Monday, June 25, 2018

 

New Things at Home

While I was away, two interesting things happened at home. Firstly, the empty block across the road is now a building site. There will be a two-story childcare centre there in a few months. That's OK by me as the building won't block my view of the mountains; there is snow on the highest peaks today. The really exciting thing is that testing has started on the new light rail vehicles. The workmen are still finishing laying the track and stringing the power cables on some of the route, but the trams have arrived and one is being tested on the first completed sections, just up from home. The complete route between Gungahlin and the City Centre is due to be operating by Christmas and it looks like the project is actually running on time. In a few months I will be able to watch trams running along the street at the front of our apartment complex, and (of course) ride them.

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Contrast of Seasons

 I'm back home after a wonderful holiday. We escaped the Canberra winter for a week of Hawai'ian summer; the images tell the story. We left Canberra on the afternoon of a cold, cloudy, drizzling day. 18 hours later we were in wonderful, warm Hawai'i. The views from my window at home and from our room at the Prince Waikiki could hardly be more different. From the Prince, I had great views of the boats in the Marina, ships entering and leaving Honolulu harbour, aircraft landing and taking off from the airport (just behind the beach at the top of the picture) and people surfing, sailing and canoeing. That window was heaven for this small bear. However, we had to come home again and the next morning the view out my home window showed fog and heavy frost all morning. No wonder some people run away and become beachcombers.

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Saturday, June 02, 2018

 

Changed Plans

Well, the hint at the end of my last post is no longer any use. The lady in the first image has changed our holiday plans. She is Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii, and her work over the last month has caused our tours of the Big Island (Hawai'i) to be cancelled. So I guess that I will just have to spend more time on Waikiki beach in "cool dude" mode. I will also have more time to sample the great local cocktails. I am looking forward to another of these ones that come inside a pineapple, although they always go too fast. This time I am not sharing, Mum gets her own. We fly out next weekend, so next post will be after we get back. Sad to miss the volcanoes, but the danger zone is growing and safety comes first.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

 

ANZAC 2018

This post is a few weeks late. We have had a busy time with getting Mum's legs and feet working properly. She had to have big needles in her feet; it made Dad queasy looking at the monitor during the injections. However, she should be back walking OK very soon now. Just as well because the Oldies have been planning our next overseas adventure and we are all counting down the days until we board the aeroplane. So, April 25 is ANZAC Day, commemorating the service and sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women. We always go to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) to pay our respects on this day. This year the Oldies were not well enough to go to the Dawn Service, so we went in the early afternoon. We started the visit by watching a flypast by 3 RAAF FA-18s, and then found the names of family members on the Wall of Remembrance. I love the way that people put poppies in the wall next to the soldier/sailor/airman they are remembering. For a small bear some of the interesting bits are the vehicles and artillery on display outside the memorial. This year there were 5 that I hadn't seen before. There are also many memorial plaques and sculptures in the gardens. The AWM is something that all Australians should visit.

Where are we traveling to next? This small photo should give you a clue...


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

 

Airport Open Day

Sunday was a good day for small bears who are interested in aeroplanes. Canberra airport opened some of the runway and parking area and invited some historic aircraft to fly in. Over 30,000 Canberrans visited the airport to see some restored older airliners and military aircraft. The favourite of Mum and I is the Caribou. I loved to see them demonstrating their amazing short take-offs and landings at airshows when they were still in RAAF service, so it was great to see that one has been kept flying by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society. They also brought a Catalina, a DC-3 and a Convair 440. QANTAS and Virgin Australia had airliners on display, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines each had  a scheduled overseas flight passing through, and a RAAF C-17 flew in and was open for inspection for a few hours. There were long lines of people waiting to walk through all of the aircraft, so I was really happy that I had done that at other airshows and could avoid the crush. There were several aerobatic demonstrations, but the aircraft involved were too small and fast-moving for the oldies to get photos of them. We really need a BIG airshow here at Canberra so that we dont have to drive to Temora or the Illawarra to see one.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

 

With the Thunder Lizards


What a weekend it was. Two big outings for a small bear. The first one was on Saturday night at the National Dinosaur Museum. It was an open night for adults only, no noisy kids allowed. Naturally, being an adult small bear over 15 years old, I was allowed in. The museum has a huge collection of fossils of dinosaur bits and other prehistoric critters, plus gemstones and ores. I thought the rocks full of coloured crystals were pretty good, but what I really enjoyed was the life-size models of dinosaurs in the area outside the building. If you look closely you will see me bravely staring down a mob of hunting Velociraptors, riding a Stegosaurus, talking to a mother Triceratops and her calves (there are 2 of them, but one is hiding behind her leg) and yelling for Dad to rescue me before the baby T.Rex closes his mouth. A small bear with an active imagination can have great fun at the museum, and I guess most kids could too.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

 

Jewels and Jets

Easter weekend was busy. We had a visit by our grandkids (not sure just what relation an Oldies grandchild is to the Oldies bear), Mum's craft meeting, Sunday lunch with Bro Trent's in-laws, and best of all a morning full of bling and aeroplanes. On Friday an exhibition of jewellery by Cartier opened at the National Gallery. Mum and I are hooked on bling so we just had to be among the first in the door. What a collection. I saw lots of necklaces, tiaras and brooches, including ones worn by royalty and actresses. My favourites were the ones in the shape of animals and birds. The alligators are actually a necklace which hinges at the back and swings around the neck. Naturally, Dad and I were really impressed by the models of the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer, made in silver, and the Lunar Excursion Module, made in gold and enamel. You really should see this exhibition if it comes to a city near you. Just to finish the morning out we parked near the airport where we could see aircraft taking off. The Boeing 777 in the photo is the Singapore Airlines Canberra to Wellington (NZ) flight. I like Wellington, so maybe the Oldies will use this flight sometime soon.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

 

Dust Storm!!

Last Sunday morning we were walking along the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. It was a beautiful, calm, sunny day when we started out. After we had walked about a Kilometer from where we had parked the car, the wind started to get very strong. The lake changed from calm to a mess of choppy waves, some of them big enough to splash over the path. The sky got cloudy and the air started to get murky. By the time we got back to the car the air was full of dust and by the time we got home visibility was way down. The two bottom photos are taken from our balcony. They are almost exactly the same area. The one on the left was taken on Sunday during the dust storm, the one on the right on a clear day sometime earlier. As dust storms go, this was nothing compared to some of the ones that happen in outback Australia, but it is the first one I have seen and it taught me that Mums get cranky if you open a window to see it better (Mums and dusty furniture are an explosive mix).

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Pond Walks

I am very lucky because there are so many nice walks close to where I live. The ones that I like are the ones that go around the many ponds that are part of the system that helps stop flash flooding after big storms. The first 3 photos are of different ponds, all within 10 minutes of home. Most of them are about a kilometer around, a good distance for a nice stroll with stops to photograph birds, trees and sunsets. Just before evening they have hundreds of waterbirds in them, but even in the middle of the day there are some there. All of the birds are used to people feeding them and come right up to see if you have anything for them. The last photo is of part of the largest "pond", Lake Burley Griffin. This lake is about 30 kilometers around, so the Oldies don't try to walk that in one go. The area in this photo was swamp a decade ago, but it has been built up and turned into a marina and lakeside apartment and restaurant area. The Oldies sure can't afford to live here, our apartment is much less fancy, but we have more ponds near us. There was a competition to name one of the ponds a while back. There were lots of suggestions, but the winner was "Pond, James Pond". I like that.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

 

The Royal Refuge Cave

Since the Oldies are not taking me traveling anywhere new for a few months, I will catch up on some past travel photos. Here is a different sort of place that I visited during our day on Ile des Pins during our New Caledonia cruise in 2015. It is a cave, or, more accurately, a grotto where a native queen called Hortense hid for several months during a tribal war in 1855. There is a track from the carpark  down through jungle to the grotto. A small stream runs through the grotto and the floor is muddy and slippery. I was glad that Dad was carrying me, because Mum would have had harsh words to say if I had come back with muddy fur. Deep into the cave you can find the flat rock where Queen Hortense slept. I found a smaller rock shelf higher off the floor where small bears could sleep if they ever needed to. It is not much of a cave as caves go, but worth a visit because of its history. Most tours of the Ile des Pins include a stop here.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

 

Sunset Strolls

Our apartment is only 15 minutes drive from the centre of Canberra, the national capital. Our suburb is classed as inner north. However, all of these photos have been taken during some of our late afternoon walks. Within 10 minutes walk of home we have large areas of grassland reserve and a system of overflow ponds (some of them quite big lakes) that help prevent flash flooding after heavy rain.There is a large pond just a few minutes walk away and it has a large population of waterbirds. Ducks, grebes and swamp hens live here, and swans and pelicans often visit. The birds are not scared of people and follow us around the paths, just in case we have something edible with us. I have been watching a mother swamp hen raising her 2 chicks. I first noticed them about 3 weeks ago. At that stage they were little balls of dark fluff with legs and squeaky voices. A week ago we had really heavy rain and the ponds all overflowed. I was worried that the chicks may have been washed away because they can't fly yet, but they survived and are doing fine. They have their first real feathers now and can swim really fast. Just before Sunset is the time when gum trees are at their prettiest, the soft red light makes their bark glow. Kangaroos are out feeding and the young males are fighting to determine who is going to be boss of the mob when the "old man" roo dies. Add in a Full Moon rising and you have a superb walk, only 10 minutes walk from home and a quarter-hour drive from the CBD. I love living here, with nature in the heart of the city.

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Friday, March 02, 2018

 

More Fire Engines

Here's some of the fire engines on display at the Canberra Fire Museum. The 2 old ones are beautifully restored and are occasionally on display at events around Canberra. The big one being worked on is one of the airport fire trucks, in use during the 1960s. I have seen a restored one of these on display at an airport open day and am amazed at the amount of foam it can squirt and the distance the foam travels. I would love to have a go with one of these foam cannons.The small band of volunteers is aiming to have the vehicle fully restored this year. Most of the display vehicles have storage hatches open so that you can see the hoses and tools. I am fascinated by the variety of fittings and nozzles that even the oldest trucks carried. I am particularly happy to see that firemen still carry belt axes as well as using big ones. I will check out what is parked outside the fire museum whenever we drive past and stop whenever there are different vehicles on display.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

 

Fire Station Command Centre

One room of the Canberra Fire Museum has displays of the ways that fires were reported and brigades called out in the early days. The bottom photos show 2 eras of such gear. The first is a large array of lights and switches that showed what call box the fire was reported from and enabled the controller to notify the nearest brigade/s. The second one is from 15 or so years later, when early computers were starting to be used. The control desk is much smaller. For me, the earliest example was the most interesting - the old Fire Bell which was used in the earliest stations. No phones or radio then. Firemen who were on station or in earshot would "ring the bell and run like the clappers", as our guide put it.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

 

Canberra's Fantastic Fire Museum

On Saturday the Oldies took me to Canberra's old Fire Station. It is now a museum containing lots of historical relics of the early days of fire-fighting in the city. The original 1927 control room is still there, as well as later communications gear. The building is just one of what was a whole complex of buildings that housed the fire crews as well as their equipment. The other buildings are now mostly office buildings. For this small bear the best thing is the collection of fire engines, ranging from old suburban hand-drawn ones to the huge airport fire cannon pump truck. The gadget at the foot of the stairs is one of the hand-drawn hose carts that were sited in different suburbs. The wheel on the left of the picture is part of a ladder on a 1930s truck. Back in the early days of the service, Canberra firemen wore uniforms like the one in the top row of pictures; I really want one of those brass helmets. The suit in the bottom row is what they wore when they had to go into burning buildings to rescue people, pets and small bears. The old fire truck, a 1929 Albion, is one of the first in Canberra. It was what our guide called "a mongrel to crank-start", but was in service into the 1950s.The other truck is one of the last red ones in service; Canberra fire engines are now yellow. Do you know why the old fire stations in old cities are on the hills? It is so it is easier for the hand-drawn (or horse-drawn) carts and slow old trucks to get to the fire quicker; our guide told me that and he knows.
More pictures from here soon.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

 

Hobbies and a New Friend

Things have been a bit slow here for a while. The Oldies are showing signs of their advancing age and are keeping the Canberra doctors busy. Both of them have had to get cattyracks (Bart means cataracts - Dad) removed from all their eyes. Mum is still recovering from her cattystroppik (he means catastrophic - Dad) fall 6 months ago. That means that we have had no trips away for me to report on since the Tasmania cruise. Of course there are still lots of photos from past trips that might interest you. Actually, I have been doing lots of hobby stuff. Mum makes stacks of cards and I have been helping her by doing some of the painting after she has stamped, cut  and glued the designs. The strange colour that I am in the photo is not due to me spilling paint on my fur or because I am scared, it is what happens when the Oldies use flash to take the photo. Dad has had a break from his usual plastic ship models and has made a few card lighthouses. Here's a model of the ancient Pharos of Alexandria that kept us busy building it for a while. There are lots of cards, painting, ships and lighthouses underway, but I would much rather be travelling. One addition to my circle of friends is this strange, noisy little character who flew in last week. He says his name is Buzz and claims to be a movie star. What I know for sure is that you can't leave a drink unguarded whenever he is nearby, he is even quicker than me.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

 

A Jolly Fine Eatery

On all of our trips the Oldies like to find odd, strange and unusual places to eat. They search for strange decors and good food at reasonable prices. This restaurant (I finally learned how to spell that word), the Drunken Admiral, on the docks in Hobart really ticks the boxes. The walls and ceiling are covered with nautical gizmos. The largest item is a statue that looks more like a pirate than an admiral, but I guess that's what a hard life and booze can do to you. The food is mostly seafood, which is bad news for Dad because he is allergic to anything with a shell on or in it, but they also serve "landlubber" food and he reckons that the special fried chicken is some of the best he has ever set teeth into. Mum, of course, is the exact opposite and absolutely loves the way they serve up the seafood. Well worth eating there when you are in Hobart. By the way, despite what it looks like in the first picture, Dad was not being sick into the cauldron, just checking the way it was made.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

 

A Bartboat!!

Santa did it for me again. Over the years he has brought me all sorts of vehicles, mostly in the markings of the Royal Aussie Bear Force. The missing vehicle has been a boat. Well, early on Christmas morning I headed for the tree and, sure enough, there was a parcel there for me. It is a bit of a struggle for a small bear to rip through layers of wrapping, but I dug away and there it was - a rocket-powered hydroplane speedboat. Now to find a place where Mum will let me take the risk of getting wet... Actually, I think that I have this Santa thing sorted out. For the last month before Christmas, Dad was busy cutting and shaping panels and blocks of balsa. His only explanation of what he was up to was "Elf business". Sounds pretty certain to me that Dad "Elf" could actually be the household Santa, but it pays to keep quiet while the presents keep coming.

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

 

Christmas Greeting


 

Brindabella Hills Birthday Bash

Mum's birthday is just 3 days before Christmas. She considers that to be a mean trick because (before I started organizing things) people would always combine her birthday and Christmas celebrations. So yesterday I took her out to our favourite winery, Brindabella Hills, for a special lunch. Bros Trent and Nathan came too. If you compare these photos with earlier ones you can see that there is a lot of work being done to the vineyard and the restaurant by the new owners. The thing I like best is the way they are clearing some of the scrub so that you get a great view of the river valley. What's the wine like? Well, it is better than any of the other local brands and most of the other Aussie ones. How old is Mum? I'm not allowed to tell you, but she is older than she looks.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

 

Sailing Back Into Sydney

No matter where we travel and how much fun the trip has been it is always good to be back in Australia. The prettiest homecoming is sailing into Sydney harbour at the end of a cruise. The ships usually enter the Heads just before Sunrise and the view is one of the few things that will get the Oldies out of bed early. The first things that you see are the blinking lighthouses at Hornby and Macquarie (search earlier posts for photos of them). The first photo is South Head and if you look carefully you can see the light from Hornby. Near the city the first ferries are starting out past the Opera House. The ship passes Fort Dennison just as its small lighthouse turns off. Smaller ships like Sun Princess pass under the Harbour Bridge to White Island Terminal, and by the time disembarkation begins the Sun is risen. A great way to return to Aus.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

 

A Most Spectacular Lighthouse Site


 Ships leaving Hobart and heading east around the south coast of Tasmania pass the most spectacular cliffs that I have ever seen. They are made of massive vertical basalt columns that look like drainpipes. At the place where ships can head east around the end of the Tasman Peninsula is Tasman Island. This is a small island, just over a square Kilometer in area, but it is up to 300 metres high. The keepers of the lighthouse there were some of the most isolated people in Australia. The lighthouse was made from cast iron in England. It came to Tasmania as a prefabricated kit and the bits had to be hauled up those steep cliffs in rare periods of calm weather and reassembled. It is the highest (above sea level) active lighthouse in Australia. Keepers lived on the island from 1906 to 1977 when the light was fully automated. Today the keepers' cottages are falling into disrepair. The old supply gear of flying fox and tramway is in ruin, although you can still see the tracks on Google Earth. The only access is by helicopter. The best view of the site is from a cruise ship or one of the boat tours from Hobart or Port Arthur.


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

 

Hobart Short Call

"Sun Princess" stopped overnight in Hobart. We had spent time in Hobart during our February road trip and did most of the touristy things then, so we just took it easy. We went across to the Hotel Grand Chancellor for a "Hi, we're back" cocktail. The manager recognized us and let us go up to the top floor to take photos (nothing better then the ones from Feb). Of course, we had fish'n'chips at Mures; every visitor to Hobart has to do that. I can't decide if the f'n'c at Mures are better than the ones you get on the wharf at Auckland, maybe I need another trip to NZ to help me decide. We left Hobart late afternoon. The tug was a huge one that was normally based at Port Headland in WA. You can see the way it was pulling (tugging) the ship's stern away from the wharf. The Pilot boat is in the background waiting to escort us down the Derwent estuary. I think that the passage into and out of Hobart is one of the prettiest parts of the cruise, and it has lighthouses (check the image of Iron Pot from our previous trip, and wait for the next post)....

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

 

Back to Burnie

First port of call on our Tasmania cruise was Burnie, on the Bass Strait coast. Burnie was founded in1827 and by 2011 it was the fourth largest city in Tassie. It once was the site of Australia's largest paper mill and also several smaller industries including a paint pigment factory. Pollution of the city and the harbour became a huge problem and most of the manufacturing industries have closed. Today, forestry and farming are the major industries and the port is the largest cargo port in Tasmania. One of the chief exports is wood chip, and there was a large pile right next to where the Sun Princess docked. I watched the conveyors dumping chip into a pile and a bulldozer spreading it out to make room for more. The Oldies hired a car and we zoomed off to Bev's Cross Craft, the largest and best craft shop that I have ever seen (photos in posts from Feb), and then on to Anvers Chocolate Factory for lunch. There was another "target" for us in Burnie, the Round Hill lighthouse. We failed to find it in February, and only caught a quick glimpse as we drove past it this time. Fortunately, lighthouses have to be visible from the sea and we managed to get a look at it in the distance as we left port. It is a tiny one built in 1923, never manned, and automated in 1980.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

 

Short Break Cruise

Since the last post, I have been on a short cruise to some ports in Tasmania.  Our ship this time was "Sun Princess". The Oldies wanted to check out Princess Cruises and compare it with the other cruise lines we have travelled on. The ports of call were Burnie, Port Arthur and Hobart. We drove to all of these during our Tassie road trip earlier this year (check the posts from February) but it is always interesting and exciting to come into the same place by sea. Instead of leaving from the International Cruise Terminal at Circular Quay, this time we left from the new White Bay cruise terminal. This is on the western side of the Harbour Bridge, so the larger ships can't use it. We didn't have much clearance between the top of our funnels and the underside of the bridge on our way out. Before going under the bridge we passed the new developments at Barangaroo. This used to be a run-down area of old wharves and sheds, but is now parkland, walkways and high-rise apartment blocks. Like most cruises, this one had interesting things happening right from the start.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

 

I Am 15 Now

It's hard to believe, but I have been with the Oldies for 15 years now. In that time I have seen lots of the world with them and traveled on lots of boats, planes and trains and have shown you lots of my favourite places via this blog. For a small bear, 15 is a significant milestone, so my birthday celebrations lasted for 3 weekends. They started 3 weekends ago at my favourite winery, Brindabella Hills. It was just after Aunty Enid's birthday (I won't tell how old she is, but it is a lot more than 15) so we had a joint celebration. The thing I love about Brindabella Hills, apart from the magnificent wine and food, is the view along the Murrumbidgee valley. The new owners are clearing a lot of the scrub and the view is superb. The next weekend the Oldies took me for High Tea at the Burberry Hotel. Here the view was over the government buildings in central Canberra. I like the tasty nibbles that come with High Tea and of course good Champagne really makes it special. Then last weekend we joined Big Bros Trent and Nathan for lunch at a new winery they had "discovered". It is called Contentious Character and is on the other side of Canberra to Brindabella Hills. The view here is open woodland and acres of vines. The food is good and the wines are also. Canberra has many wineries surrounding it. Some are good, some are just so-so, but Brindabella Hills and Contentious Character are truly worth the visit - and they both take good care of visiting small bears with a taste for the product of the vines.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

 

Beware the Guards

Here are two of the most embarrassing moments of my stay in Perth. In the foyer of Crown Towers there are two things that look like huge slabs of gold. I was trying to get a scrap of material off this one so that I could test it and see if it was real or not when I was grabbed and taken outside to the lion. He didn't look very fierce and wasn't moving at all so I thought he would be friendly. No way! As soon as I was feeling like he might be a new friend he moved like the Flash and quick as a wink I was in his mouth. Fortunately, the Oldies were nearby and Dad snatched me out of the mouth before the jaws closed. I still don't know if that's really gold in the foyer. Mum just laughs when I ask her and wants to know how I was planning on taking it home if it was real.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

 

A Shorter Lighthouse

Here's a lighthouse that is a bit different. Instead of being built on a clifftop or near the bank of an estuary, it is on the top of a 100m high hill 500m from the ocean. The lighthouse is only 20m tall, much easier for visitors to climb the stairs for the view from the balcony. It is the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse in Western Australia. It was built in 1904 and went into service the next year. It is built from limestone which was quarried nearby. It is one of the few lighthouses that still use their original Fresnel lens. I like these lenses because they are a clever way of making a big lens that is much lighter and flatter than a conventional lens. If you get the chance to look closely at a lighthouse lens you will see that is a lens that has several steps ground into it, sort of folding the lens into itself. Fresnel lenses were actually originally invented for lighthouses. Mum still aims to get to every accessible lighthouse in Australia, including historic lighthouse ruins and ones that have been deactivated and moved into museums . This was number 91.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

 

Super-size Sundial

One of the favourite beach suburbs of Perth is Cottesloe. As you can see from the first photo, it is just north of Fremantle. This photo was taken from a headland at the southern end of the long sandy strip of the beach. On the headland I noticed a strange-looking structure and headed down a convenient path to see what it was. If I had been tall enough to read the signpost at the start of the path I would have seen that this is the Cottesloe Bicentenary Sundial. It is very different to the small garden sundials you often see. It is actually two sundials, a morning one and an afternoon one. The big limestone ramps are gnomons, which throw their shadow onto the curved brass strips. These strips are engraved with time markers. The curvy markings show the difference needed to correct the time shown by the shadow to Western Australian Standard Time, which is set at Kalgoorlie, 4.3 degrees east of Cottesloe (click on the photo for a larger view). We were there at 3:17 pm and the sundial and Dad's watch agreed on the time. This sundial is similar to the giant 18th century ones at Jaipur in India. The beach? Well, it's not bad, but in my opinion we have much better ones in the eastern states.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

 

Sandalford Winery


Our cruise up the Swan River took us to Sandalford winery. As you can see from the photo of their award wall, this is one of the best-rated wineries in Australia. Our only problem was that we arrived soaking wet from the trip between the wharf and the winery. A large golf buggy was there to take us, but it had no side curtains and we got soaked anyway. Fortunately, there was a fire going in one of the dining rooms and we were able to steam ourselves dry. Near the fireplace were 2 large candle stands. These looked like something out of Frankenstein's castle as the melted candle wax had been allowed to drip down and form fascinating patterns as it solidified. Before lunch was served we had a lesson in the art of wine tasting. There were 6 samples and the idea was to test and rank them. Mum did OK, but Dad's idea of wine tasting is to raise the glass and gulp the contents. Actually, Sandalford wines are pretty good. There is, of course, a large cellar door shop and we left loaded down with wine "gadgets", presents for family and friends. Is the Sandalford cruise worth it? Too right, even in bad weather.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

 

Swanning Up To Sandalford

During our stay in Perth we took a cruise up the Swan River to Sandalford winery. Our boat was Captain Cook Cruises' "River Lady". Like nearly all the vessels that go upriver from Perth, she is built low to fit under some of the bridges. In fact, at a really high tide there is one bridge that she has to wait at for the river level to drop. The weather on the day of our cruise was terrible - heavy rain and gusty strong winds. The map tells the story, Perth is right under the densest part. The weather system stayed pretty much the same all day. Anyhow, I had fun. The captain was a lady named Catherine. I called her Cap'n Cat and she let he help drive. I worked the throttles while we were clearing the dock, and did a lot of the steering when we were on our way upriver. How does a small bear steer when the wheel is so big that I can't reach all the handles? I just jump on the appropriate handle of the wheel until the boat is aimed in the right direction. As this was a winery cruise, we had wine tasting on the way. I managed to get a small taste of Mum's samples; 4 whites and 4 reds. I think whites are much nicer, but reckon that the ones from Marlborough in New Zealand are the best. Mind you, we tasted some really good wines later during our road trip in the Margaret River region south of Perth. We met some wonderful cheeses as well. One was so good that the Oldies bought a Kilogram back with them; it didn't last long. If you have a free day in Perth, this winery cruise is well worth doing, regardless of the weather.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

 

A Light Between Two Oceans

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is on a headland that is near the spot where two oceans meet. To the right is the Indian Ocean and to the left is the Southern Ocean. Now I should mention that geographical nit-pickers will claim that the Southern Ocean is only south of 60 degrees latitude and the cape is only at 34 degrees. But there is only ocean south of this point until you hit Antarctica, so as far as most Aussies are concerned this is indeed the meeting of the two oceans. I reckon that I could see the churned-up area of ocean where the currents of the Indian and Southern were meeting and causing bigger, rougher waves. In fact, some ships have been badly damaged or sunk by sudden gigantic rogue waves in the ocean to the south. The cape is named after the Dutch ship Leeuwin (Lioness) which was the first European ship to map this area of coast in 1622. The lighthouse is built of local stone and was built in just 1 year. It has been in operation since 1896. There has not been a shipwreck on the cape since then.

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Mum's Eye

Well, another long break between posts due to family troubles. Mum has had a rough couple of weeks and I have been busy being nurse and comforter. 14 days ago Dad foolishly left a box in the doorway and Mum tripped on it and really banged up her leg. The bruises and swelling have still not completely gone. That is bad enough, but yesterday she was due to have a thing called a cattyrack (Bart means cataract - Dad) removed from her eye. Naturally she wasn't going to let a small thing like a bunged-up leg stop her so she went ahead with the surgery; I am not sure if that rates as bravery or stubbornness. Anyhow, she saw the surgeon today, the eye shield came off, the surgery was successful and she can now see properly out of both eyes again. Here's a photo of her just after coming out of surgery and one of her just after arriving home. I kept her company and wore an eye patch for the rest of the time just to make her feel a bit better.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

 

Well-guarded Lighthouse

One of the places we visited in Western Australia was Cape Leeuwin. This is the most south-westerly point on mainland Australia, and has a magnificent lighthouse on it. It is the tallest mainland lighthouse in Australia and has been in service since 1895. Before you can get to the lighthouse you have to pass its fierce guardian, the Moorine Marauder. This pirate cow is complete with eye patch, rum keg, hook replacing a hoof (presumably lost in previous fighting), telescope and parrot. She keeps a sharp eye on all visitors coming up the path from the car park. She is one of the multitude of pieces of cow art made for the international cow parade in 2010, and is probably the only one remaining in her original location. I quickly made friends with her. She let us pass but would not let me sample her rum. More of the lighthouse next post.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

 

Worrying Signs

Occasionally I see a sign that worries me a bit, or makes me chuckle. Here's a couple of them. The first one was spotted near a Canberra petrol station. Just across the road is an empty paddock that sometimes has cows put in to keep the grass down. The truck parked here on this occasion must surely worry any cow that can read. You would expect them to be really anxious about their fate. Given the relaxed attitude of the cows near the truck, I guess that none of them can actually read. The second photo is of a seagull perched on a car in the parking area near one of the lighthouses we saw on our WA trip (photos soon). The car is a hire car from the "No Birds" company. Now either the seagull can't read or it is being deliberately disobedient. From my observations of seagulls and their behaviour, I strongly suspect that disobedience is the case.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

 

Back From WA

As some of you noticed, I have been away for a couple of weeks; thanks for your emails asking if I was OK. Nothing bad had happened, I was in Western Australia. The Oldies decided to see a bit of Australia that was new to them, the south-western bit of WA. Naturally, this corner of the continent has many wineries and some lighthouses. That seems to be the way that the Oldies plan itineraries these days. It takes 4 hours to fly to Perth (I used to call it Perf when I was younger) so the Oldies decided to use all our frequent flyer points and go business class. We had great flights over and back in this aeroplane. For a couple of days at the start and end of the trip we stayed at Crown Towers in Perth. Big brother Trent managed to get us a special deal there and we stayed on the second floor from the top. We had great views over the city, but the weather turned bad for most of our stay and I couldn't try out the pools; I guess Mum wouldn't let me anyhow, she has this thing about me getting wet. Despite the rain and wind, we saw 3 amazing lighthouses and visited some superb wineries.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

 

Hobart Boat Festival

The day before we left Hobart to fly back home boats began arriving for the Wooden Boat Festival. This is a 4 day festival celebrating Australia's rich maritime heritage and is usually the biggest exhibition of wooden boats of all sizes in the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, we only saw the very first arrivals. Constitution dock had the usual metal boats moved out and wooden ones began moving in. Here's are some of them. I think that the white steam yacht looks like it was built just for small bears to own; the current owner didn't agree. The dock was slowly filling with sailboats ranging from small sailing canoes to fairly large ships. The car parks were filling with beautifully built small craft, some still under construction. From the top floor of our hotel, right across the road from the docks, I could watch boats coming up the Derwent estuary right into the docks, so a lot of my last afternoon in Hobart was spent at the window there. If the Oldies take me back to Tassie I will try to get them to stay while the festival is on. I love boats.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

 

The Road to Queenstown


 One of the longest drives we did in Tasmania was from Hobart across to Strahan on the west coast. The road passes through some spectacular wild scenery, but none more spectacular than the drop down into Queenstown. The town is in a valley on the western slope of Mt Owen and since the early 1880s it has been a mining town. The area around Mt Owen and Mt Lyell was one of the most mineral-rich areas of Australia. The first mining was for gold, then copper became the main export. A railway was built between Queenstown and Strahan to carry the metals to ships at Macquarie Harbour. The railway still operates as a tourist railway, but we didn't have time to do that trip. The last 15 Km of the road into Queenstown takes you from open forest and rocky hills into a narrow, winding pass between the bare, eroded remains of old mines, mullock heaps and hills that have been stripped back to bare rock and discoloured by fumes from the old smelters. All of the original forest was felled and used to fire the smelters, so any soil has long since been washed away. Today the smelters are no longer operational and mineral concentrates from the mines are shipped to India for final processing. Vegetation is starting to grow again on the hillsides, but the spectacle of these stark multi-coloured hills is something that this small bear will remember for a long time. It is a bit like I imagine the Moon's surface might look. I will also remember just how carefully Mum drove down this bit of road. Queenstown is much smaller than it was in the heyday of the mining boom but, given the unexplored area of Tassie wilderness, there is always a chance of new workable mineral deposits being discovered nearby and maybe the town will boom again.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

 

Tamar Lights


Tasmania's second largest city, Launceston, is on the Tamar River in northern Tassie. The Tamar is actually the estuary of both the North Esk and South Esk Rivers. These join at Launceston to form the Tamar. In the late 19th century, Launceston was the commercial capital of Tasmania and its port was busier than Hobart. The entrance to the Tamar has lots of reefs and there were lots of shipwrecks here in the early 1800s. Naturally, a series of lighthouses was built to guide ships into the entrance and along the narrow channel. On the east side of  the river mouth is the spectacular Low Head lighthouse, the third lighthouse built in Australia. The first tower here was built by convicts in 1833. It was replaced by this one in 1888. I really love these red-striped Tasmanian lighthouses. There is also a small channel marker light just below the big lighthouse. Further up the river there are 2 smaller lighthouses marking the safe channel. The  left hand image on the second row is of the middle Channel Light and the right hand image is of the She Oak Point Light. You can see both of these lighthouses in the left hand image on the bottom row. This image was taken from near the Low Head lighthouse. The last image is of the Low Head area taken from She Oak Point. The big lighthouse is obvious. The buildings on the river bank are the Low Head Pilot Station. This is the oldest Pilot and Signal Station in Australia and has been in continuous use since 1833. All of these lighthouses are easy to get to, there is sealed road all the way from Launceston.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

 

Sinister Sarah Island


Our Macquarie Harbour cruise included a visit to Sarah Island. This was the site of one of the worst penal settlements in Australia. It only operated from 1822 to 1833 and was intended to hold the worst convicts and those that had escaped from other convict settlements. Although any convict escapee would have to first cross the cold water of the harbour and then battle through the dense rain forest and its snakes and insects (see my post below), around 20 of them did escape. Most were recaptured or died in the attempt. The most notorious one was Alexander Pearce. In September 1822 he escaped with 7 others, and survived by killing and eating the others before he was caught again. He escaped again the next year, this time with a young convict; again Pearce survived by killing and eating him. On 19 July 1824 he was hanged in Hobart for his crimes. Another group of convicts escaped in a ship they were building in the government shipyard and sailed across the Pacific to Chile. When the penal station closed, the convicts were transferred to Port Arthur (see earlier posts). Today the island is part of the heritage area. The only remains of the penal colony are ruins, some in roped-off enclosures with explanatory signs and many just slowly eroding away in the jungle.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

 

Fish Farms

During our Macquarie Harbour cruise we stopped for a couple of minutes at the salmon farms. Those dark discs that you can see in the photos are the tops of fish cages. In the bottom photo you can see the fish in one cage being fed. The spray is full of fish food and whatever medicines are needed. Naturally the gulls try to grab as much as they can. Because these farms are close to the Franklin-Gordon Wilderness they have been a source of some anger and concern, in case the farming impacts the World Heritage area. At present there is a limit on the number of fish that can be farmed and the effects on the heritage area is being closely monitored. It is not just gulls that the farmers have to cope with. The big danger is when they have to go diving to inspect the netting and repair any damage. The local seals and sea lions are keen to get at the fish inside the netting and have attacked several of the divers. I don't think it is a good job for small bears.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

 

Tassie Wilderness Cruise

Apologies for the break in postings, the Oldies have both been sick and I have had to be Nurse Bart for the past week or so. Anyhow, back to our Tasmania photos. One of the places that is a "must see" is the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. This is one of the wildest places left in the world and is World Heritage listed. The original explorers of the area came upriver from Macquarie Harbour and into the rainforest looking for timber suitable for shipbuilding. They found it in the majestic Huon Pine. Some of these trees are over 3,000 years old and over 20 metres tall. The early logging, bushfires and later flooding of the rivers for hydro-electric dams severely reduced the number of big trees, but since the area was made heritage in the 1980s new trees are coming back. Our cruise from Strahan took us up the Gordon river to Heritage Landing where a boardwalk lets visitors see into the dense forest. Keen walkers can also start their treks into the national park here. Many of our cruise passengers got off the boat, went a short way into the woods and returned very quickly; the flies here are huge and love the taste of human flesh. If you intend to walk through the area, take plenty of insect repellent and cover as much of you as possible. Fortunately, small bears aren't bothered by big flies so Dad and I took lots of photos of the boggy ground, the ferns and mosses and the occasional Huon Pine sticking up through the low scrub. This forest includes some of the most ancient plants on Earth, surviving from the time of Gondwana. It is definitely worth a visit (provided you prepare for the bitey flies).

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

 

Hell's Gate





















One of the largest harbours in the world, Macquarie Harbour, is on the west coast of Tasmania. It is nearly 250 square kilometers in area, but unfortunately it is not very deep so larger ships can't use it, most of the traffic being small cargo and timber ships. The first European settlement here was a penal colony which operated on Sarah Island from 1822 to 1833 (more on this in a later post). The entrance to the harbour is narrow and has very dangerous tidal currents and rips. It is known as Hell's Gate and has been the site of many shipwrecks. As there are 3 lighthouses marking the safe passage, we just had to make the trip through Hell's Gate. As luck had it, we had absolutely perfect weather, unusual for this part of Tassie, and our catamaran was able to take us outside the entrance for a look at Cape Sorrell lighthouse. This is the second-highest lighthouse in Australia. It has been operating since 1899 and is heritage-listed. There used to be three keepers' cottages and an engine shed here as well, but they have become ruins since the light was automated. Two small lighthouses on Entrance Island and Bonnet Island mark the safe channel through the "gate". Several tour boats operating out of the town of Strahan cruise the harbour. We went with one operated by World Heritage Cruises and it was excellent, taking us to the lighthouses, the old penal settlement and the Gordon River wilderness - more photos are on the way.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

 

Wagga RAAF museum

Just east of Wagga Wagga is the Forest Hill RAAF base. This is the site of the RAAF College and the recruit training school. All of the recruits for non-flying areas of the RAAF learn their trades here. The RAAF doesn't use the airfield any more, it is now the Wagga Wagga airport. At the entry to the base there is a Heritage Museum and a paddock with several preserved jet aircraft on display. The aircraft have been treated for outside display. They have the canopies blacked out, the engine intake and exhaust areas closed, and armament removed. That means that the visitor can get right up to the aircraft, with the exception of the F-111. Naturally, we had to stop here. Mum really likes aircraft that look like they going supersonic even when they are on the ground, so she enjoyed "close encounters" with the F-111 and Mirage III. Dad is more into the older classics, so he spent ages checking every little bit of the Sabre, Meteor and Canberra. This small bear likes all of them and you can find me in 3 of the photos.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

 

Kapooka Tragedy Memorial


Kapooka is an outer suburb of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Today it is home to Blamey Barracks, the training centre for Australian Army recruits. During World War 2 part of the Defence Force site was the Royal Australian Engineers Training Centre. On May 21, 1945, the worst accident in Australian military history happened here. 27 soldiers, most of them only 18 to 20 years old, were in a bunker being taught to prepare demolition charges. Something went horribly wrong and 26 of them were killed in an explosion. We visited the site on our last road trip and there is a simple, impressive memorial there. A rectangle of 26 trees and a series of explanatory signs surround the memorial site. Each tree has a small plaque at its base with the name, rank and age of a victim. A large rock has a memorial plaque on one side and on the other, rough, side the word UBIQUE. This is a Latin word meaning "everywhere", and is the motto of most Engineering Corps in British Commonwealth countries. Here is a larger image of the words on the plaque, I think they are sad, solemn and superb. We should never forget our history.


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Thursday, April 27, 2017

 

NSW Railway Engineering History

Last week, Mum had a few days off work so we did and overnight roadtrip to check out some historic things a few hours to the west of Canberra. The top images are of the Junee Roundhouse. Junee is nearly exactly half-way on the main southern railway line between Sydney and Melbourne. The line started operations back in 1878 and Junee became an important railway depot. In 1947 this huge roundhouse was built to service and repair locomotives and rolling stock. It is one of the few completely circular roundhouses and had the largest turntable in the southern hemisphere. The rail depot closed in 1993 and the roundhouse was taken over by commercial companies who use half of it to recondition locos. The other half is a museum. It is impossible to get a photo that shows the whole roundhouse, so I have copied a section of Google Eatrh that shows it. The bottom images are of a clever bit of railway engineering near the town of Bethungra, north of Junee. Here the line has to climb a steep gradient and until the early 1940s several extra engines had to be attached to boost the trains up the slope. The solution was to build a diversion that spirals around a convenient hill. That made the climb possible for all trains. Trains going downhill still use the original line, trains going uphill use the spiral. The closest I could get was a small parking bay off the highway where I could see three lines of track - the original line closest to the road and two lines of the spiral track going up the hill. Once again, Google Earth shows it clearly although you probably need to check it out using GE to get a bigger view.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

 

Historic Port Arthur

One of the "must see" places in Tasmania is the ruins of the historic Port Arthur convict settlement. Port Arthur started as a small timber cutting station in 1830, but quickly grew into penal settlement with over 1100 convicts. The convicts worked at timber getting, ship building, brick and shoe making. The first 5 photos are of the large penitentiary, which actually started out as a flour mill (note the small bear climbing on the foundation stone). The large flat area of land in front of the building was initially the harbour, but one of the physical punishments inflicted on the convicts was to make them cut trees, haul them down to the harbour and sink them with stones and earth to build gardens and lawns. Tree trunks are visible in the drains here today. Imagine the immense number of trees buried here and the hard labour imposed on the convicts. The 6th and 7th images are of the Asylum, a separate prison where the worst convicts were kept in solitary confinement and where most of them went mad. The last 2 images are of the guardhouse at the entry to the penitentiary, and the ruins of the guards' barracks. The barracks were a small castle with turrets; not much remains today. Port Arthur closed as a penal settlement in 1877. On April 28, 1996, Port Arthur was the site of one of the worst acts in Australian history when a gunman, Martin Bryant, killed 35 tourists and injured 23 others before being captured. This was one instrumental in leading to Australia's strict gun laws. Mum was visiting Port Arthur just the day before. More photos of the site are coming. A good summary of the history of Port Arthur is on the website http://portarthur.org.au.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

 

Hobart Docks

One of the places we stayed at during our Tasmania trip was the Grand Chancellor Hotel. This is just across the road from the docks and the marina where small boats  moor, and the terminal where cruise ships moor. The large cargo port is some way around the harbour. Just about every day we stayed there I could see cruise ships there for the day, sometimes one getting ready to depart while another was arriving for its turn at the cruise terminal. I saw 8 different cruise ships during the 6 days we were in Hobart. The area around the docks is very interesting to walk around (or be carried around if you are a small bear). There are lots of boats, great fish 'n' chip shops, and some very good restaurants (hey, I spelled it right!!). More photos of the dock areas coming soon.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

 

Do Your Homework !!

Here's a prime example of why you should always do your homework before visiting anywhere. One afternoon during our Tasmania trip we just headed off following the coast to see what we could find. Along the way we came to a great lookout point where we had good views of the lower Derwent river and the yachts that were sailing there. There was also a canon on a concrete base and a plaque saying that this was the site of the Alexandra Battery, built in 1804 to protect the entry to Hobart harbour. I don't think the canon is any use now as the only thing it would hit is the tree in front of it. We spent a bit of time watching the boats and then drove on. However, if the Oldies had done their usual checking up on what we could expect to see on the drive they would have known that just over the curve of the hill there is the remains of the battery fort. The last photo (from Google Earth) shows just how close we were. The white G is where the canon is, the X is where we sat, and lower down the hill you can see the old gun emplacements and remains of the fort. So the Oldies got no photos of this historical site at all, not even of the round control hut we sat near. I have had harsh words with them and threatened to demote them from official drivers, navigators and photographers on my future expeditions.


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