S U N F L O W E R S

Well, who doesn't love a sunny yellow cheery sunflower, or two...or GIANT FIELDS that go on for infinity!??? I recently came back from a 2-week road trip with my caravan, I went up to Central Queensland, and west to the Outback, and then to the lovely Darling Downs area (a 90-minute drive from Brisbane), where I found the most amazing sunflower crops imaginable. There is actually a signed and mapped route called The Sunflower Way that you can follow, but I have found more success in driving around randomnly for hours on end, searching for the best location, the best view and the best access. It's quite fun to do this, as small towns like Allora, Clifton, and Nobby have little cafes you can stop at to refresh and coffee-up along the way. I stayed in Warwick, as they have a couple of caravan parks, and it's a good base for the area.

I found some lovely crops in Freestone this year (yes, I tend to head down there every year to see the sunflowers...in recent years I haven't seen huge crops or lots of them) and found sunflowers for miles and miles. Their petals gently swaying in the wind, the gorgeous country sky above, all I can say is WOW. Definitely worth a trip.

Please note though...the crops are all on private land (even unfenced land). The farmers earn income from growing sunflowers, so please be respectful and stay OUTSIDE the crops, like on the edge of the road. Getting inside the crops means you can damage them, trample the stalks, and ruin things for the farmers. I had an unpleasant experience with tourists doing just that, and I just want to remind everyone that we all love the flowers, so it's worth doing the right thing.

Gold Coast, Australia

The Gold Coast.......famous around the world for its magnificent beaches, stunning glassy surf breaks, theme parks, nightlife, Schoolies Week, shopping, hinterland walks.....the list is endless. Since I'm an outdoorsy type of girl, I spend a lot of time in the water, on walking tracks, and sipping coffee near the beach and people-watching.

The Burleigh Head National Park is one that I have visited many times. It is 27.6 hectares of pristine eucalypt forest and pandanus groves with several walking tracks (a high one and a low one). Oh, the shady forest is so welcome on a hot Queensland summer day, and the views? Amazing coastal scenery, birds, and frothy white surf with an stunning turquoise ocean.  Did I mention people-watching? Fitness buffs. Families. Photographers. Holiday-makers. Locals. Surfers. Picnickers. Weddings. Last time I was there, a body builder was getting oiled up for a photo shoot down on the rocks! (okay, I confess I may have stayed around there a little longer than necessary).

One time I met a lovely...shall we say...'silver surfer' named Ron (fictitious name to protect anonymity) down at Burleigh Beach, very early on a Friday morning. He looked like he was waiting for someone, his battered surfboard tucked under one arm, his fluoro boardies lighting up the scene. Ron said although he loved to surf, he never liked to be the FIRST one in the water, so he was waiting for other surfers to arrive and take the plunge first. I admired his attitude, and mind you, his age! He was a born-and-bred local, and had nothing but good things to say about the Gold Coast. To him, the casual outdoors lifestyle offered him freedom in his working and family years, but continued to offer that freedom with wide open beaches and a huge surfing community in his later years. On ya Ron!

As soon as the sun came up over the horizon, I wandered over the surf club and ordered a hot steaming flat white and a paper. I sat at a surfboard-shaped table overlooking the beach, and enjoyed a relaxing start to my day. 

 

Morocco

Morocco is amazing! First of all, visiting there gave me the chance to practice my rarely-used French........wow it's tough to converse in a language you barely speak anymore after living in Australia for so many years but I managed. Friendly people, a little guarded yes, but lovely to chat with. There are so many different areas to Morocco: I started in Casablanca: chaotic souks (markets), yummy food, and people-watching. I went to Fes (or Fez) - this is the image below with all the houses, it's a rabbit-warren full of people and markets that are separated into sections: iron mongering, fabric and leather dying, butchers (camel heads hanging from hooks), and so on. I was lucky enough to be guided around by a local, who showed us his little house (prized possession; a television!) and luckily he saved me from getting totally lost, never to be seen again.

I rode a camel (I named him MoMo as the cameleers don't give them names) and he had the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. I slept out under the stars in the Sahara Desert, and was thankful I didn't have to trudge up the sand dunes, down the sand dunes, up again......I took a cooking class in Essaouira and made the most delicious chicken pastille, and later wandered around the fishing town (kite surfing, hippies, and plenty of blue paint). I had a little chat with an old fisherman, who drew pictures on his little notepad as we had trouble conversing (his boat. the fish he catches). I sat in the Jemaa el Fna (town square) in Marrakech, sipping mint tea (without sugar! yikes so much sugar!) from a silver pot and people-watching. Mainly the men sit around sipping tea, and the women do the work (at least that's how it looked to me). There were snake charmers, tooth-pullers and yummy nuts and fruit for sale. What a crazy place to hang out.

I went to Aït Benhaddou, where it looks like sandcastles are built to giant sizes - Gladiator (the movie) was filmed here.

I loved the daily calls to prayer - five of them, spaced out. Every day. The soothing wailing is impossible to miss, as it is played on speakers around the city. The lamb tajines were delicious to eat too. Really interesting culture: stunning mosques, wonderful people and a joy to visit.

Patagonia

Patagonia.......a stunning region in South America, in both Chile and Argentina. Wild weather and trekking! First I stayed in El Calafate, a small town closest to the gorgeous glacier Perito Moreno. Milky water, snow-capped mountains, AMAZING cloud formations, tiny wildflowers, floating ice, and the sound of cracking as the glacier moves. 

I went out to EcoDome Camp, in the middle of the Patagonia wilderness, and stayed just a few short days in a dome suite, with windows cut out in the ceiling, and a timber walkway. They come and light your fire in your dome in the late afternoon as it gets cold at night. I loved my time here, I trekked the French Valley trek (part of the bigger 'W' trek), I mountain-biked down dirt roads with the sparkling sun in the sky, ate a Chilean BBQ and drank red wine. I also discovered why many of the guides wear glacier glasses - the wind, at times, is intense. It blew so much dust into my eyes that I could not see, and felt like I had gravel in my eyeballs. Luckily (other travellers!) I met an Aussie guy who gave me some single-use eye drops...thank goodness. No shops around here!

This is not an area for the faint-hearted. The trekking is intense, the conditions change from warm and sunny one minute, to freezing cold and windy the next. The French Valley required a ferry ride to get there (and you have to time your return trip in case you miss the last one!) and around an 8-hour hike. And when I say 'hike', I mean, walking walking walking, no time for stopping, hardly any time to take photos. It was fantastic! For some reason, when you're in an amazing place, the food tastes better, the wine tastes better, and you sleep much better at night!

Antarctica

There is not enough time or space to rave on and on about Antarctica here...but I will NEVER forget it! What an exciting journey, from flying down to Ushuaia, seeing the red ship MS Expedition docked at port, awaiting new passengers, feeling apprehensive and nervous about the dreaded Drake Passage 2-day crossing, and seeing Antarctica for the first time. WOWIE!

Where would I even start? Okay. Scenery: magnificent, other-worldly, white, grey, blue. Crazy wind, rough seas, and then a surface like glass that I sea-kayaked on for over 16kms on one session! I didn't take nearly enough photos, but I had joined the 'kayak bootcamp' and spent a lot of time paddling and trying not to cry with emotion, because my glasses would fog up. 

Marine life? you betcha! elephant seals, leopard seals, seals of every sort, gentoo penguins with bright orange beaks, penguins porpoising in the water and off icebergs, following a pod of minke whales by listening to them breaching, orcas, birds birds and more amazing birds! Please note: no polar bears here (before you ask)...that's the Arctic :) 

Ship life was fantastic: experienced, knowledgeable, funny, entertaining crew who kept us 100% safe at all times when off the ship. I swam in minus 0.5 degree Celsius water on Deception Island (brrrr COLD is not even close!!), I camped in a tent I put up myself on a windy shore, watching the ship move away from the location because icebergs were floating too close, feeling the exhilaration and the excitement of being IN ANTARCTICA!!! As you can probably imagine, i highly recommend this journey. It is worth.every.dollar. And more.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Larger than 16,000 square kilometres, this amazing delta in Botswana is home to the most diverse wildlife and scenery. Arriving at Oddballs Camp in a tiny plane, I came in to land and saw an elephant feeding, right near the runway (which was dirt and allows elephants to wander across it). My first night in a tent on a deck was exhilarating, with an ellie pulling down branches from above the tent next door (it was loud! and quite scary!). There was an ensuite attached (open roof) and I was warned to watch out for ellie trunks exploring over the wall to find water..........aaaaaarghhh so exciting! A hoisted bucket on a rope for a shower and reed flooring: some would call it rustic. I call it...heavenly.

On another night, there was a hippo in the camp! How unique to see 1) no guns and 2) a beautiful connection with wild animals, allowing them to roam free, even through the camp!

Mornings: up early, coffee and a muffin, before meeting our guide Isaiah, who poled over in his mokoro (wooden dugout canoe) from his village. The guides have a little chit-chat while observing the wildlife action and proximity (hippos in the main channel! avoid!) before helping us into our mokoros to venture across a channel to an island where we spent the day walking as much or as little as we wished, looking for animal tracks, almost bumping into giraffes nibbling on tall tree branch leaves, and standing statue-still while keeping an eye on a herd of buffalo. Tall grass hides a plethora of wild things, we keep downwind from herds of buffalo, and walk, one behind another. The light...the smells of Africa...it's like another world.

 

China

1.357 billion people, a mix of old-style family life sitting on the footpath, cooking dinner in a dented pot over an open fire, hip rooftop bars overlooking city highrises, smartly dressed ladies with face masks riding mopeds, organised traffic chaos, elderly people practising tai chi, ballroom dancing, spinning, and mah jongg in the parks....China is a visual and sensory delight! 

So much construction going on: roads, bridges, buildings......cranes everywhere, people being 're-located' to build dams and flood historic villages, the Chinese love seeing their own country and crowd iconic locations such as Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors.