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…?

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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 décor. 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…

 

Miz Lizzie Adventures: Townsville to Cairns and the Tablelands

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you.

But I have been having such a lovely time. It has been a tad too hot, at 34°C/93°F and about 70% humidity, but that’s what air conditioning in cars and caravans was invented for!

The journey north from Rollingstone was uneventful and we made good time, to the extent that we took a 40km detour to look at Mourilyan Harbour, where sugar is loaded onto ships, but chiefly of interest to us as a place where the Husband did military exercises in small aluminium dinghies with outboards (universally known in Australia as ‘tinnies’). He has not-so-fond memories of constantly grounding the tinny on sand bars and having to get out and push it off. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you read the signs…

We passed Queensland’s two highest peaks on our way north, which to be honest isn’t saying a lot: the tallest, Mt Bartle Frere, is only 1622m/ 5,321ft high, and the second highest, Mt Bellenden Ker, is only 1593m/ 5,226ft high. Not hugely impressive by European or US standards, but they are thickly coated with very lush tropical rainforest. The area is volcanic, so on the tablelands you see a lot of volcanic plugs, but the climate does tend to erode anything high quite quickly.

We are staying at the Crystal Cascades caravan park in the north of Cairns, in a valley between rainforest-covered hillsides. It’s ‘off-season’ as far as they’re concerned, which means we can enjoy the facilities virtually undisturbed apart from a few people who are also looking for peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings. In the early morning, the tops of the hills are still draped in cloud, while the sun lights up the lower slopes. It’s an amazing sight to see such contrast.  Imagine that sight, with the sound of birdsong and the smell of frangipani and jasmine to round the experience off!

The one downside of coming here in February is that it’s the month when many of the foodie places on our gastronomic trail seem to be taking their own holiday! Nerada Tea Plantation, the Tolga Woodworks gallery and Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy (which I’ve written about before) and Jaques Coffee Plantation (which was new to us), are all closed. It’s a well earned rest, but we were a bit surprised, as there was nothing on any of their websites. Still, it’s made us slow down a little, which is no bad thing… On the upside, we went to Coffee Works in Mareeba yesterday, which was lovely! They grow, harvest, roast and sell their own coffee as well as blends and beans from all over the world. The smell is heavenly! They also have a gift shop which is a twinkly wonderland of coffee and tea cups, pots, chimes, candleholders, vases, etc, and best of all, an almost cold chocolate shop, where they make their own in all shades from white to 85% cacao, in flavours like lime and pepper, lemon myrtle, ginger and jaffa. Well yes, we did buy rather a lot of chocolate, and yes, we’ve sampled a fair bit of it already, but who could resist…?

We’ve also been back to Gallo’s, a working farm where they milk 200 Friesians every day. Rather than add their milk to the general supply, they have decided to add value and create a niche market and an interesting addition to the tourist offering on the Tablelands. They make their own cheeses and chocolates. The chocolates we bought are long gone, but I can remember the flavours: salted caramel, peppermint truffle, crystallised ginger, chilli, cherry ripe, berry bliss, almond truffle, hazelnut caramel and mandarin creme. And that was just a tiny selection from the huge display case of options. Besides, it was a hot day, and they might have melted… But the cheeses are still with us, and will be featuring on today’s menu, together with linseed, raisin and pumpkin seed crackers and some rather tasty grapes.

Last night it was time to visit our favourite Indian restaurant in Cairns, Tandoori Nights in Sheridan Street. We go there at least once and often twice when we’re staying here, and the food is simple, but great. The Husband had goat curry, plain steamed rice, garlic naan and a share of my subzi makhani, a creamy vegetable curry. I also had chicken korma and plain naan. Not adventurous, but what we both craved, and we left with contented smiles on our faces 🙂 By the time we’d though of taking photos of the food, it was much, much too late!

On previous visits, we haven’t had time to visit the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum out at Caravonica, so this time, with a couple of hours to spare, we turned in. It’s probably chiefly of interest to a couple where the husband is a Reservist of 20 years’ experience and the wife’s father was in the Normandy landings in WWII, landing on Sword Beach on D-Day 2 in his tank as a very, very young 2nd Lieut… We spent well over an hour exploring the vast display of tanks, armoured cars, mine clearers, mobile gun platforms, howitzers, field guns, etc. They had exhibits from Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Czech Republic and Russia, they had small arms, uniforms, badges… Well, you get the idea. It’s impressive, fascinating and vast, and worth a visit if you’re interested in that stuff. I’d only add that it’s an open-sided building and isn’t air conditioned, so I’d recommend visiting in the cooler months (May – October) if you’re not used to the heat.

We’re giving ourselves a lazy day today. It’s Saturday, and there are more visitors at the caravan park, the ‘sights’ will be busier and the city will be bustling. Time to lie back, enjoy the blue skies over the rainforested mountains, do a bit of handwork, and eat some of that cheese! We might tootle out and visit the Crystal Cascades after which this holiday park is named… or not.

But if anything interesting happens, I’ll be sure to let you know!

Miz Lizzie Adventures: Mackay to Townsville

Today was the first full day of holiday.

We arrived fairly early and got set up quickly. It’s a beautiful caravan park, and as it’s low season, we have the place almost to ourselves.

I was tired after yesterday’s packing and travelling, and after a delicious supper of grilled pork chops and pineapple (grown about a kilometre away), a brief walk on the beach 20 metres away and a catch up on what was happening in blogland, we both put head to pillow and were out like a light. I woke early to the most wonderful sunrise over the sea, and a very peaceful sound from the waves at high tide.

I’d booked my sewing machine in for a service in Townsville as I don’t much care for the local technician in Mackay. Need I say there was a very modest fabric purchase….? We also paid a visit to the Honda motorbike shop across the road (how’s that for convenience?) to see if we could find a handlebar mount for the satnav, but no luck, or it would have been even scores for me and the Husband. Then off to our first planned visit, the Heritage Tea Rooms, up the high and winding Herveys Range Road, just north of the city.

It’s gorgeous. A settler-style cottage, built of wood, with high ceilings, verandahs and a tin roof, it’s still filled with original furniture, zinc tubs, old mangles, dressers (hutches) filled with lovely old crockery, original floorboards and fascinating photos of people and scenes from 100 years ago and more. And the food… well. I had two huge batch scones (buttermilk biscuits), fresh butter and home made plum jam. The Husband went blokey and had a beef pie and a sausage roll (and the half scone I couldn’t manage!), washed down with an excellent iced latte. Delicious, home made, and enjoyed in the shady garden surrounds of the Tea Rooms.

Then back down Herveys Range, stopping for a photo of the stunning view from the top, with Mt Cataract in the middle and Townsville and the sea in the distance, and back to Rollingstone and the purchase of some beautiful locally-caught banana prawns and another very local pineapple for our dinner.

Not a cloud in the sky all day, 34°C/93°F, and as soon as I’ve written this, I’m heading for the swimming pool for an afternoon dip. It’s hell, but someone has to do it. Tomorrow we’re packing up in the morning and heading north once again, to Cairns and Far North Queensland. Plenty more to do there, but it struck us today that now we have Bill, we’d be able to head up to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, something we couldn’t do in our previous car due to the roughness of the road. Something to think about… it’s nearly 18 years since I last visited the Cape.

See you in FNQ 🙂

We’re on the road again

Miz Lizzie is packed, our schedule is planned and printed, and we’re off.

We’re heading north once again, into a fortnight of gastronomic indulgence, experimentation, and purchase. We’ll be staying at two caravan parks we haven’t tried before but which come highly recommended.

Part 1 of the trip is from Mackay to just north of Townsville, at Rollingstone, where the van park has absolute beach frontage. We’ll be there a couple of days. Part 2 is Rollingstone to Redlynch in the north of Cairns, right where the rainforest rolls down to touch the edge of the city. It’s not what we’d call a long trip. To put it in some context, it’s like driving from London to Inverness, or from the bottom of Florida to the top. It’s just far enough that we’re really on holiday, the scenery’s different and yet, it’s not an arduous journey when we have to turn for home. (And despite a recent news story from the US that left Australians giggling, yes, all that is definitely just one country, and by the way, only a bit smaller than yours… 🙂 )

I’ll be photographing, blogging, tasting, sampling, buying, eating, stitching, oohing and aahing. You’re welcome along for the ride. As always with our trips, there’ll be pictures and descriptions. We’re looking forward to it a lot as we’re both a bit tired and ready for a break. It’s been a while since we had a decent chunk of time off – May last year to be exact, when we went down to Nambucca Heads in northern NSW.

And because each road trip needs a sound track, here’s Miz Lizzie’s theme song:

Dizzy Miz Lizzie

(There’s a version with John Lennon and Eric Clapton performing this too, but I prefer the 1958 original)