Since the first day of spring, we’ve walking Lilac Park twice a week, watching the arrival of the flowers. At first there was snow that melted rapidly, then chilly wind that demanded layers, gloves, hats, and scarves that continued into April. Finally, warmer weather has crept in. Now that it’s mid-May, we’ve been through the blooming of daffodils, a profusion of tulips, and the big event, lilacs, arrived this week. The bushes of blooms smell wonderful, not too strong, and the colors range from white through many layers of pinkish and purplish to a few dark purple blooms. This is the height of the year in the garden, and very much worth a walk. We’ve never found too many people here, making it easy to visit. My first photos taken in March are at the top, and the photos from yesterday are at the bottom.
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.
One week is barely long enough to get an introduction to a place like Adelaide. We did our best, visiting Hahndorf, walking around historic Port Adelaide, tasting wine in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, and visiting beaches, despite a bit of rain. The drought in South Australia is so bad that we can’t begrudge farmers what they need.
Our Airbnb in Sellicks Beach was a good outpost for exploration. We watched sunset from the second floor deck and listened to the flock of cockatoos twittering in the nearby pines.
We knew there was a lot of wine produced near Adelaide, but we had no idea how many wine regions are crammed into this relatively small area. We were very close to McLaren Vale, where we tasted wine at a couple of different places. We did the same in the Adelaide Hills, and of course, the Barossa Valley, perhaps the best-known of all. Some marvelous wine came to light. The more places we visited, the more suggestions we received about other wineries. So much wine, so little time!
Even closer to home we passed a field of at least 1,000 Little Corella cockatoos. The birds were playing, fighting over sticks, all flocking together, waiting for the sunset (?).
We spent an afternoon in Hahndorf, a small town with many well-preserved stone houses. The area was started as a German Lutheran outpost and today is a lively tourist destination, full of shops and cafes. It makes a nice visit.
Historic Port Adelaide has a self-guided walking tour map that takes you past local stores and many large murals. I stopped to chat with a woman putting the finishing touches on hers. The community hosts muralists every two years and has just added another dozen in 2019. This area, so close to the downtown of Adelaide, makes me think of Fremantle. Port Adelaide may be the next hip community in South Australia. It looks up and coming, with lots of new housing and businesses opening.
On Saturday morning, we stopped at the Willunga Farmer’s Market, one of our favorites in all of Australia. The market had really lovely local produce. It’s not all food stalls and perfumed soap. When I commented to a woman about how much we enjoyed and appreciated the range of products, she told us the secret. Vendors are carefully vetted and get a stall based on a point system that rates whether all their products are local, whether their ingredients are local, foods made and cooked locally, with an effort to have everything that is sold there come from a maximum of 100 km away. The more local a product, the more likely the vendor is to get a space.
Willunga contrasted sharply with the other farmers market we visited. The Torrens Island market is a farmers market in an older sense of the word to my way of thinking. It’s a place where produce is sold at the end of the week (Saturday) and it consists of what is left over from wholesalers. We didn’t buy much, but the prices were about half what you’d pay at the grocery store, and much less than most farmers markets, as most have gotten very upscale in their pricing. Torrens Island is the opposite of boutique. It’s held on a scrap of raw land in an industrial zone that makes you happy to see other cars parked in the lot. Booths are stacks of crates, truck beds, and an occasional canopy. You can buy a coffee, but there are none of the food stalls that crowd out the merchandise at other markets. It’s a bare bones operation in a bare setting. Jonathan asked the people parked beside us what they planned to do with the crate of tiny potates they were loading into the trunk of their car. The man said, “We’ll eat some, give some away, and toss the rest. I couldn’t pass them up, they were only two dollars!”
Like all our other stops in Australia, there were gorgeous beaches. Sellicks Beach was our local, but we had a great visit to Port Elliot and to the beaches beyond on the barrier island at the mouth of the Murray River. We even saw a stubby lizard on the dunes.
Taking advantage of lovely weather, we’ve been to Seven Mile Beach (where the weather changed), Nine Mile Beach (above, near Swansea), and today Lagoon Beach at the end of the Tasman Peninsula. The peninsula is a big hook, and at the end is the Lime Bay State Reserve. The road ends at a campground bordering the reserve. From there, a trail crosses to the west side of the peninsula at Lagoon Beach. It was an easy walk on a broad, sandy path to a beautiful beach. When the sun shone full on the sand, it looked like the Caribbean.
We picnicked among the dunes with a bit more blowing sand than is ideal, then strolled the shore looking at the seashells, the driftwood, the wombat poop. Wait! What! Yes, we recently read this article and as a result were able to identify wombat scat with 100% accuracy.
We didn’t see a live wombat, as they are mostly “crepuscular and nocturnal” (out at sunset and night). I think they would be afraid of us, but they are biggish (40-70 lb) and I wouldn’t want to get between a wombat and its destination.
We had a lovely walk and beach visit, and an encounter with a wombat’s neighborhood.
We found strange, brown cubes on the edge of the beach, and based on our recent scientific reading, realized that there are wombats living nearby! We didn’t see any, but we saw the undeniable evidence. (click below)
I thought I knew about Manhattan, having visited quite a bit while growing up and having lived in couple of neighborhoods. I’ve ridden on the Staten Island Ferry and been to the Statue of Liberty. Both require you to go to the toe of Manhattan. What I skipped over until this trip was the neighborhood just inland from the Battery that includes Wall Street. Now that Lyra lives there, we stopped in for a visit and it is a very enjoyable part of the city.
We stayed at the Wall Street Inn (on S. William St.), a very comfortable small hotel with an excellent breakfast included. It’s also near subway stops, but its greatest asset is being located right around the corner from our daughter’s apartment, by Delmonico’s. (We did not eat there on this trip.) We did take in the sights nearby and there are many. We stopped in front of Federal Hall on Wall St. where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the US.
The former US Customs House, just down the street from Federal Hall, overlooks Bowling Green. Today it is a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian and holds the collections that were formerly the Heye Foundation. It was difficult to visit before moving to the Customs House, because the building was largely storage and had limited display of collections. The museum was located way off the beaten path on 155th St. and Broadway. Now the museum is at the Bowling Green subway stop and the new exhibits show the rich collection of materials from North, Central and South America. I particularly enjoyed seeing the pottery from Costa Rica and Panama that reminded me of the time I spent in Costa Rica while working on my dissertation and how much I admired archaeologist Olga Linares for her book on the imagery on Panamanian pottery, “Ecology and the Arts in Ancient Panama.”
Just two blocks beyond is the shore, lined with a walkway that is used by strollers and joggers alike. Once you get beyond the area where visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island congregate, it is a relatively peaceful and uncrowded part of the city. The view out over the water to Liberty herself and Ellis Island are sublime. It’s a great neighborhood.
Benbulben is a striking feature on the Donegal landscape, or is it Sligo, or Leitrim? County boundaries are close together here and this mountain plateau can be seen for many miles. We followed the Benbulben Forest Walk to skirt the edge of the mountain, admiring the velvety moss green drape of its slopes. The tiny white flecks on its surface are sheep that graze all the way up to the rocks. As you walk from one end to the other of its rocky face, Benbulben changes from a knob of rock to a wall of cliffs to a row of jagged teeth looming over the valley.
Our walk started in bright sun, then shifted to overcast and to rain. We stood among the pines of a forestry plantation to escape the gusts for five minutes and then the rain was past.
We stopped to look at the ruin of a medieval farmstead, Cashel Baun, that we found along the path, then continued on from the park to a place called Luke’s Bridge, around the side of Benbulben. Luke’s Bridge is a trailhead for hiking up onto the plateau at the top of Benbulben. We saw four hikers making their way down the final stretch after what surely had been a long morning. Anyone can climb the trail as long as they have the legs, boots, raingear, water, snacks and desire to do so.When you put your back to Benbulben you can see fields and pastures and the Atlantic in the distance.I have been reading about “overtourism” lately, the fact that popular places have become so full of tourists that there is no room for local residents. Tourist hotels and rental properties squeeze housing availability and raise prices. Streets are packed with people day and night–sometimes things get rowdy. Many people who travel are in favor of sustainable tourism but no one wants to give up seeing a famous sight. We all seem to want limits on visitors right AFTER we’ve been there.
Now that I’ve been to Benbulben, I think it was a better experience than visiting the Cliffs of Moher, which were full, full, full of other visitors. There were a few other cars in the parking lot at Benbulben and we passed two other groups of walkers. Would I have passed up visiting the Cliffs of Moher had I known about the crowds? I don’t know. After we visited the Giant’s Causeway and saw the number of people there we decided not to visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge nearby that most visitors stop and see. We understood there would be just as many people there and since the experience is to cross a long rope bridge between mainland and island, there isn’t anything to do but stand in line and wait your turn (timed tickets started this year). The line is said to be 90 minutes on most days. It didn’t sound like fun at that point. I’m glad we passed on it. There are lots of places to visit in Ireland that are still uncrowded and beautiful.
Skye may be the best known island in Scotland, though there are partisans for every island. We decided on a brief visit. You can go for the day from where we are, but it would be very long, so we settled on an overnight, with just two days of touring. This photo depicts the weather for our visit–some sun, with rain coming or just past. We went south to north and clockwise around the island.
Broadford was our first stop for late morning coffee and a peek at the beach for both birds and beachcombing.
Next stop, a short hike to a series of waterfalls and clear pools called the Fairy Pools. The mountains in the back are the start of the Cuilins, the highest on Skye.No pool pictures because my camera battery died. (Note to self, always carry phone as backup.)
From here we saw the circular hill fort (called a “broch”) at Dun Beag. This fort lends its name to the nearby town of Dunvegan where our B&B was located. We had a beautiful view over Dunvegan Loch from our window.
The sun was not as cooperative the next day, as we continued around the island. We saw Neith Point, an impressive setting, but we didn’t hike the path to the lighthouse because of the gale.It was seriously windy. My hat is held down with my hoodie. It wasn’t even raining yet. That came later.
By the time we arrived at Kilt Rock, it was pelting rain sideways. One side got wet while we were rushing from the car to the overlook. The other side got wet when we rushed back to the car. The waterfall was gushing full force. Skye seems to have lots of water right now.
From here it was time to head home. We had a wonderful visit, however short.
As always, I have a few comments about Skye. Our experience, backed up by our B&B host is that reservations are essential. We had a reservation for a place to stay and for dinner before we went and both places were full when we arrived. Skye is full of small B&Bs, some of them very remote, and most we saw, even on a Monday night in late September, had “No Vacancies”.
Roads on Skye are often one lane and in poor condition. We shared the road with sheep and the occasional cow which I didn’t mind as much as the large trucks.
Just because roads are narrow and you don’t see anyone doesn’t mean no one is there. We had what has become our typical Scotland experience. You get to the end of a long winding, single lane road and the parking lot is full. The Fairy Pools had a full lot and cars parked along the side of the narrow road on a steep hillside. There just wasn’t anywhere else to stop. There were at least 50 people on the trail at any given time, most of them not Scottish, or even English. Americans and Japanese seemed to prevail, though everyone was there.
There are wonderful sights, crowded or not. Here are a few of my favorites:
Skye is a lovely place, but you could have as good a visit with far less crowding further north along the coast (see my post on the North Coast 500).
We wanted to see what the highlands are about, so we drove to the middle. Lairg is about 50 miles from the east, west, and north coasts of Scotland.The town sits at one end of Loch Shin, surrounded by hills covered with heather and gorse, green pastures filled with sheep and tan fields of barley.
The Ferrycroft visitors center at the edge of town, has a number of playful outdoor spaces, indoor exhibits and is the start of a trail around the Ord Cairns, a series of archaeological remains including hut circles and cairns, that also include two large burial cairns that overlook Loch Shin.Each cairn looked a bit different.The large radio tower on top of the hill didn’t take away from the interesting sights, even though I’ve cut it out of my photos. The large hydroelectric plant didn’t intrude either. We were interested to find that the highlands look a lot like the rest of Scotland.
The Black Isle gets its name from the dark form of the island in winter. When viewed from afar, Inverness, for example, it looks black. Surrounded by water, snow doesn’t stick (they don’t get very much). Cromarty is a small town at the tip of the Black Isle. It has varied and interesting architectural details, and some nice shops including the only Dutch cheese shop in Scotland (don’t ask me why).
The thatched roof building is the birthplace of Hugh Miller (1801-1856), and the Carnegie library is dedicated to Miller as well. Hugh Miller was a proponent of the study of geology in the early 1800s. In this era before Darwin, this was a very new endeavor.
An interesting building in Cromarty, and the tile entrance to an antique store that had a great variety of things.
There’s always a ruin to be visited, so we walked up a path from town to the Gaelic Chapel, the ruins adjacent to the village churchyard. You can barely see the chapel walls in this photo and we are on the inside of the structure.
We spent a very nice day in Cromarty, and even stopped to watch birds in Cromarty Firth on the way home.