Category Archives: national parks

Wordless Wednesday #10: Celebrating friendship at the top of a tor

Four friends celebrating a climb up Roo Tor in Dartmoor, England

© 2013 Rose Knapton

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The beauty spots of northeast England

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

My visit back to the UK coincided with the start of summertime and I wanted to show D-man a little of my English life. We had left Stroud and Gloucestershire behind, crossed through seven counties in five hours and were now cutting through the northern section of the North York Moors.

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Five minutes away from our destination I stopped the car and stood and gazed over the fields of my childhood, this green valley of protection and dry stone walling. Down there was my family home, down there were my mum and dad and many of the people who knew me through my growing up. It was the first time I’d been back to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in nearly two years and I felt a flutter of excitement. Spring sunshine sealed the feeling.

Some days later I headed over to Farndale to catch the end of the daffodil season. Like the dwindling display of flowers, the crowds too had left this beauty spot, and we walked quietly and undisturbed through puddles of squelch alongside river banks loaded with long grasses, wild garlic and forget-me-nots. The river ran brown and swollen and spilled out over the pathway.

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The last of the daffodils

The last of the daffodils

Sharing the path

Sharing the path

Garlic goes wild

Garlic goes wild

My favourite childhood tree

Revisiting my favourite childhood tree

Views out of the tree

Views out of the tree

Moving on to more historical and quaint sights, I took trips out to Saltburn, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby. From winding mazes of tightly packed streets through to pirate graves and a history of smuggling, I was transported back to my childhood.

A Saltburn pier stroll

A Saltburn pier stroll

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Robin Hood's Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay

A moody day at Robin Hood's Bay...

A moody day at Robin Hood’s Bay…

...and yet the icecream van was doing business.

…and yet the icecream van was doing business.

The snug streets of Robin Hood's Bay

The snug streets of Robin Hood’s Bay

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Finally, a drive to York saw us dodging ambling sheep and took us past the Millennium rock and along the Roman road past Castle Howard. The city streets resonated with tourists and shoppers and echoed with the click of cameras. We sat down to a British pub dinner at one of the oldest inns, right in the heart of the city, glimpsing York Minster through gaps in the cosy courtyard.

Roman roads near Castle Howard

Roman roads near Castle Howard

York Minster intricacies

York Minster intricacies

Stepping back in time

Stepping back in time

D-man runs up to Clifford's Tower in York

D-man runs up to Clifford’s Tower in York

And then before I’d had time to consider touching the Roman heritage of Hadrian’s Wall and the wild beauty of the Scottish borders, to trek the coast-to-coast route or amble up the landmark of Roseberry Topping, our time up north was over.

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

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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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The need for solo time and travel

What to do when solo travel stops being solo travel? When it becomes group travel? Or couple travel? Maybe the adventures are enriched by shared experiences, maybe the chatter and laughter rolls on late into the night, maybe great plans for the next day are derived around a camp fire or hostel kitchen table.

But maybe something inside of you yearns to sail your own ship again, to break free of noise, to just be yourself by yourself.

It happened to me.

A little over a year ago I was bussing from Brazil to Bolivia, practising Spanish with people in the street, dancing with crowds at random festivals, eating birthday cake with local families and following Che Guevara’s final footsteps. Sure, at times I was mingling with others, but so much of my days were spent and decisions made on a solo basis.

Sometimes I was lonely but mostly I was open to meeting whatever people and adventures presented themselves. My heart and mind were open to the world, to life.

Fast forward to March 2013 and I was employed, in a relationship and had signed a 12 month lease on a town house. A desire to be part of something and to belong took over. And whilst my heart felt other joys, my world closed in. Just a little bit.

And so when all sorts of things built up into a crazy head spin, I followed the scent of my traveller blood and did what made me feel real and alive, and I walked out of my share house, into the houses and onto the couches of friends and soon to be friends.

But what about the solo stuff? Not being on anyone else’s schedule? Not having to be considerate of anyone else for a moment? If I was to get back to a place of generosity and warm spirit, I needed a moment of quiet and a moment of selfishness.

The instant that I booked a tipi nearby one of my favourite beaches within a National Park barely an hour away from my Aussie life, I felt my spirits lift. Adventure. Nature. The ocean. My tick tock.

And now I find myself at the end of a week of small time adventuring feeling almost ready to return to the cosiness and rhythm of settled life.

Just one more night, alone, before I rejoin the party.

Travel, I realise, doesn’t have to be about far away places and exotic appeal. It’s about tapping into that feeling of exploration and freedom, and keeping it local can work just as well.

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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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Forty minutes, maybe, at Mossman Gorge

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 6: Palmer River Roadhouse – Port Douglas (via Mossman Gorge) (166km)

There was a rustling in the room. I opened my eyes, knowing that soon my alarm would go off, but every fibre of my festival, party tired body was willing me on to further sleep. She saw me stir.

Don’t mind me’, she whispered, ‘I just need to grab something from the cupboard’.

She, the stranger whose room I was sleeping in, the stranger who had said ‘sure, I’m going to stay out partying for one more night so of course stay in my bed’.  She, the stranger who was now sneaking around a stranger in her own bedroom.

She left and by the morning light sneaking in through an unclosed door I saw a photo of a newly familiar and smiling face. The mother of the stranger, I assumed. I tried to think why I recognised her. Everything was a bit blurry. Everybody was a bit blurry. Was she, the stranger’s mother, the weaver from a festival workshop?

The previous evening, two days after the total solar eclipse, me and a crew of dust ingrained folk drove away from the now quietened stages and the shrinking after parties of the Eclipse 2012 festival up in Far North Queensland, Australia, and we made our way towards the Daintree National Park for a dusk dip in the waters of Mossman Gorge.

The buses had stopped running so we waited for the gates to open, 18:00 for free entry, fully aware that we were pushing it on the daylight front. Maps, signposts and curiosity pointed us into the rainforest along wooden walkways until we reached a path that took us down to a pooled area, a scene from numerous Mossman Gorge pictures.

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Into the woods

I walked in, up to my waist. Despite a week in the hot, near outback climate of Palmer River where every day some drizzle or drenching were key to a comfortable existence, here at Mossman Gorge the air felt fresh and the waters crisp. I scooped handfuls of water onto my arms and torso, knowing that a full submerge would feel beautifully refreshing but I stood resolute, stubborn, unable to actually dive into the pool. Stop thinking! Just do!

A few guys made their way upstream before jumping from and slipping down rocks.  A couple from our group ran into the water and wrapped up in each other, a coil of kissing and wet hair. D-man was heading towards me and I recognised that look in his eyes. Do it! Now! Before he got the chance, I took the plunge. Ah, clean water. Cold water, but clean water, washing away a festival hangover and a coating of dust.

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Ready for a dusk dip?

http://www.markgray.com.au/gallery/open-edition-prints/australia/mossman-gorge.php

…a better capture of Mossman River by Australian photographer Mark Gray

Wrapped up in dry clothes we gathered back at the car park, a subdued, tired team preparing for the first post-festival split. Goodbyes. Shared moments, precious memories, people I may never see again. Even in more settled times, the transience of travelling continues.

And then on to the absent stranger’s house where I fought my body to stay awake, weights on my eyelids, muscles not strong enough to reflex beyond the last mouthful of a quick cook-up. Rest my body on the first proper bed in nearly two weeks, rest my head on a fluffy pillow and then sink, deeply, into a dreamy world of colour and costumes,  of humidity and the upward fight and downward choking of a strangler fig.

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The need to budget for health whilst travelling

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 3: Byfield State Forest – Cape Hillsborough National Park (430km)

It was an emergency that stopped me exploring our camp spot by light. Everything got thrown into the car; pots and unwashed coffee cups shoved into ill suited gaps, L-man’s backseat den more cramped than cosy.

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The issue of not being on time

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 1: Ballina, NSW – Brooyar, Queensland (381km)

Our race to beat the setting sun was a lost cause.

If only we’d set off earlier, as planned then we might have got pitched in daylight. If only we’d not taken a diversion to put our pennies into the honesty boxes of roadside stalls in exchange for avocados and potatoes and tomatoes, if only the calamari at Brunswick Fish Co-Op hadn’t called out to stomachs that lightly rumbled barely thirty minutes into the journey, if only the super supermarket conveniently positioned right on the highway at Gympie hadn’t reminded us of forgotten necessities, well, maybe then we would have gotten to Brooyar State Forest on time.

But, hang on! This is holiday time, time off from being on time. 

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 1: Still a long way to go… what adventures are up ahead?

We could have stopped off somewhere sooner, somewhere closer to the road. Brooyar was an en-route decision, a decision that took us away from concrete and the last light of day, down a long, pitted dirt track into an expanse of rain forest and a scattering of gum trees. Glastonbury Creek Camp. Arrived.

And realistically  setting up camp and cooking in the dark was more of an adventure than a problem, three concentrated explorers equipped with head torches, hammers, high spirits and unspoken coordination.

Tents up, kick back, eat easy food, say goodnight to the glow of neighbouring fires, switch off the lights and lie beneath a light sheet.

Listen to the darkness.

And fall into a fresh air sleep full of dreams about what this place might look like by day.

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