Finally Watched the Bats on Yolo Causeway

Meet American Julie who met my husband and our son (Chris) at the Tour de France back in 2014. This is a very interesting and informative post about bats. Enjoy!

IMG_2627Most of us are afraid of bats at an almost instinctual level. Unlike snakes and spiders though, I am hardpressed to name a species of bat. The other night I learned there are more species of bat of any other type of mammal except rodents. I might have known at one time in Jr High biology that bats are mammals, but it was good to be reminded.

I wasn’t prepared for the bat expert, Corky Quirk, to have live bats on display in small plastic carriers. They were fascinating to look at up close and watch as they stretched a wing or moved about. However, I was still pretty creeped out. Corky gives a great presentation including playing a rap on echolocation. She uses a camera to give us an larger than life view of the bats eating.

After a quick last bathroom break and a chance to buy a…

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Happy Times at the Hughenden Boutique Hotel in Sydney, Australia

My husband and I recently enjoyed a fabulous weekend in Sydney, where we visited to catch up with our Son and Daughter-in-Law. We stayed at The Hughenden Boutique Hotel, which is within easy walking distance of their apartment, and right near the picturesque and vibrant Centennial Parklands. WOW! What a find that hotel is!
Initially chosen specifically because of its proximity to our Son and Daughter-in-Law’s house, we were pleasantly surprised by the whole Hughenden experience, and will definitely be staying there each time we visit the Woollahra/Paddington/Centennial Park area.

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Yoga in the Park Anyone?

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One of the beautiful walkways in Centennial Park, Sydney

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Looking over one of the playgrounds in Centennial Park

Not relevant to us, but very important to pet owners, the Hughenden Boutique Hotel is pet friendly (unusual in Australia, as far as I know). In fact, during our stay, we met up with a couple with a gorgeous Labrador. They said they were living at the hotel for a few weeks until they could move into their new home. They said that the staff “bent over backwards” to be accommodating, kind and helpful to them and their dog. Don’t worry if you’re not partial to dogs, however, as there are rooms and areas kept aside for dogs and their owners, so you probably wouldn’t be allocated a room in which a dog had stayed before you.

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The Hughenden Boutique Hotel is Pet Friendly

The staff were, without exception, all professional, friendly, obliging and helpful, all weekend.

We invited our Son and Daughter-in-Law, along with two other local friends, to join us for breakfast on the Sunday morning. I enjoyed the delicious continental breakfast, which was included in our tariff. My husband ordered from the cooked menu selections, as did our guests. Everyone enjoyed the food, and the hotel’s ambience, as we relaxed and chatted for a couple of hours in the enclosed verandah area of the hotel.

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The Warm and Sunny Breakfast area at the Hughenden Boutique Hotel

According to the hotel’s compendium, and I quote: “The Hughenden was built in the 1870s by Dr Frederick Harrison Quaife, as a grand family residence. Later it would become a Masonic Hall, Nurses’ home, dance hall, and the Riviere Ladies College” The hotel displays an eclectic mix of antique furniture, cutlery, homeware and historic paintings, all of which help to illustrate the story of the hotel’s past.
The hotel is centrally located and is within walking distance of the iconic Paddington Markets, where I wandered for a couple of hours on the Saturday afternoon (the markets don’t operate on Sundays, to my knowledge).

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A leaf is used as a template for a one-off pewter brooch

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This man creates beautiful pewter jewellery to sell at the Paddington Markets

We were blessed with perfect weather during our weekend soujourn to Sydney, so it was easy to walk around and enjoy the culture and ambience of the historic Woollahra/Paddington/Centennial Park area.

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The Bride and Groom had just arrived at this Paddington church as we passed by

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Another view of the church, with the wedding still in progress inside

There is a Matt Blatt Furniture showroom in Oxford Street, Paddington. We didn’t enter the shop ourselves, but we were amused by a large decorated horse which has been for sale there for several years, apparently. Not our cup of tea, but hopefully someone will give the horse a forever home sometime soon.

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A horse decorated with artificial plants. What next?

After spending a couple of hours walking around Centennial Parklands and chatting to the locals we enjoyed a late lunch at nearby Sven San Restaurant/Cafe. A fabulous place to sit in the sunshine and relax with a beer whilst sharing a burger and some delicious pork buns. We’ll certainly be going back there next time we’re lucky enough to be visiting Sydney.

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Enjoying a beer and a late lunch at Sven San Cafe Restaurant

 

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Visiting Jordan by Christopher Curnow

Despite the ongoing conflict gripping the Middle East there is one country which stands out as a haven of stability and peace in a rather dangerous neighborhood – Jordan. As kingdom in the desert with little or no natural resources (including fresh water) Jordan is forced to rely on its people (some of the most highly educated in the region) for prosperity and economic growth. This partly explains the warm welcome received from almost everyone I met on my three day trip to Jordan. After a 90 minute flight from Iraq I arrived bright and early at the brand new airport, before heading to the Grand Hyatt in the capital Amman, which was clearly enjoying a sleep-in on the first day of the Middle Eastern weekend.

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The Treasury – The Most Famous  and Impressive Building in Petra

While many come to Jordan for biblical tourism I was more interested in the manmade and natural wonders of the country. It’s easy to forget the history and spectacular sights of the Middle East, which have been somewhat overshadowed recently by the up and comers – Qatar and UAE, with their shining sky scrapers and billions of dollars of oil revenue. While it’s nice to see the world’s biggest shopping mall and tallest building (both in Dubai), the true Middle East can only be experienced in the likes of Egypt, Jordan and any other country deemed safe enough to visit.

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Overlooking Amman (The White City) From The Citadel

Friday was the day to explore Amman, so with the aid of a walking tour map I set off for the highest attraction (the Citadel) to ensure a leisurely downhill stroll through the city. From one ancient ruin to the next (Roman Theater) there is no shortage of history to absorb. While Amman can only be described as hilly, the major sights are in a fairly concentrated area. So, despite summer temperatures around 35 degrees Celsius, not too much sweat was lost. A walk through the maze of shaded souqs (aka bazaars) helps to escape the heat whilst taking you into the heart of the city action, where local residents flood out of nearby mosques after Friday prayers.

For lunch my mission was to find a famous hummus and falafel restaurant (Hashem). This took some time to find, but even longer to work out how to order and where to collect my food. The excitement of the chase made for a memorable meal.

The crown jewel of Jordanian tourism is the ancient city of Petra, which is most famous for its cameo in an Indiana Jones film. Although Petra, with its buildings carved in sandstone, didn’t need the Hollywood touch, the movie certainly helped to put it on the map. Petra is certainly one of the sights which you can’t appreciate until you’ve seen it up close – photos simply do it no justice.

 

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Building Facades Carved Into Sandstone In Petra

Guides at Petra are relatively inexpensive and plentiful, which is a good reason to hire one and help out the struggling tourism industry, which has been decimated by the wide-spread conflict in the region. I was there in mid-August when there weren’t many other tourists willing to brave the heat.

While some find the constant offers of donkey rides and imitation artifacts at Petra irritating, a simple ‘no thanks’ is all it takes and you’re on your way.

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Donkey Rides and Artifacts (mostly rocks) For Sale

Dead Sea – don’t be deceived, it isn’t a sea and it isn’t dead, it’s actually a lake with a lot going on. There are supposed healing properties in Dead Sea mud and minerals, which you can pay someone to apply at the many nearby spas and resorts. Then there’s the fun of floating in water which is 32% salt. For someone who has never successfully floated in water it was a pleasant surprise to be so buoyant.

 

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Doing The Dead Sea Float!

The Dead Sea experience lasts a couple of hours, so I had the afternoon to check out some nearby sights on the way back to Amman.

Mt Nebo was first up – to see the Memorial of Moses (who reportedly died after climbing the mountain). Bus-loads of pilgrims dutifully file to the top of Mt Nebo as it’s one of many biblical sites in the area. From here one can take in a panoramic view over Jordan, Israel, Palestine and the Dead Sea.

It was shortly after surveying the Promised Land that I was hit with historical fatigue.

There is a huge amount of historical content in Jordan which, although fascinating, would be best appreciated if sites are visited over a number of days.

While you could easily spend a week in Jordan, three days was enough to see the highlights, especially when I was already in the region. As far as Middle Eastern destinations go, Jordan is probably one of the most accessible, welcoming and authentic at the present time – which is why I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

Tips:

  • Read up on cultural practices first (especially women)
  • Learn some basic Arabic (which is slightly different from the Standard Arabic)
  • Confirm the price of a taxi fare before you get in (and check that the driver knows where they’re going)
  • Hire a local guide at Petra
  • Enjoy your Middle Eastern cultural experience!

 

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Turtle Tagging at Eco Beach Western Australia

One of my favourite holiday/volunteering experiences was volunteering for a turtle tagging programme at Eco Beach Resort (about 180km south of Broome, Western Australia) with Conservation Volunteers Australia .

My friend, Alice, and I were met in Broome by Lauren and Anna, our guides, before joining the other volunteers on the road trip south to Eco Beach Resort.

The outdoor area overlooking the ocean at Eco Beach Resort

The outdoor area overlooking the ocean at Eco Beach Resort

Alice and I chose the resort’s villa accommodation option. Some of the other volunteers chose the eco tent which, whilst fun, wasn’t airconditioned, so they found it hard to sleep during the day.

At our arrival briefing on Tuesday afternoon we were told the resort was closed until Thursday, which meant our group of eight volunteers and two guides had the whole resort to ourselves for a couple of days before an influx of guests arrived for the weekend.

We were divided into two groups and given times at which we were to meet and walk about 7km of beach at high tide overnight, looking for turtle activity. The first night Alice and I had the 1am to 4am shift but we didn’t see any turtles on the beach. One thing that struck us was the beauty of the night sky with the Southern Cross, shooting stars and satellites, easily visible and identifiable in the darkness.

We watched the sunrise and explored the beach at low tide, finding fish, octopus, coral, anemones and sponges in the rock pools. We also found a dead sea snake, presumably dropped by a bird, because it was well above the high tide mark. We spent the day resting, lazing by the pool and reading – pure luxury! Alice and I are both keen ocean swimmers but we were instructed not to swim at this time of the year due to the presence of box jelly fish. The only hard thing about our week of luxury was looking at a pristine and calm ocean in which we weren’t allowed to swim!

The infinity pool was a compromise as we couldn't swim in the ocean

The infinity pool was an enjoyable compromise as we couldn’t swim in the ocean

A dead sea snake

A dead sea snake above the high tide mark

A live octopus in a rock pool at low tide

A live octopus in a rock pool at low tide

The second night we were excited to see our first flat back turtle. I was the one to restrain it while the tags were checked and recorded, the turtle measured and inspected before being released to return to the ocean. She hadn’t laid any eggs in spite of having visited the beach several times looking for somewhere to lay. The turtles come up to the beach at high tide and return before low tide, giving them a few precious hours to find a place soft and secure enough to dig deeply and lay their eggs. Sometimes we saw partly dug  holes indicating unsuccessful laying attempts (recorded on the research data sheets as “false crawls”). The turtles will abandon their egg laying if disturbed, or if their chosen place is too hard or otherwise unsuitable for laying.

A Beautiful Flat Backed Turtle on her way back to the ocean

A Beautiful Flat Backed Turtle on her way back to the ocean

The next night we were on the early (10pm to 1am) shift. We were very excited to see a turtle ready to lay her eggs. Anna, our guide, instructed us on the procedure for safely observing the turtle without disturbing her. We wore head torches with softly glowing red lights and, after initially observing from a distance, were allowed to approach the turtle from behind once she had started laying her eggs. While she is laying the turtle goes into a trance-like state and is not easily disturbed. One of our group lay very close behind the turtle in order to count the number of eggs laid. From memory I think this one laid an incredible 42 eggs before covering them with sand and plodding back to the ocean, exhausted.

We headed off to bed for a few hours before rising again, ready to patrol the beach at dawn, this time by car, to gather and record information from the previous nights’ turtle activity. During the dawn patrols we learnt how to differentiate turtle tracks up (from the beach) and down (to the beach) and recorded the number of new nests and false crawls since the day before. We also recorded the GPS co-ordinates of the tracks and nests.

Dawn Beach Patrol

Alice, Lauren and Anna on Dawn Beach Patrol

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Hermit Crabs along the base of a cliff

On our second last night of beach patrol only one of our group, Claudia from Germany, hadn’t yet seen a turtle laying eggs. She was bitterly disappointed and could never have anticipated that she was in for the surprise of her life.

Mid afternoon on our last day Claudia was walking along the beach when a turtle came out of the water, up the beach, and proceeded to lay her eggs right under a shade shelter in front of the resort! It is very unusual for them to lay in the heat of the day but this turtle was on a mission and nobody was going to stop her. She was the same turtle we had recorded visiting the beach several times during the week, so we guessed the poor creature simply couldn’t hold on any longer.

Lauren observing and counting as the turtle laid her eggs

Lauren observing and counting as the turtle laid her eggs

Lauren, Anna and Me checking the turtle's tags when she'd finished laying

Lauren, Anna and me checking the turtle’s tags when she’d finished laying

The turtle heading back to the ocean, exhausted after laying her eggs

The turtle heading back to the ocean, exhausted after laying her eggs

The turtle heading to her nesting place under the hammocks

The turtle heading to her nesting place under the hammocks

On the final morning we treated ourselves to breakfast at the resort after spending the week preparing our own food in the camp kitchen.

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Relaxing in the camp kitchen

Relaxing in the camp kitchen

We posed for a final group photo before being driven back to Broome airport for our flight home. We all have so many fond memories our enjoyable, educational and exciting week at Eco Beach Resort.

A group photo in front of our transport vehicle

A group photo in front of our transport vehicle before the trip back to Broome

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Luxury Train Travel on the Indian Pacific

Luxury Train Travel on the Indian Pacific.

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Luxury Train Travel on the Indian Pacific

A great way to travel across Australia’s vast Nullarbor Plain is to treat yourself to a Gold Class ticket on the Indian Pacific Train. So named because it travels 4,352 Kilometres from the Indian Ocean (Perth Western Australia), to the Pacific Ocean (Sydney New South Wales). The Indian Pacific has been crossing this great continent, in both directions, for over 40 years.

Ready to board the Indian Pacific Train in Perth with my Dad

Ready to board the Indian Pacific Train in Perth with my Dad

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel from coast to coast the Indian Pacific may not be for you. But if you’re looking for a relaxing and luxurious trip where the journey is part of the fun, do yourself a favour and get on board!

Dad and I chose the Gold Class single cabins which were surprisingly tiny, but more than adequate. A comfy bed folds away during the day leaving a chair, a small table and another small seat for daytime use. Some cabins have their own ensuite, but we chose the shared bathroom option (at the end of our carriage) which was fine, and we didn’t have to queue at any time. At a higher price point than the Gold Class, the Platinum Class section  offers more spacious cabins and private ensuites among other luxurious extras.

The single bed folds out from the wall for night time use.

The single bed folds out from the wall for night time use.

The single chair for daytime use. Note the handle above Dad's head where the bed folds away.

The single chair for daytime use. Note the handle above Dad’s head where the bed folds away.

We boarded the train at East Perth Terminal mid-morning on a Sunday and settled into our respective cabins before being visited by a staff member who briefed us on the details of our journey. One of the highlights for me (a woman who does most of the menu planning in our household) was being told at what times we were to present for the delicious meals they serve on board. The food service runs like clockwork once everyone gets the hang of not turning up early, or late, at meal times, given that they can only seat a certain number of people in the dining cars at one sitting.

A sample of the top quality meals served on board

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At one stage Dad and I walked back to the “Red” ticket section of the train. A cheaper travel option, the red section comprises of upright seating and offers lunch bar style food which can be purchased if required. This prompted Dad to comment that our “Gold” section was filled with the wealthy and overfed! The red ticket option would still be more expensive than air travel, but it’s a good choice for those who have the time and would like to enjoy the sights of Australia’s beautiful red centre along the way.

The first stop on our journey was at Kalgoorlie, WA’s historic gold mining town. We had a late night tour of the town (included in the Gold Class fare, an optional extra for travellers in the Red Section) before heading back to the train after midnight to continue our journey. The stop is also to re-fuel, change staff and re-stock with provisions.

An enormous Haulpack truck seen on our night tour of Kalgoorlie

An enormous Haulpack truck seen on our night tour of Kalgoorlie

Late on Monday morning we had our second long stop at the once busy town of Cook. Now with a population of only four people and one dog, the town exists soley to service the passing trains. It was great to chat to the residents who said they loved living out there in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else! The town was so much busier in the days of the more labour intensive steam and coal trains, with a population of around 50 people. Once the wooden railway sleepers were replaced with concrete, maintenance of the railway line itself became very minimal, also reducing the need for maintenance crews along the way.

Two of the four residents of Cook, South Australia

Two of the four residents of Cook, South Australia

The old Cook school, long since condemned.

The old Cook school, long since condemned.

Cook is adjacent to the longest straight section of railway in the world – spanning 478km across the Nullarbor Plain from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, to Port Augusta in South Australia.

A glimpse of Australia's beautiful Nullarbor Plain

A glimpse of Australia’s beautiful Nullarbor Plain

Nullarbor literally means No (Null) Trees (Arbor). This picturesque part of Australia has a unique and rare beauty second to none.

It was wonderful to relax and enjoy the scenery, or meet and greet other passengers in the lounge bar over a pre dinner drink. The hardest part about the journey was contemplating which of the delicious menu choices to enjoy at breakfast lunch or dinner!

One of the beautifully appointed dining cars.

One of the beautifully appointed dining cars.

We travelled through several little towns and sidings with interesting names, including Ooldea, Tarcoola, Tent Hill, Port Augusta, and Coonamia, before pulling into Adelaide after breakfast on Tuesday morning. This is where Dad and I disembarked, ready to hire a car and drive to Victoria. Other passengers enjoyed a three hour stop before continuing on via Broken Hill to Sydney where the train completes its journey at about 11am on Wednesday, three days after leaving Perth.

After travelling around South Australia, Victoria, and briefly into New South Wales, Dad and I headed back to Adelaide to board the train back to Perth. The return journey was just as enjoyable as the outbound trip.

The Indian Pacific prior to leaving Adelaide

The Indian Pacific prior to leaving Adelaide

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A life-sized sculpture of the Australian Wedge Tailed Eagle

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Back at the half way point of Cook we stopped again while the staff re-stocked, changed drivers, and completed various other tasks. This gave us the opportunity to have another look around.

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An old (disused) long drop toilet, where one of the locals displayed their sense of humour!

The old Cook lock up where (presumably) errant travellers or locals would be held.

I decided to go for a short run during our stop in Cook, prompting an elderly man to comment that I was showing off!

I decided to go for a short run during our stop in Cook, prompting an elderly man to comment that I was showing off! Well, why Not?

The train actually makes many stops along the way because there’s only one railway line and frequent goods train traffic, as well as the Indian Pacific train travelling in the opposite direction. So the train pulls into either a passing loop or a siding to wait for the oncoming train to pass, before continuing on its journey. Both Dad and I were very surprised at how many goods trains we passed along the way.

Welcome Back to Western Australia!

Welcome  to Western Australia!

Looking out for the border crossing signs was part of the fun, and the staff  announced when we were getting close to the state border.

We stopped at Rawlinna, approximately three kilometres west of the WA border, where a couple of rail employees disembarked with their bikes. They were met by a support crew in a four wheel drive with the intention of cycling beside the railway line some 680km from Rawlinna to Ooldea, to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

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The support crew waiting for the train at Rawlinna

Rail Employees Disembarked at Rawlinna

Rail Employees Disembarked at Rawlinna

One last beautiful sunset, followed by a good nights’ sleep and another delicious breakfast, and we arrived back in Perth, happy to have experienced the pleasure and luxury of a trans continental railway journey.

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Spoilt for choice with the delicious breakfast menu.

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Would I do it all again? Absolutely!

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Day 1: Hastings-Brighton(41miles)

Hi All. Here’s day 1 of a FABULOUS blog/initiative from our friends’ daughter who is Roller Blading through England to raise funds for Orangutans.

Blading for Borneo

What a great start! A relatively smooth rolling day! That is the road surfaces as well as the events which occurred. Lots of narrow empty country back roads through farms and fields made for long stretches of pleasant views and peaceful sounds. Besides a few sections of walking where it wasn’t fit for skating, the roads and pathways were skate-able and well signposted. Not many wrong turns; little to no aggression from drivers; lovely landscape and a couple of particularly awesome downhills! Seven hours later my legs are very sore so it was nice to finish in a familiar place I call home, and to also celebrate Daisy’s birthday with a low key dinner(after my cold/hot bath and stretching!!)

IM SO TIRED.

Pictured below: the beautiful country roads; trees; National cycle network Route 2 sign I’m following; “you know when your in the countryside when…horse droppings; vegetable dahl and salad birthday dinner; **note…

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