic book. I couldn’t get the (very repetitive) soundtrack out of my head (I may have added it to my playlist as a result). It was so much fun.
So I started a journey into K-Drama. A few souls warned me against such an undertaking, saying that it was addictive and I would be sucked into it and lose track of time. Probably, but I do that with the books and shows I’m into already so it was a risk I was willing to take. I’m a sucker for a good story (a family trait, no doubt) and, as I was about to find out, that is what K-Drama does well (alongside slow-motion kissing scenes). A solid storyline that runs through and is wrapped up in an entire season. Not watered down and dragged out past its used-by date, no matter how much you wish there was more to watch.
Some of my friends just rolled their eyes and said, “Of course, you’re watching something with subtitles again.” Previously, in order to practice French, I was watching as many French TV shows and films as I could find (A Very Secret Service is my favourite). Then, while watching a Spanish show (Bajo Sospecha), I ran out of episodes that had been subtitled in English so I started learning Spanish to help me keep up with the Spanish subtitles! True to form, I have started to be intrigued by Korean. I’ve never learned anything with a different alphabet before. Needless to say, for now I’ve at least added another language to my Duolingo sessions. We’ll see where we go with that!
Mainly, however, as I expressed my new found love of Bong-Soon, people would get super excited and give me stacks of recommendations. Several of my students have compiled a list of ‘must-watch’ shows for my homework and a few others have added to the end of it. The list so far:
Strong Girl Bong-Soon
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Boys Over Flowers
The Bride of the Water God
While You Were Sleeping
Age of Youth
My Secret Romance
Noble, My Love
Fight For My Way
The Best Hit
Scarlet Heart: Ryeo
The Legend of the Blue Sea
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
W – Two Worlds
Let’s Fight Ghost
Cinderella and the Four Knights
Cheese in the Trap
My Love from the Star
High School Love On
Who Are You
Ex Girlfriend Club
My Girlfriend is a Gumiho
Descendants of the Sun
A Gentleman’s Dignity
One Percent of Something
Gu Family Book
As you can see, the list is quite comprehensive. Not sure if this is indicative of the amount of homework I give to them? I try to watch shows legally but there is a bit of a struggle to find things that are technically available in Australia. Why is it always so hard to watch good shows in Australia? At any rate, I will cross them off as I watch them but feel free to comment any extras I should add to the list!
Dolphins have been my favourite animal for as long as I can remember. I can’t really say why. Perhaps it was the fact they lived in the ocean, or they were so intelligent, or that I could draw a half-decent cartoon version of a dolphin as a child. I have a vague recollection of deciding one day that, just like a favourite colour, everyone had to have a favourite animal and that was what I chose. I had dolphin posters in my room, dolphin pens in my pencil case, dolphin letter paper and a much-prized dolphin cake-topper from the top of Grandpa’s birthday cake which I ‘bought’ from him using the only currency a 10-year-old granddaughter has – hugs and kisses (I assume that is legal tender with most grandfathers).
During a family trip to Perth over summer, I convinced my parents to go on a short road-trip up the Western Australian coast with me. Initially, I wanted to go all the way to Broome but we soon realised that was unrealistic in the time frame we had given ourselves. We decided to only go as far as Coral Bay, stopping in Geraldton, Carnarvon and Monkey Mia on the way. Well, Monkey Mia is not exactly ‘on the way’ to Coral Bay. It’s actually 300km round trip out of the way to Coral Bay. However, Monkey Mia is known as the place where you go to swim with dolphins and I was not going to miss out on that.
We left Geraldton that morning as early as we could handle (about 6:30am in the end) and made straight for Monkey Mia. The (minimal) research we had completed told us that the dolphins arrive at the shore two or three times a day between 7am and 12pm to feed. Leaving as late as we did was pretty risky, as we arrived just after 11am. By the time we got there, we were told, the dolphins had already been in twice and it wasn’t often they returned for the third time. Not to be discouraged, we hurriedly changed into our swimmers and went to the water holding out hope to see them.
We sat out there for a long time! Not just us though. As well as plenty of people, there were a few pelicans who were blatantly hanging out on the shoreline, also waiting for the dolphins in the hope they would be able to pick off a few fish while the dolphins were feeding. The beach was great and we had a good time swimming in the lovely, clear water, all the while keeping our eyes trained on the ocean for a tell-tale fin. My dad was convinced he saw a shadow in the water a fair way out but we shrugged him off.
Before we knew it though, someone was pointing and taking photos. There, right among the swimmers, was a dolphin. The advice from the rangers is to stay still if you are within 30 metres of the dolphin in the water so before he came our way, I jumped out and grabbed my camera. My parents stayed in the water but I followed him up and down the shoreline taking as many photos as I could. The pelicans followed him up and down the shoreline as well! We were told the dolphin’s name was Piper and he was 5 years old. He spent quite a lot of time chasing fish along the beach, popping up to check the people he swam past as well.
He went around the jetty and off farther than I cared to follow after a while so we left him to it. We were so excited to have at least seen one dolphin when we thought we might not get to see any at all! It was so cool to be able to see a dolphin in its natural environment like that and I’m glad he stuck around for so long. Walking back to where we were originally swimming, we also got to see a turtle swimming around the jetty. My lens and excited photography didn’t do him justice but we watched him swimming around for a while before going to grab some lunch.
While we were eating though, there was a bit of a fuss on the shore and we looked up to see even more dolphins arriving at the beach. They stayed a bit farther away from the shoreline this time but there were three other dolphins swimming around past the end of the jetty. We almost missed our lunch delivery since we were so distracted.
So in the end, we managed to see quite a few dolphins, which made my day! In the future though, I’d recommend staying somewhere at lot closer to Monkey Mia to be able to see the earlier dolphin visits. Monkey Mia itself seemed to be a great beach side resort to stay at with a nice atmosphere, beach, restaurant, etc. If you like the beach (and dolphins) and don’t mind the drive, it would be a worthwhile family getaway for a few nights. I would love to go again some time.
In another era of my life, I was an avid V8 Supercars fan. I knew all the drivers and their cars, I was visibly upset when Craig Lowndes switched the Ford (not sure I’ve actually forgiven him) and I insisted on doing a whole research assignment on Peter Brock when I was in primary school. In our house, almost an entire day was blocked out for Bathurst each year and it was a crime to walk in front of the television.
Gradually, I seemed to have lost interest (maybe due to the gaping Lowndes wound in my heart) and I haven’t actually engaged in the sport for years. This month, however, I was given the opportunity to take some of my students to Albert Park in the days leading up the Melbourne Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix street circuit runs through Albert Park which is a suburb and an actual park so there is a lake and large fields surrounding the track. These field are set up with grandstands, merchandise stores, food trucks, sponsor displays, and an “Industry and Innovation Precinct”. It was under this pretence that schools are able to make an ‘educational experience’ out of going to watch racing cars. The displays were actually quite good – RMIT demonstrated some research into heat-proof clothing, drones, and 3D printing, Swinburne brought their Formula SAE team, and the Defence Force showed off a few of their vehicles. Students were able to attend short seminars explaining various engineering and technology advances in Formula 1.
On the other side of the track was the Fan Zone where various sponsors had set up displays and experiences such as the pit stop challenge where people were able to test their tyre changing abilities against the clock. A stage was set up for autograph sessions with drivers and people were lining up to meet them. We only had a few hours so our group avoided the huge lines. My colleague and I did manage to spot Australia’s favourite son, Daniel Ricciardo walking back from his autograph session though. Beyond the lake was the Kids Zone which sounded like stacks of fun. I personally couldn’t be bothered walking that far though so I will have to leave that to the imagination. Some students also found the V8 Supercar Paddock and saw some of the drivers there. I couldn’t figure out how to get there so I was a little jealous to have missed it.
Most students did a quick tour of the precinct and fan areas, but really, we were here for the track action. Since it was only Thursday, we didn’t get to see any practice sessions for Formula 1 cars. Instead, we were first treated to an historic Formula 1 demonstration with cars from past eras and their owners. Then the Shannons Australian GT Qualifying practice session started up. We’d been given ear plugs on entry, but this was the first time I actually wanted to use them. A few of us were sitting across from pit lane at this stage, with the permanent structure above it. I think all that extra concrete and glass amplified the sound! We got to watch the Porsche Carrera Cup practice session from a different part of the track and saw a driver lock up his breaks coming into a corner and slide into the gravel pit.
The main event for me, though, was definitely the Coates Hire Supercars Challenge practice session. While Albert Park wasn’t a points round for the main championship, the drivers didn’t hold back. I had watched a lot of races on television but this was the first time I’d seen V8s in full force in real life. What a thrill! Again, it was pretty noisy but a much more deep, rumbling tone rather than the high pitch of the GTs. It definitely got my heart racing and I began to remember why I liked Supercars so much! We were standing towards the end of the straight after pit lane so they were belting past us pretty fast. I took some video on my phone and the frame rate could barely keep up with them – they look like they jump from frame to frame. This was the last thing we got to see and we were supposed to be rounding up the students to start heading home. It was a bit of a struggle to pull myself away from the track!
Once again, I am reminded how incredibly lucky I am to live in the sporting capital of Australia where we get to jump on a train mid-week and experience world-class events like the Grand Prix. I’ve lived here for years and never really considered going to the event, but I would like to go back another time now that I have. On the Sunday, I was in the South Melbourne and saw part of the fighter jet display as they flew back and forward over Albert Park. That would have been an awesome sight from the Grand Prix venue. The whole experience was definitely worth it; we didn’t even feel like we had missed out having not seen the Formula 1 sessions. I probably don’t have the time or energy to return to my former days in the V8 Supercar fandom but my love for motorsport was definitely reignited.
Among my group of friends, I have long been referred to as “Aunty Dales”. From what I can remember, it started back when I offered to buy everyone dinner when they were a bit short on cash. I’m not sure why it stuck so well but it is a pretty pervasive moniker, even now. A few years ago, however, I officially lived up to the name and became an aunt to my sister’s son. Since my first nephew was born, four more nieces and nephews have been added to the crew by various siblings. And they’re all so cute!
All my siblings live in another state and it pains me to live so far away from everyone. As everyone says, kids grow up so quickly but it seems even more so when you only see them a few times a year. I fully intend, however, to embrace my role as the interstate aunt who periodically shows up and spoils everyone with presents and attention. The gift buying got a little out of hand this year and took up about 70% of my luggage. With five kids under four, the unwrapping of those gifts quickly descended into chaos.
I got to spend a few more weeks with them after Christmas as well, so I got in some quality play time and plenty of hugs. And, me being me, I also took a lot of photos…
Mr J (3 years old)
The oldest cousin and also the most talkative. He has boundless energy and runs straight at my camera whenever I tried to get a shot! Consequently, most of his photos are out of focus. His love for motorbikes is strongly encouraged in our family and we could hardly get him off the quad once Grandpa had taken him for a ride. Also has exceptional bubble blowing skills for a three year old.
Mr Z (nearly 3 years old)
Starting to form coherent sentences that were mainly about ‘rah-rahs’ (anything that roars but mainly dinosaurs) and ‘car cars’ which are his favourite things. I woke many mornings to dinosaurs on my bed or cars driving on my pillow. He is the first toddler I’ve seen ride up and down ramps at the skate park and has a motorbike with training wheels. He’s probably already a better rider than me. Obsessed with the frogs that visit on the verandah at night.
Miss A (1 and a bit years old)
Adventurous and brave, she isn’t afraid of a bit of rough and tumble and she knows what she wants. She particularly liked the little cubby house she found hidden near the trees. I feel like she and Miss H grow up so much since I saw them. I don’t think they were even sitting up and now she’s running around. This little face will melt your heart.
Miss H (1 and a little bit less years old)
I think we took her on her first beach trip and I am proud to say, she loved it! We could hardly stop her from running straight into the waves. She also loved all the dogs at the farm, except for that one time one of them barked right in her face and she got a huge fright. Then there were tears. Her contribution to the family water fight was to drink all the water out of her water pistol.
Miss K (just over 6 months old)
She is a big baby. We stood her up next to Miss H and she was nearly as tall as her. She eats all day and sleeps most of the night. Always smiling and tries to give kisses by just planting her wide open mouth on your cheek. I spent a lot of time making her watch the cricket and telling her how much she loves it (they’ve got to start somewhere, right?).
I took so many photos, I can hardly find enough places to post them without spamming all my social media accounts. They’re all just too cute! Attention Siblings: Please feel free to add more to the troupe. Love, Aunty Mandy xx
It cuts against the grain of this blog to mention that I hate winter. I really do. I can’t stand being cold and struggle more than most to get warm. Fortunately, I have lived most of my life in climates that suited my preferences. Since it is situated in a desert, Alice Springs can pull together a few bitterly cold days but these are usually accompanied by clear skies and rarely last for more than a few weeks. Central Queensland was comparatively mild. Neither of those places quite prepared me for what Melbourne had in store. There is no exaggeration in the claim that Melbourne can see four seasons in one day – I remember multiple times it blew a gale, hailed, rained and then cleared to sunny skies within the duration of a few hours. The unpredictability is one thing, but the endless grey, dreary, damp, miserable days in winter are enough to have this northerner wondering why she ever moved here. It certainly wasn’t for the weather.
Still, in an effort the make the most of my surroundings, I decided I may as well find a reason to appreciate the cold weather and take up a hobby that I would never have dreamed of in my previous locations: snowboarding. I had never even seen snow in real life until I made a trip to New Zealand in my twenties. Even then, the weather was so adverse that we couldn’t actually make it up any mountains to get amongst it and I had to satisfy myself with some dirty, melting blobs on the side of Desert Rd. It wasn’t until later that year I joined my colleagues’ annual, weekend ski trip and finally discovered some snow!
An overwhelming majority of people I spoke to recommended that I learn to snowboard rather than ski. They say skiing is easier to pick up but snowboarding is easier to master. I took their word for it and while I never tried skiing, it’s safe to say I found another one of my favourite things to do. It may seem a little crazy for someone who so vehemently avoids being cold but with all the snow gear and intense physical activity, it’s really not so bad. I now go out of my way to spend at least one weekend a year ‘hitting the slopes’ at Mount Buller. By the end of the day, as I watch the skiers hobble around the village, I also appreciate that I’m wearing snowboarding boots instead of ski boots.
There are a few advantages of having a little group of snowboarding buddies too. Sometimes we hire a house together half way up the mountain and stay for a few nights. It is a relatively easy day trip from Melbourne though so sometimes we just go up as early as we can manage and head home once the ski lifts stop running. We also bought a lot of our gear in bulk from America and had it shipped over. I managed to get a board, bindings and boots for just over $300. Our order was so large that it attracted the attention of customs and we ended up having to pay some extra taxes but it still worked out cheaper than buying it here. It was worth it to not have to hire the equipment every time we head up to the mountain.
Recently, I had another, more successful snow trip in New Zealand. I travelled through Wanaka to Queenstown and decided to give Cardrona a go. It was an interesting drive up the unsealed road with no barriers between us and the side of the mountain. Visibility was so low that a lot of people had already given up and were heading back down the mountain by the time we were heading up. In fact, a lasting memory was a family driving down the side of the mountain with the kids in the back of the ute. You’re crazy, New Zealand. I could hardly see the chair in front of us going up the lift or the ground at my feet while boarding. Still, I made the most of it and got a few runs in for the afternoon.
Snowboarding in and of itself is fun, regardless of visibility. Once you get the hang of it (and don’t fall over every few metres) and you gain a bit of speed, it’s quite exhilarating. However, I think one of my favourite parts is sitting on the snow, on top of a mountain, looking out across the ranges and valleys. There is such a stillness and serenity to taking in the beauty of snow capped mountains. I don’t even mind a long chair lift ride when it affords a better view of the landscape. You really do get the sense that you’re ‘on top of the world’.
I also love the atmosphere in the village, especially at Mount Buller. There is always such buzz around the Village Square with people everywhere, ranging from sight-seers to beginner skiers to seasoned snowboarders. You can leave your gear in the racks outside the cafés without fear of anyone else touching it. There is aroma of hot donuts coming from a little stand tuck away beneath some stairs. Kids are dragging toboggans over to the family play area. Sometimes there is even live music playing from a stage in the middle of the square. It’s such a special little community of snow-seekers.
So while the winter weather can sometimes get me down in every day life, I am thankful it creates the opportunity to enjoy one of my new favourite pastimes. Hopefully in the next few seasons we’ll get to try some other slopes. My local friends plan to make the slightly longer journey to Mount Hotham soon and my cousin in Queenstown wants me to join her at The Remarkables. Eventually, I’d love to visit my friend in Switzerland and try some “real” ski runs. Apparently they will ruin me for our little Aussie slopes forever.
Having seen a lot of Australia, I have to confess I hadn’t really done much exploring in New South Wales. So when I was looking to take a group of girls camping, I was searching for something appropriate in the Blue Mountains National Park. We ended up at Turon Gates, which was about an hour away and I thought I would use the proximity to do a little day trip to Katoomba.
My parents had met in Katoomba and spent a few years there studying at bible college. Dad especially is a prolific story teller and therefore we heard plenty of Katoomba-based stories while growing up. I did manage to find one of the places they lived at and we spent a few hours wandering around the main street. It was an interesting place. My mum later described it as full of rich, old people and hippies. Obviously there were a lot of tourists there but the locals still found our little crew a curiosity. I spend a fair amount of time with these girls out and about in Melbourne and never before have we attracted so much unsolicited attention. Nothing harmful, thankfully, but the number of people who felt the need to comment on “what beautiful ladies they are,” call out similar sentiments on the street or interrogate us about where we were from, took me by surprise. The girls were endlessly amused when I quickly responded, “Melbourne,” much to the questioner’s chagrin.
The main reason we had headed to Katoomba was to see the Three Sisters. This is one of the most recognised (and easily accessible) parts of the Blue Mountains. We drove to Echo Point, and then drove a few blocks away from Echo Point to get affordable parking. There are a few paved walkways and stone steps to various lookouts and even down to one of the rock formations. Foot traffic was pretty high so while the walks were quite short, it was a bit slow going at a few bottle necks. We took a few photos from the lookout, checked out the souvenir shop before heading off to find some lunch.
After lunch (and some of those awkward conversations with locals) we went off in search of waterfalls. Tourist traffic was markedly reduced around the Katoomba Falls area. We spent more time here than Echo Point. My mum is originally from Perth and this was the first place she lived outside of Western Australia. She recalls being overwhelmed that any place could be so green and spending many hours wandering around the waterfalls. As residents of Victoria we encounter a lot more foliage, however we still spent plenty of time exploring the temperate rain forest and taking in the tranquility of the waterfalls.
It was all I could do to drag the girls back up all those stairs so we could return to our campsite before it was dark. Needless to say, the little that I got to see of the Blue Mountains and Katoomba did not disappoint. Maybe one day I’ll get to explore a little deeper into the national park.
Every opportunity I can, I try to get out of the suburban hustle and go camping. Some of the teenagers I work with had never been camping so I set about finding somewhere really special to introduce them to one of my favourite past times. Eventually, I stumbled upon such a place – Turon Gates, NSW. I almost don’t want to share that in the off-chance that someone is actually reading these and word gets out about how amazing it is. I asked the proprietors if we were likely to get a campsite since they didn’t take bookings and they assured me it would be fine. So we packed my little Astra to the roof and squeezed four of us in and drove the 9 hours to the little farm. We took a few interesting back roads and had to stop off at a small sheep farm with some breathtaking views.
We slowly picked our way through the back roads (suitable for 4WD only, oops!) and began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn as it began to grow dark. Finally, we came to a gate signed “Turon Gates” and we came upon our little treasure hidden in the hills of Turon National Park.
In the dark and racing the oncoming shower, we set up camp and gather firewood to make some dinner. The managers were right, there were a few families scattered along the creek near a large, grassy field and only one other lot of campers near the bathroom facility (which I thought weird). We set up behind a little rise which hid us from the rest of the world with a short walk to the bathroom and an even shorter walk to the creek
Our camp kitchen was pretty basic but we managed to pull of some pretty impressive meals nonetheless. Probably one of the favourites was our take on an Ethiopian dish – Doro Wat. Normally we make it in a slow cooker but we took it back to basics and made it over the fire in our dutch oven. Essentially, the dish is chicken slow-cooked with berbere spices, honey wine and a few other ingredients. We set it up around lunch time and left it to cook for a few hours while we explored the surroundings. It’s served with boiled eggs and usually injera (fermented flat bread). We didn’t bring any injera this time but enjoyed our Doro immensely. Some other hits included lamb skewers grilled on the hotplate and chicken and vegetables wrapped in foil and cooked on the coals.
While the Doro was cooking we hired one of the on-site canoe. There was a little miscommunication about that. There was a canoe near the deeper part of the creek and a canoe in the shallow part for the kids. We though that we were going to the canoe near the deep part. We struggled a lot with the rocks and could hardly imagine just how shallow the shallow part must be. It turns out that’s where we were after all. Later on in our exploring we found the deeper part and the canoe chained up near the tree. The girls were a little dirty on the managers for pointing us in the wrong direction but we had a bit of fun anyway.
One of the girls was on her learners so I let her have a little driving practice on the dirt roads and we went to check out some other parts of the property. The creek winds its way through the farm and there is a stretch a few kilometres long where camping is allowed. Closer to the main road (on the way to Capertee) there are cabins tucked away in the bush. There were a few families staying in these that were fishing near the causeway. We pulled over and worked our way through the bushes and hopped over rocks in the creek before deciding we better head back home and start making dinner. Two of the girls were feeling extra adventurous and walked back to the campsite while our learner drove. Perhaps that inspired their adventurous spirit! I told them just to stick to the creek and they would be fine since our tent was barely ten metres from the edge of the creek. I was beginning to get a little worried as it got closer and closer to sun down but they eventually emerged from the bush safe and sound!
Another day had us exploring in the other direction and farther off the track – on horseback! This was another first for the most of the girls so the quiet, experienced trail-riding horses kept on the property were just right. We took on up the track that had been used decades ago to move sheep from the property to be sold in town. It felt like it was straight up the mountain. We had started walking up that track looking for firewood previously and it was tough work! We were extremely glad that the horses were doing all that work for us this time. A slow paced horse ride is such a nice way to take in the scenery.
The water in the creek was mountain fresh and very cold! But it meant that the water was drinkable. At least that’s what we were told. It amused the girls greatly that the brochure provided to us invited us to drink the water, claiming it was perfectly safe since, “we drink it and we’re still here.” The girls weren’t convinced that good enough reason but we stuck to our adventurous guns and drank it anyway.
As I said, I don’t want everyone finding out about our little hidden treasure of a campsite. It was so peaceful and quiet and I can’t wait to find an excuse to go back, even though it was quite a long drive. We did have another “little” side excursion while we were up there so close to the Blue Mountains but I will save that for another post. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few of our favourite photos from Turon Gates.