Under the “Heat Dome”

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Meteorologists must spend all their down time inventing terms for the next big climate moment. “Polar Vortex”, “Snowmageddon”, “El Diablo”, and now “Heat Dome”, are some of the more recent ones. I say this in admiration, as we all feel better when the weather changes and we know we’ve survived whatever-it-was.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/how-a-heat-dome-happens-1.5216908

Such a long walk to the car….

In the Midwest, and much of the country (I believe), it was heat combined with high humidity that made Thursday through Saturday of the past week unbearable. Whether you got up at 6 am, or stayed up until 11 pm, it always felt hot. The humidity made the atmosphere feel like a steam room, or breathing through a hot face cloth. There was no reason to go outdoors at all, unless it was to hurry to an air-conditioned car for a drive to a swimming pool or an air-conditioned building. Those days felt exceedingly loooonnnnnngggg, because there wasn’t a reason to do anything or go anywhere.

Rain poured down in heavy showers across our area late in the day on Saturday, and the heat began to abate. By Sunday morning, it was just another glorious day of summer, with the Heat Dome safely in the past. I wonder what they’ll call the next heat wave? It’s not even August yet.

Art and Artisans in Australia

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As we traveled around Australia, I was impressed by many of the artists and artisans we met, whose work was creative and out of the ordinary. Here’s a small snapshot of them.

Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal Bush Traders is one of many places that sells work by aboriginal artists in Darwin and the Northern Territory. Unlike most others, this organization is not-for profit, and is focused on getting aboriginal work on the market. The store is in a renovated historic stone cottage on the edge of the Darwin downtown area. We liked the wide range of items from painting to woven goods. I bought my cockatoo shoes there. http://aboriginalbushtraders.com

Paintings are the best known form of aboriginal art in Australia, in part because there is ancient rock art painted in similar styles. We were drawn to different work, especially the linocuts of Vincent Babia. These are his interpretation of the historic migration of people from Sabia Island in the Torres Straits to Cape York, the northern tip of Australia. There is a lot going on in every corner of his prints. They are very large, this one is 121.5 x 97.5 cm (38 x 48 in).

Vincent Babia: Migration from Sabia Island to Cape York

Graphic Art

 

I like clever graphic art. In Sydney, Squidinki caught my eye, full of humorous souvenirs unlike anything I saw elsewhere. The artist is Max Mendez. http://squidinki.com

 

 

 

 

Tanya Ferreira works in pen and ink. She’s based in the Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales. https://www.etsy.com/shop/zenfulcreatures

 

 

 

 

 

We met Jackie Elms at a fair, and bought one of her hand-painted pillow covers. To see her work on Facebook you need to go to her photos, not her facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pg/Jacky-Elms-Artist-395713370779264/photos/?ref=page_internal

Jewelry

Now that I make jewelry from beach glass, I scrutinize the jewelry we at markets and fairs. There was lots of inspiring creative work.

Jux jewellery makes rings and other items using the lost-wax casting process. The rings with opals set in them are particularly beautiful. http://www.juxjewellery.com

Indigo Dreaming Designs is a line of sea glass jewelry by Ruth Marshall. It includes rings, bracelets, charms, and pendants of beach glass set in silver. https://www.facebook.com/pg/indigodreamingdesigns/posts/

Opals are mined in Australia and tourists are attracted to them. You can visit mines in Lightning Ridge, Coober Pedy and other remote places. You can buy opals in all the tourist centers and airports. We looked in a lot of places, and found that opals are largely a tourist item found in specialized shops.

 

In Brisbane, the Australian Opal Shop carries a wide range of opals, I picked out two pieces of opal from Queensland. This is opal formed on a base of dark brown rock. The colors range from lavender to dark blue. green, yellow, orange and red. There are opals from Mexico and Ethiopia, but in Australia, you find mostly the Australian varieties. After we looked at all the displays at the Brisbane Opal Museum, Jonathan bought me an opal ring that shows flashes of blue and green. It is perfect. http://www.brisbaneopalmuseum.com.au/

last but not least: T-shirts

You would think that buying a souvenir t-shirt would be the simplest thing a tourist can do. Not so! If you want an interesting t-shirt, it takes a lot of shopping. In Fremantle, we drove by the huge silo with the Dingo Flour logo on it and several visits and phone calls tracked down the t-shirt bearing that logo. https://www.mokoh.com.au/index.php/mokohshop/category/61-t-shirts

We had an equally daunting time finding an interesting tshirt during our visit and finally found a good one on our way home. Wild Kiwi designs makes a range of tshirts that are more creative than usual. https://wild-kiwi.co.nz/

Those are of some of the artists and artisans I liked during our travels around Australia, and New Zealand. I tended to buy jewelry and textiles like pillow covers, dish towels, and t-shirts, because they are easy to pack.

High Noon Birding Society: Australian Cockatoos

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One of our goals in visiting Australia was to see as many of the cockatoos as possible. We heard that in some places there were so many cockatoos in city parks that they became a pest. We wanted to see that many cockatoos. And we did. As we traveled around the country, we tried to find out where to see cockatoos, and when there were flocks of cockatoos in our neighborhood we sat and looked at them.

(Internet)

(Internet)

In Tasmania, our first stop in Australia, we found a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos arrived in our neighborhood each evening just before sunset. They gathered in a tall tree, then shifted from tree to tree until finally settling in a speckled trail of birds across the hill.

There were fewer cockatoos in Melbourne, but they were loud, cackling from tall trees along the nearby canal, perching in tall trees on the grounds of a school after the students and staff left for the day. Sulphur-crested cockatoos tend to put up their bright yellow crest when they land on a branch. It makes them easy to identify.

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You might not think a city as large as Sydney would be home to cockatoos, but we spotted yellow-tailed black cockatoos flying across the freeway, and tracked a big flock of them to a nearby golf course.

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On our train ride across the country, we even saw Major Mitchell’s cockatoos, a pink cockatoo with a bright red and white crest.

Perth was our Cockatoo bonanza, where we saw flocks of Corellas perched in the trees by the beach, with more on the ground.

Right in front of our house in Yanchep, a flock of about thirty galahs, the pink and gray cockatoo, visited a large tree every day. We would find them sitting in the branches or poking around on the ground every morning and evening.

On our visit to the zoo, we saw Baudin’s cockatoos and Carnaby’s cockatoos. Fortunately for us, we saw a huge flock of more than 100 of the endangered Carnaby’s cockatoos at Yanchep National Park, just north of us.

 

 

 

 

(Internet)

Darwin is hot and humid, with many species of birds that are new to us. We got our best look at red-tailed black cockatoos there, in the park that bordered our house. The pair sat in a tree eating large nuts as they watched us watching them.

When I talk about birds, I often use photos from the internet and indicate that. It’s tricky to photograph birds, and takes more patience and a longer lens than I possess. In the end, we saw most of the cockatoos. We missed the red-headed Gang-gang cockatoo of the far south, and the Palm cockatoo of the far north. We really did see a field of thousands (yep!) of Corellas, and places where people are careful not to put out food for cockatoos because of the damage they do whenever the food stops. We saw cockatoos picking in trash bins like crows, and chewing all the top branches off pine trees. We still like them.

At the same time, I’d never have one as a pet. Large tropical parrots and cockatoos are voracious chewers, quick to ruin wicker furniture, wood trim, and kitchen tools. These big birds are easily bored, and will destroy what the owner holds dearest as soon as they have a free minute. The only well-behaved pet cockatoo I’ve ever seen was with a man in an electric wheelchair in Palm Cove, outside Cairns. His bird would sit on our hand or shoulder and was trained to fly back to the shoulder of his owner when you pushed him gently. He was kept on a long tether so that he could fly from his owner to a “new friend” and back. The bird, whose name I forget, was healthy, bright-eyed, and interested in passers-by. The key to this happy relationship was that his owner was always with him. I’d guess 90% of the time when the bird wasn’t sleeping it was on the wheelchair. That’s a lot of attention, and that’s what it takes. Most pet owners devote up to about 5% of their day to being with their pet. That’s a big difference, and it’s why big tropical birds flood bird rescue homes and shelters. They are way too much work.

In the wild, though, give me a flock of cockatoos any day. I’ll give them sticks to chew and take their picture.

Traveling the World in the Age of Overtourism

We travel because we have an insatiable interest in other people and places, in what is around the next corner, and in what it is like to sit on the porch and read a book in Adelaide, Australia compared to Wheaton, Illinois or Invergordon, Scotland. We marvel at the beauty all around us. We have learned a few things along the way.

As we’ve gone from place to place, we’ve stopped in some of the world’s best known hubs of “overtourism.” We spent two months in Barcelona, including days when so many people got off cruise ships for the day that the Rambla, the wide pedestrian avenue, was completely full. Would we have preferred a few less people? Yes, but think about the people who live in beautiful Barcelona who have given up the old downtown area to tourists most of the time. Local people often lose out to visitors.

We’ve seen Venice in June, when people start to line the canals searching for somewhere to sit down with their spritz, and local people lose patience trying to get where they’re going through the multitude of people who aren’t going anywhere at all.

Are we making things worse? Perhaps. We rent through Airbnb, which is one factor making permanent rental housing more costly and less available in tourist-oriented cities around the world. Airbnb is not the sole cause of housing troubles, but one factor along with slow salary growth, competition with real estate investors, and the huge disparity in wealth between the few “haves” and the many “have-less”. We are going to continue to use Airbnb as responsibly as we can.

Nightcap National Forest, NSW

One way to combat overtourism is to consider visiting places that are not necessarily on the “Top Ten” list. In Australia, we visited many well-known places, including the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and the Sydney Opera House. Particularly when it comes to seeing natural phenomena like forests and beaches, we’ve found it isn’t worth a long drive if comparable places are nearby, even if they are not in the guide book. Visiting parks and nature preserves all over the world has made me more aware of what can be found around us. With local bird watching groups we visited places that we might never have chosen, and had very worthwhile visits. Now I am more likely to visit a local park in Illinois than when I lived there full time. I look at clouds in the sky at the end of the day and see perfection, no matter where in the world I am. Every sunset is different, every day in every place. It’s important that I appreciate each one, whether on an empty beach or in the center of a bustling city.

I’ve learned to use a bit less. The more I learn about recycling, the more I see that recycling, whether in the US, Europe, or Australia, yields little result, and that far more recycling ends up in trash dumps than anyone admits. We’ve learned to carry shopping bags, and now we’re being taught to bring our own coffee cups and water bottles. That’s the way it has to be to keep the ocean from becoming plastic soup.

Perhaps the next step will be going back to using handkerchiefs and cloth napkins to decrease our use of disposables. That won’t be enough to deter global warming, but it’s something. Who knows? I’m curious about what global changes are next.

 

 

Good to Know About Australia

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Impossible to sum up Australia, but some things worked for us and others didn’t. Here are a few tips based on our experience over six months.

All my $ figures in this post refer to Australian dollars, currently about US$.70=AU$1

New Brighton, NSW

Airbnb: We stayed in eight different Airbnb properties in Australia that ranged from passable to extremely lovely and comfortable. Most were on the excellent end of the range. Airbnb is increasingly commercial, meaning that you do not meet the host, just let yourself in with a keycode. Properties are often very clean, which is nice, but they sometimes lack personality, and the wall decoration consists of beige/white paint and mirrors. We try hard to stay in places that are owned and operated by the same person, preferably their only Airbnb property. That seems to yield the best results in terms of atmosphere. Still, in two cases we found the owner started with a single rental and was busy adding others. All our rentals were legal, though it is becoming necessary to check the rules for major cities, as property owners aren’t always forthcoming about the legality of their rental if there is a gray area.

Car Rental: We rented a car in each place we stayed. Cars can only be rented for 28 days so occasionally we had to call in toward the end of the month and add a day or two. We never found an agency that made us come in to the office for this. We rented from a wide variety of companies, Avis, Hertz, Budget, and others. We don’t have an auto rental loyalty card of any kind. Most of the time it did not cost extra, or very little, to add me as the second driver. When it cost hundreds of dollars, I didn’t drive.

Drive on the left: I’d still recommend that you do what we did and take a driving lesson before your first time driving on the left. We found it useful, and though we have driven on the left most of the past two years, we still have to pay attention.

Driving in Australia: Perhaps it is greater use of speed cameras, or the effects of aging on reaction time, or the difficulty of remembering how much parking time we paid for, but we got the occasional traffic ticket in Australia. These come by mail about three months after the fact, so it is impossible to contest them, or even to remember the circumstances. Traffic fines are big business, too. Fines are high, and visitors who plan to drive should budget about $200/month for possible traffic tickets. Generally, drivers in Australia don’t speed, and don’t often pass unless there is a dedicated passing lane. Driving takes time and patience.

People tell jokes about the need to avoid hitting slow-moving koalas and echidnas, or faster moving wallabies and kangaroos. And look out for the gasket-chewing parrots and cockatoos! We avoided driving at nightfall after seeing many, many dead animals on the side of the road in Tasmania during January, our first month in Australia. We never saw as much roadkill again, but the thought of hitting a biggish wallaby was enough to keep us indoors at sunrise and sunset when they are most active.

Food: Coffee is brewed to be strong in Australia. Even if you order a latte, you may have to go back and ask for extra milk.

Zentveld’s coffee farm, NSW

We ate lots and lots of Australian lamb, and it was delicious.

Did you know Australia grows cacao and coffee in the tropical areas? Try locally grown coffee and chocolate if you see it. Northern markets also carry locally grown macadamia nuts. Try some of the native fruits and herbs, like finger limes, bush lemons, lilly-pilly, and lemon myrtle. We tried to shop at local farmers markets as often as possible. It was easy to find when and where online.

Health/Travel Insurance: We purchased travel insurance for each of our flights to/from/in Australia. Fortunately, we never had to use it. We did not purchase any additional health insurance because most policies do not cover pre-existing conditions and that’s usually what needs treating while on the road. Jonathan saw a physician to renew his prescriptions that we could not get easily from the US. The office did not charge him for phone follow-ups when one medication became unavailable and he needed a prescription for a replacement. He was able to get his prescriptions filled anywhere in the country for about the same cost as his copay for medications in the US. I saw the “rock stars” of Australian retina specialists by getting referrals from each doctor to the next. My treatment was excellent and paying “full price” in Australia was about 1/3 more than my copay after insurance in the US. (see my other blog: Macular DegenerationontheRoad.wordpress.com)

People: We found Australians to be the most friendly people on earth. It was easy to strike up a conversation or ask directions. In situations that might be uncomfortable in the US, like finding people living in your backyard (see Sydney), we ended up with new friends.

Quokkas at the bus stop

Public transportation/Parking costs: Public transport is available in the large cities. We used it effectively in Melbourne, where we were close to both train and tram lines. In Sydney, we were on a bus line, and the buses were much slower and usually behind schedule. Fares ran about $6 each way. Driving into the city center anywhere in Australia usually involves heavy traffic. Downtown parking in Melbourne and Sydney is expensive ($16/hr). There is often a fee to park at public beaches, up to $4/hour, though the fee is usually capped after four hours.

Shopping: We found lots of markets in Australia. The big cities all have large downtown market areas, though many of these are focused on tourist shopping, not household shopping. Others mix food with craft items. Farmers markets, where food is the central theme, tend to fall on weekday mornings (see Food, above). Though prices are usually higher than those of grocery stores, they make an enjoyable visit.

Telephone: We used Optus. A $10 SIM card and a $30 per month plan (Epic Data plan) gave us lots of data and all the phone minutes and messages we could use. By setting up automatic recharge we were given a few minutes of “extras” which included international minutes to make an occasional call back to the US. This was handy for contacting places that wouldn’t respond to email, like doctors offices.

 

Australia: Looking Back

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At the end of six months in Australia there is a lot to look back on. Our experiences here have been excellent. We’ve met lovely people, had all kinds of adventures, and saw beautiful land and sea. I have such mixed feelings. There’s a pain in my heart for all that we are leaving behind, while I know that this isn’t a permanent place for me.

We did an excellent job of following the seasons in Australia. Starting in Tasmania in January and working our way north through the summer, we ended up in northern Australia in May and June as Darwin and Cairns started to cool down from the intense heat of northern summers. We’ve been rewarded with fine weather everywhere. It was hot in Melbourne, but we lived near the beach and I got to swim often–just what I like. Six months later, New Brighton has cooled off over the past two weeks and the solstice. We are leaving just before I run out of enough layers to keep warm.

Though we stayed six months and saw a lot, would I do anything differently if I were to visit again? Hmmm… I don’t think I’d do anything differently if I were making my first visit all over again, but if I were to return to Australia, here are a few things I would try and include in my further travels.

Our schedule kept us in good weather, but that doesn’t seem to match up with some of Australia’s best known festivals. I might try harder to catch at least one of these on another trip:

  • Tasmania: MONA FOMA, Launceston, January; or Dark MOFO, Hobart June 14-23, 2019  These are two festivals put on by MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. Always controversial, each festival includes quirky and interesting displays.
  • Brisbane Art and Design Festival, May 10-26, 2019
  • Sydney Vivid Festival, May 24-June 15, 2019  Remarkable here is that images are projected on the “sails” that make up the roof of the Opera House, and on structures all over the city
  • Opal festival in either Coober Pedy, June 21-22, 2019; or Lightning Ridge, July 24-27, 2019  There are so many quirks to the world of opal hunting that three days among the miners and purveyors should yield some crazy good people-watching.
  • Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, July 10-14, 2019
  • Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney (Bondi) Oct.24-Nov. 10, 2019; Perth (Cottesloe) Mar. 6-23, 2020

I’d also like to take about six months and drive the length of western Australia from Albany on the south to Arnhem Land on the north. Every inch of the coast has interesting rock formations, reefs, fish, towns, and wineries, too. I’d like to see more.

The far north would be on my list for another visit. I’d take a tour into Kakadu National Park and then on to Tiwi Island, and into Arnhem Land. There is aboriginal rock art from millennia past in some of these places alongside the homes of aboriginal people who still live in a unique way trying to maintain their culture in the face of the contemporary world.

The far north on the east end of Australia would also make my list. I’d visit the Cape York Peninsula and the islands of the Torres Strait that are in the process of being swamped by rising sea level. Near the tip of Cape York I’d like to see palm cockatoos before they die out like so many other exotic species.

My wish list includes extreme points of the Australian continent. Otherwise, there aren’t any must-see destinations left on my list. I enjoyed all the places we went, and I recognize there are many more places that we missed. We drove by only a few of Australia’s “Big Things,” and there are many, many more.

Australia’s Big Things (Wikipedia)

That pretty much sums up Australia. No matter where you’ve been, there’s more to see. You can stay in one place and find everything you want, or you can keep moving and see something new around every corner. Whether I return to Australia in the future or this is my one visit, it has been super fabulous wonderful and I will always be happy we were here.

Auckland in Three Meals

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We stopped in Auckland on our way back to the US. We didn’t need to, there are direct flights from Brisbane to the US, but we saved a mint, so decided to do it. We arrived on Monday afternoon and left on Wednesday morning, deciding to take a brief culinary tour during our stay.

We began with dinner at Masu, a Japanese restaurant in the downtown area (Federal St.). The decor is comfortable, with wooden tables. Diagonal beams hung overhead suggest the roof of a house. The menu includes sushi, kitchen specialties, and a robata grill. We chose items from each section, with black cod cooked on the grill as our main dish. It was all delicious. As I am a dessert lover, I don’t mean to diminish the buttery sushi, the crsipy, spicy calamari, or clams steamed in buttery broth, but what really stood out was dessert. When is the last time you had a truly delicious dessert at an Asian restaurant? Masu really delivered in this category. The chocolate hazelnut pudding arrived in a small wooden box, with umeshu ice cream (made with Japanese plum liqueur). A server sprinkled green tea powder on top of the baked pudding at the table. Spoon out hot pudding with a crispy bit of topping, followed by a bite of ice cream–what flavor! I scraped out the corners of my little box, glad there wasn’t more, because I would have eaten it.

We took Uber back and forth from the city to our hotel by the airport, and the process went smoothly once I learned not to order a ride until I was in an easy-to-find location.

On Tuesday, we began with lunch at the Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar, once again arriving in the downtown area via Uber. There are no reservations at the Depot, but we were seated immediately, right around noon. Taking advantage of our location, we ordered a dozen raw tuatua clams, followed by a small plate of charcuterie, then venison cheek on creamy polenta. The charcuterie was both delicious and a bit unusual, including rabbit rillettes, cherry relish, wild pork salami, and locally made bresaola, served with fig and fennel seed toast. Best of all were little batons of head cheese that were rolled in crumbs and deep-fried; hot and crispy on the outside with melting meaty flavor on the inside.

The day was overcast, and we opted for a walk to the Auckland Art Gallery. There was Maori art, art of the western canon, and a surprisingly engaging exhibit, “Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the ‘F’ Word – Feminism!.” The Guerrilla Girls are a collective of artists who point out inequality where they see it. They make posters to plaster in public places with titles like “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?” The poster lists statistics about the representation of women in the Met’s collection, where it turns out there are far more female nudes on the walls than work of any kind by female artists.

By this time, we were getting museum fatigue and took a break for tea. Refreshed enough to continue, we headed for the harbor, strolling the pedestrian shopping precinct in central Auckland. These few blocks are full of international brands, with the occasional tourist souvenir shop butting in. We window shopped our way to the water. Two huge wharves have been converted to hotel and restaurant venues. We found our dinner spot, Euro, out on Princes Wharf. Our reservation was early, since we’d be getting up at 4 am to head for the airport. Our third restaurant meal was as interesting and as delicious as the previous ones. Jonathan couldn’t resist a few local oysters, and the two first courses were excellent. We started with “scorched” steak tartare, a delicious nearly raw chopped beef covered in a cloud of tiny kumara (yam) chips. Next came duck ham, slivers of ham draped over a pastry tube of delicate duck liver mousse. We cleaned up every bit of it. Jonathan went on to a main dish of crispy beef cheek while I held out for dessert. When I asked our waiter what to choose, he suggested he bring me something, which turned out to be half portions of two different desserts, cheesecake cigars with ginger ice cream followed by tapioca with pineapple curd, panna cotta cream and so that it wouldn’t resemble pudding, shards of white chocolate and dried pineapple fanning out of the top like the sails of a ship.

Our culinary visit to Auckland showed there is lots of fresh shellfish and well prepared seafood. There is also excellent meat and specialty products from local producers. Add some New Zealand wine and you have menus that focus on New Zealand products with delicious results. We don’t usually eat out, so this visit was a real treat, and we were more than satisfied with each of our stops.

 

 

The Other Giant’s Causeway: Fingal Head, NSW

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Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Fingal Head, NSW

A year ago we visited Giant’s Causeway, a fantastic natural formation of basalt pillars in Northern Ireland. The rock’s regular shape is very intriguing, unique in all the world–except it isn’t unique. There is another formation of columnar basalt just like Giant’s Causeway at Fingal Head, near Tweed Heads, NSW. Once we heard about the rocks at Fingal Head, we had to visit.

The formations are identical in geological terms, formed by cooling volcanic rock. At Fingal Head the columns are larger and coarser, which makes them too heavy to be quarried and used for building. Columns at Giant’s Causeway were cut into blocks and used to build nearby Dunluce Castle.

 

This patch of distinctive basalt pillars is not as large as the version in Northern Ireland, but it had far fewer visitors on the day we were there.

When we visited Giant’s Causeway people were spread over the site like ants at a picnic.

There is a low spot separating Fingal Head from the shore. It was just past low tide, and as I considered crossing onto the heap of rock, a wave crashed into the low spot from both directions at the same time!

We spent quite a while looking at the sun on the rock formation, and doing some whale watching. There was a lot of spouting but not much jumping on this gorgeous sunny day.

We strolled the beach north of Fingal Head, where small boulders cover much of the beach and show that pieces of the rock columns break off and get rolled in the surf before piling up on land. In among the rocks we began to find beach glass, more than anywhere else we’ve been on the east coast of Australia. We picked our way along the water for quite a while, then had a picnic lunch overlooking the shore, where a dozen different kinds of birds swooped down to see whether we’d like to feed them some crumbs. We didn’t feed them, but got a good last look at interesting Australian birds, just about our last before we leave for New Zealand and home in a couple of days.

Dodging Showers at Tweed Regional Gallery

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The recent rains are supposedly abating and we planned an indoor/outdoor day to hedge our bets. First stop was the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre in Murwillumbah, a 25 minute drive from our house. Not large, but very lively, this young institution aims to be a hub for cultural activity and seems to be succeeding. There were three rotating exhibits that included intriguing work by a still life artist, Dean Home, and paintings by an Aboriginal artist based in this region, Digby Moran.

The main event is the studio and works of Margaret Olley, an Australian artist known for her still life paintings.

There was also a group of works that show a regional landmark, Mt. Warning, painted by several different people over a span of about 100 years. (The banner painting is yet another view of Mt. Warning by Thomas Dean).

The permanent exhibit includes Margaret Olley’s studio, brought lock, stock, and paintbrushes from her home in Sydney. All the materials were photographed in place, catalogued, measured, described, assessed from a conservation standpoint, moved hundreds of kilometers from Sydney to Murwillumbah, stored until the building that is now the gallery was completed, and then reinstalled. I would have loved to be a volunteer helping with that project!

There’s also an artist in residence, and contributions by former artists-in-residence to current exhibits. A good cafe, gift shop, and engaged docents that we observed in action guiding a tour, the Tweed Regional Gallery was impressive as an organization. We had our picnic at one of the outdoor tables looking over the rolling landscape of greater Murwillumbah. I did say this was only the first stop. The weather stayed bright and sunny so we stopped at the Moobal National Park along the road home and went for a walk in the rainforest. There are only a few remnants of coastal rainforest in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. If you find a patch, the walking is lovely and cool, and there are a few birds. We had our moment in nature before heading home, without a drop falling on us.

Winter Solstice in New Brighton

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Welcome to this post on our current home in New Brighton, New South Wales. This is also my 500th post on Llywindatravels.com   (Where does the time go?) Thank you for reading and joining me on our travels. I hope you’ll keep coming back.

It’s been just over five years since we retired and set out to see the world, and we’ve met our goal many times over. The places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, and our adventures! It’s been amazing over and over again. Just this morning we went birdwatching with Bird Buddies, a group based in the area around Byron Bay, NSW. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, and helped us see the birds that may be common to them, but were new to us. We had a wonderful morning ending with a tea break where the list of all birds seen was compiled, and general conversation shared. It doesn’t get better than that.

New Brighton is our last stop before returning to the US, and we know we’ll miss Australia. Our home here is situated between Gold Coast (the sixth largest city in Australia–who knew?) and Byron Bay, two hours drive south of Brisbane. Our street is bounded by an estuary on one side, and the beach on the other, with birds twittering all around us, yet we are five minutes from a shopping center. This house is small and comfortable, with objects from our hosts’ extensive travels all around us (India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, and many other destinations). We have lunch on our picnic table overlooking the water when we’re home. Australian magpies and pied butcherbirds stop by to beg. We’ve had to shoo them out of the house. Our neighbor says they come in and stand in front of her fridge waiting for snacks!

There’s wildlife in the neighborhood, too. Flying foxes hang from the trees across the estuary during the day. They unfurl and flap into the night about a half hour after sunset. Apparently, pythons cross the walkway to the beach regularly, though we haven’t seen any. Near the Byron Lighthouse, and at Hastings Point, we’ve see whales breaching and blowing puffs of mist into the air. There are signs along the roads for koala crossings, though none have crossed in front of us–yet.

There are excellent farmer’s markets during the week. We go to the New Brighton farmer’s market down the street from our house on Tuesdays. The last apples of the season appeared this week, right on the solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year here in Australia, but the coldest it gets all winter in this region is about 60°F. during the day, sunny and beautiful. Except when it rains.

On Friday, we went to check out the farmer’s market in Mullumbimby, a few miles from here. It is a larger than our local market and was full of delicious things. There was a stall selling exotic fruit. We tasted Brazilian cherries, a tiny, tart fruit the color of a tomato, and we bought hybrid limes, a cross between a finger lime and a regular type.

The bread in this region has been excellent. We bought a loaf of seedy, whole wheat sourdough that will make delicious toast. The patisserie stall yielded croissants and eclairs for a mid-morning snack.

We’ve been to weekend markets, too, with vendors selling crafts of all kinds, snacks, and all kinds of food. There is always live music and lots of children running around while parents try to shop while chatting with their friends.

We’ve bought macadamia nuts, finger lime jam, meat, cheese, baguettes, dukka (nutty, seedy dipping mix), stuffed animals, pillow covers, and colored prints of tropical birds.

We’ve been on walks through the rainforest, along the beach, and through the woods. We’ve taken some of the walks in a book here at the house, “Byron Trails: 50 walking adventures in Byron Bay and beyond” (by Mairead Cleary). Well never run out of things to do, and won’t even come close to taking all of the possible walks. Each time we set out I think briefly about the impending end of our stay in Australia. Then I get caught up in the day, the sunshine, the woods, and the ocean.