You don’t have to go off-road to see cool things and amazing wildlife

Driving between Derby and Broome in the Kimberley yesterday, I stopped at two bridges on the Great Northern Highway, just south of Willare. It’s bloody hot at the moment – temps in their 40s. The creeks and billabongs are starting to disappear and wildlife is started to congregate. The wet season will be here soon but until then watering holes offer so much potential if you like spotting wildlife.

I saw black-necked storks, brolgas, plumed whistling ducks, and three freshwater crocs – all within 20 metres from where I’d parked by the side of the road.

One of three fresh water crocs spotted from the Cockatoo Bridge.
In the dry season Cockatoo Creek can become a series of waterholes. Both Ski Lake and Cockatoo Creek are anabranches of the mighty Fitzroy River. They’re on the very western side of the Fitzroy catchment, “one of WA’s last remaining areas that retains its wilderness areas”. 
There was a pair of brolgas at both Cockatoo Bridge and Ski Lake.
It was about 43 degrees when I stopped. The creeks and waterholes are part of Yeeda cattle station so cattle share their water with the wildlife. Or should that be the other way around? 
When the wet finally arrives Cockatoo Creek
will be water as far as the eye can see.
Plumed whistling ducks at Ski Lake, easily seen from the bridge. 
This black-necked stork was on his own at Ski Lake (Formerly known as a jabiru but that is actually the name of a Brazilian stork)
The Great Northern Highway is notorious for having cattle on the road. Driving north of Broome yesterday I saw several animals on and very close the road, drawn by puddles from recent storms. This little guy’s mum wasn’t far away but he hasn’t learned that she knows best yet!
Sometimes it’s worth stopping at bridges. Ski Lake is just south of the Willare Roadhouse, about 130km north of Broome, WA.

 ABOUT THE BLOGGER: 
Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

Crocs and Curtis Stone: More reasons to love WA’s Dampier Peninsula.

The drive up the Cape Leveque Road isn’t for the faint-hearted, but my gosh it’s bloody worth it. And so is a good bra.

Cape Leveque, the most well-known place on the Peninsula, is only 240km from Broome but it takes more than three hours to get there. You’ve got to concentrate on the drive because you don’t want to run over any bits and pieces that have been shaken off cars, trucks, trailers and boats ahead of you.

The first 100kms is red dirt, pindan, followed by 100km of bitumen. There are a couple of communities worth visiting on the way. Beagle Bay and Lombadina have incredible missionary histories and their churches have to be seen to be believed.

Cape Leveque is spectacular. It’s the northernmost tip of the Peninsula. Kooljaman is a wilderness camp that’s worth a visit. Facilities are pretty basic and can be expensive (I paid $130 for my beach shelter) . It can be really busy during the dry season but I’ve just had a glorious weekend there in November.

The east beach offers incredible swimming and snorkeling. If you squint you can see me! There are tides like no other in this part of the world. Nine metre tides aren’t uncommon. I was swimming at an almost-high tide.

The west beach offers some awesome fishing (below is a gratuitous photo of the Hilux on the pindan – I just love it!). There’s sand on the other side of that pindan.

Now, it is the Kimberley after all. And while they don’t often mention crocodiles in the tourist brochures, they are around albeit infrequently.

I was chuffed to see evidence of a saltwater croc on my pre-dawn walk at the very location I was swimming at the day before. Yup! Croc tracks!

And check out the brilliant imprint he left behind after relaxing on the beach for a while. I estimated him to be about two metres. There’s a creek about 6km north of the beach so I’m assuming he lives in the mangroves there and just wanders from time to time.

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET

I meet great like-minded people on my travels and every now and again I meet someone who’s worth bragging about. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone is one of those. He was genuinely lovely and was very excited to share his passion for Western Australian produce with me, including some bush tucker that he and some local guides had collected at Kooljaman. He had lunch at Kooljaman and made a point of making his way to the kitchen to thank the young chef. That story made its way to ABC radio. Listen here to hear how over-the-moon the young chef was and how much Curtis was loving his trip north.

Curtis isn’t the only one who can cook up a feast! This is the breakfast I cooked from my beach shack overlooking the East Beach. Not a bad kitchen! The tide was going out at this point. During a high tide the rocks on the beach can’t be seen. If you look closely you can see my ground sheet. That’s where I rolled out my swag.

And how’s this for my bedroom! I often roll my swag out and sleep under the stars. I have to admit this bedroom will be hard to beat. In the far right of the photo you can see the sun coming up. The Dampier Peninsula has the best sunrises I’ve ever seen. (Darwin has the best sunsets, btw.)

GUMBANAN BUSH CAMP.

It’s dubbed the Dampier Peninsula’s best kept secret and I absolutely agree! Gumbanan is about twenty minutes drive east of Kooljaman (close to One Arm Point), and a camp site there is fraction of the cost. For $15 I camped in the most delightful spot (see below). Ridiculous, eh? The bathroom and showers are just as basic as Kooljaman but they do they job nicely. And I didn’t shower or pee alone. There were green tree frogs to keep me company.

I slept in my swag in the back of my Hilux. Heaven really is a great view from a $15 camp site.

The tides are pretty incredible in the north. I sat and watched the tide come in and go out from my camp. Check out the difference in just a few hours!

And a different tidal point of view: Just magic!

It’s a pretty easy place to pour yourself a drink and watch the tides and the wildlife go by. While it be warm in September (the start of what’s called the build up) there’s usually a sea breeze to cool you down. Gumbanan is no exception.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL SEE

Feral donkeys aren’t uncommon on the Peninsula. You’ll see their calling cards on the road and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some.

MIDDLE LAGOON

Another gem of a place on the Peninsula! Again, I was there out of season. And look what I saw from near where I was camped! I was up pre-dawn and saw a whale from my swag. On closer inspection she had a new-born calf with her. More magic!

This German tourist Lars was camped beside me so when I saw the whales in the bay we jumped at the chance for a closer look. After a couple of hours of whale watching (yes, hours) Lars went snorkeling and this very active whale made a bee-line for him (photo below). I was watching it all unfold from land. Check out this video I took. The drone vision isn’t mine but the other shots are.

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Middle Lagoon has both unpowered campsites and cabins. Of course, I was more than happy with my $15 campsite (low season price). This photo was taken at an almost-low tide.

A MUST SEE

The Dampier Peninsula is a most worthy detour if you’re around Broome. Sadly plans are afoot to bitumen the rough Cape Leveque road, making the Peninsula’s communities more susceptible to grog running and drugs, and providing much easier access for tourists to the Peninsula’s relatively unspoiled environment. The Peninsula’s beauty lies in its unspoiled simplicity. An influx of people and a lack of planned infrastructure to cope with those increased numbers threatens that.

I’ve mentioned just some of the great camping spots. There are quite a few more. And there’s also the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm which is a great place for lunch and a swim (See below. That’s me on the left. Tough gig, right?) It also offers a range of accommodation options.

The Dampier Peninsula is a very, very special place – one of my favourites. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to get there.  And it’s probably best to put your tyres down a bit. The road can be very corrugated in parts and sandy in others.

Oh, and take your rod if you’re going camping. The Peninsula’s got great fishing!

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER:

Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

Life on a remote cattle station: my visit to Alderley Station

Working on a cattle station is high on my bucket list. I’m just not sure what I could offer to a station manager though. I’d love to be a station cook. But I can’t cook …

Looking after 15,000 cattle is a big job. On Alderley Station in remote western Queensland, a team of station hands joins the bosses for breakfast even before the birds have started stirring.

I dropped in on my way to Darwin and was welcomed with an offer of beer and bed.

The sound of a diesel generator that powers the station’s few houses and workshops breaks the early morning silence — a sign that the boss is awake and the workers should be too.

The generator chews through about 1200 litres of diesel a month. It’s turned off overnight, leaving the property with no power. When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I was thankful for my trusty torch.

It was 6am when I joined the team for breakfast. The station’s owners, Frank and Radha Blacket are my age. They dine with their team which isn’t that common. Often cattle station managers and bosses tend to do their own thing. But this couple is very hands on and accessible.

The work for the day was dished out at breakfast. Some of the team will spend the day putting in a cattle grid and servicing the motorbikes, while a few ringers will join the boss mustering. About 1000 cows and calves needed to be brought into the yards. It will take most of the day.

The Blackets own three properties in the Boulia region in western Queensland, totalling more than half a million hectares.

The number of cattle is forever fluctuating, with stock being bought and sold all the time.

“We run Charbray cattle because they’re versatile. They can go to live export and they can go to the southern, domestic market as well,” Mr Blacket said.

Prices dictate where the cattle are sold. The Blackets’ biggest market recently has been the live export trade.

“They’ve needed a lot of cattle and we’ve been able to supply them,” Mr Blacket said. “Sometimes they want emergency loads so we can supply them pretty quick.”

Mrs Blacket does not only spend time in the station office crunching numbers and doing deals. Like her husband, she is hands-on, often behind the wheel of a road train, trucking her cattle to market.

“We’re in a good position to be able to go to whichever market is paying the premium at the time,” she said.

Despite Alderley Station being closer to Townsville Port than Darwin, the Blackets’ cattle are exported to Indonesia from Darwin. That’s a 1,850km on a truck from the property at Boulia to Darwin Port.

The rowdy ringers.

Meal times on Alderley Station can be a fun, loud affair. The station cook, Bella, is a 21 year old studying an agribusiness degree via distance ed. She’s one hell of a cook and the ten station hands are big fans of her work. (A blog about Bella is coming.)

Most of the ringers (station hands) are young guys who love the lifestyle and sense of family at the station. They’re a rowdy mob – sitting together laughing, spinning yarns, teasing and even flirting with the guest who’s twice their age!

Dillon Fox, from Boonah in Queensland, is a carpenter by trade. Keen for a change, he joined his brother on Alderley Station five months ago and has not been fazed by the long working days on the property.

“It’s a good lifestyle. You don’t really notice it as work,” he said. “We’ll have a few days when the work slows down, go to a campdraft or something.”

Martin Bolton is helping Dillon put up a new fence. Once working in property development earthworks, he has recently taken a new career path.

“Out here we get a go at everything — cattle, welding, tyre fitting. You’ve got to be an all-rounder here,” said Marty. “It’s good to learn different things.”

Away from the wind and the hot sun, Ethan Tindale relaxes with a beer after dinner. Originally a Townsville lad, he is happy living and working in western Queensland.

“The people, the community — it’s like being a big family,” he said.

“You know everyone in town and once you get accepted here it’s a really comfortable place to live.”

Singapore travel: the great Australian misunderstanding

Street art in Tiong Bahru

February 2017.

“It’s so expensive.”

“You’re not allowed chewing gum there, you know.”

“It’s soulless”

These are just some of the comments made by Australian friends when I mentioned my upcoming holiday to Singapore. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sure, chewing gum is a no-no, but there’s a reason for that. My second observation of this amazing city was its order and cleanliness. Everything has its place. There’s no rubbish in the gutters, the grass on roadside verges is mown and edged, even the cars and trucks are clean. All of them.

It costs ten of thousands of dollars to put a car on the road here in Singapore. Cars must be less than 10 years old and there’s no shortage of high-end vehicles. But cars aren’t a necessity here. Public transport is nothing short of brilliant. If Singapore is a 10/10, Australia’s transport system is a 4. There is no graffiti, there’s no rubbish on train platforms, everything is well signed, the ticketing system is easy and efficient, buses and trains are frequent, on-time and very cheap.

I made my first observation as I caught the train from Changi airport to my friend’s place near Outram Park station. (The journey only cost me $3.50. In Australia, the train from my dad’s place to Brisbane airport costs about $23.) I was the only one wearing sunglasses. For some reason few Singaporeans wear sunnies. They also rarely seem to wear hats or caps. (It’s funny the things you notice …)

I feel safe here despite police being rarely seen. I’m told that if there’s any sign of trouble they come from nowhere. There are CCTV cameras everywhere and there’s little doubt there are many eyes watching the day-to-day activities of residents and visitors alike. As a result, crime is very low. It’s a very safe city to wander, any time of day. As a keen walker I’m happy to report there are footpaths along every road: Clean, easy to traverse footpaths, possibly another legacy of the enormous cost of owning a car in Singapore. Taxis are plentiful and Uber is well-utilised here too. I can also report that Singaporean drivers are heaps better at reverse parking than Australians. Hands down.

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Roads and abundant footpaths are well maintained and free of rubbish.

So let’s address the most common misconception about Singapore, the one about it being a terribly expensive holiday destination.

Look, if you want to shop and get pissed repeatedly on your Asian holiday, don’t come to Singapore. While the range of shops and size of shopping strips blow Australia’s out of the water, there’s little that’s a lot cheaper here. The range is larger but you’re still paying similar costs for shoes and clothing in shopping malls. And if you want to have a few wines with lunch after a morning’s shopping, you’re in for a shock. Booze is bloody expensive here so grab your bottle of Moet or Johnny Walker duty-free in Singapore airport. In fact, in my many wanderings around this city, I haven’t even spied a bottle shop. Corner stores sell some alcohol, as do some bars, but the range is limited and the cost rather large. A Johnny Walker black label on the rocks will cost at least $13, a beer around $15. I guess it’s the Government’s way of making sure alcohol isn’t the bogan problem it is in Australia or other Aussie favourite holiday destinations like Bali or Phuket.

BUT if you want an interesting holiday and an adventure that doesn’t involve shops and bars, Singapore is a great option. There is so much history here, some of it confronting, but fascinating none the less. It is far from “soulless” as was described to me before I ventured here.

Fort Canning Park is worth several hours of your time, even if you’re not a history buff. Close to public transport, this now-beautiful parklands with sprawling lawns and stunning heritage-listed trees is an iconic hilltop landmark which has witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones. “The hill once sited the palaces of 14th century Malay Kings and served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks. The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was also made on the hill, in the Underground Far East Command Centre, commonly known as Battle Box.” There is even a fantastic display of artefacts that were unearthed on the site in the 1980s.

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This Burmese Banyon at Fort Canning Park is a huge strangler fig. This particular tree was named as a Heritage Tree in 2015.

And the great history walks don’t finish there. Fort Siloso is the only restored coastal gun battery of 12 such batteries which made up “Fortress Singapore” at the start of World War II. It’s an awesome walk through beautiful grounds with beautiful views of the harbour and all the ships awaiting loading at Singapore’s huge port. Fort Silosa is a fantastic, free military museum full of surprises.

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and food. Yes, dining at a nice restaurant can come at a price, but there is an enormous range of inexpensive options if you’re happy to eat like the locals. My first meal here cost $5 at the Tiong Bahru markets – a divine Hainanese chicken cooked on the spot.

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The chicken was so delicious I forgot to take the photo before I ate it.

I decided against the $4.50 mixed pig’s organ porridge and the $5 fried intestine porridge. Maybe next time.

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There are many inexpensive meal options in Singapore. Not all will appeal to westerners.

 

Groceries can be expensive so it’s often cheaper to grab your lunch from one of the many local eateries. All fruit and vegetables are imported and I was surprised by their freshness and quality. Depending on what you’re buying and where, the price of produce is comparable to that of Australia.

Yoga classes are abundant here but they are expensive. A couple of drop-in classes near where I’m staying cost around $30. So I decided against a downward dog and instead found a great meditation centre called Kadampa where I did an $8 beginner meditation class.

A very fun day out is at Sensosa, an island resort very popular with tourists. As well as Fort Silosa, it houses a golf course, more than a dozen top of the range resort-type hotels, Universal Studios, aquarium, beaches, bars and restaurants, nature walks and a stack of adventure activities. You could easily spend a couple of days there and prices are fair.

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Sensosa has something for everyone. The zip line cost $45 and was great fun and I felt very safe. A second go was an additional $18.Thankfully my friend Rachel was up for some adventure too.

 

The best free activity remains standing in awe of the high density housing, tall highrises and mind-boggling construction techniques, with washing hanging on washing lines that stretch from highrise windows thirty stories up. There’s no room for broken pegs in Singapore. And there’s no room for pre-conceived ideas either. Come here with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

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High density living condominiums dominate the Singaporean landscape.

 

 

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The view from the 26th floor of my friend’s condo in Tiong Bahru. It’s a magical city full of stories.