Miz Lizzie Adventures: down the range and up again

My word, we’ve done a few sharp corners today.

So far, we’ve spent our time in Far North Queensland up on the Tablelands, where it’s cool and breezy. Today, we decided to head down into Cairns for a spot of retail therapy and a Big Lunch. To get from here to there, we have two choices, both involving steep, wiggly roads. One is the Kuranda Range, which is fairly busy as it’s the main thoroughfare up to the tablelands. The other is the Gillies Range, and it’s awesome. 19 kilometres, over 260 bends ranging from gentle to hairpin, and over the 800 metres of elevation change the landscape goes from lush, wet tropics at the top to dry tropics part way down, to farmland at the bottom. We took this one… obviously! It’s a favourite route when we’re on the motorbike, but even in the car, it’s fun.

There’s a wonderful craft shop in Cairns, a wonderland of all sorts of tools, fabrics, yarns, beads, and canvases. I went in hoping to find a few fabrics to add to my stash. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to choose just a few. Just as well, perhaps, since they were almost all $25 a metre and well beyond my budget. But if I ever need something really special that I can’t find elsewhere, that’s where I’ll go. I consoled myself with some crochet cotton for making face-washers/flannels. I love those ice-cream colours in the variegated one, don’t you? And it gives me something to do with my hands now that I’ve finished the sewing I brought with me.

After that visit and a quick purchase of new 2-way radios (walkie talkies) to replace our old and now quite dead ones, we decided it was time to head to our favourite Indian restaurant for an early lunch.

Hyderabad lamb biryani, poppadums, mint raita, chicken korma, basmati rice and plain naan bread. All fresh, hot and quite delicious. I could have done with a large snooze after that, but instead, we tootled back up the range and looked at a couple of waterfalls and I got photos to add to my collection.

It’s our last day here, so I’m glad we’ve managed to do so many fun things. I haven’t even told you about everything we’ve done, but it would start to get boring if I banged on about the hot springs we’ve discovered and will visit next time we’re up here (and have our bathers with us!), or the other places to stay we’ve investigated, or…. I did say I wouldn’t bore you, didn’t I? Tomorrow we’ll be back in Townsville to collect the overlocker and catch up with friends for dinner.

And then home on Wednesday 🙂 

Advertisements

Miz Lizzie adventures: Chocolate, steak and the lords of the air

Another beautiful dawn, another lovely day.

When I woke just before first light today, the sky was still black velvet and scattered with huge, brilliant stars, the air was cool and fresh and slightly damp after a light rain, and the birds were starting their tune-up for the coming dawn’s full chorus. I could get to like these dawn starts, but perhaps they’d be a bit less enjoyable at home, when they herald not fun, but the start of another busy day…

Today, we’ve revisited Coffee Works, a boutique coffee blender, roaster and coffee shop, selling both the beans and brewed coffee. They also, and even more importantly, have a chocolaterie! Dark, milk and white chocolates, crusted with coffee beans, flavoured with coffee, peppermint, chilli, lemon myrtle or liqueur, studded with macadamias, fresh coconut, or chunks of crystallised ginger. Giant slabs of rocky road featuring dried cranberries and pistachio, or turkish delight and slivered almonds, or dark chocolate blobbed with orange-flavoured white chocolate… well, you get the idea. There’s nothing Willy Wonka-ish about all this; it’s a  serious operation, the flavours are grown up and sophisticated and the vast majority of ingredients are sources locally, making everything fresh, delicious and very low on the food miles. They employ nearly 20 locals in the shop and roastery alone. The operation also has an unbelievable fairy-grotto of a gift shop featuring every kind of coffee and tea-brewing equipment, beautiful mugs and teapots, as well as quite a few jugs, clocks, mirrors and candle-holders I’d happily give house room to. We managed to make it out of there only a little poorer than before, and with a fair bit of loot of the choccy variety.

Having avoided cake overload on our previous stop, it was time for lunch. We revisited a favourite, the Gateway Hotel in Mareeba, where the steaks are superlative, being local, delicious and tender. A small rest was needed before we could waddle out of the restaurant… (did I mention we also had dessert?). They’ve restored a fairly basic country pub/hotel and turned it into something lovely. I’ve posted about this place before, but I don’t think I’ve shown you the gardens before:

We started to meander slowly home to Miz Lizzie, until I spotted these. Now, I know that opinion on windmills is sharply divided. Some people loathe them, regarding them as a blot on the landscape, dangerous to those who live nearby and not worth the considerable investment they require. Others find them interesting and entirely in the spirit of making use of natural resources.

(I’ll say straight away that I’m not going to enter into any discussions on the subject and reserve the right to express my own opinions on this blog, although I know that many may disagree with them.) Personally, I find them superb, architectural and a fascinating contrast between the rugged, rocky, scrubby terrain in which they sit, and the dragonfly elegance of the blades and tower. I don’t know where the phrase ‘the lords of the air’ comes from, but to me, it exactly describes these structures. The place where these particular windmills have been sited is unsuited to any form of agriculture, is remote from habitation and is subject to almost constant strong wind, being on the western edge of the plateau.There are going to be 53 of them in due course; the towers are up and they are currently in the process of commissioning the heads and blades. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, and I am, here’s an article about the construction.

So that’s been today’s adventure. Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but there’s plenty of choice!

 

Miz Lizzie rides again… Mackay to Townsville

…and we’re on the road north.

After the stresses and strains of organising the motorbike club annual national rally, we’ve treated ourselves to a week off and a road trip north. For the next seven days, this is going to be home:

Many of you will recognise those quilts and curtains. I still have a job to do there, covering the seat cushions and backs instead of that horrid pink and blue splodgy print. It’s absolutely the worst kind of 1980s commercial upholstery fabric. Miz Lizzie herself is feeling quite rejuvenated these days. She’s a lady of mature years, but we’ve given her a new lease of life with a reinforced under-frame, new heavier springs and new, larger wheels. She sits a lot higher these days, and can handle much rougher terrain; after the first day’s travel we opened the door to find not a thing had shifted. Formerly we could expect to find at least a couple of things had fallen off shelves or out of cupboards or off the bunks. She’s also a lot easier to level when we park up, which save loads of time.

We’re in Rollingstone, just north of Townsville, for two nights. It has enabled me to take the overlocker (serger) in to the mechanic here to get the motor bearings fixed; I’ll pick it up on the way back down. We’ve had a lovely lunch out, revisited the view from Castle Hill in Townsville, and got some errands done. We’ve also enjoyed the local produce: freshly caught tiger prawns for a stir-fry and a just-picked pineapple for dessert. Tomorrow, we’re packing up again and heading another 400km further north, to the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland. More photos from there. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the afternoon view from the caravan window….

…and sunrise this morning, peeking over the edge of the mirror-smooth Coral Sea on an ebbing tide. High above, the day’s first flight from Cairns to Brisbane is just catching the light. Another day in paradise begins.

It’s hell, but someone has to do it.

Miz Lizzie adventures: the new Noah

It’s just that time of year in the tropics… the kind of weather where you seriously consider building an Ark! 

We’ve run from the rain in Cairns

It’s pouring here in Townsville

and there’s quite some downpour waiting for us at home.

It’s OK, though, we have a warm, (mostly) dry refuge with comfy beds. We lay in those beds last night while the sky lit neon white with lightning and tremendous thunder pealed overhead, shaking the caravan. Sleep was impossible, and in one corner was a cup into which drops of water fell from a leak somewhere in the roof, tink….. tink….. tink. Well, you expect the occasional problem with a 20 year old caravan, and it’s conveniently located up in one corner and not over either of the beds! The campsite is also much busier than last time we were here, as it’s Friday and families from Townsville have come out here for a beachside weekend. Sadly, that’s not working out for them, and there are lots of damp and grumpy people huddling in their damp and saggy tents, trying to keep their damp and miserable children occupied. The only positive is that it’s not in the least cold…

We had originally planned to catch up with fellow blogger Manic Mum and her family for a barbecue here today, but that was before it became clear that the torrential rain wasn’t going to stop any time soon. Not much fun for the kids, and I’m not that keen on ankle deep mud myself! We’re going to cut our holiday short by one day, collect my repaired and serviced sewing machine as soon as the shop opens, and bolt for home! That’s one of the advantages of going on holiday comparatively close to home; any time it goes wrong, you can just pack up and head back quite easily. I’m not too sad about it; I’ll get a head start on the cleaning up, the Husband doesn’t have to go back to work until Tuesday and we’ll probably treat ourselves to a nice meal out to make up for it!

Besides, who can complain about rain when so much of the country is desperate for more of it…?

Miz Lizzie Adventures: missiles from the peanut gallery

Just a short one today.

I was putting some rubbish into one of the bins thoughtfully dotted all around the caravan park, when I was hit on the back of the head by some small object. At first, I though it was a child’s game, and that I’d got caught in the middle. And then it happened again, and before I started to get annoyed, I realised that no child would be able to hit me in the head twice with such accuracy.

I looked up, and there was a chorus of giggles of the avian variety. The palm tree under which the bins had been placed was in fruit, and a flock of mostly Spangled Drongos (Dicrurus bracteatus) was taking full advantage of the plenty. They were tugging the fruit off the stems, and not always successfully hanging onto their prize.

If you look at this close up of the main photo, you can see that one of the birds at the top has lost control of his berry, and it’s in mid-air, destined to land on the lid of the metal bin with a resounding ‘tonk’.

Many birds have their own designated collective nouns. Drongos don’t, and I feel they really deserve one. They’re beautiful, elegant, bold, acrobatic and have a varied and versatile song (just scroll down to the end of the link I’ve given above, and play some of the sound clips). They’re glossy black with a velvety cape and a spangled breast, and a brilliantly scarlet eye. Their tail curves outwards to a forked fishtail end, which fans out when they fly or display. They can be taught to swoop and dive for meat scraps (their diet is mixed, including fruit, seeds, insects and small reptiles) and will become amazingly tame. Can you tell I really love these distinctive and elegant birds?

I think it’s time they had their own ‘flock’ word. So I’m giving them their own collective noun: A Somersault of Drongos.

What do you think?

Miz Lizzie Adventures: reef to rural to rainforest, and back again

On Sunday, we were promised rain. It didn’t happen, or at least not till much, much later.

So, after pottering around inside a while, I got a bit stir crazy. We decided late in the morning to go for a drive and do a big, BIG loop. Consequently, we took off up the Captain Cook highway, and turned left up the mountain on the Kuranda Range road. The Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail both terminate at the top, but we blasted on past, having done both of these trips several times before, and on to Mareeba. This is a place best known to me as the start point for hot air ballooning on the Tablelands, an amazing experience I’ve done several times, but more importantly it’s a centre for the local farming community, both grazing and arable.

A living wall, planted up in old beer kegs

‘Big Red”, the red mahogany bar, 7m long by 40cm square, all one piece of timber

The tractor revs its engine and the lights come on as you walk past!

The Tablelands are famous for their potatoes, corn, sugarcane and fruit, and the beef and dairy industries up there both produce exceptional results.

The whole area is volcanic in origin, giving the sort of deep, rich, bright orange and slightly acid soil perfect for this kind of farming. We were about to enjoy the results…

By the time we got to Mareeba, we were both ready for lunch. The Husband has been to this town many times, but things have changed since he last looked for a good lunch there, so we browsed the main street a little first. There seemed to be a lot of people going in one particular set of doors…

Opportunity presented itself in the shape of the Gateway Hotel, which has enjoyed a seriously good makeover. In addition to the facelift, the menu is great.

I won’t bore you with IG style photos of our plates, but my pork belly, red cabbage and mustard mashed potato were luscious. I spent a lot of my lunchtime gazing around at the clever, imaginative dĂ©cor. By far the most stunning piece was Big Red (yes, they named the bar!).

It’s one vast piece of solid red mahogany, brought in from Ravenshoe, an area that hadn’t seen any tree felling for over 25 years, and the tree it came from was over 70 years old.

The bar is over 7 metres (23 feet) long and 40cm (15 inches) square in cross section. There’s a whole photo montage hanging beside it to show how they got it there, and then got it into the building!

Lampshades made from local potato sacks

After lunch, it was on to Mt Molloy, which is where the highway splits. Half goes on to the Top End, Cooktown and Cape York, the most northerly point of this island continent. The other half heads down the Palmerston range towards the sea, hitting the coast between Mossman and Port Douglas (aka millionaire’s playground). This is National Highway 44, The Rex, and it has some of the best views in the tropics, as it runs directly alongside the Coral Sea coast, looking out to the islands and the Great Barrier Reef.

We had a great afternoon 🙂 Home again, a cup of tea and a couple of bickies, a snooze, and then lo and behold, here came the promised weather. Hallelujah, here’s the rain.

 

Miz Lizzie Adventures: Nature vs the power grid

Well, it’s been interesting!

We had a quiet morning, but after lunch we ventured out to explore a little. First on the list was Lake Placid, a local spot for picnics, walks and for the intrepid, water sports. I say intrepid, because Lake Placid is simply a point where the Barron river widens on its way from the heights of Kuranda down to the sea. And where there’s an estuary, and the sea, there are crocodiles. The water at this point is slow moving and no longer very clear and it seemed to us a perfect place to have a, well, terminal encounter… We stayed well clear of the banks.

On up the Barron river, then, and we reached the point where the river falls to a hydroelectric plant which supplies the area with a lot of its power. The water is low just now, so it’s not especially spectacular, but when it’s in spate I imagine the water tumbling down the gorge must be awe-inspiring. On either side of the rocky gorge are slopes thickly cloaked with rainforest. Amongst the dense ‘broccoli’ of the canopy there was a brilliant ping of scarlet: a Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), which you can see more clearly if you click on the photo. And along the track from the hydroelectric plant to the car park, I spotted a Cluster Fig (Ficus racemosa), with its fruit sprouting directly from the trunk. They’re edible, just not very sweet.

Back onto the road, and we ventured north out of the city a way, onto the Rex highway towards Port Douglas. It was so hot, and we were very sticky, and the sea looked wonderful, so we pulled into a roadside stop for Ellis Beach, a deserted stretch with space for a few cars under the trees. Just look at that view towards Double Island, and how deserted this amazing beach is. The rainforest literally comes down to the sand, with just the merest fringe of palm trees before the sand begins. We paddled in the warm shallows, keeping an eye out for stingers, until we were cooler and ready to head for home.

Home again, into the pool for a long cooling splash about and conversation with our campsite neighbours, a cold beer and pizza for dinner, and then – bang! All the power went out: as far as we could see it was pitch black. By now, the thunder that had been rumbling for several hours had turned into a celestial battle of the gods, with lightning bolts being hurled about with abandon. When we checked the power company website, the problem was extremely widespread (a radius of over 100km north and south of Cairns), affecting over 78,000 people and there was no estimated time for it to be fixed. Alarming… Meanwhile, we turned on the 12v lights that run off our deep cycle battery and solar panel and switched the fridge over to gas, and apart from being hot (and noisy!), all was well. An hour and a half later, power was suddenly restored, to our great relief; we were getting very hot in the 31°C humidity.

We’re cool, we’re under cover and dry and we have no schedule, so there’s no drama attached to the thunderstorms which are now raging around us off and on for the next 24 hours. The rain is badly needed but very heavy, so we’ll need to keep an eye on the roads for a few days after it all moves on but in the meantime, we’ll read, blog, sew, watch movies and probably get stuck into some of that lovely food we’ve accumulated. Oh, and I really must go shopping for a new swimsuit. Mine is very old and losing its elasticity in all sorts of inappropriate places.

Still, I’m in the right place for it…