QLD 2017 Fitzroy Island Mt Fitzroy.

Queensland 2017 Fitzroy Island: a perfect family bushwalk.

Gussy and I on the summit boulder clump.
It’s hard to find good mountains for a three-generational bushwalk. Toddlers  get heavy and it’s tiring lugging them up mountains. Meanwhile, the older sibling shouldn’t do anything too taxing. The normal rule of thumb is a kilometre for each age in years, which helps let growing bones develop well. And then, if one or other of the grandparents is starting to run into difficulties, this has to be considered. Our family found that a walk to the summit of Fitzroy Island was just perfect for our needs, given that we had Abby aged one, Gussy just turned six, and a poppa with Parkinson’s Disease with us. In addition, Abby’s dad was back at home,  so her mum had to do all the carrying; on a mountain of this size, that was perfectly doable.

Kirsten scaling the real summit.
We began our climb out the back of the lodge where we were based, with a gorgeous view of the ocean and a wonderful tropical feel. Abby was not so violently interested in the view, but found the couches to be perfect for her ambition to later join the circus as a tightrope walker, and practised on the upper extremities of the backs. Abby really loves climbing anything, but this mountain was a bit high for her tiny legs.

I put in my usual request to be allowed to take the climb at workout pace and be sociable for the rest; my family understands this need. I set out running. Little Gussy took off running after me. Now, without boring you about my places at IAAF World Championships, can you just take it from me that although many years have gone by since then, I found it pretty amazing that this courageous little fellow was still in sight not far behind me after five minutes. It takes a lot of inner strength to run up mountains. Mountain Running can sometimes be seen as a battle of wills, and Gussy wanted to exercise his. But this is about a family bushwalk, and while we two were running, the others were having a lovely time walking up the slope, and looking out at the ever-increasing views over the bay, now far below, and back to mainland Australia. Gussy, red-faced and puffed, stopped sometime after I pulled away from him, and sat with a great view to wait for the others. A safe track like that provides opportunities for groups to spread out if they wish.

Kirsten and me.
I ran back down to meet the others after I’d been to the summit, and joined in the remainder of their climb, with Gussy leading the family for the remainder of the route to the top. He and I went as high on the slippery granite final boulder as he dared before joining the others for a VERY IMPORTANT part of a bushwalk for infants: namely, chocolate and snacks on the summit. On this summit, there is a lookout (with other fun rocks to climb beyond), and seats. Everyone except me feasted on M and Ms. I’m more fussy, and wasn’t hungry anyway.

Snack time.
We elected to descend via the lighthouse track, which added distance to our walk. The first part is dry and quite open, and then, after the lighthouse, the rainforest coolness returned. It was great to see other families using this track. We were back in time for everyone to have a swim before lunch, but not before we’d visited the turtle hospital, and seen turtles damaged by careless human plastic and nets, now recovering in tanks before they could be released back into nature. Next day, we would have huge excitement, as we got to swim with wild turtles.

A fitting reward at the end. Abby afloat in the pool. Possibly cuter than a turtle, and at least as wild. Hopefully not damaged by plastic.

Dawn next day. I climbed up in the dark, power walking rather than running this time, lugging my many kilos of photographic gear.

Yelena watching out for more turtles

QLD 2017 Mt Sorrow, Thornton Beach, Mission Beach

Queensland 2017 Mt Sorrow, Thornton Beach, Mission Beach.

First night after arrival: Thornton Beach, an old favourite.
Yes, here we go again, a repeat of every other year, in which I am reluctant to go to the tropics as my friends are having fun in the snow in Tasmania, and spring is looking beautiful, and I am equally unwilling to leave it at the end, as I have become spoiled by balmy weather suitable for swimming, by al fresco dining, by running up fabulous mountains in the rainforest each day and by beach walking and photography – to mention just a few of the delights of the Tropical Far North.

We land in Cairns, and I usually run the Blue Arrow track before we leave. This year, I ran it until it forked into a blue-green junction, the blue going off to Mt Lumney, my usual, and the green to Mt Whitfield. I had never tried this option, so took it this year for a change. Residents of Cairns are so lucky to have these beautiful trails through lush rainforest right on their doorstep. The track is very steep indeed: a great introduction to my diet of mt-in-your-face style inclines of this region.

Cape Tribulation, sunset.
Perhaps you find it odd that one of my highlights of being up north is always running up mountains rather than lying on beaches under palm trees, or taking fancy tours like a good tourist, but that’s just how I am. Odd. (Actually, in the case of Mt Sorrow, I have  found I do a faster overall time if I power walk the lot rather than if I run for an hour and then die towards the end. It is rather steep, and the final half kilometre is a killer if you’ve gone lactic. I took 66 minutes to the top, so thought that was OK for a tropical workout. I don’t carry a camera, as in workout mode, this is  cumbersome. If you want photos, you will find them in the 2013 version. This year was fun for me, as my friend Monika from Tassie, who is doing a locum in Cairns, joined me on the Mt Sorrow day. As it was a workout rather than a bushwalk, we each took it at our own pace, but both enjoyed the sense that the other was on the mountain, happily exercising.

Me, playing on Mission Beach.
And perhaps it is even odder that I love Mission Beach, not primarily because of its beautiful beach, but because there I can do a double run up Bicton Hill in Clump Mountain National Park each day. This, too, is a solid workout for me. Once I’ve had my running binge, I’m ready to swim and walk along beaches , photograph and play with children for the rest of the day. Everyone’s happy at Mission. If there were only flat beach runs, I wouldn’t be quarter as satisfied, as I actually hate flat running. It bores me.

Well, we did visit one tourist haunt: the Babinda Boulders. The clarity of the water and the colour of the green are wonderful here.
And then we moved on to the fabulous Fitzroy Island, but I will give it its own post, as there we had a family bushwalk, so that can ‘stand alone’.

And here are two photos of @thebraidedlena of husskie fame, posing for a few shots at Mission Beach. We love doing photo shoots up here at sunset.


QLD 2016 Mission Beach, Mt Sorrow, Daintree

Queensland: Tropical Far North, Mission Beach, Cape Tribulation, Daintree

 Every September, our family coalesces in the tropical far north of Queensland for our annual warm-up and beach fest. We count ourselves as excessively lucky parents to be granted this time from our daughters’ busy lives. Family is, and always has been, of paramount importance to us, yet even so, we don’t take this event for granted, and treasure each year of its reoccurrence.

And how do we spend our days in this balmy environment? Do we go on fancy tours, or seek out commercially made activities? No. Mainly, we eat lots, swim heaps and do quite a bit of mountain running and beach walking. To let the children dry out for maybe an hour a day, we toss in some reading and puzzles or games. At dusk, it’s time to build another sand fortress.

Just can’t resist a bit of baby porn. Count yourselves lucky that landscape gets a look in here at all.
Every dawn, some of us (changing cast, but I always have a part in this little drama) rise in the dark to photograph the emerging dawn. The evening meal is subordinate to shooting sunset. Mostly, we play with the two centres of attention: young Gussy and Miss Abigail Grace, who, at the tender age of eleven months, seems to know exactly what she wants.
I am happy in this location (Mission Beach), as there is a nice, steep and challenging rising in Clump Mountain National Park, just near to where we stay, so I run this rising twice each day after breakfast, ignoring the injunctions to take water, and wear a hat and suncream. Sadly, I accidentally obey the one that says not to do it in the midday heat. I can assure you that taking this 2 x 4km circuit with its pant-inducing climb at the fastest speed I can manage every day generates quite a good deal of sweat, so maybe it is equivalent to doing it at midday when done at my pace. I come back feeling very hot and bothered, and most definitely ready to dive in the pool and play endless, wet ballgames until lunchtime. This year, Lena did some of the circuits with me; others were solo. A mixture of solo and chatties is nice, and that’s what I had.

Lena (@thebraidedlena and editor of Husskie) posing for me, Mission Beach.

On the sixth day, we had Act I, scene II, which meant a change of dramatis personae and of location. One new character arrived, and, sadly, three left. We did have a span of everyone together before the grand exit. Melted and rapidly melting ice-cream seems to dominate my recollection of this part.

Lena again

Scene II was to take place further north, in the Daintree, firstly at Thornton Beach, and then at Cape Tribulation itself. We arrived at Thornton on dusk, and Lena and Johnny raced to get their swimmers on and have a dip before the sun completely set. “No, no”, cried the people from the cafe seeing their cosies. “Don’t swim there.” What? We’ve always swum here. We were told perhaps in the middle of day, knee-deep or so, and maybe a bit further north than usual this year. I dismissed this as more wolf crying. Everyone howls wolf these days: it’s lost its impact. I got a bit of a shock to learn that someone had actually been eaten on this very beach where we come each year not so long ago. However, once I learned that she had been taken at 10.30 on a very dark night, I reassumed my habitual pleasure, and went in, as ever, thigh deep and watchful; I did not abstain.

Is this a new kind of tree frog? Colourful. Oh no. It’s me, about to dive off this log: such fun.
The following late afternoon, I was off exploring by myself while the others dozed. I climbed around rocky headlands to the north of Nora Creek, searching for (and finding) cute little unnamed beaches. Suddenly, a young angler (from Melbourne, as it turned out) hurried towards me to point out the crocodile swimming a mere 50 metres from the rocks he had just left. It was about 4.5 metres long. Wow. I was very excited to see a real live crocodile swimming in the sea, and close enough to kind of observe it. We hurried over to tell a family with young children playing on a beach to the south. The parents, with more my kind of attitude, sat with the kids to watch rather than shepherding their offspring away. They were in no danger there as long as they didn’t go down to the sand to give the croc a smell of young, tender flesh. The children obediently sat beside their parents, viewing this spectacle, aware of its importance.

Lena posing for me before she, too, dives in.

The last full day was spent climbing Mt Sorrow, another annual event for me. This is a mountain I do regularly, and like to take at threshold speed. For me, there are few pleasures greater than just being allowed to climb a mountain perched on my aerobic threshold, monitoring my body and my surrounds, working my way at the summit. I love a good workout, and what better place to have one than in the jungle? I saw an amazing number of people this day – it seemed to be de rigueur to climb Mt Sorrow that Saturday – and made friends with many of them whilst waiting for my family up the top, and more on the way down. One guy knew some people from the Tassie bushwalking community. Hardly surprisingly, I knew these people too. I counted 32 people on the mountain, just in the time it took me to do the up and down (less than two hours for the return journey). But don’t be turned off by the crowds. It never felt crowded – but perhaps it is an indication that the local tourist authorities should provide another track up one of the many other mountains on tap. It would keep people like me in the area an extra day. Twelve of the people I met were en route to Mt Pieter Botte, which has just lurched up my bucket list to near the top for next time.

On the final day, we were up again in the dark ready for our last shoot – this time at the northern end of Myall Beach, just south of the Cape (Tribulation) itself. We entered a beach with its features hardly visible, making our way along in the quarter light to the spot we’d chosen the evening before. Contentedly, we shot away while Johnny explored a bit. He came back with the news that there were fresh crocodile prints in the sand about twenty metres from where we were standing. The croc must have left this location only a very short time before we arrived. I learned from Instagram that Cape Tribulation Beach was closed that day due to a crocodile that had decided to swim there. I guess that was “our guy”, who had moved up one beach to avoid the approaching paparazzi.

Up on the headland of Cape Tribulation 

QLD 2014 Mission Beach

When we walked the Thorsborne Trail in 2007, my husband announced that he would never do that again: given his medical condition (Parkinson’s disease), the track had overtaxed his dwindling capabilities. In fact, he told me he’d never carry a rucksack again. I cried. I am pleased to announce what needs no announcing to those who read this blog or walk with us: he is still carrying a pack. That is primarily thanks to the fact that our daughter and I finally convinced him to see a specialist and upgrade his medication. We did the Thorsborne for the next four years in a row, only stopping the habit when (a) cyclone Yasi ruined the island – Hinchinbrook – temporarily and (b) our grandson arrived on the scene. Even we baulked at the Thorsborne trail with a baby only a couple of weeks old, so we settled for the Daintree that year, and have kept it lower key ever since, as befits infant needs. Mission Beach, south of Cairns, is a great place to take a toddler.

With all four adults (ourselves and our two daughters) on tap for supervision of Gus, kayaking and other adventures are still possible for the ones not “on duty”.

Gussy enjoys the pool with his mum (Kirsten).


Waves flood yet another major engineering construction. Children seem to find endless delight in building and then destroying their creations. The adult form of this game is rather scary.


Building lasted well into the twilight hours, when Kirsten and I would disappear for more photography.

Our time at Mission is all about Gussy, and the days revolve around his wishes. Kirsten and I get up in the dark to go photographing while Yelena and Gus keep sleeping. (Bruce watches sunrise with us and then has a walk). After breakfast, both girls and I go running: two reps up Bicton Hill in Clump Mountain National Park, giving us a 370 ms altitude gain and a great workout to start the day. We did this on all four of our days there. This run is all along narrow trails through the lush rainforest with glimpses of the ocean every now and then, and a superb view from the summit. While we do that, my husband and Gussy eat and then head off to the pool at the back of our bungalow. We girls return and join the boys for a few hours of floating and playing in the water. My favourite games with him are “crocodiles” where I approach floating on my stomach snapping menacingly, to which he giggles and swims away, and “turtles” where I do breaststroke with him on my back. You can see we keep our games location appropriate.

The beauty of Mission Beach towards the end of the day.

At some point, he announces he wants to do puzzles or go to a cafe, and then we all get out (with me hoping it’s the latter request). The ecolodge has a great fund of jigsaw puzzles which Gus is able to change every day in a great hand-over ceremony after breakfast. Sometimes the boxes are as big as he is, so it takes a while to effect the deal. He also came equipped with his own library, so reading books is high on the list of preferred activities when he’s managed to get cold.

What we love best, however, is just the act of being – of being there for him, of watching when he wants to be admired, of receiving cuddles or kisses when he feels moved to demonstrate his love, and, best of the lot, to share his joy and wonder at the life unfolding around him, whether it is sniffing a flower that has fallen from high above, or catching sight of an insect or other animal – or tasting a new food treat at a cafe or restaurant.

I also love to watch as his capacities grow. This trip he laughed at Rabbit thinking he could fool Pooh that his house was empty by yelling out: “Nobody’s here”. His eyes shared with me complicit glee at Rabbit’s exposed stupidity. He was holding a biscuit and told his mum he needed two more to make the three he’d asked for. She excitedly phoned her husband to tell him Gus had done his first maths. This was far more exciting than the first step or tooth, and it is a privilege to be there when such significant moments take place.

The cute little fellow even loves joining in and looking at the daily catch of photos that we display on the iPad after dinner, saying “wow” at shots that please him.
He lives in Melbourne and seems to have spent each of the winters of his short life so far invaded by a series of viruses, which is quite normal for babes in childcare where they have built up no immunity yet, and where germs easily spread. It is great to see him heathy in the sun, to let him shed his thick, heavy clothes and have a brief respite from winter.

QLD 2014 The Daintree

Daintree sunset 
Queensland’s Daintree Forest is an area that simultaneously fills me with delight and frustrates me beyond belief. It is unique and wonderfully beautiful and yet, whilst it offers the possibility of great enjoyment on the one hand, it steals it away peremptorily with the other.

There it is: there are beautiful tracts of cool, soothing, primaeval forest, but may you walk through it? No. You may drive in your polluting motorised vehicle, but you may not walk on a narrow forest trail, having prolonged contact with the forest, soaking in its atmosphere. You may walk on an assortment of boardwalks that seem to range from about 400 to 1200ms long. These walks are very wide (I guess two wheelchairs might want to pass each other) and very, very smooth so you don’t trip, and very, very safe so your brain goes to sleep due to lack of stimulation and variety in the terrain.

Daintree rainforest

In the first half of last century, the Austrian painter and architect who chose to be called Hundertwasser (1923-1994) knew that natural curves and lumps and bumps are far more stimulating than smoothed out regularity, and designed his houses accordingly. Running on the longest of the boardwalks on offer, doing mindless reps of the circle, and then walking it more times later as there was nowhere else I was allowed to walk, I got bored, not by the magic rainforest (of course), but by the fact that the flatness and smoothness stole the variety I need, as I am an edacious gobbler of complexity. There is a very good reason why in my former life I chose to be a mountain runner and to do orienteering.

Daintree forest – near the boardwalk
The denizens of the area take great pride in being “eco conscious”, so a brochure beside our bed told us. However, the sound of the cafe man over the road motor-blowing his leaves away, killing birdcalls with his ramming drone and forest delights with the smell of the petrol fumes did not strike me as overwhelmingly “eco”. Luckily we’d already photographed the dawn and had a walk along the beach and were eating breakfast at 6.50 when he got underway. I’m glad I’m not a ‘sleep-in on my holiday’ type. The same cafe bombarded us with stadium-strength lights all night, so that we either had to endure the intrusion or close all curtains, occluding rainforest sights and sounds and locking ourselves in a dark cave. I opted for two sleepless, light-filled nights rather than placing myself in an enclosed dungeon. I had plenty of time in the night to ponder the issue of how burning megawatts of electricity to light a closed cafe was in any way eco friendly.

The other disappointing feature of Thornton Beach was that cars could zoom up and down the beach, and did so, doing whirlies in the sand. I felt very glad indeed that I was not playing on the beach with my little toddler grandson when the giant white 4WD utes dashed by. I don’t like tyre marks in my photos of a beach that claims to offer pristine beauty – but you can see from my photos that it is a stunning beach, which is why I have this love-hate relationship with the marred and sullied could-be-perfect-if-managed-more-thoughtfully Daintree.

Daintree forest – the part that draws me to it
The approach-avoidance conflict was to continue at Cape Tribulation (quite apart from the blaring lights issue). Everywhere I wanted to go was prohibited, and “Private. Keep Out” signs were far more numerous than native animals; every path I saw was forbidden. I felt like the narrator of William Blake’s poem, “The Garden of Love“.
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And “Thou shalt not” writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,

That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

Blake is objecting to the way that the rules of organised religion effectively kill the joy that should be present in a movement whose two summarising commandments contain the word “love”. But the principle of what he writes applies equally to the situation where you allow bureaucratic rules, set up to allow ease of management, to override the experience of the wonders of nature. It is a very attenuated, sterilised nature you are mostly offered in Queensland. I am left frustrated and wanting more. When you feel obliged to begin each day in a national park smoothing and cleaning each of the small number of paths on offer so that someone doesn’t trip and sue you, then I think you’ve lost the plot.

sunset number two

We’ve walked the Thorsborne Trail four times, climbed Mt Sorrow three, Walshs Pyramid two, Bartle Frere as well – so you can see that we adore what there is on offer. What one is allowed to do is wonderful, but the run-out factor kicks in far too quickly. I don’t mind repeating paths of beauty, but one hungers for something different as well. We tried to do Thornton Peak, but did not bring our full bushwalking gear with us on our Queensland holiday, and neither did we have secateurs, and both would be needed. I will come prepared one year – I was told by locals the only way to the top was by helicopter, but I managed to find one person who told me of an old track, so at least we now know how to get to the start (for details, go into my posting on the “bushwalk australia” website). We drove there, walking past the “Keep out” signs and did the first part, but lawyer vines are ferocious things.

Emmagen Ck waterhole.

Here is what you find at the end of the Emmagen Waterhole track, which is a daring 400 ms long, but  you do get to tread over root mounds and stones; no one rakes or blows the path and it is narrow and windy and you can be tickled by the bushes which only just allow you passageway. It was really lovely, but needed to be a good 10 kms longer (or more). It was also very popular, suggesting the need for more such tracks.

Close of the day on Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation.
Mt Sorrow is a fabulous mountain, with an enticing narrow, uneven path that is extremely steep – so steep that you are climbing on all fours to hoist yourself up on occasions, and one quite long section even has a rope so you don’t tumble backwards as you negotiate the almost vertical slope. The forest is thick and green and juicy and beguiling. Strangler figs, buttress roots, thick vines, rubbery leaves and a variety of ferns adorn your journey. You climb a quite narrow ridge, but the forest obscures that fact if you don’t pay attention to what the land underneath is doing: it’s not immediately obvious. To left and right you sense the cerulean ocean beneath you, even though it only gives you tantalising hints until you get to the lookout. This mountain offers me a fantastic workout. I take a bit over an hour in each direction, but that is achieved by going right up to my anaerobic threshold and pushing pretty hard. You don’t do that kind of workout every day, or even every second day. My legs are pretty trashed when I’m finished. I thus only do that mountain once each trip north.

Because there is nowhere else to walk if you want to go for more than 15 minutes, this mountain is surprisingly popular considering how challenging its slope is. In the (bit over) two hours we were on it, we counted fourteen couples and eight solo walkers – all in very cheerful spirits despite the puffing and panting. The official bumph says it’s a five hour journey, and some of them looked as if they’d be there that long. That’s a day’s commitment to that mountain from people who are essentially travelling around sightseeing, and yet they’re all prepared to give it that time as they want to do exactly what they’re doing: experiencing the rainforest right up close in as near to its natural state as you can get without travelling with proper body cover. There are so many mountains in the area. What a pity all but one are inaccessible if you don’t want to fight the jungle to get to the top.

The start of the trail is another area that has you weep for the Daintree if you’re that way inclined. There used to be a walking track from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield – can you imagine how wonderful that would be??? – but they came in with bulldozers and knocked down a mass of trees so that the 4WDs could hoon up and down the road, stirring up truckloads of off-white dust that cakes all the leaves at the side of the road as a result. The trees look as if they’re statue-trees made out of concrete in a museum of scanty imagination. I have no idea how they manage to get oxygen through their presumably blocked stomata. I had coughing fits when near the roadside.
Time to move on – to pick up the family from Cairns and to move south to Mission Beach where we didn’t have lights invading us all night. Our ecolodge has bungalows with verandahs in the rainforest and a pool with tropical trees and ferns drooping into it, and a path down to the beach for walking or kayaking or swimming, of course. There I can run up my favourite little mountain in Clump Mt NP each day (twice) and can walk along the long beach if I’m not swimming or reading (or playing with Gus or talking or having coffee and cake with my family).