Category Archives: activity & sport

Wordless Wednesday #13: Up in the Clouds

Two guys sitting on a rock up Mount Wellington overlooking the area surrounding Hobart.

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Wordless Wednesday #12: Flying High

Looking out of a plane window at a blanket of fluffy clouds above Tasmania

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Back in England and still on the Banksy trail, this time in Bristol

Art goes technical with a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Modern art: art that requires a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Back in England, the pursuit of Banksy continued. Whilst London appeared to be a bit too much of a widespread maze in which to get lost, Bristol – Banksy’s hometown – seemed the better option to seek out some of his work. Real life work in real life places. No prints this time.

It was to be a trip centered on technology. There are benefits, apparently.

D-man, a long time fan of Banksy’s work, downloaded the Banksy Tour iPhone app. We wove in and out of city traffic, up dead-end streets and down bustling suburb highstreets in our hire car, tapping coordinates and street names into the sat nav and scanning sides of buildings as we drove by.

Some works no longer existed, others were carefully preserved. It felt a little like a grown-up treasure hunt.  Each time that we finally found a piece I was filled with an indescribable bubble of something, not too dissimilar to joy or satisfaction, maybe, and we’d park up and go and stand and stare for a few moments, occasionally muttering critiques too insignificant to report.

Maybe the most gratifying part of this urban adventure was spotting unknown works that may or may not have been anything to do with Banksy, pieces that acknowledged his style, themes and timing.

Because in amongst a sea of scribbles and expressions, there are some conscious pieces, pieces that are angry and articulate and beautiful, and they’re not all by Banksy.

Heavy weaponry - original Banksy work given a chance to fade

Heavy weaponry – original Banksy work given a chance to fade

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it's back

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it’s back

Early Banksy contributions

Early Banksy contributions

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

Rose in a rat trap

Rose in a rat trap

The mild mild west

The mild mild west

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across... courtesy of Banksy?

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across… courtesy of Banksy?

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Wordless Wednesday #6: Dutch transport

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Is cheese chasing just good British fun or something more serious?

The hill, if you look closely

The hill, if you look closely

Dangerous, stupid or just a bit of English fun? It’s definitely one of the more bizarre British customs that I’ve come across.

Bad press surrounding the cheese rolling competition held annually in Gloucestershire had seemingly promoted the event. Any publicity is, well, publicity, I guess. Local and international competitors gathered, ready to run a race down a near vertical strip of pitted farmland and claim victory in front of an adoring – and somewhat tipsy – crowd.

Take Kenny Rackers, for example, a 27 year old who travelled over from the US with only one thing on his mind: to win. ‘I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race,’ he told journalists. ‘I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practising. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win.’

Having ambled up along a winding road into what felt like private farmland, I just made it in time for the end of the first race. I nestled my way in to the front of the crowds and there stood Kenny, clad in stars and stripes and holding high the mighty cheese. ‘I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,’ he said. People queued to get pictures. Celebrity cheese chaser. Nice work.

...closer...

…closer…

...and finally... Cooper's Hill...

…and finally… Cooper’s Hill…

...and crowds.

…and crowds.

A moment of celebrity

A moment of celebrity

I looked up at the top of the hill, some 200 metres away. Clustered with squatting people, it looked as though they were having to hold on to tufts of grass to avoid falling down. Occasionally someone did. The photos, quite frankly, do not do the steepness justice. Coopers Hill has become infamous for this one day, once a year. The rest of the year, though? Pah. Mountain goats, maybe?

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

I watched the next race, a flurry of tumbling bodies, bouncing bodies. The cheese, replaced this year by a foam replica, hit a chunk of earth and split off to the side. Legs struggled to keep up with downhill momentum, tumbles followed tumbles and tripped others up. At the finish line men walked around dazed, a blend of naked torsos and smudged mud make-up.

And so it repeated and repeated until I watched a man flip and then stop still. He tried to shuffle, but then lifted his leg. His foot stuck out sideways, and a sea of people groaned.

And it's all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

And it’s all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

The free for all downhill scramble

The free for all downhill scramble

Home time?

Home time?

The crowd, revved on a good dose of bystander adrenaline and cider blur, started to disperse to the tune of an ambulance siren. Paramedics brought out the stretcher and the health and safety boohoos rubbed their hands in delight with the ammunition newly granted to them.

Another victory for sensibility over tradition? Let’s hope not. At least the grandmother who had until this year provided the cheese could rest assured that the police wouldn’t be knocking on her door, again. ‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured,’ she told the Telegraph days before the event.

Yet the appeal of the event doesn’t seem to be fading. Thousands of people still climbed up to Coopers Hill to watch the somersaults, and plenty of people still entered the competition knowing full well the dangers involved. Like the running of the tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, this event has associated risks. What’s wrong with the competitors taking some responsibility for themselves?

So is it dangerous, stupid or just a bit of fun? Quirky, sure. I’ll go with that.

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Solo glamping(ish)

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Kinda camping

The campsite owner was just shutting up the office when I arrived.

You’re in the red tipi. You’re here’, she said, circling a spot on a map, ‘here’s the kitchen, the bathrooms, the pool. And there’s your tipi. Is it just you?’

‘Yep, just me’.

I wished I’d said ‘No, a friend is coming later’, but the words had jumped out of my mouth and she’d written a bold, black 1 on the form that I was to hang outside the tipi.

Too late. Don’t overthink the safety implications.

At the tipi I went in to explore.  There was a double bed, a sofa, a single bed, a table. Stand-up space. Electrics. Call this camping? Pah! But maybe there is something to this new craze of glamping it up. Keep an open mind.

I tried the light. It didn’t work.

‘Do you have a spare bulb?’ I asked, back at reception, now barred closed. She brought out a new light.

Back at camp I plugged it in. It didn’t work. I scouted around outside for cables leading to plug points and, you know, I managed to sort it out. By myself.

I settled on down to an evening of thoughts and writing, of cooking instant noodles in the base of a perculator because I’d not brought any pots or pans, of perching a chair on a rotting wooden platform outside of my tipi and looking past the red glow of my tent, up through the bare branches at a waxing moon whilst I sipped on a camping cup of wine and ate mi goring.  And I was content.

$55, apparently, can buy you such a moment.

Tomorrow I’d get back on the ferry, cross back over the Richmond River, head back to Ballina. For now, though, I was taking a break from share house headspins and expat aches and busy-ness. It was back to just me and upgraded basics, for a moment.

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Top 5: Natural Queensland, Australia

www.travelola.org5. Camp outs within the National Parks and State Forests, such as Brooyar State Forest and Cape Hillsborough National Park offered peaceful, beautiful stop offs that were affordable (starting at $6). Granted, there was a lack of facilities (and people) but what more do you need beyond fire pits and  ‘pit dunnies’?!

www.travelola.org4. For a Brit like me, Aussie beaches and rainforests are full of exotic appeal. Digging my toes into the sands at Smalleys’ Beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park was a great, calming way to end a day of driving whilst a hasty dip in the river at Mossman Gorge  whetted my appetite for future wanderings through strangler figs and soul-stirring greens.

Queensland Low Isles Great Barrier Reef3. Although I may have been somewhat spoilt by documentaries and coffee table books full of intensely coloured imagery, the Great Barrier Reef was still, undeniably, stunning. With only a half day to spare, I took the shorter trip out to the Low Isles where I snorkelled and splashed about, circumnavigated the island on foot (okay, it took all of fifteen minutes) and feasted on a smorgasbord of seafood delights. Literally.

Queensland desolate landscapes2. My first taste of desolate landscapes was on the drive out of Cairns towards the Eclipse 2012 festival in Far North Queensland. It intrigued me that anyone would live up tracks that disappeared away from dusty roadsides, further into environments where only the odd spindly bush and termite mounds survived.

www.travelola.org1. After days of driving through inland Queensland, particularly around Charters Towersbig skies have to come top of the crop. I felt fully surrounded, 360° around me, 180° over me – by a spread of resplendent blue skies, of fluffy, bouncy clouds, of stars piercing a blanket of blackness. I felt  my place in the universe: alive and conscious enough to observe it but little, tiny, insignificant overall.

To read my Queensland road trip in its entirety, join the journey here.

To readers who’ve joined me from Cruising Helmsman (and anyone else interested in reading my sailing adventures), click here to rewind to my time in the Galapagos islands and the beginning of a South Pacific adventure.

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Queensland goodbyes and mischief making

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 10: Isla Gorge National Park – Ballina (693km)

There was no sign of the boys when I awoke.

The sun was shining light on another blue sky day and I saw that we’d pitched the tents on dusty, rocky road, the route into the Isla Gorge lookout. As with many of the Queensland National Parks that we’d stopped off at in the last two weeks there was an undercover area and a seated long drop, fairly recently completed, it would seem.

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Camp wake-up

I heard voices. The boys had returned.

‘The views are amazing’, said D-man, pointing me in the direction of the lookout. Breath hung in the still morning air.

I took the camera and went for an early morning wander, past the lookout, along a pathway that seemed to lead to a forever that was tempting me on and on.  I didn’t have any water. I was wearing flip-flops. I had no phone (and no reception had I even had a phone in my possession). In Australia, a land full of snakes and spiders and sun that can kill, I disappointingly had to be measured. Boring and responsible. I headed back to camp, away from a precipice walk and vast views across a gaping gorge.

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Isla Gorge

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And the path goes on…

Back on the road we cut through rocky hillsides and rolling landscapes dotted with tall, lightly canopied trees and past trucks pulling trailers of oversized tires until we arrived in Taroom, where we pleasantly breakfasted at BJ Coffee Shop before starting the journey reenergised and suitably caffeinated.

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Heavy load

But I was drained, and whilst I hate to admit that I missed out on moments of Australian countryside splendour, I happily spent the next section of the journey dropping in and out of a light sleep. Maybe I was sensing the end of this trip – this travel adventure – and my mind was digesting the sights and sounds of the last ten days? Chinchilla and Dalby, with their farm machinery and posh utes did little to deter me from dozing some more, and my response to the sign stating Watch for 36 metre road trains was simply (and unusually) a shrug of fate acceptance.

It was unfortunate timing, but by the time I was awake and chatty and ready to observe the changing scenery we seemed to have arrived into a monotony of recently flooded farm land and continuous roadworks. So far, this inland route through Queensland had been full of well-maintained roads cutting across a quiet and striking isolation, but between Waru and Dalby we inched along past yet more empty fields to the tune of road repair trucks and the whir of a struggling air conditioning system. It wasn’t a moment for travel awe.

Thank goodness, then, for walkie talkies, a boy gadget that D-man had gleefully bought for our Eclipse 2012 festival excursion which now proved to have other purposes: to provide entertainment and speed on our journey. At a stop sign we looked towards another sign and then switched our walkie talkies to Channel 78.

‘We’ve got a white Mazda at the north end, happy to authorise access? Over.’ We tested.

‘Come on through. Over.’

It worked, which was somewhat unfortunate for those labourers because for the next few hours we probably caused all sorts of innocent chaos and confusion.  We immersed ourselves in local road building culture. We asked questions about progress and demanded timescales. We waved at the authorising workmen and thanked them, via walkie talkie, as we drove on by. We should have (maybe) known better and behaved far more maturely but time on the road can do funny things to your attitude and behaviour so that you end up doing things you might never do back when you had a responsible job and a mortgage and were functioning in a society of consideration.

Ah, cut us some slack. No one was hurt.

And so, with some mischief and a raft of memories from our Queensland road trip, we arrived back to New South Wales, homeward bound for Ballina. Just like that, it was over.

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Sensing isolation on the fringe of the Australian outback

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers - Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers – Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Two hours into our journey the radio cut out. I checked my phone for reception. Nope. I looked out for other vehicles. Nothing.

Vultures drew black circles in a bright blue sky as we drove along straight, wide roads, over bone dry creeks and past dirt tracks that may or may not have led off to tiny villages or hundred acre farm settlements. We were leaving behind the spindly, pitchy trees of the Blackwood National Park, heading towards a hillier backdrop in the far distance.

Nerrell – our 1984 Mazda 323 – had thus far served us well on our Queensland road trip, but as we drove further away from civilisation and on into flat, barren lands and big, big skies, we acknowledged our vulnerability. If we were to break down now, I wondered, how long would our water last? Our food supplies? How long before someone found our shrivelled remains? Before the vultures moved in and made dinner of our weakened bodies?

Up ahead, something loomed on the horizon, visible movements. Someone? Where was their car? Their truck? Why were they on the road? Were they in need? Were we about to play out a scene from a terrifying road trip movie where the person in need pulls a knife and cable ties and wipes his blade clean after leaving us to bleed to death?

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What’s that on the road?

We got closer. The shape didn’t move from the centre of the opposite lane. It was an eagle chomping on road kill, a bulky, black horror film bird who didn’t even acknowledge us spluttering past.

We weren’t to be the victims of this bright, bleak environment, thankfully.

Trees thinned out to expose open planes and squat shrubs, and still the road cut a red line through the green brown fringe of the outback. These were good roads, maintained roads along which only the odd road train thundered by, infinity trucks with bully noses, vehicles that wouldn’t – couldn’t – easily stop.

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On and on and on. Just us, it would seem.

On and on and on until finally the rising banks of a coal mine and the first turn off in nearly 400km. Don’t take it. Wrong turn would head us back up north somewhat, back to the coast, back to Mackay. Nope, we were heading south by the inland route.

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Back to industrialisation: Clermont coal mines

The midday sun beat down on the car but now the fuel tank was full and our water supplies replenished. We’d be okay. Breathe. Absorb this isolation, suck in hot air. Breathe. We chased mirages on new, unpainted stretches of tarmac before eventually arriving at the mown grain fields surrounding Emerald. We didn’t stop. Call us small minded, but tractors and trailers held little appeal, so on we pushed, back to empty landscapes.

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Late afternoon skyscapes

It was only after Rolleston that the scenery started to change significantly, shift from open expanses to windy up and down roads hugged by woodland lushness and grassy verges dotted with little purple flowers; leaves, petals and blades colour saturated in the late afternoon sun.

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Set up camp before sundown?

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Nope. Definitely not.

We pulled into Isla Gorge National Park campground some hours after nightfall. Once again, we were alone. This would be the last evening with my road trip crew, finishing as we started, just the three of us sitting around a camp fire, eating instant noodles, chatting the journey, sitting quietly looking up at the sparkling night sky through a gap in the tree canopy.

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One last wild camp

Still no phone reception, though. Ah, who cares? We were alright, just the three of us.  Out of the outback yet still covered by the same star blanket. Tired, safe, content.

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Queensland local legends

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 8: Palm Cove – Charters Towers (via Cardwell and Townsville) (510km)

I’m not really someone who gets excited about meeting anyone famous, but this wasn’t just anyone, this was Robert Jesse, acknowledged by those well-regarded folk over at The National Geographic, Robert Jesse, local commentator on both the Cyclone Yasi aftermath and the subsequent  Prince William 2011 trip to Cardwell in Queensland, Australia.

Buying a pie in Cardwell had been one of the few things that me and my travelling crew wanted to do as we road tripped the Queensland coast up to the Eclipse 2012 festival. But, alas, on the journey north it was not meant to be. We had driven slowly through Cardwell, eyes scouting the main strip, but nothing. No pie van. No pie man.

We settled for a sub-standard snack alternative (although this harsh judgment can possibly be attributed to the discovery that my wallet was lying in Townsville service station toilets some 180km away).

This southwards return journey, however, delivered. Perseverance paid off. Here we were, parked under a tree and the Jesse’s Pies van was but five strides away.

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Jesse’s Pies, Cardwell, Queensland

 ‘Even the locals eat them!’ advertised the reputability of the cuisine, and I thought: if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s definitely good enough for three somewhat bedraggled travellers.

As you might expect, Robert Jesse himself was far more interesting than the actual pies.

I’m known now’, he said, ‘I’m famous’.  He dishes up a pie for each of us. Warm. Amply filled.

He asks what we’re doing, where we’re from, where we’re going. He’s happy to have his photo taken for the blog, all part of the fame game, I guess.

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Me and the piemeister

‘When do you think it will be up there?’ he asks as I write down my blog address. I wonder if he’s keeping track of his publicity, keeping a scrapbook for future grandkids. Local legend.

We talk about travelling and he asks about my journeying around the world and mock shudders when I talk about my sailing trip across the Pacific.

‘I travel in Cardwell’, he says, ‘I was born in Ingham’. To put things into context, Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland and has a population of 1,250. Ingham is all of 52km away, a little further south.

‘So you keep it local?’I ask. Silly question. Maybe.

‘Oh, I’ve been to Fiji’, he adds, ‘and once I visited Townsville and I was cold’. I can’t tell if he’s actually being serious but he goes on to tell me that he gets all the travel stimulation he needs from people passing through Cardwell, stopping to buy his pies. The world comes to him, see? He feels, he tells me, completely connected to the world, and totally content in his town.

‘It’s like I said in the National Geographic’, said Robert, ‘about this place being a postcard place’. I look around and think about the drive through and I keep my opinions quiet: I’m not blown away by the town. But then, as Robert goes on to tell us, Yasi has a lot to answer for and the post-cyclone clear up is evidently still in motion. Plus, today is a bit grey. Sunshine would undoubtedly put a different slant on things.

http://www.cairns.com.au/article/2011/02/03/147715_cyclone.html

Cardwell after Cyclone Yasi (pic from http://www.cairns.com.au)

It’s nearly 14:00 and Robert tells us he’ll soon be packing up and leaving for the day. He doesn’t want the local pub to think he might be stealing their customers. I can’t imagine it being a problem, and I’m sure people – like us – come to town specifically for the pies and not the pub; but his intentions are solid, rooted in caring for the Cardwell community.

We drive on southwards and pick up my erstwhile wallet from Townsville Woolworths Caltex, thanking Don King for keeping it in his care this past week. The money, unsurprisingly, is missing, something which Don takes very seriously. For the next ten minutes we scour through CCTV tapes and it is with some relief that we discover it is not one of his staff members next into the toilets. He is clearly relieved.

I am, however, clearly a bit peeved about the loss, but I try to be level. $80 may be a lot of money for a budgeting traveller but it’s also a lot of money for someone who feels the need to steal it from fuel station facilities. I like to imagine it was put to good use, maybe to buy nappies, or fruit and veg (my imagination has often served me well).

And then back in the car; turn to the west, hot sun baking the three of us into a tired slump as the air conditioning cuts out, again. We drive on along single lanes behind three carriage road trains, passed cows shading under a single billboard in the middle of nowhere roadside. Ominous skies split their guts with gusto as we arrive into a deserted Charters Towers and we use the heavy rain as an excuse to check in to a local caravan park.

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On towards Chaters Towers

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Follow the rainbow to the out of town motel

The rain, of course, stops barely a moment after we settle into our one-room house, but by then it’s too late to back out. We’ve paid up. Let’s suffer this punishment of curt landlords and a roof over our head, of a jacuzzi spa, of television movies and an equipped kitchen, of crisp, dust-free sheets and comfy beds. Ah, what a difficult life.

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Evening visitor

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